Friday, October 28, 2011

Should Christians Observe Halloween? (& 20 alternative ways to celebrate)

Oh, how I love this time of year!

Here in the Carolinas, the weather is like heaven - cool and crisp in the mornings, and warm and gorgeous in the afternoons. Yet, although I love the fall, and all the colorful foliage that comes with it, I have to admit that I do not love the holiday celebrated in October.

Just so you do not think that I am a complete party-pooper-prude about Halloween, I will share that I have always allowed my children to go trick or treating, returning home weighted down with their candy treasures. We have seventeen years of pictures of all of them dressed up in their cute, shiny costumes, with little fingers wrapped tightly around the handles of their orange, plastic pumpkins.

I love having my children's friends come over for Halloween, and some of our adult friends, while we cook chili, enjoy a bonfire, and hand out candy to all the sweet faces that come to our door.

But even though it is fun, I am always glad when Halloween is behind us, because in all honesty, I really do not like this holiday at all ..... for several reasons:

Reason # 1:  I despise spiders, and they are every size.. in every furry eight-legged species.... in every store during the month of October! Yuck. Ewww. Double yuck.

Reason # 2: I despise scary movies. Why would I want to watch something that makes me terrified to go to bed at night? Even some of the television commercials during the weeks leading up to Halloween often leave me feeling like I need to sleep with the lights on.

Reason # 3:  The retail industry is getting rich from selling cheaply made, over-priced costumes, most of which are entirely inappropriate for children (and adults for that matter!)

Reason # 4: I have always struggled with whether or not God would really approve of His beloved children participating in the celebration.

The first three reasons simply expose that I have a weak stomach for spiders, blood and gore.

But the fourth reason always causes me to question whether or not I should celebrate at all, considering my allegiance to Christ. Even if we consider Halloween to be nothing more than an evening of innocent fun, there is no denying that it started from pagan and demonic rituals.

Although scripture does not specifically address the commercialized holiday we call Halloween, it does provide insight into whether or not God would approve.  There are countless references in the Bible attesting to the fact that pagan idol worship, and any behavior that condoned or promoted satanic or demonic practices, were not only frowned upon by God, but forbidden, and many times punishable by death.

Let's state the obvious fact that most of you may be thinking - "It is not evil or demonic to dress up in a fun costume and go trick or treating, or host a party for friends!"  I completely agree. However,  there are anti-Christian costumes, decorations and festivities that promote the dark side of the spiritual realm, which are certainly unacceptable in God's eyes.

So, what is a Christian to do? Is it possible to celebrate Halloween without compromising our faith?  I believe the answer is yes, as long as we remember to do everything we do, as unto the Lord, as we are instructed in Colossians 3:17.  We are called to be in the world, but not of the world, so we can choose to be involved in Halloween, without being a part of Halloween, that promotes the dark side. 

For example, I have always chosen costumes for my children based on fairy tale characters, books, sports, movies, etc., as opposed to demons, devils, witches with warts, dripping blood, or masks worn by mass murderers. My kids know full well, even though they are now teenagers, that if a costume even looks to be in the demonic category - or if even one drip of fake red blood is visible - not to even waste their words by asking to wear it.

But regardless of our personal beliefs on how to celebrate, it is just as important that we respect and consider other points of view.

Romans 14 instructs us to respect each others opinions in all areas of life, and without passing judgement. In regards to Halloween, we are each to decide for ourselves how we want to celebrate this fall holiday, and follow our own convictions about how we observe it, without condemning those who choose a different way than us.

For those of us who are not into skulls, snakes, red eyed rats, bloody makeup and headless yard art, I thought I would offer some food for thought (or should I say candy corn pumpkins for thought - my fave!). Smiles.

Here are a few family-friendly ideas for you to consider doing during this years Halloween celebrations.

* Purchase costumes that do not portray something that God would not be supportive of
* Host an Unhalloween celebration - get creative about doing things opposite from the typical halloween celebrations
* Seek out local farms or parks who are offering hay rides and bonfires and spend the evening there instead of trick or treating
* Visit a corn maze
* Have a pumpkin carving party with the winner being the one who has the happiest face; offer a small prize or candy for most joyful pumpkin
* If you don't want to give the kids a carving knife, buy lots of colors of paint, and have them paint on the faces instead
* Check local listings for holiday celebrations at churches
* Throw an orange and black party - ask all guests to wear orange and black, and/or bring a dessert or appetizer that consists primarily of those colors

* Decorate your home with fall colors and festive leaves and wreaths
* Host a Bible character dress up contest
* Pass out some Christian tracts, or small New Testaments, instead of candy
* Have a family meeting before hand, and brainstorm some fun new ways to celebrate or do something different on Halloween night
* Decide upon some fun, new snacks to make, like popcorn balls, a special baked item, or a Halloween themed cake or treat, and have a family cooking night
* Plan a progressive Halloween party with a group of friends.
* Have a themed party, like a "Noah's Ark" party; have the guests come in animal or character costumes; make a cake that looks like a boat; offer animal crackers and goldfish.
* Carve pumpkins for a nursing home and deliver with lighted candles on Halloween
* Make pumpkin bread as a family, or any pumpkin snacks (check out
Leann Rices She Cooks website for some awesome pumpkin-flavored ideas that she has shared this month!)
* Go to a pumpkin patch; come home on and watch the Charlie Brown "Its The Great Pumpkin" cartoon
* Have a big bonfire outside in the back yard, and roast marshmallows and hot dogs.

In whatever ways you choose to celebrate, have a happy and safe Halloween!

Should Christians Observe Halloween? (& 20 alternative ways to celebrate)SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From Altercation To Altar Call

My husband noticed that my twelve year old son was involved in a minor commotion on the other side of the sanctuary, before whispering to me that something was going down. What I at first thought was an invitation for a scolding, turned out to be a glimpse of a precious blessing.

We attend a large church which has a very large youth group, packed with kids ages 7th-12th grades. All of the youth sit together every Sunnday in one section of the sanctuary which happens to be on the opposite side from where my husband and I have always claimed our pews.

Since the service had just begun and the congregation was still standing and singing praise songs, I excused myself from the pew, walked to other side of the sanctuary, and motioned for my son to follow me out into the lobby, so we could discuss why an altercation was occurring in the church pew.

I could tell how hard he was trying to hold back his tears and be a little man about the whole thing, so I knew it was time to listen, and not fuss. Apparently a friend wanted to sit in the spot where he and another friend were sitting, and so a typical-middle-school-boy-scuffle ensued. His tears were in part due to receiving an elbow in the eye, but also due to hurt pride, and anger. 

We talked it out for a few minutes as I placed a wet cloth on his eye. Then despite my motherly insistence that he come snuggle beside me for the remainder of the service, he insisted on returning to his regular seat with the rest of the youth, so we parted ways and went back into the sanctuary.

The sermon that day was about anger. Our pastor shared great insight into the reasons we get angry, and when it is, and is not, okay to feel anger. But most importantly, he shared the right ways that we should respond to our anger when it happens, according to God's Word.

He shared many scriptures and stories to support God's view on anger, and just to name a few (NLT):

Proverbs 12:16 A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.
Proverbs 25:28 Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.
Proverbs 28:13  Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

The pastor ended his sermon and closed in prayer. Soft music began to play, as the congregation was  extended an invitation to come to the altar if they felt God's nudging to do so.

Within seconds, I noticed that a young man had walked to the altar, bent down on his knees, buried his face in his arms, and proceeded to pray. He looked familar, but seemed bigger than my son.... although he was wearing the same shirt. And the same pants. And in fact, the same shoes. Could it be?

This young man kneeling at the altar, WAS my son.

My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. I felt the sting of warm tears bursting into my eyes as they were fixated on my precious little man, on bended knee before God.

For the very first time, I was seeing concrete evidence that he was no longer just my little man, but that he was becoming a young man in Christ.  His boldness serving as reassurance to my heart, that he not only knew Jesus, he had felt His Presence.   His heart had been moved, and he had moved straight to the altar.

After church, I gave him a big hug and told him how happy it made me to see him kneeling at the altar and praying, and how proud I was of him. When I asked what he was praying about, he gave a simple answer, yet it showed the innocent faith of a child, that as adults, we can only hope to imminate.

"Mom, I listened to the pastor talk about anger, and I felt bad for getting upset at my friend. So I asked him to forgive me, and to help me control my temper."

I was truly at a loss for words, for three reasons:

Number 1:     He was actually paying attention to the sermon!
Number 2:     His heart was hurting, and he was listening for God.
Number 3:     When God spoke to his heart, scriptures resounding in his mind, he felt compelled to move.

Three simple steps that put this journey of faith, that we so often view as difficult and confusing, into a simple, child-like perspective -  pay attention to God's voice, listen when He speaks, and move when He calls.

I may not have physical altercations with other people, as little boys often do, but I do have emotional and spiritual altercations every day as I face the trials, demands, temptations and frustrations that life brings. 

My son's boldness to admit his need for forgiveness and strength,  and to actually walk down to the altar and pray in front of hundreds of people, has prompted me to view my "altercations" in a new light this week.

Instead of letting my "altercations" make me feel down and discouraged, I choose to rise up and be encouraged, by laying them at the foot of the cross, and allowing God to mend my heart.

With the faith of a child, we too can allow our "altercations" to lead us to the altar.

From Altercation To Altar CallSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Waiting For God's Best

If you have ever heard the phrase "let go, and let God", you can probably relate to what I am about to say.... "how can we let go of something that is breaking our hearts or that we desperately want!?"

Sometimes waiting on God to intervene in our lives feels like nothing less than torture. 

One particular prayer that I have been praying for nearly fifteen years, makes me feel a bit like Isaac in today's Proverbs 31 devotion, while he spent twenty years pleading for a son.

All these years, I have been praying for my sweet sister to be cured of Multiple Schlerosis. To say that it is torture watching her suffer daily with all the afflictions of the disease would be nothing less than an immense understatement.

If you have a loved one who is suffering in some way, I know you understand, and like me, you probably pray every day for their healing too, or maybe for your own.

I do pray every day for my sister, and sometimes more than once a day.  In fact, I beg. I plead. I tell Him how our whole family would be forever grateful if He would bestow His mercy upon her. I promise to share her miraculous divine healing with all who will listen. I remind Him (as if He didn't already know) that if He healed her,  her powerful testimony would impact many hearts and lives, and isn't that what He wants?

I make sure God knows that He would be ever so glorified by answering my prayers for her miracle. In fact, I have even gone so far as to bargain with God, asking Him to take a blessing from me, if it would guarantee her healing, comfort and freedom from pain.

Sometimes it feels like I wear my heart out praying for her.

And yet, her healing has not happened.

No matter how fervently I pray for my sister's deliverance from disease, heaven seems silent. And I admit, I am tired of waiting.  I know God has the power to heal, and I want it for her.  I want answers. I want action. And I want it now! Before it's too late.

Whether you are waiting for physical healing for yourself or for a loved one, for that perfect job opportunity, for your soul mate, for deliverance from a bad circumstance, for freedom from an addiction, a restored marriage, or for a child, it seems that waiting on God is one of the hardest things a Christian is called to do.

In fact, we don't like waiting in any shape or form. Who enjoys waiting in the drive-thru for food, or waiting in a grocery line to pay, or waiting for someone to call?  Nobody - because waiting is no fun! Waiting requires us to be idle and inactive.  But the difference in waiting on God, and waiting on earthly things, is that this holy waiting is not a passive activity, but an active leap of faith.

During our waiting period, God calls us to surrender our desires to Him, and to trust that He hears them. We are to trust Him with our whole heart, and pursue Him, even when He seems silent. And we can seek courage and strength by believing that although we do not understand His ways - they are right, and good, and hold a purpose that we may not be able to see right now.

Sometimes on difficult days, when I am feeling overwhelmingly frustrated with the wait, I close my eyes and reflect on the past. I find comfort in remembering those spiritual markers in my life when God moved mightily, and when I saw Him answer prayers in such mind-blowing ways, that there was no doubt it was Him.

As I remember how I have seen God use terrible circumstances in my life as the stepping stones to increase my faith and provide opportunities to glorify Him through those experiences, I cannot help but smile at His sovereignty and wisdom.

Seeing and remembering what He has already done in my life as a result of past consistent prayers, helps me to have faith for the future, and anticipate what He will do, as a result of my consistent prayers today.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to "let go, and let God", especially when what we are letting go is so embedded in our hearts and souls. Yet, through our consistent and heartfelt prayers, even at the risk of sounding like a broken record, we will experience a strengthened faith as we savor God's promises until the answers come.

Today I choose to believe, that despite my desperate longing for my sister's healing, that God knows what is best, that He hears my prayers, and that in His timing, in His ways, He will answer. And even though it's hard, I have to trust that His answer will be nothing less than His very best... right on time. And I hope that you feel encouraged to do the same.

Sweet friend, if you need to surrender a desperate desire to God - a prayer that you have been praying for so long that you are starting to wonder if God hears - will you leave a comment here today?

For each person who leaves a comment, sharing the longing of their heart and committing to actively seek God's face during the wait - I promise to pray for you as you strive to trust God in the wait for answered prayers.

*If you feel led to pray for my precious sister, her name is Christie.  The meaning of her name is "a follower of Christ", and that she is, despite it all.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Touched By His Breath

Yesterday morning started out like any other Sunday morning.

I crawled out of my warm bed, secretly wishing it was Saturday so I could sleep in. I headed upstairs to the three bedrooms of my children, gently nudging each one out of their sweet slumber, while encouraging them to get up and get ready for church.

Remarkably we arrived on time, and my family and I walked into the sanctuary, sitting down in the same pew that we sit in every Sunday. I opened the bulletin and glanced at the title of the sermon, then settled in for worship, expecting it to be wonderful and renergizing, but not much different than any other Sunday.....but God had something out of the ordinary planned.

After we sang a few powerful praise songs and prepared our hearts for worship, the preacher announced that he would not be giving the sermon listed in the bulletin, because God had led his heart in a different direction. Over the past week, he had heard God whispering to him that there was someone in the congregation that was stressed, and needed a fresh reminder that God had it all under control.

My attention immediately peaked, as was the attention of many I'm sure, since stress is a subject that affects every single person, regardless of age or gender. But I knew in my heart - that I had been stressed. Stressed over many difficult situations that are not going away, always lurking in the shadows of my mind, even when I try to push thoughts of them aside.  Stressed so much so, that it had begun affecting my joy, my perspective, my hope, and even my desire to do things God has called me to do.

The pastor asked us to bow our heads and pray with him before he shared his message. He proceeded to pray a very moving prayer, and then he said a profound statement that I will never forget, because in that instant, God did something that I will never forget.

In the midst of his prayer, the pastor prayed that the Holy Spirit would be present, and "be like the wind, blowing away all of the emotions and hurts that are keeping us from trusting Him."

In that exact moment, as his words hung in the air, swirling through my mind and digging into the depths of my stressed out soul, a breeze of wind burst across my face, causing my hair to blow.

It was just a gentle breeze, brushing my skin ever so lightly, but strong enough that it made me shudder. It was as if God's spirit was right beside me, close enough to touch, exhaling Holy Breath that pricked my physical and spiritual senses, causing holy chill bumps to pop out all over my body.

I have no idea where that burst of air came from - maybe the AC vent in the floor had an extra boost of energy as it turned on, or maybe someone briskly walked by that I didn't see because my eyes were closed in prayer.

Or maybe.... which is what I choose to believe.....  the Holy Spirit breathed a fresh breath of holy wind onto my face, as tears were forming behind my eye lids, reminding me that God was near and that He longed for me to lay those worries down, and allow His power to blow them away. Maybe not literally away, but far enough out of mind that my heart would trust Him to handle them.

It was an amazing sermon, and I nearly got a hand cramp from trying to write down every word that God was pouring into my heart through the words of my pastor. But amidst my frantic writing, I couldn't help but smile, knowing that God gave me an extra special little gift.

It was undeserved, and unexpected, but sometimes those are the most precious gifts that we can ever receive.  So although I sat in a sanctuary filled with hundreds of people, God gave me the gift of a private encounter with Him. A powerful encounter that no one else heard and no one else saw. An encounter that promised peace and hope through the touch of His breath.

When the wind blows against your face today, don't discount it. Don't ignore it. Don't write it off as just being an ordinary occurrence. Instead, close your eyes, and consider John 3:8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Wind is invisible, and has no shape or form that our human eyes can make out.  We do not know where it began, or where it is headed, because it is an unseen, mysterious force. We believe in it, although we cannot see it - because we can feel it. 

In the same way, the Holy Spirit living within us is invisible, but if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, He is always there. When we choose to pay attention to His presence, we will feel It.

What an amazing day we might have if we consider that each time the wind brushes against our face, that it is the breath of God, blowing in our direction, whisking away our troubles, as we walk closely with Him during the good and bad seasons of life.

Friend, will you let the wind speak to you today? Will you open your mind to receive His Spirit as the breath of God, whispering to you with a soft brush on your skin, and reminding you that "I am with you."

I believe God has something out of the ordinary planned for you today. Will you notice?

Touched By His BreathSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lost In The Maze

This week I heard a story on the news about a family lost in a corn maze for so many hours, that they had to call 911 to be led out.  Apparently they had set out earlier that day, with their 5 year old and 3 week old children, with the intent of having a fun family outing. Little did they know that it would be more memorable than they anticipated.

After hours of trying to wind their way out of the maze, they finally gave up all hope of being able to find the exit, before it got dark. The fear that crept into their hearts for the safety of their children and themselves must have caused overwhelming desperation for them to feel compelled to call 911 for help.

As it turned out, they were only 25 feet from the exit when they were rescued, but because the corn stalks were so thick and high, it seemed as if the exit was nowhere to be found. All they knew was that they were lost, they had no idea what direction to take as they faced all the twists and tunnels winding through the tall corn stalks, and that it would be getting dark soon.

I chuckled a bit when I heard this, while remembering that just a few years ago, I had found myself in a similar position after agreeing to visit a corn maze with my children.

As we walked for what seemed like eternity, the fun began to wane, and I began seriously questioning why I would have ever thought that wandering aimlessly through a bunch of corn stalks could actually fall into the "fun" category. Even though we finally found the exit, I do remember the feeling of uncertainty, and with each turn, wondering if we had the made the right decision.

But as I watched this news story, I couldn't help but consider its' parallel with real life.

We are all faced with making decisions every day. Some big. Some small. But either way, there are decisions to be made, and consequences to follow.

In those big decisions that we face,  that seem to be looming and uncertain and maybe even scary, we can be struck with that same  sense of overwhelming desperation for direction that the lost family felt in the corn maze. We are not physically lost - but we feel lost in the maze of life.

The maze of life - filled with all it's twists and unexpected turns.

The maze of life - enveloped with so many distractions that we lose our sense of direction. 

The maze of life - camouflaged with so many hindrances that we cannot see past our current spot.

The maze of life - eclipsed by many so problems that we wonder if we will ever make it out safely.

The maze of life -  shrouded by tall 'stalk's of uncertainty that make us fearful that darkness will soon fall.

As I pondered this thought of being lost, Luke 19:10 came to mind:  "For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”  (NLT)

This verse serves as our holy reassurance that when we are feeling lost, and desperate for help, we have a rescuer available for dispatch. We don't need 911, we just need prayer to call on  the name of Jesus.

He came, so that we could be found. Not just on our day of salvation, but on all those days when we find ourselves wandering aimlessly through life, with obscured vision, lost in the maze of life.

If you have been feeling lost lately, with problems, decisions, and life direction, remember that although we do live in a world where darkness looms around every corner, Jesus offers light. Through our prayers and time in scripture, He offers the light and direction that we so desperately need.

The lost family in the corn maze was told to yell out "Hello K9!", until they were found. All we have to yell out, is "Hello Jesus!", and we will be found too. In fact, we may even be closer to the exit than we realize, and our dependence on our Rescuer is what will help us find our way.

Lost In The MazeSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, October 7, 2011

Swimming Against The Current

There are days when I am just tired of "stuff". Especially the kind of parenting "stuff" that my Proverbs 31 devotion refers to today.

What is "stuff", you ask? Here are just a few examples of the minor things that fall into this category of "stuff" in our house:

- time consuming homework, resulting in occasional outbursts, followed by punishments for the evidence of a bad attitude about doing said homework
- stress over not understanding math, worsened by parental inability to help
- drama
- cheers and tears over boyfriends
- spending too much time on Facebook
- trying to make new friends, keep old friends, and fit in with all friends
- drama
- thwarted fashion choices
- unfair treatment in sports activities
- mean girls and their mean-girl tactics
- drama

(Did I say drama yet?)

And let's not forget a few of the major "stuff" topics, like:
- "Everybody else gets to watch that reality show, why cant I?"
- "Everybody else can stay out until 2:00am after the concert!"
- "Everyone else gets to go to the party, why cant I go?"
- "My friend's parents don't care what they do."
- "Everybody else I know doesn't even have a curfew."
- "Everybody else gets to stay up until 11:00pm on school nights?!"
- "Nobody else's mom cares about what they watch on TV, or if they have boys over, or if they wear immodest clothing, or if they stay out late, or if they don't take showers every daily, or if they text all night long, or if......."

I'll stop there - you get the picture. Everybody else seems to be allowed to do everything! I know that everybody else is not getting to do all the everythings they want, but there are certainly days when it honestly feels that way. Days when I think that if I hear the word "everybody else" one more time, I might actually implode, from the inside out.

Maybe you know the feeling, because you too have had your fill of the "everybody else" card being dealt by your sweet cherubs.

In fact, you may often feel like you are swimming upstream against a powerful current of hands-off-parenting that seems to be a growing trend in our society.

It is easy to understand why that style of parenting is becoming so popular... because it's easier. After all, who doesnt' want to avoid arguments, curfews, discipline and punishments if they can help it?

Life would definitely be much less stressful if we didn't worry about all the "stuff" that comes along with parenting, and instead just swam downstream effortlessly, being pushed by the current of what "everybody else" was doing.

However, the one thing that should set Christian parents apart from the worldly view of parenting, is the desire to faithfully persevere in parenting by relying on God's wisdom, not popular consensus.

To be in the world, but not of the world, and to be set apart - not set aside.

Proverbs 22:6 is a popular verse on the topic of parenting, which says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

Training a child up in the way he should go does not stop when we leave the sanctuary. It is a call to pursue God's ways every day, even when that includes patiently and faithfully dealing with a never ending onslaught of "stuff".

We always have a choice in our parenting decisions to either go with the flow, or stand up for our beliefs.

When we take the hard swim, our kids will one day realize what a precious gift they were given by having a parent who was willing to swim against the current for them, and we will smile, knowing it was well worth the effort.

Will you take a stand for your faith today by committing to swim against the current, and be the Godly parent that God has called you to be?

Swimming Against The CurrentSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Optimist Challenge Wrap Up, and A Winner!

Hi friends! I have been so challenged personally as I wrote this 10 day Optimist Challenge, and God did a work on my heart throughout this whole two weeks.  Based on all of your comments, I believe that He did work on a lot of your hearts too! I want to extend a special thanks to all of you participated, and I have been so encouraged by your comments and the sharing of your personal struggles.

I feel led to share with you, that if I were to make a comprehensive list of the situations occurring in my life right now which threaten to steal my joy and optimism, I would need an entire page! So when God nudged me to focus on being optimistic, He not only had plans to encourage all of you through the words He provided, but also to keep me encouraged as I walk through these storms.

Although I would like to think that these storms will pass quickly, it does not appear that they will - and I can only imagine, that many of the storms or challenges in your life right now may also seem large, overwhelming, and maybe even long term.

So as a result, I felt a holy nudge to provide you with one last challenge (a bonus challenge, if you will; as if you needed something else to work on!).

There have been times when I would meet someone who seemed so optimistic, happy and always wearing a smile..... and my secret thoughts would go something like this...... "She is such an inspiration. Always positive and happy. Hmmppph.  I bet she doesn't really have any problems in her life. If she had to deal with what I was going through, she might be not be so happy."

Have you ever thought that?!  We assume that since someone else is positive and joyful, that their life is surely void of problems, or at least the problems that they do have are not that difficult. 

But friends - the more likely scenario is that the person has learned to have joy, and optimism, because of her relationship with Christ, not because of her lack of negative circumstances or negative people or sin in her past.

Optimism truly is a matter of the heart. It is not going to be found in some mysterious paradise where there no strife or trouble present, but instead, it is a state of mind that overcomes negativity in the midst of chaos.

Optimism is not just a one-time goal to meet, but a personal commitment to God that we have to choose to live in every day - not because life is perfect, but because He is.

The winner of the $10 Starbucks gift card is Rasberrymama! 
Please email me your mailing address!

Optimist Challenge Wrap Up, and A Winner!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Optimist Challenge Day 10

Just breathe. God knows the desires of your heart.

Psalm 139: 1-4
 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD

Whew! If you have made it through the past couple weeks of positive thinking challenges, I can only assume that your heart is a tad tired! Hopefully a good kind of tired, but tired nonetheless. Smiles.

Trying to be who God wants us to be, and who we ourselves want to be, can be exhausting at times, but is certainly well worth the effort! Yet, despite our ongoing efforts, the battle for optimism will continue to rage on day after day.

Although we may start out every morning determined to have a new attitude and a joyful song in our hearts, each day brings new challenges that may cause us to stumble in our quest for positive thinking.

Its okay, friend. Take a deep and refreshing breath - and rest in knowing that God knows your heart.

He knows if we truly desire to have a heart like Christ.

He knows when we are trying hard to live a life that glorifies Him.

He knows when we stumble, and need willpower to get back up.

He knows when we are weak, and need His strength.

He knows when we are lost, and need His wisdom and guidance.

He knows when we are broken, and need healing and mercy.

He knows we are sinners, in need of His saving grace.

Today's challenge is simply to reflect on the challenges over the past couple weeks, and consider how God has shown you His presence as you sought to have a heart like His. For review purposes, here are the challenges we encountered:

10. Just breathe. God knows the desires of your heart.

(click on any of the sentences above to be directed back to that specific daily challenge)

Looking at the list above in it's entirety can seem a little overwhelming!  But as we are reminded in Lamentations 3:23, Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.  Mercies are renewed every day?! Now, that my friend, is something to be happy about!

My prayer is that each one of you will walk away from this little challenge with a fresh perspective about life and the importance of positive thinking, a renewed desire to be an optimist, and a new-found excitement to always see the glass half full.  Above all, I pray God has used it to touch your heart and helped you rekindle the joy of your salvation in Him, despite the difficulties life brings.

Happy thinking!

* After all comments are posted today, I will randomly draw the winner of the Starbucks gift card. Winner will be announced tomorrow, October 5th.

Optimist Challenge Day 10SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, October 3, 2011

Optimist Challenge Day 9

Stop playing the comparison game, and stop thinking that you do not measure up.

2 Corinthians 10:12 Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! (NLT)

Skinny bodies. Perfect hair. Huge homes. Fancy cars. Organized play dates. Prada shoes. Swimming pools. Country clubs. Expensive jewelry. Perfect marriages. Well behaved kids. Perfect moms. Submissive wives.

Preachers. Pastors. Reverends. Priests. CEOs. Executives. Professionals. Advanced careers. Eloquent speakers. Successful ministries. Godly bible study teachers.

Seemingly perfect lives. Seemingly perfect people.

Maybe you have fought a losing battle to try to measure up to these "role models".  And just maybe, you found yourself in the aftermath, with a heart full of insecurities and self-doubt.

When we compare ourselves to people, accomplishments or titles that we look up to, or wish that we were more like someone else in a certain way, or assume that someone we know has it all together and we don't ..... the result is a chronic attack of "stinkin thinkin".

A few years ago, my daughter who was 12 years old at the time, asked to be in a community beauty pageant. I have never been a big proponent of beauty pageants for several personal reasons, so my girls had never been involved with them. But after much begging and pleading, I caved in to the pressure, and signed off on the form for her to participate.

Although I was doing it against my better judgement, I hoped it would simply be a good time with her friends, a reason to get all fancied up, and maybe even a little morale booster - but I could not have been more wrong.

On the day of the pageant, my little girl was dressed in a royal blue tea length dress, with cascading ruffles down to the knees, a fitted waistline, and lots and lots of sequins.

She wore dainty, clear Cinderella slippers with shiny sparkles across the toes. Her beautiful golden hair that had been kissed by the sun, hung in bouncy locks down her back, looking much like something off of a Pantene commercial.  Through my proud-mommy eyes, she was absolutely, stunningly beautiful. And I could tell by her demeanor, that she felt beautiful as well.

When we arrived at the auditorium an hour before the pageant, she hopped out of the car, flipping her hair back in an "I am all that" kind of way, and disappeared into the building, beaming with confidence and wearing a big smile as she waved goodbye.

I went inside and found a seat near the front. Yet, before the pageant could begin, I spotted her peeking out from behind the curtain.

Moments later, she began to slowly make her way across the aisles, with eyes fixated on me. I noticed that her glow of radiance and self worth had been replaced by a cloud of discouragement and sadness. As she got closer, I also noticed that the sparkle in her eye was no longer from the flashes of sequins, but from a few little tears that she was desperately trying not to shed.

Then she uttered the words that would forever break my heart.

"Mommy, all the girls are wearing full length gowns, and I am only wearing a tea length gown. And I look so ugly. I will never win."

My heart broke into a million pieces. My first thought was, "bad, bad mommy! I should have bought her a better dress!" But my second thought was, that this was exactly why I did not want her in a pageant where she would be judged on looks alone. A competition based solely on the opinions of others, and where a person's character and faith were unimportant.

I spent the next few minutes wiping her tears and trying to reassure her of how beautiful she was, inside and out. She regained her composure, and a sprinkle of confidence, and managed to find her sweet little smile again. But as she headed back to the stage, my spirit was convicted with God's truth.

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

After the pageant was over and we had returned home, I sat down to talk with my daughter about her value in God's eyes, instead of the eyes of people. We talked about how she was fearfully and wonderfully made, even if she didn't measure up to someone else's standards, or even her own.

And most importantly, we discussed the dangers of comparing ourselves to others, and how our value, and our real beauty, comes from Christ alone.

She did not win a blue ribbon that day, but she won something much more important  - a valuable lesson about self-worth and inner confidence that would stay in her heart for years to come.

Even as grown women, we often still feel like that timid, awkward, middle-school girl at a beauty pageant. We look around and make our own assessments of others, while holding ourselves up to measuring sticks that we were never meant to use. The end result, is that we determine we really don't measure up to everyone else, just like my daughter did.

In fact, such a situation happened to me just this past weekend. I had traveled to Hartford, Connecticut to speak at the Iron Sharpens Iron Northeast Women's Conference, and was so thrilled to be invited to be a part of such an awesome event. But as I sat in the lobby early on Saturday morning, waiting for my transportation to arrive, some of the other speakers for the conference began to congregate.

I was sitting in the hotel lobby minding my own business, reading over my notes for my speaking session, when a serious case of insecurity swept in out of nowhere. As I eyed these ladies from across the room, I found myself thinking how nice they looked, how pretty their hair was, how professional they seemed. I began wondering what sessions they were leading.... and if they would be better than mine..... if they were better speakers.... if they were more successful... and so on.

Before I knew it,  the devil just swooped down and began pecking inferiorities  right into my brain!

I was instantly convicted, and realized what I was doing - especially since the dangers of comparison was one of the main things that I was speaking about later that morning!

I had to chuckle at myself,  then pray, and refocus on the message that God had given me to share that day.  Had I remained focused on my insecurities and "stinkin thinkin",  the enemy's tactics and lies would have distracted me from experiencing God's best that day.

My little slip up is just a recent example of how quickly and easily we can get pulled into the comparison trap.  Every day we are faced with the opportunity to compare ourselves to people at work, school, in our neighborhood or community, and even in our churches and other ministries. We assume they are better, smarter, and more capable, at everything, and that we have nothing of value to offer.

If we aren't careful, that "stinkin thinkin" will become more than just an occasional twinge of jealously or lack of self worth, but eventually morph into a negative outlook about ourselves.

This faulty line of thinking causes us to fail to recognize and remember that we are a whole, complete and beautiful child of God. It causes us to forget that He formed us in the womb, exactly as we were supposed to be in every way.

Unique. Valued. Gifted. Usable. Precious. Beautiful.

Not perfect - but fearfully and wonderfully made - on purpose - for a reason.

We have a major enemy waging war against our souls every day. An enemy who loves nothing more than to make us feel worthless, inferior, lacking value and incapable of doing anything good for anybody, much less a sovereign and holy God.

It takes great faith and courage to admit that we are not perfect, but wonderfully made.  It takes even greater faith to see ourselves and our value through the eyes of the One who created us, rather than the eyes that are looking back at us in the mirror every day.

Day Nine Challenge Activity: Stop playing the comparison game, and stop thinking that you do not measure up.

Gods grace is sufficient. The blood of the lamb has cleansed our souls and made us white as snow - but we have to believe it, to live it.

If you have been practicing the art of self condemnation, ask God to help you break the addiction of being down on yourself.

Pray for the supernatural ability to be able to see yourself through His eyes, and not what you see in the mirror. Ask Him for an acute awareness of when you are dabbling in the dangerous game of comparison, and to redirect your thoughts to positive things.

Consider making a list of all of your positive traits,attributes, talents and spiritual gifts. Allow God to guide your mind to all the reasons that make you wonderful.

Read over these verses and tuck them into your heart, letting them serve as reminders of how valuable you are to your heavenly Father.

Psalm 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

Luke 12:7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthews 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Optimist Challenge Day 9SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend