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Friday, August 30, 2013

All For One and One For All

Do you remember the three "R's" in school:  reading, writing and arithmetic?  (Though, how anyone came up with the title of the three "R's" for those particular subjects, I'll never understand.)  Anyway, you remember those, right?  They were the basis for education.  Conquer those, and you could do anything.  They were imperatives, not electives.  They were essential for a well-rounded education.

In the Christian life, there are three "W's," and just like the three "R's," this trio of elements is an essential part of our spiritual education and growth.  They are work, worship and waiting.  The tricky thing about these three amigos is that, not only do they work hand in hand, but they must be executed simultaneously.  It's not a cycle where you work, then you worship and then you wait, but rather it's a process where you worship while you work while you're waiting for God to reveal the next step.  It's like a three-part harmony, and if one of the parts is even just a little off, the entire melody is ruined.

So many times, we get it into our heads that our only responsibility is to work for the Lord, but that's only part of it.  What about worship?  Well, that's not so hard, or is it?  Worship takes time.  Worship takes a change in perspective.  Worship means turning our attention to the Lord and off of ourselves or our problems.  And as for waiting, well, none of us like that, do we?  We don't like waiting in line.  We despise waiting our turn.  The longer we wait for things, the more frustrated we become about the time we're wasting while waiting.  Waiting on the Lord can be a daunting task indeed.

But the truth is, without the worship and the waiting, the work is being done in vain.  It is not complete.  Yes, God wants us to work for Him, but He doesn't want our service to end there.  He desires (and deserves) our worship.  And He longs for us to trust Him in all areas of our lives, especially when it comes to timing.  God is never early, nor is He ever late.  He will meet our needs or show us His direction in His perfect timing, and He wants us to trust Him concerning that promise.

Work.  Worship.  Waiting.  They truly are all for one and one for all.  Don't try to split them up!

(Is anybody else craving a Three Musketeers candy bar right about now?  Just asking!)

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.  Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. - Psalm 37:3-7

Thursday, August 29, 2013

There's No Such Thing as a Good Day for Ant Shucking

My life never seems to have a dull moment.  No, it seems that even a typical walk with the dogs can turn into an adventure.  Such was the case the other day.  As usual, I took Mitch out first.  He was ready to go and nearly ran the entire time.  I could tell he was enjoying the brief break in the hot weather.  That enjoyment, however, was short-lived.

About mid-walk, he detoured off the trail and started hunting for a place to do his business.  Nothing odd about that.  He tromped back and forth, circled about four times, then finally proceeded to do his thing.  Still, nothing odd.  When he was finished, I looked over. . . bear with me, for this is going to sound gross. . .to inspect his poo.  This is not a normal habit of mine, but Tippy, our beagle, has been fighting a battle with internal worms, so I was checking to see if they had spread to Mitch.  Gross, I know, but completely necessary.

Anyway, when I looked at his pile, I immediately noticed it was totally engulfed in ants.  Horrified, I turned to look at Mitch.  Sure enough, all four of his paws, particularly his front paws, were swarming with ants.  He danced and bit at them.  Panic filled his eyes as they crawled and crawled.  As for me, I did the only thing I could think to do.  I dropped his leash, wrapped each of my hands around his two front legs and moved them up and down as fast as I could, like I was shucking corn.

As I fought to keep him calm and the clear the ants, I was amazed at how many had managed to crawl up his legs.  There were hundreds of them.  I guess all that walking back and forth and circling didn't help, but still.  Good grief, these things were fast.  There were so many on his front paws that he literally looked like he was wearing socks.  Thankfully, I was soon able to rid him of the ants, and we were able to continue on our way.

But as I walked, I pondered how quickly the ants had overwhelmed him, and that led me to the following train of thought.  Sometimes in life, we decide to take a quick detour off the trail that God has laid out for us.  What we fail to take into consideration, however, is how quickly the "ants of sin" can overtake and overwhelm us.  We just stop for a brief moment.  We don't intend to stay long.  But in the course of those few minutes, we find ourselves covered.  Temptations abound.  After all, we've already stepped off the path, what would it hurt if we went a little further.  It happens in the blink of an eye, before we even realize what's happening.  Then, if/when we do get back on the trail, we have to shed the excess weight before we can take up the journey again.

The moral of today's lesson?  Just stay on the straight and narrow way.  Don't get off.  Don't take a detour or a shortcut.  When God has made your path clear, stay on it until He tells you otherwise.  It's better that way.  Take it from the girl who recently shucked ants!

Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. - Psalm 119:35

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Interview with Christian Author, Susan Braun

Today, I'm thrilled to have fellow Christian author, Susan Braun, as my guest.  She'll be answering a few questions and telling us about her new book.  Let the interview begin!

  1. For the sake of all my new readers, take a few minutes to tell us a little about yourself.
I am a former elementary school teacher, and now I’m the mom of three tween/teen daughters and a freelance writer. I blog each weekday at Girls in White Dresses, and I’ve written five books that are available at Amazon. Fun fact: our family has two rabbits, a hedgehog, and a chinchilla.

  1. You're here today to talk about your new book, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge: A Biography for Children. What inspired you to write such a book?
I’ve been fascinated by the royal family since Princess Diana came onto the scene in 1980. When I was a high school senior, I had to write a research paper. It was a big deal, and the “hot” topic for papers among my friends seemed to anorexia. I told my teacher I wanted to write my paper about the royal romance of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He was not impressed! However, I was pleased when he ended up liking my paper and asking if he could make a copy. It appears that the royals could charm even a grumpy old man.
  1. Why did you choose to write a biography for children rather than for adults?
The more I write, the more I try to find niches that fit both my passions and a need in the market. I found quite a few biographies of Kate Middleton for adults, but for children all I could find were a few picture books. My biography is around 50 pages, and it’s aimed at a girl around fifth grade level. It offers enough information about Kate that the reader will be able to do a report on her, or just learn more about her for her own interest. Of course, there are several color photos as well – this is a book about one of the world’s best-dressed ladies, after all!
  1. How many other books have you written and what type of books are they (children's, non-fiction, fantasy, etc.)?
I wrote my first book, I Love to Tell the Story, as a way of documenting many of my childhood memories for my own kids. It tells about my life growing up Baptist. I’d read so many books about people who grew up in Christian families and then felt the need to trash their upbringing. I wanted to show that a happy childhood in a Christian family is not only possible, but common. Then, I wrote Sophie, Pay Attention and A Dog Called Naaman. They’re e-books for early readers based on modern-day characters in situations similar to those of Bible characters. Finally, I wrote a biography of “Mad” King Ludwig (another historical figure who intrigues me) for young adults.
  1. What would you say is the most difficult part about being a writer?
It’s such a step of faith. As a writer, we put hours and hours of real effort into getting our work out into the world. After all that, will the public discover and appreciate our writing? It’s a constant effort, and it’s never a sure thing.
  1. Do you think it's more difficult for Christian writers to “get their work out there” than it is for non-Christian writers?
Well, both Christian and non-Christian authors must deal with publicity, and that’s something we could work at all day long! However, Christian writers probably do have a bit more of a challenge, because a growing portion of the population doesn’t identify itself as Christian. All we can do is our best, and leave the results up to the Lord.
  1. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I enjoy reading, playing piano and organ, and giving piano lessons. I also like spending time with my daughters and pets, and during nice weather I like to garden.
  1. What knowledge or inspiration do you hope your readers will attain while reading this biography of Kate Middleton?
I began writing this book because I felt girls would enjoy reading about a real-life princess (or actually, duchess). But as I researched Kate, I found several things about her worth emulating. She has tremendous patience and determination. She was bullied as a child at school, yet she persevered. She dated Prince William for almost a decade with no assurance they would eventually marry, but she always handled herself with dignity, modesty, and class.
  1. Are there any other juicy tidbits you'd like to share with the readers today?
I found it interesting that Kate’s mom in many ways seemed to be the power behind Kate. For instance, Kate planned to attend a different college, but her mother encouraged her to attend St Andrews because that’s where Prince William was going. Obviously, that worked out well!

10. Where can people find you online, and how can they purchase your book?

I blog at Girls in White Dresses each weekday. I also write frequently about the British royals at Yahoo Voices. You can follow all my writing adventures on my Facebook writing page. All my books can be purchased at Amazon.

Thanks, Dana, for being such a great friend. I love that we have so much in common, and although we’ve never met, I feel that we “know” each other pretty well . Friendship with people like you is one of the best things about the internet!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Spiritual Message From an Evening Movie?

I have a confession to make.  Jason and I do not eat dinner at the table.  We used to.  I used to be adamant that we would not eat dinner in front of the television but would sit down like civilized people and eat at the table where we could make pleasant conversation and catch up on each other's day.  Well, that worked for a while, but when life went crazy, and schedules flew out of control, things changed.  With our current schedule (or lack thereof), we have found that it works well for us to eat in the comfort of the living room while watching a rerun of some old television show.  After dinner, once both of us have had the opportunity to unwind, we have our devotions and indulge in conversation. Far from perfect, I know, but it works for us.

Last night, as I was putting the finishing touches on dinner, Jason grabbed the remote to pull up a show.  But for some reason, the player kept saying "Network Error."  There wasn't anything wrong with our internet, but the player simply did not want to cooperate.  "Do you want to just watch a movie?" I asked, sensing that Jason was growing frustrated with the finicky system.  "How about Prince Caspian?" I asked, remembering that we had spoken about both the book and movie several times recently.  He agreed, and we settled in for the evening.

For those of you not familiar with C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories, they are allegories of the Christian life.  The lion, Aslan, is representative of the Lord, and the Pevensie children represent mankind.  At this particular point in the story, life is difficult for the Narnians.  An evil enemy has driven them into hiding, and the Narnians wonder where Aslan is and how he could allow such things to happen.  When the Pevensie children arrive and see the predicament of the Narnians, Peter the High King, decides to take matters into his own hands.  When Lucy, his younger sister, points out that they should seek direction from Aslan, Peter's response is "I think we've waited for Aslan long enough."

When I heard that statement last night, I couldn't hold back the words that bubbled forth, "And that's when we get ourselves into trouble--when we get tired of waiting on the Lord to work on our behalf and take matters into our own hands."  I had no idea at the time that those words were just the beginning of some spiritual insight.  Sure enough, Peter's plan falls apart, costing many Narnians their lives, and in the end, he was reminded that it's always best to wait for the direction of the Lord (or Aslan in his case).

After the movie, Jason and I pulled out our devotion book, My Utmost for His Highest, and opened to the bookmarked page.  This is what Oswald Chambers had to say, "There are times when you can't understand why you cannot do what you want to do.  When God brings a time of waiting, and appears to be unresponsive, don't fill it with busyness, just wait. . .Never run before God gives you His direction.  If you have the slightest doubt, then He is not guiding.  Whenever there is doubt--wait."

Needless to say, we didn't make it past the second sentence before we were both rolling with laughter.  It was just too hilarious.  The fact of the matter is that Jason and I have been battling with a decision.  We've discussed it with each other.  We've prayed about it.  We've weighed out the pros and cons.  But we could not get peace about it one way or another.  Earlier this week, as I prayed, I asked God to make His will blatantly clear.  I confessed that the step we were contemplating was a good step in some respects but overall, it seemed like trading one necessary evil for another one.  I confided in the Lord that I know He is able to meet this need perfectly, and that if He didn't want us to take this other step that we would obey.  After our devotions, Jason and I both agreed that God had given us His answer.

What amazes me is how God answered.  We probably wouldn't have thought anything about the devotion had we not just watched the movie and made the comment about waiting.  We wouldn't have watched the movie if the player hadn't been acting kooky.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  I think God needed to get His message across, and He chose to do so in this particular manner. 

When things get frustrating (and you know they will), don't get angry.  Instead, be still and listen.  God may be trying to tell you something.  He could be using the frustrating situation to gain your attention.  Don't allow yourself to be so consumed that you miss out on His message.  Pay attention to what's going on around you.  Watch for repetitions or "coincidences."  God loves to work on behalf of His children, and He has promised to lead and guide us.  Sometimes, He even uses the evening movie!

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. - Psalm 46:10

Friday, August 23, 2013

What's That Smell?

Earlier this week, Jason decided to give each of our dogs a much-needed essential oils bath.  We've found that the essential oils work well to remove dirt, bugs and even bacteria, all while moisturizing the skin and conditioning the fur.  Not only that, but the oils smell SO MUCH better than most of the other pet shampoos and flea treatments.

As Jason was mixing up his special soap/oil blend, he accidentally knocked over the bottle of wintergreen oil, one of the few bottles that doesn't contain a stopper.  Fortunately, he righted the bottle before much spilled out, but still, there was a substantial puddle left behind.  I don't know if you've ever smelled wintergreen oil, but it is very fragrant.  I love it.  In fact, it's one of my favorite oils, but it is potent.  A little bit goes a long way.  So you can imagine what a puddle will do!

When I arrived home from teaching my college class Monday night, I opened the door to the house and was immediately overcome by the smell of wintergreen.  Noticing the wet dogs, I, at first, assumed the pervasive fragrance was coming from them, but then Jason informed me of the spill, which he hadn't yet had the opportunity to clean up.  I helped him to scrape what we could of the spilled contents back into the container, then proceeded to wipe up the counter.   I wiped and wiped until I was satisfied no oil remained.

But the next morning, guess what?  Before I had even reached the kitchen, the smell attacked me.  To this day, several days later, whenever I go near the kitchen, I can smell the wintergreen.  At this point, I don't mind.  After all, it is a pleasant smell when it's not so completely overwhelming.  But I was simply fascinated by how long certain smells can linger.  And on the heels of that thought, my mind was drawn to a particular Bible passage.

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. - John 12:1-3

From what I've been able to learn, spikenard is described as being "intensely aromatic."  So, we're talking about a strong smelling ointment to begin with, but notice the verse says she used an entire pound of it.  As I mentioned earlier, Jason and I have learned that a little goes a long way when it comes to essential oils.  Otherwise, the fragrance (especially in particular oils) becomes overwhelming to the senses.  I cannot imagine using a pound of any of these oils.  We typically use a few drops.  But a pound?  You know it was fragrant because the verse goes on to say the entire house was filled with the odor, and probably remained that way from some time.

Another thing we've learned about the oils is that their fragrance remains even after washing.  It's difficult to eliminate the smell.  With that thought in mind, isn't it possible that Jesus had the odor of spikenard clinging to Him as He walked up the long road to Calvary?  As He hung on that old rugged cross, could He still smell the fragrance on his skin?  And when the Father turned away from His own Son, did the smell of spikenard remind Christ that He was loved?  Someone loved Him enough to anoint Him with oil.  Did the smell bring Him a sense of peace during an hour of such tragedy?  I believe so.

Not only that, but Mary bore the fragrance as well.  After all, she was the one doing the pouring, and she even wiped the oil in with her hair.  I imagine the smell lingered with her for several days.  But I don't think Mary minded.  After all, she smelled like Jesus.  The smell reminded her of her Lord and Savior.  The fragrance brought with it the bittersweet thoughts of His sacrifice on the cross.  For days, no matter where she went, people would say, "I know that smell.  I've smelled it before--just recently, in fact.  I know!  She smells just like Jesus."  And secretly, Mary would smile.

Mary had spent enough time with Jesus and had drawn so close to Him in her worship that she literally smelled like Him.  What about us?  Do we carry with us the fragrance of love, goodness and mercy?  Or do we wreak from the stench of hatefulness, bitterness and pride?  When we walk past others, can they tell that we've been with Jesus?  Do they see His light in our eyes?  Do they hear His words on our lips?  Do they feel His love in our actions?  Do we smell like Jesus today?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Well, it's happening again. I'm being chased by Bible verses, hunted down by spiritual thoughts and bombarded with the same Biblical premise over and over again. This past Sunday, I began teaching a short series on the Lord our Shepherd. Ever since then, I can't escape passages, messages and songs about the topic. It's popped up in my daily Bible reading. It's been manifest in my devotional reading. The songs on the radio are proclaiming the message over and over again. To tell you the truth, it's downright humorous.

 That being said, I felt strongly led to re-post an earlier entry on this very topic: the Lord our Shepherd. It wasn't that terribly long ago that I made the initial post, but I just can't escape the feeling that the Lord wants me to post it again today. So, who knows? This post may be just for you. Either way, I hope you will enjoy it and be encouraged by it.

Getting to Know God: Jehovah Rohi

Today we're going to wrap up our study on the names of the Lord with what is perhaps the most personal name attributed to Him: Jehovah Rohi, the Lord my shepherd. As I understand it, shepherds have a very personal relationship with their sheep. Not only does a shepherd know each sheep by name, but he is also acutely aware of the personality, weakness, and quirk of each individual sheep. He knows them better than they know themselves. And as the shepherd, he has a huge responsibility to care for those sheep because, let's face it, sheep can't exactly take care of themselves. They're not the brightest animal among God's creation, now are they? (And of all the creatures God could relate us to, which one does He choose? That doesn't say much for our intelligence, now does it?)

The fact is that sheep are helpless. Unlike many other animals, sheep have no natural means of protection. No claws or sharp teeth or stink spray. Not only that, but they are navigationally challenged (a bit like myself), making it difficult to find good pasture or clean water. They don't have any enhanced senses, so they are easily preyed upon by wolves and other wild animals. Helpless, completely helpless! And yet, anytime I see a field of sheep, they look so content and peaceful. Why? Because they are. As long as the shepherd is nearby, they feel safe, and a good shepherd never leaves his sheep.

Psalm 23 is probably one of the most familiar Bible passages of all time, and it paints a beautiful picture of the Lord's role as the Shepherd in our lives. Penned by David, a man who knew a thing or two about shepherding, this psalm begins with today's name: "The Lord is my Shepherd". And on the heels of that statement, David proclaims, "I shall not want."

As a young child, I was confused by that verse, for in my immature understanding, I took the verse to mean that David didn't want the Lord as his shepherd. I was too young and uneducated at that time to realize that the word "want" here is not defined as "desire" but rather as "need, require, or lack". So, in fact, what David is saying is this: "Because the Lord is my shepherd, I don't need anything else. There is nothing I lack." And then he proceeds to explain that statement in great detail:

vs. 2 - He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. - The Shepherd provides rest.
vs. 2 - He leadeth me beside the still waters. - The Shepherd provides refreshment.
vs. 3 - He restoreth my soul. - The Shepherd provides salvation.
vs. 3 - He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. - The Shepherd provides guidance. vs. 4 - Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. - The Shepherd provides peace and safety.
vs. 4 - For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. - The Shepherd provides companionship and correction.
vs. 5 - Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. - The Shepherd provides nourishment.
vs. 6 - Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. - The Shepherd provides blessings above and beyond what we can ask or think.
vs. 7 - Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. - The Shepherd provides the fruit of the Spirit by which we can live our lives.
vs. 7 - I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. - The Shepherd provides a hope for the future.

 Let's face it, the psalmist could have simply said, "The Lord is my Shepherd. 'Nough said!" But he didn't. Instead, he made sure that there could be no misunderstanding. He spelled it out so that even the most ignorant or naive among us could understand. If the Lord is our Shepherd (and if you're saved, He is), then He's truly all we need. No matter what comes our way, He will provide. Just like the shepherd, God loves His sheep and is willing to do everything in His power to care for us. We've already established that there is no limit to His power, so what does that mean for us? It means there is no need too great, no situation too dire, no foe too frightening and no wanderer forsaken. It means we're taken care of. It means the Shepherd is all we need!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

God Cares About the Little Things

Jason and I have established the habit of having devotions together every evening after dinner.  The system isn't perfect, and between our two work schedules, it's not uncommon for us to miss a night or two.  But we're trying.  We know we both benefit by spending time together in the Word, and we've found that it has drawn us closer together and instigated some very enlightening conversations.

The trouble for us is finding a devotional guide that is worth our time.  So many are filled with fluff or seem to be targeted to the newly married or recently saved.  We've discovered a few that we really enjoyed and a few that we couldn't even finish because we were so bored with them.  Before finishing our last book (which was very good), we both decided that we would like to read through Oswald Chamber's book, My Utmost for His Highest.  The only problem was that we didn't have it.  I knew we had had a copy at one time, but what happened to it I do not know.

So what did we do?  We prayed about it.  After a quick online search, we discovered that even a used copy on eBay was going to cost more than we could afford to spend right then.  No, if we were going to obtain a copy, God would have to provide it dirt cheap!  Over the past month or so, we've been taking opportunities here and there to browse through thrift stores (oh, the horror of it all, he-he-he, I love thrift shopping!)  Anyway, we've browsed the books, and while we've found some other literary treasures, we weren't finding the one book we really wanted.  Still, we prayed.

During our last thrift store outing a few weeks ago, we were browsing the shelves and marveling at all the good books people had given away.  Jason and I started on opposite ends of the shelves, and we were just about to meet when he called me over to look at a particular book he had found.  I walked over, we discussed the book (and placed it in the cart if memory serves), then I turned back to return to my section.  As I turned, you will not believe what I saw.  There it was -- My Utmost for His Highest.  It was on a shelf that was perfectly level with my eyes, but more than that, it wasn't evenly filed along with the other books.  Instead, it stood on its end, title facing out, in front of all the other books.  Like it was trying to get my attention.  And it gets even better.  This was not a flimsy paperback book or even one that was bent and bruised from use and/or abuse.  No, it was a perfectly-bound hardback copy in excellent condition.

Yes, I squealed and did a little happy dance right there in the store.  Not just because I'd found the book we had been searching for, but because I realized then and there that God really does care about every minute facet of my life.  No matter how small or insignificant a want or need may seem to you, it's of paramount importance to God.  He wants to make us happy.  He wants to provide for us.  He wants to shower us with gifts of His love.  Even if that gift is a devotional book that ended up costing a whopping $1!

Jason and I have begun reading in our new book, and let me tell you, if you have never read this book or don't have a copy of your own, you may want to visit a few thrift stores.  It's worth the time and effort!  Plus, you may even find a few other goodies along the way.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. - Luke 12:6-7

Friday, August 16, 2013

Psalmist, I Am by Ray Abner

Those of you who have followed my writing for any length of time know that I am in love with the book of Psalms.  Within that precious book, I find comfort, peace and instruction.  I see myself on nearly every page of the Psalms, and something about that brings me great joy because it helps me to see and understand that tendencies and personalities of mankind change very little over time, but more importantly, it reminds me that the God of the Old Testament is the same God that rules and reigns today.

When I saw the title of this book, Psalmist, I Am, I was immediately intrigued, but when I read the subtitle, "Live through the many emotions of a follower, it's OK," I knew I needed to delve into its pages.  Many emotions?  Why, that's my middle name!

Let me begin by saying, however, that this book is not exactly what I expected.  After reading the description on the back of the book, I was under the impression that the book was a devotional study on some of the different psalms.  An inside look into how the psalms relate to our lives.  I was ready to, once again, meet myself in the psalms and uncover little nuggets that I had missed in previous studies.  But my expectation was off.  This book is not a devotional book in the traditional sense, but rather a book of Scripture divided into categories, similar to my own book, There's a Verse for That.  Please understand, I'm not saying that's bad.  It just wasn't what I was expecting.

What Ray Abner has done is taken verses from various psalms and categorized them by themes such as, "A Psalmist in Distress," "A Psalmist Reveals God's Promises" and "A Psalmist Praises Him," just to name a few.  This method provides an easy go-to source if you're longing for a Scripture passage to read during a time of distress or if you want to lift up praises to the Lord.  The table of contents helps the reader easily locate their desired portion of reading, but of course, the book is also laid out in such a fashion that the reader could read straight through if he/she so chooses.

Another nice feature of the book are the journal pages included at the end of each section.  After reading about God's promises, for example, you can take the opportunity to journal a few thoughts about the verses you've read and what they mean to you.  With the journal as part of the book, you never have to worry about finding and/or losing a piece of paper.  Additionally, the layout of the book is quite unique and eye-catching.

The one thing I don't like about the book is that the author uses so many different versions of the Bible.  Personally, I'm a King James girl, but that's not the issue.  The problem I have with all the different versions is that it makes it nearly impossible to memorize Scripture.  The Bible tells us that we should hide God's Word in our hearts, and I think it's pretty obvious that that can only be done by memorization.  I learn best by repetition.  By reading the same verse over and over again, it becomes a part of me, and I can easily recall it.  If, however, that verse reads differently every time I come across it, there's no possible way for me to memorize it.  That's just my personal opinion on the matter.  Take it or leave it.

That being said, I feel Psalmist, I Am, would make a wondrous addition to any library, but specifically to the Psalm-lover.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Who's In Control of Your Brushes?

An aspiring painter sat alone in his studio, becoming increasingly frustrated with his current work of art. Despite his best efforts, the painting lacked something. With each stroke of the brush, the artist attempted to fix the error, but the painting only grew worse. Sure, to passersby, the painting looked fine, lovely even. But to him, not so, for he has a clear mental vision of what the painting should be. Sadly, the piece of art before him was far from what he had dreamed.

As the young man struggled with paint strokes, vivid colors and different size brushes, Claude Monet, the famous French impressionist entered the studio. Coming up behind the novice, the master studied the painting as well as the frustration on the face on the young painter.

"Would you like me to complete that for you?" Monet asked.

The aspiring artist nearly dropped his brush.  "Are you serious?  You, Claude Monet, would fix my painting?"

"I'd be happy too," Monet replied.

Relieved, the young artist replaced his brushes, removed his smock and sat back to watch the master at work. You can imagine his horror when he noticed Monet reaching for the widest brush covered in white paint. Before the young man could stop him, the master had taken the wide brush and completely covered all the novice's work with a generous coat of white paint.

"What are you doing?" the young artist screamed.

Monet was unmoved by the outburst.  "I can fix your work, but to do so, I must begin again."

The young man sat seething.  On the one hand, he felt honored and privileged that someone like Monet would offer to improve his painting. But on the other hand, he was offended that Monet had thought so little of his work and with each passing hour, his bitterness grew.  It didn't help that the master painter was making obvious mistakes on his masterpiece. For one who was so famous, it seemed the "master" had much to learn.

But as the painting approached completion, the young man had no choice but to set his bitterness aside.  The picture before him was nothing like what he had imagined.  It was much, much better.  The artist marveled at the colors, the strokes, the combinations of light and angles.  From every vantage point, the painting was breathtaking. As the young man studied, he could now make sense of the areas that had previously seemed like mistakes. He could now visualize the inner workings of the masterpiece, and it became all too clear why the master had dismissed his work.  It wasn't that it wasn't good.  It wasn't that it wasn't worthy of recognition.  But the master knew that His way would be better and create better results in the process.  The young artist had envisioned a beautiful work of art.  But the master had envisioned a masterpiece of mercy.

While this story is fictional (at least,  to my knowledge), there is a beautiful picture to be gained from its telling. Some of us assume the role of the struggling artist.  We have a clear picture of the way we think life should be, but despite our best efforts, we can't seem to make the picture come together.  Each attempt to "fix" things only results in more damage to the work of art.

That's when the Master steps in and says, "Would you like me to do that for you?" Many times we fear to say "yes" because we're afraid that He won't work things out the way we want Him too.  Like the young painter, we become offended and bitter when God chooses to wipe away all our hard work and start over from scratch. Unfortunately, since we have yet to see the finished product, that state of bitterness and offense is where we linger.  Angry with God for not allowing our dreams to come true.  Frustrated with ourselves for not being able to bring things together.  Seething in bitterness at God's implication that we can't handle the situation.  In a word, miserable!

Yes, it is true that life seldom turns out the way we planned.  But God is in control.  He sees the masterpiece He longs for our lives to be, and He's eager to work to complete that masterpiece.  That means it's necessary for us to surrender the brushes and our will.  Whatever we had envisioned, don't you know that God's dream is much bigger and better?

Who's painting your life--the novice or the Master?  Hand over the brushes, sit back and watch in awe as the Master creates a masterpiece beyond your wildest dreams.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. - Ephesians 2:10

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This Little Light of Mine

One day last week, I was awakened in the dark hours of the morning by the call of nature.  Drowsy and muddle-brained, I stumbled to the bathroom to take care of business.  As I sat there, blinking to clear the sleep from my eyes, I caught sight of something in my peripheral vision. I stared into the darkness of the hallway (I had not turned on a light so as not to disturb anyone else during my nighttime escapade) and noticed a small, vivid green light on the floor. As far as I could tell, the pinpoint of light was coming from beside, or possibly on top of, the air vent. I stared at it in confusion for a moment, then it went out.

Imagining I had been seeing things, I shook my head, but then I saw it again, this time brighter than before.  It remained steady for several seconds, then flickered and extinguished completely.  By this time, I was baffled.  Forsaking my intentions of not disturbing anyone else's rest, I turned on the bathroom light and walked over to examine the glow.  For a moment, I still couldn't determine what I had seen, but then the light resumed to its full brilliance.  AHA!

I had the privilege of seeing a firefly like I had never seen before.  First of all, it was bright green like some of the indicator lights on my electronics, not the typical white, yellow or blue I often see. Second, it didn't flash its light in the usual fashion but rather displayed it in sustained bursts.  Third, it was not flying but rather lying on its back, struggling to turn itself over.

As I stumbled back to bed, a thought struck me.  I'm just like that little bug.  The trying circumstances of life have flipped me upside down, and I don't know which way to turn.  I struggle with every ounce of strength to right myself and continue on my way, but to no avail.  And as I lay there in despair, I feel my light dimming.  I want to let my light shine, but it seems to keep going out, and I just don't have the strength to keep rekindling the flame.  Ever been there?

The next morning, as I stepped into the hallway, I noticed the little bug.  It had died. Sadly, it wasn't until that moment that I realized I could have helped him. If I had turned him over, he might have survived.  But in my drowsy state, the thought didn't cross my mind.  As I stared at the poor creature, I felt both regret and joy.  Regret for my failure to do what I could to help the struggling bug.  Joy at the realization that God will never fail to aid me during my difficult times.  Not only is my Father there to flip me over and set me back on my feet, but He also extends the light of His love all around me, reminding me that I have no light of my own but only that which is reflected from Him.

This little light of mine is Jesus.  He is my Light, and it is both my privilege and my duty to let Him shine through me in all that I do and say.  When I struggle, I can rest assured that He will come to my aid.  He will set me right, renew my light and banish my night. 

And because He never sleeps, I don't have to worry about Him being too drowsy to recognize my predicament.

So sorry, little bug.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? - Psalm 27:1

Monday, August 12, 2013

When Well-Doing Isn't Doing Well

Have you ever tried to accomplish a good thing for a good cause with a good attitude only to be met with total defeat?  In my mind, that's one of the most frustrating things in the world.  I mean, if I'm doing the wrong things or acting in the wrong attitude or with the wrong motives, then failure makes sense.  But when I'm struggling to do the right things, why can't things just go smoothly?

Jason and I have dealt with that a lot recently.  Our church was in need of a second projector, this one to display on the back wall for the choir and song leader.  After several quotes and online searches, it was determined that, by far, the least inexpensive route would be to order the parts online and have someone from the church install it.  That someone was Jason.  (Although, I did play a minute role in the process as the "fetch and tote" gal.  I even climbed up on a VERY tall ladder.  I didn't like it, but I did it.)

The installation, though time-consuming, didn't present many problems.  Praise the Lord!  However, since that time, the projector has had some serious mood swings.  During one service it decided to go all funky with the contrast, making it extremely difficult to read the display.  At another point, it determined that it would not play a particular slideshow.  It played all the rest, just not this one in particular.  Similar glitches have popped up out of the blue, causing great frustration to Jason, who is baffled by its array of moods.  (Although, you'd think he'd be used to that being married to me!)

Another frustration is that many of the good people of the church don't understand how the projection system works.  We completed the installation of the projector on a Sunday afternoon between services.  By that evening, several of the members expected to have all of our music, lyrics, announcements and so on displayed.  "Well, that's why we got it," one lady proclaimed.  I did my best to explain that slides didn't magically appear just because we had a new projector, and that all the songs in our song books (both congregational and choir) had to be made into slides before they could be displayed by the projector.  Based on the blank stares I received, I don't think a lot of them understood.

The following day, Jason and I decided to look into some church software programs that would allow us to display lyrical slide shows without having to do all the grunt work of typing out slides and creating PowerPoint presentations.  We knew they existed, but could we afford them?  After more research, we discovered several free versions of software that would do the trick.  Unfortunately, we don't have internet access at church, so the software would have to be downloaded onto Jason's computer and then transferred to the church computer.  But Jason has a Linux system instead of Windows (which was required), so he needed to partition his hard drive to make room for Windows as well.  It should have been a simple process.  It wasn't.  He ran into one hiccup after another.  First this wouldn't work, then that wouldn't.  Bless his heart, he was becoming so frustrated, and I don't blame him.

As we prayed for guidance and dealt with problems, Galatians 6:9 came to mind.  And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.  As I thought on this verse, I lifted my eyes to Heaven and cried, "Lord, our well-doing is not doing well!"  Then I poured out my sob story of how we were trying to do all of this for Him and His house.  We were trying to make it easier to worship by providing slides for all to see.  We were trying to do good!  Why were we failing?

It was then that the second part of the verse came to mind. For in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. To be honest, I wanted to quit.  Both of us were tired and frustrated, and that frustration was creeping into other areas of our relationship.  I didn't want that.  Yes, at times, I wanted to throw up my hands and say, "I've had enough!" (Kind of like the straw that broke the camel's back, huh?  I told you the last few weeks had been rough.)  But as much as I wanted to quit, the Lord wouldn't let me.  A single phrase kept ringing through my head:  "Keep On Keeping On!"

Sometimes, well-doing just doesn't do well.  You perform to the best of your ability, and the job still goes to someone else.  You do all the work and preparation for an event, and someone else gets all the credit.  You try to do something for the glory of the Lord, and you're met with defeat at every corner.  What do you do?  Keep on keeping on.  Yes, it's tough.  Yes, it's frustrating.  Yes, it's exhausting.  But it will also be worth it.  We have God's promise on that.  If we'll stay true and faithful, we'll reap the reward.  Just whatever you do, DON'T GIVE UP!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back

The straw that broke the camel's back?  What a strange adage, and yet after the past few weeks, I totally get it.

Jason's work has slowed down to a mere crawl, meaning very little pay.  -- Straw!

To make up for the decreased pay, I've had to set aside my writing projects and focus on writing articles. -- Straw!

Despite numerous baths, sprays, lotions and other treatments, both of my dogs have a severe case of fleas. -- Straw!

In addition to the fleas, we recently discovered that Tippy has internal worms. -- Straw!

I told a friend I would have the editing done on her book by the end of July.  It is now well into August, and I'm still not done. -- Straw!

A lady at church walked up to me and kindly inquired if I was tired because I certainly looked it.  -- Straw!

I'm scheduled to teach a class that starts in a little over a week, and the only preparation I've been able to do is to create the class schedule. -- Straw!

My bursitis decided to flair up with a vengeance. -- LAST STRAW!!!!!

Yep, that was it--the straw that broke the camel's back.  I couldn't take anymore.  I didn't have time for my bursitis to flair up.  I didn't have the strength or energy to contend with the pain and discomfort.  And above all, I was in no mood to fight another losing battle.  A point which I made quite evident when I had my emotional breakdown.  I'm not talking about a few tears.  I'm talking about heart-wrenching, stomach-clenching, can't-catch-my-breath sobs.  Enough was enough.  My physical pain collided with my stress and fatigue, and the result was not pretty!

Jason tried to be patient with me, but I could tell it was a struggle for him.  "I just don't understand," he said.  "You are a bright young lady.  You are sensible and wise.  You know the Bible.  You've been through this same battle over and over again, and we've had this same discussion I don't know how many times.  How can you keep ending up in this same place?"

It was a fair question.  I only wish I had had a good answer, but at the time, I couldn't come up with one.  Fortunately, God provided one during the preacher's message on Sunday.

The pastor preached from I Kings 19 which tells the story of Elijah's flight from Jezebel after his great victory on Mount Carmel. Elijah should have been on an emotional and spiritual high, yet we find him hiding out and pleading with the Lord to end his life.  Want to see a pity party, turn to I Kings 19 and read it for yourself.  Our pastor pointed out the confusing behavior, then made this statement, "Sometimes, when we get our eyes off of God and on our circumstances, things become very confusing."

As soon as he said that, everything clicked.  That's exactly how I had felt.  I was confused.  My head and my heart were at war with one another. There was a great battle raging between what I knew and how I felt.  As the pastor continued his message, I could only nod my head and allow the tears to streak down my face.  Why?  Because God's message for Elijah is the same message He has for me:  God is not through with me yet.  He still has things for me to do.  Even though I've failed Him.  Even though I keep fighting the same battle over and over again.  God still wants to use me.  Amazing grace!

How's your camel doing today?  Do you feel burdened under the weight of life's circumstances?  Can you feel yourself nearing the breaking point?  If so, I beg of you, look to God.  Take your eyes off of yourself and your surroundings and turn them to the Problem Solver.  Recite His promises.  Read about His miracles.  Do whatever it takes to draw your mind to Him and away from the "straws" of this life. 

Avoid the confusion. . . and the emotional breakdown.  Your sinuses will thank you!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2

Brian Regan - UPS