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Entries in Focus (5)

Tuesday
Nov212017

How to Protect Your Peace This Holiday Season

Debbie W. Wilson wisely counsels women on the kinds of attitudes that please the Lord. In this Holiday UPGRADE, she encourages us to forget about people-pleasing and focus on pleasing the Lord.

Debbie asks, "Has trying to please your family and friends drained the joy from your holidays?"

I (Dawn) am sure many of us feel that "drain" from time to time during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. It's not just joy. It's peace too! And self-control. And a lot of other godly attitudes!

Debbie continues

One year, I mentioned how much our son enjoyed going to a relative’s house for special occasions.

“He probably wouldn’t feel that way if you did more,” my Thanksgiving guest replied.

Ouch.

Jesus’ friends Martha and Mary can teach us a lot about the pitfall of trying to please everyone.

Let's visit the sisters before we lose our peace and perspective this season.

Martha Stewart could have been named after the older sister. Martha’s table and foods delighted all the senses, and her culture applauded her.

As is often the case with siblings, Mary was her polar opposite.

Who cared what they ate or when? She was consumed with Jesus. Mary’s choice to learn from the Rabbi flew in the face of her culture and her sister’s expectations.

When we meet the sisters, Martha has opened her home to Jesus and His disciples. While she busily prepared a feast for them, Mary listened to Jesus.

When the banging of pots didn’t grab Mary’s attention, Martha stormed into the middle of the group and turned on Jesus.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40 NIV).

Mary froze. This probably wasn’t the first time her sister had publicly corrected her. Dare she look at Jesus? Her cheeks burned, anticipating His reproach.

Jesus shocked the whole group. Instead of chastising Mary, He corrected Martha and commended Mary.

“My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42-42 NLT).

He didn’t reprimand Martha for being busy, but for being worried and upset.

Jesus simplified her focus.

Have you ever let details and pressures rob you of the best?

It is easy to be distracted by our to-do lists and miss the reason why we are doing.

LESSONS from MARTHA

  1. A critical spirit indicates a wrong focus. Need I say more?
  2. Martha took her complaint to the right person. Jesus will tell us the truth. The truth set Martha free. He’ll free us from our bad attitudes and wrong emphases too.
  3. We can change. The next time Martha prepared a feast for Jesus, she hummed while she worked (read between the lines, John 12:2-7)! A single focus lightens our work.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha. And both of them blessed Him when they served Him with uncluttered hearts.

But Mary ministered to His soul.

At the gathering the week before His death, Mary anointed His feet with a pint of expensive nard. The fragrance filled the air and saturated His skin and the tips of His clothes. Someone suggested the fragrance lingered through His final week—even to the cross.

Of all of Jesus’ friends and followers, only Mary understood His mission. She believed He was headed to the cross and wanted the fragrance of her love to be with Him in what lay ahead.

And some of His followers criticized her.

LESSONS from MARY

  1. We have to please only One. Spending time with Him reminds us of what matters most.
  2. Choices that delight Jesus may offend some of His followers. On different occasions, Mary's sister and Jesus' disciples found fault with her.
  3. Staying tuned into Jesus nurtures us, ministers to others, and blesses Him! Jesus promised that Mary’s act would be remembered always (Mark 14:9).

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and enter the Christmas season, let's keep our focus.

A year from now, no one will remember the details of our holidays, but they will remember our spirits and love.

What helps you stay grounded in this busy season?

Debbie W. Wilson—drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher—speaks and writes to help others discover relevant faith. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. Share her journey to refreshing faith at her blog.

Note: The Christmas to-do List in the graphic is a printable available from babyhintsandtips.com.

Thursday
Oct262017

When Tempted: Do Something Else!

In this Choices UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson explains how a simple weight loss tip helped her get a grip on habitual overeating and a lot of other addictions!

Maybe it will help you. . .

It was ridiculously simple. I was talking with the Lord about my food program, and I almost missed a quiet "suggestion."

The truth is, I wasn't praying as much as COMPLAINING.

  • "Lord, I can't do this."
  • "Lord, I think about chocolate all the time."
  • "Lord, I always want more, more, MORE!"

Somewhere in my complaint, my words turned more desperate.

"Lord ... HELP!"

And then I heard this little voice deep within my soul.

"Do something else."

"Do what?"

"Some... Thing... Else!"

"Like eating potato chips instead of chocolate?" (I wondered if the Voice was amused?)

"No. Do something else entirely. Switch your focus."

Though I'd been struggling for months, I instantly understood what "switch your focus" meant.

Stop focusing on food. Stop focusing on stuff. Stop focusing on getting "more" of everything.

Look elsewhere. Get busy elsewhere.

Anywhere but the refrigerator and the mall.

The more I thought about it, I knew there were three ways to re-focus my attention.

1. I needed to Focus on my faithful OVERCOMER.

Instead of focusing on how overwhelmed and powerless I felt, I could gaze on the One who died to give me hope and victory over my flesh.

The first and best things I can do when tempted is to "watch and pray" (Matthew 26:41) and read or quote (memorized) scripture that applies to my temptation (Psalm 119:11).

The enemy would like me to receive and live by DEVILISH LIES: You can't win ... It's hopeless ... You're doomed to failure ... You're too weak, etc.

The truth of scripture is, "...walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" ... "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Galatians 5:16; Romans 13:14)

Yet there is an element of truth in one of Satan's lies. I AM too weak!

Without the Lord, I can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him, there is victory, because nothing is impossible with the Lord (Matthew 19:26). My Faithful Overcomer conquered Satan and sin, and lived a sinless life. I can be victorious because I am hidden in Him and can live by faith in Him (Colossians 3:3; Galatians 2:20). 

I don't need to make "provision" for my flesh (Romans 13:14), but rather, I can "clothe myself" with Christ and consider some ways I might make "provision" to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in changing me—to "put off" some things that belong to my old sinful life and "put on" new things that align with a renewed mind and heart (Ephesians 4:22-24; Romans 12:1-2).

And that's where I move from grounding in theology to practical outworkings.

2. I needed to Focus on freeing OPTIONS.

Instead of focusing on all the things I CAN'T have and do, I could dig a little deeper and hone in on positive, healthier, life-building choices.

Dig a little deeper? How?

  • I could LOOK for recipes that would nourish my body and not contribute to ill-being.
  • I could SEEK new ways to exercise that I actually enjoy.
  • I could FIGURE OUT how to restructure my personal spending and time management (with better stewardship of my mind, emotions, body and spirit in mind).
  • I could THINK ABOUT things that bring God glory and bring me God-blessed pleasure—things that don't burden me with guilt or negative consequences. (God's original design in giving us "appetites" was good; because He wants us us to honor and enjoy Him and His blessings.)

As a simple tool, I recently created a "Do Something Else" list with ideas to help me "get up and get busy." I use it to:

Get out of the pantry;

Get off the couch and stop stuffing my face; and

"Get" (understand) what is good for me (Philippians 4:8), and pursue those things with passion!

On my list (below, right) are simple things under four headings: HOME, HEART, HEALTH and HELP.

Some are quick five- or ten-minute distractions with benefits. Others might take a little longer, but believe me, that's good when the call of the flesh is loud and strong!

I included simple things like:

  • Sort Bob's (my husband's) sock drawer. 
  • Organize the spices.
  • Start a "giveaway box" (for my local help-the-homeless ministry).
  • Try on at least 10 clothing items and make a quick decision: keep, mend, give away, trash.
  • Memorize a scripture verse. (I'm working on Galatians 5:1 right now.)
  • Pull weeds out of my garden.
  • Take in the waist on my black slacks.
  • Dust my bookshelves.
  • Organize around my washing machine and dryer.
  • Look for a low-fat, low-sugar holiday cookie that actually tastes good.
  • Write my friend with cancer who isn't going to make it.
  • Wash out my dog's water bowl.
  • Put seed in the bird feeder.
  • Pray and search the scriptures over a pressing question.
  • Wash my brush and comb.

Your list willl be different than mine. But make the list.

Then you'll have a "GO-TO" list for when you're tempted to GO TO your favorite addiction. Or to return to whenever you're distracted from making wise, godly and healthy choices. (Strive for excellence, not perfection)

3. I needed to Focus on fresh OPPORTUNITIES.

Instead of always focusing on obstacles—which actually boils down to focusing on "me, myself and I," or what Satan uses to sidetrack me—I could instead envision opportunities to do what might bless others.

I could become more sensitive to the Spirit and allow the Lord to lead me into greater love, service, ministry and encouragement. I could lift up my eyes beyond my wants and my desires to others' needs.

And then, I could ACT!

We can't do everything to deal with the world's needs. But we can all do SOMETHING.

And it's best not to wait. We don't know what tomorrow may bring. Life is short. We need to get busy, gather our resources, and "occupy" until the Lord returns (Luke 19:13).

We need to redeem the time and buy up opportunities as they come (Ephesians 5:15-16)— especially when the Lord asks us to act. (Consider James 4:12-17.)

What is God prompting you to do?

Obey quickly. Completely. Joyfully.

Since I've altered my focus, my perspective has changed. My choices have changed.

Even my bathroom scale shows the difference "do something else" can make.

Which of the "focus points" might help you today; and what would be on your "Do Something Else" list?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Thursday
Jul062017

Expand Your Attention Span for Spiritual Growth

Got attention span deficit? In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Dawn encourages us to expand our attention span so we can grow in our journey with the Lord.

According to a Time magazine report (2014) quoting Chartbeat, a data analytics company, one in three visitors to a webpage spends less than 15 seconds reading an article they land on.

A 2016 article in The New York Times noted a survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft that concluded the average attention span had fallen to only eight seconds.

(Apparently goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds, but I'm not sure how you'd prove that's true.)

Human brains wander and are “in the moment” for just over half of our waking hours according to a study from Harvard University. The rest of the time we “zone out.”

I've watched the controversy over the rise of fidget spinners for children with poor attention spans; but attention isn't just a kids' issue.

I've joked that I have a shorter attention span than fruit flies—sort of like this common fly hopping on and off my husband's cell phone! But it's really not a laughing matter.

Part of the problem: we flit between television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, our iPods and iPads and email. We’re distracted and incredibly busy and can’t seem to concentrate on one thing for long.

This problem affects Christians when it comes to spiritual disciplines and lifestyle.

  • We find time to surf the Internet, but fail to swim in the cleansing streams of our Bibles.
  • We eagerly chat on social media, but seldom get in deep conversations with our Heavenly Father.
  • We can quote lines from favorite flicks, but somehow can’t memorize scripture.
  • We spend hours looking for bargains in the mall, but miss seeing the desperate homeless woman outside.

As I write this, I am deeply convicted.

I am caught up in the busyness of modern society, the craziness of the constant media pull, and the emptiness of life when I forget God.

I need a major adjustment in my attention span, my use of time and the priorities I embrace. Do you?

I'm going to leave it to those much wiser to solve the brain/attention issue, but here are 5 ways I think we can expand our shrinking attention span to encourage spiritual growth.

1. Be Intentional in Seeking God.

Intentionality requires us to slow down and think so we can act wisely. In this crazy world, to come apart before we fall apart.

Redeeming or making the best use of time, as Paul encouraged, isn’t always about cramming more into our lives.

I like what Joan Webb, author of The Intentional Woman, says about this. “Speeding through life is not a productive way to redeem the time,” she says. “A better way to redeem life’s opportunities is to slow down, relax, and enjoy myself, others and God.”

Especially God.

Many Christians believe (see The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question #1) our chief purpose for existence is to enjoy God and glorify Him forever. We need to be intentional and seek Him.

It won’t just “happen” like an instant message flitting across your cell phone.

2. Meditate on Scripture.

Meditation is like mental training to improve our focus. It’s what sociologists call “mindfulness.”

“God designed us with the capacity to pause and ponder,” David Mathis wrote. “He means for us to not just hear Him, but to reflect on what He says.”

As a Christian discipline, meditation isn’t emptying the mind—as modern non-Christian teachers suggest—but rather filling the mind with real biblical truth and then “chewing” on it for a while. It is allowing the Word of God to “dwell in you richly.”

I have found meditation connected to prayer, Bible study and memorization. They all help one another.

3. Incorporate Exercise into your Day.

I’ve heard some people say “bodily exercise profits little,” quoting scripture, but a better translation of 1 Timothy 4:8 is “bodily training is of some value….” We don’t want to ignore our body’s need for exercise. And God designed us for a body-mind connection.

A study from the University of Illinois actually found physical activity can increase cognitive control and attention span. So why not get creative and use exercise time to the glory of God?

  • Prayer walk around your neighborhood.
  • Walk on a beach and hand out tracts.
  • Memorize a scripture while exercising.

4. Stay Hydrated!

We forget how much of our body is made up of water. Even mild dehydration, one study found, can impact a person’s ability to concentrate for long.

In her super-intentional book, 40 Days to Healthy Living, RN Danna Demetre says, "If you wait to drink water until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated," and one of the symptoms of dehydration, she says, is "poor concentration."

As you drink in the Living Water of the Word, don’t forget pure H20 can refresh your body so you can focus on what God has to say. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times.

3. Ask Questions that Encourage Study.

Jesus was a master at asking questions. One author suggests Jesus asked 307 questions in the scriptures. He definitely wanted to get his disciples and seekers thinking.

He asked questions like, “Why are you afraid?”—“Where is your faith?”—and “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”

Asking questions will help you stay engaged and apply what you are learning. It might even lead to a life-changing research project!

4. Incorporate Christian Music.

A study at Stanford University’s School of Medicine found listening to classical music engages the areas of the brain that affect attention and memory. Music certainly can play a part in a Christian’s focus on the Lord.

Choose music that is both inspirational and truth-packed to get your attention and creative juices flowing. I recommend the CD “Be Still: Piano Meditations” by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

(But Note: if you are like me, when you are deep in study you may want some simple symphonies in the background instead—I find myself singing words of well-known hymns, and my brain starts chasing other topics!)

5. Write to Focus.

Writing long-hand engages more mental processing according to researchers.

Whether you journal or simply make notes in book margins or underline passages, writing will help you focus your thoughts—even better than using a laptop (which can prove to be an easy distraction).

Which of these attention span expanders could help you today? Do you have other ideas to help you focus?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices TodayLOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphics adapted, courtesy of Pixabay.

Tuesday
Jun132017

How To Run without Looking Back

In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, I want to encourage readers to run the race of life wisely, and especially without looking back!

How are you running the race God gave you?"

Pause. Think. Read on.

I hated field hockey. As a junior high student, I didn't like anything about it—the endurance running (with my asthma), the craziness of scrambling after the ball, and especially all those swinging sticks!

But I remember one game in particular where I really blew it and suffered embarrassment for days.

My stance was fine, my Indian dribble fair, and my slap shots sufficient. But my coach repeatedly yelled, "Stay focused, Dawn. Quit looking back."

Pretty good advice considering I froze and looked back every time I heard the pounding of footsteps behind me. Whenever I had the ball "corraled" and girls rushed toward me from behind, I tended to spin around and get out of the way to avoid being run over!

My athletic sons would shake their heads in embarrassment if they could time-warp to see me back then.

One day, when the stampede of girls behind me once again scared me to death, I spun around, lost my footing and fell awkwardly, spraining an ankle and hitting my head. Sprawled on the grass, little birdies spun around my head, tweeting. (Back then, those were life's original "Tweets.")

Not exactly a star player.

I never really liked those wayward hockey sticks either. Or bruised knees (when players somehow missed my shin guards).

Like I said, I hated field hockey.

But that "looking back" thing? I still do it. In life.

I look back when I live with regrets, compare myself to others, or lose focus.

Life, unlike a field hockey game, isn't optional. And I don't want to stay stuck in fear. I want to grow in faith.

The Lord wants me to learn, grow and run my race well "to get the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24).

So ... what am I DOING about that "looking back" problem?

1. I'm dealing with regrets biblically.

I know I can't go back for life re-dos. Looking back is fruitless except as I take my past to the Father and allow Him to redeem it (Isaiah 44:22).

When we confess our failings and leave them with the Lord, His forgiveness, mercy and grace allow us to move forward with God-confidence and fresh obedience (1 John 1:9).

The Lord will keep refining us as we run our race (Psalm 66:10; 1 Peter 1:7). It's His work, and He will perfect us (Psalm 138:8; Philippians 1:6).

2. I'm learning to compare myself only with Jesus.

My sidetracking temptation in playing field hockey was to idolize the best players. When I did that, there was never any real progress—at least not as far as I was concerned.

The truth is, my coach didn't want me to become Beth, Angie or Mary. He wanted me to be the best Dawn possible.

That's what the Lord wants for all of us too.

It's so easy in Christian circles to compare ourselves with women who have it "all together for Jesus," forgetting they have their own struggles—their own weaknesses, sometimes hidden beyond our view.

The Lord simply wants us to live in the ways and for the purposes He created us, all "to the praise of His glory."

Earthly comparisons are foolish (2 Corinthians 10:12). But finding out God's purposes and imitating Jesus in pursuing those purposes—that's wisdom.

3. I'm learning to focus on the Father's will.

  • The goal isn't to look back and regret what might have been.
  • The goal isn't to look around and constantly strive to be better than others.
  • The goal is to finish the race God sets before us in ways that please Him.

We will desire to be obedient. Holy. Wise. Purpose-driven. Loving and compassionate. Serving in kindness. And we will allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in us as we follow hard after the Lord.

The goal is to imitate Jesus and align ourselves with what our Father God is doing (John 5:19).

We accomplish this goal in the power of the Holy Spirit—not in our own strength, and certainly not with our own agenda (Zechariah 4:6; I Corinthians 2:4).

As Dr. Charles Stanley wrote, "Spiritual power is the divine energy God is willing to express in and through us and the divine authority needed to carry out the work God has called us to do... God will not place you into a position or ask you to accomplish a task for which He will not fully equip and enable you." *

So we are empowered, equipped and enabled; but our FOCUS is crucial.

The look is important:

  • Looking back, we'll stumble around in painful regret.
  • Looking around, we'll be distracted and hindered.
  • But looking forward and up toward the Lord, there is sure hope for progress in Christ.

Let's think more biblically, and run our race with a God-centered focus.

Running with wisdom, we're less likely to take a tumble!

Are you living with regrets? Comparing yourself to others? Unfocused or confused about the goal? Ask the Lord to help you clear direction from His Word and empower you to finish well.

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Field Hockey graphic courtesty of keithjj, Pixabay

* Charles Stanley quote, here.

Tuesday
Nov152016

Perfect Instructions - Oh, to Remember These!

Rhonda Rhea--she's a quirky, sunshiny sweetheart in the Body of Christ, with a heart to honor her Lord. In this short Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she writes about "instructions" we need to heed.

"It’s really funny when I read the directions on the brownie mix box and then throw it away," Rhonda says. "Like I somehow think I won’t have to dig it out of the trash five minutes later. Or also dig it out eight more times after that."

Oh, Rhonda. You keep me (Dawn) in stitches. How is it you always manage to take everyday situations and turn them into stand-up comedy?

With stand up truth!

Rhonda continues . . .

Sometimes I totally forget how to boil brownies.

Not that there’s a lot of ADD at work here or anything, but I was looking up the symptoms for ADD the other day and ended up watching puppy videos on Facebook for 45 minutes.

  • Take one large portion of forgetfulness.
  • Fold in equal measurements of all the attention deficits.
  • Then add a generous sprinkling of puppies.

What do you get? Well it’s not brownies, I’ll tell you that right now.

One time I was in a meeting with an editor and suddenly noticed that when I polished my nails, I totally missed one. Nine painted nails. What, I forgot how many fingers I have?

So I was supposed to convince an editor that I could responsibly finish an entire book when I couldn’t even manage to polish all ten fingernails.

FOCUS, Girl!

My focus will probably always come and go. And then probably go.

But I don’t want to be any kind of forgetful, distracted or careless when it comes to God’s message for me.

In Christian circles, we speak often about reading God’s Word. Why do you suppose we make such a big deal about the Bible?

Probably the biggest reason is that whatever measure of attention we give the Word of God, by that measure we’ll grow.

 No attention, no growth.

And simply reading the Bible is not really the goal. It’s not about ritual. The goal is to know God. It’s to open His Book—His personal message to us—and to meet with Him there.

The Father’s is a message that makes sense of life. A message that grows us. And even more, a message that completes us.

When Paul wrote that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,” he also wrote about what all the training is for“so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 HCSB).

Anytime we’re feeling a bit disconnected or directionless—a bit “incomplete”—it’s important to examine how focused we are on communing with the Father through His Word.

It’s time to dig those instructions right back out.

The word “complete” in 2 Timothy 3:17 is from the Greek word “artios.” It’s a math concept that implies that nothing else needs to be added to make it whole. All-inclusively, perfectly polished.

If your desire is to be “artios,” start with His Word.

When you boil it all down, isn’t that desire to be whole—to have a deep and meaningful relationship with our Creator—what we all want in life? It’s exactly what we were made for. Without that complete connection, life will always seem a bit... off. Not quite right.

May we ever wisely trade that “not-quite-right-ness” for the completeness we find in our Creator and in connecting with Him through His Word.

And on other topics of “not-quite-right-ness,” do let me know anytime you’d like me to give you an almost-mani.

Or boil you some brownies.

Where are you seeking your "completeness" these days? Is it in spending time with the Lord? If not, what might need to change to encourage "artios" in your life?

Rhonda Rhea is a humor columnist, radiopersonality, speaker and author of 10 books, including How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change a Person?, Espresso Your Faith - 30 Shots of God's Word to Wake You Up,and a book designed to encourage Pastor's Wives (P-Dubs): Join the Insanity. Rhonda, a sunny pastor's wife, lives near St. Louis and is "Mom" to five grown children. Find out more at www.RhondaRhea.com.