Today Counts

clock

When making food choices, I sometimes pretend that today doesn’t count. I’m out of town or I’m celebrating or I’m with friends, etc. So I tell myself that today’s choices are somehow null and void and I’ll pick up my “right choice thinking” tomorrow. (Click here to read another post on this.)

What I am realizing is I periodically have this “today doesn’t count” attitude in other areas. Not all, though. For example, I always choose to brush my teeth and take a shower. (Aren’t you glad?) And in homeschooling, I know every day counts and organize each school year accordingly. I allow for 180 days of schooling and use an accommodating curriculum. That’s not to say we are rigid. This year we started two weeks early so we could take a two-week vacation in September. I planned for it because I know the choices I make today (every day) will affect tomorrow’s outcomes.

However I am not as disciplined in all areas of life. Therefore I must pause to consider if I give the most important areas proper attention on a daily basis. Or do I take this “today doesn’t count” attitude more often than I should? The choices I make today, whether deliberate and prayer-filled or impulsive and whimsical, will affect tomorrow and the next day and the next. There is a cumulative effect. The person I am next week, month, and year is a direct result of the minor decisions I make today. And, to further complicate matters, there is a trickledown effect. I, in fact, do not live in a bubble—my attitude, knowledge, and disposition rub off on those around me. The most effective way to teach my children self-discipline is to model it.

So which areas require daily cultivation in an intentional manner? I suggest you ask God to show you. For me, the list includes (but is not limited to): Bible reading, prayer, physical well-being, and relationships—with God, my husband, my children, my church family, and friends.

In which areas of life do you sometimes take a “today doesn’t count” attitude?

Will you prayerfully consider making a change today?

Advertisements

Longing for More – Part 2

Don and David praying

The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for SEEK. The original publication date is May 6, 2012. Click here for Part 1.

Offer the Bread of Life to Others

Perhaps your life, like mine, seems mundane and ordinary. Maybe you are asking: How can I offer the Bread of Life to others?

Begin in the home. Offer a kind word and a listening ear to your spouse. Nurture your children’s souls while nourishing their physical bodies. Have supper as a family around the dining room table. While you eat, read a word of Scripture, say a short prayer, ask each person about his/her day.

Develop personal relationships. I purposefully befriended a woman having marital problems. She needed someone to whom she could reveal the intimate details of her life. I listened to her, cried with her, and prayed for her as I gently led her to the foot of the cross.

Open your home. Jesus admonishes, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) You may be thinking: I don’t know how to cook. My house is a mess. I don’t have time. I have recited these excuses. But once I decided relationships were more important than appearances and invited others to break bread in our home, I found my guests relaxed as they realized I do not keep a perfect house, do not have perfect children, and cannot make a gourmet meal. This genuine environment created a calming effect.

These small gestures are only a few examples of how we can introduce Christ to the world. As you cultivate a relationship with Him through daily disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship with other believers, God will open your eyes to opportunities for ministering. He will use your gifts to glorify Himself. I pray as I rise in the morning, “Lord, less of me and more of You. Lord, Your agenda, not mine.” I am far from perfect, but as God molds me into His image, He directs my path and shines His light through me. As I help others, Jesus restores me. As I lift my eyes from my own circumstances and see others as Jesus does, He changes me.

I pray that as you help others, Jesus will restore and mold you. May your story be more like these:  Longing for Mr. Right, a teenage girl attends a worship service. Recently demoted, a husband calls his pastor. Tired of her seemingly pointless life, a stay-at-home mom volunteers at the local crisis pregnancy center. Defeated, a divorced man falls to his knees. Lonely, a single mother reaches for her Bible. Each longs for a more satisfying life and realizes only God can bridge the gap between here and there.

 

Longing for More – Part 1

longing for a better car

The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for SEEK. The original publication date is May 6, 2012. Part 2 will post next week.

Longing for Mr. Right, a teenage girl caves in to her boyfriend’s unrelenting requests. Recently demoted, a husband finds a pornographic website. Tired of her seemingly pointless life, a stay-at-home mom heads to bed. Defeated, a divorced man steps into the bar. Lonely, a single mother reaches into the freezer for the half-gallon of Rocky Road. Each desires to drown the sorrow. Each wishes to escape reality. Each believes there is more to life, but cannot bridge the gap between here and there.

A crowd gathered around Jesus longing for more. They, too, knew life without meaning wasn’t life at all. A spark of hope ignited as they watched Jesus distribute food to over 5000 hungry people. They witnessed a miracle. And they thought they had found it—the answer to their dilemmas, the solution to their problems—an unending supply of food for their stomachs and rest for their souls.

The next day the crowd tracked Jesus down. They sought Him not because of who He was, but for what He could provide.  However, Jesus saw the shallowness of their journey. He knew their purpose—to obtain another meal, a quick fix. They wanted a tangible, albeit temporary, physical satisfaction—a full belly. But, they missed the point. Their focus was off. Instead of looking at Jesus, they only saw the food He provided.

Have you found yourself caught in a whirlwind of bad choices? Have you wallowed in self-pity and turmoil to the point of destruction? Are you seeking fulfillment in sex, alcohol, drugs, shopping, sleep or food? If so, you are not alone.

Many evenings, I found myself devouring another bowl of ice cream, hoping to satisfy the empty pit I felt. But instead the sensation still existed with guilt heaped on top. Just like the crowd, I turned my focus toward a temporary solution. And while food may relieve the pain momentarily, it will not feed the ultimate problem. The purpose of food is to sustain life and provide fuel for our bodies. But it will not fill the emptiness in our souls. It will not relieve the longing we have to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Jesus warned, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)

When we recognize our worth and value cannot be found at the bottom of an ice cream container, at the end of a long nap, or in a closet full of clothes, we like David can cry, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

And Jesus’ response to our cry? “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Do not look at what Jesus can give you or do for you, but to Jesus Himself. As bread swells in our stomachs and relieves our hunger pangs, the Bread of Life seeps into our inner beings and seals our spiritual gaps. He speaks to our worries, doubts, and fears. When we allow these truths to cleanse our souls and wash away our aches and pains, we will find peace. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we will encounter joy.

I can’t say I no longer seek comfort in the arms of a bowl of ice cream; however, as God draws me closer to Him, I slowly understand that His arms are far reaching and unending—His love covers all and triumphs over all. It is from this place, in His embrace, I can minister to others. It is from this place, enveloped in His grace and mercy, His life overflows from my heart to others. It is from this place, lavished with love, I can offer the Bread of Life to a hurting world.

Housekeeping:  As you read this I am sailing on a Carnival cruise in the Western Caribbean, so do not be offended if I don’t respond to your comment in a timely manner.

Gods at War by Kyle Idleman – Book Review

gods at war kyle idleman

Occasionally I read a book that turns my world upside down. This is one such book. In Gods at War, Kyle Idleman defines and explains idolatry at its deepest level, yet uses down-to-earth language, heart-felt stories, and humor to connect with his readers.

Idleman introduces the subject of idolatry, worshiping false gods, by using case studies to help define it and explain why it’s necessary to identify idols in our lives.

“A god is what we sacrifice for and what we pursue.”

The author asks pointed questions to help us spot gods in our lives. These aren’t surface questions like: Do you worship money? Instead he asks the reader to look at bank statements to analyze spending habits. He also asks questions like:

“Where do you go when you’re hurting?”

“What worries you?”

Idleman helps readers see how the past and the culture influence which gods we worship and explains that God is jealous and does not want to share His throne with other gods.

After laying this groundwork, Idleman pinpoints nine different gods classified into three categories, the temple of pleasure, the temple of power, and the temple of love.

What I found eye-opening was the level to which idols root and where they can be found. For instance, I already knew food was an idol. However, I was unaware that, at times, food is a means to a different end, pleasure. For more on this, read this post.

Moreover, I unearthed other idols in my life. In an earlier post, I wrote, “I have been feeling frazzled, stressed, and agitated, an indication that something is amiss.” My schedule has been tight and I haven’t accomplished the goals I set for myself. I knew there was a problem but couldn’t identify it. Then I read this:

“Goals can become gods. You start to serve them, live for them, and sacrifice for them.” (Gods at War)

I allowed my schedule and goals to rule my life. In the midst of a hectic summer, I have been kneeling before a false god, the god of achievement.

At the end of each of the nine “god of . . .” chapters, Idleman reminds us that:

“Idols are defeated not by being removed but by being replaced.”

“Until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes his rightful place, you will not have victory.”

I highly recommend this book. It will change your life. For more information or to order this book, click here.

gods at war

A Message That Requires a Response

It’s hard for me to read a book centered on idolatry without food coming to the forefront. I have kneeled at the throne of food on and off for almost thirty years (I know you are thinking I can’t be that old); so I was beyond thrilled to see Kyle Idleman included an entire chapter on food in his book gods at war.

I wrote a blog entitled Food: Lies We Believe and Truth That Sets Us Free for several years. During that time I explored lies we tell ourselves to justify eating improperly and attempted to dispel the lies with biblical truth. So food idolatry is not a new subject for me. Unfortunately, I recently had to confront this ugly god once again. I had allowed it to slither back into my life and needed to face reality. Therefore Idleman’s thoughts on idolatry were timely and required a response.

What I found interesting was the placement of this particular chapter—first in a list of three (the god of food, the god of sex, and the god of entertainment) under the section entitled the temple of pleasure.

Food can be misused or worshiped for multiple reasons: to pacify a talking stomach, to stuff a feeling of rejection, to quiet loathing self-talk, to induce pleasant memories of the past, because it tastes irresistibly good (emphasis on irresistible). The list is endless. Most of these excuses (read: lies we believe) are born from a desire to be comfortable—physically, emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically. A synonym of comfortable is pleased. I think we seek pleasure in order to feel comfortable or comforted. As Idleman points out, there is a reason we call it “comfort food.”

This isn’t the first time God has talked with me about my obsessive need to be comfortable. In general, I do not like to be cold . . . or hot. I don’t want to be wet (unless I’m swimming) or have wind blowing on me. I don’t like to feel restrained or constrained. I don’t want my children to misbehave in public or for someone to pull a prank on me. I don’t like to be thirsty or hungry. And I really don’t want to be in pain. I will go to great lengths to alleviate physical or emotional pain.

It’s natural for us to seek comfort when faced with disagreeable situations. Sadly, we look for it in the wrong places—food, new gadgets, the opposite sex, etc.

“But think about this:” Idleman states, “Comforter is what God calls himself. He is the God of all comfort and he is ready to talk with you about your day. The Prince of Peace waits to give you his gifts and strengthen you. He wants to be your satisfaction.”

Is food an idol in your life?
Are you inappropriately seeking pleasure from food (or some other idol)?
How will you respond to this message?

Food, like most things in life, requires the proper amount of attention. If you find yourself thinking about it more than necessary, it may be an idol in your life. “Idols are defeated not by being removed but by being replaced.” (Idleman) Replace your idol/god with the one true God, Jesus Christ.

*For more of my thoughts on eating issues and food, wander through the posts at Food: Lies We Believe and Truth That Sets Us Free. I recommend starting here and working your way backwards through the posts.

food idolatry, joy of cooking

Encourage the Radical

In Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love, he refers to interactions he encountered with others after feeling led by God to make a radical change in his life.

When I returned from my first trip to Africa, I felt very strongly that we were to sell our house and move into something smaller, in order to give more away. The feedback I got was along the lines of “It’s not fair to your kids,” “It’s not a prudent financial choice,” and “You are doing it just for show.” I do not remember a single person who encouraged me to explore it or supported me to explore it or supported the decision at the time.

Although I find this sad, it is not surprising. Even within churches, there are norms, standards, boundaries created. One does not simply downsize for the sole purpose of giving away more money.

Don and I ran into a similar situation while trying to bring Melinda home from Guatemala. A year and a half into what was supposed to be a four to six month process we still faced obstacles. While not everyone discouraged us, we felt some within Christian circles believed we should cut our losses and move on.

In certain areas of life the differences between the church and society in general is almost indistinguishable. Eating is one of those areas. I have battled food issues since puberty; but I have learned not to tell people when I am trying to eat well or attempting to eat less. Inevitably I will hear, “Oh, you look great. You don’t need to worry about losing weight.” I stopped attending a Bible Study because the hostess was offended if I did not eat dessert. The temptation to cave into her (many) offers was too hard to resist (even though I knew I would be sinning if I ate it).

Most of us have been on the receiving end of such statements; however, we feel justified when we are the ones making the assertion. What I think we fail to understand is we can be a stumbling block to what God is trying to accomplish in someone’s life. It may be we don’t grasp the call or we fear he is stepping out of God’s will simply because it’s not what Christians normally do.

The typical churchgoer will not ask me why I am choosing to eat differently. If she did, she may find that food can be an idol in my life. She may also find I need encouraged and prayer because my flesh is weak in this area.

Not every Christian is called to sell his/her house, adopt or eat differently. However, we are asked to live by God’s standards, not the world’s. Therefore He may request us to make changes that appear extreme.

Shouldn’t church be the place where we are encouraged to follow God no matter the cost? Shouldn’t we feel comfortable, dare I say excited, to share God’s next adventure for our lives with those who claim to love Him wholeheartedly?

Maybe before we speak, we should prayerfully consider if it is a time to encourage a fellow Christian to step out in faith.

Let me be the first to encourage you to pursue with abandon God’s directive even when it appears radical.

Who does God want you to encourage today?

India

Photo taken in India, courtesy of Don Winters

Can You See Him?

Can you see Him?

He is in your midst.

He is in the vastness of the ocean.

He is in the details of a raindrop.

graveyard

Gettysburg

He is in the symbols of our past.

children

He is in the symbols of our future.

He is in the warm blanket on your back.

He is in the roof over your head.

He is in a surgeon’s hands.

He is in a teacher’s arms.

decor

He is in the décor on our wall.

flower

He is in the décor in our backyard.

He is in a lover’s kiss.

He is in a friend’s embrace.

He is in the first bite of a Lindt chocolate.

biscotti & coffee

He is in the first sip of coffee.

He is in a good book.

He is in The Good Book.

Can you see Him?

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20