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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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Why Do You Follow Jesus?

Follow JesusThis isn’t just a rhetorical question. I am asking it of myself this week. Why do I follow Jesus?

The question came up during my daily Bible reading in the sixth chapter of John. Jesus had just fed more than 5,000 people with just 5 small loaves of bread and 2 little fish – a miraculous, supernatural feat that displayed Jesus’ power and authority.

The next morning the crowds came looking for Him again. But they didn’t come to worship or to seek the things that only He can give.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

John 6:26-31, NLT

The people looked for Jesus because He had filled their bellies, not because they had allowed Him to fill their souls. They missed the point of the miracle. They failed to see past their own physical circumstances. And even after Jesus pointed out their eternal, spiritual need, they simply asked what else He might do for them.

They asked for less. They looked for things that don’t last. It was all about a full belly and the here and now.

Sometimes I do the same. Often I am consumed by my temporary, physical circumstances and turn to Jesus solely because I want Him to “fix” things. I lost sight of the bigger picture. I allow the short-term to overshadow eternity. I spend all my energy worrying about things that don’t last when instead I should simply come to Jesus for the spiritual food only He can provide.

What about you? Why are you following Jesus today?

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Work is Not a Four-Letter Word

workMy Dad instilled a strong work ethic in me and my brother when we were growing up. First, he led by example and second, he made sure we got plenty of practice by giving us chores around the house.

Of all my family responsibilities, the task I disliked the most was sweeping the pine straw off the patio and driveway. The dozens of pine trees in our front and back yards dropped lots and lots of needles. Plus, the concrete of the patio and driveway wasn’t smooth. It had lots of little pebbles in it that caught the needles. It seemed I would never finish.

Although I hated that particular task back then, now I appreciate Dad’s purposeful training. He cultivated the patience required to stick with a tedious task and helped us experience the joy of a job well done. He not only equipped us to work, but he also prepared us to benefit from the God-given sense of fulfillment that comes from work.

Sadly, work is way under-rated today. It seems many in our culture view work as bad. Some try to avoid it as much as possible. Others merely endure it as a “necessary evil.”

God created work to be good

But “work” is not a 4-letter word. Although sin has made work more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19), God created work as good. Before the Fall, He gave work to mankind as a gift (Genesis 2:15). In its right form, work brings fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and joy.

Even this side of the Fall God declares hard work to be wise and laziness to be foolish (Proverbs 6:6-11). Those who work will have abundant food and those who “chase fantasies” will lack (Proverbs 28:19).

I know circumstances prevent some from working who want to. Who long to. But those are the exception. My purpose with this post is merely to get us thinking about God’s good purpose in giving us work and for us to evaluate our attitude toward it.

God wired us to work. He created us with a need to invest ourselves in something. To create. To form. To produce.

And the benefits are boundless. Not only do we reap the fruit of our labor and earn our keep, we also experience a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and joy. Yep. God really knew what He was doing. Work. It’s a good, God thing.

How do you feel about work?

 

 

 

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4 Questions Answered about Real Love

Real LoveWhat is real love? If you believe the movies, it’s defined by two beautiful celebrities locked in a passionate embrace. Our culture equates “love” with sexual attraction.

But that’s not real love. That’s just physical desire. And it’s fleeting at best. Like chocolate on a hot day, it doesn’t last long.

Why do we love? If you follow the example of our culture, we “love” to benefit self. We love those who deserve it or those who can help us in some way.

But that’s not real love. That’s simply shallow selfishness.

Our culture – and even ourselves – cannot teach us about real love. Only God can.

What is real love?

But God’s Word has the answers. The Bible defines love. The Bible tells us how to love, who to love, and why to love.

Real love is divine love. God calls us to love one another like He loves us (John 13:34-35). The Greek word translated as “love” is agape. It is love of volition, not emotion. We can choose to act in love toward another. Agape is also based on the character of the one acting in love and not the worth of the recipient. God loves us because of His perfect, holy nature, not because we deserve His love.

God loves us because of who He is not because of who we are. He loves because it is His holy nature to do so. That’s why God’s love is completely unconditional. It is based on His perfect self.

God’s love should be our example. Not our culture. We love others because God loved us first. Even when we didn’t deserve it.

How should we love?

This is a tall order. Jesus said we are to love each other like He loves us. Jesus gave His life for us. He put our needs ahead of His own and trusted the Father with the outcome. (See John 15:9-14.)

Who should we love?

Jesus told us to love three groups of people. First, we are to love our fellow believers (John 15:12). Second, we are to love “our neighbors” (Matthew 19:19). Third, we are to “our enemies” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Huh. That sounds like pretty much everybody to me.

Why should we love?

“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are to love others because God loves us. He made us in His image. He calls us to reveal the love of Christ to the world. He is a God of love and we are to be people of love.

Love others like God loved us. Big assignment. But we also have a big, loving God.

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:16b

Love. God is our reason, our example, and our enabler.

What do you find the hardest about loving others as God loves you?

 

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Are Your Plans Out of Control?

plansWhen our oldest daughter graduated from high school, we booked a summer cruise to celebrate. The family would spend seven days in the Caribbean on a floating resort! We researched the ports and excursions. We checked the weather to pack the right clothing. We carefully picked the flight to get us to the departure city on time. Our plans were detailed and thorough.

When the day arrived, we loaded the luggage and went to the airport. But one problem after another arose. We suffered through mechanical trouble, overbooking, and weather issues. After hours of trying everything, our disappointed family reloaded the car and went home. All our careful planning could not get us on that ship. Too many things were simply out of our control.

We humans like to plan, but our control is limited. In fact, you may be frustrated or anxious right now because you feel you have no control over your life. Be encouraged and take comfort in this firm truth: our God has complete control.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:3, NIV

God’s people can trust Him with our lives – and our plans. In fact, we make the best plans when we first seek God’s direction. The word “commit” in Proverbs 16:3 implies a humble dependence on God for the direction of our lives. Ask for His will and follow it. God blesses the plans that please Him. Then, leave the outcome up to God. Our plans still may change, but we can trust God is in control.

In what ways can you seek God’s direction for your plans and then trust Him to carry out His perfect will?

 

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Are you a Stunted Shrub or a Fruitful Tree?

Jeremiah 17We’ve lived in the West Texas desert. Twice. Not much can grow there. Even the small, stunted mesquite shrubs quickly become tumbleweeds in a windstorm. But here in southeast Texas the foliage thrives. It’s green around here pretty much twelve months of the year. Something is growing and blooming all the time. The plants have what they need – sun, warmth, and plenty of water.

I’ve seen plenty of stunted shrubs and fruitful trees. Such a stark contrast. In fact, God uses this contrast in the book of Jeremiah. God does that a lot in Scripture; He gives us word pictures to help us better understand spiritual truths.

The first chapter of Psalms has been my favorite for a long time – the man who mediates on the law of the LORD is like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:1-3). But recently, the comparison God gives us in Jeremiah 17 between a stunted shrub and a fruitful tree really impacted me.

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8, NLT

Which are you? Stunted Shrub or Fruitful Tree?

Jeremiah 17

How does one get to be a “stunted shrub?” You turn away from God and trust in humans. And the results are not pretty. Stunted shrubs are cursed. They have no growth and no hope for the future.

How does one get to be a “fruitful tree?” You trust in the Lord and put your hope in Him alone. The results are far much better. This person will be blessed and secure in difficult circumstances. She will stay healthy and grow, producing “fruit” that lasts.

I would much rather be a fruitful tree! How about you?

What can you do today to put your trust and hope in God?

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Muhammad Ali Versus Jesus: Who’s the Greatest?

Muhammad AliBoxing legend Muhammad Ali passed away late last week after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s. Often referred to as “The Greatest,” Ali had a long and illustrious boxing career. He won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and earned the boxing title “Heavyweight Champion of the World” three times.

Ali was also famous for making many bold – and poetic – claims about himself. Here are a few you’ve probably heard:

  • “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t.”
  • “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
  • “I’ve wrestled with alligators. I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning. And throw thunder in jail.”
  • He also called himself “the greatest” and the “king of the world.”

Many people around the world also thought Ali was indeed “the greatest.” Former President Bill Clinton will be giving the eulogy at his funeral on Friday. And in the wake of Ali’s death, President Barack Obama released a statement, which reads in part:

“Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period. If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d ‘handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail’… Like everyone else on the planet, Michelle and I mourn his passing. But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time… Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it.”

Ali was a strong, disciplined athlete. He was a unique poet and showman. He raised millions of dollars for charities and worked to promote peace around the world. He spent time with both presidents and dictators and was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But was Muhammad Ali “The Greatest?”

Yesterday, our small group talked about the divinity and eternality of Jesus. Jesus Christ. God come to us. The self-existent One, with no beginning or end of days. Yet the world does not proclaim His greatness. Presidents do not declare His praises.

So, today I feel compelled to give Jesus a little glory due His name.

He paints the butterfly and shapes the bee (Colossians 1:16). He commands lightning and cuts a path for the thunderstorm (Job 38:25). He holds all things together, sustaining them by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3), yet He willingly humbled Himself to bring life to mankind (Philippians 2:6-8). He opens the eyes of the blind, heals the sick, and raises the dead. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13). One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:11-12).

Muhammad Ali may have been a great man as far as men go. But Jesus Christ is our great God and eternal King. Praise His name!

 

 

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How to Get the Most Out of Your Devotional Book

Devotional BookI have mixed feelings about using a Christian devotional book. Printed devotionals and daily online devotions are wonderful tools, but too many Christians use them as their primary – and often only – source for time with God.

A “devotional” writing is what someone else has written about their own encounter with God and His Word. It is a middleman. So why do we settle for the human intermediary when we have access to God Himself?

Please don’t get me wrong. I love good devotional books. I’ve even written one. But we need to remember what they are and what they are not. And when we do use them, we need to use them merely as a supplemental tool and not as a substitute for the real thing. The following tips and suggestions will help you get the most out of your devotional guides.

4 Tips to Help You Get the Most out of Your Devotional Book

  1. Read the daily Scripture from your Bible – Many devotionals have the day’s verses printed out in the book or on the web page. But  if we open our Bible and read it there, it gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to guide us to read further, to interact more fully with the actual text. And there’s an added dimension about sitting with an open copy of God’s Word that can’t be replicated any other way.
  2. Read the selected passage in its greater context – Unfortunately, many devotional books ask you to read just a few verses – sometimes even one! Often, we miss the big picture. And sometimes we even misunderstand what the biblical author intended because we read the verses out of context. When you read the selected passage, back up. Read at least the paragraph so you don’t mishandle God’s Word. (Read this post for more on biblical context.)
  3. Listen to God first – Read the Scripture passage and give the Holy Spirit time to help you understand and apply God’s Word before you read the comments by the human author. The spiritual insight from someone else can be very helpful, but don’t let it get in the way of anything God wants to show you Himself.
  4. Journal your own thoughts – Some devotionals give you space to write. If yours doesn’t, keep a notebook or bound journal with your Bible so you can record any insights, direction, and application God gives you. For more info on journaling, read this post.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you use devotionals and how you work to keep them in the proper perspective.

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Mug Monday: Need a Filter?

FilterIt’s Mug Monday! Each week this summer we will seek to make some sense out of the wisdom or humor written on the side of a coffee mug. Pull up a chair and join me in a cup of coffee!

A friend I worked with for several years worked hard to control his speech. Whenever he naturally would have made a sarcastic or quick comeback, he would pass his hand in front of his face as a physical reminder to “filter” his words. It was a visible reminder to himself to think before he spoke. It gave him pause.

Of course we all knew he had left something unsaid. Perhaps something biting that may have been funny, but not kind or helpful. Like my friend, when we “filter” our words before we allow them to leave our mouths, we check our speech for any impurities or damaging elements.

Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t much value the verbal filter today. Instead, we want to hear every cutting, rude, crude, hurtful word. In fact, the more outrageous the better. All we have to do is tack on a “just saying” and it’s all good. Today’s mug reflects our society’s desire to hear every unfiltered word. (I know it’s only been two weeks since we talked about our speech, but seriously, we can’t talk about it enough!)

God not only tells His children we should use filters for our mouths, He tells us very specifically what we should filter out and what we should allow through:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29 NIV

The Greek word translated as “unwholesome” refers to far more than foul language or curse words. It means we shouldn’t say anything that tears down or deflates the one who hears our words. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever say anything hard of difficult to hear, but that the goal of our speech is to help and build up the other person.

This is so challenging for me! Think about this, what percentage of what comes out of our mouths helps and builds up the hearer? What percentage hurts or tears down the hearer?

Yes, I long for 100% of my words to build up and 0% to tear down. Unfortunately, my filter is often faulty. How about you?

God commands us to control our speech, so in part, using our filter is a step of obedience. But we also need the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit because “no man can tame the tongue” (James 3:8) on our own. We need His divine power!

If you want to tame the tongue and control your speech, join me in this “filter prayer”:

“Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3, NIV

Here’s the good news: God is waiting to help us control our speech! Let’s ask Him to help us keep that filter in place!

What about you? Have you ever taken pride in your “anything goes” speech? Have you struggled to control it only to fail time and time again?

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Family Vacation Devotional Guide

family devotional guide

 

Getting away with the family this summer? This 7-Day Family Devotional Guide, developed just for the family, is perfect for car trips and lazy days on the beach!

Each day features a Scripture passage, brief comments, and questions to get family discussion about God’s Word rolling! Read the passage and the commentary, then ask your family the questions and encourage them to share. Close in prayer!

You can either use the guide straight from here or download and print the PDF

 

 

Day One: Follow Me                                                                      

Genesis 12:1-9

God called Abram to move away from the only home he had ever known. It meant he would have to leave his father and other family behind too. God had an exciting plan that would help all the people on the earth. But Abram had to obey to be part of it. So Abram obeyed and followed God. And he didn’t even know where he was going!

  • Have you ever moved from one town to another? How did you feel?
  • Has God ever asked you to do something you didn’t really understand?
  • Abram obeyed God quickly. Do you sometimes have difficulty obeying God right away?

Day Two: Get Out Fast!                                                                 

Exodus 12:31-42

God’s people had been in slavery in Egypt for 400 years. He promised to bring them out and lead them safely back to the land He had given Abram. Pharaoh did not want to let them go, but after God sent 10 terrible plagues, he finally told them to “get out!” Hundreds of thousands of people had to pack up everything and leave in a hurry.

  • What are some of the things the Israelites took with them from Egypt?
  • In what ways did God provide for their long journey ahead?
  • Has God ever provided for you during a trip or vacation? How?

Day Three: Two Spies on a Mission                                            

Joshua 2:1-16*

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land. Their leader, Joshua, sent two spies on a mission to gather information about the first city they would fight.

  • How did God protect the spies? In what ways has God protected you?
  • What had Rahab heard about God?
  • Do you ever tell others about God’s works? What could you tell them?
  • How did the spies get away?

*Note: Parents, depending on the age of your children, you may just want to skip the description of Rahab in verse 1!

Day Four: Long Way to Go to Have a Baby                                  

Luke 2:1-20

It was about 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Even though we see pictures of Mary riding a donkey, there’s no mention of one in the Bible. They probably walked the entire way and it would have taken them several days. That’s a long, tiring journey.

  • What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken?
  • What exciting thing happened while Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem?
  • Why did Jesus come? How can you spread the news like the shepherds did?

Day Five: Detour to Help Someone                                             

Luke 10:25-37

Jesus told many stories, called parables, to help people understand things about God. This parable shows us that if we truly love God we will also love other people. Real love isn’t just words. Real love helps others who need help.

  • What dangerous thing happened to the traveler? Who didn’t help him?
  • What did the Samaritan do to help? How did that show real love?
  • Do you know someone that needs help? What can you do to help them?

Day Six: Quick Trip                                                                           

Acts 8:26-40

After Jesus went back to heaven, His followers began to tell people everywhere about Him. God sent Philip to meet the man from Ethiopia on a road so he could learn about Jesus.

  • How did Philip know who he was supposed to talk to about Jesus?
  • Has God’s Spirit ever guided you like He guided Philip? How?
  • What decision did the man from Ethiopia make?

Day Seven: Shipwreck!                                                                  

Acts 27:13-42

Paul was under arrest for preaching about Jesus. He was being taken to Rome to stand trial when the ship got caught in a terrible storm. They battled the sea for two weeks before it finally sank!

  • What was lost at sea? What was not lost?
  • In what ways can you see God at work in this seemingly hopeless situation?
  • How did Paul use it to tell others about God?
  • How can you use difficult times to tell others about God?

 

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