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Monday, July 22, 2013

To Every Thing There Is a Season

I am quickly coming to the conclusion that hiking is not nearly as enjoyable in the summer as it is the rest of the year. In the fall and spring, I love nothing more than to hike a trail to a remote waterfall or follow along beside a babbling brook. I love to sit and bask in the sunshine as I rest and listen to the water's peaceful flow. It is a tranquility like nothing else.

In the winter, the cool weather is perfect for those strenuous climbs where I find myself shedding layer after layer until I'm finally down to my t-shirt. And even though the scenery is not as vibrant, there is a certain beauty in the quiet woods that are at rest.

Hiking in the summer is a different story entirely. It's HOT!!! The grass, weeds, and briers are in abundance and love nothing better than to grab at my legs. The bears are out of their slumber (thankfully, I haven't seen any of them yet). The snakes are slithering around, hissing at any who dare pass by (unfortunately, I've seen plenty of these). Every other step I take, I find myself wrapped up in a sticky spiderweb. And then, there are the bugs. Let me tell you, there is not an insect repellent on earth that will keep gnats out of your face. They fly in my eyes, my mouth, my nose, my ears, and anywhere else they can find. And if that weren't bad enough, the mosquitoes bite, the ticks grab hold, and the bees sting. Trust me, I've experienced them all this summer. So, with all these annoyances and irritations, I find that hiking in the summer is just not very enjoyable at all.

Life, too, has seasons. There are seasons full of beauty and tranquility. However, there are also seasons full of irritations and obstacles that sap the joy out of the journey. During these times, it is important to focus on the good times of the journey and to know that seasons of peace and joy are right around the corner if only we will remain faithful. Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's discouraging. But, it is worth it. We can't give up on the journey just because of a tough season. Think of all the blessings we'll miss when those good seasons roll in again.

So, put on your sunscreen and your insect repellent. Fill up the water bottles, and let's keep hiking! As for snakes, I've found that they really seem to be more scared of me than I am of them. Go figure!

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. - Ecclesiastes 3:1

(Excerpt from my book, Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

How's That Working For You?

Adam, the first man.
Placed in the Garden of Eden, all his needs met.
When tempted by Satan, Eve disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit.
Whether out of love or a desire to be like God, Adam, too, ate of the fruit.
Immediately, their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked.
So they covered themselves with fig leaves and hid in the midst of the garden.
When God came to meet with them, He cried out, "Adam, where art thou?"
God knew where Adam was, but He needed Adam to realize where he was.
He was trying to hide from the omniscient, omnipresent God.
So, Adam, how's that working for you?

Sarah, wife of Abraham.
Destined to be the mother of a nation.
Beautiful, charming, yet devious.
She grew tired of waiting for God to fulfill His promise
And decided to take matters into her own hands.
She convinced Abraham to lay with her servant, Hagar.
But after the true promised son was born,
Trouble arose and continues to this very day.
Sarah tried to do a work that only God could do.
So, Sarah, how's that working for you?

Jonah, the prophet.
Called by God to preach to the people of Ninevah.
Disgusted by God's mercy to such a despicable people,
Jonah chose to do his own thing.
He hopped on the nearest boat and made a beeline in the opposite direction.
But when the winds grew fierce and the waves threatened to overturn the boat,
Jonah found himself first in the sea and then in the belly of a whale.
Jonah thought he knew better than God.
And then he tried to run from God.
So, Jonah, how's that working for you?

Ananias and Sapphira, members of the early church.
Sold a piece of property but kept back part of the profits for themselves.
Made out as if they were giving all that they had received.
In stealing from the church, they lied to God.
They tried to cheat God out of what was rightfully His.
They both paid with their lives.
So, Ananias and Sapphira, how's that working for you?

My dear friends, Satan is busy.  He goes about day after day accusing the brethren and tempting us to do the things we know we shouldn't do.  Whether it be hiding from God, running from God, playing God or deceiving God, temptations abound.  When God doesn't work like we think He should, it's so tempting to take matters into our own hands.  When God's ways don't make sense and His directions seem faulty, we want to run the other way.  When we've done the unthinkable, we assume that God can't chasten us if He can't find us, so we attempt to hide.  And as for cheating God, no, we may not rob Him of money, but what about time or talents?

Some days I wonder how Satan could possibly be bothering anyone else because it seems he's following me around all day long.  With every turn, he's in my face.  He shouts his lies.  He whispers his temptations.  He lures me with promises of happiness and contentment.  Yes, he keeps himself very busy in my life.  But my prayer of late is that when I am tempted, the Lord will remind me of this one question:  So, how's that working for you?  Through that inquiry, I'm reminded of the many who tried to have their own way and ended up making a giant mess of things.  I don't want that to be me.  I want to be the one who leaves everything in the Lord's hands and says, "Lord, I don't know what you're going to do with this, but whatever it is, I know it will be best."

Are you struggling today?  Is God not working quick enough for you?  Or perhaps He's not working things out according to your plan.  Take heart, my friend.  He is in control.  Don't try to take that away from Him.  I assure you, it can only end in heartache.  Trust God.  He'll work all things out.  Stand back and let Him work.

And since you're just standing there, there's no harm in praising God for what He's about to do.  Make good use of the time, and I have no doubt, everything will be just fine!

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Do You Want?

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple. - Psalm 27:4

I have to be honest with you, when I read the first phrase of this particular verse, I'm overwhelmed with shame.  The psalmist said, "One thing have I desired of the Lord."  Just one?  I fear if I had written this psalm, the first verse would read, "Many things have I desired of the Lord, and those will I seek after; that I may have money beyond my wildest dreams, a beautiful log cabin nestled on 100+ acres of rolling pasture land complete with rivers and waterfalls, perfect health for me and my family, a couple of nice 4x4 vehicles, lovely clothes that suit my glamorous new figure, and to see my books as New York Times bestsellers.  Oh, and I would like to get to know You better too, Lord."  It just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

The psalmist was basically saying that if he could have salvation and all the benefits that came with it, he would be content.  He didn't need anything else.  He didn't want anything else.  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)  Eternal salvation was prize enough.  After all, it was more than he deserved.  It's more than any of us deserve.  Yet, we often treat it so flippantly.  "Yes, I'm saved, and I know I have heavenly treasures waiting, but for now, I'd like some treasures here on earth too."  Don't you know that's a slap in God's face?  It's like saying, "Thank you, Lord, for the great sacrifice You made at Calvary.  I know it cost You Your Son, but somehow You thought I was worth it.  I really do appreciate it.  Now, if you could just see fit to peruse this list of wants and needs I have and see what You can do about it, I'd really appreciate it.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my salvation.  I'd just be happier if You'd give me this other stuff too."  Yikes!  It hurts when we get down to the bare bones, doesn't it?

Please don't misunderstand.  I don't think it's wrong for us to have dreams and desires.  What's wrong is that we tend to place our happiness and contentment on those dreams and desires and fail to recognize that the greatest treasure of all is already in our possession (if you're saved, of course).  We complain about our lack while forgetting to praise the Lord for all our many blessings.  We focus on what we don't have instead of on what we do.  And in the process, the thing that matters most is overlooked and unappreciated.

One thing have I desired of the Lord.  If you were to write this psalm from an honest heart, what would it say?  One thing?  Many things?  The right things?  The wrong things? 

What do you want today?  What do you desire more than anything else?  The answer may surprise or even convict you, but it is a question that needs to be asked nonetheless.  Why?  Because according to the gospel of Matthew, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Where's your heart today?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tightened Cords

What is hope?  In the days in which we live, the word "hope" seems to have such a limited meaning compared with its usage several years ago.  For many, the word "hope" is synonymous with the word "wish." I hope it doesn't rain.  I hope I get the job.  I hope the deposit goes through before the bills come out.  I hope.  I wish.  I desire. I want these things to happen, but in truth, it's only wishful thinking.

But if you actually look up the word "hope," you'll discover that it means "to cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation of obtainment, or to expect with confidence." It goes far beyond wanting to the realm of expecting. And it is this true hope that that is one of the greatest gifts God bestows upon us.

In fact, I came across a quote that describes the role hope plays in our lives. It is beautifully written and paints an exquisite picture of the Christian life. I'd like to share that quote with you today:

Failure will hurt but not hinder us. Disillusion will pain but not dishearten us. Sorrows will shake us but not break us. Hope will set the music ringing and quicken our lagging pace. We need hope for living far more than for dying. Dying is easy work compared with living. Dying is a moment's transition; living, a transaction of years. It is the length of the rope that puts the sag in it. Hope tightens the cords and tunes up the heartstrings. Work well, then; suffer patiently, rejoicing in hope. God knows all, and yet is the God of Hope. And when we have hoped to the end here, He will give us something to look forward to, for all eternity. For "hope abideth." – Babcock

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. - Psalm 42:5

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nothing But Manna

It's raining today in Greenville, SC. . . AGAIN!  I just got off the phone with a friend who lives out in Montana, and she asked how the summer had been.  I couldn't stop myself from expressing my weariness of all the rain.  I described how my grass resembled something from the Amazon because it won't stop raining and dry out long enough for Jason to cut it.  I continued my tirade with my sob story of the piles of firewood that are sitting out in the yard (or more like swimming in the yard) that we can't get split and stacked because it rains every evening.  To top it off, she told me how they had been having beautiful weather.  I was jealous!

When I got off the phone, I thought back over what I had said and realized that I sounded just like the children of Israel as they wandered around in the desert.  God had freed them from their bondage in Egypt.  He had led them safely across the Red Sea.  He provided for their every need, and part of that provision was the manna that fell from Heaven each day.  But that wasn't good enough for the Israelites, and they began to complain.  "We're tired of manna.  Can't we have something else to eat?  Day in and day out, nothing but manna.  Yuck!"

Sound familiar.  "We're tired of rain.  Can't we have some other weather for a while?  Day in and day out, nothing but rain.  Yuck!"  God is pouring down His blessings from the sky, and I, like the children of Israel, can only complain.  Yes, the constant rainfall is frustrating.  Yes, it's wearying.  Yes, it makes some things more difficult.  But does that give me the right to be ungrateful?  Does it give me the right to complain as if God is doing something wrong?  Absolutely not.

Sadly, for most of us (yes, Christians too), the manna moaning doesn't end with the weather.  We complain about our jobs, our families, our coworkers, our churches, our chores, our financial standing and our possessions.  Just like the children of Israel, we seek more.  We want something different.  We're tired of the same old things, so we complain and lose sight of all the blessings we should be praising God for.

May I challenge you today to stop looking for something better and spend some time thanking God for what you have?  He has been so faithful in giving, but we've been so lax in praising.  Isn't it time we remedied that?  Praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

Even if those blessings flow in the form of raindrops.

Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! - Psalm 107:8,15,21,31

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Delighting in Dungeons of Darkness

And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. - Acts 16:23-25

To be honest, the reaction of Paul and Silas has always been puzzling to me. Had I been in their shoes, I'm sorry to say that my attitude would likely not have been quite as pleasant. In fact, I imagine I could have thrown a rather glorious pity party. Lord, I did what You told me to do. I was following Your will. I was acting in Your strength. I did right. Why am I being punished? Why would You let this happen to me? Don't you care that I'm suffering? In the midst of suffering, I tend to forget all about God's promises. I forget that I'm not alone. I forget that I am sheltered in His arms. I believe Corrie ten Boom put it well when she stated, “When you're covered by His wings, it can get pretty dark.” Yes, in His wings there is safety, but that doesn't mean there will be no darkness.

Like Paul and Silas, we, too, can find delight in our dungeons of darkness. To do so, we need only use the same approach they did. First, we must focus on Christ and not the crisis. The more we focus on the problem, the bigger the problem appears. Likewise, the more we focus on God, the bigger He appears. Second, we can delight in the fact that we can identify with Jesus through our suffering. Our trials and afflictions give us just a small taste of what Jesus went through to ensure us a place with Him for all eternity. That realization alone ought to give us the strength to suffer more for Him. Third, we need to believe that God is in control. Nothing will happen to us that He does not allow. His will will be done, and isn't the fulfillment of His will the outcome we desire? One way or another, He will deliver us. The delivery method is up to Him.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Say "Cheese"

I despise having my picture taken. This is not a good thing since my in-laws are photographers. Still,
there's nothing like sitting in front of a machine that blinds me with a bright light and trying to come up with a realistic smile when smiling is the last thing I want to be doing. And the poses are so uncomfortable. Usually the phrase I hear most is, "Tilt your head a little more," to which my response is, "If I tip it any further, it's going to roll off my shoulder and onto the floor." It feels awkward. It feels uncomfortable. And in the back of my mind, I can't help but wonder if the upcoming photo will be one to add to my "Mutants of the Present World" file. Amazingly enough, when I look at the photo, I look completely normal and relaxed. How is it possible to capture a lovely image from such an uncomfortable pose? The same way God does.

You see, God is trying to take a picture too. Only, He's looking for something in particular, because He doesn't really want to capture our image, but His image reflected through us. To find this perfect shot takes time. It takes some uncomfortable poses and false smiles. It takes following directions that sometimes don't make sense to us (such as tipping your head further when it feels as if it's already detached). But if we are willing to do all these things, God will be able to capture His likeness in us. And what a portrait that will be!

Are you ready to see Christ in you? Wait patiently. Smile during the uncomfortable times. Follow directions, no matter how strange they may seem. Oh, and don't forget to say "cheese"!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Life Is So Much Better With Jesus in Command

If you've followed this blog any length of time, you'll know that I usually write my own devotions, but every once in a while, I'll come across something that I just have to share. This morning was one of those times. I don't know what it was specifically about the following devotion, but something about it just hit home with me, and I knew I couldn't keep it to myself. That being said, I hope you glean as much from it as I did.