Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Open the Eyes of My Heart


Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Do you experience your relationship with God in your head, or in your heart? ~Christa Black Gifford, Heart Made Whole

Last Saturday, I celebrate the completion of a year-long reading of the entire Bible.  I began the study on the first Sunday of Advent, 2015, using the 52 Week Bible Reading Plan, which I highly recommend.  As I used The Message for this study, I've decided to explore different versions of the Bible as I prepare to read every word of it again this year.

Yes!  Reading the whole Bible is something I have never managed to accomplish before now.  Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty darned good about this milestone achievement.

And if I'm honest with myself, I'm feeling quite proud, too.  Smug even.

Until, that is, I read Chapter Seven, The Naked Heart, in Christa Black Gifford's book, Heart Made Whole, and encounter this passage:  "It's easy to open a Bible and read a Scripture with your physical eyes and memorize a sentence with your head, but studying the Bible without experiencing the God of the Bible is a total waste of time.  If your pursuit of Scripture isn't leading you to intimate fellowship with God, then you've completely missed the mark."

Ouch!  Gifford's words hit way to close to home.  How many times did I open my Bible over the last year because it was time to read the daily offering, never giving a second thought of God wishing to speak not just to my mind, but to my heart, too?  Had I neglected to invite Him, through the Holy Spirit, to sit with me as I read, to help guide me in truly hearing His Word with my whole being?

Not nearly enough!

So this go-round, I'm changing things up.  I'm committing to begin each daily session of Scripture reading with a prayer, a sincere invitation to God to open the eyes of my heart to what He is trying to show and tell me.  What He desires to reveal of Himself in those particular passages.

I never again wish to simply read God's Word, and dare to imagine that is ever enough.

I long to experience the presence of the One who, as Gifford writes, "just happens to be the most important, intimate, loving, compassionate, powerfully real relationship you'll ever have . . ."

Amen!

~



For the next two Wednesdays, I will be joining fellow Christian bloggers, Jason StasyszenSarah Salter and Glynn Young in a discussion of Heart Made Whole by Christa Black Gifford.  I hope you will join us as we explore this amazing book together.
Blessings!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Think Again!


John 1:17-18
For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Today's meditation is an excerpt from my third novel, Revelation, in the Adventures in The Glade Series.  Without giving away too much of the plot, as I hope you will be intrigued enough to order my novels, allow me to set up the scene.

Betty Rae is the wife of Jim's (Davy's stepfather) cousin, Ronnie, who is in the hospital because of a severe gunshot wound to his hand.  Naturally, Betty Rae is struggling with her emotions at this inconceivable turn of events.  Pastor Mike is in the emergency waiting room with Jim for an extremely pressing reason, which I will not spoil here with an explanation, and can't help but note Betty Rae's distress.  My hope is that this exchange between Pastor Mike and Betty Rae will inspire you to share the Good News with those so in need of hearing it.

~

"Mrs. Carson?"  Betty Rae looked up and saw Mike regarding her with kind, sympathetic eyes behind his round spectacles.  "I'm Pastor Mike Russell, from Nantahala United Methodist Church.  Would you mind if I sat down?"  Betty Rae didn't utter a word, but simply motioned half-heartedly at the empty chair next to her.  Mike promptly took his seat and turned to face Betty Rae, but she didn't respond in kind.  Instead she resumed staring at the far wall, as if she had no company whatsoever.  Her face wore a passive expression that belied the turmoil she was enduring inside.  Though Betty Rae seemed on the surface to be resigned to whatever fate befell her this dreadful day, Mike was sure he glimpsed a hint of distress in her eyes.  "Mrs. Carson?"  Mike tried again, his voice barely audible.  "Would you like me to pray with you?"

Betty Rae turned toward Mike this time, blinking her eyes as if she were seeing him for the first time.  As she pondered his question in her mind, her appearance transformed from one of indifference to one of haughty indignation.  "You want to pray with me?"  Betty Rae snarled sarcastically.  "Aren't you with Jim over there?  Aren't you his preacher?  What would he think about you cozying up to the enemy?"

"You're not the enemy, Mrs. Carson," Mike calmly assured her.  "In fact, we just finished praying for you a few moments ago.  I just thought you might need someone to pray with you."

"Think again," Betty Rae huffed angrily.  "I don't believe in all that hocus-pocus prayer stuff.  Never did me any good when I tried in the past, so don't think for a minute I'm going to try it again."

Mike was understandably flustered by Betty Rae's unexpected declaration and flippant attitude, but he decided to push the envelope.  "So I'm assuming by what you just stated, Mrs. Carson," he ventured, "that you and Mr. Carson don't attend church?"

"Oh, we attend church, all right," she protested.  "Wouldn't be right not to.  I mean, what would folks think?  I just don't like all the religion garbage."

Mike pounced on this window of opportunity.  "God doesn't like religion either," he avowed.

Betty Rae's mouth few open and her eyes grew round with disbelief.  "How can you say that, you being a preacher and all?"  she spluttered.  "I've never heard the likes!"

"But it's true," Mike continued, undeterred.  "God doesn't like religion.  What He likes, what He wants from us, is relationship."

"Relationship?"  Betty Rae was dumbfounded.  "What does that mean?"

"It's why God sent His only Son, Jesus, to earth," Mike stated unpretentiously, "to die for our sins and restore a right relationship with the Father, or to be more accurate, as our Daddy, the One who loves us immeasurably as His children."

Betty Rae scowled as she mulled Mike's words over in her mind.  Daddy?  How preposterous!  God wants us to call Him that?  It seems too simple; too good to be true.  Yet this Pastor Russell seems so sure of it.  I can't think why he wouldn't be telling me the truth.  But I still can't wrap my head around it.  "Pastor Russell," she said flatly, her frown still in place, "I don't know what to think about what you just said.  No one's ever explained it like that to me.  I need time to digest it."

"You do that, Mrs. Carson," Mike said encouragingly as he stood up to go.  "Now, if you will excuse me . . ."

"Wait!"  Betty Rae's command startled him.  "Sit back down.  I've changed my mind."

"Changed your mind?"  Mike asked.

"Yes," she said as Mike caught the barest glimmer of a smile on her face.  "I'll take those prayers after all."

~

Prayer is powerful.  Think again before you dismiss praying with or for someone else.  Like Pastor Mike knows, trusting in God to hear our prayers is a win-win, every time!

I will not be posting any new blog entries next week due to the Thanksgiving holidays.  Know that I wish you all a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, and I will see you back here on Wednesday, November 30th.  God bless!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Heart Healthy

Proverbs 23:7 (AMP)
As he thinks in his heart, so he is.

God's intention for your heart has always been to bind it up, making it undivided and whole, just as He promised in Ezekiel 11:19:  "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh." ~Christa Black Gifford, Heart Made Whole

Until I read Chapter Five of Christa Black Gifford's book, Heart Made Whole, I am unaware that our hearts are comprised of three distinct, but interactive parts:  Emotional; Guardian, and Function.  God means for these three to work in perfect balance, undivided and supportive of one another, much like I envision the Holy Trinity.

But what happens when they don't?  When, instead of working in unity, these heart parts wage war within us?

It is impossible to live out our lives without encountering pain in this world.  Your emotional heart knows this all too well.  But if, in lieu of being expressed, this pain gets suppressed, that's when everything goes awry.  Gifford says, "When you condemn your emotional heart for the normal feelings it produces, both good and bad, instead of trying to understand why it feels that way, an essential part of your heart gets stifled and shamed, eventually shutting down to cope."

Enter the guardian heart.  "It's sole purpose is to keep you safe," states Gifford, "so your guardian heart will do whatever it needs to accomplish the task.  It believes more than anything that your pain must stay separated from your consciousness or you will be too overwhelmed to keep functioning."

And the function heart?  "(It) must remain in denial about emotional pain or it can't do what it needs to do to stay alive, or perform to remain loved and accepted, or climb towards more success and achievement," Gifford writes.

Bottled-up emotions=overprotective, defensive wall=substituting meaningless doing for mindful being.  In other words, when we don't address and acknowledge the pain we feel in any given circumstance, we run the risk of entering this vicious, self-destructive cycle.

So how might these three work together in a healthy manner?  I'll use the example of a toddler being told, "Hot!  Don't touch!" when she approaches the stove.  Curiosity gets the better of her.  She touches it anyway.  Oh, the pain!!!  She screams and cries, venting her hurt freely and immediately.

To be sure, in the future, her guardian heart will remind her not to venture there again.  And her function heart will help her navigate the kitchen safely when mom or dad is cooking.

If you are suffering from heart dysfunction due to some trauma you simply cannot forgive or forget, I hope you will prayerfully contemplate this heart-healthy advice from Gifford:  "The only way for your heart to live in unity with God is if you're also living in unity with yourself.  This can happen only if you call in a skilled mediator, Jesus, who sits with all the parts of your heart, both wounded and whole, and begins a safe, truthful, inner conversation in which everything is brought to light and laid out on the table."

Because as you think in your heart, so you are.

Amen.

~


Thank you for joining me here for our weekly discussion, chapter by chapter, of Heart Made Whole by Christa Black Gifford.  Make sure to visit my fellow bloggers who are participating:  Jason StasyszenSarah Salter, and Glynn Young.  Although I will post my regular blog this coming Friday, I will be taking off the week of Thanksgiving.
God bless!

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Gratitude Attitude


1 Thessalonians 5:17-18
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

With the Thanksgiving Holiday right around the corner, it isn't unusual to see many folks in the blogosphere and on Facebook extolling the virtues of living life with an active sense of gratitude.  My Christian blogging friend, Deb Wolf, at Counting My Blessings is devoting the month of November to how being thankful can bring us closer to God.

In a recent post, Deb challenges her readers to keep a gratitude journal, writing down seven things each day for which we are grateful.  I decide right away to take her up on it, and I can't tell you how rewarding this practice has already been for me.

And easy!  But I must admit -  the easy part is because I've been cultivating a Gratitude Attitude in my life for many years.  Not a day goes by when I don't give God thanks for even the littlest of kindnesses and pleasures that make me smile.

However, for some of you, who may be going through some discouraging and disappointing times, a Gratitude Attitude is probably not high on your priority list.  Bogged down by stresses, worries, fears, or _______________ (You fill in the blank.), being thankful in such circumstances seems nigh impossible.

But take heart!  According to a November 2014 article in Forbes by psychologist, Amy Morin, the seven scientific benefits of a thankful attitude are too empowering to ignore.  They are as follows:


  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • Gratitude improves physical health.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.
  • Gratitude increases mental strength.
Who wouldn't want any and all of these?

Are you ready to join Deb and me in beginning to write a daily gratitude journal?  Not sure where to start?  Here's a super list of suggestions Deb gives to get us moving and help us stay motivated:

  1. Who was kind to you today?
  2. What did you enjoy doing today?
  3. Who helped you today?
  4. Who did you help?
  5. What is the best thing that happened today?
  6. What simple thing made today a good day?
  7. What did you learn today?
  8. Who made you smile today?  What did they do?
  9. What did you learn from a bad experience?
  10. How did technology make your life easier?
  11. Who made you feel important today?
  12. Who or what made you happy today?
  13. What was your favorite taste, smell, touch, sight, or sound from the day?
  14. What do you like about your neighborhood?
  15. Who forgave you?  Who did you forgive?
  16. What did you do today you couldn't do yesterday?
  17. Who thanked you today?  How did it make you feel?
  18. Who loves you?  Who do you love?
  19. Where did you see God at work today?
  20. What are you most thankful for today?
Great tips, wouldn't you agree?  Thanks, Deb, for inspiring me and others in nurturing a Gratitude Attitude in our lives.

And may we keep this journal not just in the month of November, but all year round!

Amen!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

It's All Papa, All the Time!



2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

According to Scripture, the will of a good father is that all of His children - no matter how vile, destructive, perverse, or sinful - would run into His open arms of love through repentance, finding salvation. ~Christa Black Gifford, Heart Made Whole

As I read Chapter Four, The Reconciled Heart, in Gifford's book, Heart Made Whole, I am particularly moved by an anecdote she relates of her then three-year-old son, Moses,' preference of parents.  Moses is for all things "mommy" - from being buckled into his car seat to being snuggled first thing in the morning.

Although her husband, Luke, "takes Moses to the park, rides bikes to get ice cream, and plays with him for hours to develop attachment and relationship - being more engaged as a father than I've ever seen in an earthly man," still, Moses favors Mom every time.

Luke, to say the least, is disheartened and discouraged.  Wouldn't any of us feel this way when the child we love and nurture seems to care little for our ministrations?

As our oldest granddaughter, Virginia Rose, is growing up, my daughter, Sarah, is working outside the home while husband, John, is going back to school.  There are many mornings, afternoons and evenings, when I take care of this little one, and am glad to do it.  I can't begin to count how many diapers I change, how many games we play, how many bottles I replenish, how many cuddles we share.  This Gammie savors and treasures every moment!

Enter Papa, and all that Gammie loving might as well be chopped liver.  It's all Papa, all the time!















Now make no mistake.  I'm thrilled that Virginia loves her Papa so much, but there is that part of me, which has given such unrestrained and constant dedication to her care, that I can't help but feel just a twinge of sadness.  I give Virginia so much love.  Isn't that enough?

And isn't that exactly how God, our heavenly Father, feels when He provides us with riches and blessings beyond measure, yet we run in another direction, seeking something or someone other than Him?

As Gifford says, "Love cannot be forced.  Love is always a choice."

God gave us free will so that we can choose:  whom we love, when we love, how we love.

An amazing and selfless gift, indeed, from the Father, who only wants our whole-hearted love and obedience.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if each and every one of us could turn our whole hearts to our Abba and say with conviction:  "It's all Papa, all the time!"

Amen.

~



For the next five weeks, I am joining fellow Christian bloggers, Jason StasyszenSarah Salter and Glynn Young in a reflective discussion of Heart Made Whole by Christa Black Gifford.  Please feel free to order the book for yourself and join in with us, or simply visit each person to give them feedback.
God bless!

Friday, November 4, 2016

God's in the Details


Luke 12:6-7
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet no one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I mention in a previous post that our dishwasher begins to act erratically, threatening to quit at any moment.  My husband, Danny, throws the breaker switch and voila!  She's back up and running.

As we are traveling home from our glorious week in the mountains, I receive a text from my son, Daniel, who is temporarily living with us.  Mom, the dishwasher is messing up again.

"Uh-oh," I say aloud, "and I'll bet it's full of dirty dishes."

"The dishwasher isn't working?"  Danny asks in alarm.  "Again?"

"Again," I say gloomily.

"Well, let's not worry about it until we get home," he says.  "You never know; trying the breaker may do the trick one more time."

But it doesn't.

And my premonition of a dishwasher loaded to the gills turns out to be true.  So now, on top of unloading the car and unpacking, I have the added chore of washing all the soiled glasses and plates and utensils.  Bummer!

Or so I imagine.

About half-way through the suds and the scrubbing, the rinsing and drying, I have an epiphany.  In having to wash everything by hand, I'm paying attention, focusing on the details of every surface of the objects I'm cleaning.  Noticing things about our dishes and flatware that I never had before, and coming to appreciate them in a whole new way.

And I'm reminded of how God is in every detail, no matter how minute, of our lives.  He, who numbers the hairs on our head, will never forget nor forsake us.  Just as I hold a glass up to the light to make sure I've cleansed every smudge and smear, so God, through the salvation offered us by Christ Jesus, has removed every stain of sin as far as east is from west.

"Danny," I say with a smile, "Don't buy a new dishwasher."

"You must be joking!"

"No, I'm serious," I assure him.  "Just buy me a drying rack and I'll be happy."

So he does.


And I'm not just happy.


I'm blessed!

~

Are you seeing God in the details of your life?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Who Guards Your Heart?


Mark 9:24
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

Our hearts can either be guarded from God in doubt and distrust, or peace will guard our hearts through relationship as we abide in Christ. ~Christa Black Gifford, Heart Made Whole

It has been thirty-one years since I decided to return to the church I was only sporadically exposed to during my childhood.  I know instinctively that what I've been missing in my shallow, faltering life is God.  And the only way I know to find him is in church.

The moment I step from narthex to nave, the miraculous occurs.  God greets me!  Audibly!  Welcome home!  The voice booms like thunder in my head.  I am awestruck. Amazed!  Beside myself with an indescribable joy.

This prodigal has arrived at the beginning of beginnings, not knowing where the journey will lead, but all in for what God has in store for my life.

As the days, weeks, months, and yes, years pass since that spiritual turning point, I attend church faithfully, involving myself and my children in as many activities as possible.  I look to all the world like a practicing Christian, but on the inside, I'm unexpectedly, disappointingly, battling doubts about my faith.

I try to push them away, blaming their presence on years of secular upbringing, but the harder I try, the more intense they become.  When I look around at my fellow parishioners during worship services, their faces pure and pious (or so I perceive), I am so envious of their whole-hearted acceptance of all God is and was and will be.  Why can't I just let go?  Let go and let God?  Why does my heart doubt?

And every Sunday, when we reach the point of the confessional prayer, the words, "we have not loved you with our whole heart," never cease to leap out of me, shaking their little fists of blame and accusation.  I know what is wrong.  I simply don't know how to fix it.

I wish, back then, that I had had these wise words of Christa Black Gifford in the third chapter, The Doubting Heart, of Hearts Made Whole:  "The deceiver knows that if he can get you to question God as a good Father - believing that He doesn't love you fiercely, that He doesn't fight to protect you, that He didn't send His only Son to restore you to His embrace - then you will begin to withhold pieces of your heart from Him, just as I did."

You see, the devil, who had held me fast in his clutches for so long, deluding himself into thinking he has a prize catch, is enraged by this path I've chosen instead.  He plays every game with my heart and mind, constantly placing those doubts there, staying me from moving past religion into true relationship with God.  He is a tenacious, tortuous enemy, but he cannot and does not win.

For my God who loves me fiercely, who fights to protect me, who died to save me, reveals to me His truth:  I can love because He loved me first.

I need not guard my heart any longer.

I can trust Jesus to guard it for me.

Who guards your heart?

~



For the next six Wednesdays, I will be discussing the book, Heart Made Whole, with fellow Christian bloggers.  Jason StasyszenSarah Salter and Glynn Young.  Want to join us?  Simply order your book at Amazon and chime in on chapter four next week.  We would love to have you!
God bless!

Angels We Have Heard . . . Right Here!

Psalm 91:11-12 For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, L...