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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ignoring the Voice of God

A couple of weeks ago, I began tutoring a little boy with some rather serious physical problems. He is deaf in one ear, wears glasses, has a speech impediment, and has the worst case of ADHD I've ever seen. I knew it would be tough, but I thought I could help this child. I wanted to help him. I had no idea how difficult it was going to be.

Evidently, the boy was used to people giving in to him because of his disabilities. I don't give in, so we butted heads for the first couple of lessons. I'd ask him a question, he would ignore me. At certain times, he would even place his hands over his ears. (GRRRRR) I tried puzzles, books, puppets, and games, but he seems completely uninterested in cooperating. To be honest, I was about ready to quit (or stab myself to death with his pencil).

Then, last Thursday, the miraculous happened. He cooperated. He talked with me. He played the games. He completed the projects. He listened. He even gave me a "high five" a couple of times. I was amazed and greatly relieved!

I wonder, though, how many times I treat my Lord the same way. He tries to help me, but I ignore him. I don't like His plans or His ideas, so I cover my ears and pretend I didn't hear Him. How many times do I refuse to cooperate with Him or act according to His will?

I'm so glad He hasn't given up on me! I'm so thankful for His patience with me. This tutoring experience has given me a new outlook on my life and my attitude towards the Lord's guidance. May I never be resentful of the aid and direction He tries to give me!

Monday, October 26, 2009


One of the most familiar passages in the Scriptures is Hebrews 12:1-2 which reads, "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."

There's a lot of good stuff in those couple of verses, but I want to pull out one little phrase from verse one: "the sin which doth so easily beset us."

Each of us has one particular sin that we battle over and over again. We work on that area of our lives. We strive to make it better. We think we've almost arrived, and then, before we see what's happening, we find ourselves back at square one. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. For many (myself included), this sin is worry.

Now, many people refuse to acknowledge that worry is a sin. They fool themselves into believing that it is just an annoying habit and nothing more. But, that's not what the Bible says. In fact, Romans 14:23 says, "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." So, what is faith? The opposite of worry. This verse tells us quite plainly that if we doubt (or worry), it is a sin. If that's not proof enough, I could take you to many verses where God commands us to "fret not." What does "fret" mean? Worry!

The first problem with worry is that it takes our eyes off of Christ and focuses them instead on our troubles. Big mistake! When we look at our problems, they seem so huge and unsolvable, but when we keep our eyes on Christ, we see how big and mighty He is. This doesn't make our problems go away, but it makes them a lot easier for us to handle.

The second big problem with worry is that it never travels alone. When we hop aboard the "worry train," we find ourselves facing doubt, discouragement, regret, and ingratitude.

In the first stage of worry, we begin to doubt ourselves, others, and even God. In our fretful state, we cling to the attitude that everyone is out to get us and that nobody cares about our problems.

That leads us to discouragement. We become so overwhelmed by our troubles that we sink into the deep abyss of depression. In that pit, we begin to re-examine our lives, pointing out all the things we could have or should have done differently. We find ourselves regretting past mistakes and decisions, then we start to dwell on those, which only adds to our discouragement.

At that point, we are so consumed that we become ungrateful and even forgetful. We forget the many stories in the Bible where God provided for His children. We forget the many times He's provided for us in the past. We become discontent with what we have and ungrateful for all the blessings we've been given. And, in that ingratitude, we began to worry if God even cares about us at all.

Did you see what just happened? At the end of the "worry train," the process began all over again, and it will keep repeating until we deal with the problem.

Elijah the prophet is an excellent example of how the "worry train" works. In I Kings 18, Elijah takes on all of the prophets of Baal. At his request, God sends down fire to consume Elijah's sacrifice while the prophets of Baal can't even bring down a spark.

This display turned many hearts to the true God. You would think Elijah would have been elated. But, in the very next chapter, when he discovers that Queen Jezebel wants him dead, he flees into the wilderness. There, he pleads with the Lord to take his life, complaining that he is the only one left who wants to serve God. What happened?

First, Elijah became worried. He was afraid of what Jezebel might do to him. That worry led him to doubt God's ability to protect him, so he fled. At that point, he was all alone (except for God, of course), but that was by his own choice. He had nothing to do but to dwell on his circumstances which led him deep into discouragement.

If you read his arguments with the Lord, you'll see his regret enter the picture. He basically tells the Lord that all his work was in vain because now he's the only one left. Do you detect a hint of ingratitude? Where is the thankfulness for the miracle God had just performed? Where was the gratitude for God's provision of food even when Elijah was running away from his responsibilities? When we're consumed with worry, we forget what God can do and what He's already done.

Now that we understand the "worry train," let's discuss how we can get off of it. First, we must keep our hearts thankful. We must never forget what God can do nor what He has already done. The best way to do this is to meditate on His Word day and night. Keep it in our hearts and minds. That way, when worry comes around, we're prepared for it.

Second, we must keep our focus where it should be. As Christians, we are running a race, and our focus should be on the finish line, not on the obstacles we have to deal with before we get there. We must keep our eyes on God! This is accomplished best by following the advice in I Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing."

If we stay in constant communion with God, we'll discover that worry no longer bothers us. But when we get too busy to talk with God, the "worry train" comes chugging down the track, beckoning us to climb aboard. It's not worth it. We must engulf ourselves in God's Word and in fellowship with Him. It's our only hope of avoiding the "worry train."

(Excerpt from my newest book, Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead, which is currently being considered by a publisher)

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Need a Vacation

The weather has been SO beautiful this week. Yesterday, I just couldn't help myself. I had to get out of the house. I needed to soak up some of that sweet sunshine and breathe some of that fresh air. I decided to take the dogs to the lake. It was wonderful.

There was no one there, so we had the entire place to ourselves. This allowed me to give the dogs a little freedom. I set up my chair and did a little work. Mitch explored every nook and cranny and chased every bird, bee, frog, leaf, and anything else that moved. Tippy alternated between digging holes, taking a nap, and rummaging through my backpack to see if I had any food. All in all, it was a great day! In fact, it was so nice that I hated to leave. It was almost like I was in a different world. I didn't want to come back and face the reality. That "dream world" was MUCH nicer! But there were chores to do and tutoring to accomplish, so I left my haven and returned to my hectic life.

As I look back on it, I think of that time as a mini-vacation. We need those sometimes, you know? Sometimes we just need to get away. Spending time with the Lord is another way to accomplish that. Have you ever noticed how energized and refreshed you feel when you've spent quality time with the Lord? I don't know about you, but I can tell a big difference between the times I rush through my devotions just so that I can say that I did them and the times that I really take part and enjoy my time with God. There's a peace that can't be found anywhere else. . .not even at a secluded lake.

Life is crazy. Life is hectic. Life is tiring. Need a mini-vacation? Set apart an hour today, and spend it with the Lord. Put all other thoughts and obligations aside and just focus on being with Him. I promise you won't regret it!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No Labels Required

On my way home from running errands yesterday, I saw an unusual (and rather comical) sight. An old, beat-up truck was pulled over to the side of the road. A man, tools spread all around him lay on the ground underneath the uncooperative vehicle. That's not the part that's unusual or comical. What was funny was that painted in large yellow letters on the tailgate of the truck was the word "CLUNKER." My first thought was, No kidding!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not belittling the fellow for having an old vehicle. Jason's bronco, The Beast, is almost as old as I am. It could appropriately be labeled as "CLUNKER," but don't tell Jason I said that. I understand that we have to make do with what we have. I just found it amusing that whoever painted that title on the vehicle felt that it was necessary. Anyone could look at truck and tell it was a clunker. No label was required.

The whole thing caused me to think about whether or not I need a label. When people look at me, is it obvious that I'm a Christian? Are my words, my actions, and my attitudes good representations of Christ? Am I living up to what God called me to be?

I've met many people who call themselves Christians, but I would have never made the connection. I can't judge their hearts, for only God knows whether or not they've trusted in Him. But, I can see their attitudes and actions. I can hear their foul language. Their mean-spirited nature is evident. If not for their "Christian label," I would have pegged them for those lost and on their way to Hell.

If we have to tell others that we are Christians, we're evidently not doing a very good job at representing Christ. Just as it was obvious that the old truck was a clunker, so should it be obvious that we are Christians. No labels should be necessary!

Friday, October 16, 2009

No Doubt About It -- God Is Good

Okay, remember a couple of days ago when I had that glorious little pity party? I was growing bitter because God was blessing others and I felt like He wasn't blessing me. Remember that? God has a way of straightening out His children.

First off, let me say that by the time I wrote that post, I had gotten things settled. The Lord and I had a LONG talk, and I was feeling much better. I apologized for my attitude and my behavior. I remembered all the ways the Lord had blessed me through the years. Everything was fine, but "fine" is not good enough for the Lord. Now that I had my act together, He wanted to remind me just how much He cares for me and how well He takes care of me.

On Tuesday, I went to the bank to make a well-needed deposit. For some reason, we were REALLY short on money and the mortgage payment was due. I was determined that morning that I wasn't going to worry about the fact that the deposit I was making was not as much as the mortgage payment. I was going to trust God. I had no idea how He was going to do it, but somehow, He would make ends meet.

I discovered that I didn't have a deposit slip, so I had to go into the bank. As I stood at the station filling out my deposit slip, I reached into my person to grab Jason's paycheck. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that there were two checks in my purse instead of one. What in the world, I thought, pulling out the second check. Evidently, in the craziness of last week with Kristen's surgery and everything, I had forgotten to make a deposit. I had not deposited Jason's check. . . the check that had several hours of overtime.

I laughed. I stood in the middle of the bank and laughed as tears filled my eyes. God had provided the money. In fact, it had been sitting in my purse for a week! I could almost hear the Lord say, "I am here, child, and I do care. All you have to do is trust me."

I couldn't wait to get out of the bank and call Jason. He laughed too. I went home and had a wonderful day because I realized that God cares enough about me to prove His love to me even when I don't deserve it. No doubt about it -- God is good!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Miracle Grow for Bitterness?

How long does it take for a seed to become a beautiful flower? How long does it take for an acorn to become a growing oak? How long does it take for a root of bitterness to overcome all senses? Not as long as you would think!!!

I spotted that root of bitterness in my own life last week. As many of you know, my husband and I have had a tough year. Six months of unemployment have left us under a serious financial burden. I've prayed. I've cried. I've poured my heart out to God time and time again, yet things seem to only get worse. My faith has gotten weak, and my fear has grown by leaps and bounds.

I've known that I am not the best at handling difficult situations. Jason just sits back and says, "God's in control. Everything will be fine." The thing is. . .he really means it. When I say that, what I'm really thinking is Yes, God is in control, but He obviously needs my help on this one. What can I do to make this work? My prayer day after day is "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief." I want to trust Him. I just can't seem to let go. I can't seem to hand the reins over to Him. So, when things don't work out, I get frustrated. Lately, I've noticed my frustration turning to anger towards God. Like the disciples on the stormy seas, I've found myself shouting to the heavens, "God, don't you even care what's happening down here?"

I had no idea how deep my root of bitterness had grown until last Wednesday. We were sitting in the hospital waiting room during little Kristen's surgery. Our pastor was telling us of a huge financial blessing he and his family had just received. Instead of being happy for them, I found myself thinking, Lord, why won't you do that for us? We're good people. We're serving you. We give when we don't have it to give. What more do you want? (The truth is that something very similar has happened to us multiple times. The Lord has given us unexpected blessings more than once, but it's hard to remember that in the middle of a pity party.) I'm happy to say that I immediately recognized my thought pattern for what it was and dismissed it. I apologized to the Lord and went on about my day.

Unfortunately, even though it had been dismissed, the root didn't go away. It stayed in my heart and continued to grow. For the next few days, I found myself mad at the world and God. I honestly don't think I've ever been so low spiritually. I told Jason, "I understand now how people can turn their backs on God because it sure does seem like He's turned His back on me." I couldn't believe the words that were coming out of mouth. What was even harder to believe was that I meant them. The Lord used Jason to straighten me out. He forced me to take a look at my life and to see the real problem. I knew what the problem was. I just didn't want to admit it. I have NOT been trusting God. I've been planning and scheming and doing everything I could think of to "help God out." The big problem with that is that I've been so busy "helping God" that I've forsaken my writing, the very thing He has called me to do. In essence, I felt God telling me, "If you'll do your part, I'll do my part." It seems so simple. Why was it so hard for me to get to that point? Bitterness!

I read once that bitterness is like drinking a poison and then waiting for the other person to die. That's an excellent description of bitterness! Beware, the root of bitterness can slip in without notice. Before long, you're dealing with an entire tree! We must be on guard. Bitterness can ruin our lives and our walk with God.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's Better to Stay in Shape

When Jason and I first started hiking at the end of last summer, I was seriously out of shape.  I could barely handle a one-mile hike.  My muscles were sore and achy.  My heart would pound like it was about to jump out of my chest.  I couldn't catch my breath.  And I'd have blisters the size of quarters on my heels.  Some of you are probably thinking, You do this for fun?  Yes, I do, but I have to admit, it wasn't all fun at the beginning.

By spring of this year, we were tackling 10-12 mile hikes.  Yes, they were tough.  Yes, I got tired.  Yes, I occasionally came home with blisters.  But I could do it.  I had gotten myself into "hiking shape."  I had strengthened my muscles and my heart.  I had improved my lungs.  I had actually built callouses on my heels.  I was capable of hiking long distances without collapsing or dying!  Frankly, I was proud of myself.

During the summer, even though Jason was home each day, we didn't hike many long hikes.  We hiked often, but we tried to stick to easier trails or shorter trails.  The reason?  As I've mentioned before, hiking in the summer is not nearly as fun as it is the rest of the year.  There are so many things to contend with:  the heat, snakes, spiders, the heat, gnats, mosquitoes, the heat, bees, hornets, and did I mention the heat?  So, needless to say, I got out of shape a little during the summer.

Now that Jason has gone back to work, our hiking has been reduced to a few weekend trips a month.  How is that impacting my health?  Let's just say that we took a fairly easy trail last Saturday, and I had to turn back at the half-way point because of the blisters on my feet.  Had it not been for the blisters, I'm sure I would have made it, but I was more winded than I should have been on such an easy trail.  I've also noticed more problems lately with my arthritis and my bursitis.  Oh, and I'm gaining weight again.  BUMMER!!!

Through it all, I've learned a couple of things.  First, it's easier to get out of shape than it is to get in shape.  Second, it's easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape.  The same can be said about our walk with the Lord.

You see, it's not easy to get into a good daily walk with the Lord.  It's not easy to take time each day to read the Bible.  It's not easy to find the time to pray like we should.  It's not easy to shut out the noises of the world and listen for God to speak.  It's hard work!  But, once we get those things established in our lives, they become easier.  They become a part of our day.  They become things that we look forward to.  They become things that we don't want to live without.  They become as natural to us as breathing.

But if we miss a day here and there, we'll start to lose our "conditioning."  We'll start to become "out of shape" spiritually, and things will grow harder again.  When things are more difficult, we find our desire for them wanes, so we miss more days.  Do you see the pattern?  After a while, we find ourselves back at square one, desperately out of shape and wishing we didn't have to start all over again.

My challenge to you today is to stay in shape with your daily walk.  Make it a part of your life and don't let anything keep you from it.  I know it's hard, but it will get easier.  Just keep at it!

Friday, October 9, 2009

God Can Use Anybody

Do you ever have a problem with Satan coming to you and telling you that God can't use you?  You're too old.  You're too young.  You don't have enough experience.  You don't have enough talent.  You're not called.  You've got too much sin in your past.  You're just not good enough.  Satan has a long list of lies that he uses to hinder us from doing the work of the Lord.  The next time you feel that God can't use you, remember these facts about some noteworthy characters from the Bible (all of whom God used).

Rahab was a harlot.

David was an adulterer and murderer.

Jonah ran from God.

Abraham and Sarah were old enough to be great, great grandparents.

Samson had a weakness for a pretty face.

Solomon worshiped idols.

Matthew was a tax collector (aka thief).

Peter denied Christ.

Lazarus was dead.

Noah turned out to be a drunk.

Paul murdered Christians for a living.

Baalam's donkey was. . .well. . .a donkey!

The list could go on and on.  Simply put, God can use anybody, anywhere, anytime!!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Peter, Peter, Peter

Last week, we talked a little bit about the disciples.  Today, I want to focus on Peter for a few minutes.  Take a look at these couple of passages.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 16:13-17 

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.  Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.  But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.- Matthew 16:21-23

Did you notice the references?  Same book.  Same chapter.  Just a few verses from the first to the second.  In just a handful of verses, Peter went from being "blessed" to being "Satan."  From praised to rebuked.  From right to wrong.  It took only a few verses for Peter to put his foot in his mouth, and unfortunately, it doesn't stop there.  Look at his comments on the Mount of Transfiguration:

Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.- Matthew 17:4

The first part of Peter's dialogue is flawless.  "Lord, it's good for us to be here."  He should have stopped there, but he didn't.  "I've got an idea.  Let's make three altars--one for each of you!"  Peter, Peter, Peter!  What were you thinking?  Don't you know when to stop talking?

But before we get too hard on Peter, I should probably tell you that this entry is not meant to pick on Peter.  It's meant to show us how easy it is to fall.  It's intended to be a reminder to us that we are far from perfect, and it only takes a moment for us to fall from our self-appointed pedestals.

I'm reminded of some of the falls I've taken while out hiking.  Jason says I have a "gift" for falling, not because of how often I fall, but because of the way I fall.  I can go from standing tall to flat on the ground before I even realize I'm falling.  One minute I'm standing or walking, the next instant I'm on the ground, fighting back tears of pain and wondering what in the world just happened.  It's like the blink of an eye.  I fall so quickly that I just become a blur.  (What a "gift" to have, huh?)

Our Christian walk can be the same way.  One minute we're walking along in the love of the Lord, doing His will, singing His praises, and the next instant, we're on our behinds, wounded and weary and wondering if we have the strength to get back up and finish "the hike."

The next time you feel like criticizing Peter (let's face it, there's a lot of material to go on there), say a prayer instead.  Ask God to help you to stand strong and to not fall.  After all, we want to be blessed, praised, and right.  Think about it, if people were reading our stories, would they have reason to criticize?  Most definitely!  Be careful.  Life is slippery.  Be sure you're holding to the Rock.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jesus Dealt With Distraction

My daily Bible reading has been taking me through the book of Matthew. As I was reading the other day, it struck me how many times Christ's prayer time was interrupted. For example, right after John the Baptist was killed, Jesus went apart to pray and mourn, but the multitude followed Him.

When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. - Matthew 14:13-14

So, He deals with the people, then sends the disciples away, and goes to the mountains to pray. What happened? A storm came, and the disciples needed Him, so He went to them.

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. - Matthew 14:22-25

If you recall, when He went into the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry, He went to be alone with Him Father. But who showed up? That's right. Satan himself.

Time and time again we see that when Jesus tries to pray or to be alone with God, His efforts are thwarted. Jesus had to deal with distractions too. We all know what it's like. We want to read our Bibles. We want to spend time in prayer. We want to be alone with God. But there are so many distractions. There are so many other things that need to be done.

One thing I noticed about Jesus was that He never stopped trying. Yes, He would stop and meet the needs of others when circumstances arose, but in the very next verses you find Him on His way to pray again. In fact, with His dying breath, He was still talking with His Father.

Distractions will come. It is inevitable. We, however, cannot give up when they continue to surface. Instead, we need to try even harder. Prayer time was interrupted three times this week? That's sad, but don't let it become four. Sometimes, we just need to make the time. I know that seems impossible in our day, but we DO have the time to spend with God. We just can't let other things keep us from it.