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Friday, October 29, 2010

Punishment or Blessing?

If anyone knew what it was like to be the teacher in a kindergarten classroom, it was Moses. While the people of Israel weren't five years old, they sure did act like it. We're tired. We're hungry. We're thirsty. Our feet hurt. Poor Moses! As a kindergarten teacher myself, I found some days to be quite trying, and the most students I ever had was 23. Moses had thousands of people constantly whining and complaining about something. Is it any wonder when he was supposed to speak to the rock, he smote it with his staff instead? Frustration takes its toll.

I've often wondered about Moses' punishment for his disobedience. Yes, he messed up, but after all that he had done right, he was denied entrance into the place he had spent 40 years getting to. It's always seemed a bit harsh to me. That is, until Jason allowed me to see it in a different light. He presented the case that perhaps the punishment wasn't anywhere as great as I had always imagined.

The Bible says that just before reaching the Promised Land, Moses went up the mountain and died in the presence of the Lord and was buried by Him. What an amazing way to leave this life! So, while Moses didn't get to enter into Canaan, He did get to enter into Glory, and He was escorted there by the Lord Himself. Sure, Canaan was great, but could it compare to Paradise? And the company was certainly better. No more murmuring. No more journeying. No more people to appease. That doesn't sound like much of a punishment, does it?

God will judge sin, and He will chastise us as He sees fit. But I often wonder if the things we see as punishment are merely blessings in disguise? It's certainly worth looking into.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Guiding Hand

On Saturday, Jason and I took the dogs out to the lake for a little exercise and some fresh air. As we approached the creek crossing on the trail, I realized I had made a mistake in my choice of footwear. While the hiking shoes I was wearing have excellent traction, they are not waterproof. As long as I stayed on the stepping stones, I would be fine, but one slip or misstep, and I would have very wet feet.

Thankfully, Jason was wearing his waterproof hiking boots. This allowed him to actually walk through the water as he held my hand and guided me across the stones. I made it across completely dry which is more than I can say when I attempted the same crossing a few days earlier. As my foot hit one of the last rocks, the rock flipped over, leaving me with a cold, wet foot. I mentioned this to Jason as we continued our hike. His response was profound, "It helps to have someone who can walk through the water and hold your hand." It certainly does!

How many times has Jesus said, "I will never leave thee?" Too many for me to count! Jason's statement on Saturday was a blessed reminder to me that not only is God always with me, but He's walking through the water and holding my hand as I cross the rivers and storms of life. He is there to steady me, to offer me support. He is there to guide and protect. If my hand is firmly placed in His, He will not let me slip or fall. He loves me and only wants what's best for me. Will I still have to cross the rivers? Sure, but I won't have to cross them alone!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

Jason had a day off last Thursday, so we decided to hike the Jones Gap Trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. The trail stretches 5.3 miles from Jones Gap State Park to Caesar's Head State Park. About a mile from Caesar's Head, there's a lovely little waterfall area called "The Winds." Our plan was to hike from Jones Gap to "The Winds" and back again for a total of approximately 9 miles.

Just a few days earlier, I had taken the dogs on a loop hike that included the Jones Gap Trail. On that hike, I started at the Caesar's Head side and hiked down to "The Winds" from that direction. When I say "down," I mean "down." You see, from the Caesar's head side, you actually start at the top of the mountain and work your way down. You reach "The Winds" by descending a series of switchbacks on the Jones Gap Trail. Because of the nature of the descent, you see the waterfall long before you reach it.

The funny thing is that the first few times we hiked this trail, I didn't realize that the waterfall we saw from the top of the mountain was the same one we sat by as we ate our lunch. Jason laugh at my naivete, but in my defense, it didn't look the same. "Both" waterfalls were grand and beautiful, but to me, they just looked different. How was I supposed to know if was the same place?

I was reminded of my initial confusion as we hiked in from the lower side last Thursday. As I sat staring at the water flowing down over the rocks, I contemplated how different things can look from a varied point of view. The song, "The Shepherd's Point of View," came to my mind.

How many times do I go through trials, seeing things from only my point of view? I see a fire, but God sees a diamond. I see a bruised lump of clay, but God sees a masterpiece. I see hurt and pain, but God sees a blessing. At times, it seems like we're not looking at the same circumstances, but the truth is we're simply looking at them from a different point of view. After all, it's just a matter of perspective.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Source of Strength

While at Walmart yesterday, I picked up a bag of food for my dog. The 20-lb bag was $12.96; the 48-lb bag was $15.96. The choice of which bag to get would have been easy had Jason been with me. However, as I stood there staring at the 48-lb bag, I truly contemplated going with the smaller size. Why? Because 48 pounds is heavy!

My thrifty side refused to settle for the smaller bag, so I gathered my strength and lifted the 48-lb bag off the shelf. That, in itself, was a comical sight, but I wish you could have seen me trying to get that huge bag in the bottom of the buggy. I was down on my knees, pushing from one side and pulling from the other. After much struggle, I had the bag arranged to where it would stay in the cart. The exertion left me weary and ready for a nap. Just as I began pushing my buggy, I noticed that unlike the 20-lb bag, this bag didn't have a pull-off sticker (you know, the kind where you just pull the sticker off and hand it to the cashier). "Too bad!" I declared. "She'll have to figure out a way to scan it herself 'cause I'm not picking it up again."

I continued my shopping. The cashier was able to use a wand to scan the dog food. I pushed the buggy out to my truck, unloaded my groceries, and then stared at the gigantic bag, willing it to hop into the truck on its own. No such luck. With much embarrassment, I finally un-wedged the bag from the shopping cart and dropped it (literally) into the bed of the truck. As I drove home, I deliberated whether or not I could count my shopping trip as my daily exercise.

Yes, my shopping trip yesterday required a great deal of strength. Life is the same way; however, the source of strength should not lie within ourselves. In the grocery store, I had no choice but to pick up the bag myself. In life, I always have a choice. Unfortunately, I usually choose poorly. Instead of trusting in the strength of the Almighty to get me through, I act in my own strength and then fail to understand why things don't work out right.

Weary in well doing? I sometimes think I live in that state, but the truth is that I wouldn't be nearly so weary if I would allow God to lift the heavy loads instead of trying to bear them myself. God is my strength. How many more 48-lb bags do I need to lift before I get that through my head (or better yet, through my heart).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sin Makes You Stupid

I don't care much for the word "stupid," and I'm very selective about when and where I use it. When it comes to the way sin makes us act, however, I can think of no better word. Want proof? Read this account:

And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it. And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf. - Exodus 32:19-24

This scene takes place right after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. During Moses' time on the mountain, the people of Israel had come to Aaron and asked him to build them a golden calf to act as a mediator between them and God. Yeah, right! Even though they had not yet received the Ten Commandments, God had made it clear to them on MANY occasions how He felt about false gods and idols. Still, the people asked, and Aaron obeyed.

When Moses comes down off the mountain, he can't believe his eyes. He throws down the tablets he's carrying and smashes them to pieces. He approaches Aaron and demands an explanation. Aaron's answer is nothing short of ridiculous.

"Well," he says, "the people wanted me to make them a god, so I took their jewelry and threw it into the fire, and suddenly this calf appeared." Talk about your tall tales! Did he actually think that Moses would believe such a thing? Of course not. It's absurd. The calf didn't just appear. He fashioned it himself. The Bible tells us so in the fourth verse of the same chapter. I think Aaron was trying to absolve himself from the situation. He knew he had done wrong, but he was seeking to shift the blame.

Do you see what I mean? Sin makes us stupid. It causes us to do things we wouldn't ordinarily do. It forces us to try to cover our tracks or shift the blame. In the end, it just makes us appear idiotic. Who wants that?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Press On and On and On. . .

Did you know that the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book was rejected 144 times before a publisher deemed it worth the risk to take on? Today, there are nearly 200 different Chicken Soup for the Soul titles translated in over 40 languages totaling in sales of more than 112 million books. As a writer, this is encouraging to me because I have faced my fair share of rejection. This account that I heard just this week reminds me what I need to do to go beyond rejection and to reach success. What's that? Persevere!

I don't know about you, but I give up on myself far too easily and far too often. I try something, and when things don't work the way I planned, I try again. But after the fourth or fifth attempt, I label myself a failure and move onto the next task, always wondering what could have been accomplished if I had stuck with it.

Do you remember the passage in the Bible that says, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you? If you look at the root of the words in the Greek and Hebrew forms, you'll discover that this passage is not commanding us to ask, seek, or knock one time. The words actually bear the meaning of "ask and keep on asking," "seek and keep on seeking," "knock and keep on knocking." It's like the acrostic PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens. Don't give up when things don't seem to be working. Just keep trying!

What if Noah hadn't persevered through the ridicule of the people? What if Daniel hadn't persevered despite the threat to his life? What if Jesus hadn't persevered up the road to Calvary? Whether it takes one rejection or a thousand, we mustn't give up.

Whatever you're facing today, you can find the strength to keep going. You may have to walk or even crawl, but keep pressing on. Who knows what the end result may be?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Believing Is Seeing

We've all heard the phrase "seeing is believing," but when it comes to faith in the Lord, the opposite is true: believing is seeing. The Bible says that faith is the evidence of things unseen. Faith comes first, and then sight. Is it just me, or does anyone else have a problem in this area?

Please don't misunderstand. I have put my faith in Christ for salvation. I believe that He is God and that He came to earth to die for my sins. I believe that I am a sinner and that without accepting Christ's gift of salvation, I would spend eternity in hell. I have confessed my sin and surrendered my heart and life to God. Somehow, that part seems easy. But daily faith . . . that's where I have problems.

When facing daily battles, I find my mind bogged down with thoughts like this: Sure, God, you defeated Goliath, but this problem is WAY bigger than that. Yes, God, I know you parted the Red Sea and led the children of Israel across, but I just don't see any hope for this situation. Of course, God, I remember how You fed the 5,000, but I'm really in need here, and I just don't see how we're going to make ends meet this month.

As I type these words, I'm amazed and embarrassed at the foolishness contained within them. How can I trust God to save me and not trust Him to keep me? How can I believe the message of the Bible, yet wonder if God is big enough to meet my needs? The only conclusion I can come to is that I'm stuck on the old adage "seeing is believing." Like Thomas the disciple, I want to see proof before I truly place my trust in things I hope to be true.

Jesus humored Thomas and allowed him to not only see but also to touch His wounded body. Unfortunately, I haven't been given that same opportunity. What I have been given, however, is the chance to see miracles. These miracles remind me that God is still in control. He is still all-powerful. He is still the same God. And He can meet any need I may have. Could it be that He's simply waiting on me to believe? After all, there are many times in the New Testament that miracles occurred only after the faith was displayed. Is it possible that I've been missing out on blessings because I'm just too stubborn to have faith?

How about you? How's your faith today? Are you waiting on a blessing from God? Show Him your faith, and He'll show you His power!

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Multiplied Wonders

Reading through the book of Exodus leaves me full of wonder and quite a few questions. One question that has bothered me for years deals with Pharaoh and his refusal to release the children on Israel.

If you read through the story, you'll find the words, "Pharaoh hardened his heart." Okay, that makes sense to me. I can see where he would/could harden his heart and refuse to allow them to escape. But many times, the Bible actually says, "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go." Huh?

God hardened Pharaoh's heart. That makes absolutely no sense to me. After all, God wanted Israel to go free, right? God send Moses to lead them out, right? Is it just me or does it seem like God it thwarting His own plan? If He hadn't constantly hardened Pharaoh's heart, how much sooner could Israel have gone free?

Truly, this concept has "plagued" (pardon the pun) me for years. But this week, God allowed me to find the answer. It was there in the Bible all along, but I had never noticed it. I guess I had been so caught up in my questions that I hadn't seen the answer. But now, I see it clearly.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. - Exodus 11:9

Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart? So that He could have more opportunities to show His power. So that there would be no doubt about Who He was and what He could do. So that when we read about the rescue of the children of Israel, we can't help but be amazed at the wonders our God can perform. God had a reason. It was all part of His master plan.

Are you facing situations today that don't make sense to you? Do you feel discouraged and held captive by your doubts and fears? God has a rescue on the way. It may not seem obvious, and it may not make sense to you, but if there's one thing we've learned through the Bible, it's that God's ways are not our ways. They're better! Put your hand in His hand, and allow Him to lead you out of your captivity. And along the way, watch for multiplied wonders!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taking Part in God's Plan

This morning I was reading through the account of the plagues on Egypt. From bloody water to bugs of various sorts, the plagues were both terrifying and disgusting. But what had my attention this morning was not the plagues themselves but how the plagues were brought about.

Obviously, it was God who sent the plagues, but what I noticed today was that he allowed Moses to take part in each and every plague. Instead of simply turning the water into blood, God told Moses to touch the water with his rod. For the hail, He commanded Moses to point his rod towards the heavens. Time after time, God used Moses to bring about His miracles. Why?

We know that God is an almighty God and that He does not need our help to perform His will here on earth. However, He is also a loving God, and He chooses to use us so that we can feel we have a part in His master plan. He allows us to take part in His miracles. Not so that we will get the glory, but so that we will receive an up-close look at what God has done and can do.

The key here is that we have to be willing to be used. If Moses had not obeyed God, God could have (and probably would have) sent the plagues, but think what Moses would have missed out on. I imagine he treated that staff with utmost respect. After all, it was an instrument of God's power. The thing is Moses was an instrument too. What about us? Are we open to God's will today? Are we willing to obey His commands? Are we anxious to have Him work through us? He can and He will, but we must do our part.

Moses had a rod. What do we have that we can use to work God's plan? Time. Talents. Praise. And so much more!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Way Home Starring Dean Cain

The Way Home is a Christian film by Lionsgate Productions. This heartwarming tale is based on the true story of Randy Simpkins, a father and husband who is torn between the demands of his job and the commitment to his family. While preparing to leave for vacation, Randy is once again sidetracked by work. His last minute e-mail check causes him to leave his two-year-old son, Joe, alone in the yard. After packing up the last of the luggage, Randy calls for Joe only to discover that he's missing. Upon hearing of the family's tragedy, the community gathers together in search of the boy. Tears flow. Prayers are uttered. Friends and family unite. But above all, Randy finally discovers the importance of keeping his priorities straight. He only hopes his discovery hasn't come too late.

Wow! What a great movie! I laughed and cried at the same time. The powerful message behind the story is so compelling and convicting. It's so easy in this busy world to lose track of what's really important. The Way Home reminds us to not take those things for granted because we don't know how long they will last.

I am thrilled to have a good, wholesome movie that I can recommend to my friends and family. The story was clean and free of profanity. It just goes to show you that good media doesn't have to be filled with violence, cursing, and all the other garbage out there. No, this is a great film that the entire family can enjoy. Well done, Lionsgate!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this video free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, October 8, 2010

Childlike vs. Childish

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.- Matthew 18:1-4

Over and over again the Bible commands us to come to Jesus with a childlike faith. What exactly does that mean? It means to accept Him without trying to understand or over-analyze. Coming to Christ with a childlike faith is coming to Him and saying, "I don't know how You can do it, but I believe You can save me, and I surrender my life to you." I think, however, that our childlike faith is not supposed to stop there. Trusting in Christ for salvation is wonderful, but what about trusting Him in everyday life? I'm afraid that's where many of us turn from childlike to childish.

With our grown-up minds, we simply can't fathom how God can (or will) help us out of difficult circumstances. So we plot and scheme to work things out for ourselves, and we all know how well that works (about as well as me trying to find my way to the airport without VERY detailed directions). That's where the childish behavior comes in. We pout and fuss. We whine and complain. We throw our temper tantrums and pity parties. We act childish when God is simply waiting for us to become childlike. There is a difference!

I admit that I often find it easier to be childish than childlike. It's easy to pout and complain. I find comfort in my pity parties. It's difficult, on the other hand, to come to Jesus and say, "I don't know how You're going to work this out, but I know You will. I surrender the burden to You." I find that so difficult, and even when I'm able to say it, I'm afraid I don't truly mean it. In the back of my mind, I'm still plotting and scheming to figure out how I can "help God out."

Childlike or childish? Which would you rather be? Better yet, which one are you today?

Dear Lord,
Please help me today to distinguish between the childlike and the childish attitude. Help me to surrender my life to You, trusting in You for all things. Please guard my tongue that I don't grumble and complain but instead use my mouth for praising You. Help me, Lord, to increase my faith. I believe. Help thou mine unbelief. Amen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Words Fitly Spoken

I don't know about you, but I could really use some encouragement today. And what better source for encouragement than the Word of God? May these verses bless you and bring peace to your troubled soul.

Psalm 94:19 - In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.

Philippians 4:6-7 - Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Jude 1:24-25 - Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

Proverbs 3:5-6 - 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.

Luke 1:37 - For with God nothing shall be impossible.

Romans 8:28 - 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.

John 16:33 - These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

I Peter 4:12-13 - Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

Deuteronomy 31:6 - 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.

Monday, October 4, 2010

We All Fall Down

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. - Proverbs 16:18

You would not believe what happened to me on Sunday morning. As Jason and I were headed out the door for church, I was making some unkind remarks about a certain person who is disorganized to the point of constantly losing and forgetting things. "That's why I'm holding on to these," I remarked. "Not that I never lose or forget anything, but I'm much more likely to be able to keep up with them." And with that, we got in the truck and headed to church. When we arrived, I received a humbling blow to my pride.

As we unloaded the truck, I looked around for my computer bag. It wasn't in the truck. I had loaded the truck, and I distinctly remembered grabbing it, didn't I? We searched and searched, but to no avail. I had forgotten to grab the computer bag which meant that the powerpoint presentation I had worked up for Sunday School was going to go unseen. Not only that, but I was going to have to rework my lesson since I was counting on having the powerpoint. It's going to be one of those days, I thought, but the day had only begun.

As we returned to the truck after unloading my other Sunday School materials, Jason asked about his coat. I remembered seeing his coat hanging on the chin up bar at the house, but I had assumed that Jason would grab it. He didn't, and neither did I. Great! No computer. No coat. But wait, the lesson in pride was still not over.

I walked over to the church building and set down my bags. I was immediately met by the song leader who inquired about the CD's I was supposed to make for him. "Sure," I replied. "I made them yesterday. They're right here in my bag." Only, they weren't. I remembered putting them in my bag (at least I thought I did), but I tore that bag apart, and they just weren't there. "They're probably in the computer bag," I snarled as my frustration rose.

After informing the song leader that I didn't have the CD's after all, I flopped down on my pew. It was then that I heard/felt that still small voice. "Tell me again how perfect you are." OUCH! You want to know what's really bad? The series I'm teaching on in Sunday School is on pride. It's entitled "It's Not About Me." I could have used to let that lesson sink in a little better on Sunday, huh?

Thankfully, everything worked out. Due to power outages in some of the Sunday School rooms, all of the adult classes were combined, so I didn't have to teach. The CD's weren't urgent, as it turned out. And Jason was more comfortable without his coat anyway. But, man did I feel bad! I am constantly amazed at how blind I can sometimes be to my own sins. I'm thankful for a God who loves me enough to point them out to me. Not to condemn me, but so that I can make things right. Now, I just need to learn to pay attention better so that I can prevent falling in the the first place. I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get some serious road rash.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Making the Tough Choices

I recently adopted a new health strategy. I don't like to call it a diet because it gives it such a negative connotation. For the past several weeks, I have devoted great effort to watching what I eat. I'm not cutting calories. I haven't gone low-fat or low-carb. Instead, I made the decision to change what I was eating. Instead of chocolate cake for dessert, I snack on fruit. I am making an effort to add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to my diet while getting rid of many of the sweets and processed foods. And I've discovered that even though I'm eating just as many calories as before (possibly more), I'm finally losing weight.

The thing I like best about this plan is that, for the most part, I don't feel deprived. I'm not hungry, and no food is forbidden. The key is to limit the unhealthy foods, not cut them out altogether. This became a challenge, however, when I went to the grocery store yesterday. As I walked through the bakery department, I found that they had not one, but four of my favorite donuts (chocolate-glazed, cream-filled). These are so popular that the grocery store is usually out. Not yesterday. Nope! What really got me was that these weren't just glazed with chocolate; they were practically coated in chocolate. (Oops! I'm drooling on the keyboard again.) And so, the argument ensued.

"I want one of those. I've been doing good. I deserve it."

"No," I replied to myself. "You don't want that. It's full of useless calories and preservatives. You don't want to ruin what progress you've made. Besides, you treated yourself to pizza a few days ago."

"But they look so good. Surely one won't make that big a difference."

"Do you want to have to start all over again? How will eating this really make you feel?"

And on and on the argument continued all through the store. I'm pleased to say I left the store without a donut. But it was NOT easy.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. - Matthew 26:41

Ain't that the truth? It seems like I have daily battles with myself, and they don't always revolve around food. No, I must daily battle my flesh to make sure my attitudes and actions are pleasing to God. It's not an easy job, and many times I'm discouraged at my progress, but the battles are necessary, and so I continue to fight.

Unfortunately, we, as Christians, will have to continue the fight until Jesus comes. The good news is that He has given us the weapons we need to fight against the flesh and the darts of the devil. Our job is to take them and use them as He intends. The worst thing we can do is to stop fighting. So, come on. Lift that sword. Balance that shield. We have a battle to win.