Chocolate Covered Friendship

May 25, 2010

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Angela Fox last week at a Christian Writer’s Conference.  Angela is the co-author of a gift book titled, Chocolate Covered Friendship. She, along with artisan chocolatier Bethany Thouin, have combined two of our favorite things, girlfriends and chocolate!

Published by Thomas Nelson and available at amazon.com, here is an excerpt from this very creative and very delicious book.  The pictures make you want to eat the pages and the stories remind you of your friends.  So grab a piece of our most craved for treat and enjoy the read below.  See if it rings true for you too.

‘Just as chocolate becomes beautiful through the process of being tempered, we become beautiful as we let our experiences temper us – and friendship brings us a wealthy of those tempering experiences.  Every one of us has been hurt by a friend, and sadly, we have all hurt a friend at one time or another.  Tina and I have been tried and stretched and tempered, but now that we have come to the other side, our friendship is deeper, richer and more precious than ever.  Learning to be a friend is a lifelong journey, one that can produce some of life’s most satisfying fruit.’

Advertisements

Love: The Perfect Fit

February 2, 2009

LOOK: “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.  Be even- tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.  Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.  It’s your basic, all-purpose garment.  Never be without it.”   Colossians 3:12-14  (The Message)

LEARN: Much of my time this past weekend was spent searching for the perfect pair of jeans.   Quite simply, this task left me frazzled and fatigued.  The first pair I tried on barely even covered my you-know-what!  Ooops…low rise.  That won’t work. Sits at the waist.  Nope.  These look like mom jeans.  One pair looked like they would be long enough until I put them on and discovered they stopped just above my ankles.  Ooops…regular length.  That won’t work.  I can’t breath in this pair – too tight.  Worn out and weary from a week’s worth of tugging and pulling, I left thinking this is really a lot more complicated than it should be. All I wanted was a pair of jeans that looked good and were comfortable.  Was this struggle really worth it?

I was reminded of how Scripture tells us God has picked out our garments for us to put on.  He wants us to wear such things as compassion, kindness and humility.  He wants us to put on love, as though we’re putting on a pair of jeans.  Just as I struggled to try on all those pairs of pants, putting on these God selected garments can sometimes be a struggle too. We may feel like we’re being squeezed into something that is too tight and uncomfortable.  We may stop short of really forgiving as we should, baring ankles of bitterness and resentment. Worse yet, when our love isn’t high enough, sometimes our you-know-what shows.  We can easily get worn out by the constant tugging and pulling it takes to put on these God selected garments, asking ourselves, “Is this struggle really worth it?”

Like a good fitting pair of jeans, putting on the garments God has selected for us makes us look and feel our best. It is definitely worth the struggle. When we wear compassion, kindness, humility and love, one size fits all.  These are things that look good on everybody.  We can move around with even temperedness, accomplishing that which God has called us to do.  We can be comfortable with second place.  Forgiveness is always a perfect fit, no matter what size and shape we are.  Looking for that perfect pair of jeans?  Putting on patience might help.  Think how much better you’ll really look!

LIVE: LOVE: THE PERFECT FIT

1.  Choose a God-selected garment you would like to put on from the list above.
2.  What would it take for this garment to be a perfect fit for you?
3.  How might wearing this garment enable you to move around more comfortably?
4.  We all want to be noticed when we wear our perfect fitting pair of jeans. How would you know you were noticed when you wore your God selected garment?
5.  Write a prayer asking God to help you don the garments He has chosen for you to wear.

When God is Small, Our Problems Are Big.

January 26, 2009

LOOK: “Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, “Let’s go up and take the land – now.  We can do it.”  But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.”   They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other – it’s a land that swallows people whole.  Everybody we saw was huge.  Why, we even saw the Nephilm giants.  Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers.  And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers.”  Numbers 13:26-30  (The Message)

LEARN: In this very familiar passage of Scripture, we get a glimpse of what happens when we allow our problems to become bigger than God.  When the ten spies returned to Moses, they reported what they saw.  The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long.  The people grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  The entire community was in on it.   “Why didn’t we die in Egypt?  Or in this wilderness?  Why has God brought us to this country to kill us?  Our wives and children are about to become plunder.  Why don’t we just head back to Egypt?  And right now!”  Numbers 14:1  (The Message)

While Caleb had faith that God was bigger than the giants who were living in the land, the people of Israel did not.  As I look at the emotions lurking behind their words of distress, I detect fear, lack of faith, negativity and perhaps some exaggeration of the truth.  Because actions are determined by our thoughts and emotions, the Israelites negative attitude led to behaviors of weeping, grumbling, questioning God, making a list of “if only’s” and desiring to go backwards instead of moving forward.

I experienced a very similar situation this week.  While I feel very strongly God is leading me to ‘go get the land He promised’, taking hold of this opportunity will not be without challenges.   Initially, all I could focus on was the huge obstacles in front of me. They just looked insurmountable.  The more I focused upon the difficulties, the bigger they seemed to get and the smaller God became.  My negative attitude quickly gave way to the same behaviors of the Israelites:  I wept.   I grumbled.   I complained.  I questioned God, “Why would He do this?”  God’s through with me, I’m sure of it.

When I finally allowed God to speak to me, He showed me that He is bigger than the challenges before me.  He is able to do that which I cannot do.  Nothing is impossible for Him.  By the end of the week, I had changed my attitude.  And because my attitude changed, my actions changed.  Instead of retreating in defeat, I am now moving forward in faith, knowing that God is big enough to accomplish that which He promised.

LIVE: WHEN GOD IS SMALL OUR PROBLEMS ARE BIG

1.  Where might you have allowed your problems to become bigger than God?
2.  Scripture says that nothing is impossible with God.  What does this mean to you?
3.  How might this illustration of the Israelites give you faith to move forward?
4.  Write a prayer asking God to help you see Him as big and your problems as small.

God Reaches Down to Rescue

January 19, 2009

LOOK: “We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province.  It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us.  As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened.  Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally – not a bad idea since he’s the God who raised the dead!  And he did it, rescued us from certain doom.  And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.”  2 Corinthians 1:8,9  (The Message)

LEARN: Last week we witnessed a true rescue miracle.  A plane lost both engines and landed on the Hudson River.  All of the passengers and crew were immediately rescued and all returned to the safe warm, dry land.  All over the news for the past several days, it promises to be an interesting story for weeks to come.  I can’t wait to hear the pilot tell his first hand account of the harrowing incident.  A truly remarkable pilot.  A truly remarkable man.

As I watched scenes of the rescue over and over, I was struck by how nearby boats literally swarmed the downed plane.  With one mission in mind they rushed to the scene, ready to pluck the waiting passengers out of the frigid water, rescuing them from certain doom.  The passengers were unable to rescue themselves and were basically forced to trust others with their lives.   I wonder if there was ever a time when they thought it was all over for them?

The images I saw of this incident reminded me of these verses in 2 Corinthians.  Paul too, had undergone much suffering and hardship as he preached the Gospel through all Aisa.  He had feared more than once for his life, thinking that it would soon be over.  But instead, what happened?  God came to his rescue time and time again and saved him from doom and destruction.  The passengers on this plane were forced to trust others for their rescue. Paul tells us that we too, are often helpless and are forced to trust God for our rescue from a difficult or seemingly impossible situation.  “Is that such a bad thing,” Paul asks?  Maybe this was God’s plan from the beginning for those who claim to be followers of Jesus -to trust in God and not in ourselves during difficult times.

God delights in coming to our rescue. And when He does, He comes just at the right time. He promises to heal the sick, restore the ruined, and help the helpless. Take heart, my friends.  He’s reaching down to rescue you.

LIVE: GOD REACHES DOWN TO RESCUE

1.  Identify an area of your life where you need to trust God for a rescue.
2.  Imagine what you hope your rescue might look like.
3.  Sometimes God rescues us in ways other than how we think He might rescue us.  How might you be aware of God’s rescue if it’s different than what you’re expecting?
4. Write a prayer asking God to open your eyes so that you will see Him coming to the rescue.

God Gives Us Hope to Cope

January 12, 2009

LOOK: “So we’re not giving up.  How could we?  Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making a new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye.  The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow.  But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”  2 Corinthians 4:16-18  The Message

LEARN: I just finished watching the movie, The Case for Faith, based on the book by Lee Strobel.  Lee Strobel is an investigative reporter who wanted to discover for himself the truth of Christianity and how it stands up against other major world religions.  He addresses two central questions that have plagued believers ever since the early days of Christianity:  1.  Why is Jesus the only way to God?  2. If God is a good and loving God, how could He allow the evil and suffering that we see in the world today?

Impossible to address both of these questions in today’s devo, I want to focus briefly on the second question.  If God is a good and loving God, how could He allow the evil and suffering that we see in the world today?  The truth is that God created man with a free will. He created us with the power of choice.  Evil entered the world when Adam and Eve choose to do the wrong thing.  Human suffering is a side effect of that non-reversible act.

As believers in Christ, our hope lies in the fact that no matter how bad our circumstances, God can turn great evil and suffering into something that is greatly good. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the best example of this.  In John 16:33, Jesus tells us that we will experience trouble in this world, but that He has overcome the world.  God is a god of intention, meaning and purpose.  Our suffering is never wasted when we allow God to use it to accomplish His purposes.  As Joni Erickson so aptly put it in the DVD, “God uses our suffering to push us up against Him.  He is there in the heart of our mess.”  So what does this mean to us in the scope of eternity?

It means what we’re going through is nothing compared to the wonder that awaits us in Heaven.  Small potatoes compared to the coming good times.  A new body, a new home, a new life!  Our time here on earth is brief – over in the blink of an eye.  But in our heavenly home, where there is no sickness, no weeping, no pain and no dying, joy will last for all eternity.  Every wrong will be made right.  Everything will be perfect.  Until then, my friends, take heart.  Our eternal rewards far outweigh the hard times.  HANG IN THERE!  God gives us hope to help us cope.

LIVE: GOD GIVES US HOPE TO COPE

1.  Identify a time in your life when you may have had a difficult time.
2.  Which part of the above information gives you the most hope?  Why?
3.   Predict how God might use suffering to bring about great good.
4.  If you were to internalize the hope God gives to help us cope, how might that be outwardly demonstrated by your actions?
5.  Write a prayer asking God to give you hope to cope with your suffering.

Look on the Lovely

January 5, 2009

LOOK: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Philippians 4:8 (The Message)

LEARN: The beginning of a new year always seems to be the perfect time to make new resolutions.  2009 is already proving to be no different than all other years gone before.  Again, I find myself asking, ‘Which area of my life might benefit from a few changes? What might be one small step I can take that will bring about big results?’

God seems to have heard me ask this question and wasted no time bringing such an area to my mind.  For years I have found myself only looking at the bad stuff that has been part of a family relationship.  I have dwelt upon the hurt I have experienced.  I have often imagined how my life might have been different, had a particular situation not been present.  My list of ‘if only’s’ gets longer each time I sit down to write it.  Over the years, I let the not-so-happy-times completely overshadow the this-is-good times.  There were good times, but I’ve been too focused on the worst times to even acknowledge the best times.

Paul understood the connection between one’s thoughts and actions.  What we allow to occupy our thoughts will ultimately determine how we act.  Paul challenges us to fill our minds with thoughts that are good and gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not to curse.  When we think on these things, our actions are more forgiving and loving.  We can truly put behind what has gone before and look ahead to the future with eager anticipation.  Praise invites God to keep on working in our lives and in the lives of those we love.  My New Years resolution is to remember the good times in my family relationship, to look on the lovely and thank God for them.

2009 is going to be a challenging year for many of us.  Some of us have lost jobs. Some of us have lost houses.  Others have lost savings accounts and pension funds.  The world’s current situation is forcing us to examine our faith and to apply every ounce of it to our lives.  Can we think on the good things?  Can we see beauty in the ashes?  Can we praise God as we see opportunities for Him to do a new thing in our lives?  Negative thoughts usually lead to emptiness, but looking on the lovely reaps many rewards.

LIVE: LOOK ON THE LOVELY

1. Identify an area in your life where you seem to be stuck in negative thinking.
2. If you could make any changes you want to this situation, what might that be?
3. How might looking on the lovely naturally lead to those changes?
4. Often, looking on the lovely does not happen automatically.  Create a plan to stave off those negative thoughts and make this happen.
5. Write a prayer asking God to help you focus on the good instead of the bad.

Who do you say I am?

December 22, 2008

LOOK: “When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea, Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”  He pressed them, “And what about you?  Who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah!  You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers.  My father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.”  Matthew 16:13-17  The Message

LEARN: The headline of the Sunday Life section in my local newspaper, Sunday News Journal, was quite surprising.  Jesus, Mary and Islam.  After recently having a conversation with someone who believes Christians and Muslims all worship the same God, this immediately caught my attention. The following section is taken directly from the article written by Gary Soulsman.  If you’d like to read the entire article, it’s available at http://www.delawareonline.com.

“We believe in the goodness and purity of Mary,” says Dr. Sheerin Javed. “And     sometimes we talk about this – that Jesus is a special prophet for Muslims so it makes us feel good to see him honored this time of year.”  At a time when the birth of Jesus is on the minds of Christians, he is  also revered by Muslims.  And while they do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, there are many similarities between what the Bible and the        Quran say concerning the birth of Jesus. Jesus is in the Quran as the Messiah.

“He’s talked about as the word of truth. It is said that he can heal the sick and has authority to raise the dead.  By my count, Jesus is mentioned 110 times,” says former U.S. Rep. Mark Siljander, an evangelical Christian now living in Great Falls, VA.  “Mary is highly regarded in the Islamic tradition, and the story of her birth, her dedication to the temple and the miraculous birth of her son, who is also regarded highly, are told in the Quran,” says Umeyye Isra Yazicioglu, assistant  professor of theology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  Yet, most     Americans don’t know how much there is in the Quran about the goodness of  Mary and Jesus, says Vivienne Angeles, a religion professor at LaSalle University  in Philadelphia.   She often teaches Islam to Christian students who are surprised to find central figures of their faith mentioned in the Islamic Scriptures.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus this week, who do you say that He is?

LIVE: WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?

1.  What surprises you about the information above, if anything?

2.  Although Jesus is mentioned in the Islamic Scriptures, according to the website  http://www.allah.org, Islam rejects characterizing God in any human form.   Read Matthew 1:22,23 and John 1:1,14.  Differentiate between the Islamic and Christian faith.

3.  Re-read today’s Scripture in the LOOK section.  What do you discover?

4.  How might your observations be reflected in your faith and lifestyle?

5.  Write a prayer asking God to show you who He really is.

Embrace the Brightness

December 16, 2008

LOOK: “God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.” 1 John 1:5

LEARN: As the late afternoon sun streamed in through my living room window, its beam fell directly on a piece of dark furniture. Walking by, I could not help but notice every speck of dust seemed to be illuminated. Dust I never would have noticed, had it not been for the laser beam of sunlight shining upon it. Made me look like a horrible housekeeper. I immediately went over and turned the blinds so the light would not shine in so brightly. I knew the dirt was there, but I was much more comfortable when I could not see it so clearly.

I was reminded of a conversation I heard while briefly watching a morning talk show. The four hosts were talking about God. Four women sharing their thoughts and opinions about who he is and how we might know him. Everyone had a different opinion, a different thought process and, a different view. But they did have one thing in common. Their thoughts and opinions were not based on any type of standard, but rather, they were based on what they were comfortable believing about God. They all believed in a God who fit nicely into their lifestyle. Listening to them define God reminded me of watching someone stumble around in the darkness.

Scripture says that God is light. In Him there is no darkness. With His light, God reveals Himself to us. We can know exactly who He is and how we might know Him. But the truth is that most of us are much more comfortable groping our way through the darkness. We don’t want God’s bright light shining in on our lives. It might illuminate our dust, and then what? Even if we did not want to clean it up, we’d have to acknowledge that it’s there.

The good news is that the light came to show us how to live a light filled life!! No more guessing about who God is and how we might know Him. He longs for us to walk with Him in the light. This Christmas, as we celebrate the light who has come, move closer and embrace the brightness!

LIVE: EMBRACE THE BRIGHTNESS

1. From the information above, highlight what you find to be the most significant. Why?

2. List reasons why people might choose to avoid God’s light.

3. Reflect upon any of these reasons that might apply to yourself.

4. What would it take for you to be enthusiastic about embracing God’s brightness?

5. Write a prayer thanking God for sending His light into the world that we might be able to see and know Him better.

The Rest of the Story

December 4, 2008

LOOK: “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was.  He came to help, to put the world right again.”  John 3:17, The Message

LEARN: John 3:16 is probably one of the most familiar verses in the Bible.  We see it written on posters held up by enthusiastic fans at ball games.  We see it written on cardboard boxes as we pass through intersections. It was the first Bible verse that many of us had to memorize as children in Sunday School.  John 3:16 was the first verse I was directed to as a new believer in Christ 30 years ago.  Our familiarity with this particular verse rings loud and clear.

But what really has begun to interest me is the verse that follows John 3:16:  John 3:17.  John 3:17 completes the story about why God sent Jesus to us.  Not merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it is, but He came to help put the world right again.  Anyone who trusts in Him is released from paying the penalty of their sin.

What might this mean to us as we live out our faith?  If Jesus does not point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it is, should we?  Recent studies indicate that evangelical Christians are known more for what they oppose, not for what they believe in.  Too often, we’re very quick to point the accusing finger, telling someone what they are doing is bad, and completely missing the way of Jesus: letting people know we love them unconditionally, no matter how great their sin.  It’s not our job to condemn, it’s our job to love.  In the end, we will all be judged according to God’s Word. The only person who will matter at that time is ourselves as we stand before God.  I don’t think God is going to ask us about why so and so did whatever, but He probably will remind us of how we treated them.  Did we love them or point an accusing finger at them?

As we enter this Advent season and prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Savior, let’s think about pointing a loving finger instead of an accusing finger.  Without compromising what we believe to be true, right and good, we can show others why Jesus came by loving them unconditionally.  Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment everytime. That, my friends, is the rest of the story!

LIVE: THE REST OF THE STORY

1. Recall a time when you may have been treated with kindness, instead of harsh judgment.  Describe how that made you feel.

2.  Compare that experience with a time you may have been pointed to with an accusing finger. Reflect upon the difference in how you felt.

3.   If you were to determine to extend kind mercy instead of an accusing finger, what might that look like?

4.   Write a prayer asking God to help you live out the rest of the Christmas story.

Never Earned. Always Given.

November 24, 2008

LOOK: “All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers.  But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin verses grace, grace wins hands down.  All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it.  Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life – a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.”  Romans 5:20,21

LEARN: One day last week as I was driving down the road, I could not help but notice an 18-wheeler truck parked in a parking lot not far from road. The truck was intentionally parked with the broad side facing the oncoming traffic, using its long expanse as a billboard.  Against the deep blue painted background, were three very large words written in white paint.  EARNED.  NOT GIVEN.  Beneath these words written in smaller, but readable letters was the phrase, ‘The United States Marine Corp.”

Earned. Not Given. The wheels in my brain started churning. This might work for the United States Marine Corp, but the more I pondered these words, the more thankful I became that they don’t work for those who are followers of Jesus.  Grace is the complete opposite of this phrase.  Grace is NEVER EARNED.  ALWAYS GIVEN.

God’s grace, His aggressive forgiveness that invites us into life and relationship with Him, is freely given.  We never have to work for it.  We never have to measure up in order to get it.  We never have to be afraid of reaching our limit or maxing out our credit.  God gives it out in abundance from a never-ending supply.  Jesus Himself, is known as the physical embodiment of grace. We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, this endless knowing and understanding, all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.  (John 1:17)

What can we be thankful for on Thanksgiving day?  We can be thankful for grace.  We can be thankful that it’s never earned, always given.  Poured out freely, as from a stream of never ending water.  No longer do we need to live in the bondage of sin and the separation from God that comes as a result.  Rather, a good, spiritually rich life awaits us all.  Sin does not stand a chance when in competition with God’s grace.  Receive it my friends, and live life to its fullest!  Happy Thanksgiving!

LIVE: NEVER EARNED.  ALWAYS GIVEN

1.  Describe what earning something means to you?

2.  Have you ever received anything without earning it, other than God’s grace?  Reflect upon how that made  you feel.

3.  Which part of Never Earned.  Always Given., do you most appreciate and why?

4.  If you were to internalize this concept, how might it be demonstrated by your behavior?

5.  Write a prayer thanking God for the grace He has given you.