FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Just For Looks

This weekend I laughed with a friend as we kicked back and listened to Jerry Clower, Justin Wilson and Jeff Foxworthy on Pandora.   Especially funny to us (because of an inside joke) was Foxworthy’s line about the towels in the bathroom being “just for looks.”

Now I know that my friends and colleagues who are reading this post are at this very moment exchanging some looks.    Upon reading  the names Clower, Wilson and Foxworthy, some are saying, “Who?” while others are saying, “What?”  Still others are rolling their eyes in disbelief that I was listening to these three.

Nevertheless, the towels in my bathrooms are “just for looks.”  They are white!  Bright white, actually.  Not touching them is one of the rules of my roost.  Now if a guest came and used one I wouldn’t get bent out of shape (much), but those closest to me and those who frequent my home the most know.  They KNOW.  The white towels are “just for looks.”

Jeff Foxworthy said this simply did not make sense to him – or any other man (that was the point of the joke – crazy rules women have).

It was a joke – a simple one liner, but it got me thinking.  About looks.  About the things we do “just for looks.”  Because others are watching.  Because we worry about what people will say.  1 Samuel 16:7(b) ESV says, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Focusing on looks is clearly a “mis-focus.”  While there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look nice or wanting to maintain a beautiful home, we must establish priorities and maintain balance.  Our priority should be to seek the things of God (Colossians 3:1-2) and maintain balance in life.  We maintain balance by making sure Jesus is the center of our lives – much like the hub is the center of a wheel and permits that wheel to roll in balance.

Our lives naturally have a hub.  For some it is family.  For others it is career.  Your hub might be pursuit of education and degrees or it may be the quest for money.  It may be appearances or looks.

Make Jesus the center of your life.  He will provide the stability, control, power and confidence you need.  Isn’t that, after all, what our obsession with “looks” is about?  The Scriptures tell us to “Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants.  Then all your other needs will be met as well (Matthew 6:33 NCV).

Yes, even the ones “just for looks.”

 

 

 

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Testing, Testing

It’s a balmy 68 degrees outside!  What a wonderful mid-February surprise and treat.  The forecast for the end of the week announces more February-like temperatures like a Thursday high of 36 degrees.  But right now at 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s 68 glorious degrees.

And I am in the house!  Stuck creating a test that my students have to take Tuesday.  I need to get it posted on Blackboard, so today is the day to create that test.

With it being 68 degrees outside and the sun shining through the window and me on my laptop with notes spread around me as I create a test, you can best believe my mind has REALLY been tossing about the question of why test?  Not just my students and not other school students, but us.  Why does God test our faith?

God tested the faith of the ancient Israelites by allowing them to experience hard times in the wilderness, “in order to know what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  And He likewise tests us.

We think we know what is in our heart.  We think we know how strong we are.  We think we have a steadfast, immovable, abounding faith.  But it is only in times of testing that we move beyond just thinking and come to KNOW.  God does not test us because HE doesn’t know; He tests us because we don’t know.

David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23)

Now, my students surely did not ask for Tuesday’s test.  As a matter of fact, they have an option to complete another assignment and NOT take the test.  A few have informed me that they are choosing this option.  Like them, we would sometimes like to opt out of the test, to have a choice to maybe complete another assignment.  But like the Psalmist, we should cry out to God asking Him to test us and to show us now – in the good times, in the calm times, in the easy times what is in our hearts – our places of weakness.

When I score my students’ tests, I spend even more time writing feedback so that they know and understand exactly why they received the grade they did.  I want them to understand any shortcomings in their responses.  THAT is how they learn and how they grow, especially on the interim assessments because THE test is coming – the Final Exam.

We have a Final Exam coming too!  My students can look at the Course Syllabus and see the exact date and time of their exam, but we do not know when the end will come.  My students have a window of time in which to study and prepare.  They may not study every day, but they understand the finite calendar before them.

We do not know how long we have to prepare, so TODAY is the best time for us to prepare.  TODAY is the day for us to seek God and to petition His testing so that we will know, understand and grow.

THIS WEEK cry out to God.

(1)  Ask Him to search you, to know your heart, to test you and to show you your weaknesses.  Be open to and welcome the knowledge of any shortcomings He shows you. (James 1:2, 4).  Then ask Him to help you grow in your trust and faith in Him.

(2)  If you are in the midst of testing – whether it is from God or testing that He has permitted, do not seek another assignment, but ask Him for what is needed for you to go through.  Do not spend time asking Him “why” but rather ask “what.”  What would He have you to know and learn from this testing?  Identify and recruit prayer partners who will commit to praying with and for you during this season.


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Choose Peace

NOTE:  We are still vacationing, so I am posting while I have Internet access!

~excerpted from The Pattern of Peace by Charles Stanley

“[I]t can sometimes seem as if we are victims of our highly stressful world, but in reality, every Christian can choose to live in peace rather than under a burden of anxiety. If we let apprehension rule our hearts, it will interfere with sleep, disrupt concentration, hinder productivity, steal joy, and even cause health problems. However, when Christ, the Prince of Peace, has full authority over our lives, He guards our hearts and minds by building a wall of protection against worry.

Stress may pull us apart mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, but God’s peace will always bind us back together so we can be whole again. And while we cannot control many of the stressful situations in our lives, we can decide which master we will serve.”

If you do not know the inner peace that only God can bring, you can! This is the ideal season for you to meet His Son, Jesus, who came into the world to make peace between you and God. He died on the cross, was buried and rose again to bring you into a right relationship with God, the Father. (Romans 5:1) If you will accept Jesus as your personal Savior, all your sins will be forgiven, and He will give you His peace (John 14:27). Please visit the SALVATION tab above to learn more and to take the first step toward a relationship with Christ and His peace.

THIS WEEK: Pray to accept Christ as your personal Savior and His peace as your way of life then visit http://www.intouch.org/you/sermon-outlines/content?topic=i_am_saved_now_what_outline to watch the I Am Saved – Now What video and to learn more.

If you already have a relationship with Christ, this is a great season to rededicate your life to Him. You might start by reading these Scriptures: 2 Kings 20:3; Psalm 119:44. Read, too, Jacob’s story in Genesis 28:16-18, and begin the habit of rededicating yourself daily. Consider what that might look and sound like.


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Cleaning Closets

Deciding is half the battle “they” say.  You know, the infamous, elusive, unidentified “they.”  I’m hoping “they” are right with this one because I have decided to clean my main closet.  It’s huge, and it is a mess – partly because for a few days I haven’t followed my own rule of putting things back where they came from and partly because I really need to get rid of some stuff!  Maybe I should start with the shoes I bought for student teaching…  Hmm, that was more than 35 years ago.  Perhaps I will get rid of the dress I wore when I first met my in-laws.  That might be a good choice since (1) I am divorced, (2) I weighed a LOT less then and (3) it’s almost 20 years old!  This could be a good time to toss the ugly Christmas sweaters – the ones that were so popular in the 70s and 80s.

Are you getting a picture?  We often hold onto things much longer than we should – and not just dresses and shoes.  How about attitudes, thoughts, grudges, wounds?

Ephesians 4:22-23 (AMP) says, “Strip yourselves of your former nature.… And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude].”  In other words, let the past go.  Clean the junk out of the closets of your mind and heart.  Let go those thoughts of what you think you lost, how things might have been, what you’ve given up, ways that you were mistreated, times you felt overlooked or undervalued.

It helps to have someone help me clean the closet.  I tell stories about my stuff, we laugh, and we bag it or box it and take it out. Then we forget it!  Kinda like Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV) which tells us to “Forget the former things” and to not “dwell on the past” because the Lord is doing a new thing.   You must clean out the old to make room for the new.

Ponder the following Scriptures and the contents of your heart’s closet this week:

Monday:   Proverbs 4:25-27 (ESV)

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

Question for reflection: What is calling you to look back and keeps you from looking forward?

Tuesday: Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Question for Reflection:  What thoughts do you need to swap – untrue for true, dishonorable for honorable, unjust for just, unclean for pure, etc.?

Wednesday: Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

Question for Reflection: What are you holding on to (thoughts, habits, relationships, etc.) that not only “weighs you down,” but impacts your testimony and witness before those you encounter?

Thursday: Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

Question for Reflection: How many treasures can you find in your closet that might better serve someone else? Can you take them to a neighbor? To Goodwill? To a clothes closet? Other?

Friday: Isaiah 12:2 (ESV)

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

Question for Reflection:  Of what (or whom) are you afraid? What (or whom) are you holding on to rather than trusting God?

PRAY: Heavenly Father, I love You. I know that You love me. I trust You, and I trust the plan that You have for me and my life. Search my heart and my mind. Show me those things, those people, those feelings, those memories and those attitudes that I need to let go of. Sweep clean the corners of my mind and the recesses of my heart and fill each with what will honor and glorify You. I claim the peace and joy of an uncluttered mind and a clean heart. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

SHARE: Post comments to share your reflections and reactions from this week’s post. (One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One woman’s sharing is another woman’s blessing!)


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Cleaning House

My parents were Neatniks – especially when it came to housekeeping.  Saturday mornings began with my dad inspecting our closets, our drawers and under our beds.  Everything had better be hanging (and in order) or folded (and sorted into the right drawer).  And, in his words, “There shouldn’t be anything under your bed except the floor!”  If just one piece was found not properly folded or in the wrong drawer, he dumped the entire contents of the drawer into the center of the bed and you folded everything again.  Sometimes he would “help,” but I really think that was more about keeping an eye out to make sure the work was done to his satisfaction.  Seems to reason that I soon learned to be organized.

My maternal grandmother was likewise organized and one of my aunts was fanatically neat.  Following in their footsteps (and fearing my dad would appear out of nowhere with a dust mop or broom in hand), I became a super neat housekeeper.  But I didn’t last.

It’s not that I have become a slob (those who know otherwise, Shhh), but I just shifted priorities along the way and determined a level of neatness and a level of messiness that I can live with.  I also learned some secrets to making your house appear cleaner than it really is when guests visit.  My mother told me to buy lower wattage light bulbs and to use lamps instead of overhead light.  A friend told me to boil a little cinnamon and water on the stovetop – you get that “fresh baked goods” aroma.  A colleague taught me to drag the edge of a book across the carpet to simulate vacuum cleaner marks and to keep an empty basket available for collecting miscellaneous small items like magazines and phone chargers then all the items can easily be stashed inside a closet or (forgive me Daddy) under the bed.  And finally, someone told me that you don’t let guests stay longer than 30 minutes because the longer they stay, the more they notice.

Isn’t this just what some people do with their lives?  They clean up the outside and focus on outward appearances.  Or they know secrets to making their lives look clean.  A lot of stuff (sin) gets swept under rugs, stashed in closets and stored under beds.  But we read in 1 Samuel 16 that the Lord looks at the heart.  It does no good to “look like” a Christian or even to “act like” a Christian if the heart is not clean.  Consider the cries of the psalmist, first in Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV) – “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” and then in Psalm 51:7 (KJV) – “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

Your Heavenly Father will, just as my earthly father did, show you the places in your life that need cleaning. He will also help you, washing you whiter than snow.


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It’s All in the Preposition

For a few seasons of my life I served as an English teacher which is probably why I occasionally get fixated on words.  I especially find myself listening intently to what people say (as well as to what they don’t say because both are very enlightening).

I am particularly intrigued when people talk about the blessings of God and what He has done for them.  Indeed, as the author of Lamentations wrote, His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness.  Personally, if I wake up, I count it a good day.  If I am able to get up and ambulate without assistance or much pain, I call it a great day!

I once had a job that necessitated me rising VERY early every morning (somewhere around 3:00 a.m.).  I would leave home about 4:15 a.m. to drive to my office.  I dreaded every morning, so I used to focus on thanking God all along the way.  “Thank you for running water.  Thank you for hot and cold water at my fingertips.  Thank you for inside plumbing.  Thank you for showers and toothbrushes.  Thank you that I have teeth to brush.  Thank you for sight.  Thank you for road signs.  Thank you for letting me learn to read.”  It might sound ridiculous, but I found it particularly strengthening and encouraging and I found that it gave me a different connection with God which was especially comforting as I parked and walked dark streets that were milling with unique characters at 5:00 a.m.!  (I had to go to work.  Why were these people on the street at that time of the morning?!!!)

But back to my point. (I really do have one!).  We cannot dispute that God has blessed us.  If He doesn’t do one more thing for us, we really can have no complaint.  What I find intriguing is how often people talk about what God has done for them as opposed to what He has done in them.  Both words are prepositions but what a difference.

In Ezekiel 36 we read that God will give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us while removing our heart of stone. Ephesians 4 says that we receive a new nature to be like God, truly righteous and holy and II Corinthians says the Lord makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.  This is what God does in us, and this is the testimony we must share – to encourage fellow believers and to draw non-believers to Him.

In I Samuel 16:7 (NASB) we are reminded that man looks at the for – “the outward appearance,” but the Lord looks at the in – “the heart.” Today as you think of your relationship with Him, what will you look at?