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Living Within the Lines

Live Within the LinesWhen I was a kid, a box of crayons and coloring book could occupy me for hours on a rainy day. It was a free for all with crayons erratically scribbling outside any designated boundary. To stay inside the lines wasn’t a consideration; I was a budding artist.

When finished, the colored page was given to mom who praised me for a job well done and displayed it on the refrigerator door until she found a polite excuse to remove it.

In adulthood the only time I color is with my kids or grandkids and when I do, it’s rare to find a clean page to color. The kids have scrawled over every page in the book with total disregard for the printed lines or direction they move their crayons. When I do find a blank page, I am quick to exercise my proprietary rights and ban squatter privileges to anyone under the age of ten.

For me, a blank color page exemplifies a new start in life; a new beginning in my walk with Christ. It’s like a form of therapy in times of stress and uncertainty.  Every circular motion of the crayon is a reminder to stay within God’s boundary lines for the best outcome. I grow and flourish in my strengths, find comfort, serenity and healing when I choose to be obedient to God’s will.

There is a spiritual awakening that occurs when we discover God’s lines don’t confine or hinder us, but rather provide healing to do the impossible within us. His boundary lines are defined by grace, balance and love. To give Him control of our crayon box is to give Him control of our life.

Are you frustrated and confused about your circumstances and question God’s purpose for your life? Is your life going in every direction and cluttered with scribbles that extend outside the lines of grace?

I encourage you to ask God to help you color inside the lines of HIS will. Our Heavenly Father can color inside the lines of our life better than anyone else.

“Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you.” Jude 21

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GO FOR THE GOLD

medal-390549_640I watched each Olympic gymnast run down the floor mat and jump onto the spring board. They catapulted onto the vaulting table with calculated precision in preparation for a perfect dismount. They knew every twist, turn and flip of their body could cost them a medal.

Countless hours of training had placed these athletics in a position to compete for the gold. They were disciplined, dedicated and driven to succeed in this competition but even that didn’t guarantee victory.

Slips of the foot on the balance beam, out of bound dismounts, body alignments and falls were critically judged. It required total perfection to win and every mistake or miscalculated move would be deducted from their final score. Pardon or favor by the judges was not an option.

I am not an Olympic gymnast nor do I participate in competitive events. However, I do train, practice and take part in Christian living. It is an affirmation of faith that requires a lifestyle based on Biblical principles.

Like Olympic gymnasts, there are times I make mistakes, lose my footing and fall. In those nebulous moments, I question the futility of my Christian commitment and wonder how many more times I can fail before being eliminated? The answer is NEVER.

In Christian Olympics there is only one judge that determines who receives the gold and His name is God; Elohim, (Creator and Judge of the universe). With divine knowledge God judges the actions, spoken words and hidden secrets of our hearts. All mankind is a participant and the only way to win is an admission of our unrighteousness and an invitation to make Jesus our Savior and Olympic coach.

To accept Jesus into your heart means imperfections are forgiven; they are no longer counted against you. The blood He shed at the cross covers the curse of sin. Like the Apostle Paul, the finish line is the Olympic goal of every Christian.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but to all who crave His appearing. 2 Timothy 4: 7-8

Feeling defeated today? Are you ready to give up because you’ve lost your footing on life’s balance beam? Maybe you’re faced with life changing events that have caused you to lose your grip or have fallen from grace and overcome with brokenness.

Whatever your story and wherever you are in your faith, the Righteous Judge is near. He longs to show loving compassion, forgiveness and pardon from all your ineffectual attempts to participate in life without His help. He stands ready to coach you to the finish line and award you the crown of life.

“He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

The trials that test our faith are more precious than gold. So, go for the GOLD!

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The Beauty Within Us

Spider Web
My eyes caught a glimpse of something glistening on the back deck. As I opened the glass siding door to get a better view, I saw the beautiful silver strands against the backdrop of the morning sun. It was as if God stopped me in my tracks for a single moment of reflection before I was overcome by the busyness of my day.

Only the Master Creator would impart to a detested and loathed insect the ability to spin a web of such beauty. If God gives grace to a spider how much more consideration has He given to us. Others see us from the outside, but God sees the potential for spinning a web of beauty within us.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

The next time you see a spider web, remember this, God has graced each of us with inner beauty. It’s up to us to spin the web and let is glisten against the backdrop of His Son.

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Lonnie’s Gift (A Short Story)

by Denise Marks

lonniesGiftHis dark skin was a stark contrast to our family members. I assumed he was a worker at the state park looking for a shaded area to rest on his lunch break. That became suspect when an hour later he was still seated at a picnic table on the far edge of our rented pavilion. His occasional glance toward the prepared food and personal items nearby alerted me something was amiss.

The morning had started with intermittent rain and overcast skies which didn’t seem promising for our annual Christmas in July family picnic at the Millennium State Park. We had a Jeep loaded with enough burger meat, hot dogs and side dishes to feed 60 plus people. I crossed my fingers the current weather would eventually give way to sunny skies.

My husband Chris navigated through the state park to locate our rented pavilion, situated at the bottom of a grassy incline Great, I thought. Not only do we have to carry heavy tubs of food and supplies down a precarious slope of wet grass, I have to do it in flip-flops. Water skis would have been a safer shoe choice.

With the arrival of family, sounds of laughter and chatter rebounded inside the pavilion. It didn’t take long for my disposition to lighten as everyone offered to lend a helping hand. Food was plentiful, almost to the point of excess, as three generations gathered to celebrate family. When overcast skies gave way to sunshine, lawn games and water activities dominated the day.

Yet, midst all the activity, my attention remained focused on the lone man seated in our pavilion. Why had he stayed so long? What were his intentions? I felt ashamed for thinking the worst, but better safe than sorry when clueless to a person’s identity. And so, I asked my grandkids to discreetly move electronic devices and purses to a more secure area before we walked to the beach.

The grandkids and I returned from the beach to find the unknown man gone. I was about to breath a sigh of relief until I caught a glimpse of him congregating with family members. My husband called out to me as I approached the group,
“I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Lonnie.”

As I offered a friendly handshake, I couldn’t help but notice the sadness in his eyes. They seemed to reflect an untold story of homelessness, hunger and loneliness. It was a family event and I didn’t have time to explore why a man who appeared clean-shaven and relatively well-groomed lived as a vagrant in a state park.

Chris had also noted Lonnie perched on the outskirts of our family event. In kindness, he introduced himself and asked, “Is there something you need?”

Glancing downward, Lonnie replied, “I’m hungry. Do you have any food to spare?”
“Of course,” said my husband as he handed Lonnie a plate and invited him to share with us.
Several servings later and a trail of cookie crumbs throughout the pavilion was evidence Lonnie had enjoyed his gifted meal.

From the outskirts of the pavilion, he watched as our family played lawn games. I sensed he wanted to be a part of our family surroundings, but was apprehensive to engage himself in any of the activities.
At the end of the day, Lonnie disappeared just as discreetly as he had arrived and I couldn’t help but wonder if Lonnie called the park his home. There were so many unanswered questions about this gentle man. The only thing he disclosed that day was his need for something to eat— and he did so with humility.

Since gifts are not exchanged at our Christmas in July gatherings, we didn’t expect the heartwarming gift Lonnie left with us. He gifted himself. His presence was an unspoken reminder that not everyone has food, family, friends or shelter. When blessed with more than enough, pay it forward.

These questions would never be answered, but we received the gift of a different perspective. If we were to ever meet again, I would say to our new friend, “Thank you Lonnie for spending a few hours with our family. Your presence was the best Christmas gift ever.

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TWEETS FROM SATAN

evil-twitter-bird-with-hornsI am not a person prone to depression, but this morning heaviness filled my heart. Loneliness and teary outbursts befriended me as the enemy taunted me with my shortcomings, failures and flaws. What was going on?

I had just experienced a weekend of spiritual renewal that left me feeling empowered to take bold risks in my Christian walk of faith. The movie ‘War Room’ further inspired me to make a greater commitment to my prayer time and the study of God’s Word.

My fiery aspirations were quickly dampened as the enemy began to infiltrate my thoughts with relentless tweets that focused on my inadequacies.

“Why would Jesus love or use someone like you.”
“You think you are helping people through your devotionals but no one reads them.”
“Don’t you know God gave up on you long ago? He isn’t listening anymore.”
“Do you really believe God has a calling on your life at this age? “

And then, Father God began to stir the embers of my downtrodden spirit. Flames of faith reached upward as He stoked the fire. When I called out to Jesus, my darkness was turned to joy. God’s altar of grace burns continuously and the enemy cannot extinguish it.

Our sacrifices of praise, the blood of Christ, God’s Word and prayers of believers will keep the fire burning until God’s appointed time.
As the spiritual veil of darkness lifted, the Holy Spirit directed my thoughts to this scripture:

“The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.”
Leviticus 6:13 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but I sense an urgency to keep the fire burning continuously as we witness believers being mocked, persecuted and tortured daily for their faith in Jesus. Truly we are living in the end times where ungodliness is embraced by those in high places, acts of perverseness have no shock value and homage is paid to man’s ego and fame.

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
II Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

I encourage Christians everywhere to keep the fire burning upon the altar of God. We are at war against the enemy of this world, Satan and there is no middle ground in this battle. You are either for God, or against Him. Who is your master?

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FINDING TIME FOR GOD

Finding Time for GodMy mornings begin at 6:30 pm, sometimes earlier. I pour myself a half cup of coffee and head to my office where the computer is always on because I work from home. The day starts with a check of social media, emails and finally sifting through the endless stack of papers that clutter my desk.

If time permits, I work on a devotional or scout out a hands-on project to do with the grandkids. By late morning my home is filled with workers and my focus turns to business matters until their 6 pm departure. I scramble to pick up the house, do a load of laundry and prepare dinner before my husband walks through the door at 6:30. And then- I crash on the sofa.

It’s not a glamorous life by any stretch of the imagination. There are many days I don’t shower until late evening. By mid-summer every potted plant on my deck has died from thirst and there are least a half dozen items in my fridge that should have been pitched months ago. Thankfully, I have a bi-weekly cleaning service to keep the dust and dirty floors in check.

The demands of daily life can be overwhelming. We tend to make time for the things we really “love and want to do” but try to find time for things we “have to do”.

So where does God fit into our day?

I believe when we find it difficult to fit God into our day, it’s a love problem. When God time is squeeze out by our preoccupation with social media, emails, texting and over commitments, we suffer spiritually.

It is only when we give God His rightful place in our daily life that we experience the joy of the Lord is our strength and become more productive; we accomplish more in less time with less stress. When we make God first, we experience peace and joy even when our daily schedule seems daunting.

Our present joy and eternal destiny depends upon making time for God. Our Creator wants to intimately connect with us. It takes effort to find the time and energy to connect with God on a regular basis – just as it does with any relationship that matters.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

When we get quiet with God and shut out the daily noise that surrounds us, God will surprise us with insight; He re-calibrates our soul. It’s an invitation for Him to do new things in our life.

It is difficult to build upon what is right until we make time for God. In doing so, we realize our emptiness and God is able to intimately connect with us. Let us be reminded that a love relationship with God starts with an understanding of what He has done for us.

“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.” John 3:16 AMP

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BROKEN

Broken in Spirit
I find solace in walking the wooded trails behind my home. The sound of crackling branches beneath my feet and rustling leaves from the canopy of trees above seems to awaken my senses. Daily things that seemed so urgent are momentarily abandoned as I slow my pace and embrace my surroundings.

Yesterday, I needed the respite the trails offered. It had been a 10 hour wait in ER before mom was finally admitted to the hospital. Overwhelmed with exhaustion, I longed for quiet time to meditate and digest the events of the day.

My plan was to curl up on the sofa and do nothing; instead, I walked the trails. For whatever reason, I sensed there was something God wanted to privately share with me. And so, with walking stick in hand, I headed toward the trails.

I probed the ground with my walking stick in search of anything that might bring inspiration to my emotionally charged day. Frustrated, I bowed my head and silently prayed.

“OK, God, a still voice prompted me to take this walk; what is it you want to share with me? “

Immediately the wind seemed to whisper “look upward” and my gaze was directed to a pine tree with its trunk nearly broken in half; most likely, by an expected storm. The tree appeared to be in survival mode with signs of new growth just below the break as it struggled to find light. In that moment it was clear what God wanted to share with me.

The events of the last few weeks have left me feeling much like the pine tree that stood before me; broken and struggling to reach upward to the light. God understood the heaviness of my heart. My merciful Heavenly Father had directed me to this pine tree to speak to my heart that in my brokenness he was near.

It is our brokenness that attracts God’s attention and reveals our need for His mercy. When we acknowledge our dependence upon Him, the Holy Spirit shines a searchlight to help us find our way. New life sprouts as we reach toward the beacon of light.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalms 51:17
“The Lord is near those with a broken heart.” Psalms 34:18

To those who are broken my life circumstances and losses, I say look up. God is near and longs to cradle your heart in His Divine hands and breathe new life into your spirit.