Category Archives: Christianity

Stiff Neck

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stiff-neck-womanHave you ever hurt your neck and you aren’t sure how it happened? I experienced that firsthand a couple of weeks ago. I was minding my business, backing out of an ordinary parking space, and a searing pain shot through my neck.  It penetrated deep into the tissue and bone. Immediately, my neck was so stiff, I couldn’t turn to the right or left. As I drove home, I had to reposition my entire body in order to make safe right and left turns. For several days, I could only look straight ahead. Driving, sleeping, and working was difficult. Thank goodness it only lasted a few days.

While my stiff neck was healing, I thought about God’s description of His own people. In Exodus 32, Israel  had sinned big time when they built a golden calf to worship. Their idolatry caused God’s anger to burn against them and He said to Moses, (v. 9) “I have seen this people and behold they are a stiff-necked people.”

God describing His people as stiff-necked was not a compliment.  This word is defined: obstinate, stubborn, willful, rebellious, unruly, and ornery. It means a person has a major attitude problem and an unwillingness to be led. Over and over in scripturestubborn goat God describes His disobedient nation in this unbecoming, uncomplimentary way. In my imagination, I think of a stubborn old goat that refuses his masters leading when I hear this term.

I never want another stiff neck physically but more than that, I don’t want the Lord to describe me in this way. A stiff neck happens when we become hardened to the master’s leading and so certain of self, that we are not easily guided back on the path of spiritual wholeness and wellness.

A spiritual stiff neck is a result of pride.  So what’s the remedy for this? It’s simple,  give your situation over to the Lord. Ask Him to work the kinks out of your life.  It might be painful for a time but, He is a gentle healer.

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I’ll Take My Coffee With Cream

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coffee barI enjoy a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  I like mine with a splash of real half and half. I am definitely not a coffee snob who requires specialty blends, weird milk, or a certain expensive machine to brew it. My sweet husband spoils me by bringing my coffee to me each morning.  He quietly places it on the bedside table. Then he runs, because he knows I am grumpy until I have that first cup!

Occasionally, I meet a friend for coffee at one of the local coffee places in town. Each time I go, I am amazed by all the different orders. There is usually a long line to the counter and I have fun listening as each person orders their own concoction. They step up to the barista and spout their order quickly and with expertise. For example, one might say, “I’ll have a caramel mocha with almond milk and raw sugar, make it a tall.” When they receive their order the customer seems delighted.

 I am amazed at how they know exactly what to order. I am the lady in line who says, “What do you have?” The frustration is evident and the person behind the counter says something impatiently like, “Read the board lady.” I become fearful of making an order mistake so I simply say, “I’ll have a small cup of your regular coffee, please, if it’s not too much trouble.” Then the coffee experts standing nearby are shocked. They suck all the oxygen out the room because of the words I just uttered. I am amazed as they hand me an empty cup as they shoo me away and point out the lonely carafe of house blend in the corner. latte

The last time I left one of these places, I thought to myself. Wow, those people really know how to order their drinks. But later in the day, I thought about it more. Wouldn’t it be great if we knew how to order our lives like we know how to order our coffee? As Christ-followers we never need to fear making a mistake in the way we order our lives. Scripture tells us in Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord and he delights in his way.” The word “ordered” in this verse is complex but clearly defined in the Hebrew language. It means “established, to be steadfast, firm, to be ready and prepared.” Because the Lord orders our lives, we can be confident that He directs each step we take. Don’t be troubled as you try to order your life. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” 

Stumbling Over Easter

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My friend Tracy was enticed by a bag of brightly colored Easter candy at the local grocery store.  Little did she know when she took the bag of jelly beans from the shelf, that the bag had a big hole in it. The entire bag of candy scattered all across the floor of the store and down the aisle, creating a huge commotion. Tracy was afraid the jelly beans might cause an elderly person to stumble and fall so she desperately tried to clean up. She told me that’s what she gets for giving into the sweet temptation. The good news is no one tripped and fell in her Easter mess.

My friend’s jelly bean dilemma reminded me of something that has crept into our American culture. When I look around at the various stores and watch the ads on television, Easter is becoming more commercialized each year. Easter break is now called Spring Break. Easter is about bunny rabbits, eggs, flowers, candy, ham dinners, and new clothes. Easter is no longer a Christian holiday and our pagan society entices us away from the true meaning and message. Our worldliness tempts us to forget the centrality of the Cross and makes an Easter mess of the single most important event in history.

Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Most people don’t want to hear the message of the cross anymore. Liberal thinkers stumble over Easter and say the cross represents weakness and a mean-spirited God. They trip over the message of the cross and it is foolishness to them.

But to those of us who know, the cross is the ultimate statement of love, sacrifice, and grace. And what followed the cross, the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  that event is the ultimate statement of power!  

What part of Easter is causing you to stumble? What part will you play in cleaning up this Easter mess?

Heavenly Father,  Remind us daily of the true meaning of Easter. Show us how to clean up this mess so no one else will stumble. In the name of the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, Amen

Almond Joy and the Joy of my Heart

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When we lived in North Carolina, I met my friend Sandra. Our sons were playmates in preschool and not only did the boys hit it off, Sandra and I did, too. We’ve been friends for over 30 years. Sandra was a great wife to her husband and a wonderful mother to her children. The first time we met, I knew there was something different about her and in time, I found out what made her unique.

One time I was babysitting her children. As she walked out the door, she told me there was a little gift for me in the kitchen. I was so excited. We both lived on tight budgets and we didn’t get too many surprises or treats. I knew that if she bought me anything, it came with great sacrifice on her part.

After she left, I went into the kitchen and found a brown paper bag.  I opened the bag to find an Almond Joy candy bar and a neatly wrapped gift. I carefully opened the package and inside was a beautiful green and gold Living Bible. I was so excited to have the candy bar but I couldn’t wait to check out my new Bible. The only Bible I owned was one from my childhood and the dog had chewed up all  the book of Jonah and most of the book of John.

Sandra didn’t know at the time but her gifts changed my life and my destiny. Several months later while I was reading the Living Bible, I came to know the Lord from the Truth found in the book of Romans.  That Almond Joy candy bar was a sweet treat but pure joy came from the sweet words of God! Psalm 119:111, “I have inherited Your testimonies forever, For they are the joy of my heart.”

Over time, I learned  what made my friend different, it was her relationship with Jesus Christ. She had a countenance of peace, great wisdom, and a heart full of love and joy. She shared with me the greatest gift we can give to another, the sweet life-giving, life-changing Word of God. To this day, God’s Word is my passion! I crave it like a sugar addict craves an Almond Joy!

Who in your life will you influence for Christ?  What eternal opportunities are right under your nose?

Heavenly Father, Thank you for putting people in our lives who make an eternal difference. Open our eyes to new opportunities at home, at school, with our friends, at work and even in our churches. In Jesus Name, Amen

archived devotionals at circleofsavings.com

The Great Escape

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Last summer we were watching our son’s labrador retriever puppy while he and his wife went out-of-town for a couple of days. Sadie was a typical lab puppy. She was a curious, clumsy, chewing ball of fluff . She enjoyed the large fenced yard and being outside with their other two dogs.

Because Sadie was a puppy, we checked on her several times a day to make sure she had plenty to eat and drink. Each time, she was thrilled to see human beings and she craved our hugs, rubs, dog treats, and kind words. But, one time, things weren’t right with her. She didn’t come running to see my husband, Mark. But, he could hear her crying and barking.

When Mark found her, the other two dogs were standing over her and she was on the ground struggling, totally bound by a long  tv cable. In her attempts to pull the cable to chew it, she became so ensnared and entangled  that she was trapped and struggling  to breathe. It took Mark a long time to untangle the cable  and to  free Sadie. When she finally escaped, she ran far away from the danger. Sadie was grateful to Mark. She seems to have great affection for her rescuer and even though Mark won’t admit it, he loves her, too! We still wonder how that little puppy got into such a dangerous trap in such a short amount of time?

As Christ-followers we can get into trouble pretty fast ourselves. We go through life and something distracts and gets our attention. Then we are drawn to the distraction. We move from looking to exploring and if we are not careful, we become trapped in a dangerous situation. We become a tangled mess and we can’t free ourselves. There is no way out and we need a helper.

Scripture tells us we have a way to escape the snares in life. We have a helper to free us from dangerous traps. Psalm 124:7-8, “Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper. The snare is broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” Our helper is the Lord. He broke the snare of sin and death and we have escaped the danger of eternal judgment.

In what dangerous situation(s) do you find yourself? To whom will you go for help? How will you thank the Lord for freeing you?

Heavenly Father, You are our Helper, who  is also the Maker of heaven and earth. Thank you for not leaving us in the trap of sin and death.  Teach us through your Word how to live in total freedom and warn us of the dangers of sin. In Your Son Jesus’ Name, Amen

Don’t Hang Up Your Harp

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My pastor, Dr. Rod MacIlvaine has been teaching in the Psalms for the past few weeks. This week he will speak about, Praise- a Powerful but Neglected Discipline. (available online next week at gccbartlesville.org) He explained during this series, that the book of Psalms begins with an invitation to love God and it ends with a command to praise God.

God’s people are known for their praise. In the Old Testament the Israelites sang, danced, played tambourines and harps to worship the Lord. In the New Testament there are numerous examples of praise. But did you know there was a season when the music of God’s people ceased?

Psalm 137 tells us when the Israelites were taken captive by the Babylonians, the people missed Jerusalem so much, they hung their harps in the willow trees and wept. Psalm 137:1-3, “By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”  They mourned the loss of their land, their freedom, their old life, and the way things were. Verse 4 says, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

Look around, do you feel like you live in a foreign land? America has changed a lot in the past few years. Our country is not the nation it used to be. A few short years ago, we were a Christian nation of integrity. The economy was in check and there was prosperity. We were not under the threat of terrorist and there was security. But now, if you look around, it looks like we are living in a foreign land.  

What’s robbing you of your song? Do you ever feel like sitting down and weeping because you miss America? Do feel tormented by others who mock your Lord? Do you feel like hanging up your harp?

Well don’t hang up your harp yet!  We are commanded to praise the Lord. Psalm 150 is a six verse praise of God, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!”

So get your harp out that tree, find your tambourine and cymbals, and  put on your dancing shoes. It is time to praise the Lord!

Heavenly Father, take our eyes off our situation and put them on you. Fill our minds, hearts, and mouths with praise. When we are tempted to be silent, nudge us toward obedience. In Jesus Name, Amen

archived devotionals available also at circleofsavings.com

 

Can Christmas Be Found in a Box of Chocolate Covered Cherries?

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I pray this story from my life will touch and change your life. Hallmark could say it better but please accept my words as your Christmas card this year. Merry Christmas!

                                                                                                                                                                                

While I have received wonderful Christmas presents in the past, there have been several gifts I will never forget. This week I walked through the local drugstore and I saw a box of chocolate covered cherries. That box took me back to a time when I first learned the meaning of Christmas.

When I was in 7th grade, there was a tall, African-American girl who sat behind me in home room class. She was the star basketball player on the Jr. High team. Her name was Sybil and she lived with her grandmother in one of the smallest houses in the poorest section of town. Other girls whispered about her and I overheard that she had already had a baby.  Sybil smelled of grease and wood smoke. Her clothes were threadbare and her shoes had holes. Each day when she arrived we said hello and smiled at one another. I was a small, quiet, studious girl and definitely not one in the popular crowd. She was shy like me so we didn’t really talk.

The last day of school before Christmas break,  I noticed other kids were exchanging gifts with their friends but I wasn’t one of them. Sybil came to home room class with a small gift in her hand. It was simply wrapped and topped with a stick on bow. I thought to myself, “I am so glad poor Sybil has a friend to exchange a gift with.” But she walked past everyone else and stopped at my desk. She put the box on my desktop and said, “I got you a Christmas present.”

Of course I was caught so off-guard I asked, “why?” She said, “Because you’re my friend.” She made me open the gift and it was a box of chocolate covered cherries! Sybil and I sat right there in home room, right in front of everyone and shared that delicious box of candy. We ate every piece. She smiled and smiled as she bit off the tops, sucked out the juice, picked out the cream and then chewed up the cherry. We had our own private Christmas celebration!

I can’t imagine how much she and her family sacrificed to buy the candy. I can’t figure out how or why the Lord put Sybil and me on a collision course that led us to an unexpected friendship.  But this much I did figure out, Christmas can be found in a box of chocolate covered cherries.

In what unexpected places will you find Christmas this year? 

Heavenly Father,  give us unexpected joy in unexpected places this Christmas. Slow us down and enlighten us so we might find and experience the true meaning of Christmas. In Jesus Name, Amen   John 1:9, John 1:14 and Matthew 1:21

5.6, 10:53, 11/5 (All Shook Up)

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No, the title of this post in not an error and no, it is not my Dancing With the Stars cumulative score and it’s certainly not part of some marathon I ran! But if you live in Oklahoma, it won’t take you long to figure it out.

On Saturday night, November 5, I was studying and preparing to lead a Precept Class. The passage I was studying was Isaiah 24-25. The study material was weighty and yet, full of rich teaching. Isaiah 24 deals with the judgment of the Earth. God is specific in telling us how this will happen. Isaiah 24:18c-20, “…the foundations of the earth shake. The earth is broken asunder, The earth is split through, The earth is shaken violently. The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard and it totters like a shack, For its transgression is heavy upon it, And it will fall, never to rise again.”

After I finished the preparation to teach, I closed my Bible and went to bed about 10:30. But before I could shut my eyes, I thought I was living Isaiah 24! I heard a low rumble and roar but it wasn’t thunder, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. As the seconds ticked it became louder and not only did I hear it, I felt beneath me what I was already hearing. The roar become louder and stronger. The ceiling fan shook, the mirrors shook and I SHOOK!

I immediately thought it would be just like God to let me in on Isaiah 24 and then give me a living illustration. As scary as it was, it was awesome, too! An earthquake in Oklahoma, REALLY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME, LORD? To witness another of the Lord’s displays of power was incredible. I have been in hurricanes, I have seen tornadoes, but this was so different. There was no way to get away from it or to prepare for it. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/usb0006klz.php

The good news, no one was injured and our home was fine. We escaped with a crack in the bathroom floor. The next day or two we had minor aftershocks but the next time, I knew how to recognize the earthquake.

God warns us about what is going to happen in the future. His prophetic Word informs us of the things which are to come. He lets His children in on His future plans not to scare us but to prepare us. Do you know God’s Word well enough to recognize the coming events that are promised? Are you scared or prepared when it comes to the future?

Heavenly Father, Open our eyes to ALL Your Word including Your prophetic promises. Shake us up and out of our complacency. Use the Truth to create a sense of urgency in reaching others with the Truth. In Jesus Name, Amen

Okay, Let’s “Talk Story”

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I have friends who spend three consecutive weeks each summer in Hawaii. Believe me, they need it and deserve it since both of them are in full-time ministry in a thriving church. While in Hawaii, they meet many of their neighbors in nearby condos. In developing these relationships, they have discovered a Hawaiian term and custom. It’s called “Talk Story.”

The locals in Hawaii live  a much slower pace than we do on the mainland.  They get to know their neighbors, they eat together and actually spend time to “Talk Story.” I looked it up and talk story means “to chat informally.” Another way to say it might be, “Let’s get together and shoot the breeze.”

It’s refreshing to think that people actually make time to simply talk. I was deeply convicted by the “Talk Story” concept. What if we, as Christ-followers, actually slowed down long enough to chat informally in this fast paced, technologically isolated place where we live? What if the Lord afforded us the opportunity to “Talk Story” with others who don’t know Him? Would we be ready to do that?

1 Peter 3:15 tell us to always be ready to “talk story,”  “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Look at this verse and let’s ask some basic questions. Who is to be ready to talk story? Those who sanctify Christ as Lord. With whom are we to talk story? Everyone who asks us. How are we to talk story? We are to always be ready to give an account with gentleness and reverence.

How ready are we? Would we shy away from some people and embrace others? What if that opportunity came in the midst of a busy day, would we talk story with gentleness and reverence?

Heavenly Father, Give us numerous opportunities to talk story with others. Use your Word to help us be ready and temper our words with gentleness and reverence. In Jesus Name, Amen

She Looks Like One, Talks Like One, Acts Like One but…

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If you walked into my kitchen and looked around, you would see a five burner stainless steel name brand gas cooktop, a stainless steel range hood and a nice French style (freezer on the bottom, two doors at the top) stainless refrigerator. If you glanced in my cabinets, you would see shiny Williams and Sonoma All-Clad cookware with a matching stock pot, pasta pot and colander. On my countertop there are Hinckel knives from Germany.  I have cool small appliances like grinders, choppers, graters, rice steamer, two crock pots, electric skillet, wok, three kinds of mixers, and a roasting oven, (that will roast two chickens at a time) just to name a few.

If you talked to me about food preparation, ingredients and terminology, I can talk a good talk. My favorite spices are herb de Provence (a yummy combination of rich spices and a little hint  of lavender) and fresh ground nutmeg. I know the difference between braise, broil, and bake. I know how to marinate, mascerate, and infuse.

But…even though I have the equipment of a chef, the vocabulary of a chef, and I can cook, I AM NOT A CHEF. I am only an average cook and I can honestly say I don’t enjoy cooking very much.

If you saw my kitchen equipment and talked to me about food,  you would probably mistake me for a chef (at the very least a great cook) based on how I look, how I talk, and how I act.

I am GUILTY of this kind of mistake so often. Because I am in full-time ministry at a church, I come in contact with numerous people in our church, other churches, and in  para-church organizations. If I am not careful, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of jumping to quick conclusions about other people. 

If someone is well-groomed, well dressed, and smells good, then I decide she must be a Christian. If she uses nice words and even drops the occasional Christianease (Christian speak), I decide she must be a Christian because she has the vocabulary down pat. If she goes to church, Bible Study in middle of the week, and serves often, then she must be a Christian. 

But, what if I met someone  who didn’t exactly have the nice wardrobe and the right hair style and make up? What if I met someone who had a  potty mouth and  used profanity and questionable slang terms? What if her life was in so much turmoil  that she barely made it to church every Sunday? Would I assume, based on what I saw and heard, that she might not be a Christian?

If we are honest with ourselves and each other, we will admit that we are quick to jump to conclusions about others based on what we see and what we hear. As humans, we assume a lot about people everyday.  As believers, we assume a lot about who is a Christ-follower and who is not.

It gives me great comfort and freedom to know that it is not my responsibility to decide what’s inside another man or woman. In 1 Samuel 16:7 the Lord gave Samuel a command and then gave him a reason for the command, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his (Saul, my emphasis)stature, because I have rejected him(Saul); for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 

What do you notice first about another person? How quick are you to come to a conclusion based on what you see and hear from someone? How will you temper judgement with grace this week?

Heavenly Father, Forgive us for jumping to our own conclusions and assumptions about others. Give us eyes of love so we might view others rightly. In Jesus Name, Amen

Archived devotionals at circleofsavings.com