Talented by Design

While researching content and style on various blogs, I have noticed several posts challenging readers to master their art. Advice abounds across disciplines calling artists to work and encouraging those with a voice to use it. Each call-to-arms echoes my thoughts as I attempt to convey God’s influence in my life and craft this skill called writing.

We are all hard-wired — purposely designed — with certain skills. We educate and train ourselves to develop numerous proficiencies which make us viable, contributing members to society, but there are some skills that come more naturally than others. Often admired by others, these unique abilities set us apart, differentiate us from our friends, and add color and dimension to the ordinary. Gifts. Strengths. Talents.

These natural inclinations often make themselves known through subtle pricks, nudges, and twinges. If left untapped or purposely stifled, they make us squirm. What talents do you possess? Where does your bent lie? Do you have any strengths sitting dormant or unexplored? Perhaps criticism, the thoughtless comment of another, or the busyness of life has prevented you from focusing on your God-given propensities. Regardless, God has given us the strengths we possess with the intent that we not only use them, but increase them.

Recall the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14 − 30. Like the master described in this passage, we serve a God who reaps and gathers. (Vs. 24) This same God  rewards those – 100 fold in this example – who are faithful with what he entrusts to them (vs 21 & 23.) Therefore, it stands to reason that like the servants in this passage, we are expected to develop what we have been given lest the Lord take our talent and give it to the faithful (vs 28.)

Increasing our talents is two-fold: 1) As noted in this example, the faithful servants actively managed the talents they were given. They  invested what was entrusted to them and were able to account for it at the master’s return. 2) Because of their faithful stewardship, the master increased their talent. Not only did the servants benefit from their own effort, but they were also blessed by the master.

In regard to trusting the Lord for the increase, observe an Old Testament mother by the name of Hannah. Hannah introduces us to the beautiful concept of Faith-Promise giving.  The heartbroken wife of Elkannah, Hannah desperately longed for a child but was unable to conceive. One night Hannah “vowed a vow” (1 Sam. 1:11) to give back to the Lord the male child she hoped He would give her. The Lord heard Hannah’s plea and blessed her with a son. Elated Hannah loved and weaned her son Samuel and then faithfully returned him to the Lord by taking him to the temple where he would learn to serve the Lord and grow up to judge the Israelite people.

We serve a God who freely bestows. By trusting in His provision and realizing that all we have has been freely given to us, we can more freely give to others. Money, time, and talents were all given to share, not bury. As God rewarded Hannah for giving what she did not have, as the master rewarded the faithful servants for multiplying the talents left to them, God rewards those who develop what has been entrusted to them. SHARE YOUR GIFTS! Sharpen your skill. Explore those stirrings and gentle nudges.

We live in a world that attempts to give us formulas for success, monetary gain, and happiness. Go to college, seek wealth, follow my plan — none of these are bad in and of themselves unless they cause us to overlook our natural bent, skill, or hard-wiring for the promise of wealth and fame. God designed us with purpose. Our gifts were given so that we might give them away. It is impossible to multiply something by hoarding it. It is impossible to increase without investing, sharing, and taking risk. When God gives us a talent, he intends us to develop it, master it, and share it with others. We are a “pass-through” – a conduit – rather than a self-contained, storage vessel.

Are you developing your talents? Are you sharing them with others? Are you actively investing your time and energy into cultivating the natural abilities God has given you? Are you directing those energies so that they benefit the kingdom? While we are not all called to Christian occupation, as Christians we all have a vocation to further the kingdom and use our talents for God’s glory.

Pursue your gifts. Dream big. Live boldly. Trust God for the increase.

Nutrition for the Soul

As a fitness aficionado, I have learned that three critical elements must be addressed to maintain physical fitness: cardio conditioning, weight training, and stretching. Invigorating cardio sessions challenge the heart and bring mental clarity. Intense strength training builds muscle and strengthens bones while sharpening concentration. Stretching releases toxins stored in the muscles and preserves the body’s ability to respond to physical demands as we age. Our physical well-being requires us to train in each of these areas.

Recent studies are touting, however, that another element is more important than these three elements combined. Nutrition not only influences our body responses, but may be up to 70 percent responsible for body composition and physique. Therefore, eschewing water and lean, healthy food will derail the best gym efforts.

The same mindset can be applied to spiritual health. What’s on your spiritual menu? In a recent sermon, Roger Dohrer, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Claremore, OK, likened the onions, leeks, and garlic the Israelites craved to the food of this world. (Numbers 11:4-6.) The Israelites − God’s chosen people predisposed to a holy appetite — had gradually worked the choice morsels of their foreign home into their diet. They began to flavor and season their own dishes with the familiar and readily available choices around them in Egypt.

Thousands of years later, we are no different. Raising a daughter and teaching young people (and myself, for that matter), I find it tempting and even justifiable to use the morsels of this world in my spiritual meal preparation. Sources other than the Bible are used to find entertaining new ways to liven up a familiar Bible story, tidbits are picked up from others without first comparing them to Scripture, and what is going on in my circle of friends is accepted without question. This is how appetites are ever-so-slightly changed away from a God who demands holiness and purity to a melting pot of obscurity. By adding “gut reactions” and feelings to Scripture, by using the world’s adages to frame perspectives, and the world’s examples to perpetuate our humanistic bent — by teaching anything not present in Scripture, we are diluting God’s word and adding bitter herbs to the manna God provides.

The Israelites became so unfamiliar with God’s provision they balked at the manna He provided them. The sweet bread that flowed freely from heaven was foreign to their defiled palates. They no longer craved God’s goodness but rather the bitter herbs from the land from which they were rescued. Had they maintained a daily diet of God’s provision, the bitter choices would have remained unpalatable. However, because we humans are adaptable creatures, the Israelites trained themselves to prefer that which was not in their best interest.

When my daughter was young, everyone freely gave advice on what and how to feed her. One prevailing thought was to expose her to a particular food at least 10 times before allowing her to decide she didn’t like it. This wasn’t bad advice. While there are some foods she still will not eat due to consistency or strong flavor, most of the foods she was repeatedly exposed to she now eats without complaint. Applying this principle to the spiritual realm — What have you steadily allowed in your diet that adds bitterness rather than sweetness to the diet God prefers for you? How does your diet measure up to God’s prescription? Are you eating a “clean” diet of Scripture, prayer, and holiness? Or are you ingesting the lies of this world that encourage you to “trust your gut,” rely on yourself, and pursue happiness?

The principles governing spiritual health are no different from those governing physical well-being. Both require a consistently clean diet, exercise, and stretching. Now consider the spirit will long outlast the physical body. Investing equal or greater time exercising spiritual muscles as physical ones seems obvious. Dedicating equal or greater time to Bible reading as to menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking does too. As for the stretching, by sharing our God-given knowledge with others God increases our understanding and imparts wisdom. That sounds like a win-win for everyone.

Masterful or Master-filled?

Traditionally, Thanksgiving has marked the beginning of the “holiday season.” From this weekend through Christmas, excuses abound to gather with family and friends, indulge in too much food, and shop with reckless abandon. As I consider all I have to be thankful for and look forward to the craziness that revolves around the upcoming Christmas season, I take this moment to consider that an all-knowing God freely provided not only an atoning sacrifice for my immeasurable sin, but a Comforter to console and teach me, a living book of promises to guide and lead me, and an army of fellow travelers purposefully placed in my life to buffet, chastise, coach, encourage, soften, hone, and better me. What a wonderful Father we have. To Him I give thanks for His moment-by-moment provision, love, and balanced discipline. On that note, I leave you with my musings hoping that you, too, will seek to be more Master-filled — this season and beyond.

Masterful or Master-filled?

As I was driving to work one morning berating myself for a poor impromptu interview performance, I was pointedly asking the Lord what I needed to do to be more masterful with my verbal language. Why can’t I shoot from the cuff with poignancy, wit, and pizzazz? I’m an articulate, educated woman with personality, or so I’ve been told. Why does my brain shut down when given the opportunity to publicly speak? What is it about me that prevents not simply my thoughts from reaching my mouth, but any well-constructed example from ever forming? Frustrating!

It was then that the Lord impressed upon me that my focus was askew. Do I long to master my speech, thoughts, and expressions? Absolutely! But, why? Because I want to be praised for my ability? Because I want the glory, notoriety, influence, and prestige that goes with eloquent speech? Yes, if I’m truly honest with myself I must admit that I want those things. I want to be accredited, acknowledged, valued, and appreciated for my wit and insight.

But more than human accolades, I desperately want my life to glorify the Lord. I want my outward expressions to breathe life, peace, and joy into those I encounter. I want all those who come into contact with me to leave with a blessing. I want to leave the people God places in my life or allows me to touch in a better place than where I found them. I want to add value. I want to add grace.

As I was contemplating all of my heart-cries, it occurred to me that rather than seeking the eloquent, to truly accomplish my bigger objectives I need to shift my aim from masterful to Master-filled. To be Master-filled, I must continually seek His direction and guidance in my life by spending time in His word. He is my source of joy and peace; therefore, any benevolence I am able to leave with others is simply a residual effect to what He is doing in my life. Only by His grace will my life, expressions, thoughts, and words reflect His goodness and be more Master-filled.

Lord, thank you for your provision, example, and ever-present patience. Please help me to be a blessing to those that cross my path. Let me be a beacon where your character shines brightly, a safe harbor for those caught in tumultuous seas, and a steady, peaceful, encouraging influence to those you lead my way.

The Power of a Cheerleader

I Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Have you ever considered the value of a cheerleader? Not the actual human, of course, but the position he or she holds. I am embarrassed to admit that for the longest time I lumped all cheerleaders together into that high school stereotype — you know the one — the superficial popular people who smiled big, yelled loudly, and jumped around a lot. However, over the course of the last year the Lord has shown me with great clarity that a cheerleader is crucial to the success of the individual and team.

What are the functions of a cheerleader?
•    To liven up the crowd
•    To rally the team
•    To entertain during time outs, breaks, etc.
•    To yell loudly when encouragement is needed
•    To support the team regardless of the score

I’m sure you can come up with others. But if we stay with this short list for a moment, I ask you how much more crucial are cheerleaders in our everyday life? Everyone of us needs someone who will support us, rally around us, entertain us during a time out, and spur us to greatness regardless of the setbacks that come our way. Cynicism, critics, repeated defeat whether perceived or real all take their toll as we endure this challenge called life. Without a faithful cheerleader to remind us to take a break, look up, and push through, discouragement, fear, and defeat will quickly ensue.

A good cheerleader knows that the spirit of the players is critical to the success of the game. Games have been won with seconds on the clock because the team stayed focused until the end. The hard work during practices, the discipline inspired by the coaches, the rallying calls of the crowd, and the unfailing encouragement of the cheerleaders carry the team through the difficulties, setbacks, and fumbles to victory in the end.

If you are blessed with a cheerleader in your corner, don’t forget to hug him or her today. And if you know someone who needs a cheerleader, perhaps you might be just who they are looking for. Fancy uniforms and pompoms are not required. Leave the judgment at home, put a smile on your face, and go encourage someone to greatness today. Your words might be just what God uses to set up that winning layup, complete the touchdown pass, or simply tip the ball in that person’s favor.

Find someone to believe in, and be loud!

A Haughty Spirit; A Hasty Judgment

2 Sam. 6:16 And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

To give a little background into today’s passage, Michal once loved David many years before when she was originally promised to him by Saul. However, through a series of pre-ordained events Saul forbid the marriage, David fell from favor, and he was soon on the run hiding in the wilderness to preserve his life. Michal married another thinking David was lost. The book of 2 Samuel continues their saga by revealing that after Saul’s death and David’s rise to power, David demanded that Michal be returned to him. He added an angry Michal to his house of wives and left a distraught husband.

As David regained power over Israel and continued the Lord’s conquests, he defeated the Philistines and reclaimed the Ark which had been stolen years earlier. Rejoicing, he brought it into the city dancing in the streets before the LORD while Michal looked on from a cold, dark window. It is from her vantage point that we find this verse.

Michal’s critical spirit arrested me. It is a familiar one. Her bitterness manifested in harsh judgment when she summed up David by her interpretation of his actions. The Bible reveals that David’s actions were a genuine outpouring of his joy in the Lord. He danced in celebration and praise which honored the Lord and were a sweet gift to our God and King. Yet Michal could not see past the expression. She qualified David’s heart by her perception of his activity. She immediately measured David’s worth, merit, and motive by an exhibition she did not understand.

So I ask, how often have I judged and condemned the outward expression of rejoicing, praise, and glory-giving to the Lord Almighty because that expression was contrary to what I thought appropriate? How often have I judged the giver of that praise without ever weighing (or caring to notice) the motive and intent behind it? How often do I ostracize, qualify, measure, and discard others based on actions or voiced opinions which I simply do not understand?

So today I plead, Lord, protect me from this vice in the future. Lord, as you place me in positions of leadership and give me responsibility over others, please give me a heart that sees sin for what it is so I might quickly identify it and blot it out of my own life while helping those in my influence to see it as well. And, Lord, I ask that you enable me to see the hearts of those who truly bless you. Please soften my critical spirit. Help me to identify arrogance, pride, and fear for what they are. For until those sins can be identified, my freedom in you and from this world is greatly hindered. Lord, let my life be an outward expression of your love for me. Please allow me to be a vessel which you use to point others to you.

God completes me …

For those of you who do not know me, I separated from my husband in late 2004 and we divorced in May 2006. Until recently, I have not dated. So after an almost seven-year hiatus from physical relationships with men, I think it wise to review some of the lessons the Lord has taught me as I pursue a godly relationship.

During my wilderness journey of loneliness, brokenness, and many hours spent crying out to the Lord, the Lord healed deep wounds, renewed my spirit and gave me a fresh, clean perspective on many levels. He also worked in me a desire for a different type of relationship should He allow one in my future. I know now that only God can meet many of those deep, heart needs within me. Only He can provide the comfort and shelter I seek from life’s blows and crippling defeats, from the words and actions of others, and failures of my own that bring me to my knees. And in realizing that only He can meet those needs, He has altered my expectations in relationships. By  accepting that only He can meet my needs, I am free to allow other people in my life to be themselves. I no longer need them to be what I want them to be for I now know only God can truly sustain and love me like no other.

That doesn’t mean I don’t need healthy boundaries (not barriers to shut people out, but boundaries to clearly mark the right path) to protect and provide for constructive communication. That doesn’t mean compatibility isn’t important. But what it does mean is that I am free to show others something different and seek a liberated relationship. While I want the Lord to use me to fill needs in others lives — especially those I love — I do not want, I should not want, it is unhealthy and sacrilege to want a relationship where I am dependently needed. God’s relationship to us/Jesus’ relationship to the church — those are to be our examples by which we enter a relationship. God did not need us. He chose us.

The relationships concocted and promulgated by this world are sick perversions of what God intended. The drama lived out on-screen where everyone is searching for something to complete themselves is dangerous, sinful, selfish, and rank with lust, deceit, and manipulation. This world teaches that relationships and people are expected to be your end-all be-all, the one aspiration and “goal” required for happiness, another to-do to feel complete. Yet these same hook-ups are easily tossed and exchanged for another when the needs and wants are no longer satisfied. Where is the security in that? We wonder why so many marriages end in divorce, or at best dissatisfaction, frustration, and longings for something more. Only God can fulfill that something more.

I want a relationship based on choice, not need. I want the lover God places in my life to be there because he wants to be — not because he needs me or I fill any God-sized holes in his life, but rather because he wants me — warts and all. In addition, I want to be with him because I choose to be rather than out of some twisted obligation which causes me to over-inflate my importance and assume he cannot live without me.

God has allowed me to see over the last several years that I am able and capable of taking care of myself, to make decent decisions, and to manage this journey on my own if need be. God has provided my every need and many of my wants. It is in Him alone that I am to seek validation and direction. Therefore, when I invite others into my life and into my heart,I want those who cross my path or stay a while in my presence to embrace the knowledge that God meets our needs and allows us the pleasure of a partner, a helper, a friend to make the journey more bearable. BUT, God never intended for that person to replace Him. Perspective is key. While I may want a godly man to share in my joys, help me with the heavier burdens, and give me someone to cheer for, I now realize that I need the Lord — not a man — to complete my life and give me purpose.

On that same note, for me to have a fulfilling relationship that man must realize my place in his life. I am unable to fill the shoes of an awesome God and I am ill-equipped to bear the burden of constantly trying to meet that expectation. I’ll crumble under such a weight. I just want to bring some joy, cheer him on, and add some perspective during the journey.

Oh, and having a little fun would be nice too.

Courage Required!

I struggle all the time with my actions — or lack thereof. I don’t act because I want to do things right the first time. I don’t like do-overs. I don’t like failure. I don’t like missteps or re-directions. Straight lines. Absolutes. Definitive yes’s. Resolute no’s. Black. White. Those make me happy. (When they’re in my favor.)

But life isn’t lived that way. We are fallible beings incapable of doing anything worth doing or tackling any challenge worth the effort with the assurance of doing it right the first time. The only way we can assuredly do anything right from the beginning is if we’ve previously completed the equivalent task so that the decisions required aren’t decisions any more but reactions. The only way we are assured success is if nothing new is thrown before us. No fast balls. No jabs. No stumbling blocks thrown our way which essentially means that all variations have been removed. No room for color.

How dull.

Therefore, perfection without challenge, life without mistakes, attempts without failure cannot be the attributes of a life well-lived. Rather, they are the tell-tale signs of a life merely existing. Yikes.  So my paradigm needs to shift. My failures must be embraced as my teachers. My misdirection as gifts. My failed attempts simply guideposts to myself and others – markers more clearly defining the path when we try again.

As a child of God I am called to live, take chances, demonstrate courage, and FAIL. For it is in the failure where I am teachable. It is in the missteps where I must rely on Him. It is in the  do-overs where my heart and head are more able to accept the redirection He requires in my life. I am ordered to speak truth, to love deeply, and to stand resolute in His promises. The promises He has granted both by His mercy and through my obedience. My obedience is my job. Honesty is my job. Planting my feet in His will by daily reading His word, the Bible.  Those are my responsibilities.

Therefore, it only stands to reason that my success or failure is not measured by how I perform any other task but those. It is not in how my words are received. It is not in how my actions are interpreted. My failure and success is measured by my obedience to God. It is in Him that I find success. It is in Him where my reward lies. From Him is where I should be seeking my “atta-girls” and “well dones”. Not this world. Not from the jaded and one-sided perspective I’m allowed  to see. I don’t know what He is using (or not using) in the lives of others. I don’t know what actions and words of mine intimately touch others. I don’t know what the Holy Spirit will use to convict or bless others because what has meaning to me may be noise to others. So it is in Him alone where I must seek assurance and turn for direction. And because of that, I am free to live a courageous life. My calling is sure. My tasks simple. Obey, Love, Read Daily, Live out-loud.