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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Starting All Over Again

It's that time of year again. That's right, It's time to clean out the pool. Now, I don't have a pool, but my sister and her husband do. In fact, he's been working on getting that pool clean for a couple of weeks now. The dirt is out. The debris is out. The water, however, is still a rather disturbing shade of green. He's put enough shock in the water that anything in it should have keeled over and died by now. Yet, the water remains green. He finally decided that the only way the pool was going to be ready in time for summer was to drain the water out and start all over again.

This reminds me of salvation. You see, before salvation, our lives were full of dirt, debris, and other things that were keeping us from being what we should be. We tried earthly remedies, but still, our lives didn't clear up. The murkiness continued to surround us.

When we allowed Jesus to come into our lives, He cleaned us the only way possible. He dumped out the old and filled us with the new. In essence, He started all over again. We were born again. We became new creatures in Christ.

One difference between the pool and salvation is that the pool can become murky again. (Sorry, Bryan!) Our lives, though full of trials and troubles, can never go back to the state that they were once in. We can never returned to that life. No, we are forever changed!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Psalm 37

1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
4 Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
5 Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.
10 For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
11 But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
12 The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.
13 The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.
14 The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.
15 Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
16 A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.
18 The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.
19 They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
22 For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.
23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
26 He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.
27 Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.
28 For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.
30 The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.
31 The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
32 The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.
33 The LORD will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
34 Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
35 I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
36 Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
37 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.
38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
40 And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are You Growing or Withering?

I don't have much of a green thumb. In fact, I can guarantee you that if I receive a plant of any kind, it will be dead within 72 hours. Giving me a plant is like condemning it to death. I just don't have a way with plants.

One thing I do know is that plants require two things: water and sunshine. Without these essential elements, the plant will wither and die. With them, the plant can thrive and grow, often times producing fruit.

The Christian life is the same way, for it, too, requires two things: the Bible and prayer. Without them, the Christian life will wither and die. With them, the Christian can thrive and grow, often times producing fruit. Isn't the similarity astounding?

Another similarity between plants and Christians is that it takes time for "the seed" to grow into what it's meant to be. When you first plant a seed, it may be weeks or even months before you see any evidence of change in that seed. You've watered it. You've given it plenty of sun. But, still, you see no results. Sometimes the Christian life is that way. We read our Bible and pray, but we still don't see the growth we long for. Just as with the plant, what we don't see is the change that is occurring under the surface.

Are you frustrated today because you don't see the growth in your Christian walk that you would like to see? Are you questioning your usefulness because it seems that you haven't made a difference in this world? Are you despairing of ever seeing fruit for your labors? If so, I beg of you, don't quit taking care of your seed. Nourish it. Water it with the Word. Expose it to the light of God's truth and goodness. And then, when you least expect it, you'll see the beginnings of the growth you've longed for. But, be warned. If you forsake the care of your seed, it will wither and die. The choice is yours. Choose wisely!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Do Your Roots Run Deep?

Jason and I just got back from doing some yard work over at my sister's house. She had asked us about using our '79 Bronco (nicknamed "The Beast") to pull up some stumps and small trees. We knew The Beast was equal to the task, so we headed over to her house just before lunch.

Three of the four trees/stumps came up out of the ground with no problem. The fourth, however, seemed to have a mind of its own, and it was determined that it was staying put. Even The Beast, with all its strength and power, could not pull that tree from the ground. We ended up ripping the tree into smaller pieces and breaking it off nearly level with the ground. That was all we could do. The tree wouldn't budge.

It caused me to think about how strong the roots must be and how firmly the tree was planted in the earth. This, in turn, made me examine my spiritual roots. Are they strong enough to weather adversity? Do I have a deep-rooted faith? Or, am I like the other three trees that simply surrendered when things got tough?

How about you? How are your roots today? If adversity should strike, are you firmly grounded in your faith? It's a tough question. Isn't it?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Story of Life

This past Tuesday, I was tutoring a student in creative writing. This was our first real lesson, so I was explaining to her some things that every story must have. For example, a good story must have characters, a plot, a setting, a theme, etc. That part is easy. Almost everyone knows that. But, then I had to explain to her the first thing I learned when I studied creative writing.

A good story must have a problem or conflict. It sounds strange, I know, but think about every good book you've ever read. The story revolved around a problem or conflict. It wouldn't be much of a story if all was smooth sailing for your characters. In fact, it would be quite boring.

On the heels of this revelation, I had to explain why the story needs conflict. The answer is so that the main character can experience growth. The character at the end of the story should be a little different than the one at the beginning. Perhaps he is a little wiser or has a different attitude. Whatever the situation, character growth is essential to a good story.

Isn't life very similar? After all, God is writing our life stories. We are His main characters. Life itself is the plot. The time and place in which we exist is the setting. The theme is to honor Him and bring glory to Him. And the conflict? Well, we see those all the time. Don't we? Lost jobs, broken families, financial crisis, etc. Yes, our story has plenty of conflict, but why?

So that we (the characters) can experience growth! The reason God allows us to go through trials is to help us grow into better Christians. How many times have we come out of a bad situation and found that we were better because of it? God is not punishing us by sending hard times. He's simply giving us a reason to improve. He is writing the ultimate story!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Beautiful Creation

A few weeks ago, I heard a funny story that I want to share with you. On Sunday mornings, while the adults are enjoying the preaching, we have a Junior church for kids ages 4-11. A couple of our teenage girls teach this class.

On this particular Sunday, they were teaching on creation. To help make the point of how miraculous creation is, one of the teenagers used the following illustration. "You know how when Mom makes cookies, she gets out of the ingredients, mixes them together, and then you have cookies? Well, creation was even greater because God didn't even have any ingredients. He just spoke and the world was created." It was a very good example, I thought.

At the end of the lesson, she was asking questions to make sure everyone understood the lesson. Trying to be fair and making sure that all the children had a chance to answer the question, she turned to one of the youngest and asked, "So what did God make the world out of?" With a big grin, he shouted, "Cookies!"

The story is hilarious and typical of a young child, but sometimes I think we fail to truly understand the magnificence of the world around us. Creation is a miracle! Life is a miracle! Look at the colors that surround you. The textures. The shapes and sizes. Listen to the sound of the birds, the bugs, or even the wind. We live in a beautiful world, and even though it isn't made of cookies, we ought to be thankful for it and express that thanks daily.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Are We Really Leaning on Jesus?

We've all heard the phrase "leaning on Jesus." No doubt, we've all said or sung the phrase. But, have we ever stopped to really think about what it means to lean on Jesus? Let's try this little experiment.

Go lean on the wall. I mean, really lean on it. Put all your weight on the wall. Now, imagine that someone pulled that wall out from under you. Would you fall? If you truly had all your weight on the wall, yes, you would fall. However, what many of us consider "leaning" is not really leaning at all. We set up "safety nets" to ensure that if anything happens, we won't fall. Those safety nets come in all shapes and sizes, but we all have them. Sometimes it's our job. Sometimes it's our family or friends. Sometimes we find it in places we would never expect.

Now, that being said, do we really lean on Jesus or do we have safety nets all around for the times that things don't go the way we think they should? Peter leaned on Jesus when he walked on the water. He stepped out onto the waves and away from the boat, trusting that Jesus would keep him safe. Do we do the same or are we reaching out to Jesus with one hand while clutching the boat with the other hand? Listen to how Pastor Ron Mehl puts it:

You aren't truly trusting until you're slightly out of control--like Peter when he stepped out on the water. You aren't truly trusting until you've leaned so hard on Him that if you fell, you couldn't catch yourself. Trust means setting aside all secondary options, backup systems, and emergency parachutes. Trust says, "I've gone so far now that there's no return for me. If God doesn't save me and hold me up, I'll go under."

Oh, that we could all have faith such as that. Let that be our prayer today!

For a real blessing, check out Ron Mehl's book:
What God Whispers in the Night

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pay Attention

A funny thing happened this morning. Jason was fixing breakfast while I was taking care of a few other things around the house. I know he is VERY capable in the kitchen, so I was a little surprised when I heard him groan in frustration.

When I looked in the frying pan, I realized immediately what the problem was. Instead of a pan full of hashbrowns, there was a pan full of french fries. I couldn't help but laugh. In his defense, the packages do look very similar, but the thought of french fries for breakfast was so hilarious to me.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we are all guilty of doing the same thing. No, not cooking french fries instead of hashbrowns, but in not paying attention to the things that are important.

We live in a day filled with controversy and lies. The devil is hard at work, trying to make us doubt the Bible. False teachers surround us daily, filling us with their cynicism and hatred of all things true. We have to be careful because it's easy to get pulled in without even realizing it.

Here's an example. I was doing some research for an e-book that I'm writing when I came across a website called "Ex-Christians." Curious as I was, I clicked on it and started looking around. Wow! There are some really deceived people out there, and many of them are claiming to have "left Christianity."

It's time for us to pay attention. We need to be on the lookout for these false teachers and the deceitfulness of the devil. And, the best way to determine a lie is to first know the truth. The truth can only be found in God's Word. If we know what it says, we'll be much better off in pointing out the lies around us. But, we must pay attention. Otherwise, we may be facing a situation far worse than french fries for breakfast!

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. - Matthew 7:15

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Big is God?

Yesterday, Jason and I decided to tackle a really tough hike. In Caesar's Head State Park, there is a trail called the Natureland Trust Trail. It is a 5.8-mile trail (one-way) that is rated "very strenuous." We had been on part of this trail months ago, and we were awed by it's beauty. But, that day, I was SO exhausted, I feared making it out of the woods. Since then, Jason has been wanting to go back and do the entire trail, but I've been afraid of it.

Yesterday, I faced my fear, and we walked/climbed the trail. It was tough! I have some terrible blisters, and my knees are sore. But, that isn't what I wanted to tell you about it.

First of all, I wanted to say that if you want more out of life, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone. Yesterday, I was WAY out of my comfort zone, but I had a great day!

Second, I wanted to tell you about The Cathedral. The Cathedral is a 120-foot semicircular rock formation that you will find only on the Natureland Trust Trail. The trail is tucked up right against these rocks, so it's difficult to get a good picture. But, I don't think a picture could capture the "wow" of this place anyway (but that didn't keep us from trying.)

As you stand there looking up, you'll get a crick in your neck. It's so high. Most of the walls go straight up, but the section to the far left resembles the bottom side of a circular stair case. Because of all the recent rain, water was running down the rocks, causing a spray to hit us and refreshing us from the heat of the day. If you looked straight up, the drops appeared to be falling in slow motion. It was so awesome!

We stood there for several minutes trying to take it all in and trying to find a word to describe it other that "awesome." We couldn't think of one. Then, as we were about to leave, I turned to Jason and said, "As awesome as this is, and as much as we can't take it in, how big is God? How awesome is He? How dumbstruck are we going to be when we see His face?" It's unimaginable! I think, even then, we'll be at a loss for words.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Dedication!

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. - Luke 24:1-3

Yesterday morning, we were discussing the resurrection in our ladies' Sunday School class. We read the different accounts of the resurrection story and shared our feelings about certain verses or things that stood out to us.

One lady mentioned how special she thought it was that Jesus' first appearance was to a woman (and an adulterous woman at that). Another lady spoke of how the disciples didn't believe the women when they came and told them that Jesus was alive and how often we are just as stubborn to have faith in things we don't understand. Many comments were made and opinions shared. However, we ran out of time before I was able to share something that came to my mind. So, I'll share it with you.

In Luke 24, the Bible tells us that some women were going to the tomb of Jesus. They had spices with them which I believe they intended to use to help preserve the body of Christ. I'm not sure how many women were there, but I know they had a mission.

My question is this: how did they intend to get to the body of Christ? Not only was it guarded by Roman soldiers, but there was a huge stone in front of the door. Did they think the soldiers would allow them to pass? Did they think that the soldiers would move the stone for them? Were the soldiers capable of moving a stone that size? Or, were they doing what they were doing simply because they felt it was their duty? Is it possible that they gave no thought at all to how they were going to accomplish their mission? Is is possible that they were just that dedicated to their Savior?

We may never know the answers to those questions on this side of Heaven, but here's a question we can answer--Are we dedicated enough to the Lord to do what we know He wants us to do without worrying about how we're going to do it? OUCH!!!!

Many times, we feel the Lord leading us to do something or to go down a certain path, but because we can't see all the answers, we fail to do His calling. He bids us to go to a foreign land, and we reply, "But I don't know the language." He calls us to teach, and we argue, "But I'm not good with people." He nudges us to make a donation, and we cry, "But I don't have enough to pay my own bills." We don't see the "how," so we fail to follow His commands.

We've all done it at least once, but are we still doing it? Or, are we following the will of the Lord regardless of how many unanswered questions we have? The women with their spices were determined to fulfill their mission no matter what obstacles lay in their way. Are we willing to do the same? If so, think of the results. Their mission led them to the scene of a miracle. It's possilbe that ours may do the same, but we'll never find out if we aren't dedicated enough to try.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hallelujah! He's Alive!

Today is the day we celebrate the miraculous resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This day is a symbol of hope and a reminder that God keeps His promises.

As you gather today with friends and family, please take a moment to reflect on what Jesus did for us and the power of His resurrection. It's worth remembering!

God bless you all! Happy Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Take a Minute and Think

With Easter rapidly approaching, I feel my mind being pulled to another place. I imagine myself standing in the midst of an angry crowd. Above me, on a cruel wooden cross, hangs my Savior. If I hadn't seen Him being whipped and beaten, I wouldn't recognize the gnarled flesh displayed before me.

The sounds around me are a mixture of angry shouts and heartbroken sobs. Occasionally, even a wicked laughter can be heard. The smell of blood is thick in the air, adding to the gorge that's already in my stomach.

Sobs wrack my body and tears flow down my face as I watch my Lord struggle to draw in each breath, yet with that breath ask His Father to forgive the ones that have put Him here. His marred face shows no anger, only love and compassion.

"Why?" I ask in auguish. "Why must you do this? Why must you suffer for sins that are not your own?"

Jesus smiles down at me and answers, "So that you will never have to. For that, my child, is how much I love you."

He raises His head and utters a victorious cry, "IT IS FINISHED!" Then, His eyes close, His head droops, and His breathing stills. My dearest Friend is dead.

But, this is not the end. . . .

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ten Ways Life and Hiking Are Similar

1. Sometimes the way is easy. Other times, it can be a
struggle just to put one foot in front of the other.

2. There are many ups and downs.

3. Sometimes the path is obvious and clearly marked. Other times, it can be difficult to find.

4. There are always obstacles to go over, under, around, or across.

5. You'll often meet travelers along the way who need a smile or a word of encouragement to carry on.

6. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself beyond what you think you're capable of.

7. Often you'll wonder if you'll ever make it to the end.

8. It's easier if you have someone traveling with you, pushing and encouraging.

9. Sometimes you feel too weary to go on.

10. In the end, you discover that the destination is worth it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

God Knows What We Need and When We Need It

Two weeks ago, I received the following comment about one of my blog postings:

Very interesting lesson (to include your Sunday School lesson). I am reminded, being a NASCAR enthusiast, of a story my uncle once told me. He said, "Drivers who spin out of control are told to focus their eyes to the center of the field. Do you know why?" "Think of the options," he said, "and know your mind and body will follow your eyes." I think more often than not I would hit the wall!! Thanks for the reminder to stay focused.


Then, this morning, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail containing the following devotional:

Joni and Friends Daily Devotional-- Don't Watch the Wall

And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? -- Matthew 14:29-31

My friend Dan, a race car driver, was recently talking about a terrible accident in which a NASCAR legend was killed. The driver's car had been in first place. Slightly bumped, it appeared he over-corrected and then, in the next instant, crashed into the wall. I asked my friend Dan if that kind of thing happens often on the racing circuit. "Oh yes," he said. "Guys in their cars get into a spin, get bumped, and they see that wall coming! I'll tell you, there's one thing they're trained to do. They must not look at that wall. Their training tells them to keep their eyes on the track, and steer out of the spin. If they look at the wall, they'll freeze. Your body just reacts-you can't help it. The answer is to concentrate every nerve on steering toward that open space."

That answer really spoke to me. Because lately I've been experiencing an unusual amount of aches and pains, and it's had me thinking about... the wall. It's not going to get easier, Joni. Old age is coming faster than you realize, and boy, you'd better brace for an impact. As a result of my fears, I've "frozen up" at times, worrying about the future and its problems rather than the present and its opportunities.


Paul writes, "Set your heart on things above," and the gospels say, "Lift up your head, for your salvation draws nigh." It's advice worth following... or you just might hit the wall.

Lord Jesus, sometimes my life situation makes me afraid. I feel panic rising, my mind locks up, and my fears loom like a large wall. As best I can today, Lord, I will fix my eyes on you, and not on my problems and fears.

Blessings, Joni and Friends

Isn't it awesome how God sent me the same message in the span of just a couple of weeks? He knows times have been hard recently. He knows that my faith has been weak. He knows that I've been getting my eyes off of Him and on "the wall." And in that knowledge, He sent me a reminder.

No, life is not easy, but God is still good! Let's keep our eyes on Him, and He will see us safely home.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Jason and I don't watch much television, but one of the few shows we really enjoy is "The Amazing Race." In fact, we enjoy it so much that we watch the reruns online.

Recently, we were watching an episode, and I got really tickled at one of the teams. They were looking for the clue box on a bridge. (For those of you who aren't familiar with "The Amazing Race," the clue box is a large green box that sits on a tall red and yellow striped stand. It's pretty easy to spot.) Anyway, this couple walked right in front of the box several times saying, "Where is it? I just don't see it." Each time they walked past it, I had to laugh. It was so ridiculous. After a while, another team came and walked straight to the box. The first couple saw them, and one of them said, "Can you believe it? We walked right by it." The other replied, "No, I don't think it was there before." I laughed and laughed.

Later on, it hit me that I do the same thing that the couple did. I ask God for directions or instructions. He places them in an obvious place, and I walk right by them. "Where is it, Lord?" "Where are my instructions?" I cringe to think that the angels in Heaven may be pointing down at me and laughing while saying, "Duh! It's right in front of you. You've walked past it five times!"

Needless to say, this has changed the way I watch "The Amazing Race." Now, when people walk past a clue box and wander aimlessly, instead of laughing, I say a quick prayer that the Lord will help my eyes and ears to be open to all He is trying to convey to me. After all, I'm in a race, too, and I need to follow the instructions carefully if I'm going to reach the finish line.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. -- Proverbs 3:5-6