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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Whose Child Are You?

Probably one of the most famous stories in all the Bible is that of David and Goliath. Even most children can tell that story from beginning to end in flawless detail. Yet no matter how many times I hear it or read it, I'm still amazed at David's faith.

Here's a shepherd boy gearing up to face a giant of 9+ feet. Goliath is mean. He's ugly. He's fierce. He's trained and battle-hardened. He wields his sword with strength and agility. Then, there's little David who has to set aside his harp to pick up some stones for his sling. Is it just me, or does this picture seem a little lopsided?

It does to me, but it didn't to David. You see, David had enough faith to see what I often fail to see: with God on my side, all things are possible. There was no doubt in David's mind that he would succeed. He told Saul in plain language that he would kill the giant. No doubt. No worry. No anxiety. When David stepped out on faith, he stepped out running. The Bible says he ran to Goliath. Hmm, when was the last time I ran toward my giants instead of running away from them?

There's so much to be learned from this one story in the Bible. It's a story of great faith. But even more than that, it's a story of how our faith reflects on our Father. When Saul witnessed David's great feat, he asked his guard, "Whose son is this youth?" When people see us conquer our giants, don't they ask the same thing?

God's desire for us is that we will face our giants with great faith, so that all around us will look at each other and say, "Whose child is this?' At that point, it will be our great privilege to tell them all about our Father and how He is able to conquer any giants.

It's hard to be a witness for the Lord when we say we believe His word, but don't act like we believe it. Let's stop running away from our giants. Let's run toward them in faith as David did. Let's show off our Father and make him proud. After all, we are His children, and our actions reflect on Him.

Faith -- it's a powerful weapon!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock

Abramm has dedicated the last eight years of his life to becoming worthy to touch and tend the Sacred Flames of Eidon, and he expects to be blessed for his devotion and sacrifice. But on the eve of taking the vows that will irrevocably separate him from the life he was born to—as Abramm Kalladorne, fifth son of the king of Kiriath, he is betrayed by his spiritual mentor and sold into slavery by his own family.

Swept along by the winds of a new destiny, Abramm is forced to compete as a gladiator. When the oppressed masses rally around his success, he discovers his suffering has molded him into something greater than he ever thought possible—to serve a purpose he never imagined.

I really wasn't sure if I would like this book or not when I picked it to review.  The premise sounded interesting, so I figured I would give it a try.  To be honest, after reading it, I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  The premise and plot of the story were very good.  The story is set up as an allegory with Eidon being the representation of God.  The theme that seemed to run through the entire story was Abramm's unbelief that salvation could really be as simple as just accepting the offer.  He believed he had to make himself holy and prove himself worthy.  The symbolism was excellent and powerful.

That being said, I don't think I've ever spent so long trying to get through a book.  The book itself was very long (432 pages), and many times, the story was bogged down with too much detail and description.  By the time I finally reached the end of the story, I no longer remembered the characters who were re-introduced in the final chapters.  As intriguing as the plot was, I was just glad to finally be finished with the book.

Overall, I feel that the author wove an excellent story, but the story could have been told in fewer words.  The entire tale was drawn out, and to me, the story lost most of its appeal.  I believe this would be one of the few books for which I would enjoy the abridged version much more.  Less fluff; more meat.

This book was given to me as part of the review program for Waterbrook Multnomah.  The opinions expressed herein are my own.  I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Hidden Meaning Behind the 12 Days of Christmas

People often think of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as the days preceding the festival. Historically, Christmas is the season of the Christian Year for the days beginning on December 25 and lasting until January 6 (the Day of Epiphany) when the church celebrates the revelation of Christ as the light of the world and recalls the journey of the Magi. From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. During that era someone wrote 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without risk of persecution. The song has two levels of interpretation: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of the church. Each element in the carol is a code word for a religious reality.

The "partridge in a pear tree" is Jesus Christ.

The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.

The three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.

The four calling birds are the four Gospels.

The five gold rings recall the torah (Law) the first five books of the Old Testament.

The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.

The seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit.

The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.

The nine ladies dancing are the nine fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5).

The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

The eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in the Apostles Creed.

There you have it... the hidden meaning of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and the secret behind the song.

Monday, December 5, 2011

God's Story, Your Story: When His Becomes Yours by Max Lucado

Each of us is living out our own story.  For most of us, the characters have been revealed, the theme is pretty evident, and the setting, while it may change from time to time, is established.  The plot, however, can leave us bewildered and wondering if there is a reason for the chaos and confusion that surround us.  Who would write such a story?  What kind of writer would leave their main characters in such turmoil, facing one trial after another and dealing with insurmountable odds?  A good one!

We all know what makes up a good story.  Good versus evil.  Danger around every turn.  Tragedy and triumph.  Scenes that leave us wiping our tears or perched on the edge of our seats.  These traits merge together to form the perfect story -- that is, until we find ourselves as the main characters.  But never fear, for the Author of our story knows exactly how everything will work out in the end.  He has the story planned out, and it's not over until He writes, "The End".

I've never picked up a Max Lucado book that I didn't like, and this one was certainly no exception.  From page one until the final chapter, I was enthralled by the web of hope and encouragement Lucado weaves.  He equates our lives to a story and God as its author.  Each page demonstrates God's love and grace in helping us to live out our stories even when we don't understand the twists and turns.  Through the Scripture, and with his unrivaled wit, Lucado reminds us that God is in control.  He is not writing out our story; it's already written.  He knows the outcome and every trial we may face along the journey.  He knows and understands each character, and He has placed each one in the proper setting.  With every word, I was encouraged that not only does God know what I'm going through, but He also cares.

If I had to pick out one negative in the book it would be the way that Lucado blurs the rapture and the second coming of the Lord into one event instead of two distinct events.  I prefer a clearer distinction between the two, but the important fact was made quite clear:  Jesus is coming back, and those who are saved will rise up to meet Him in the air, and that is only the beginning of our eternal lives with Him.

If you're looking for the perfect gift for a loved one, offer them this item of hope, encouragement and comfort.  It's a must-read for Christians at any stage in their Christian walk.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Steps in the Darkness

With winter coming on rapidly and the time change having already taken place, Jason and I have been reminded to get off the hiking trails a lot sooner than normal.  At five o'clock, it may still look like day time, but within a half an hour, it gets dark. . .very dark!  The trick is knowing how much time to leave ourselves before beginning the trek back to the parking area.  It always takes a while to get used to the different times and seasons.  We may think we're leaving in plenty of time, but before we're halfway back, the sun disappears, and the trail becomes very difficult to follow.

Yes, unfortunately, we've spent many evenings picking our way along a trail with only two small flashlights to illuminate the path ahead.  Not only is the process difficult, but it's unnerving.  The darkness can make the woods a very creepy place to be, and when the beam of one of the flashlights shines on the eyes of one of the dogs, well, that just scares the daylights out of me (get it, daylight, ha ha. . . anyway. . .)

The thing I hate about flashlights is that they're great for seeing the step just in front of you but not much else.  Sure, you can shine it around, making things a little more visible, but for the most part, it's only good for the next step.

Many times in life, I feel like I'm walking in the dark with only a flashlight to light my way.  And just as the example above illustrates, only the step before me is illuminated.  I long to see the whole path.  I wish to see the entire way.  I would find comfort in examining the entire trail before setting my course.  But alas, only one step is visible.  And that, my friend, is why we must have faith.

God has set each of us on a course.  We may even have a destination in view.  The path, however, often remains a mystery.  God has provided us with everything we need to take the journey, but we must trust in Him to take one step after another.  Only with each step will the next step be revealed and the final destination be reached.  It's daunting.  It's downright scary.  It's tempting to turn back or to stand still, but neither of those options will benefit us.  Our only true choice is to carry on one step at a time, watching and waiting for God's light to illuminate the next step He would have us to take. 

Before long, we'll be out of the woods and headed home, where there is no darkness!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Greatest Deal of All Time

Last Friday, millions of shoppers left their homes in the middle of the night in search of the greatest deals. Many stood out in the rain and cold for hours as they waited for the shops to open. They braved the cold, the traffic, and the crowds in an effort to save money on this year's Christmas shopping.

I used to be one of those people, but not anymore. I have learned the joy of online shopping with free shipping, and I'll never go back to "the old way." Yes, while millions were freezing their bottoms off, I was sitting in bed reading an e-book. I was warm. I was comfortable. I was happy. For those who enjoy the thrill of the day, that's fine. I won't begrudge them that, but I prefer to stay in my warm bed.

I wonder, though, if sometimes we get so worked up about the latest and greatest deal that we forget the true "greatest" deal. What deal am I talking about? Salvation, of course. We didn't have to stand in line to get it. There wasn't a limited supply. We didn't have to get up early. We didn't have to fight the crowds. And best yet, we didn't need a credit card. Salvation is a precious gift, and while it didn't cost us a thing, let us not forget that it cost Jesus His life. Yes, the greatest deal of all time was when we traded our filthy rags of sin for those holy white robes of atonement. We gave Jesus our guilt and shame, and in return He gave us a home in Heaven. That's a deal you won't find in the Black Friday ads!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shelter in the Shadow

With the weather gradually turning cooler, I'm trying to take advantage of every opportunity to work outdoors.  I love to sit outside in the sun.  I can write or read.  Somehow, I seem to focus better when I'm surrounded by nature.  Mitch also loves the chance to run and play.  He digs holes, chases squirrels and races with the neighbor's dog along the fence line.  Tippy, on the other hand, is not terribly fond of the back yard.  Take her on a hike, she's happy.  Let her swim in the lake, she's content.  But send her to the back yard, and she acts as if I've sentenced her to some form of cruel and unusual punishment.  She reminds me of the giraffe on Madagascar, "Nature!  It's all over me!  Get it off!!!"

So when we're outside, I always know where to find her.  She is generally tucked securely behind my chair, resting in the shadow I cast.  While there, she is content enough to rest and seems more or less undisturbed by her surroundings.

As I watched her the other day, I was reminded of my need and desire to stay in my Master's shadow.  I long to find that peace and contentment that can only be found under the shadow of His wings.  I seek to be less disturbed by the world around me, and I know that is only possible if I abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Sometimes, I feel just like Tippy.  "The world!  It's all over me.  Get it off!!!!"  And so, just as she does, I seek shelter in the shadow.  I guess my fat, little beagle is smarter than I give her credit for.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.- Psalm 91:1-2

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

May I Never Forget to Be Thankful

And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. - Luke 17:11-19

My, my, my! How rude! How completely and totally ungrateful. I'm sure those healed lepers were anxious to go home and see their families, but certainly they could have spared a moment to say, "Thank you," right?

How about us? How often are we guilty of the same thing? So often we come to God with our expectations. We expect Him to work. We expect Him to meet our needs. We expect Him to answer our prayers in the way we see fit. When He doesn't, we get angry, we pout and complain. When He does meet our expectations, we often have no reaction. We're pleased that God did what we asked, but we don't voice that pleasure in the form of thanks. We expect so much and give thanks for so little. Shame on us!

Today, be thankful for all things, even the little things that don't seem like a big deal. Let's spend the day giving thanks and praising the Lord for who He is and for all He's done.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Four Reasons to Be Thankful

As we approach the holiday season, our minds turn to thoughts of our many blessings . . . or at least they should. When we turn on the news or listen to conversations around us, it doesn't seem like there's much to be thankful for. Wars. Layoffs. Economic crises. Violence. Greed. The world is becoming a very dark place, and in that darkness it becomes easy to forget how good God has been to us. Just like the children of Israel in Psalm 107, we gripe and complain about how bad things are and neglect to praise God for how He has blessed us. But in that blessed Psalm, God gives us four reminders of why we should be thankful.

1. He leads us in the way we need to go. - vs. 7
If we are faithful to follow the Lord's leading, we will stay in His will. If we are in His will, then all will be well. Does that mean no bad things will happen? No, but it means we will have peace knowing that we are where God wants us to be.

2. He brightens our days. - vs. 14
Ever feel like you're surrounded by darkness? Ever feel like there's no light to be found? I have, but the truth is Jesus is the Light. He can brighten even our darkest days if we'll allow Him to. Spend a few minutes with Him and see if you don't notice a ray of light on the horizon.

3. He speaks to us - vs. 20
What a privilege to know that the God of this world takes time to speak to His children! He has given us His Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. He speaks to us through messages and songs. He nudges our hearts and whispers to us in His still, small voice. God still speaks. The question is, "Are we listening?"

4. He calms either our storms or our souls - vs. 29
The McKameys sing a song entitled "Sometimes He Calms Me." The message of the song is that sometimes it is God's will for us to go through a storm, but during those times in which He will not calm the storm, He can calm us. He gives us sweet peace to make it through the trial. He knows what we need, and as much as we don't like it, sometimes we need the storms. But even during those times, we need to not stress, for God can calm our troubled hearts.

I encourage you to take time to read through this entire Psalm, but if nothing else, meditate on these four points. God deserves our thankfulness. He deserves our praise. Whether we praise Him through the sunshine or praise Him through the storm, let's remember to give all glory to Him for He alone is worthy!

Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindess of the LORD. - Psalm 107:43

Friday, November 18, 2011

If I Had Known

Typically, Wednesday is my errand day.  If there's shopping to do, it gets done on Wednesday.  It just works for me.  This past Wednesday, however, was nasty.  It rained all day.  Thunderstorms darkened the sky, and I had no intention of going out.  I didn't need anything that badly.  I decided it was the perfect day to pull my laptop into my lap and work from the bed.  I didn't even get out of my pajamas until it was time to get ready for church.  In this instance, procrastination seemed to be the way to go.

Imagine my dismay when I awoke Thursday morning to find the same dreary skies and pouring rain.  "Well, that's just great!" I complained.  "The rain was supposed to be over.  That's why I waited."  Not only was it rainy, but it was cold.  At least Wednesday had been warm.  But because I had put my errands off, I now had to go out in the cold rain.  I was not pleased.

If I had known it was going to be so cold and rainy on Thursday morning, I would have gone ahead and run my errands on Wednesday.  But I had no way of knowing.  All I could do was rely on the forecast, and we all know how reliable that truly is.

Wouldn't life be easier if we knew what tomorrow held?  If we knew what was in our future, wouldn't it make our present a little easier to deal with?  But we don't know, and that's why we have to trust the One Who does.  That's why it's not wise to make decisions on our own -- because we have no idea what the future holds.  But God does. 

Plowing through life without heeding God's direction can lead to much worse than soggy shoes and goosebumps.  Let's ask God what He wants us to do and follow His leadership.  Not only does He know what tomorrow holds, but He's already there.  And with such knowledge, He can help us make the right decisions.  We need only to listen and obey!

I'm happy to report the storms abated and the skies cleared. . .on my way home.  But hey, I'll take sunny skies anytime!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Nature of God by Mona Hanna

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:35-39.

In her book, The Nature of God, author Mona Hanna explores the limitless depths of God's love and acceptance.  She details the nature of God by describing His mercy, forgiveness, patience and grace.  Each of the fifty short devotions delves into a deeper understanding of the attributes of God.  We are reminded that even when we feel unlovable, God is there.  His love in unending.  His mercies are new every morning.  His faithfulness is without end.

The book is well-written, and the structure allows for the reader to begin each day with one of the short devotions.  What better way to start each day than with a reminder of God's love!

Doctrinally, the book had a few areas that troubled me.  There were a couple of topics on which the line between truth and error was blurred.  For example, many times God's acceptance is described in such a way that it seems God accepts our sins as well as ourselves.  I Peter 1:16 says, "Be ye holy; for I am holy."  It does not say, "Do the best you can, and that will be good enough for God."  Yes, God accepts us as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way.  He longs for us to grow in Him.  He will forgive our sins, but He will not accept them or excuse them.

Another area that brought me grief was how the author made the relationship between God and the Christian seem like a one-sided arrangement.  From what I read, I inferred that Christians can live their lives as they see fit, and as long as their happy, God is happy.  They are not required to be separate from the world and do "Christian" things.  I disagree.  I Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."  The word "Christian" means "Christ-like".  Everything a Christian does should be Christ-like and for the glory of God.  Yes, God wants us to be happy, but He also wants us to follow His plan for our lives.

Whether or not these blurred lines were intentional, I do not know.  I may have totally misunderstood what the author was trying to say, but if that is the case, there needs to be more clarity. For stronger Christians who have studied the Bible and are firmly grounded in their faith, this book might be a beneficial addition to their libraries.  For weaker Christians, I fear there are too many gray areas for me to recommend it.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Have a Plan!

I'm a planner.  I like to make plans and stick to them.  I enjoy a routine.  I don't feel bound by it or suffocated by it.  On the contrary, I relish the freedom it gives me.  By having a plan established, I don't have to waste my time walking in circles, trying to figure out what to do next.  It's all laid out for me.  All I have to do is follow the plan.

My love for plans goes far beyond just my writing.  I like to plan out my day, my meals, my errands, the songs I'll play for the church offeratories, and anything else that needs to fit into my overwhelmingly hectic schedule.  I try to even plan for the unexpected because I just never know when I'll get a last-minute phone call from someone requesting my time for something. 

But the hardest area for me to plan is my finances.  Jason gets paid hourly.  If the work is there, he gets a good check.  If the work's not there, well, that's when we really tighten our belts.  I'm paid by the job or by the sale (in regards to my books and e-books).  Again, when there's work or people are in the mood to buy books, I get a little pay.  When the opposite occurs, we tighten our belts a little more.  It's impossible to budget because I never know how much money will be coming in on any given week.  For that reason, I have to plan.  I have to look ahead and see which bills are coming, when they're coming, how much they are, and whether or not I can afford to go to the grocery store this week or wait for the next paycheck.  It's a depressing procedure, for in trying to plan, I'm forced to focus on a very unpleasant reality.  That focus always leads me to the same place:  fear and worry.

You see, I'm still struggling to find the balance between planning for tomorrow and worrying about tomorrow.  Planning is good; worrying is not.  There's nothing wrong with being prepared and organized.  In fact, there's everything right about it.  The Bible says that God is not the author of confusion.  He does things in an orderly fashion, and we are to be like Him.  The key is to seek His will, plan accordingly and then leave the results up to Him.  I'm okay with the first two parts, but I really struggle with the last.  Even when I think I've left the results up to Him, I find myself wondering, "But what if the mortgage comes out before the next paycheck goes in?"  That's where the following verse comes into play:  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (II Corinthians 10:5)

Bringing every thought into obedience.  That means catching those sinful thoughts, those thoughts of worry and fear, and saying, "No, I will not harbor you. Get out. You have no place here."  It's the process of getting our thoughts under control, which is important because when our thoughts are out of control, our emotions follow.  Worrisome thoughts lead to discouragement, depression, resentment and unthankfulness, among other things.  We cannot let these thoughts run wild.  They must be expelled.

Before I wrap up this post, I want to make it clear that God has been good to me and my family.  Despite our fluctuating income, we have never gone hungry or done without anything we need.  God has always provided, and I know He will continue to do so.  Yes, even when I've not been faithful to Him, He's been faithful to me.  That being said, I would appreciate your prayers as I seek to find the balance between planning for tomorrow and worrying about tomorrow.  My prayers will be with you as well!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Yes, You Matter

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. - Luke 16:19-31

This is a bittersweet passage in that we are told of Lazarus passing on to Paradise and the rich man passing into hell.  It's important to understand that the rich man was not cast into hell because he was rich.  No, it was because he was trusting in those riches to get him into Paradise.  But no matter how good or how rich he was, he didn't have the key to entrance into Paradise.  He didn't know Christ.  He had not accepted the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

What I find so fascinating about this passage, however, is that the beggar is named while the rich man remains anonymous.  That's backwards from the way things are done today, isn't it?  The wealthy are known.  The names of the famous grace the covers of magazines.  Many people today are striving to make a name for themselves.  Why?  Because no one likes to go unnoticed.  Everyone likes to be recognized for who or what they are.  We all like to feel at least somewhat significant in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, if it had been left up to man to write the Bible, I believe this story would read somewhat differently.  The facts would be the same, but I think the rich man would have been named and the beggar would have been left anonymous.  Thankfully, the writing was not left to man.  Sure, God used human instruments, but He told them what to say.  He specified for Luke to name Lazarus and not the rich man.  Why?  Could it be that He wants to remind us that no one is insignificant in His eyes?  Could this passage serve as a reminder that we are all special to Him?  Could it point out that it isn't wealth or fame that makes someone "stand out" but those who have accepted Christ?

To this day, the rich man remains anonymous.  Until we reach Heaven, we'll never know the man's name.  But we will always know Lazarus, the name of the lowly beggar.

Perhaps you're going through a time where you're wondering if anything you say or do really matters.  It matters to God.  You may be going through a spell where you feel lost, alone and insignificant.  Never fear; the eyes of Heaven are watching.  No deed goes unnoticed.  No tear is missed.  No cry is unheard.  God loves you, and He knows your name.  Never forget that!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Provisions, Prophets and Promises

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. -- I Kings 17:1-9

There is some very important information in these few verses, and it can easily be missed. I know I didn't notice it until my pastor pointed it out a couple of weeks ago.

God commanded Elijah to go to the brook and wait for further instruction. But before Elijah left, God said "I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there." Notice that--"I have commanded," not "I will command." God had already made provision for Elijah. Before the prophet even realized he had a need, God had met that need.

Now, if you'll notice, in verse 9, God commands Elijah to go to Zarephath. He tells the prophet, "I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee." Did you catch it again? "I have commanded" means that it was already done. God knew what Elijah would be needing, and He met those needs.

I know that many people right now are going through difficult times. It seems like darkness is all around us and our prayers are going unheard. Don't despair. Just as with Elijah, God knows our needs, and He will meet those needs in His time. It's hard, and often, it's confusing, but we must have faith. God will pass by at the right time!

Excerpt from Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead
now available in e-book format for only $2.99.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stained Glass Hearts by Patsy Clairmont

Can people be likened to objects?  Best-selling author, Patsy Clairmont, seems to think so. Clairmont likens us to stained glass windows, molded together into something beautiful despite the shattered fragments we possess.  In fact, the subtitle of Stained Glass Hearts sums it up masterfully: "Seeing Life from a Broken Perspective."  We've all experienced brokenness of some kind -- broken hearts, broken dreams, broken families, etc.  In her witty style and conversational tone, Clairmont discusses the issues of brokenness and the beauty that can be attained when we allow God to re-create us using those jagged shards.

This was not one of Patsy Clairmont's most humorous books.  In fact, because of the seriousness of the topic, there were times I found myself crying rather than laughing.  Nevertheless, the book brought a smile to my lips and peace to my heart.  Through her heartwarming tales and personal revelations, the author reminded me that I'm not alone in my journey through the Christian life.  Her stories of struggle and triumph encouraged me to face my own troubles head on instead of running away in fear.

In addition to her delightful writing, Patsy included an "Art Gallery" at the end of each chapter.  Each gallery contained information and links to paintings, sculptures, music and Scripture related to the topic of the chapter.  I discovered some new favorites and was reacquainted with some old.  Each time I set the book down, I felt renewed and refreshed, and while I would have loved to have read it all in one sitting, I found that reading only one chapter at a time gave me time in between to meditate on what the chapter taught me.

If you've ever experienced brokenness, you'll be able to relate to the stories within this book.  It's a must read for every Christian who's ever asked the question, "Am I the only one who feels like this?"

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> 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, November 4, 2011

Stillness and Smiles

Each year in November, Jason's parents (who are photographers) gather the immediate family together for a group photo to be placed on the year's Christmas card.  By immediate family, I mean Ed and Tina (my in-laws), Brad (Jason's brother), Pearl (their dog), Jason and I, and both are dogs, Tippy and Mitch.  The entire ordeal is comical and frustrating all at the same time.  It is nearly an impossible feat to get all five people and three dogs looking at the camera at the same time, and getting everyone to smile is like trying to cut an oak tree down with a butter knife.

This year, because the weather has been so pleasant and the foliage so divine, it was decided we should do pictures outside.  From the moment I heard the plan, I knew we were in for a LONG day.  For my dogs, outside time means hiking, especially since we went to a state park for the pictures.  We went for a car ride and attached leashes.  In the minds of my furry children, they were going hiking, and they were excited about it.  The last thing they wanted to do was to sit still for the camera. . . especially Mitch (aka the Energizer Bunny).

It took every bit of effort and patience I possessed to get that dog to be still long enough to take a picture.  He ran, hopped, flopped, jumped.  He wanted to lay on his back and get his belly rubbed.  He wanted to face his mommy and daddy instead of the camera.  He was confused and agitated.  He didn't want to be still; he wanted to hike!  He wanted to commence with his plans for the day, and those plans did not involve staring into a funny-looking black box and being blinded by its bright flash.

Oh, how much I understand what Mitch was feeling, for like him, I do not like to be still.  I don't like for someone or something to waylay my plans.  I don't appreciate feeling confused and agitated when things are not going as I had foreseen.  My natural tendency, just like Mitch, is to try to go about my plans anyway.  I'll run, hop, flop and jump, struggling to have my own way, heedless to the Master's  pleas to be still. 

In my eagerness to do what I want to do, I forget that God has brought me to this place for a reason.  We took the dogs to the park so that we could capture their likeness in a picture we could share with others.  God has brought me to this place for the same reason, only He doesn't want to capture my likeness, but His own likeness within me.  He wants to instill that likeness within me so that I can share it with others.  But for that to be done, sometimes I just have to be still.  Even when I don't understand.  Even when I'm frustrated.  Even when I think I know a better way.

You see, what Mitch didn't know was that I had stowed the backpack in the back of the truck early the morning of pictures.  Jason and I had every intention of taking the dogs for a hike once the photo session was done.  The reward had been planned and was only a moment away.  How much sooner could we have begun the hike had Mitch been more cooperative in the first place?  How much sooner could he have gained his reward?  How much sooner can I gain mine if I'll only learn to be still?

Lord, I ask You today to show me Your will,
But above all else, please help me to be still.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sophie, Pay Attention by Susan Barnett Braun

As a teacher of nine years, I understand the difficulty of finding good stories for children. Many of the stories being written today are not appropriate for young audiences, and some of them are not appropriate for audiences of any age. Disrespect, bad language, and bad attitudes run rampant in many of today's stories. Unfortunately, many Christian works, while clean and free of negative traits, have a tendency to be dry or predictable. "Sophia, Pay Attention" is like a breath of fresh air to the Christian children's market.

Ms. Braun does an excellent job of weaving together a realistic tale with a familiar Bible story. The main character, Sophia, makes the reader laugh and at times, feel sorry for her. In a sense, I believe every reader, young or old, can relate to Sophie's desire to stay more focused yet falling short of that goal. Her character is lovable and a joy to follow around through the wonderful tale of her efforts and the important lesson she learns from the Bible via her Sunday School teacher.

This book would make a wonderful addition to any library for young readers. The story is easy to read and short enough to be read in one sitting. But I think what I love most is that the book offers more than mere entertainment. It offers an insight into how Biblical principles are not outdated and can be applied to our lives today. Even a young child can find valuable truths in the Word of God and apply those truths to his own life. "Sophie, Pay Attention" fits the bill of being a book that both teaches and entertains.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Decisions in the Dark

Today I would like to deal with a very sobering topic from a lesson I taught in Sunday School this past weekend.  The entire lesson was from my newest book (the one that's not even finished yet) called "Footprints on the Water."  God revealed several interesting nuggets for the lesson, and I was eager to share them with the class and later with you.  But as I prayed over what portion to post this morning, I strongly felt the Lord leading towards the following excerpt from the story of Paul and Silas in prison.  I don't know why He chose this portion or who it's for, but I pray it will be a blessing to someone.

And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. - Acts 16:27

Poor guy! He was just trying to do his job, although I don't think he was actually supposed to be sleeping, but that's another thought for another day. This poor soldier is awakened from his sleep, no doubt by the earthquake, and the first thing he notices is that all of the cell doors are standing open. He naturally assumes the prisoners have escaped. Why wouldn't they? Why, indeed! In his forlorn state, his first instinct is to take out his sword and end his life.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, yet sadly is the only solution some can see when surrounded by darkness. Statistics show that suicide is attempted once every 40 seconds in the US alone. For a myriad of reasons, people see death as their only option or escape. The Philippian jailer felt the same way. We can only imagine the thoughts that must have been running rampant through his mind, but I feel they were thoughts many of us can relate to.

I'm such a failure. Despite his desire to do his job, the jailer thought he had failed, and failure is a powerful thing. It can sap you of your strength and your joy. It can bring about feelings of worthlessness. It is a popular tool in Satan's workshop, one that's proven its effectiveness. It's a shame the jailer didn't have the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Yes, failure is hard. Sure, it's difficult to get back up, dust ourselves off and try again. But our effort is not in vain, and we must remember that we are not walking alone.

My family would be better off without me. I often wonder how many times these have been someone's last words. They messed up (as we are all prone to do), but rather than bring disgrace to their family, they decide to end it all. The cause seems noble, but I guarantee you that if you asked that person's loved ones what they thought about it, they would tell you that they would much rather have lived with the shame than lost their loved one. In the heat of the moment, in the midnight hour, everything seems so dark and hopeless. That is not the time to make a decision. Wait for the dawn. If the jailer had waited until the light of dawn filled the prison, he would have seen that the prisoners were still there. He wouldn't have needed Paul's intervention. No matter how hopeless the situation may seem, give it time, and talk to your family. I'm sure they're willing to walk the road with you.

I have nothing left to live for. At this point, the jailer realizes that as soon as his superiors find out the prisoners have escaped, they're going to kill him. Mercy was not shown to those who failed to do their jobs. From the jailer's point of view, there was no reason to live. What he didn't see, however, was God's point of view. God wasn't done with this man. He still had a plan, a job that only this man could accomplish. From God's point of view, this man had so much to live for. When it seems as if you've lost everything and there's nothing worth living for, remember that you're only seeing from one point of view. God still has a plan for you. He's not done with you yet. He has a job that only you can do, and He'll give you everything you need to accomplish that job. Don't quit on God. He didn't quit on you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do You See God at Work?

I heard something a couple of weeks ago that truly blessed me. I had heard it once before, and I may have even written about it before, but it's been on my mind a lot lately, so I'd like to share it with you.

We all know the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were three Hebrew children who stood up for what they believed in and faced a fiery furnace as a result. I want you to read the following passage carefully:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, [and] spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, [and] spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come [hither]. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. Daniel 3:23-26

Did you see anywhere in that passage where the three Hebrew children saw God in the midst of their fiery trial? No? I didn't either. We know that Nebuchadnezzar could see God walking through the fire, but could Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They knew God was with them because they believed in His promise that He would never leave them nor forsake them, but did they actually see Him walking with them in the midst of their trial? We may never know the answer until we get to Heaven, but I think there's a powerful lesson here.

Have you ever been through a trial where you felt you were all alone and no one cared? Have you ever struggled to see God in the midst of your troubles? Have you ever questioned if God is really working on your behalf? Honestly, I have.

For me, the past few weeks have been filled with unanswered questions, doubts, worries, and fear. At times, I've even asked God why things in life had to be so difficult. I'm still waiting on that answer. But, by thinking on this story of the three Hebrew children, I realize they must have felt the same way I do now. They stood up for what was right. They did what they knew to be right, and the next thing they knew they were being thrown into a literal "hell on earth." Though their faith was strong, I'm sure at some point they wandered why life had to be so hard and why God wasn't there to help them.

Although I feel I face many of life's fiery trials alone, I can have faith that God is with me. I can know that even though I may not see Him walking with me through the fire, He's still there. That's what faith is all about--believing without seeing. The real blessing comes in knowing that others will be able to see His presence in the grace, strength, and peace He gives me through the difficult times. Nebuchadnezzar and his entire kingdom were changed because of what he saw that day. When we allow God to work through our lives (even the tough times), we can make a difference in the lives of those who witness His presence. Will you allow God to work through you today?

(Excerpt from Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead, now available for $2.99 in all e-book formats.)

Click here to order from Amazon. (Kindle version)
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Heeding the Instructions

A rather embarrassing thing happened to me last Sunday morning.  It was not the first time I was embarrassed in my role as the pianist for our church, nor do I think it will be the last; nevertheless, I hate being embarrassed.  It took hours for my complexion to return to its normal color instead of resembling a rather extreme sunburn.  Allow me to set the scene.

We had just finished our fellowship time where we all go around and shake hands while recorded music plays softly in the background.  I make a habit not to wander too far from the piano lest I find myself stuck in the aisle when it's time to move on to the next song.  Seeing the song leader returning to the platform, I weaved my way to the piano and looked around for the guitarists to give them the key for the next song.  They were both halfway down the side aisle, trapped by a flurry of people trying to greet one another before they ran out of time.

The song leader began announcing the song.  I made sure my music was in the right place, looked around once again for the guitarists, and upon spotting them approaching, mouthed the key of the song.   That done, the song leader gave me "the nod" to begin the introduction of the song.  The church sang through the first verse and chorus of my favorite hymn, "When We All Get to Heaven."  I looked up at the song leader who looked toward the congregation and opened his mouth.  I struck the opening notes for the second verse of the song, then froze.  No one was singing, but rather everyone had turned to stare at me.  In my embarrassment, I burst into laughter.  The preacher declared that we needed to go ahead and sing the last verse since I was so eager to play it.  They sang.  I played, but all the while, I would have loved nothing more than to have disappeared.  I can only imagine the different shades of red my face had become.

After church, I found out that the song leader had indeed said that we were only going to sing one verse of the song.  I had been so busy and distracted by trying to give the key to the guitarists that I hadn't heard that important bit of information.  When I saw the song leader look out at the people and open his mouth, I naturally assumed he was getting ready to sing.  He wasn't.  He was getting ready to call the ushers forward.  My bad!  I can tell you this, though. . .I listened VERY carefully to everything that was said the rest of the service.

The Bible is full of many wise and valuable instructions.  It informs us how to live, how to walk, how to fight the world and Satan, how to love, how to forgive, how to grow in Christ and so much more.  Every word has meaning.  Every sentence is part of a paragraph, every paragraph part of a story.  Every story part of the knowledge God wants us to have.  No word is insignificant.  Every part has meaning.  Failure to heed any instruction contained within, no matter how brief, can lead to embarrassment and much worse.

The Bible is God's holy Word.  It is a gift.  Are we heeding the instructions contained within, or are we, like I was Sunday morning, too distracted with other things (even good things)?  Take it from someone who knows. . . it pays to pay attention!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Land Beyond the Portal by J.S. Bailey

Alone in an old house with no connection to the outside world, Laura replays the tragic accident over and over in her head.  The ring of a phone startles her from her thoughts and forces her to run toward the source of the ringing.  In her haste, she tumbles down the stairs, knocking herself unconscious.  When she awakes, she has no idea who she is, where she is, or how she ended up at the bottom of the stairs.  Little does she know, however, that her journey of intrigue has only just begun.

In her efforts to search the house, Laura stumbles upon a portal that transports her to a quaint village that harbors its own secrets and mysteries.  Overall, the people seem kind enough, but there is an undercurrent of malice and discontentment that forces Laura to seek out the truth, even if it means putting her own life on the line.

J.S. Bailey created a masterpiece with this spell-weaving tale of mystery, fantasy and science fiction.  The book was a real page-turner, and each page unfolded a new twist that made me cry, "Huh?"  Bailey literally dumps you in the middle of a story, giving you enough information to follow along, but not enough to figure out what's going to happen next.  And nothing could have prepared me for the ending!  Just when I thought the story was about to wrap up, Bailey threw in one last surprise.  The Land Beyond the Portal was one of those books that I just couldn't put down, but when I was done, I was sorry to have finished it so quickly.

I don't think I've ever read a book with such a thorough and well-balanced blend of Christianity, mystery, fantasy and science fiction.  Typically books fall into one genre or another, but somehow Bailey pulled off a blending that is sure to satisfy readers of all ages and tastes.

The only negative comment I have about the book is that a couple of the characters (even the "good guys") occasionally took the Lord's name in vain.  In my mind, that is the way of the world, and a Christian should know better than to disrespect God by using His name in such a way.  I feel it has no place in a Christian work, for as Christians, we should be set apart from the world.

All in all, however, if you're looking for a clean book with detailed characters and an intriguing plot, The Land Beyond the Portal is for you.  Get a copy today, but make sure you have plenty of time for reading, for once you start, you won't want to put it down!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When Life Gets Gooey

A couple of days ago, I decided to make a pan of brownies for my incredibly sweet husband.  He had been going out of his way to help me extra around the house, and I wanted to do something for him in return. (Yes, that's right, my main purpose for making the brownies was for him, not me.  Got it?)  Anyway, I mixed up the brownie mix according to the directions, baked them for the proper amount of time, checked them with a toothpick to ensure they were actually done, and pulled them out to cool.

Hours later, when I went to cut the brownies, I realized these brownies had some major issues.  Typically, when cutting brownies, I place my knife at the edge of the pan and simply drag it across, slicing the brownies into nice little squares.  However, when I attempted to do that with this pan of brownies, the brownies followed the knife.  These were the gooiest brownies I've ever seen in my life.  They were cooked all the way through; they're just extremely gooey.  After several attempts at cutting them, I finally gave up and told Jason that we'll just have to spoon them out.  How odd is that? (They still taste really good, just in case you're wondering.)

As I sat there that first day, spooned brownie in hand, I only laughed and said, "These certainly didn't come out the way I expected them too."  Boy, is that an understatement when it comes to life!  My life is not what I imagined it would one day be.  In some ways, it's much better than I ever thought imaginable, but in other ways, there are some things I would change if I could.  Yes, if I were in control of my life, things would be different. . .but I don't know that that would be a good thing.

I know I've said this many times, but it bears repeating.  God sees the entire picture of what our lives can be and what they should be.  He created the road map for each and every life.  He knows which roads we should take and which decisions we should make.  He sees both the beginning and the end.  All we see are the immediate circumstances surrounding us.  When life hands us something we're unprepared for, our first instinct is to throw up our hands and cry, "I can't handle this!  This isn't what I was expecting."  But I think the best response would be for us to trade our knife for a spoon.  No, it doesn't work as well.  Sure, it can get messy.  But in the end, you'll still get to enjoy the fruits (or chocolate) of your labor.

When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.  When it hands you gooey brownies, grab a spoon.  Make the best of each day and every circumstance.  After all, God means it for our good.

Spoon, anyone?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feeling Mighty F.I.N.E.

You know how sometimes you just have "one of those days"? Well, for me, last week was full of "those days". It seemed like everything that could go wrong did. (Of course, that's not really how it was; it just seemed that way at the time.) One little thing after another turned sour, taking my attitude right along with it. By Friday, I was pleading with God, "Please let this be a good day. I have a lot on my plate today, and I need everything to go right." It didn't.

I had several errands to run, including picking up the decorations for a bridal shower I was to decorate for Friday evening. As I set out Friday morning, the decorations were the least of my worries. I had already scouted the store and picked out the items I wanted. All I had to do was purchase them. In addition, I had to find the tablecloths, but that was no big deal . . . or so I thought. I had no idea that finding round, plastic, white tablecloths was like finding a needle in a haystack. I went from store to store. Most only sold rectangular ones, but those that did sell the round ones sold them for three times the price and didn't have enough to meet my needs. In a panic, I called the lady who usually decorates for our church functions. "Where do you find round tablecloths?" I asked her. She referred me to a place and told me she was out running errands herself and had to go right by there. She offered to pick them up for me and drop them off at the church on her way home. Grateful for her assistance, I hung up the phone and muttered, "Finally!" A few minutes later, she called back to inform me that the store was out of white tablecloths. I felt like screaming!

And so the day went. I couldn't find what I needed. Nothing I wanted was on sale. I couldn't find a decent parking space to save my life. Straw. Straw. Straw. By the end of the day Friday, my camel was looking very weary! The funny thing is that I must have had fifty people during the course of the day say, "Hi, how are you doing?" Did they really want to know, or were they just being nice? Either way, I figured they didn't need to hear my poor, pitiful tale. Besides, I didn't think I could get through it time and time again. So, I gave my usual reply. "Fine." Now before you accuse me of being a liar, allow me to explain. When I said "Fine", others naturally assumed I meant that all was going well, but that's not at all what I meant. In her book, "From Clutter to Clarity," Nancy Twigg gives an excellent definition of "fine."  

When people say "fine," what they really mean is that they are Frustrated, Irritated, Neurotic, and Exhausted. Look around. . .We may not be neurotic, but many of us are running on fumes. Every day, we are stretched taught like a rubber band waiting to snap. Demands from our spouses, children, employers, friends, neighbors, and church--there never seems to be enough of ourselves to go around. In trying to please everyone, we end up depleted and depressed, overtaxed and overwhelmed.

So, time after time on Friday, I smiled my secret smile and said, "I'm fine," and I knew exactly what I meant.  By Saturday, however, my attitude had caught up with me.  I found myself suffering from the first migraine I've had in months, maybe even years.  My head pounded.  My stomach flip-flopped.  My entire body felt like it was made of trembling jelly.  I was too sick to enjoy the bridal shower I had decorated for, too sick to spend any time my my husband on his only day off , and too sick to rebuke myself for having such a lousy attitude.

My purpose in sharing this post with you today is to remind you of a powerful lesson.  Not only it is wrong to have a bad attitude, but it's also painful.  Bad attitudes create stress.  Stress wreaks havoc on the body.  You know the verse, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine"?  Well, the opposite is true, as well.  An angry heart doeth bad like a sickness.  I don't know about you, but I suffer from enough health problems as it is.  I don't wish to add any extra.  So I need to watch my attitude.

Are you feeling fine today, or are you feeling F.I.N.E.?  Be careful.  I can assure you, you could feel much worse.  I know I did!

Oh, one final word of advice.  If you need round, plastic, white tablecloths for an event, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to find them.  You'll be glad you did!

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. - Proverbs 4:23

Monday, October 17, 2011

Faith Comes First

The next time you have the chance, read through the gospels in your Bible, paying close attention to the miracles. Something caught my attention the other day while reading through the book of Matthew.

The woman with the issue of blood was healed when she touched the hem of Christ's garment.  Why did she do that?  Jesus answers that question when he says, "Thy faith hath made thee whole."  She believed that just touching Him could heal her.

The paralytic was healed when his four friends, believing that Jesus could heal him, let him down through the roof.

The ten lepers were healed only after they followed Christ's command to go and shew themselves to the priest.  They took a huge risk by going into the city.  Because of the laws concerning lepers,  they could have been stoned going there in their condition.  However, they obeyed in faith, and along the way they were healed.

The Syrophenician woman's daughter was healed when she approached Jesus and requested that He heal her.  Jesus paid her a great compliment by saying, "O woman, great is thy faith:  be it unto thee even as thou wilt."

The centurion (yes, a Roman centurion) came to Jesus asking for healing for his servant.  Listen to what Jesus says about him:  "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."  Wow!

Do you see what these miracles (along with  many others) have in common?  They didn't occur until after the faith was displayed.  Each person came to Him, believing that He could do what they asked of Him.  Do we do the same?  Could it be that you've been asking God for a miracle, but are disappointed time and time again when it doesn't come?  It may be that what you're asking for is not part of God's will for your life.  Or it may be that He's waiting for a little evidence of faith.  I think how we approach the Lord makes a big difference in how our requests are handled.

Without faith it is impossible to please God. - Hebrews 11:6

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lessons of the Pencil

A pencil maker told the pencil 5 important lessons just before putting it in the box :
  1. Everything you do will always leave a mark.
  2. You can always correct the mistakes you make.
  3. What is important is what is inside of you.
  4. In life, you will undergo painful sharpenings which will only make you better.
  5. To be the best pencil, you must allow yourself to be held and guided by the hand that holds you.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When I Feel I'm Going Under

A friend of mine recently posted the above cartoon on Facebook.  When I saw it, I was immediately reminded of myself.  What's sad is that my husband directed me to the exact same cartoon with the message, "This reminded me of you."  Does he know me or what?

The truth is I've been in a spiritual battle for the past couple of weeks.  I've been bombarded with weapons I didn't even know Satan possessed.  I've grown tired and weary, and to be honest, there have been a few times when I just wanted to give up.  I've prayed.  I've cried.  I've read my Bible.  I've quoted Scripture.  Yet, the attacks keep coming.  It seems I barely have time to recover from one battle before another is beginning.

Some kind-hearted onlookers have tried to help by saying things like, "Well, consider it a good thing.  It just means you must be doing God's will.  Satan wouldn't waste his time with you if you were out of God's will."  I understand what they're saying, and I appreciate their help.  But truthfully, it doesn't make the battles any easier.

Too often, over the course of the past couple of weeks, I've felt just like the little girl in the cartoon above.  I've felt scared.  I've been paralyzed by the unknown.  I've felt like I was sinking and like I would soon go under for the very last time.  Yet, every day, through some means or another, God has reminded me that He is holding me up.  Through a verse, a devotion, a song, a sermon, and even a cartoon, my loving Father has assured me that He won't let me sink.

I know the battle's not over, but through His reassurance, God has given me some new weapons to use.  With Him, we will claim the victory.  Praise the Lord that "when the waves are over my head, they're under His feet."

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. - Psalm 56:3

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead

The Realms Thereunder is a Christian fantasy, and the first in a new series entitled, "The Ancient Earth Trilogy."  It is the story of two children, Daniel and Freya, who discover a hidden world of unique and interesting characters that dwell in tunnels within the earth.  When the two children wander off during a field trip, they quickly find themselves on the adventure of their lives.  Yet, the escapade is not entirely pleasant, for the lands in the center of the earth are at war.  Daniel sees the clash as an opportunity to do something important and to become a hero.  Freya wants nothing more than to return home to her normal life.  The book tells of their journey both in the present and the past.

When I chose to read this book for a review, I wasn't entirely sure if I would like it or not.  I enjoy a good fantasy (providing it doesn't get dark), so I felt it was worth a try.  What I discovered was that the plot and characters have a lot of potential.  Overall, Lawhead has a good storyline, but I feel he could have told the story in fewer words.  The story was burdened with excessive description and a lot of filler that didn't have any bearing on the story.  In addition, the constant bouncing back and forth from past to present and from character to character made it very confusing.

To be honest, if I hadn't agreed to read the book in its entirety, I would have put it down before I reached the halfway mark.  I kept waiting for it to get interesting, but it really didn't pull me in until the last few chapters.  This being the first book in a trilogy, the story really doesn't end.  That being said, I'm not sure how many loose ends the author intended to leave, but I felt that several things were truly odd, and I have yet to figure out where they actually fit into the story.

Lastly, for a Christian fantasy, I didn't see anything in the story that distinguished the book as Christian.  On the contrary, there were a few words and phrases that I felt were inappropriate for a book in the Christian market.

I'm not saying that I hated the book or that I would never read anything else by this author.  However, I prefer a clean book with lots of meat and less filler.  Good story.  Great potential.  But not a compelling read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> 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.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Coming, Going, or Staying?

I was reading a Christian fantasy this morning, and a certain chapter hit home with me.  Overall, the book has been quite uninteresting.  In fact, if it weren't for a review, I would have set it aside by now.  You'll hear more about this later, but for now, I wanted to share with you something that I did get out of the book.

The last chapter I read was an encounter with three different groups of gnomes.  The first group was content to sit in the middle of a cave filled with tunnels and go nowhere.  Their philosophy was that they weren't either happy or sad where they were, and if they left and ended up somewhere they didn't want to be, they would be much worse off, so it was better to just stay put.  The second group loved to explore, but they were very indecisive.  They would barely explore the beginnings of a tunnel before they would decide that maybe they should try a different tunnel instead.  Thus, they had explored the beginnings of most of the tunnels but had no idea where any of them led.  The third group explored the tunnels to their fullest extent and made maps along the way so they could keep track of where they had been and where each tunnel led.

As I read, the tale was both comical and convicting.  The question soared through my mind:  which group of gnomes am I most like?  Am I content to stay where I am in life, neither happy or sad, unproductive but never having to take a risk?  Do I wander around aimlessly, never finishing the things I start and always second-guessing the Lord's will for my life?   Or am I willing to explore the open doors set before me, following the map (the Bible) that God has given me to guide my way?

The more I thought about it, the more I felt I resembled the second group of gnomes.  I thought about the many projects I felt the Lord was leading me to complete that now sit unfinished on my hard drive or in my office.  I thought about the many times I forsook my calling to chase after the latest scheme or money-making effort because I felt I wasn't contributing enough financially to our family.  I thought about the many times I started down the same path again and again.  Yes, to my dismay, I related the best with the second group.  But I don't have to stay that way, and I don't intend to.

What about you?  Where are you in life?  Which group of gnomes do you resemble most, and are you happy about your findings?  If not, rest assured that we can grow.  We can become better Christians.  We can learn to trust more and to follow better.  Our only limit is our unwillingness.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Poem to Share

Today, I would like to share with you a poem from the book, Poems to Ponder for God's Glory.  This book is by first-time author, Irene Collins.  I had the opportunity to meet Irene at her book signing a few weeks ago.  It was a true joy to sit down with a fellow author and discuss the pleasures and pains of writing, publishing and marketing.  I purchased Irene's book, and I've been enjoying her poetry.  I would like to share one of my favorites with you.


Send Blessings

Lord, I come before you.
I do not understand
All the hurt I'm feeling;
I've taken all I can.

I need to see the beauty
I feel from all the pain
I ask for sweet refreshing 
Of blessings in the rain.

Extend your hand of mercy
And take away my fear.
Let me feel your presence,
To know that you are near.

Bring comfort in my sorrow
And balm to soothe my pain,
Hope for my tomorrow
And blessings in the rain.

You are a God of mercy.
Do take away my fears.
Lord, uphold me by your hand,
And dry up all my tears.

To find out more about Irene's book or to purchase a copy, click here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seize the Day

My first thoughts this morning were not "What a beautiful day!"  My first comment was not "Thank you, Lord, for a good night's sleep."  My first thought was not "Isn't it wonderful to be alive."  I wish I could claim to be that spiritual, but alas, I cannot.  And it's not because it's Monday.  I know Mondays get a bad stigma, but I have nothing against Mondays.  No, it wasn't the day that had me in a foul mood, but rather what I knew the day held.

Last week, I promised myself that I would get some things done and caught up this week.  Today marks the beginning of the week, and my "to-do" list for today alone is a mile long.  There are errands to run, articles to write and marketing to complete.  The laundry basket is overflowing.  There's a wedding shower to plan, dinner arrangements to be made, a meeting to attend.  And my house--well, let's just say I won't be winning any "Housekeeper of the Year" awards any time soon.

As I lay in bed this morning, I thought of all that needed to be done, and my heart sank.  I just want to sleep, I thought.  I'm so very tired.  Everyone needs to rest every now and then, right.  Why must every day be so hectic?  Truthfully, I wanted nothing more than to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.  I wanted to sleep away my worries and cares.  I wanted to dream rather than do.

But then I was reminded of the title of a book on my bookshelf:  Every Day Deserves a Chance.  I realized that I had used my attitude to doom the day before it had even begun.  I didn't give the day a chance to be a good day.  I took one look at my day's obligations and allowed my feelings of fatigue and stress to dictate the kind of day I was going to have.  I had the chance to make it a good day, and I blew it!  Instead of giving up on the day, I should have taken my thoughts and concerns to the Lord.  I could have showed Him my "to-do" list and explained how overwhelmed I was feeling.  I could have asked for strength and energy to conquer the items on my list.  I could have handled it so much better, but I didn't give the day a chance.

There's nothing I can do about today.  I started it off wrong, and I'm trying to make the best of it now.  That's all I can do.  But I have a goal for tomorrow.  Tomorrow morning, when I awake, I pray the Lord will bring to my mind Psalm 118: 24:  This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.  I hope I will then commit my day to the Lord and allow Him to guide me through each task.

Did you give today a chance?  Are you allowing your doubts or worries to dictate the kind of day you'll have?  Remember that every day is a gift from the Lord.  Let's not waste any!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stinking Thinking

I read a statement this morning that truly stomped all over my toes.  Why?  Because I realized it was true.  The statement was this:  "A person who is worrying either does not know the promises of God or they do not believe them."  A sharp pain pierced through my heart as I read the statement over and over again.

I am a worrier!  I worry when I don't have things to worry about.  I worry about how to pay the bills, how to get everything done in a day, how to help my husband more, how to be a better Christian, how to be a better wife, and on and on.  Around our house, it's a big joke about how much I worry.  We use phrases to describe me like "I make coffee nervous" and "You're such an Eeyore Christian."  But I realized this morning, that my worry is no laughing matter.

I know the promises of God.  I read them daily.  I memorize them.  I quote them.  I even just finished teaching a series of lessons on the promises of God to our ladies' Sunday School class.  Yes, I'm quite familiar with the promises of God, yet I still worry.  According to the statement above, what does that mean?  It means that I don't believe them.

At first, I argued the point.  "I do believe.  I know God's promises are true.  I know He says what He means and means what He says.  I know God never lies."  But is that really belief?  The more I examined my life, the more I realized the truth.  I don't really believe.  I approach life expecting to be disappointed.  I ask for things knowing that there's no way my prayer can be answered.  The sad part is that I don't even realize I'm doing it.

How is this possible?  It's called "stinking thinking."  It occurs when I allow my worries and negative thoughts to outweigh my faith in God's promises.  Worry takes place because I allow my mind to be so filled with the negative that there's no room left for the positive.  My trust has been displaced by worry and fear, and I allowed it to happen.  You see, worry doesn't take over in one fail swoop.  No, it is patient.  It works slowly, delving into your mind day after day and slowly replacing each of God's promises.  Then, when trials arise, the first thing that comes to mind is not one of God's promises, but one of the many worries that have taken root.

I admit that I knew I had a problem with worry, and I have been trying to work on it.  But I think I've been going about it the wrong way.  I've been trying to just conquer the fear and doubt, and I'm ashamed to say, I think I often try to do it in my own strength.  But worry cannot be uprooted this way.  To get rid of worry, I have to get rid of the "stinking thinking" and to do that, I need to replace those negative thoughts and fears with God's promises.  Yes, I know them, but I need to bring them to the surface, and I need to believe in them with all my heart.  I need to take what I know in my head and apply it to my heart.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being weighed down by "stinking thinking."  I'm ready for a change.  I'm ready to live life to its fullest.  I'm ready to start my days with confidence and expectation.  I'm ready to become a better person by thinking better thoughts.  I'm ready to believe God's promises are true with all my heart, soul and mind.  Will you join me?

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. - Mark 9:24