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Friday, March 30, 2012

We Have a Purpose

The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa -- the city of his birth -- but only on condition that the instrument never be played upon. It was an unfortunate condition, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay. The exquisite, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic. The moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning. -  Excerpt from Bits and Pieces, June 25, 1992.

What an excellent reminder for each of us! God hasn't put us on this earth simply to eat, work, and die. He has a mission for each of us. He wants to use us to perform a good work through us. He wants us to serve others in whatever capacity we can. He has given us the tools and talents we need to accomplish that goal. It's simply up to us to decide whether we will allow God to use us or whether we'll refrain from service and, like the violin, become of no value to anyone. The choice is ours. Let's be wise in our decision.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Finish What You Start

At the end of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus spoke these words, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work."

Lately, Jason and I have been struggling with what direction the Lord wants us to go. Questions seem to surround us night and day. Things that we were once clear are now hazy and uncertain. With all our hearts, we are striving to do the Lord's will, but many times I find myself asking, "Is it supposed to be this hard?"

When I read the passage in John about the Samaritan woman, that final verse struck a chord within me. It was then I experienced an "AHA" moment. Yes, we are trying to do the Lord's will, but have we finished doing the work that He had already led us to?

If you come to my house, the answer to that will be evident. You'll find unfinished projects everywhere. The quilt I was going to mend. The bench Jason was building for my parents. The flower arrangement I told my mom I would fix for her. E-books that I was certain the Lord had intended for me to write. Articles that I've researched but never written. Book ideas that are now lost somewhere in my filing cabinet. And, on and on the list could go.

It all boils down to this. God has given each of us a job to do, and until we've finished that job, He's not going to give us new instructions. For so long, I've been stuck on "doing the Lord's will" that I've forgotten to finish the Lord's will. (You'll find more on this topic in the chapter entitled "Distraction" in my book, The Deadly Darts of the Devil. )

It is VERY important to seek and do the Lord's will, but it's also important to finish the things we start. After all, that was Jesus' purpose when He was here on earth, and think how bad things would be if He hadn't finished His work!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spiritual Housecleaning: Distraction

Do you have any idea how many unfinished projects I have around my house? No? Me either. There's too many to count. I have good intentions, but I'm easily distracted. There seems to always be something else that needs to be done. For example, I've been bombarded by distraction after distraction just this morning. I sat down at my computer like a good girl, ready to get my blog posts done. Oh, I need to check my email. Well, what's this? Ooh! Look at that. I need to check that out. Let me look into that. I need to respond to this one, or I'll forget. Two hours later, I find myself still sitting in front of the computer. I've gotten a lot accomplished, but none of it had anything to do with my initial goal: to write my blog posts.

In the world we live in, distraction has become inevitable. With computers, television, cell phones, radios, playstations, cars, books, etc., there's simply no end to distraction. As if that weren't bad enough, our own minds constantly distract us from our immediate tasks. What are we going to have for dinner? Did I put the laundry in the dryer? I wonder what time my hubby will get home tonight? I need to pay the bills. Hmm, is there any money in the bank account? Should I get another job? On and on it goes.

I believe distraction is one of the devil's most valuable weapons. With just this one weapon, he can get us to stop doing the work of the Lord, not because we don't want to serve, but because we're too distracted to notice that we're not serving. While we're quietly trying to go about the Lord's work, Satan is sending flashing neon signs to draw our attention away from our true goals. With most of us, it works like a charm every time. We're so gullible!

There is a story involving Yogi Berra, the well-known catcher for the New York Yankees, and Hank Aaron, who at that time was the chief power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves. The teams were playing in the World Series, and as usual Yogi was keeping up his ceaseless chatter, intended to pep up his teammates on the one hand, and distract the Milwaukee batters on the other. As Aaron came to the plate, Yogi tried to distract him by saying, “Henry, you’re holding the bat wrong. You’re supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark.” Aaron didn’t say anything, but when the next pitch came he hit it into the left-field bleachers. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, “I didn’t come up here to read.” - "Nehemiah, Learning to Lead," J. M. Boice, Revell, 1990, p. 38

Oh, that we would be more like Hank Aaron. When the devil comes to us with distraction, we say, "I didn't come here for that. I'm here to do what the Lord called me to do." It will take focus. It will take discipline. It will take constant monitoring. But we must avoid distraction at all costs.

For more on the subject of distraction, check out my new book, The Deadly Darts of the Devil.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spiritual Housecleaning: Bitterness

One day, two monks were walking through the countryside. They were on their way to another village to help bring in the crops. As they walked, they spied an old woman sitting at the edge of a river. She was upset because there was no bridge, and she could not get across on her own. 

The first monk kindly offered, "We will carry you across if you would like." 

"Thank you," she said gratefully, accepting their help. So the two men joined hands, lifted her between them and carried her across the river. When they got to the other side, they set her down, and she went on her way. 

After they had walked another mile or so, the second monk began to complain. "Look at my clothes," he said. "They are filthy from carrying that woman across the river. And my back still hurts from lifting her. I can feel it getting stiff." The first monk just smiled and nodded his head. 

A few more miles up the road, the second monk griped again, "My back is hurting me so badly, and it is all because we had to carry that silly woman across the river! I cannot go any farther because of the pain." The first monk looked down at his partner, now lying on the ground, moaning. "Have you wondered why I am not complaining?" he asked. "Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. But I set her down five miles ago." - Dr. Anthony T. Evans, "Guiding Your Family in a Misguided World"

According to Wikipedia, bitterness is "the experience of a negative emotion felt as a result of a real or imagined wrong done." Simply put, bitterness occurs when we won't let things go. Are we so naive as to imagine that life will always be fair and we will never be done wrong? Of course not. Life is life. We know how it works. Sometimes it's good, and other times it's not so good.
I love the old saying, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." (I've also heard the version: "When life hands you lemons, throw them back and ask for chocolate." Sounds good to me!)

Anyway, bad things are going to happen. Friends are going to let us down. Family members are going to forsake us. Bosses are going to promote "the other guy." These things are part of life. We all wish they weren't, but that doesn't change the facts. Life is full of ups and downs, goods and bads. It's up to us to deal with it!

I once heard a bitter person described as one who drinks a poison and waits for the other person to die. Bitterness doesn't hurt the person or situation that wronged us. It hurts us! It drains the joy out of life. It causes us to bear extra burdens that would be better off left far behind. Eventually, it will start to affect the people around us. Then we really have a mess!

During His time on Earth, Jesus spoke a lot about forgiveness. When we've truly forgiven someone, the bitterness will disappear. I'm not going to tell you that it's easy because it's not. Just like all our other spiritual housecleaning, removing the stain of bitterness can be quite a chore. But, it is possible, and the Lord will help us.

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled. - Hebrews 12:14-15

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spiritual Housecleaning: Worry

Yuck! Another hard one! I often tease that "worry" is my middle name, but on the serious side, I wonder how much time and energy I've wasted because of worry. Worry takes a lot from us and gives nothing in return.

Worry is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster and belief in defeat...worry is wasting today's time to clutter up tomorrow's opportunities with yesterday's troubles. A dense fog that covers a seven-city-block area one hundred feet deep is composed of less than one glass of water divided into sixty thousand million drops. Not much is there but it can cripple an entire city. When I don't have anything to worry about, I begin to worry about that. - Walter Kelley

We've all heard the phrase "don't make a mountain out of a mole hill." That's exactly what worry does. It takes situations and magnifies them to the extreme. The bad part is that most of what we worry about it either stuff that never happens or things that we can't do anything about.

An average person's anxiety is focused on :
40% -- things that will never happen
30% -- things about the past that can't be changed
12% -- things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% -- about health, which gets worse with stress
 8% -- about real problems that will be faced

Ouch! That hurts, doesn't it? If you're like me, you cling to your worry like a nice fuzzy blanket. For some reason I feel that if I'm worried about something, I've taken the first step to solving the problem. How messed up is that thinking!!!! I'm not solving anything. I'm simply creating more problems and more stress. Who needs that?

Over and over again in the Bible, God tells us that we can bring our burdens, worries, and fears to Him. He offers us comfort and shelter. He offers to take our heavy loads. All we have to do is turn them over. Sounds simple, but it's not. . .at least, not for me. Some people seem to be really good at it. My husband is. I've asked him many times what his secret is. He tells me, "It's easy. You just let it all go. You don't think about it. You don't worry about it. You just hand it over to God and allow Him to handle the situation the way He sees fit." "But how?" I always respond. "How do I make myself stop thinking about the problem? It's all around me. How do I stop worrying about it? It seems to be all I can think about. How do I let it go?"

The Lord is still working with me on this process. Fortunately, He's a good teacher. Unfortunately, He likes to use a lot of "real life object lessons." Those are real eye-openers. Let me tell you!
The main thing I'm learning about worry is that I have to stop it before it starts. If I let myself start, I can't stop. I've found, however, if I turn the burden over to the Lord before it becomes a worry, I do much better. I'm not likely to win any medals, mind you, but I'm learning. Another thing I've noticed is the days that I spend more time with the Lord are the days I worry less. When I take the time to talk with Him and immerse myself in the comfort of His Word, I'm better able to fend off the worries that come throughout the day.

A woman who had lived long enough to have learned some important truths about life remarked, "I've had a lot of trouble -- most of which never happened!" Let's not be the same way. Let's turn our burdens over to the Lord and LEAVE THEM THERE!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spiritual Housecleaning: Discontentment

Boy, this is a hard one for me! I grew up thinking that if I did right and worked hard that I would have the life of my dreams. I didn't realize nightmares were included. Don't get me wrong. I am blessed. I have the man of my dreams who treats me like a queen. I have two dogs who love me unconditionally. I have a wonderful family and some great friends. I have a roof over my head and shoes on my feet. Still, I find myself wanting more. I want more than just a roof over my head. I want one that doesn't leak. I want more than just to work from home. I actually want to be able to make a living at it. I have so much, yet I catch myself always wishing for more. Why?

I'm discontent. I'm not convinced that I have all that I need. I'm not satisfied with what the Lord has allowed me to have. This can lead to a life of bitterness and unthankfulness (which we'll be talking about a little later). There's nothing wrong with wanting more out of life, but when we reach the point of discontentment, other problems are near.

It's hard to not want more, isn't it? It's hard to not compare ourselves to others. It's hard to work your tail off day after day and feel like you receive no reward or recognition for your efforts. It's hard to keep following the Lord's will when it seems like it's running you into a place you have no desire to go. I want more time, more energy, more money. I want more!

Again, wanting is not necessarily the problem. The problem occurs when wanting leads to envy, distraction, bitterness, or unthankfulness, which it is bound to do if we leave it unchecked. As we go about our spiritual cleaning, we need to be sure to deal with any issues of discontentment. If we're unhappy about something, all we need to do is take it to the Lord. From there, it's His decision whether or not we can have it. Whether He says "yes," "no," or "wait," the decision is no longer in our Hands, and we can be sure His will is done.

As with pride, discontentment can visit us day after day, so dealing with it will be a continuous process. There is no "one-time fix" for discontentment. It will be a daily battle, but if we deal with it faithfully, maybe one day we'll be able to say like Paul, Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

*For more information on discontentment, check out my book, The Deadly Darts of the Devil.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hit By a Swimming Pool

This is just a short video from a Greater Vision concert. I actually had the privilege of being at this concert, and when I saw this clip on YouTube, I knew I needed to share it. It's a hoot! I hope you enjoy it. (BTW, the camera is a little shaky, so if you get motion sickness, you may want to take some Dramamine first! LOL)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spiritual Housecleaning: Pride

If we ever get to the point where we think we are free of pride, we're in BIG trouble! I'm serious. Have you ever met someone who goes on and on about his humility? "I'm such a humble person." No, you're not! You're proud of your humility!

The truth is there's a very fine line between thinking too much of ourselves and thinking too little of ourselves. (Both extents, by the way, are results of pride.) I'm sure we've all been there. We strive to do something for the Lord, but we're a little unsure of ourselves. We don't want to mess up and embarrass ourselves, nor do we want to mess up and hinder others from being blessed. So, we pray, we commit, and we perform our duty. One of two things happen. First, we mess up, and our pride is hurt. Two, we don't mess up, and we start to get a "big head." Neither of these are good! Pride occurs far too easily and is often mistaken for something else.

For these reasons, we need to perform our spiritual housecleaning daily. We need to examine our lives and find the pride that is hiding there. Then, we need to get rid of it and ask God to forgive us. Problem solved, right? Not quite. Does your house stay clean, or is housecleaning an ongoing process? (Groan, groan!) Just because we've gotten rid of the pride in our lives today doesn't mean it won't show up again tomorrow. That's why those daily cleanings are so important. Otherwise, we end up with a pride buildup that is nearly impossible to remove.

Pride is a nasty thing. It has destroyed many lives, marriages, and friendships. It led to Satan's fall from Heaven. It caused Eve to take of the forbidden fruit because she felt she deserved it. It lessens the effectiveness of our service to the Lord. Pride is an enemy. Don't let it go unnoticed.

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spiritual Housecleaning: A New Series

I love a clean house, but I hate cleaning. I'm one of those people who says, "No, you can't come over. My house is a mess!" and truly means it. I'm so embarrassed when people "stop by." I have friends and family members who claim to have messy houses, but I can never even find a speck of dust or a single pet hair. Nothing is EVER out of place. The sad part is that these people have kids, and I don't (although I do have two indoor dogs who act like kids). I've often wondered how they keep their homes so immaculate. ("They" meaning my friends, not my dogs.) Every once in a while, I'll get a little energy burst and attempt to clean my house to the point where there is nothing out of place, nothing stacked up, nothing swept under the rug, etc. After a few days, I give it up and remind myself that God has given me many talents, but cleaning simply isn't one of them.

Now, before everyone gets the wrong idea, let me explain. I don't have food rotting in the corners of my kitchen or anything like that. But, there are dishes in my sink right now. There is dust on my furniture. There is dog hair on my floor. And no, I didn't make my bed this morning. (Some of the "neat freaks" just keeled over!) Again, I love a clean house, but unless there's a way for me to have it cleaned without having to do it myself. . .well, let's just say you won't want to come over to my house uninvited. (Sorry, Mom and Dad! I know you raised me better!)

I said all of that to introduce a new series we will be doing this week. No, it's not on housecleaning. It's on an even-more important form of cleaning. For the next several days, we'll be talking about spiritual housecleaning.

What is housecleaning? For the most part, it is setting right things that are wrong and throwing out things that are no longer needed, wanted, or useful. It is important to clean our homes, but it is imperative that we do regular cleanings on our spiritual houses. It is amazing how much clutter can pack up when we're not paying attention. Things like pride, discontentment, and worry can slip in unnoticed, but oh, what a mess they can make.

For those of you who love to clean, you'll probably relate very well to these lessons. For the rest of us, we would do well to heed these lessons. We can get by with our homes in slight disarray, but not with our spirits. I hope you will all enjoy the upcoming posts, and don't forget to share them with your friends!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Brother Jonah

I was reading this morning through the book of Jonah. Now there's a character we can all relate to. We don't like to admit it, but we all act like Jonah from time to time. Here are some ways we often resemble the prophet:

1. We run from God. - We're serving God. Things are going well. We're doing His work, and everyone is happy. Then, God gives us an unpleasant task. We don't want to do it. After all, we're busy doing other things for Him. So, we ignore His command. We turn and run the other way.

2. We fool ourselves into thinking that we're going to get away with our disobedience - Notice how "at ease" Jonah was. He got on a ship, went down below, and fell asleep. In fact, he was still sleeping during the terrible storm. One of the sailors had to wake him up. He was able to rest because he thought he had successfully hidden himself from God. He thought he was home free. He thought he had gotten away with his disobedience. We often do the same. We go along like everything is fine, knowing full well that we're not where we're supposed to be. But, since God let us off the path, He'll let us stay there, right? WRONG!

3. We adjust our attitude when God gets our attention - It didn't take Jonah very long to get a serious attitude adjustment. Nope, by the beginning of chapter two, he's already praying and apologizing. Sometimes, God has to get our attention too. We don't like it, but it doesn't usually take very long before we're whistling a different tune. Jonah had a such a "kick in the pants" that he made a three-day journey in just one day after the whale spat him out.

4. We get mad when God doesn't do what we think He should do - Jonah delivered God's message to the Ninevites. He told them that Ninevah was going to be overthrown because God was unhappy with their wickedness, and the people actually listened. They repented. They turned their hearts to God. Isn't that wonderful? Not to Jonah. Jonah actually got angry with God because He didn't destroy the city. Nice guy, huh? What it boils down to is that Jonah didn't get his way. God didn't do what Jonah thought was best, and Jonah got mad. We do the same thing, don't we? We show God our little blueprint that we've designed and then spit fire when He doesn't follow it.

5. We throw very nice pity parties - Jonah was so upset with God that He actually asked God to just let him die. You can almost hear the unspoken statement, "If you're not going to do it my way, why am I even here?" Yes, Jonah was an excellent pity party host. But, alas, so are we. We fuss and pout when things don't go our way. We get it in our heads that nobody loves us and that nothing ever goes right for us. Poor pitiful us!

6. We are dealt with by a very patient Father - God didn't have to explain to Jonah why he spared the city of Ninevah, but He did. He gave Him an object lesson that I'm sure Jonah never forgot. He could have given Jonah his wish. He could have killed him. But, He didn't. He dealt with him in a loving and patient manner, as He does with us, giving us what we need and not necessarily what we want.

So, the next time you read through the book of Jonah, don't be too hard on him. We're not any better. We make the same mistakes, but thankfully, we know the same God who will forgive us, pick us up, and set us on the right path again. (Just pray you never have to see the inside of a whale!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Answers To Life - Ron Pearson

This is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The clip is just over three minutes long, but I promise you it is worth your time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is That You Final Answer?

Yesterday, I had some errands to run in the morning, so I wasn't able to walk the dogs until after lunch.  As usual, I planned to walk them separately.  Mitch has only one speed, which is "turbo" and Tippy, at eleven years of age, is passed on the road by crippled snails.  It's just too frustrating to try to walk them together.  So, I grabbed the leash, headed out the door with Mitch and was almost to the road when I heard the most pitiful sound in the world. 

What is that? I wondered as I stopped to figure out where the sound was coming from.  It didn't take long for me to figure out that the cries were coming from my house.  I don't know what was up, but Tippy was pitching a royal fit.  Not an angry fit, but she sounded like she was dying.  It was the most heart-wrenching sound I've ever heard in my life.  I debated what to do, and after one more pitiful howl, I turned Mitch around, went back in the house and grabbed the second leash.

Unsurprisingly, the short walk was unpleasant for all of us.  The pace was too slow for Mitch, too fast for Tippy, and my arms now resemble Gumby's because of being pulled first this way then that.  By the time we got back home, I was frustrated and wondering why I didn't just ignore Tippy.  I knew she was okay.  I knew she wasn't hurt.  And furthermore, I knew each of us would have had a much more enjoyable and profitable walk if I had not given in to her wailing. 

Aren't you glad that God loves us enough that He doesn't always give us what we want?  Aren't you thankful that He watches out for us enough that He doesn't give in to our whines and cries.  "But God, I want this."  To which He replies, "No you don't, child.  You just think you do.  But if you knew where that would lead, you wouldn't ask for it.  I do know where it will lead, and that's why I won't let you have it."

One of the things that made me turn back and get Tippy was the myriad of thoughts running through my head.  What if she doesn't understand that this is for her best?  What if she thinks I'm leaving her behind?  What if she thinks we're not coming back?  What if she thinks I don't love her because I'm not taking her first?  It sounds silly, I know, but I've had those thoughts toward God, only in reverse.  At times, when God wouldn't answer a prayer in the way I wanted Him to, I felt angry and unloved.  I didn't understand that it was for my best.  I only thought He had forsaken me or was ignoring my cries.  Once the "crisis" was over, and I was seeing things clearly, I realized the stupidity of my thoughts.  But in the midst of what seems like unanswered prayers, it's easy to be overwhelmed by doubts and despair.

Yesterday, I did not act in Tippy's best interest by giving in to her cries.  Not only did I ruin her walk, but I ruined it for Mitch and myself as well.  Besides that, I've set the standard:  you whine, I come running.  And that is not going to work!  She will just have to trust that I know what's best for her.  As for me, I must remember that a loving "parent" doesn't give in because of protests and complaints.  No, a loving "parent" holds firm, even when the child is accusatory and angry, because the parent loves the child and wants what's best for him or her.  Just as my heavenly Father does for me.

Thank you, Lord, for loving me enough to not give me everything I think I want!

Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle. - Psalm 28:2

Monday, March 12, 2012

How Did I Get Here?

For our weekly date last week, Jason took me to the zoo.  Now I know some of you are thinking, The zoo?  That's for kids.  Well, I'm just a kid at heart, plus I'm an animal lover.  My husband also knows that as many times as I've been to the zoo, the majority of those times were with 15 to 25 five-year olds in tow.  Yes, as a kindergarten teacher, I always planned a trip to the zoo for my students each spring.  Anyway, this was a chance for me to go and actually enjoy the trip at my own pace.  I got to see all the animals.  I was able to stop and read the information plaques.  It was great!

One of the most fascinating things I learned that day was that the mother giraffe gives birth standing up.  That means the baby falls headfirst anywhere from six to ten feet upon emerging from his mother's womb.  Talk about a wake-up call!

A couple of days after our trip, I read an account of a man who was able to witness the miraculous event of the birth of a giraffe.  Sure enough, the baby emerged headfirst and fell to the ground in a crumpled heap.  The mother turned her head to look at her newborn and then did the strangest thing -- she kicked it hard enough to send it sprawling across the ground.

"What was that about?" the man asked in concern.

The zookeeper smiled and replied, "She wants him to get up."

Sure enough the baby struggled to rise to its feet, but its wobbly legs just wouldn't cooperate.  And so, the mother kicked it again and again until finally the young one rose in triumph on unsteady legs.  As he steadied, he looked to his mother, who once again kicked him to the ground.

"Why did she do that?  He was standing." the man cried.

"She wants him to remember how he got up," the zookeeper replied.

As I read this account, I couldn't stop the tears from flowing.  It had been one of those weeks where I felt like I just couldn't stand.  And every time I was close to rising, it seemed as if something (or someone) kicked me down again.  No matter how hard I tried to get my feet under me, I just couldn't find the strength to stand.

But this story made me look inside myself and ask, "How did I get up before?  What helped me out of this pit last time?  I know I've been down and out where I just couldn't stand, but I've always found the strength eventually.  Now if I can just remember how I did it."  And with those thoughts came memories of God's goodness and faithfulness in my life.  And before I realized what was happening, I was not only standing, but I was singing.

When life gets you down, don't wallow in the dirt.  Instead, focus your thoughts and memories on how God helped you in the past and trust that He will help you again.  He, too, wants us to remember how we got up the last time.  May we never forget His goodness!

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. - Psalm 103:2

Friday, March 9, 2012

Luna by Toni McNeill

Meet Luna, a guardian angel on a mission to reunite a lost dog with her owner, a little girl who feels lost without her canine friend.  Join Luna on her quest as she strives to encourage both dog and owner to keep going even when all seems hopeless.  It's an intriguing twist on the old book, The Incredible Journey.

When Toni contacted me a while back and asked me to help her with a book, I gladly agreed.  I had no idea how much I would fall in love with the story she wove.  Toni's way with words helped paint a picture so vivid that my mind's eye played the book like a movie.  The story evoked a myriad of emotions within me, and yes, I cried at both painful and joyful moments in the story.  It certainly helped that I'm a dog-lover and that I've experienced the loss of pets.  For all you "pet people" you know that it's more than losing a pet.  It's like losing a member of your family, and in some cases, even like losing a part of yourself.

Luna is an engaging story for readers of all ages, although younger children may need help in understanding some of the words and concepts introduced.   For the older readers, Luna is a type of allegory for the journey through life.  Reading about Luna reminded me that I, too, have angels watching over me.  And my angels are also encouraging me to continue the journey, no matter how great the distance ahead may seem.  I believe we all need that encouragement from time to time.

If I had to categorize Luna, I guess I would have to say it's a cross between fantasy and adventure (two of my favorite genres).  It's a great read, and I would encourage you to get your copy today!  I guarantee you won't want to put it down.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Are You in the Boat of Despair?

After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.- John 21:1-3

It's important to note that this passage takes place after Jesus' resurrection and after He had appeared to the disciples in His resurrected body on more than one occasion.  In short, the disciples had received proof that everything Jesus had said was true.  Yes, He had died.  Yes, He had been buried.  And yes, He was living again.  You would think the disciples would have been thrilled.  You would think they would be chomping at the bit to get out and tell others what they now knew.  But instead, they decided to turn to their old ways.

"I go a fishing" was not Peter's way of saying, "I think I'll take a day off and relax with some fishing."  On the contrary, it was his way of saying, "I'm going back to fishing for fish.  I've tried the fishing for men thing and look where that got us.  Besides, I'm not worthy to be fishing for men.  I denied Christ.  I'm not worthy to tell others about Him.  Nope, I'm only good enough for the fish."  And in that moment of self-defeat, he turned from God's will.  And you know what they say, "Misery loves company."  That must be true because the remaining disciples declared, "Yea, we'll go with you."  They might as well have said, "We quit too!"

There are so many great lessons to be learned from just these few verses, but I want to focus on the group of men in the boat.  Verse two spells it out for us:  There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.  What a crowd!

Simon Peter, the Denier - Yes, he's the one who stood up to Jesus and said, "Not me!  I'll die for you" and then proceeded to deny Christ not once, but three times.

Thomas, the Doubter - While I don't think it's fair to single Thomas out as the one who doubted since the other disciples doubted until they saw Jesus too, he is nonetheless forever known as "the doubter", the one who didn't believe that Christ was truly raised from the dead.

Nathanael, the Disputer - When we first meet Nathanael, he is being encouraged by his friend Phillip to follow the Messiah.  But when Philip tells Nathanael that the Messiah is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael's reaction is less than stellar.  "Nazareth?  Can anything good come from Nazareth?"

The sons of Zebedee (aka James and John), the Dividers - You remember James and John, right?  They're the two that sent their mother to ask Jesus for special placement around the throne in Heaven.  They desired to be elevated above the other disciples, and that kind of attitude led to division amongst the disciples, which is evidenced by their later argument over who would be greatest in Heaven.

Two other of his disciples, the Drifters - We don't know who they are, and they probably prefer it that way.  These unnamed disciples seem to just follow the crowd.  If the main group stays, they'll stay.  If the main group goes, they'll go.  Like a feather, they drift wherever the winds blow them.

Is it any wonder this group failed to catch any fish?  They weren't where they were supposed to be, and they weren't doing what they were supposed to do.  And yet, if we read on in the chapter, we'll see that God still blessed them.  But that's another lesson for another day.  My question for you today is:  Are you in the boat?  Are you a denier, a doubter, a disputer, a divider or a drifter?  Can you relate to any of these men and their downcast state of my mind and spirit?  If so, take heart.  As I already mentioned, the next few verses in the passage describe how Jesus took care of these weary, backslidden disciples.  He sat with them.  He provided for them.  H comforted them.  And in all these ways and more, He reminded them of His love for them.

God loves you too.  No matter what you've done, He still loves and accepts you.  Get up out of that boat of despair and run to Jesus.  His arms are open wide, and He has blessings awaiting you.  Walk away from the boat and into the arms of a loving Savior.  Only He can turn deniers, doubters, disputers, dividers and drifters into delighters.  And only He can love us with an unchanging love.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Great Expectations

Jason and I recently had a conversation about the unrealistic goals I tend to set for myself.  "How do other people do it?" I complained.  "How do they work all day and still have time for family and housework.  I work from home, so you would think it would be easier.  But the house is a mess, I haven't walked or brushed the dogs, and I don't feel like we ever get to spend any real time together.  And still, I'm so exhausted.  What's wrong with me?  Why can't I get it all done?  Other people do it.  Why can't I?"  (Insert dramatic sigh!)  But all drama aside, I was being dead serious.  Jason's answer was a real eye-opener for me.

"Other people have one job; you don't.  You write full time, teach part-time, serve as church pianist part-time, teach piano part-time, not to mention all the other roles you fill in any given week.  You can't do it all.  No one can, so stop setting your expectations so high.  Accept the fact that sometimes the dishes won't get done or the floors won't be swept.  Stop trying so hard."

Trying so hard?  Me?  Who did he think he was talking to?  Unfortunately, I knew exactly who he was talking to.  Me -- the person who takes the verse that says "be ye perfect for I am perfect" way out of context.  The truth is that I want to be perfect.  I want to be able to do it all.  I'd love to go to bed at night knowing that everything was crossed off my day's to-do list, but the sad fact is that some days I don't get to cross anything off my to-do list.  And that leaves me feeling like a first-rate failure.

I desire to be the perfect Christian, the perfect wife, the perfect housekeeper, the perfect writer, the perfect teacher, the perfect pianist, not to mention the perfect family member, friend and church member.  I'm a perfectionist,and I crave perfection.  (Go figure!)  But Jason's statement helped me to realize that my "great expectations" weren't helping me to reach perfection.  In fact, they were a hindrance to me.  By setting realistic goals in my life, I was dooming myself to continuous failure.  No one (except God Himself) could possibly meet the daily goals I set for myself.  What makes me think I can?  And furthermore, why do I try?  Is it for pride?  Is it for a sense of accomplishment?  Is it so that others will like me more?  To be honest, I'm not sure what drives my perfectionism, but I do know that my perfectionism is driving me crazy.

And so, I'm trying to dial down my expectations and set realistic goals that I'm able to meet.  This leaves me feeling satisfied and refreshed instead of downhearted and angry.  It hasn't been easy, but I've also been trying more and more to set my daily agenda in God's hands and say, "This is what I had planned today, but Your plans are more important.  What would you have me do today?"  It's amazing the difference it makes in both mind and body.

What kind of expectations do you have for today?  Have you set yourself up for failure?  Turn your plans over to God, and allow Him to set your goals.  You won't be sorry!

This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Better Hope

For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. - Hebrews 7:19

As I read that verse this morning, I had to stop and think about it for a minute. I admit, it was the poetic aspect of the verse that first caught my attention, but as I re-read the verse, the full meaning sunk in. I allowed myself to sit and think for several moments about the "bringing of a better hope." What hope is that? Jesus Christ.

We live in a day and age when people are turning in all different directions just trying to find some source of hope. It can't be found in our daily newspaper or the six o'clock report. It can't be found in our jobs or bank accounts (that's even if you have a job or bank account). It can't be found on Oprah or Dr. Phil. And to the great surprise of many, it can't be found in "religion."

I read an account this morning of a woman who had lived a horrible life of sin. One night, she was invited to visit a church with a friend. At the close of that service, she was called down to the altar where men of the church prayed over her. She said that a warm feeling crept over her and that, even though she didn't know what it meant to be saved, she was certain she'd received the gift of salvation that day. According to her account, salvation is just a warm, fuzzy feeling instead of a conscious decision to make Jesus the Lord of her life.

Day after day, I see accounts of people trusting in things for hope and salvation. Jobs. Finances. Friends. Family. The church. Their good works. Yet still, these people have an empty place in their lives because they have failed to realize that the only thing that can make us perfect (complete) is Jesus Christ. Without Him, there is no hope.

Let's share the news today of that better hope!