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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ghastly Groans From the Graveyard

And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.  And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,  Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:  Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.  For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel. - Mark 5:1-20

Do you like scary stories?  If so, you'll love this one.  There are all kinds of creepy things going on within this tale.  A graveyard scene.  A legion of demons.  The rattle of chains.  Crying.  Running.  A man possessed and out of his mind.  Drowning pigs.  Let's face it, nobody could make up such a tale, and yet it has all the proper ingredients for a Halloween special, huh?

What I wanted to point out in this particular passage, however, is a couple of things that are often overlooked.  These things are perhaps the scariest, most dreadful parts of the story, yet we often grow so consumed with the "tales from the crypt" that we lose sight of the real reason for dread.  It doesn't lie among the tombs.  It has nothing to do with the chains or even the demons for that matter. 

Notice with me when fear actually entered the story.  It wasn't when the man was possessed.  It wasn't when he was crying out in the night and cutting himself.  It wasn't when he was out of his mind and breaking chains asunder.  No, it was when the people saw him sitting there clothed and in his right mind.  When things were as they should be, the people became afraid.  They had grown complacent with the way things were.  They were comfortable with their discomfort over this man possessed.  In essence, they had cast him out and forgotten about him.  It makes you wonder if the man's tears were over his possession or over his state of being outcast.  No one cared about him.  No one came to see him.  People avoided him at all costs.  Then, when Jesus stepped in and made things right, they became afraid.  I guess people back then were just as scared as change as we are today.

That's bad enough, but now, notice with me the most horrifying event of all to take place that night in the graveyard.  And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. (vs.17)  They asked Jesus to leave.  It wasn't enough to cast out the man who had been possessed.  No, they cast out Jesus too.  They took down the "Welcome" sign and sent him on his way.  Nowhere in this passage does it mention the people's elation at the man's healing.  Nowhere does it discuss their thankfulness for the miracle that Jesus wrought.  Nowhere do we see love or compassion from this group.  Kind of makes you wonder who was really possessed that night, doesn't it?

I have said and done some bold things in my life.  I've disobeyed God. I've questioned Him.  I've doubted Him.  But never in my life have I even thought about saying, "Go away, and leave me alone."  On the contrary, I find myself praying, "Come closer, Lord.  I need you."  I truly cannot imagine asking the Son of God to go away.  Can you? 

But you know what?  He did just that.  They asked Him to leave, so He did.  He honored their request.  He packed up His miracles and took them elsewhere.  Did the people ever regret their request? What did it feel like when the presence of God departed from them?  I'll bet there was a chill in the air, and it had nothing to do with their surroundings.  Did they ever realize what they had done?  I wish I knew.

There are a lot of terrifying things in the world--things that go bump in the night.  But the most terrifying of all is to deny Christ, to push Him away.  He deserves so much more than we could ever give Him, yet all He desires is our heart.  Like the maniac of Gadara, lives are still being changed by the Son of God. He can take a soul that is possessed of pride and self-will and turn it into one who is clothed in His righteousness and equipped with a "right mind"--the mind of Christ.  One man that night accepted His offer; all the others turned Him away.  What will you do?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Withered Roses

I've gotten behind in my housecleaning. . . again.  Earlier today, I returned home from running a few errands and realized just how cluttered my house had become.  Mail littered the dining room table.  Shoes were scattered across the floor.  My myriad of bags (school, church, other) vacated every chair around the table.  Unfolded laundry wrinkled away in the basket on the end table in the living room. (I know, I know--worst housekeeper in the world!)  I guess between working all day every day, working Monday and Tuesday evenings and then church Wednesday night, I've been too busy to notice the chaos taking place in my home.

The clincher, I must admit, was the vase of withered roses in the center of the dining room table.  Wasn't it just a few days ago I was marveling at their autumn colors?  Wasn't it recently that I inhaled their lush aroma?  Surely, it was just a couple of days ago when Jason surprised me with the roses simply because he felt I needed a little cheer.  (He was right about that, and the flowers certainly did the trick.)  But now that I think about it, I realize that it's been nearly two weeks since he bought the flowers.  Somewhere along the way, the flowers died, and I was too busy to notice.

As strange as it may seem, it reminds me a lot of my state of being a couple of weeks ago.  Like the flowers, life seemed to take a turn for the worse, though I have yet to pinpoint the exact moment or circumstance that threw me for a loop.  In fact, as more time passes, I'm beginning to wonder if there was anything external about the situation or if it was simply an internal battle. 

Whatever the case, my withered roses displayed an exceptional portrayal of how I felt.  Withered.  Dried up.  Unable to hold my head high.  Weary.  Worn.  The life drained by circumstances beyond my control.  And, the most dreadful of all, tainting the environment in which I dwell.  You see, as I took a close look at the roses this morning, I realized that not only were they dead, but also that a filmy, fuzzy substance has begun to grow within the water.  This reminded me that my attitude and emotional struggles affect far more than myself.  They affect my family, my friends, my students, my readers and even my dogs.  You've heard the saying, "When mamma not's happy, ain't nobody happy"?  Well, I'm afraid that's true to a degree.  Dealing with a negative or deeply discouraged person is not an easy thing to do.  Sadly, during my bout with discouragement, I was so concerned with myself and trying to figure out what was wrong with me that I didn't take into account what my emotions were doing to others.

Meditating on those withered flowers, I can't help but wonder if maybe I was so discouraged a few weeks ago because somewhere along the way, something within me died, and I was too busy to notice.  You know how it is--daily demands, weekly obligations, family schedules, writing deadlines, personal goals.  Sometimes, it just gets to be a bit too much to handle, but we try to do it anyway.  And all along, something within us is withering away without our ever taking notice.  Perhaps it's our joy or our hope or our excitement.  Perhaps life is sapping us of our strength or stripping us of our song.  How do we make it stop?  How do we keep everything alive?

My withered roses died not from lack of water but from lack of food.  When they were cut, they lost their source of nutrition.  Similarly the things in our lives (whatever they may be) may be withering and dying from malnutrition.  Too much stress, too little prayer.  An excess of worry, but a deficiency in Bible reading.  Spending more time trying to make things work than we are spending time with the One who works all things.  Simply put, we're not being fed, and it's our own fault.

I once heard someone say, "I'm too busy to eat," and at the time, I thought to myself, I've never been too busy to eat.  Physically?  Yes, that's true.  But spiritually?  Well, I'm afraid that's a different story.  Please understand, I'm not saying that if you read your Bible and pray regularly that your life will be a bed of roses (no pun intended).  That's simply not how it works.  What I am saying, however, is that the trials are going to come either way.  Wouldn't you rather be strong and nourished for the battle?

Don't allow yourself or any part of yourself to wither.  Stay in the Word.  Keep on your knees.  Draw nigh to God.  And please, whatever you do, don't allow yourself to get so busy that you don't have the time to stop and smell the roses, withered or not.

By the way, does anyone know the number for the cleaning fairy?  I can't seem to find it.

My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word. - Psalm 119:25

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Simply To Die For!

Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine. - Job 41:11

God is speaking in this passage.  In fact, He had been speaking for a few of the previous chapters.  Reading through it, you'll notice that God is attempting to set a few things straight for Job and his "friends" (yes, I use that word loosely).  In a nutshell, God asked, "Who do you think you are?  Were you here when I created the world?  Do you understand how the universe works?  Are you all-powerful?  No, I didn't think so.  So what gives you the right to question me?"  OUCH!  (There's quite a lesson in there for all of us, huh?)

Interestingly enough, in the midst of that theme, we find Job 41:11 in which God basically states, "I don't owe anyone anything!"  Point made. . . or is it?  Funny, I think we would all agree with that statement.  We nod and state in absolutes that God does not owe us a thing.  Yet, is that how we act?  Don't we expect His blessings?  Don't we expect Him to answer our prayers?  Don't we expect Him to give us strength to face the day?

"Well, sure," you may say, "but God has promised us those things, and that's the only reason we expect them."

Okay, I'll give you that, but what about expecting things that He hasn't promised.  For example, how many times (like Job and his friends) have we demanded explanations from God for our current circumstances?  How often have we demanded our way?  On how many occasions have we grown angry with God because He didn't live up to our expectations and meet our needs in the way we saw fit?  Our lips may say that we understand that God doesn't owe us anything, but our lives often tell a different story.

While I'm not, by any means, justifying our entitlement issues, may I offer the suggestion that maybe we expect more from God because we understand His giving nature?  After all, God didn't owe us anything.  In fact, we owed Him.  But that didn't prevent John 3:16:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

God gave.  Not because it was owed.  Not because it was expected.  But rather because we were loved.  In order to display His great love for us, He gave it all--His only begotten Son.  I don't know that we'll ever understand the full importance and impact of that sacrifice.  To pay such a great price knowing that many would not accept the gift.  To suffer such anguish and grief knowing that some would mock His name and scorn His sacrifice.  To give so much for a population that was not worth such a price.  No, God did not owe us a thing, but still He gave.  Aren't you glad He did?

Perhaps you've heard about this great sacrifice but have not yet accepted the gift of salvation.  If so, I urge you to call on His name today.  Accept the free gift of salvation.  Make Jesus your Lord.  If you need help, please contact me using the link at the top of the page, and I'll be happy to introduce you to the One who died for us.

The fact of the matter is this:  we are living in the last days.  Jesus' return is imminent, and if you have not accepted His payment for your sins, you will be left behind to endure tribulation like this world has never known.  I don't want that to happen to you, and neither does God.  He's offered a way of escape.  He's paid the ultimate price.  All you have to do is accept it.  Will you do it today?  Remember, God doesn't owe anyone anything, which means you may not have another day or even another breath.  This is the hour. Don't wait any longer.  Receive the free gift that was offered out of love.  

In the eyes of God, you were worth dying for!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Clearing Closets

Don't you just hate to clean out the closet?  Weeding through the clothes.  Spending hours trying on pants, skirts, blouses and dresses.  Discovering just how much weight you've gained since this time last year.  It's a frustrating, time-consuming process, yet it is also a necessary one.  In fact, I've already tackled that chore for this season.  Yep, it's done.  And the result is I was able to donate four trash bags full of clothes to the thrift store, put two large totes of clothes in the attic and clear out my closet to the point where I can actually move the hangers from side to side. (I didn't know they did that.) It looks so much better, and although the process itself took some time, it has saved me time ever since.

Sometimes our lives could use a similar cleaning.  Yes, I firmly believe at intervals in our lives we should stop and evaluate what's in our closets.  Could it be that we need to get rid of some things?  Is it possible that we've been clinging to things that really have no place in our lives any longer?  In many ways, this purging would be quite similar to that of cleaning out our closets.  It will take time and attention and, for the most part, we will need to rid ourselves of the same types of things we discarded from our closets.  What things?  To determine that, we'll need to ask a few questions.

Does it fit? 
Let's face it, there's really no reason for our closets to be crammed full of clothes that no longer fit.  Whether the items are too big (I wish) or too small (sigh), they do us no good by cluttering up our closet space.  The same can be said for items, habits and attitudes in our lives that no longer fit our lifestyles.  As a Christian, I have no need for malice or envy, for fear and regret.  Foul language doesn't befit my personality.  Nasty habits don't fit into the picture of what Christ wants me to be.  As for worry, well, it just squeezes me way too tight.  Nope, it doesn't fit either.  So if it doesn't fit, let's get rid of it.  Why make ourselves miserable?

Do I have a need for it? 
Some of us (women, in particular) purchase clothing because we like it without taking into consideration whether we need it or have anything to wear with it.  For example, when I cleaned out my closet, I discovered I had four tan skirts.  Who needs four tan skirts?  I don't.  I also found myself stuck with mismatched pieces that I liked but that really didn't go with anything else I owned.  Sure, I could hold onto them in the hopes that one day I'd find the perfect pieces to accompany them, but why?  I don't need them.  What about our lives?  What are we holding onto that we could really do without?  Do you need the 60+ hour/week job?  Do you need the third car and the whopping payment that comes with it?  Do you need the latest and greatest cell phone or television or computer?  There is a BIG difference between wants and needs.  What do we truly need and what would we do well to get rid of?  After all, most of these things are costing us far more than a little closet space.

Does it hold any value? 
There is a particular dress in my closet that I kept even though it is currently too small.  I may be able to wear it again some day (I hope,) but that's not why I kept it.  I kept it because it's special to me.  I kept it because it holds sentimental value.  I kept it because it's one of the first gifts my husband bought for me before he was even my husband.  Yes, in the early months of our dating period, my precious Jason bought me a beautiful blue dress from Cato's, and I still have it.  That was 18 years ago, and I'm happy to say is not "that much" too small, but even if it was, I'd still keep it.  Not necessarily to wear, but to remember.  It's a reminder to me of his thoughtfulness.  Do we have similar reminders in our lives?  Things that hold value because of the positive influence they have on us?  Those are certainly things worth holding onto.  As for the others--the things that serve as reminders of negative things--they need to be tossed.  The ring that serves as a reminder of a broken vow.  The letters that remind you that you're in debt up to your eyeballs.  The scale that reminds you that you've gained 40 pounds in the past year.  The pictures of what could have been.  Those things hold no value.  They only bring us down, so why do we hold onto them? 

What's the old saying--it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it?  Well, the truth is, we all need to do it.  And I'm not talking about the physical closet (although that would be a good idea too).  But if you can only muster enough courage and energy to accomplish one cleaning at a time, I suggest you begin with your spiritual closet.  If it's like mine, it needs it.  But I can also attest that once you do some cleaning, tossing out the old and making room for the new, you'll feel such a sense of peace and accomplishment.  Your soul will have room to breathe, and your spirit will have room to expand.

Oh, I urge you, don't put it off any longer.  Push up your sleeves, pull out the trash bags and get busy.  You'll be glad you did!

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. - Psalm 51:10

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Little Closer, Please

Yesterday, in an attempt to calm my mind and relax my body, I decided a nice, hot bubble bath was in order.  With a tub full of water and essential oils, a good book and a cup of hot tea, I pushed the door nearly closed and stepped into my temporary oasis. 

Before I had even settled in, I heard the sound of pattering feet.  Sure enough, within a moment, a little black head poked through the doorway.  Tippy, my precious 13-year-old beagle, stepped through the doorway, made her way over to the tub and stretched out on the floor beside the tub.  In just a few minutes, she was sound asleep and snoring like crazy.

Silly dog, I thought.  She's forsaken her comfortable spot on the couch to come lay on the cold bathroom floor.  Of all the places she could be sleeping right now, this has to be the most uncomfortable.  As I continued to ponder her decision, I realized something profound--something that Tippy has proven to be true countless times.  She's more concerned with her nearness to her master than with her own comfort.  Yes, she'd rather be near me and slightly uncomfortable than to be away from me in luxury.  She's willing to forsake her own comfort just to be near her master.  Am I willing to do the same?

I'm a planner.  I like plans, blueprints, schedules and worksheets.  I like to know what I'm doing, when I'm doing it and where I'm doing it.  I don't like change, and I absolutely abhor throwing things together at the last minute.  So, when God calls me to step out of my comfort zone of schedules and blueprints, do I jump at the opportunity, knowing that my obedience will draw me closer to Him?  Or do I make excuses why I can't perform that certain task?  In my mind, which is more important:  my own comfort or closeness to God?

In word, I'd tell you, without hesitation, that I'm more interested in being close to God, but I'm afraid my actions don't always echo that truth.  And let's face it, actions do speak louder than words.  The strange thing is that I really want it to be true.  I want to be like Abraham who left his homeland and headed out into the unknown simply because God commanded it.  I want to be like little David who stood before the mighty giant with nothing more than a sling and the power of God, which the shepherd boy knew, without a doubt, would be enough.  I want to be like Peter who stepped out of the safety of the boat and onto the crashing waves because Jesus said, "Come."

I think all of us would admit that we want to feel closer to God.  We sing the song, "Nearer, my God, to Thee."  We pray the prayer, "God, please come closer."  But may I remind you that the first move is ours?  James 4:8 says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you."  Notice the order.  You move closer to God, then He'll move closer to you.  

So, how do we do it?  How do we draw closer to the Master?  The same way Tippy did.  We give up our personal comfort.  We walk away from our own desires, goals and expectations.  We submit and surrender our lives to God.  We spend time with Him through prayer and meditation.  We deny ourselves and follow Him.  I'm not saying it's easy.  Trust me, it's not.  But what I can tell you is that, just like Tippy, when we step out of our comfort zones and draw nigh to the Master, we'll find sweet rest.

Tippy seems to think it's worth the sacrifice.  How about you?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Questions and Answers

It's good to be back!  I'd like to welcome the new subscribers.  As you can see from looking at the date of the previous post, I've been "gone" for over a week now.  Call it a sabbatical, a rest break, a time of prayer -- whichever you like.  All I can say is that I needed some time to set a few things straight.  Allow me to take a few minutes to share with you what I've gone through the past couple of weeks.  Perhaps my time off and lessons learned will aid you in some part of your journey.  I'll begin with a story from Scripture.

And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him. Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream. Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation. The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me. - Daniel 2:1-5a

Poor Nebuchadnezzar!  Not only was he having nightmares that he couldn't understand, but he couldn't even remember what the dreams were.  He knew they were important, but as hard as he tried, he simply could not recall what he dreamed.  No memory.  No comprehension.

Beginning a couple of weeks ago, I started to empathize with the dreamy king, only my situation didn't involve dreams but questions.  There was a stirring in my soul and spirit--a longing, you could say--but for what, I had no idea.  I felt like I needed to search for answers to my questions, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't figure out what the questions were.  I was confused and discouraged, and for the life of me, I couldn't identify the source of that confusion or discouragement.  I had not faced a traumatic event.  I was not in the midst of a life-threatening storm.  I wasn't really even in a valley.  But in the blink of an eye, I went from fine to frustrated.  Have you ever felt like that?  The psalmist is Psalm 77 did.  In fact, he spelled out my feelings better than I could.

I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah. Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search. - Psalm 77:1-6

I cried unto the Lord?  Oh, yeah.  There was a lot of crying.  

My soul refused to be comforted?  Most definitely.  No matter how hard I prayed or how much I sought to find the solution (or even the cause) of my predicament, something just wasn't right.  

I remembered God and was troubled?  Sounds strange, but I know exactly what the author means.  When I thought about God, His goodness and His blessings, I became even more frustrated because it reminded me that I had no reason to feel the way I did.  It also helped me to see the ever-widening space between us.  I was drifting and couldn't figure out how to stop myself.  

I am so troubled that I cannot speak?  I tried to pray.  I really did.  I knew I needed to talk to God and that I needed to hear from Him.  But since I didn't know what was wrong and couldn't even understand how I felt, I couldn't find the words to speak.  I stuttered and stammered and finally quit trying altogether.

I call to remembrance my song in the night?  I thought back on other times that I have felt uncertain and remembered how God granted peace.  I tried to sing praises to Him, but to be honest, my heart was not in it.

I commune with mine own heart; my spirit made diligent search?  Oh, buddy, you have no idea.  Time after time, I looked inward and screamed, "What's wrong with me?  Why do I feel this way?  What is up?"

I poured out my heart as best I could to Jason, trying to explain what I was feeling and how frustrated I was that I couldn't speak to the Lord as I wanted to.  His suggestion, as always, was blunt and to the point (just the way I need it, even though I don't always like it).  "Maybe you need to stop trying to talk so much and just be still and listen.  Stop trying to figure things out.  Just stop.  Be still and listen."

So, that's what I've been doing for the past week or so.  Listening.  And let me tell you, God has had a lot to say.  I wish I could tell you that I've gotten all the answers and that my soul is perfectly at peace, but I'm afraid I haven't reached that point just yet.  But that's okay because I'm learning right now.  I'm learning that my life isn't determined by how I feel but rather what I know.  I'm learning that I don't always have to have the answers to be happy and complete in Christ.  I'm learning that God's work (and even His blessings) can sometimes distract me from focusing on God Himself.  I'm learning that I am a work in progress, and I still have a long way to go.  Nevertheless, God will never give up on me. . . even when I've given up on Him.

I don't know what questions you may be facing today.  In fact, you may not know either.  But that's okay.  There is One who knows.  He's in control.  He's watching out for us.  And He will give us the questions and answers we seek when He knows we can handle them.  In the meantime, let's just be still and listen.  It's amazing what we can hear, when we're not busy trying to figure everything out.  Take Jason's advice.  Just stop.  Be still and listen.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. - Psalm 43:5

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Do You Mean "No"?

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god. And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes;  Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: - Daniel 1:1-6

We know from later accounts that Daniel was a praying man and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (whom we know as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) were strong in the faith.  Chances are when trouble began to stir in their land, the four of them went to their knees and pleaded with God to save their land and protect them from the enemy.  However, in this first chapter in Daniel, we see that God did not honor that request.  Instead, He allowed them to become prisoners in a foreign land.  Seems like a strange way to treat your friends and devoted followers, doesn't it?  

On the surface, yes, but since we have the advantage of reading the rest of the story, we realize that God's plan had a purpose.  Read on and witness the example these four men set forth.  The land was changed because of their boldness in their faith.  God turned their test into a testimony.  But it all began with a single word, "No."

We don't like that word, do we?  When we ask God for something, we want Him to answer in the affirmative.  Sadly, when He does not, we often pout and cry like spoiled children, never taking into consideration why He told us "no."  Could it have been to protect us as we discussed in the previous post?  Could it have been to gauge our reaction to His answer?  Could it be that He told us "no" because He had something much better in store for us?  God is not cruel.  He loves us and always wants our best, but sometimes that best requires Him to answer us in the negative:  "No, you may not have that."

I have no idea what you're facing today or what you may be asking God for, but I do know this--His way is always best.  If He answers in the affirmative, give Him thanks, and if He answers in the negative, do the same.  Don't pout or fume.  Don't get angry or go astray.  Thank the Lord for His care and then sit back and watch.  God has something grand in store for you, just as He did for Daniel and the other three Hebrew children.  Allow Him to use you as He sees fit.  I promise you won't regret it!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Comfort in the Rod?

Last week, we went through a short series on Psalm 23:4, which is only a part of the series I'm currently teaching in my ladies' Sunday School class.  Last Sunday, I had the privilege of teaching the ladies about the shepherd's rod, and to be honest, in my studying, I discovered several fascinating things.  Those discoveries, however, are not what I want to discuss today, but rather an argument that I uncovered while preparing my lesson.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. - Psalm 23:4

There are many (myself included) that believe that the shepherd's rod serves a three-fold purpose:  protection, correction and inspection.  There are others, however, that contend that the rod spoken of in Psalm 23 could not possibly be the rod of correction because the verse goes on to say, "they comfort me." These contenders argue that there is no comfort to be found in correction.  I strongly disagree, and here's why:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? - Hebrews 12:6-7

My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. - Proverbs 3:11-12

God's correction serves as a reminder of His love and care for me.  He loves me too much to allow me to have my own way.  He cares for me too much to leave me to my own ideas and plans.  He loves me and delights in me, and his correction proves that, just as a parent who loves their child will discipline him when the need arises.  Yes, the correction may sting temporarily.  Yes, we, just like the child, may pout and fume because we didn't get our own way.  But before long, once our tempers have cooled, we realize how that rod of correction was also a rod of protection.  By chastising us, God saved us from ourselves and our own stupid mistakes.

No comfort in correction?  I beg to differ.  I don't know about you, but I find it very comforting to know that God loves me too much to allow me to settle for less than His best and that He's willing to face my anger and tantrums in order to accomplish what's best for me.  I find great comfort in the fact that the Lord of all the universe takes the time to watch out for me and make sure I'm on the right path.  If nothing else, it proves a love that cannot be denied.  And that brings me great comfort!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Got Joy?

Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. - II Corinthians 8:1-2

You've heard of an oxymoron, haven't you?  According to the online dictionary, an oxymoron is "a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction."  A few examples are as follows:  deafening silence, jumbo shrimp, living dead, great depression, virtual reality and original copy.  These are phrases we hear and use frequently, yet they hold an apparent contradiction.

Second Corinthians 8:2 seems to also put forth an oxymoron.  It says, "in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy. . . abounded."  Say what?  In a great time of celebration, sure, I can understand joy reaching new heights.  But in the midst of a great trial of affliction?  That's another story altogether.

Let's break this down.  First, we know that these churches were undergoing affliction and persecution.  They were suffering for their faith.  Life was certainly no bed of roses.  Second we know that they had abundant joy.  Plentiful.  Ample.  Lavish.  Generous.  More than enough.  That's a lot of joy, especially in the midst of their circumstances.  But notice, Paul goes on to say that their abundant joy abounded.  As if it wasn't great enough, it became even more available and present in their lives.

We know the Bible is true and that it contains no errors, so the question we are left with is this:  How can one have abundant, over-abounding joy in the midst of great trials and affliction?  How is this possible?  Is it even possible for us today?

Yes, it is possible.  Not easy, but possible.  How?  Well, that's a process in and of itself.  It begins by distinguishing between happiness and joy.  Remember, happiness depends on happenings, but joy for the Christian is constant because Jesus is our joy, and He never leaves us.

Next, we must turn our focus from our problems to Jesus, the source of our joy.  As long as we're staring at our giants, we'll be anxious and stressed.  When we're trying to figure out how to cross our Red Sea, we're overwhelmed and confused.  When we try to bring down the walls preventing us from reaching our dreams, we're overcome with defeat and discouragement.  But when we look to Jesus and allow Him to work in our lives, we feel overjoyed and at peace.

Last but by no means least, we must surrender complete control to God and be willing to accept whatever He may bring.  Trial and affliction, peace and contentment -- whatever He desires.  Only when our desires line up with His will we find that true abounding joy that we so long for.  The joy is within us, but accessing it requires total surrender of our wants and wills.  It means saying, "For better or worse, Lord, I know that Your will is perfect and that You have a plan, even though I may not understand it.  I'm joyful because You have chosen to use me and my life for Your great purpose.  I'm joyful because I know I'm resting safe and secure in Your hand and that nothing can touch me except You allow it.  I'm joyful because I understand that You have a purpose for my life and that it is for both my good and Your glory.  I'm joyful because I know that no matter what I face today, You will never leave me nor forsake me.  I'm Yours, Lord.  Use me as You see fit."

Is your joy abounding today?  If not, why not?  It's something worth thinking about.

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. - Romans 15:13

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My God Is a Good God

God is always good, but sometimes He works something in our lives that reminds us of just how good He is.  Just such an occasion took place yesterday.

As we often do on Sunday afternoons, Jason and I went over to my sister and brother-in-law's house for dinner and fellowship.  After dinner, my brother-in-law, Bryan, was organizing his closet.  He had recently purchased a new pair of black shoes to replace the nice black shoes he had but that didn't fit properly.  He asked us if we knew anyone who wore a size 9 and would be interested in a pair of barely worn, very nice black dress shoes.  To be honest, I didn't know if the shoes would fit anyone in our church or not.  After all, I don't go around asking men their shoe sizes.  Nevertheless, I told him that if he wanted us to take them to church and see if anyone could use them, we'd be happy to.

During the announcement time at church that evening, I told everyone about the shoes.  Before I had even finished, our preacher asked, "What size?"  I told him, and his face brightened.  "What color?" he asked next.  "Black," I replied, a little confused.  "Praise the Lord!" he cried.  "This morning when I put on my shoes, I noticed this."  He stepped out to the front of the platform and displayed his detached sole.  "I told my wife that we were going to have to come up with the money for a new pair of black dress shoes." 

The preacher went on to offer the shoes to anyone else who could use them, but no one stepped forward.  At the first opportunity, the preacher sat down and changed into the new shoes, which seemed to fit quite well.  All service long, he could not stop talking about his new shoes and how God had met the need.  At one point, tears flowed from his eyes.  He was truly blessed, and those of us who had the opportunity to witness God's provision were blessed as well.

I couldn't wait to tell Bryan how much the pastor enjoyed the new shoes and what a blessing it had been to all of us.  I wanted him to know how God had used him to meet the need in my pastor's life and to remind each of us that God knows exactly what we need and when we need it.  No matter what it is, God will take care of us.  He'll meet the need, often times above and beyond what we expect or require. 

Yes, my God is a good God, and I just felt led to share that with you today.

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever. - Psalm 118:1