Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thankful in all circumstances
“Rejoice in the Lord always…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4a, 6-7

What a powerful promise! The peace of God guards my heart and mind. This is among the many reasons I have to be thankful this year.

Years ago, when my husband and I started out as newlyweds, we pinched pennies and barely scraped by from paycheck to paycheck. We had a little black-and-white TV that picked up random channels through its rabbit ear antenna. Meals were often scant and gas for the car a luxury.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Despite the fact that thirty years of hard work and God’s blessings lifted us from that economic situation, I never forget the tough times. Like Paul, I learned the secret of being content despite my circumstances. It is a contentment born from dwelling in thanksgiving with my heavenly Father.

This year, as I review my reasons to be thankful, they may be similar to yours—family, shelter, food, employment, good health, and ministry. My list hasn’t always included all these things, nor am I guaranteed it will be the same next year.

But do you know what I’m most thankful for?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31b-32, 35-39

I’m most thankful that nothing can separate me from the love of my Lord and Savior.

Dear God, we come before your throne with grateful hearts, overflowing with the love you’ve shown us through your Son. Despite the hardships we’ve encountered this year, thank you for the many blessings you’ve given us and the grace you’ll extend to us in the coming year. Thank you for always being accessible and consistent in your love. Thank you most of all for the salvation you’ve provided through Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.

If you have a prayer request, please share in the comments so others can pray or email me confidential requests. I pray travel mercies and safety for those of you on the road today. May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Reminder: Changes in the blog posting schedule begin next week. Click here to read about the new schedule, if you haven’t done so already. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jumping Out of Greed and Into Thanksgiving

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

We’ve reached the time of year when we pause to give thanks for the multitude of blessings God has bestowed on us throughout the year. No matter what our trials, we can always find the blessings.

Then we rush headlong into a greed gorge-fest of commercialism. Americans devote one day a year for thanks, and it’s quickly diminishing while greed is escalating.

Hurriedness and greed. Is that what God envisioned when He sent His Son to earth? That civilization would reach the point where the glitter and gift wrap would overshadow His gift to us? Certainly He knew, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t grieved Him.

The Bible says Jesus wept. Since we are made in God’s image, I often wonder if He weeps. Something to ponder. Certainly, Black Friday would be a day that could bring tears to His eyes.

In this hurriedness, I think of how we, as Christians, can model something different to the world instead of racing to be the first one to put up our Christmas tree. Or the first one in the store on Black Friday or Thursday night before Thanksgiving is even over, whatever the case may be. Or filling in our December calendar with parties and other activities. 

To truly emulate God, the most important thing we can do next Thursday, besides bow our heads and give thanks, is strive to “walk in the way of love” with our fellow man. The neat thing is—it doesn’t require you to go to a department store, run up your credit card debt, or sweat over your holiday to-do list.

Ironically, we're entering into the season of celebrating our Savior’s birth, yet nowhere in the New Testament do you find Jesus hurrying anyplace. He craved his quiet time.

Close your eyes and meditate for a moment on the phrase “fragrant offering.” A fragrance that isn’t found in the most beautifully scented potpourri or Christmas candle. The image evokes a peace not present in the hurriedness of shopping and baking, nor in the massive stack of gifts accumulating under the tree.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Paul’s admonition is well taken. December has become an entity all unto itself where absolutely nothing gets done to move life forward. Instead, it’s a race to the 25th to get everything “Christmas” accomplished and then, suddenly, life resumes January 1. A whole month every single year wasted in commercial greed.

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 19b-20

This year as we sit down to turkey dinners across the nation, I challenge you to celebrate an authentic Thanksgiving, “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,”  and then spend the rest of the day in family time enjoying those God has blessed you with along with peaceful anticipation of our Lord’s birthday.

If you have a prayer request, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or email me confidential requests. If you haven’t read Monday’s post about the upcoming changes in my blogging schedule, click here to read. Next week, I’ll share another Thanksgiving post, but if you’re traveling on Wednesday, know that you’re included in my prayers for travel mercies and safety.

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Monday, November 18, 2013

Changes in Blog Posts Starting December 1

I’ve prayed about the direction and content of A Word of Encouragement headed into 2014. As discussed from this blog’s launch, its posts are designed to encourage you through earthly trials and your spiritual walk with Christ.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8
God has led me on a path of encouraging others, and the mission of this blog will continue to be centered on encouragement.

Those of you who are regular followers and e-mail subscribers know I’m passionate about many things. Among these are people hurting (physically, mentally, and spiritually), missions, my fellow Christian writers, the persecuted and oppressed worldwide, and the role of Christians in a secular progressive society. This makes for a broad genre of writing topics.

Because of how hectic my life has been in the past year, I discontinued Writers’ Corner to devote my attention solely to devotion/prayer posts each week. Occasionally, I’ve mixed in hot topics, current events, or mental health issues. I’ve reserved the most hard-hitting issues for my other blog, Count The Costs.

My life isn’t any less busy now. In fact, it’s probably more so, but this is where change, through more clearly defining my blogging schedule and topics, will be good for me, as well.

Beginning the week of December 1, this will be my new blogging schedule:

Wednesdays will remain the devotion/prayer blog post. If you need prayer or want encouragement, this post is for you. Please e-mail me at any time during the week for your prayer request to be included in the upcoming post.

Fridays will be posts to encourage my fellow Christian writers. This may include author interviews, writing tips, resources, book reviews, and insight into my own writing journey. If you’re an author who has a book releasing or already published, feel free to email me for an interview. I’d love to highlight your work for other authors to be encouraged by and readers to discover your intriguing books.

One thing impressed upon me when I first began writing is that writers are on a journey. You never “arrive” unless you’re J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Jan Karon, or someone of that caliber. Therefore, writers are on the path behind you and ahead of you. Everyone helps everyone else. I’ve been fortunate to have had some wonderful Christian authors help me, and in turn, I mentor other writers and belong to critique groups. I ghostwrite and edit, as well. So I’d like to use Fridays as a forum to share with other writers so we can all encourage each other.

I will still share an occasional fun post, as I did about Mayberry after Andy Griffith died, or some other current event. Or I might blog live from a writing conference when I attend one. These will be extras.

As for more hard-hitting posts about current events or hot topic issues related to Christianity, these will be exclusively on my other blog, Count The Costs. These will typically be more in-depth and heavily researched topics.

An example of something I might blog about on CTC would be a news report I read this week of eighty-five people publically executed in North Korea for possessing Bibles, pornography, or South Korean videos. Keep in mind in North Korea, anything religious is considered pornography, so it’s safe to assume a large percentage of the folks executed were Christians. They were all lined up and then mowed down with machine gun fire for everyone to witness. Though it’s difficult to verify any news coming out of North Korea, these questions can still be asked: How does this effect American Christians? We’re often soft and comfortable within our shores where religious persecution typically doesn’t cost someone their lives, but would we dare own a Bible if it meant we could be killed for it? What is our role to help our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide?

Luke 14:27-33 states we are to count the costs of following Christ. Some of you might not want to read or discuss these type issues, nor others I’ve discussed like abortion or Hobby Lobby’s religious battle with the government, genocide, or human trafficking. That’s fine. But if you do want to be a part of these discussions or just become more informed, head over to Count The Costs and become a follower or e-mail subscriber. As always, both of my blogs are interlinked, and the link for each can be found at the top right of each blog.

Though I’ve used a few select guest posts in the past, new in 2014 is my plan to open up Count The Costs as a writing opportunity for guest bloggers. Please read the guest post submission guidelines at the top of the blog before submitting, though. Thanks!

Hopefully, this clear delineation of where we’re headed on A Word of Encouragement and Count The Costs for the upcoming year will make it easier for everyone to find the posts they most want to read and then become involved in discussions or prayer for others.

I’ve enjoyed the past two and a half years of blogging and getting to know some of my readers better. You’ve been a blessing to me through your faithful following and prayer support. I look forward to a wonderful new year of blogging with you.   

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hope—A Supernatural Abstraction?

Life's eternal hope
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words.”~ Emily Dickinson

Emily’s quote paints a beautiful image of a seemingly supernatural abstraction we all long for and find impossible to live without. Yet, hope often feels elusive, just out of reach of our grasp. When we suffer hardships or walk through trials, despair can easily nudge it aside.

Hope is mentioned throughout the Bible, often coupled with other positive words.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

Hope isn’t born in a vacuum, unaffected by outside influences. Hope is birthed as we journey through life’s trials.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  Romans 5:2a-5.
Despair does not defeat God’s supernatural hope which strengthens and edifies our souls. Hope whispers to us that tomorrow will be better, our problems have solutions, and healing can take place.

What is troubling you today? I want to assure you of the miraculous hope God can instill in your soul, despite your circumstances. All you have to do is believe then reach out and take hold of his hand. His strength will see you through.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.
If you have a prayer need, I encourage you to leave a request in the comments below, even anonymously, so others can pray for you. Feel free to email me confidential requests. The permanent prayer list is at the top of the blog. Please take a moment to lift those folks up in prayer, as well. If you have a praise report, I’d love to hear it! J

Prayer request from Betty: After having emergency surgery, her Uncle Jerry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He’s in a great deal of pain. He is in his 70s. Also pray for the three young teenagers of her late cousin he takes care of. Those poor kids have been shuffled around so much. This is the first time they’ve had any stability in their young lives and a church home. Also pray that he truly knows the Lord. The kids' names are Buddy, Elisa, and Evoyna.

As we take our petitions and intercessions to the Lord, enjoy a moment of worship with Brandon Heath’s “Your Love.”

Betty Maye was the winner of last week’s book giveaway, “The Liberty of Obedience,” by Elisabeth Elliot. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I have, Betty. Stay tuned for more giveaways in the future. God bless you all!


©Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do You Measure Up?

“It’s a sin to be shy.” The normally kind church lady took my hands in hers, and in her sweetest voice shared her revelation with me. Even in my early teens, I had enough spiritual discernment to know bunk when I heard it. I withdrew my hands while she continued to “help” me not hide my light under a bushel but share it with the world. Her way.

I didn’t doubt God’s love for me. He was the One I could count on when I couldn’t count on anyone else. I knew her viewpoint was wrong. But, oh, how it hurt my already fragile teen psyche. Not until I was an adult, and learned about introvert and extrovert personalities, did I quit feeling “less than” around others simply because I wasn’t the bubbly one carrying the conversation. God hardwired me to shine my light in other ways that would probably drive an extrovert crazy. J

But inevitably, it’s always the not so well-meaning folks who feel they have to ensure someone else’s Christian life measures up by their own spiritual checklist.

The Bible is crystal clear on some sin—adultery, homosexuality, stealing, and murder, to name a few. Why? Because not only is their presence an abomination against God’s holiness, they are a reflection of the person’s spiritual condition.

Disputes arise over the interpretation of daily activity, beliefs, and lifestyles that aren’t specifically spelled out in the Bible as sin. The Apostle Paul refers to this as “disputable matters.”

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:1-4)
In her book, "The Liberty of Obedience," Elisabeth Elliot writes that she thought she had a clear understanding of what sin was until she went to live with the Auca Indians who’d murdered her husband and four other missionaries. With no way to communicate verbally with them, she spent a year observing their lifestyle. The “savages” took care of their families, showed grace to one another, and lived by a moral code. Although adultery is rampant in western civilization, the Aucas wouldn't think of helping themselves to another man's wife. But…when Elisabeth’s husband had put his arm around one Indian to show affection, it meant that the missionaries were cannibals and had to be killed for the safety of the tribe. Elisabeth’s willingness to spank her toddler when she misbehaved was perceived as barbaric by the Indians. During her “quiet” year, Elisabeth wrestled with the concept of savage versus civilized. Her conclusion was that each culture has their own definition of disputable sin which often conflicts with other cultures. (Great little book that can be read in one sitting.)

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister…For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (Romans 14:13, 17-18)
Recently, the media descended on George W. Bush about his parents’ public acceptance of gay marriage. I loved his response. Rather than disrespect his parents or restate his past stance, which has always been fairly clear, he said he was too busy trying to get the log out of his own eye to get the speck out of someone else’s. 

Do I know his heart? No. And I wouldn’t have condemned him if he’d restated his belief that marriage is a covenant union between one woman and one man, as ordained by God since the beginning of time.

Do I know for a fact his beliefs haven’t changed? No. But he took the high road when confronted with a situation that would have disrespected his family. God’s definition of marriage is clear in the Old and New Testaments, so Bush didn’t have to argue his position. A “gotcha” forum isn’t the place for that. Instead, he left it for God to judge each person’s heart involved.

The most important way we show our Christian character is through our fruit (Matthew 7:14-21). Instead of wielding a spiritual yardstick, we can come alongside fellow Christians and encourage their spiritual growth through Bible study and praying for discernment. If you ask, God will provide discernment through His Holy Spirit on matters. As Elisabeth Elliot said, to expect God to give us a rule book with every rule spelled out is to assume we’ll be spiritual dwarfs during our earthly residence. He wants us to seek His wisdom to grow spiritually.

What may be perfectly clear to one Christian may not be so clear to another. In her book “The Hiding Place,” Corrie ten Boom and her sister Nollie argue over whether lying to the Gestapo about hiding Jews was right or wrong. It was interesting to watch how each sister’s stance played out in their lives—both honoring God with the ultimate cause of protecting His people.

At times, we must take stands on issues of gray areas. God calls us to count the cost of our discipleship and be willing to buffet the storms, even inside of our Christian fellowship. In doing so, let’s be sure we have the Biblical knowledge and spiritual discernment to defend our stance in a loving way. One way to do this is to ask questions such as: Does this edify my (or others) Christian walk? Does my stance conflict with God's nature as portrayed all through Scripture? 

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:19

Sometimes Satan’s most effective attack against God’s people is to set them against one another and divert from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). When we behave as Pharisees measuring our fellow Christians against a checklist, we’re not “going and making disciples.” Our time is better spent praying for true discernment of God’s will, sharing Jesus’ love, and working on the log in our own eye.

My friend, Christian writer Ginny Brant, recently spent time with Elisabeth Elliot, her husband Lars, and her daughter Valerie. (I’m trying not to be jealous.) The article and photos are amazing. I pray you’ll be as blessed as I am by Elisabeth’s inspiring story. Click here to read.

In honor of Elisabeth Elliot, who has made such an impact on my Christian journey, and her years as a faithful servant of Christ, I’m giving away a copy of her book, “Liberty of Obedience.” To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment about the post or share a thought about how the Great Commission has impacted your life—either in showing the love of Christ to others or how someone shared Christ with you. Or you may simply leave a prayer request, if you have one. Please feel free to e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for your needs. J

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Comments posted by 8:00 a.m. EST Monday, 11/11/13, will be eligible for drawing. Winner announced on following blog post. Thanks!