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Star Trek, CS Lewis, and Your Free Will

Free WillI am a Trekkie. I was a fan of the original Star Trek series, but I really loved The Next Generation. My favorite character was Lieutenant Commander Data.

Data was an android with high computational capabilities. He looked like a human and was physically fully functional. Yet one thing prevented Data from understanding and relating to humans. He lacked human emotions.

Data’s desire to possess human emotions – and thus become truly human – was an ongoing thread in the show’s storyline. Although Data was like the rest of the crew in many ways, this deficiency made him somewhat of an outsider, unable to form strong bonds and experience deep relationships.

This may sound strange, but I thought about Data the other day while reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. During the discussion of another topic, Lewis wrote this about mankind’s free will:

He (God) gave them free will because a world of mere automata could never love and therefore never know infinite happiness.

The question of our free will has come up countless times in Bible study groups I’ve led or been a part of. “If God knew we would sin, why did He give us free will? Wouldn’t it have been better if we couldn’t disobey?”

Free Will Makes Ultimate Joy Possible

No, it wouldn’t have been better. If God withheld free will we could never know true happiness. We would be like little robots, always doing the right thing, but never experiencing the joy of relating to our Creator.

Even though Data was superior to humans in some ways, he knew he lacked the best part of humanity. The ability to love and be loved.

God desires to love us and to be loved by us. And He implanted the desire to love Him back in the deepest part of our souls. And that’s where we find our purpose, our fulfillment, and our ultimate joy. In choosing to love and be loved by our God.

Have you struggled with the question of mankind’s free will? Does Lewis’ explanation help?

 

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A New Chapter Begins

Yesterday my parents said goodbye to friends and paid a final visit to the house they called home for almost 50 years. Today, we begin a two-journey to their new home 700 miles away.

Dad’s health took a nose-dive last summer. Three hospital stays back to back sapped his strength and he ended up in a nursing facility for extended rehab. Since mom cannot stay home alone, she joined him. This arrangement was intended to be very temporary.

Many of you know how difficult it is to watch over someone from a distance. My parents have lived in Shreveport, Louisiana their entire lives. I live in Houston (for another month anyway, but that’s another story.) My brother lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Our goal – my brother’s and mine – was to move them to Knoxville.

Finally, after months of getting their affairs in order, the journey to Knoxville begins! The bulk of their belongings are already waiting for them in their new home, which is one mile from my brother’s home. My husband Wayne and I, Mom and Dad, two little dogs, and the last of their belongings will caravan in two cars over two days.

Knoxville or bust!


Yesterday was bittersweet. We took mom and dad back to their house for a final visit. The rooms were empty and the walls bare, but the memories were still there. Dad sat in the middle of the den and pointed out features he loved about the den they added four decades ago. Neighbors popped by to say goodbye.

It’s hard to begin again at any age. But Shreveport is the only home my parents have ever known. But they are looking forward and ready for what God has in store.

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Cupcakes, Perfection, and Connection

This guest post by Christen Price includes excerpts from her new book “Invited: Live a Life of Connection, not Perfection.” Used with permission.  

I am in a cupcake war. A battle for perfection.

Standing in the kitchen, covered in confectioner’s sugar, I had been attacked by my strawberry cupcakes. I’d volunteered to bring cupcakes to a baby shower the next day, but my recipe had turned into one big blob of pink mess.  These cupcakes just would not do.

Insecure, I allowed the frustration of failure to mess with my head, causing me to spiral into doubt. All confidence vanished. I heard a soft whisper that I am like these cupcakes…not good enough.

Instead of letting good be good enough, I want to be, have, and give the best of myself to every aspect of my life. That’s why I thought I could make these cupcakes, and that’s why I’m ended up being overly critical of myself.

Do you ever allow the pressure of perfection to cause you to melt down, especially before a celebration?

Just like me, many women desperately chase perfection. Then when we don’t capture it, our emotions take over. The passion of pursuing perfection sometimes causes us to act in ways that make us later feel shame and unworthiness, like we will never quite measure up.

Is there a better way than “perfection?”

God calls us to celebrate, be in community, and believe that connection is far better than perfection. We can spend our whole lives trying to practice hospitality perfectly, but God simply wants us to accept His invitation and extend His love to the people we cherish most. God invites us to release our perfection-induced anxieties, receive others in love, and rejoice in the moment.

Invited by Christen Price

I won the cupcake war.

The next day, I woke up and called a local bakery to order two dozen strawberry cupcakes. Arriving at the baby shower with boxed cupcakes in hand, I arranged the cupcakes on a white tiered cake stand on the dining room buffet. They were delicious, beautiful, and store-bought, but it didn’t make my contribution to the party any less.

That night, instead of feeling not good enough because I couldn’t bake cupcakes as beautiful as these store-bought cupcakes, I was able to connect with friends and watch the mother-to-be open her presents without the pressure of perfection.

Let’s stop letting perfection make us feel not good enough, especially on insignificant matters like store-bought or homemade cupcakes. God is perfect so we don’t have to be. He invites us to live free from the stress of planning, preparing, and performing perfectly and to just be in Him.  Hospitality isn’t about perfection; it’s about connection.

Now, go eat a cupcake!

InvitedIn her new book, Invited: Live a Life of Connection, Not Perfection, Bible teacher Christen Price tackles a problem that plagues many women – the unrealistic striving for perfection. She shares personal stories of her own perfection battle and gives practical advice and helps for finding a beautiful balance that embraces both hospitality and community.

Christen Price is a writer for The M.O.M. Initiative and founder of Undivided Women, an online Bible study community. With the heart of a hostess, she writes devotionals, designs party printables, and creates inspirational art in her Studio that invites women to celebrate their people, place, and purpose. Christen is married to her best friend, Raleigh, and their crew of three little ones, two dogs, and four chickens call the countryside of lower Alabama home. Connect with her at christenprice.com.

 

 

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7 Mountain Moving Prayers to Pray for Your Kids

Lori WildenbergToday Lori Wildenberg – author of the new book “Messy Journey: How Grace and Truth Offer the Prodigal a Way Home” – offers practical suggestions for energizing our prayers for the children in our lives.

My daily prayers for my kids have become rote.

My consistent plea is, “Lord draw each one of my kids to yourself. Give them a hunger for your Word, a thirst for worship, and a desire to make you smile.” 

Not a bad prayer. I just pray it a lot. I’m bored. I wonder if God is a little weary too. My prayer life sounds like blah, blah, blah. Clang, clang, clang.  It’s time to change it up. Refresh my requests.

I want to pray bold and effective prayers.

I want to pray war room prayers.

I want to pray mountain moving prayers.

This week my petitions to my great big God will focus on the heart; on character traits to be developed or deepened in my loved ones and in myself. I’m committed to no more clanging.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love,
I  am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love for others or for God, we are only an annoying gong. Clang, Clang, Clang. We are nothing and we gain nothing. No matter our intelligence, natural talents or spiritual gifts, and even self-sacrifice. 

7 Scripture-based Prayers to Pray for Your Kids

Here are my short yet big supernatural love prayers for this week inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.

Monday

Sovereign Lord, Give _____opportunities to develop patience. Let my child (or me) wrestle with tenacity through life’s challenges in order to learn how to lean on, trust, and hope in you.

Tuesday

Father, Teach _____ how to love and respond in kindness even in the face of disagreement or adversity. Train him or her (or me) how to listen, discuss, and maintain convictions while demonstrating gentleness and respect.

Wednesday 

Provider God, Allow ________ to discover a grateful heart leads to contentment in all circumstances. When life isn’t going well, I ask that you show ______ that satisfaction rests not in the external but in the eternal. When life is going well I pray that, with a heart of thankfulness,  _______ gives you all honor and praise.

Thursday

Lord Jesus, Give_____ an a ability to accurately assess his or her strengths and weaknesses. Create a generous spirit in _______ that will encourage and raise another up. Move _______to share credit with others and give you glory.

Friday

Heavenly Father, Un-clench my (or fill in the blank) fists of selfishness. Open my (or her or his) hand and heart to those who may need or benefit from ________ time, treasure, or talents.

Saturday

My King, Forgiveness is not beneath you. It is you. Release ______ from any bonds of pride or bitterness so _____ can be fee to love and worship. Replace the unforgiving prideful heart with one that is graced with humility, repentance, and reconciliation.

Sunday

Lord, I pray_______ loves the things you love and hates the things you hate. Open ______ ears to hear that still small voice. Give him or her wisdom to understand truth. Give _______ (or me) the will to live by your words and follow your way. Give _____ the discernment to identify true truth from emotion driven belief.

Love never fails. Amen and Amen.

What’s the most powerful prayer you pray for your kids?

 

Lori WildenbergMessy Journey is passionate about helping families build connections that last a life time. She is a licensed parent-family educator and co-founder of the 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting ministry. Lori  is a parent consultant, national speaker, lead Mentor Mom over at the Moms Together Facebook Community Page and blogs every Monday about faith and family. She has written four parenting books including her newest,  Messy Journey: How Grace and Truth Offer the Prodigal a Way Home (New Hope Publishers). Messy Journey is for parents walking the difficult road with a wayward child. Lori offers practical grace- and truth-filled ways of navigating your relationship with a detoured child whether they are rejecting faith, dabbling in sin, or wholeheartedly embracing sinful behavior. There is hope. After all, their struggle isn’t really with you, it’s with God.

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Delicious Comfort Zones and a Giveaway

Rhonda and Kaley Rhea are my guests today! Keep reading to find out more about chocolate and comfort zones, and to enter for a chance to win a copy of their new book, “Turtles in the Road.”

We both love a nice, cozy comfort zone. By “comfort zone,” about eighty percent of the time we probably mean “chocolate zone.” Did you hear about the recent study that determined that 10 out of 9 people love chocolate? It doesn’t even matter that the math doesn’t work. Know why? Chocolate.

Since people are finding more ways all the time that chocolate is good for your health, we’ve decided that we shall never at any time of our lives think of ourselves as “overweight.” We shall forever refer to it as “chocolate-enriched.”

That’s our comfort zone and we’re sticking to it.

Turtles in the RoadWe just recently somewhat stepped out of our non-chocolate-related comfort zone to write a romantic comedy about a gal who was forced outside her…well, on theme…outside her comfort zone. The book is titled, Turtles in the Road and, not to give anything away, but our deliciously funny character finds laughs, grace and all kinds of adventure in her most uncomfy places.

There are comfort zones, and then there are comfort zones. When God commissioned Joshua after the death of Moses, He gave Joshua instructions about the new land He was to possess. He said to him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, ESV).

Sometimes God calls us to step out of everything comfortable. We see it all through Scripture. God called Moses to step out before the mantle was passed to Joshua. God called Abraham to leave his home and everything familiar to him to take off to zones unknown. He called Samuel, He called Isaiah, He called so many more. Jesus called His disciples to step away from their nets, out of their comfortable lives, and to follow Him with abandon.

There aren’t a lot of things in this life we can promise will happen, but we can promise this. At some point you will be called to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be caught off guard. Don’t think you’re being reprimanded. And even more importantly, don’t think for a second that He is not with you in that less-than-comfy place. Be strong. Be courageous. Know He is with you.

It’s good to remember that stepping out of our comfort zone is also stepping into the comfort of His Holy Spirit. It’s amazing—even in discomfort, there’s comfort! Real comfort from The Comforter. It’s comfort not in a place, not in a possession, not in a food—it’s in a Person, the Person of our mighty God of all comfort.

As you step out in faith, you’ll find there’s growth in every new place the Lord leads you. You can rest assured He will never ask you to step out of one zone and into another without His presence, without His purpose or without His empowering.

It’s a God-enriched life. And as awesome as a chocolate-enriched life is, a God-enriched one is infinitely better.

To enter for a chance to win a copy of “Turtles in the Road,” share your most comfortable comfort zone in the comments! Winner will be drawn Thursday, May 11th at 8am! 

Rhonda Rhea, Kaley RheaMother/daughter writing duo, Rhonda Rhea and Kaley Rhea, are the authors of Turtles in the Road, an inspirational humorous romance that’s just releasing. They are both TV personalities for Christian Television Network’s KNLJ in mid-Missouri. Rhonda is also a nationally-known speaker, humor columnist and author of 11 other books, including Fix-Her-Upper, a soon-releasing nonfiction project coauthored with Beth Duewel. Rhonda is married to her pastor/husband, Richie Rhea, and they have five grown children and two grandbabies. Kaley works at Missouri Baptist University and she and Rhonda both live in the St. Louis area. You can find “Turtles in the Road” at Bold Vision Books and Amazon

 

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3 Reasons for Joy in Trials

Joy

Does God’s truth ever seem just crazy to you? Like the perfect God-Man, Jesus, dying for us sinners? Well, we find more of this counter-intuitive craziness in the first chapter of James. The brother of Jesus, who was also the leader of the church in Jerusalem, wrote this to Jewish believers scattered around the world by persecution:

“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” James 1:2-4, NLT

Through the years, I’ve heard preachers, Bible teachers, and others say that Christians can experience joy in spite of trials and troubles. And while that is true, that’s not what James meant in this passage. Depending on the translation you’re using, at the beginning of verse 3 you may see “for,” “because of,” “when,” or “whenever.” But you won’t see “in spite of.”

As crazy as it sounds to us, James did indeed mean that believers should consider trials an opportunity to experience joy. He even tells us why.

  1. God’s Process – Trails build and grow our faith like weight training does for our muscles. Life’s difficulties, Christian persecution, and temptations all put our faith to test. God uses this process to burn away impurities, refining our faith. He builds and shapes our character to look more like Jesus.
  2. God’s Purpose – I love the way the NLT translation puts it. When our faith is fully developed, we will be “ready for anything!” God has a specific purpose for each of us Ephesians 2:10). He has a plan, a way He wants to use us for His Kingdom. But He must shape and prepare His tools (you and me) so we will be useful in His hands.
  3. God’s Presence – Throughout God’s Word, He promises to be with us always and through everything (Isaiah 43:1-2, Matthew 28:19-20). Trials provide an opportunity to experience God’s presence in ways we cannot in easy times. If we never have to rely on God, we would never experience His faithfulness. If we are never weak, we would never experience His strength. Through trials we move from merely intellectual knowledge of God to experiential knowledge. Shared times of trial fosters deep intimacy and dependence.

This truth seems crazy to us because we often move through life spiritually short-sighted. We are stuck in this physical world and fail to see the greater reality. God works on an eternal time-table with eternal purposes in mind. He’s working for the end game. Let’s join Him!

Which of these 3 P’s do you struggle with most to keep in mind? Why?

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When the Going Gets Tough Where Will You Go?

When the going gets toughYou know the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” Ever wonder just where all those tough people get going to?

Well, we know the saying doesn’t mean a place. It’s a proverbial observation of the human condition. When life becomes trying and difficult, “tough” people will find the strength within themselves to determinedly soldier on. To bravely rise to the challenge of their “tough” circumstances.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we meet the challenges of life head-on with grit and determination? Shouldn’t we refuse to run and hide or depend on the strength of someone else?

Let’s ask ourselves: When the going gets tough, where do we go? 

Or maybe rather: When the going gets tough, where should we go? 

Trials, difficulties, pain, struggle, and grief often fill our lives. Sometimes we don’t understand what God is doing. We can’t see Him working. Occasionally, we even doubt He cares.

Where will we go when the going gets tough? Will we leave God’s path for us to find an easier way?

One of my favorite passages of Scripture highlights this question. The day after Jesus miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with just two loaves of bread and five fish, the crowds sought Him out in Capernaum. Jesus used their desire for more physical provision to teach them about the far superior spiritual nourishment that only He can provide.

But the truth that Jesus is “the bread of life” was difficult to understand:

“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:47-51, NIV

The teaching was just too hard. God’s truth presented a path too difficult to walk. Give my life to Jesus. “Feed” on Him alone. So many of those who had followed Him turned away to walk another path (John 6:66).

But then there was Peter!

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69, NIV

I love Peter’s declaration of trust. He chose to cling to Jesus no matter how the circumstances might look. No matter how tough life might get. After all, Jesus was the only One who had all life’s answers.

So, what about us? We can also choose to go to Jesus when the going gets tough. No matter how things look. Even if we don’t understand what God is doing. Even if we can’t see a way out. He knows. He sees. He can.

So, where will you go when the going gets tough?

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Working Out a New Normal Quiet Time

Quiet TimeI was disciplined. A day without a formal quiet time was really rare. And I confess to you now, that I felt a little “self-righteous” about my “faithfulness” to God.

Then my husband retired.

And my “discipline” went out the window.

I’d had this perfect routine. When Wayne went into the kitchen at 5:15 am, I got up and joined him. We took care of the dogs, made coffee, and visited while he ate breakfast. As soon as he left for work about 5:45, I’d take my coffee to my desk and open my Bible and my journal.

His regular schedule shaped a regular time with God for me.

But since December, he has had no regular schedule. His lack of schedule has tremendously messed with my regular schedule. He doesn’t leave in the morning. And he turns on talk radio. And he asks questions. And he wants me to do stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE that he is around. I am glad that he retired. But his change has meant change for me. My once regular quiet time is now more sporadic. I have to work harder to make it happen.

And Wayne’s retirement is not our only major change. We’ve been traveling back and forth to my parents’ home in another state to pack their house and move their things to Tennessee to be near my brother. And we’ve been working around our house in preparation to sell it. As soon as it sells, we will be moving from Houston to the Dallas area to be near our daughters and their families.

Right now, the only consistency in my life seems to be inconsistency. And I’m still trying to adjust to the non-schedule. Honestly, I have felt a little “faithless” lately. For years, I have encouraged you to have a regular time with God and now I am the one struggling. And even though I am praying and reading His Word here and there, I am languishing over the lack of consistency.

But yesterday, God dropped a solid truth in my lap to encourage me. I was reading in 2 Timothy trying to keep up with the Bible study I’m in at church. (I’m doing and loving “Entrusted” by Beth Moore.) It was these words:

If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.              2 Timothy 2:13, NIV

Yes! God is always faithful even when I am not. He is always faithful because that is who He is. He is faithful by nature and He will not be faithless.

So, in light of my faithlessness, I am clinging to God’s faithfulness. I will ask Him to help me commit to a “new normal” and relying on His faithfulness I will set my alarm.

 

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Saying Goodbye to My Childhood Home

HomeI watched as the last of my parents’ belongings were loaded on the moving truck and began the long journey from Louisiana to Tennessee. Except for a stray roll of packing tape and a few water bottles all the rooms are empty. Well, not really empty. Each space holds memories. Every corner echoes with days gone by.

I know. I sound pretty melodramatic. But I’m feeling really sentimental, so maybe you can humor me for just a few minutes?

My parents lived in that home for almost 50 years. They raised two children. Hosted countless youth and church events. Endured dozens of slumber parties and probably hundreds of sleepovers. Our home was truly open to everyone. My mother was always the life of every party. I think my friends came to see her more than they did me. My dad was the most patient and giving man I’ve known.

Some memories stand out from the others. Like the 4th of July when a firecracker ignited a gas leak by the sidewalk and the fire department closed off our entire block. And when I backed over the mailbox and wedged it under the car. And when my heart was broken and my mom hurt with me.

All these and more are part of me. The house on Dianne Street was center stage. It was home base for our family and a training ground for faith. Our parents purposefully and consistently shared Jesus and the things of God with me and my younger brother, both verbally and by example. They lived a life of faith that made me want it too.

They have also loved well. We never had to doubt their love for each other or for us. And although circumstances are very different today, they still love each other well and their affection is still obvious.

Life is difficult for my folks right now. Leaving their home was a necessity, not a choice. That makes the empty house even more bittersweet. But we will do our best to love them well. We have had fine examples.

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Jesus Died for Everyone – Even Terrorists

Jesus deathI woke this morning to the news of two terrorist attacks on Christian churches in Egypt. Dozens were killed and more than 100 injured while worshipping during Palm Sunday services. And this just days after a terrorist drove a hijacked truck armed with a bomb into a crowded shopping area in Sweden.

The attacks in Egypt specifically targeted Christians. As I prayed over the tragic events this morning I wondered about the terrorists. How do they justify their actions? How can they be so cruel? How could they dare to go right into God’s house and attack His people? How does God feel about them?

Then I glanced at the bottom of my prayer guide. It reminded me to pray for the attackers too. To pray for their salvation. My first thought was: “They don’t deserve Jesus. They don’t deserve His forgiveness.” But wait…

Neither do I. I don’t deserve Jesus. I don’t deserve His forgiveness. That’s exactly why the Cross was necessary. We are all sinners underserving of a relationship with a holy God. We are all sinners, dead in our sins with no ability to save ourselves.

Today, Palm Sunday, begins the most holy time of the year for Christians. Friday marks the event that makes our eternal salvation possible – Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. That is why Jesus came. To save sinners.

The apostle Paul put it this way:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the Kingeternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17, NIV

Paul called himself the “worst of sinners.” Paul had persecuted, hunted, imprisoned, and killed followers of Jesus. It was his chief aim in life, his passion. To put an end to Christians. To blot out Christianity from the face of the earth. Paul was a terrorist. And Jesus saved him. Jesus chose him. And Paul’s life stood as an example of Christ’s unlimited grace and power.

If God could save Paul, God can save anyone.

He could save me. He could save you. He can save a terrorist intent on killing as many Christians as he can.

Here’s a challenge for us this week. On the days leading up to Good Friday, let’s pray not only for the end to terrorism, but let us also pray for the salvation of those who long to create the terror. May they become a display of God’s immense love and grace. May they become a testimony to His glory.

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