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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas All Year Long - Repost

Sometimes things just don't work out the way we plan, do they?  Jason and I have been sick for over a week now.  That means we were sick during our church's Christmas program.  We were sick at the family's Christmas Eve gathering.  We were sick for Christmas day and the celebrations that took place that day.  And we were sick for Jason's two days of vacation time.  Instead of joy and peace, we experienced aches and pains.  Our ho-ho-ho's were replaced with hack-hack-hack's.  The time we had looked forward to spending with family and catching up on some things that needed to be done (hiking with the dogs, splitting firewood, etc.) was spent in bed trying to recover from these horrible head colds.  I don't know what's going around this year, but it's nasty, and it does not want to let go.

Today is the first day that I feel somewhat normal.  My head is still a bit stuffy and my body is a lot achy, but overall, I feel much better than I did.  At least, I did feel better until I started looking around and taking stock of how far behind I am.  I discovered writing projects that are overdue, a house that looks like it has been hit by a hurricane, an overflowing laundry basket and Christmas decorations that are ready to be stored.  Just a quick look around had me searching for a place to sit down and rest.  I was overwhelmed by the tasks awaiting me.

Deciding to pace myself, I determined to tackle the laundry and the putting away of Christmas presents.  Sadly, all of our gifts sat in bags on the dining room table where they had been since we brought them home Christmas day.  As I went through the bags this morning, I was amazed at how many gifts I had forgotten about.  I heard myself making comments like, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that sweater." and "I didn't realize he got a knife set."  I guess I had felt worse than I realized because I had forgotten about one third of my gifts.  In that respect, this morning was almost like Christmas morning all over again.  For the first time, I really got to open and examine my gifts.

As I look back at the re-opening of my gifts, I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible passages, Lamentations 3:22-23:   It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.  When it comes to the Lord's goodness, love and mercy, every day is like Christmas morning.  We awake from our slumber and are privileged to unwrap God's gift of another day.  A day filled with His grace.  A day filled with His peace.  A day filled with His unending love.  His ongoing gift to us.  And to be honest, some days I see that mercy, love and grace in all new ways.  I find the same awe as I did looking back through my gifts this morning.  "Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that."  And yet, God is faithful to give me another day of blessings, another gift of life.

Because of sickness, I may have missed out on this year's Christmas celebrations, but nothing can hinder me from experiencing that "Christmas morning" feeling all year long.  Yes, great is God's faithfulness!

(I hope you don't mind that I pulled this post out from last year.  Fortunately, Jason and I were both healthy this Christmas, and this post was a powerful reminder to me of how much I have for which to be thankful.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Adriana's Secrets by Cheryl Colwell

A contemporary suspense novel, Adriana's Secrets, Book Two in The Secrets of the Montebellis Series, travels back to Lisa Richardson's great-grandmother's time and fills in the exciting stories alluded to in Book One.

Tragedy strikes the mountain town of Mont Castello, the home of Adriana Montebelli. Orphaned in 1888, Adriana's life is swept along at the whim of forceful men who decide where she will live and who she will marry. Instead of breaking her, their cruel deceptions toughen her resolve to take control. Though she rises to manage the vast Van Buren estate, she wonders if her broken heart will have the strength to love again.

Follow Adriana in this historical novel as she navigates the challenges of woman's suffrage, union violence, and the tragic hardships of love and loss, while managing to cling to her faith.

My Review:

I truly enjoyed the first book in this series, but I believe I enjoyed the second book even more.  From the very beginning, I was pulled into the story, present through all the joys and heartache encountered by Adriana, the main character.  Though parts of the story were quite predictable (especially toward the end), I still found myself unable to put the book down.  The story was well-written, and the plot was well thought-out.  The characters were intriguing and so very life-like.  To be honest, there were a few characters to whom I desired to deliver a few well-deserved slaps, and of course, there were those who were lovable beyond belief.

Probably my favorite thing about this book is that it was clean.  I didn't have to skip around curse words or dance around inappropriate scenes.  In fact, I say that this book serves as proof that a good story does not need all that filth to make it a good story.  A truly good book can stand on its own, and Cheryl's novel certainly qualifies.

I also enjoyed the accounts of Adriana's faith in God.  Despite her difficult circumstances, she knew that God was faithful and just, and she never lost faith in Him, even when she felt she had no other hope to which to cling.  She is a true role model for every believer and a reminder that God never forsakes His children, even when it may seem like He has.

If you enjoy romance, action, adventure and mystery, you'll love this book!  So curl up by the fire, grab a cup of hot chocolate and get your copy of Cheryl Colwell's new book, Adriana's Secrets.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Walking in a Winner's Wonderland

I John 5:4 says, For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

If we have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, we have already won the war. What war? The one that Satan is leading. He is trying to destroy our lives and our souls, but because of our faith, we are already victors.

However, there are battles that we must fight daily, and the outcome of those is dependent on our Christian walk. Tired of fighting a losing battle? Read on.

First of all, we must walk in God's Word. The Bible is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword." It is the weapon Jesus chose to fight with when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. It gives us joy, hope, peace, guidance, comfort, and much more. Without God's Word, we don't stand a chance of winning our daily battles. We must spend more time in the Scriptures. We need to read the Bible and memorize verses that we can use to send the devil fleeing from us.

Second, we need to walk in God's will. If we follow our own will instead of God's, we're fighting the battle alone, and we're destined to fail. Yes, God is always with us, and He is our helper. However, if we're walking in our own will, we're acting in our own strength and not in the Lord's. It isn't that God left us. It's that we left Him. Often times, we do this without even realizing it. We see something we want, and we go for it without even taking the time to see if it is God's will for us to have it. We often forget that God sees the "Big Picture" of our lives and not just our current circumstances. He knows what is best for us, and He will lead us in the right direction. It's up to us to follow.

Third, we need to walk in God's world. Let's face it. We live in dark times. War and violence are everywhere. Sin has run rampant. Goodness is seen as weakness and often taken advantage of. It is tempting to turn our backs on this wicked world and just live our lives the best we can. But, is that what God wants us to do? No! It is our job, until the return of Christ, to try to reach out to this lost and dying world. It is our responsibility to see people as God sees them: souls in need of salvation. We must be witnesses, not out of duty, but out of love and compassion. By reaching out, not only can we win some of our battles, but we can help others to win theirs as well.

If you feel like you're fighting a losing battle or like you're simply spinning your wheels in life, the first thing to check is your Christian walk. Only by keeping ourselves in God's Word, in His will, and in His world can we walk in a winner's wonderland. It's not easy, but there is joy in the journey when we do!

*****Excerpt from Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead by Dana Rongione*****

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who's Paying For This Trip?

Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. - Jonah 1:1-3

The Bible doesn't state where Jonah was when God called him to go to Ninevah, but it does specify that he went down to Joppa in order to catch a boat to Tarshish.  So, according to all the maps I've seen, Jonah must have been somewhere between Joppa and Ninevah.  In other words, Joppa was definitely in the opposite direction.  Also, from that information, we can glean that Ninevah was not that long of a trip.  And we all know that where God guides, He provides.  Just ask the missionaries on the mission field or the pastor of the small church or the young woman who left her full-time, paid position to pursue a ministry in writing.  Somehow, someway, God always provides.

Now, notice with me what it says in verse three of the above passage:  and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereofHmm, interesting.  I have no doubt that God would have made whatever provision Jonah needed to make his trip to Ninevah.  Food, shelter, transportation--whatever he needed would have been taken care of.  I've seen too many accounts of God providing for His children to believe that Jonah would have gone without.  But because Jonah decided to go his own way, which was in the opposite direction of God's will, He had to pay the price.  

I've often heard the phrase put this way, "Where God guides, God provides.  When you're out of God's will, you foot the bill."  Jonah seems to be proof of that.  God was not about to fund Jonah's trip to Tarshish.  That wasn't where He wanted Jonah, and as we know from the rest of the story, God set Jonah straight.  But my point is that, as long as we're in God's will, He will provide what we need. When we're out of His will, we will have to pay the price.

In Jonah's case, I would imagine that the ship fare from Joppa to Tarshish was pricey.  After all, he had to cross the entire Mediterranean Sea.  That couldn't have been cheap!  Similarly, our efforts to go our own way may often cost us a great deal.  The question is, are we willing to pay the price?  Jonah was, but after a few days in the belly of a whale, he had a change of heart (and probably wished desperately for a change of clothes).  Unfortunately, the price had already been paid, and there is no record in the Bible of Jonah getting a refund for his incomplete trip.  That's just not the way it works.

Who's paying?  Well, it depends on whether or not we're in the will of God.  If we are, He'll take care of it.  He'll provide as He always has.  If we're not in His will, however, we better be prepared to pay a great price for our disobedience.  Is it worth it?  Well, I'll let Jonah tell you in his own words.

 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. - Jonah 2:8-9

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Whatever You Do, Don't Let Go

Last Saturday, we were finally able to get our Christmas tree.  The rain poured heavily during the morning hours, and we feared we'd have to wait another week, but in the afternoon, the rain stopped for a little while.  So, we hurried out to our favorite tree farm and picked up a lovely Blue Ice tree.  In fact, I think it was the quickest we had ever decided on a tree, but we both agreed it was perfect.  Not only that, but setting it up at the house went as smoothly as I ever remember.  We were done in no time, but since we had other things to do that evening, we decided to wait until later to decorate.   I finally got around to it yesterday.

As usual, I started with the blue and white lights--a dazzling addition to a Blue Ice tree.  After that, I began with the ornaments, saving for last the box of fragile snowmen and Santa Claus ornaments that we had received as a gift many years ago.  Despite the two dogs' helping paws, things were going quite smoothly. . . until I dropped one of the fragile ornaments which crashed into a million pieces as it hit the hardwood floor.  Thankfully, it was a Santa Claus rather than a snowman. (I like snowmen a lot!)  But, still, I was upset by the minor catastrophe.

As I cleaned up the mess, I tried to figure out what happened.  Did it slip from my grasp?  Was I not holding it as tightly as I thought?  Did the hook come loose from the ornament?  Did I have another one of my arm spasms?  What in the world happened to cause me to drop that poor Santa?  I honestly don't know.  All I know is that he fell. . .and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Santa back together again.  (I hope this doesn't mean that I'm getting coal in my stocking this year!)

Seriously, as I thought about my broken Santa, I was both saddened and so very thankful.  Saddened because I'd ruined a beautiful ornament and made a big mess in the process.  Thankful because I realized that I'll never share that poor Santa's fate, for the hands that hold me are strong and secure.  They will never let go.  I can never slip from my Savior's grasp.  I am held tight and never need fear falling and crashing into a million pieces.  I am safe in my Lord's hands.  Here are just a few verses that remind me that I'm in good hands:

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous. - Psalm 37:17

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. - Psalm 37:32-24

 My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. - Psalm 63:8

 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. - John 10:28-29

No matter what you may be facing today or how fragile you may feel, take comfort in the fact that if you are one of God's children, you are safe and secure in His strong grasp.  He will not let you go.  He will not allow you to fall to pieces.  You are sheltered and cherished.  There is no doubt He is holding onto you.  The question is, are you holding on to Him?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Try These Shoes On For Size

As you may have noticed, there's been a bit of a black cloud hovering over our house for the past couple of weeks.  Nothing major.  No huge catastrophes.  Just a sense of frustration and fatigue over things that just don't seem to want to pull together.  You know, that feeling where you expect you should be further along or better off, yet that reality still seems so far out of reach.  And oddly enough, the disappointment hit Jason much harder than it hit me.  Unfortunately, I'm not very adept at pulling him out of the blues and, more often than not, I end up sinking in right behind him.  Such has been the case for the past few weeks.

However, that dark cloud was blown away last night when we heard the testimony of a missionary that was having some truly troubling circumstances.  Yes, I said a missionary.  You know, God's messenger.  A faithful servant.  One who is living out his life to further the reach of the Gospel.  Yet, his troubles were nearly unbelievable.  Job loss.  Financial disaster.  Destruction of property.  Ejected from his home.  The more he revealed, the more I squirmed.  Here I was bemoaning my current state in life while this man had lost nearly everything.  Suddenly, my sources of frustration and disappointment seemed insignificant.

Perspective.  Boy, it sure can make a difference!  For weeks now, Jason and I have been in that "poor pitiful me" frame of mind that led us to believe that our troubles were so much worse than anyone else's, especially among God's people.  But, yesterday, it was as if God whispered to me, "Here, Dana, try these shoes on for size."  And you know what?  I don't want to.  I have no desire to trade places with that poor missionary.  No, thank you!  I'd much rather stay right where I am.  After all, it's really not all that bad, especially when compared to what others are going through.

I have no idea what troubles you may be facing today, and I know better than to tell you that they're menial or insignificant.  After all, what seems like a molehill to one could seem like a mountain to another.  So, I understand that your troubles are big to you, really, I do.  But I urge you  to walk a few steps in the shoes of someone who is worse off than you.  You don't have to go far.  In fact, I'm pretty sure you won't want to.  But after those few steps, I guarantee you'll see your own problems from a completely different perspective and what once seemed like such a huge obstacle now doesn't seem quite so bad.

Perspective.  It can change one's outlook on life.  No doubt about it!  So I ask you, how do those shoes feel now?

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. - I Timothy 6:8

Friday, December 5, 2014

When You Feel You've Waited Long Enough

I am a huge fan of both the Narnia books and movies.  I relish in the symbolism and the fantastical story lines.  If you haven't read the books or watched the movies, I urge you to do so.  You won't regret it.

As I drove to the grocery store yesterday, I was thinking on a particular moment in the movie, Prince Caspian.  To many of the Narnians, Aslan (who is symbolic of Christ) was nothing more than a myth.  The land was in turmoil, yet Aslan had not come to their rescue.  While there were still a few believers, most had turned away, embracing the philosophy that if they were going to be saved, they would have to save themselves.

When the Pevensie children arrived, they hardly recognized Narnia, for so much had changed since their last visit to the magical world.  When they heard of the trouble in the land and how Aslan had not made His presence known in some time, High King Peter (the oldest Pevensie) decided it was time to fight the battle themselves.  His youngest sister, Lucy, who had always shared a special bond with Aslan, tried to convince him to wait for the Great Lion, but Peter, with sword in hand, responded, "I think we've waited for Aslan long enough."

Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever told yourself or someone else, "I think I've waited on God long enough"?  I know I have.  After all, God exists outside the bounds of time, so to him days, months and even years are insignificant.  To us, however, as we wait and wait and wait, that time seems like an eternity.  And many times, it simply seems too long, and so, like High King Peter, we take matters into our own hands.

What are you waiting for today?  The perfect job?  Mr. Right?  Financial freedom?  The opportunity to have more time to spend with your family?  Improved health?  Renewed hope?  Restored joy?  The salvation of a loved one?  We all have dreams, goals, ambitions and even expectations, and oftentimes, the waiting seems impossible.  In this day of fast food and express lane, we want the fulfillment of our dreams, and we want it right this minute!

What we fail to realize is that there is a purpose to our waiting.  There is a reason why God has not allowed us to fulfill our dreams just yet.  While at times it seems cruel for such a loving God to hold us in what seems to be inescapable circumstances, we can trust that God is not unkind or "out to get us."  Instead, He is using this waiting time to teach us to be more like Him.  Just as it is for the seed planted in the ground, the waiting time is a time of growth and nourishment.  God is equipping us for the next stage in our spiritual walk, and that next stage may be the very thing for which we were waiting.

High King Peter didn't see Aslan at work, so he rushed ahead and led the Narnians into battle. As a result, many of them died at the hand of the enemy.  It was a high price to pay for one man's impatience.  So I ask you today, how much are you willing to pay for yours?  Is it worth it to rush ahead and try to help God out, or would it be better for all involved if you merely accepted God's timing and said along with Paul, I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content (Philippians 4:11)?

I don't think anyone likes waiting, but we do often love the results of the waiting.  Think about the hearty stew that simmers on the stove all day long.  The longer it cooks, the better it tastes.  It can't be rushed, but the results are well worth the wait (though perhaps not for the poor soul who has to smell it cooking all day).

Hang in there, friend.  God has not forgotten or forsaken you.  He knows your needs and your desires.  He is aware of your dreams and goals.  But keep in mind that He also knows what's best, and He will always act according to that knowledge.  Be patient!  Consider yourself on simmer, knowing that the longer you're over the fire, the better off you will be in the end.

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. - Psalm 27:14

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christian Books Make Great Christmas Gifts - A Guest Post by Lorilyn Roberts

One Christmas my parents didn't have any money. Actually, many Christmases they didn't have any money, but one Christmas in particular money was very scarce. 

I only wanted one gift. A guitar. I had been taking lessons for a year and had outgrown the beginner's guitar my parents gave me on a whim the previous Christmas. I didn't expect to receive a new guitar, but come Christmas morning, there it was under the tree. 

Forty-five years later, I still have that guitar. Recently I took it to a music store for some much-needed repair and the man admired it for an hour, claiming they didn't make guitars like that anymore. I walked out of the store feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, remembering how excited I was to receive it for Christmas decades earlier.

So what does that guitar have to do with books?  There was only one other gift under the tree for me that Christmas, and it was a book. I don't remember the name of the book now, it's been too many years, but I remember the story. 

It was a science fiction book and the plot was fascinating. The story began with an ordinary family living at about the time the book was written, back in the 1970's. The story ended about two or three hundred years in the future, where technology had taken over society and people were obsolete. I was fourteen at the time (okay, if you are trying to figure out my age, I will tell you, I'm 59). I wondered if that's how it would be in the future. 

Through the years, I have thought about that book and wished I could go back and read it again. Some books stay with you for life because they make you ponder ideas, ask questions, or think about something differently. Whether you read nonfiction for knowledge or fiction to be entertained, books have probably impacted society more than any other creative activity undertaken by man. Reading good books has broadened my perspective on many topics and enriched my life. 

Perhaps this Christmas you don't have a lot of money to spend on gifts. Have you considered giving books as Christmas presents? I'd be willing to bet they will outlast the latest iPhone or iMac computer. Ten years from now, those electronic gadgets will be in a landfill somewhere, long replaced by something bigger and faster. Stories last forever,  like that book my dad gave me for Christmas when he hardly had a dime to spare. When is the last time you read a really good book anyway? Probably too long.

The John 3:16 Marketing Network has put together a list of Christian books and compared them to many, well-known secular books readers will recognize. Take a few moments and peruse the forty-five -plus books linked below for ideas that you won't find anywhere else. 

Many hours went into putting these book comparisons together and most of the books have been deeply discounted.  Many are in both Kindle and print version. All of them are linked to Amazon for easy purchase.

And remember, Jesus is the reason for the season.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Carried in the Arms of the Shepherd

I love to read information about the sheep/shepherd relationship, for it helps me to better understand my relationship with the Great Shepherd.  Yesterday, I was reading that when a sheep grows too tired or weary to walk, the shepherd will pick it up and carry it until the sheep can walk again.  Not only does this give the sheep a chance to rest and regain its strength, but it creates an unbreakable bond between the sheep and the shepherd. When it is carried, the sheep learns to love and trust the shepherd in a whole new way.  The more often the sheep is carried, the greater the bond grows.  Is that precious or what?

So many times we wonder why God would allow His sheep to go through such heart-breaking trials, but I think I now understand the reason.  He takes us to a place where we are too tired or weary to walk so that He can carry us and build that special bond that can only be had during such times.  He allows us to walk through the valleys so that we can learn to love and trust Him in a whole new way.  And each time we are carried, that bond of love and trust grows.  So, you see, it's not a punishment but a privilege. 

Now it makes sense to me how the writers in the New Testament could speak of rejoicing in tribulations.  We can rejoice because we know it's at those times that we are too weary to walk that we are tucked safely in the Savior's arms.  He is carrying us through the dark valleys and making sure that we have the strength to reach the other side.  Such care.  Such devotion.  Such love.

Instead of complaining about our circumstances today, how about we take a few minutes to thank the Shepherd for His great love and devotion to every single sheep.  He's carrying us.  The least we can do is call upon Him!

 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. - John 10:14

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

The way I see it, you just can't go wrong with Charlie Brown!  But be warned, this is the entire half-hour show.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks Rather Than Giving In

Today didn't start off all that well.  Let me give you a brief rundown of the first few events of my day:

I woke up with a throbbing pain in my head. . . again.
A few moments later, I discovered that the dishwasher had leaked all over the kitchen floor. . . again.
A few moments after that, I found out that Tippy, my beagle, has tapeworms. . . again.
Then, I was informed that someone had unsubscribed from my blog newsletter. . . again.

As I stood in the kitchen trying to process the events that had already taken place while I was still not even fully awake, my first thought was to give in to the temptation to crawl back in bed, pull the covers over my head and try again tomorrow.  At that moment, the day seemed to already be doomed to failure, so why bother trying to fight my way through it?  But in the midst of my despair, I heard that still, small voice whispering, "In everything give thanks."

To be honest, that's one of those things that is a lot easier said than done.  Everything?  Really?  The truth is that I didn't feel like giving thanks this morning.  I felt like giving in.  Not only was I not in the mood to face the day with rejoicing; I wasn't in the mood to face the day at all.  As far as I was concerned, I had already gotten a glimpse into what the day held and, frankly, I wasn't interested.  But the whisper persisted.  In fact, it grew louder and before long, it was put to music as I recalled hearing a song with the exact same words on the radio yesterday morning. (See today's Song of the Day post if you'd like to hear it.)

You see, the Lord knows me all too well.  He knows that once I get myself in a mood, it often takes great effort to get me out of it.  And He knows that after a while, I can tune out that little voice, no matter how loud it becomes.  Fortunately, He also knows that once I get a song in my head, it's nearly impossible for me to shake it off.  This song was the perfect weapon with which to attack my morning attitude.  The message was sound and exactly what His still, small voice was telling me.  And the tune was catchy, you know, the kind that sticks in your head.  Before long, I was so busy singing (and possibly even dancing a little) in the kitchen that I forgot about my bad mood.  It's hard to sing and dance while doing an Eeyore impression.

And now I find that I can do exactly what God was asking me to do this morning.  I can give thanks for the pain in my head, the water on the floor, the unsubscriber from my newsletter and the worms in Tippy's. . .well, you know.  Why?  Because God used them this morning to put a song on my heart--a song, mind you, that has been playing in my head all day long.  And with that song has come joy and gratitude.  But above all, God used those events this morning to prove to me just how much He knows me.  Yet despite all that He knows about me, He still loves me.  If that's not something to be thankful for, I don't know what is!

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. - I Thessalonians 5:18

Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't Hang Up Your Harp

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
Psalm 137:1-4

What a sad story! I'm sure we all know what it's like to be so discouraged that all we can do is sit and wish for the "good old days." While this is a natural response, it is not a good response. Self-pity will get us nowhere.

If we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, we are not of this world. Therefore, we are in a strange land. So, if we were to follow the example of Israel, we ought to just hang up our harps, forget about the Lord's song, and spend the rest of our days mourning our plight in life. Does that sound like what the Lord would want us to do? Of course not!

My pastor once made the comment, "Our circumstances in life will change, but our song shouldn't." AMEN!!! No matter how bad life gets, God is still good and still worthy of our praise. So often, though, when we're faced with hard times, the only song we want to sing is "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." Wrong! God knows, and He cares.

I don't like hard times any more than the next guy, but they're part of life. I've faced my share of troubles and trials in this life, and I'm embarrassed to say that a good number of those times, I hung up my harp, buried my face in my hands, and gave myself a glorious pity party. You know the problem with pity parties? I'm the only guest! What fun is a party without guests and presents and of course, cake (chocolate, if I have my way)?

The point is that God is good all the time. Even if we're going through hard times, and we don't understand the path that God has for us, we can still sing Him a song. He loves to hear our songs, especially when we're in a strange land. It blesses His heart to see our love and devotion to Him. So, stand up, be strong, and hold onto that harp. You're going to need it!

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. - Psalm 136:1

*****Excerpt from Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead by Dana Rongione*****

Friday, November 21, 2014

Who Is the Master?

On Wednesday night, Jason preached a compelling message on the fruit of the Spirit.  To be honest, he stomped on quite a few toes, mine included.  But what I found interesting is the particular fruit that seemed to really give me a hard time.  Yes, I had trouble with most of them, in that I am not bearing spiritual fruits as I should, but I was quite convicted by the fruit of temperance.

If you look up the word "temperance" in a regular dictionary, you'll find definitions such as "self-control," "abstinence" and "self-restraint."  And while those are all appropriate definitions of the word, there is one given in Strong's Concordance that truly made me pause and think.  That definition is "a mastery over one's desires and passions."  Ouch!  Yes, it's the same thing as self-control or self-restraint, but put into those specific words, I understand the term so much better.

A mastery over one's desires and passions.  That means saying "no" to the things that I want but that I know are not good for me.  That Pepsi that calls my name from the grocery store line.  The chocolate cakes that sings such sweet music to my ears.  The new gizmo I feel I can't live without.  That new project that I want to take on even though I know I don't have the time or other resources to do so.  The desire to sit on the couch and watch television instead of doing my workout.  Temperance means that I look each of these desires and passions straight in the face and say, "No, you are not good for me, so I will not give in to your temptations."

Unfortunately, I think these desires have more of a mastery over me than I do over them.  They call, and I come running.  They beckon, and I heed their voices.  They convince me of all they have to offer, and I shake off the moment of hesitation and dive into those dangerous waters.  And then, I regret it.  Can you relate?

The good news is that God is patient, and He is working in us to make us what we ought to be.  The bad news (or better news, depending on how you look at it) is that we cannot change our own spiritual fruit.  No matter how hard we try to "fix" ourselves, our fruit will remain the same because it is not "our" fruit.  It is the fruit of the Spirit, which means only He can produce that fruit in us.  Remember, He is the vine, and we are just the branches.  The branches don't produce the fruit; they only display it.  The production comes from the vine. 

At first, that may seem bad because we like to be in control, and if something needs to be fixed, we like to know that we can fix it.  But when you think about it, there's really nothing we can do to fix it, and Jesus says we don't have to.  He will do it for us.  All we have to do is abide in the vine.  Surrender everything to Him, including our desires and passions.  And in doing so, the fruit of the Spirit will blossom and grow, making it easier for us to stare temptation in the face and say, "No, thank you.  I don't need you!  I've found something better!"

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. - John 15:4-5

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Was Blind But Now, Well, I'm Still Blind

Despite the chilling temperatures yesterday, Jason and I decided to take the dogs out for an afternoon hike.  It sounds crazy, I know, but with Jason's unpredictable work schedule, we've discovered that we have to make the best of every opportunity.  He finished work a little earlier than anticipated, leaving just enough time to get in a short hike at one of our favorite hiking locations.  So, we layered up our clothes, packed the backpack, loaded up the dogs and headed out.

By the end of the hike, darkness was falling, making it difficult for me to see, especially since I wasn't wearing my glasses and I'm night blind.  Noticing the failing light, I commented, "Wow, it's getting harder to see."  At that point, Jason (who was following close on my heels) wrapped his gloved hands over my eyes and jokingly said, "Let's see how well you walk by faith rather than sight."  In short, not well at all.

It was an eerie sensation to walk down the narrow trail with no idea where I was going.  I knew the path descended, but I couldn't tell where or when without my sight.  I feared every step, anxious that I would trip or run headlong into some obstacle.  After only a couple of seconds, I stopped walking and shook my head.  "I don't like this.  I don't like it at all!"  He laughed and removed his hands from my eyes, but inside I still felt blinded because I realized just how much I felt the same way in my spiritual walk.

I knew Jason was guiding me through the woods.  Deep down I knew that, even though I couldn't see what lay ahead, he could, and he cared enough for me to not let me fall or run into something.  Yet, even though I knew these things, I was still afraid.  I had no faith.  And unfortunately, I find the same is often true in my daily walk with the Lord.  I know He is guiding me.  I know He can keep me from falling.  I know that He can see what I cannot.  Yet I'm still afraid.  Afraid to walk.  Afraid to trust.  Afraid to turn over that control.  Too many times I find myself stopping and trying to rip off the blindfold, saying the same thing I said to Jason last night, "I don't like this.  I don't like it at all!"

Why is it so frightening to walk by faith?  Why is it so difficult to place complete trust in the One who is all-powerful?  How can a mature believer still be so immature when it comes to faith?  I wish I had answers for you, but I'm afraid today all I have is questions.  Perhaps you have an answer.  Maybe you've experienced the same fear of faith and discovered a way to conquer that fear.  If so, please share it below.  I'm sure we would all like to know.

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) - II Corinthians 5:7

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Power of a Single Thought

In I Kings 19, we witness Elijah's flight from Jezebel and, consequently, his flight from the Lord's work.  You see, God had placed him in Jezreel for a reason.  God had a work for him to do, and He wasn't finished with Elijah.  But in a moment of fear and desperation, Elijah listened to his feelings and the thoughts swimming around in his head that told him it just wasn't worth the fight, and he fled.  At first, he went to Beersheba, about 100 miles south of where he was supposed to be.  Then, after the Lord's tender care of him there, he continued his journey south and ended up another 200 miles away at Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai).  It was a holy place, perhaps the best place to get his act together. . . if God hadn't already told him to be somewhere else.

What truly amazes me is the encounter that takes place next.  The Lord comes to Elijah and asks, "What are you doing here?"  Listen to Elijah's reply:  And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (I Kings 19:10)  There are many things wrong with Elijah's comments, but I don't have the time and space to go into that right now.  Instead, I want to continue the story.  Read on:

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? (I Kings 19:11-13)

Again, there's so much that could be discussed here, but alas, I must press on to get to the meat of today's lesson.  After God displayed His great power and manifest presence, he asked Elijah again, "What are you doing here?"  Surely, Elijah was humbled by this display.  The Bible says he wrapped his face in his mantle which is a sign of humility and respect.  From that verse alone, it appears that God has gotten through to the prophet.  We expect Elijah's next words to be those of sorrow and repentance.  Perhaps a plea for forgiveness or a second chance.  But no, take a look at what he said:  And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (I Kings 19:14)

I assure you this is no typo, nor did I type in the wrong verse by mistake.  Elijah's second answer was nearly identical to his first.  He gave the Lord the same answer almost word for word.  You know what that tells me?  Elijah had been rehearsing.  I believe that the forty-day trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb gave Elijah a lot of time alone with his thoughts, and it wasn't at all productive.  It seems to me that Elijah rehearsed in his mind that same sob story so many times that he had it memorized and could probably spout it in his sleep.  And that, my friends, is what happens when we allow our minds to dwell on the wrong things.

In her book, The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst put it this way:  "We do what we do and feel how we feel because we think what we think."  Oh, how true!  Elijah was running from God because he felt like he was all alone in the battle and that God had let him down.  From before the time he faced the 450 prophets of Baal, he was declaring that he was the only one left serving God.  Evidently, that thought (false though it was) blossomed into fear, anxiety and eventually a rebellion so great that even the shaking of the mountain couldn't loosen Elijah's grip on his bitterness.  He did what he did and felt what he felt because he allowed himself to think what he thought.

The mind is a battlefield, and every thought can be a dangerous enemy.  Take care.  Be "mindful" of what you allow yourself to dwell on.  If you're not sure if the thought lurking about is friend or foe, run it through the filter of Philippians 4:8:  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.  That will quickly help you to identify the thoughts that should be allowed to remain and those that need to be brought into the captivity of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5).

Never underestimate the power of a single thought! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Won't You Answer Me?

While watching television this morning, I heard a statement that broke my heart.  An elderly gentleman was telling the story of his beloved wife who had passed away years ago.  "We prayed for God to heal her.  We prayed and prayed, but God decided not to answer our prayers."

While I understand what the man was trying to say (as well as the many others who have said it), there's a problem with his statement.  To say that God decided not to answer is to call God a liar.  Jeremiah 33:3 tells us, Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.  Did you catch that?  This is God speaking.  He said if we will call, He will answer.  What the verse doesn't say is that the answer God gives will be the answer we want.

You see, a better statement would have been, "We prayed and prayed, but God decided not to heal her."  Or even, "We prayed and prayed, but God decided to answer in a different way."  God was not ignoring this earnest request.  He was not being mean by denying this couple the healing for which they were seeking.  God simply had another plan, and while we may not understand His ways, we have no right to accuse Him of not answering our prayers.  If we call, He will answer, but it will be in His way and His time.

When it comes to making requests of God, I tend to have the same attitude the psalmist had in Psalm 102:2 -  Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily.  "Answer me quickly, Lord, and let the answer be what I want it to be."  But what I often fail to realize is that God is doing me a huge favor by giving me what I need rather than what I want.  Sometimes He has to say "no" to my desires so that I can grow more in Him and come to better understand and appreciate the choices He has made for me.  It's not always easy, especially at the time I receive His answer, but it's imperative that we each remember that "no" is an answer.  And so is "wait" or "not now."  

Whatever your prayer is today, my friend, take heart that Jesus knows your need.  He hears your request, and He has promised that He will answer you.  Be patient, and above all, be willing to accept the answer He gives, even if it isn't the one you were anticipating.  After all, you may soon find that answer to be a blessing in disguise.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Have a Right

Have you ever used the phrase "I have a right to…"? You know, when someone confronts you about your behavior, your words, or your attitude, and you respond by saying, "I have a right to…"

I have a right to be angry.

I have a right to be afraid.

I have a right to be worried.

I have a right to feel this way.

I have a right to act this way.

It's common phraseology. In fact, we use the phrase quite frequently. But is the phrase correct? Do we truly have a right? Are we justified to be angry, afraid, worried, irritable, or vindictive? I think if we were honest with ourselves, we would know the answer is "No, we do not have the right". We may have a reason to act and feel the way we do, but that does not mean we have the right. There is a difference.

When we fully surrender our lives to God, we surrender every part of our lives, and that includes our feelings and our actions. That being said, our thoughts, feelings and actions are no longer under our control, but the control of the Spirit. And it is the Spirit who will determine whether or not we have a right to act or feel a certain way. A quick glance at the word of God will reveal that we do not.

Under no circumstances do we have the right to worry. The Word of God says that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

Under no circumstances do we have the right to be afraid, for it is commanded 365 times in the Bible that we fear not.

Under no circumstances do we have the right to be vindictive, for God's Word tells us that vengeance belongs to the Lord.

Under no circumstances do we have the right to harbor feelings of bitterness, resentment or ill will because we're supposed to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit which is the opposite of all those things.

The Bible does say that we have permission to be angry, but on the heels of that permission is a warning to sin not, and I fear that is where anger leads us when we feel we have a right to the rage we are experiencing.

This phraseology, and its misuse, was recently brought to my attention, and since that time, I've been making an effort to pay attention to what I am saying. When I catch myself using the phrase, "I have a right to…," I stop and remind myself that I do not have the right. I gave up that right when I surrendered myself fully to the Lord. He is now the dictator of my thoughts and emotions, and I can rest assured that He will always guide me to respond in a way that is pleasing to Him. And in doing so, I will also discover that situations seem to work themselves out in a more pleasing manner.

Living a life that is totally surrendered to the Lord is not an easy task, but I can assure you it is well worth the effort. And I can't explain the joy that indwells me every day as I allow the Spirit to live through me, performing His will and allowing His light to shine.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. - John 15:4-5

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sacrifice of Praise

Have you ever wondered how many times we read the same verses over and over again without really allowing their true meaning to set in?  I fear it's more often than we would like to believe.  Such was the case with a verse I currently read in Hebrews 13, for it wasn't until another author pointed it out in a devotion that I realize its significance.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. - Hebrews 13:15

If you're like me, you read this verse and thought, "Okay, I get it.  Give thanks to God.  Praise Him continually."  Right?  But there's more.  The true depth of the entire verse lies in one word:  sacrifice.

The word "sacrifice" carries many meanings, but all of them revolve around this one principle:  the loss of something you willingly give up, usually for the sake of a better cause.

With that thought in mind, how can praise be a sacrifice?  Praise is given willingly, but it doesn't cost us anything, does it?  That depends.  When life is going well, and you feel like lifting your voice in praise, then, no, praise does not cost you anything.  But what about when life isn't going so well, and you really don't feel like offering praise?  Hmm, now things make a little more sense.

According to Hebrews, we should give thanks and honor to God all the time.  Not just when we feel like it.  Not just when we're walking on cloud nine.  But all the time.  Through the good, the bad and the ugly.  And that's where the sacrifice comes into play.  To truly praise God in the midst of our suffering, we have to give up our self-pity, our negative attitude and our mournful countenance.  We can't sing praises to God while simultaneously singing the blues.  To fulfill the command in this verse, we have to let go of our discouragement, disappointment, anger, frustration, regret, guilt and anything else that is preventing us from lifting our eyes toward Heaven and saying, with heartfelt sincerity, "Lord, how great Thou art!"

The sacrifice of praise also requires us to shift our focus.  We must stop dwelling on all the things that are wrong in life and focus on the things that are right.  We must stop looking at the crises and instead look at Christ.  We must stop looking at ourselves, and instead look to others to see if there's some way we can ease their suffering.  You see, in the midst of our dark times, it's easy to forget that we're not the only ones who are facing trials.  Others are fighting battles of their own.  What a blessing it would be to them if we were to join forces and help them defeat their current foe!  But, no, we're too busy being consumed by our own circumstances to pay attention to anyone else.

How can such a little word have such a powerful punch?  Sacrifice.  It's not just about payment for sin.  Jesus took care of that on Calvary.  But every day of the Christian life should be a life of sacrifice.  Dying to self.  Dying to pride.  Dying to personal expectations.  Dying to our stubborn wills.  And yes, even dying to our pity parties.  It's about setting aside everything we want and think we deserve and placing our lives on the altar before God and saying, "Here's my life, Lord.  Do with it what You will.  I trust You and praise You for Your many blessings.  Thank you for using me!"

When Abraham obeyed God by sacrificing his son, Isaac, the Bible says that Isaac willingly climbed up on the altar.  Abraham didn't have to fight with him or tie him down.  He was a willing sacrifice.  How about you?  Are you willing to climb up on the altar, having faith all the while that God knows what He's doing?  Better yet, are you willing to take it a step further and thank God for the joy and privilege of offering yourself as a sacrifice?

I'd say we have a lot to think about!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On the Other Side of a Miracle

Have you ever felt that your life was like a puzzle with one or more missing pieces?  Like if you could fill those voids, your life would be complete?  Perhaps you've thought, If only I had that job, then I'd be happy.  Or maybe, If only I were married, then my life would be perfect.  Or how about, If only I had more money, then I could be satisfied? We don't want much, just a miracle here or there, right?  And we've convinced ourselves that if God would just see fit to give us our miracle, we'd be completely happy and never need to ask for anything ever again.  But according to the Bible, it doesn't work that way.  Take a look:

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. - I Kings 19:1-4

It is obvious that Elijah was in a severe state of depression.  He was so distraught that he wanted to die.  He had had enough.  He was tired of running for his life.  He was tired of being alone (although he was never really alone).  He was ready to quit.  But the thing that's so astounding is the timing of his depression.  It was not at a time when he was in desperate straits.  Sure, Jezebel wanted to kill him, but that was nothing new.  Ahab had been trying to get a hold of Elijah for the past three years, but God prevented Elijah from being found.  Surely, God could/would have continued his protection of Elijah.  But these feelings of desperation and despair took place right on the heels of Elijah's "big miracle"--you know, the one where he called down fire from Heaven which burnt up the altar and everything on, under and around it.  The one that turned Israel back to God.

Elijah had just seen (and not for the first time) the power of God.  He had witnessed His protection over and over again.  He knew God's faithfulness and goodness.  He had been a recipient of God's provision on more than one occasion.  Elijah had every reason to be on Cloud Nine.  He had gotten, not one, but many miracles.  He asked, and God gave.  He should have been thrilled, but he wasn't.

Perhaps Elijah had the same mindset we do, that the missing miracle would be the piece that would complete the puzzle that was his life.  But when the miracle was over and he still felt incomplete, perhaps he realized that not only was he still missing a piece but he was also missing peace.  The miracle didn't fill the void.  The very thing he thought would make him happy didn't.  And so, Elijah found himself not only discouraged but also disappointed.

My friend, it is so easy in this life to want the things that we do not have, but we must be careful that we don't seek after those things in order to fill a void that only God can fill.  If He wants us to have "that miracle," then we will, but we must not allow our happiness and life's purpose to depend on it.  In other words, we shouldn't put as much weight on what God does for us as we do on who He is to us.  Miracles have their place, and while they will bring temporary joy, more of life's problems will quickly drain that joy away.  However, if we will keep our eyes on who God is--the one everlasting joy--then we will be content and happy with or without "that miracle."

There's nothing wrong with praying for a miracle, nor is there anything wrong with waiting for it.  The problem occurs when we place the miracle above the Miracle Worker.  Only God can fill those missing places in our lives and, in so doing, supply the missing peace in our hearts.  Seek Him today, not simply what He can do for you.  Then everything else will fall into place.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. - Matthew 6:33

Friday, November 7, 2014

When Your World Crumbles Apart

Once every four to six weeks, I drive thirty miles to a bargain food store--you know, one of those scratch and dent places.  I stock up on canned goods, rice, frozen foods and any other good deals I find.  Typically, I end up filling the back of my Xterra to the brim and spending between $120-$150, which definitely makes the longer trip worthwhile.

Since I only go once every month or so, I've had to learn the best ways to stock up and to store items that normally wouldn't last that long.  I've discovered which items you can freeze and which ones you can't.  And usually, we don't have any issues.  However, this last time I went, I found a great deal on a name-brand, asiago sliced cheese.  Knowing that Jason uses sliced cheese on his sandwich nearly every day, I decided to buy two packs.  When I got home, I placed one in the refrigerator and one in the freezer, remembering that I have frozen sliced cheese on numerous occasions.

Evidently, asiago cheese doesn't freeze as well as cheddar or swiss.  When it came time to thaw out the cheese, I did the same as I always do.  I removed it from the freezer, placed it in the refrigerator and waited the appropriate amount of time.  But when I tried to pull out the first slice of cheese, the entire package of asiago crumbled in my hand.  The nice, neat slices were no more.  Instead, I held in my hand of bag full of small, crumbled pieces, some no bigger than a grain of rice.

My first thought was to throw it out and run to the local store to buy some decent sliced cheese, but then the thrifty side of me kicked in--the side that can't stand to waste food.  And on this occasion, my thrifty side had a point.  No, the cheese could not pass for sliced cheese.  It was a mess.  But it could be used as shredded cheese.  It would still work well on tacos, pastas, salads and baked potatoes.  There was no reason to throw it away. I simply needed to re-purpose it.

The same can be said for life when it, too, crumbles apart.  In the midst of the messy pieces, it seems like the best thing to do is just throw it all away.  Why bother?  What a mess!  But even the messiest of circumstances can be re-purposed.  They can be used in another way, perhaps a better way.  You know, I would have never dreamed of placing a slice of asiago cheese on my baked potato, but guess what I've discovered.  Crumbled asiago on a baked potato is far better than plain cheddar.  Without the crumbling, I would have never known.  The same can be said about the valleys of life.  Without certain roadblocks, we might never end up on the right road.  Without detours, we might never discover our true calling in life.  And without tribulations, we might never remember how much we have to be thankful for.

When your world crumbles apart, don't despair or give in.  Look at it as an opportunity to explore new options and discover new pathways.  Don't retire; re-purpose.

Now, if you'll excuse me, all this talk of asiago baked potatoes has made me hungry.  I guess I know what I'm having for lunch!

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. - Galatians 6:9

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When It's Time to Say, "Goodbye"

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? - Psalm 56:8

Several more tears were added to my heavenly bottle over the past couple of days as we bid farewell to my dad's dog of 13 years.  We knew the time would soon come.  He had been aging rapidly over the past couple of years, and arthritis had set in, making it difficult for him to walk.  Nevertheless, I wasn't prepared for my dad's phone call yesterday when he questioned me about the process of putting the dog to sleep.  Buried memories of my own dog's passing six years ago mingled with the grief I felt for poor Cocoa and my dad during this difficult time.  But the worst of it was when my dad blurted, "I don't want any more pets.  I'm done with this."  My heart broke, as did my dam of tears.  I knew that statement of frustration was my dad's way of trying to deal with his grief, and I simply couldn't bear it.  It's hard to comfort someone who's grieving when you can't quit crying yourself, you know?

I received another phone call a few hours ago, confirming that Cocoa was gone.  My dad's voice caught in his throat as he told me of his last few minutes with his dear friend and how he couldn't stay with Cocoa until the end because it was simply too painful.  I completely understand.  For some of us, dogs are not just pets.  They are part of the family, and their passing is just as heart-wrenching as that of our two-legged loved ones.  And in the initial moments of grief, it's difficult to face the possibility of ever loving again.  It's too painful.  It hurts far too much.  The loss is just too great.  And so, we do the very thing my dad did when he got home from the vet.  He packed up everything that was Cocoa's and stored it in the building where it would be out of sight until someone (probably me) would take it away.  I remember doing the same thing when my sweet Tessa died.  I couldn't bear to look at her things, for every time I did, it tore my heart in two.

Forgive me for rambling on a bit today.  I guess I'm more out of sorts than I realized.  Lack of sleep and many tears will do that to a body.  Nevertheless, I do have a few words to leave with you.  I assure you there is a point to my rambling. . . I think.

First off, isn't it good to know that we serve a God who cares about our sorrow?  He grieves when we grieve.  He cries when we're sad, and He understands the pain we're going through.  Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and, while I'm sure there are those who will roll their eyes at the idea of mourning a dog, I can rest assured that God will do no such thing.  He understands how I feel and knows the depth of my grief even better than I do.  And in the midst of dark times, that knowledge is such a comfort to me.

I also want to urge you to spend time with those you love.  Tell them how much you love and appreciate them.  Make them feel special.  This life is as a vapor, and we never know when our loved ones will be taken from us.  Don't wait until it's too late to appreciate just how much they mean to you.

And lastly, be careful not to refrain from loving out of a fear of losing.  When I lost Tessa, I felt the same way my dad does now.  I didn't want another dog.  The problem was that we already had another dog, Tippy, and she wasn't used to being alone.  She mourned Tessa's loss as much or more than I did.  So, after much discussion and hesitation, we decided that the best thing for Tippy would be to get another dog.  I had no idea, at the time, that it would be the best thing for me too.  Mitch was the perfect addition to our family, and while he has never taken Tessa's place, he has certainly helped me to heal.  How much joy and healing would I have missed out on had I not been willing to risk loving again?  I'm not saying it's easy, and sometimes it takes a little time, but fear should never be the determining factor for any decision.  That's not the way God intended it to be.

Thank you for letting me "vent" a little and for taking the time to grieve with me.  If you think of it, will you please say a prayer for my dad during this difficult time of loss?  We would both appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Another One of Those Days

Have you ever noticed that the times you need things to run smoothly are the exact times that things seem to just fall apart?  You know, like you're already running late for work, then you spill your coffee all down your shirt.  After changing tops, you run to the car, only to be stopped in a traffic jam the size of the Great Wall of China.  Frustrating, isn't it?  Well, today has certainly been one of those days.

After taking my morning walk (which I cut short due to the many demands on my plate today), I sat down and made a list of all the things I needed to accomplish before we left for our trip on Wednesday.  To be honest, the size of the list made me a little queasy.  Still, I soldiered on.  God was on my side.  I was in a positive mood.  I had gotten a good night's sleep.  I knew it could be done. . . until. . .

The first sign of trouble was when I booted up my computer and noticed that it had a virus. . .AGAIN!!!  I have cleaned up this exact same virus three times now, but evidently, I'm missing some little piece of it that keeps mutating into its full ugly form every time I shut down my computer.  Grrr!  After cleaning up the problem once again, I rebooted my computer and went to switch out the laundry.  Imagine my frustration when I noticed the wet floor seeping from underneath the dryer.  Wonderful!  The washer was leaking somewhere, and I still had two loads of laundry to do.

I have to be honest with you, at this point I was tempted to drown my sorrows in chocolate and go back to bed.  There was too much work to be done to have to deal with all these problems.  I didn't have the time, the energy or the state of mind to fight these battles.  And so, through my tears of frustration, I did the only thing I knew to do.  I turned my eyes heavenward and cried, "Lord, a little help please!"

And do you know what?  I got it.  No, the virus didn't fix itself and neither did the washing machine.  But as I sought the Lord, He whispered sweet peace to my soul and reminded me that while my problems seemed overwhelming to me, they were nothing that He couldn't handle.  In those quiet moments, He helped me to remember that He has never failed me and that He had everything under control.  And most importantly, He made me aware of His presence.  Right there, in the midst of my feisty computer and leaky washer, God was holding my hand and whispering in my ear, "It's okay, child.  I'm here.  I'll give you the strength and energy and state of mind you need to get through this.  Just hold on to me because I'm already holding on to you."

I can't tell you that the computer and washing machine are now fixed, but I can attest to the fact that my attitude is, and that makes a big difference.  I am no longer facing the day with dread and a sense of being overwhelmed.  Instead, I'm looking at my list with the certainty that there's nothing on it that my God can't handle.

How's your list looking today?  Are you feeling overwhelmed by demands and frustrations beyond your control?  If so, I urge you to do what I did.  Seek God.  Ask for His help.  Then be willing to accept the help in whatever form it may come.  God has it under control, and I guarantee you, there's nothing on your list that He can't handle.

Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: Is there any thing too hard for me? - Jeremiah 32:27

Monday, October 27, 2014

Disaster on the River by Cheryl Rogers

Chet has to know. If he’s going to take his third trip into the Florida backwoods with a group of preteens and teens, he has to hear from God. On the first trip, 13-year-old Zack went missing in the middle of the night. Then a hurricane headed their way! On the second trip, two boys left the trail to explore – even though they knew very well what happened to Zack. Then a forest fire struck!

Chet’s a city boy. While he is no longer a newbie at camping, he wants to be absolutely sure it is God’s will for him to return to the backwoods for his most ambitious adventure: A two-night canoe trip.  One of the members of his youth group, Jeff, loves canoeing and has been begging for the group to go. Chet’s lined up a canoeing lesson from a wilderness expert. Now he needs to know if you want to join them (virtually, of course).

We talked with the fictitious youth leader Chet about his wilderness Bible Camps -- and what he has lined up for the next trip.

Q. Are the boys from church eager to return to the backwoods for another retreat, Chet?
A. I have a core group that’s very interested in these wilderness retreats. Zack. Jeff. They always rope in Chang, although I suspect he’d rather have a video party. Then there are the younger boys, Alfonso and Sammy. They are ready. The parents, however, have been somewhat of a challenge. No one wants his boy to go missing like Zack did on the first trip. They need to be convinced. I need to take as many precautions as is humanly possible. And I need to be sure to seek God, to be sure I am in his will. That’s why I’m reaching out, to ascertain the interest in what I’m doing.

Q. What’s the idea behind the Bible Camps?
A. Camping is an integral part of growing up for some kids. They love it. And it gives me an opportunity to teach them about God, amidst his creation, and encourage them to surrender their lives to him.

Q. Spiritually speaking, it seems your Bible Camps have had an astounding amount of success. Can you tell us what God has done?
A. I am always glad to give glory to God. I owe him everything. He picked me up out of a New York gang and turned me into a youth fellowship leader. There was a time when I never thought people would trust me with their kids, at all. Now, I’m wondering if they’ll trust me with their kid in the backwoods. God is so good.

Well, the first year, Zack had a beautiful encounter with God’s love and mercy when he ignored instructions, and wandered off in the middle of the night from camp. It was a traumatic experience, I am sure, and Zack sought God like he was taught to do. In his desperation, he surrendered his life to God, and was born again in the Spirit. This was a major breakthrough, not only for Zack, but for the group. Zack began praying for others and sharing God’s love with them.

Then, the second year, God demonstrated his ability to heal through a woman named Sandy.  The boys found her camping far off the beaten trail to avoid electricity.  She was born again, and healed. The boys got to pray for her and witness her miraculous recovery from an incurable disease, Environmental Illness. I expect to see great things happen this year – if God does indeed want us to return to the backwoods.

Q. Tell us how you prepare for these trips.
A. Well, a lot goes into them, actually. It’s easier, in some ways, to plan because we’ve been there before. But we still need to recruit and sign up the boys, get the permission slips signed, collect the money, buy/rent supplies, train them in outdoor skills, and pray. I learned with the first trip you can never pray too much.

Q. What about canoeing? Why canoeing this trip? Is the group ready to boat with alligators on the Crooked River?
A. I don’t think I could ever personally be ready for that. Children are bait for alligators. Our core group of boys, however, are not little anymore. If they were, I wouldn’t go.  I would never do anything to jeopardize their welfare. The experts from Florida tell me alligators are no problem. We just need to stay clear of them and they will stay clear of us.

Because I don’t believe an overnight canoe trip is advisable for inexperienced canoers -- including myself, by the way -- I have planned for a canoe lesson prior to the trip. That way everyone who wants to accompany us can have some real canoe experience beforehand. We also will have our canoeing instructor, a wilderness expert, accompany us on the trip.

Q. It sounds like you are well prepared. What should our readers who want to accompany you on the trip know?
A.  Get ready for an adventure! We want everyone to have a great time. Every one of the male characters in the book will have a canoeing buddy, and they’ll be plenty of time to chat and visit, swim in the river, cook over a wood fire, sing and praise God. As readers, and virtual participants, they’re along for the ride – without actually facing the mosquitoes and bugs, or whatever else we encounter.

Q. Why should they sign up for this retreat?
A. Every one who signs up will be among the very first to read the third Bible Camp Mystery, and they’ll get a free e-copy.  The 50th person to sign up will receive an autographed copy of the upcoming trilogy: The first three Bible Camp mysteries, slated for released in print sometime next year.

Q. Where can people learn more about the Bible Camp Mystery series?
A. Hop over to, which features some exclusive interviews from some of the series’ characters. The magazine is published by Bible Camp Mystery author, Cheryl Rogers.

Q. How do readers sign up?
A. If they’re ready to sign up for my third expedition into the backwoods, they should visit  Registrants receive a free copy of Disaster on the River, scheduled for release this November. Remember, you’re not obligating yourself to actually face snakes, alligators, or summer rainstorms in the Central Florida backwoods ... but, you’ll enter their world through the book. Hope you can join us!