Monday, September 30, 2013

You'll Get Through This by Max Lucado

Being in the midst of a series of lessons about going through the valley, I knew this book was a must-have.  But to be honest, even if I hadn't been teaching that particular series, the premise of this book still intrigued me.  Not only that, but the title alone seemed to offer comfort.  "You'll get through this."  Are there any better words?  Is there a more helpful phrase?  Doesn't it just evoke a sense of peace, a brief respite from the constant anxiety?  But wait, there's more.

"You'll get through this.  It won't be painless.  It won't be quick.  But God will use this mess for good.  In the meantime don't be foolish or naive.  But don't despair either.  With God's help you will get through this." - Max Lucado

In this newest release, Max Lucado uses the story of Joseph to back up his statement.  If anyone needed hope and help for turbulent times, it was Joseph.  Doted upon by his father, despised by his brothers, destined for greatness, yet detoured to slavery and imprisonment.  Talk about a mess!  Yet through it all, Joseph remained adamant that God had a purpose and a plan for his life, and in his own words, "God meant it for good."  You can say the same about your situation.

Join Max as he tiptoes through Joseph's life, from the beginning of his struggles to his glorious reign in Egypt, and discover the spiritual insights and messages of hope contained within.  Allow Joseph to show you what to do when you've hit rock bottom.  Heed his reassurance that no matter what you're facing, you are not alone.  Meditate on his reminder that even while we're waiting, God is still working.  Trust his proclamation that God is good, even when life isn't.  And whatever you do, don't give up.  You will get through this.

Life is full of valleys and trials, and we must all walk through them at one time or another.  During those times, it's often difficult to trust in what we know rather than in what we feel.  This book serves as a guideposts pointing its readers back to God's Word, where they can find truth and solace.  Each chapter is filled with Scripture and Biblical applications to everyday circumstances.  And while I may not agree with everything that is said in the book, I highly recommend it.  When I received the book, I had intended to read one chapter per day along with my Bible reading, but there were several days where I read two or three chapters at a time.  I simply could not put it down.

Are you struggling today?  Does life have you down?  Do you find yourself wondering if this is all there is to life?  If so, I urge you to pick up a copy of Max Lucado's You'll Get Through This.  It's worth the time and the money.  I promise you that!

And keep in mind, this too shall pass. Whatever you're facing, it won't last forever.  In God's timing, you'll find yourself on the other side.  Just keep walking and trusting.  God will get your through!


Friday, September 27, 2013

Psalm 23:4 - Part Six

It's been a long journey--this in-depth look at Psalm 23:4, but today we will reach the conclusion.  Today's post will be quite different than all the rest because instead of dealing with one word or one phrase, we're going to tackle two phrases.  Why?  Because they go together like tea and honey, peanut butter and jelly, Dana and chocolate.  The latter phrase explains the former, and it simply would not do to cover one without the other.  They need each other.  They depend upon one another.  And frankly, we need them to be together!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. - Psalm 23:4

I will fear no evil.  Why?  Because thou art with me.  Despite all that David had seen in his journey through the valley, he was still able to stand firm and say, "I ain't skeered!"  With people out to kill him, loved ones turning their backs on him and family thinking him unworthy, he still declared, "I have all that I need because You're with me, God."  Would that we could learn to do the same!  When there's more month than money.  When the job is not all you thought it would be.  When the doctor delivers the bad news.  When the spouse walks away.  When the frustrations pile to Everest proportions.  When we walk through the valleys of life, can we honestly say that we have no fear?  Do we have that much faith?  We're commanded to.

I've heard it said that on 365 different occasions in the Bible, God commanded us to not fear.  I don't know if that number is accurate.  I haven't counted them.  But I can tell you this--it's in there a lot.  Do not fear.  Fear not.  Be anxious for nothing.  Fret not thyself.  Different words and phrases, but all carry the same meaning.  Interestingly enough, if you'll read the verses in their entirety, you'll see that many of them command us to not fear and then give us a reason for such security.  Take a look: 


Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. - Deuteronomy 31:6

When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. - Deuteronomy 20:1

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. - Joshua 1:9

Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. - Jeremiah 1:8

But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. - Matthew 14:27

Did you notice the trend?  Fear not, for I am with you.  Don't be afraid; I'm right here.  Fret not because I'm by your side.  God knew it wouldn't do for Him to simply say, "Don't be afraid!"  Huh?  How?  Why?  There's seems to be a lot in this life to fear, right?  So why shouldn't we be afraid? 

Because God is with us.

He travels with us up the mountains and through the valleys.  He's with us when we go about our mundane chores and when we face the greater obstacles in life.  He's with us when we're happy and when we're sad.

Not only do we have His promise that He's by our side, but we also have the promise that He'll stay there.  He'll never leave us.  He'll never forsake us.  He's there to share our load.  He's there to offer strength.  He's there to pick us up when we fall.  No matter where life may lead, we can rest assured that we'll never walk alone.

So what do we have to worry about?  What do we have to fear?  God is in control, and He's on our side.  What else matters?

When Satan comes to you today and tries to distract you with worries and fears, stop him in his tracks and tell him this: The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? (Psalm 118:6)

The valleys are inevitable.  We understand that.  But how we walk through the valleys is up to us.  We can choose to walk in fear or in faith.  And let me tell you, our choice will greatly impact the nature of our journey.  It won't, however, hinder God from being by our side.  It's simply a matter of whether we'll acknowledge that fact and trust in His goodness and mercy to bring us safely through.

God is on your side.  Are you on His?  If so, prove it by placing your trust in Him.  Walk on through the valley, and don't turn back, no matter what!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Psalm 23:4 - Part Five

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. - Psalm 23:4

I know we've spent a lot of time on this one verse, and we're getting near the end, so bear with me just a little longer.  Things are going to get really good.  Unfortunately, we often have to face the "not-so-good" first, which is where today's topic comes in:  death.

The word tastes bitter on the tongue.  It brings with it images of darkness, tombstones and weeping.  It evokes fear and dread.  Death is a scary thing, and despite what many well-meaning people say, it is NOT a part of life.  It is the very opposite of life.  The antithesis.  To be dead is to be void of life, so how can death be a part of life? 

We were not created to die, though God knew we would.  When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it was intended to be a permanent residence.  They were supposed to be immortal.  Death did not enter the picture until sin did.  Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (James 1:15)  Yes, God knew in His infinite knowledge that man would sin and eventually die, nevertheless, He created us to live.

And that's why He sent His Son to die for us--so that we could live eternally.  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)  Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, death for the Christian is merely a relocation.  It is a departing from this life and an entrance into a realm of life that we can only imagine.  It is nothing to fear, for death, as we think of it, has been conquered. 
 
 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (II Timothy 1:10)

 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Revelation 1:18)

God is in control.  He is holding the keys.  Death no longer has power.  It is subject to God's will and God's plan. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55)

So, for the Christian, death brings new life.  It is the end of suffering and sorrow.  It is the beginning of eternity.  What could be bad about that?

I think that many times, we do not fear our own deaths as much as we fear the death of a loved one.  How will we live without a spouse?  How can we cope without a parent?  How can life ever be worth living when you've lost a child?  We miss them.  We long for them.  We remember the joy we had with them.  And in those moments, death seems so cruel, so tragic.  But it is then that we must remember Paul's words:


But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. - I Thessalonians 4:13-18)

I'm not saying it will be easy, and I'm not implying that we won't mourn their loss.  But I am reminding you that, for those of us who are saved, we will be with them FAR longer than we are without them.  We've got God's word on that.

Death is not the end; it's merely Resurrection Ground!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Psalm 23:4 - Part Four

We've talked about our walk and the extent of our journey.  We've discussed the valley and its potential for spiritual growth.  Today, I want to focus on the shadow of death.  Well, actually, for the sake of time, I'll narrow it down to a look at the word "shadow."  We'll talk about death next time. (Can't wait for that, huh?)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. - Psalm 23:4a

Shadows can be creepy things, can't they?  Harmless, everyday items can cast the most menacing shadows.  A garment can become a goblin.  A cord, a mile-long snake.  A flower, some giant man-eating plant.  It's silly, and no doubt many of us have had a good laugh at our own expense upon discovering the source of a disconcerting shadow.  Nevertheless, shadows have the ability to strike fear into our hearts.  They evoke panic.  They cause the pulse to quicken and our breath to catch.  But I have a few things to share with you about the shadows of life that might help alleviate some of that anxiety.

First off, shadows cannot harm us (unless you happen to be Peter Pan).  They have no substance.  They are merely imperfect reflections of something else.  While they may appear frightening or larger-than-life, the truth is that there's nothing to them.  They can do us no harm, much like the many things we worry about in life.  And notice, they are imperfect reflections.  They skew our perception.  Molehills become mountains.  Inconveniences become crises.  Concern turns to worry.  All because of a shadow that should have no power over us whatsoever.

Second, a shadow cannot exist without light.  The very definition of a shadow is this:  "the rough image cast by an object blocking rays of illumination."  Illumination.  Light.  No light, no shadow.  Without the light, there is only darkness.  With the light, there may sometimes be shadows, but instead of dwelling on the shadows, how about we look to the Light.  The shadows don't have to be a bad thing.  Instead, they should serve as the reminder that God is with us.  We are never alone.  Not on the mountain.  Not in the valley.  God is the light, and He is ever present.

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. - John 9:5

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. - I John 1:5

Did you know that the phrase "shadow of death" occurs 19 times in the Bible?  Interesting, huh?  Yes, evidently David was not the only one familiar with a day of facing shadows.  It seems he was not the only one who felt the pressures surrounding him.  I would love to share each of the verses containing that phrase with you, but I simply don't have the time or space.  I will, however, share with you my favorite.  I absolutely love this verse, and it goes right along with today's lesson.


The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. - Isaiah 9:2

Don't fear the shadows.  Look to the Light.  Place Him between you and your problems, and the shadows will disappear.  Remember, a shadow is cast by an object blocking the rays of illumination.  That object is your problem.  It is currently between you and the Lord, casting deep, dark shadows in your life.  Put it in its proper place, and do not allow it to block the rays of illumination. Give God His proper place.

Focus on the Light!

 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Psalm 23:4 - Part Three

So far in this series we've established that there will be hard times, but that each and every one of them will pass.  With this in mind, we can walk confidently through our valleys, knowing that God will bring us out on the other side.  Today I want to look at the valley itself.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. - Psalm 23:4

The valley.  A dark and lonely place.  A place of struggle and difficulty.  A barren and desolate place.  Or is it?  Strangely, we often think of the valley in the negative sense, but do you realize that the valley is actually a place of fruitfulness and refreshment.  According to the online dictionary, the definition of the word "valley" is "an elongated lowland between ranges of mountains, hills or other uplands, often having a river or stream running along the bottom."  

"Elongated."  Yep, that sounds like the valleys we're familiar with.  Long.  Trying.  Arduous.  How about "lowland."  Definitely something we can relate to.  After all, we've all been down.  Down in the dumps.  Down on our luck.  Down in the mouth.  Lower than low, right?  But the definition doesn't end there, though our perspective often does.  

"Often having a river or stream running along the bottom."  Do you know what water is a type of in the Bible?  The Holy Spirit.  When we get low, when we hit bottom, when we find ourselves in the deepest of valleys, guess what we find?  The Holy Spirit.  He doesn't leave us.  He doesn't forsake us.  He doesn't force us to cope on our own.  On the contrary, He stays by our sides so that we won't be afraid and so that we'll gain something from our time in the valley.

The valley can be a fruitful place.  It is there we find life and growth.  Remember the beginning of Psalm 23 where it says God makes us to lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters.  Well, where do you think you'll find those pastures and still waters?  Not typically on the mountaintop.  No, those are found in the valley.  Comfort, refreshment and spiritual growth -- these can all be attained in the valley.

The valley also reminds us that sometimes God has to put us in a low place so that we have nowhere else to look but up.  Our family can't help us.  Our pastor can't help us.  Our money can't help us.  Our jobs can't help us.  The valleys serve as a sobering reminder that without God we can do NOTHING.  We can't face another day.  We can't put one foot in front of the other.  We simply cannot make it through without Him.

Isn't it good to know we don't have to?

The valley is a waiting room.  Waiting for the mountaintop experience.  Waiting for the next level.  Waiting for the answers to our prayers.  It is a place of prayer and praise.  

"Praise?" you may ask.  "What's there to praise God for in the valley?"  

Hmm, where do I begin?  How about with the reminder that God is good even when life isn't.  When the valley is deep and the way is dark, God is still worthy of our praise.  And don't be fooled into thinking that this valley of waiting applies to God as well.  Yes, we're waiting, but He's not.  He's working.  Working for our good.  Working for His glory.  Working on us to make us what we ought to be.  And for that, we ought to thank Him.  After all, He could have simply given up on us.  He could have left us to perish in the valley.  But He didn't.  And He won't.

The valley, my friend, is what we make of it.  If we see it as a dark, desolate place, then that's exactly how it will seem.  However, if we view it as a place of opportunity and a chance to grow in the Lord, our outlooks and attitudes will be brighter.

What will you make of the valley?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Psalm 23:4 - Part Two

Yesterday, we began an in-depth look at a very familiar Bible verse.  We talked about the inevitability of problems in this life as well as how to walk through those problems with confidence and faith.  Today, I'd like to talk about another word we find in Psalm 23:4.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. - Psalm 23:4a 

Through - Wow!  Now there's a powerful word.  The definition of the word through is this:  "moving in one side and out of the other side of; continuing in time toward completion of."  The word "through" tells us that this is not the end.  We're just traveling through.  This valley, whatever it may be, is temporary.  It will pass.  It may not be as quickly as we like.  Just ask Moses, Joseph, David or any of the other Bible greats.  Their valleys were long and hard, but their deeds were remarkable and memorable.  Keep in mind, too, that the only reason God could use them at all is because they didn't give up in the valley.  They didn't quit when the going got tough.  They didn't lose faith.  They kept walking through the valley, knowing that God would fulfill His promise to bring them out on the other side.  We can cling to that promise as well.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. - Isaiah 43:2

Did you notice the very first word of that verse?  When, not if.  It's quite similar to the word "though" we talked about yesterday.  But also notice the abundance of the word "through."  Through the waters.  Through the rivers.  Through the fire.  Whatever you're walking through right now, God is with you.  His hand is on you, and He won't allow anything to happen to you unless it be His will.  He is in control of all things, even the valleys of life.

My dear friend, may I remind you that God never promised us a way around our troubles, but He did promise grace to get through them.  In His time and in His way, He will bring us out on the other side.  We have His word on it.

"So what," you may ask, "am I supposed to do while I'm waiting on God to deliver me?  What can I accomplish in the valley?"

I'm so glad you asked.  We'll tackle that one on Monday. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Psalm 23:4 - Part One

I would like to spend the next few posts talking about a verse that is typically reserved for funeral services.  And while it is certainly applicable at the time of grief over the loss of a loved one, its effectiveness and purpose doesn't end there.  In fact, it wasn't until recently that I realized just how much meat and message is contained in that one little verse, and even in just the first half of the verse, which is what I would like to look at over the next few days.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. - Psalm 23:4a

Like a hungry vulture, I want to pick this verse apart, beginning with the word "though."  David says, "Yea, though I walk," not "if I walk."  As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I must tell you that hardships are inevitable.  They are a part of life.  We can't journey to the mountaintops without going through a few valleys.  Don't let the trials of life sneak up on you or surprise you.  Jesus assured us this life would be full of tribulation. (John 16:33)  That's the bad news, but if we continue on, we'll see that there's really no need for tears.


Yea, though I walk.  Don't you love that word--walk?  To me, it implies many things.  If the psalmist had said "I run" or "I hasten" or "I hurry," I would certainly understand.  As a hiker, I comprehend all too well that there are certain surroundings that cause us to quicken our pace.  When the light is fading fast, it's time to speed up.  When you've just spotted a bear, it's time to hurry along.  When the area is no longer pleasant, but a bit frightening, it's time to make tracks.  But in the midst of this deep, dark valley, David says, "I walk."

In my mind, the word "walk" here displays a calm pace, as if David knew and understood where he was heading and trusted the path laid out before him.  He was not running in fear, but neither was he standing still, refusing to accept the direction in which the Lord was leading.  David appears confident, composed and resolved.  The Lord led, and David followed.

Where?  We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Green Pastures of a Barren Land by Candise Farmer

I believe the subtitle, "Finding Contentment in Life's Desolate Seasons," does an excellent job of describing the purpose of this book.  Candise Farmer takes the reader on an intimate journey into her tragic history with miscarriage and irreversible barrenness.  Through her difficulties and trials, she discovered seven principles that not only helped her to carry on, but also provided contentment in her deepest valley.  These seven principles are covered and explained in great detail within the pages of this comforting read.

While the book is targeted toward women who are barren or struggling to conceive, the principles are applicable to each and every Christian.  We each have thorns that we must contend with from time to time, and some of us, like Paul, have that one particular thorn that has become a part of us.  It doesn't go away.  It lingers.  It irritates.  It provokes bitterness and, at times, a lack of faith.  Whatever "desolate season" you may be facing, the principles outlined in this book can help you make sense of your trial and find peace in the midst of your storm.

I think what I liked most about this book was Candise's use of Scripture.  The principles she states do not come from her mind or from some well-known self-help book.  They are taken directly from the Word of God.  Candise admits that it was the Word of God that aided her through her many struggles and, in the end, it was the Word that helped her to accept the will of God for her life.  She makes no excuses in boldly proclaiming that no matter what questions we have, the answers can be found in God's Word.  Her love of the Lord and His Word shines forth on every page.

Are you walking through a valley today?  Are you struggling with a situation that is out of control and out of your hands?  Do you ever wonder why the Lord has allowed you to suffer?  If so, I urge you to grab a copy of Candise's book and read it from cover to cover.  Using God's Word and His blessed promises, she will direct you to the answers you seek.  It's time to find contentment, and I assure you, this book can help.

Buy Your Copy From Amazon Today:

Green Pastures of a Barren Land: finding contentment in life's desolate seasons 
 
 
Watch a video of Candise's interview on Life Today:
 
http://lifetoday.org/video/green-pastures
 
 

Friday, September 13, 2013

No Two Alike

Every now and then, a Christian book will come out that will "rock the world." Several years ago, that book was Bruce Wilkinson's The Prayer of Jabez.  Once it hit the stores, people everywhere flocked to get a copy.  And once the news spread about the message contained in the book, those who didn't have a copy rushed out to obtain one.  In fact, during the first two years, over nine million copies of the book were sold.  I can't even imagine!

Through the book, people were introduced to a Bible passage that is often overlooked or skimmed over because of its placement in the Bible:  right smack dab in a book of genealogies. Yep, amidst the "begats" and "born ofs," you'll find the one short verse of Jabez's prayer.

And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested. - I Chronicles 4:10

Now, I have not personally read the book, so I can't comment on the author's doctrinal standpoint.  I can comment, however, on the blurb for his book which states, " Readers who commit to offering the same prayer on a regular basis will find themselves extravagantly blessed by God, and agents of His miraculous power, in everyday life."  Does that statement send up red flags to anyone else?  I may be misunderstanding the author's intent, but allow me to lay out the problem I see.

People purchase and read the book.  They read the account of Jabez, how he prayed for increase and power, and how God granted him his request.  Then they read where the author says that they can have the same results if they just pray to God as Jabez did.  Make your request and then wait for the blessings to start pouring in.  It's that simple.  So people do.  They pray and they pray and they pray. . . and nothing happens.  Or, worse yet, something bad happens in their lives.  Where does that leave them?  Discouraged.  Defeated.  Angry.  Confused.  Disillusioned.

I wish I could tell you that all you have to do to have the life of your dreams is pray a simple prayer.  I wish I could tell you that all of your prayers will be answered in the affirmative.  I wish I could tell you that, with enough faith, nothing is beyond your reach.  It sounds good, and for a while, it would make you feel good.  But I'm afraid it's just not true.  Ask Paul.  Didn't he ask for his thorn to be removed, yet God chose to answer him in the negative?  What about John the Baptist?  Don't you think he wanted to get out of that prison and avoid execution?  So why didn't God answer his prayer as he did for Jabez?

The truth of the matter is this:  God doesn't work the same way in every life.  He is a personal Savior, and He has a personal plan for each of us.  This is the God who doesn't make any two snowflakes alike nor any two fingerprints.  What makes us think He'll work in each life in the exact same way?  Sometimes He speaks to the storm, but other times He walks on the sea.  Sometimes He touches the sick while other times He commands them to obey.  Sometimes He frees the prisoner on this side of Heaven, but sometimes He frees them on the other.  It's all in accordance with His personal plan for each individual.  He knows our names.  He knows our talents.  He knows our temperaments.  And He knows our future.

I would love to think that I could pray the prayer of Jabez in steadfast faith and wake up tomorrow with a full bank account, the perfect body, no worries and all of my other dreams fulfilled, but unless that's God's perfect will for my life, it's not going to happen.  No matter how many times I pray.  No matter how much faith I have.  No matter how many books I read that tell me otherwise.

So does that mean I'm not blessed?  On the contrary, it means I'm blessed differently.  I may not be blessed with what I want, but I'm certainly blessed with what I need.  I'm blessed with strength to face each day and grace to stand tall in spite of troublesome circumstances.  I'm blessed with God's promise that He'll never leave me and that He has a plan for my good.  I'm blessed to know the truth.  It may not sound as pleasant or give the same warm, fuzzy feeling.  But the truth is what sets us free!

 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. - James 4:2-3

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Friend or Foe?


What do you consider to be the top qualifications of a friend? These things fill the top of my list:

1. Trustworthy
2. Faithful
3. Willing to listen
4. There when I need them
5. Accepts me for who I am

Sounds like the Lord, doesn't it? I don't think anyone could argue that He's the dearest Friend of all time. But what about us? What kind of friends are we to Jesus? Is our relationship with Him one-sided? Well, let's look at our own qualifications of a good friend and find out.

1. Can He trust us to do what's right no matter the cost?
2. Are we faithful to Him, or are we quick to "ditch" Him when we feel He's hurting our image or not doing things our way?
3. Are we willing to sit and listen to Him, or are we more likely to do all the talking (including asking for favors)?
4. Are we there for Him when He needs a willing vessel, or are we too busy doing our own thing?
5. Do we accept Him for Who He is, or do we try to change Him into what we want Him to be (spare tire, genie in a bottle, Santa Claus, etc.)?

I don't know about you, but I don't measure up very well. The Bible says, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly." I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been a very good friend. I haven't been the perfect friend to my companions here on earth, and I certainly haven't been a very good friend to Christ. But with His help, that will change. I desire to be a better friend. I want Christ to know that He can count on me. What about you? How do you measure up? Are you a friend or a foe?

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. - Proverbs 18:24

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Potter and the Clay

Recently, a friend contacted me to ask for a second opinion concerning a particular verse.  This lady was scheduled to speak at a ladies' meeting, and though she had already prepared her devotion, she sought a different perspective on the key verse, Jeremiah 18:4, which reads, And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
  
As I read the verse, the first couple of things that popped into my mind were songs related to the Potter.  I thought of the famous song, "He Didn't Throw the Clay Away" and of another of my favorites, "The Potter Knows the Clay."  But as I read through the verse again, a couple of phrases jumped out at me.

"In the hand of the Potter" - I don't know much about pottery.  On rare occasions, I've had the opportunity to see a potter at work, but I must admit, my knowledge of the craft ends there.  However, every time I have seen a potter at work, I notice one constant.  Whether the craftsman is making a cup or a bowl, he never takes his hands off the clay.  He is constantly molding, applying slight pressure at times and extensive pressure at other moments.  But no matter what, as the wheel turns, the placement of the potter's hands is always the same--he holds the clay.  It is always in his hands.  He never lets go, for as I understand, if He were to remove his hands from his creation, the entire thing would crumple.  Sound familiar?

The other phrase that caught my attention was the last one:  "as seemed good to the potter to make it."  The potter molded and made the vessel as he saw fit.  Notice he doesn't ask for the vessel's approval or seek the vessel's opinion on the matter.  Why?  Because the potter knows that the vessel cannot possibly comprehend what is best for it.  The potter, on the other hand, knows.  He knows how much pressure needs to be applied to create a useable vessel.  He knows how fast or hard to spin the wheel.  He knows how hot the fire needs to be and how long the fire needs to be applied to each vessel.  He knows the clay.  He understands the clay.  And so he does what he knows is best, for the good of the clay and the glory of the potter.  Remind you of anyone?

Deep down in our hearts, I believe each of us would admit that we long to be useful vessels unto the Lord.  However, when we see what it costs to become those vessels, most of us balk.  "But, Lord, the fire is too hot."  "But, Lord, I've suffered so long."  "But, Lord, the pressure is too much."  "But, Lord, this isn't what I expected."

We know that God is a good God.  We know that He works for our good.  We have His promises on that.  So why don't we trust Him? Why won't we simply rest in the Potter's hands and allow Him to do what He sees fit?  No, it may not be what we had in mind, but I can guarantee you that, in the end, it will be much better!

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6

Friday, September 6, 2013

Here We Go Again!

Oh boy! Here we go again! Now that my shoulder is back in its proper location and my vertebrae are, for the most part, in line, I am faced with a backlog of work that was not accomplished over the past two weeks because of my injury. Yesterday was the first day I actually felt like myself. I awoke sore and achy, yet the throbbing and pinching were mercifully absent. Within moments of realizing my improved physical state, I began planning how to tackle the many chores.

I would begin with the grocery shopping. Then the laundry. Then I planned to straighten the house and do some much-needed vacuuming. After that, I needed to catch up on some writing and answer a few emails. Then, the dogs needed brushing, dinner needed to be fixed and there was the favor for that friend at church.

As I jumped out of bed and began pulling on my clothes, I had to force myself to stop. I was doing it again. I was trying to be Wonder Woman. I hate getting behind in my work. It sets me in such a frantic mood, but I have learned through my past mistakes that I need to pace myself after such a severe injury. If I tried to accomplish everything on that list of chores, I would not only exhaust myself, but probably add to my injury. I needed to remember Hebrews 12.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2 

When it comes to playing catch up after an extended illness or injury, I have no problem with running. It's the "with patience" part that gives me trouble. I see the many things that need to be done, and I long to get them accomplished. I don't want the process to take weeks. I want it done now. But at what cost? Is it worth accomplishing all my chores only to find myself injured and in pain once again? For once in my life, I decided it was not.

Yesterday, I accomplished a few of the chores, and I allowed myself to not stress over the others. Today, I am working to accomplish a few more. It may take me another week to get everything done, but that's okay. God will give me the strength to accomplish what I need to accomplish and the peace to rest when it's time for me to be still.

How is your race going today? Are you hurrying about frantically, stressing over every factor of your life? Are you wearied by the thoughts that you will never accomplish everything that needs to be done? If so, may I offer a suggestion? Slow down. We are commanded to run the race, but we are also commanded to do so with patience. Don't allow yourself to be so busy doing that you forget how to live. Don't get so busy running that you forget to enjoy the view. Have patience, my friend. It will all work out.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Room of Doors

For some odd reason, this morning I was thinking about a trip my family took to Pigeon Forge when I was just a girl.  During that particular vacation, we decided to visit a haunted house.  My parents weren't too keen on the idea, but we three children begged and pleaded.  We should have listened to our parents.  We didn't even reach the upstairs before we were scared silly and had to exit the tour.  Sorry, Mom and Dad.

What I remember most about that haunted house was the room of doors.  Yes, when we finally discovered the secret brick that opened the fireplace, allowing us entrance to the remainder of the house, we found ourselves in a dark, round room with a multitude of doors covering the circular walls.  Most of the doors opened only partway before slamming into some sort of obstacle.  Two of the doors led to emergency exits.  And the final door, which we later discovered was the correct passageway, held a surprise for those daring to enter.  The door swung wide and, just as we all stepped forward, a huge figure leaped forward and screamed.  In response, we all leaped backward and screamed, then resumed trying other doors.  Even after we had exhausted all other routes and possibilities, none of us wanted to open that particular door again.  Yes, beyond the scary leaper there may have been a passageway, but dare we try again?  We did, and sure enough, beyond the jumps and growls of the figure lay the way out of the room of doors.

Does life ever have you feeling like you're in a room of doors?  Exhausted and frustrated, you seek a way out only to find that most (if not all) of the doors are barred by some form of obstacle.  No way out.  Surrounded by darkness, you know that surely one of the doors has to lead to a better place, but no matter which way you turn, you're stuck facing another obstacle.  Health.  Finances.  Relationships.  Work.  Shattered dreams.  Unmet expectations.  All you want is an open door.  Your heart's desire is to serve God to the best of your ability, and you can't, for the life of you, figure out why He's making it so complicated.

Then you notice the one door that is different from all the rest.  While the others only open partway before reaching a dead end, this door opens fully but holds an obstacle of its own.  A surprise just for you.  It's obvious that this passageway is the way out.  There's no mistaking that it is, indeed, different than all the rest, and you feel strangely pulled in its direction.  Yet, you've tried that door before.  You are all too aware of the leaping figure ready to pounce on you as soon as you take that first step.  Yet beyond the door, you hear a soft voice calling, "Come, child.  I will protect you."  Dare you take the chance?

As you determine, whether out of faith or desperation, to enter the passageway, you take that first step, and sure enough, the roaring lion pounces.  He doesn't want you to enter.  He wants to keep you in the darkness.  He thrives on your confusion and frustration.  And he will do whatever it takes to keep you from traveling the road to which the Lord has called you.  He knows how weary you have become.  He understands that you're ready to quit.  And so he pounces, causing you to leap back and scream in fright.  He does not want you to reach what's waiting beyond the door--God's perfect will.

And so, there is a decision to make.  Do you keep trying other doors?  Do you wander around aimlessly hoping that things will change and one of the doors will miraculously become unobstructed?  Do you sit in the darkness, determined to just give in?  Or do you plow through the door you know to be the right one?  Yes, it's scary.  Yes, if you choose that door, you're inviting the attacks of Satan.  Yes, he's going to fight you all the way. 

But don't forget who opened the door to begin with.  God will walk with you.  He will lead, guide and protect you.  He is the One holding Satan's leash, which means the devil can't do anything to you without God's permission.  Sure, he'll attack, but you don't have to fight the battle alone.  God is on your side.  He wants to fight for you.  He wants to be your strength.  He wants to guide you to a place of peace and contentment. Won't you follow? 

Walk through that door and discover the next level!


Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.- I Peter 5:8-10

Monday, September 2, 2013

Really, God? All Things?

I hope you don't mind another re-post.  I dislocated my shoulder (again) this week, so things have been stressed and hectic beyond normal.  Not to mention, typing is not the easiest thing right now.  When looking for an appropriate post to publish today, I came across the following, a post that was written over a year ago when I was facing an eerily familiar situation.  God truly works in mysterious ways, but I'm so thankful that He does!


As many of you know, at the early part of last week, I dislocated my shoulder.  I spent the remainder of the week lying on the couch or bed in great pain and doped up on muscle relaxers.  (By the way, I HATE medicine, so the fact that I took so much will tell you how much pain I was in.)  Jason had a very busy week at work, so he wasn't able to help much with housework or other chores, and so I watched, helplessly, as my house (which I had just cleaned) became cluttered with dirty dishes, laundry, and take-out boxes.

When I was coherent enough to think straight, my thoughts consisted mainly of the following:

*My book tour starts on the 22nd, and I'm not ready.  I have interview questions to answer, guest posts to write and publicizing to do.

*I have to march at the college graduation on Friday night.  I need to be well by then.

*Abby's (my niece) play is on Saturday.  I can't miss that.  She's worked so hard, and this year she's actually in the play.  Not to mention, I spent all that time making her costume.

*My house is falling apart.  I can't stand this mess any longer.  I need to get better.

*The dogs are growing restless.  They haven't been for a walk in a while.  I'd take them if I could, but I can barely make it back and forth to the bathroom.

*I need to prepare my Sunday School lesson and offertory for Sunday.  Offertory?  Can I play the piano at all?  Oh dear!

And on and on the thoughts circled.  Let me tell you, it was more than a little frustrating and depressing.  And yet, all the while, Romans 8:28 kept joining the other thoughts.   And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

"Really?"  I asked.  "What good could possibly come from this?"  But still, the thought would not go away.

It remained with me as my house grew more and more cluttered before my eyes.  It calmed me when my book tour grew closer, and I still found myself unable to concentrate long enough to come up with a coherent sentence.  It encouraged me when I missed graduation and my niece's play.  And it helped me accept the fact that I was going to have to "sit out" from my normal duties at church on Sunday.

I can honestly tell you, now that I'm back on the mend (although I'm not there yet), that I still have no idea what "good" God is working from this past week.  It was painful, exhausting and extremely frustrating.  I began this week still not feeling 100%, yet facing two weeks' worth of work.  Still, the reminder is there.  It whispers to my soul every moment of every hour of every day, "It's good.  It's all good.  It will be good.  You'll see."

I don't know what you may be facing today, but may I remind you of the same.  It's good.  It's all good.  It will be good.  Just keep trusting.  Just keep praying.  And above all, keep going. . .even when the way is unclear and the path seems painful.