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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Heat Is On!

Sunday morning, I spoke about the miracle of Elijah and the widow's barrel.  I'm sure you know the story, but if not, you can read all about it in I Kings 17.  I was almost afraid to teach the lesson.  After all, everything I teach on something like this, I'm tested on it the next week.  Well, this week is no different.

Yes, on Sunday morning I spoke about how much God can do with an empty barrel.  I expounded on the fact that no matter how much of the flour and oil was used, there was always enough for one more meal, then one more, then one more, and well, you get the point.  I talked about God's miraculous provision for Elijah with the ravens and then again with this destitute woman who was literally preparing her last meal.  It was a good lesson, and to be honest, I learned a lot from it.  It's a good thing!

As of this morning, Jason had a total of seven and a half hours of work for the week.  May I remind you that he's paid by the hour?  May I also mention that there was only enough work for thirty hours last week?  Oh, and did I tell you that the mortgage is due. . . and the cell phone bill?  As I taught the lesson on Sunday, I thought I knew what it was like to have an empty barrel.  Today I'm thinking, "Wow, and I thought it was empty at the beginning of the week!"  And with those thoughts, my old faithful foe rears his ugly head and whines, "What are you going to do now?"

Good question.  I could worry about how I'm going to pay my upcoming bills and whether or not this slump in Jason's business is permanent or a mere fluke.  I could accuse God of not taking care of me as He promised He would do.  I could pitch a fit, drown my anxiety in chocolate or cry myself to sleep.  Or, I could trust that God has me right where He wants me.  I could look at the ways He's provided extra income the past couple of weeks despite Jason's lagging work schedule.  I could choose to have faith that someway, somehow God will see us through, just as He's always done.

I've made my choice.  What about you?  How will you react to your empty barrel?  Whether you're short on funds, strength, hope or options, God is faithful to provide for His children.  He only asks that we trust Him.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Walking Through Roses. . .Or Not

For some reason, we Christians like to believe that as long as we're walking in God's will, life will be a bed of roses.  I don't know where we get this idea from.  I mean, look at Paul and John the Baptist.  Obviously, our perception of the Christian life is extremely faulty.  Nevertheless, we go about our daily tasks of serving the Lord, all the while expecting that things will go exactly as they should because we're doing the right thing.

Well, I hate to burst that pretty little bubble, but that's just not the case, and I believe, deep down you know that.  If not, take a look at this passage, and then let me know what you think.

And the children of Israel arose, and went up to the house of God, and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up first. And the children of Israel rose up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah. And the men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin; and the men of Israel put themselves in array to fight against them at Gibeah. And the children of Benjamin came forth out of Gibeah, and destroyed down to the ground of the Israelites that day twenty and two thousand men. And the people the men of Israel encouraged themselves, and set their battle again in array in the place where they put themselves in array the first day. (And the children of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until even, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother? And the Lord said, Go up against him.) And the children of Israel came near against the children of Benjamin the second day. And Benjamin went forth against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword. Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And the children of Israel enquired of the Lord, (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the Lord said, Go up; for to morrow I will deliver them into thine hand. - Judges 20:18-28

As far as I can tell, Israel did the right thing.  They sought God's will, His advice, His counsel.  They asked God what they should do, and God said, "Go!"  And the result was a slaughter.  So again, they asked God what they should do, and once again, God said, "Go!"  And the result?  Another slaughter, nearly as great as the first.  What in the world?  They did the right thing.  They asked God.  They followed God's orders, and catastrophe struck as a result.  To our finite minds, something just doesn't add up.  Yes, we see that the third time God orders them to go, the result is a victory, but at what cost?  How many had to die before that victory, and why?

I know I say it often, but I think we need to hear it often:  God's ways are not our ways.  We cannot begin to understand why He does what He does.  That's where faith comes in.  We cannot trust in His reasoning because we don't understand it.  We cannot trust in His explanations because He often doesn't give any.  But we can trust in His heart because we know He loves us with a love that is far greater than anything we could ever comprehend.

So, even when things go wrong when we're doing right, hold on tight to what you know of God.  Trust firmly in Who He is and what He has promised.  Victory is just around the corner.  Just keep trusting and obeying.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How Will You Respond?

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. - I Kings 17:1-5

In short, God said, "Go," and Elijah went.  And while we could spend several moments dealing with the importance of what these few verses say, I think we could spend even more time focusing on what they don't say.  So, let's look at that for a few minutes.

Notice that Elijah didn't question God about this unusual command.  I mean, going to the brook Cherith made sense since there was a drought in the land.  But the part about the ravens, well, let's face it, that's just strange.  Ravens are stingy creatures.  They fight over the smallest scrap of food, so the likelihood that they would actually bring food to Elijah without eating it or fighting over it is a miracle in and of itself.  I believe Elijah knew enough about the nature of ravens to know that this was highly unusual.  Still, He didn't question.

He didn't ask to see a blueprint of God's entire plan.  When will the ravens feed me?  How often?  What will I be eating?  Will there be enough?  What about when the drought gets worse and the water of the brook dries up?  Then what?  What exactly do you have in mind, God?  Sad to say, if I had been Elijah, this would have probably been my response.

Not only did Elijah not question God, but neither did He argue with God.  Again, if I had been in Elijah's shoes, I probably would have had a bit of a tantrum.  "You can't be serious.  You want me to go hang out by a brook and eat food that the birds bring me.  Gross!  What if it's cold outside or really hot?  What am I going to do for shelter?  Why can't I go home to my nice, warm house?  I'm doing your work, and this is the thanks I get?  I don't mean to be rude, Lord, but I think you should know that this is not what I signed up for.  I was happy with the way things were.  This little detour is not part of my plans."

Oh, but Elijah is such a wonderful example for us.  He didn't question.  He didn't argue.  He didn't pitch a fit or cry about how life's not fair.  He simply trusted and obeyed.  God said He would take care of Elijah, and Elijah took God at His word. . . even though he didn't understand.  And with that faith, Elijah took action.  He didn't need any more information.  He didn't need to know the entire plan.  He only needed God, and with that, he obeyed the strange command.  And if you follow out the story, you'll see that everything worked out just fine for Elijah.  No, life may not have worked out the way he had planned, but I think if we could ask him, Elijah would say it worked out better.

Whatever you're facing today, whatever God has asked of you, I beg of you to choose carefully how you respond.  You can question, pout, fuss and complain, or you can do like Elijah and trust that God is in control and that He knows best.  Then, in that knowledge and faith, step out and perform the task that God has called you to do.  It probably won't be easy, but it will be best.  Trust in God's plan, even when you don't understand it.  That's what faith is all about!

Monday, January 27, 2014

No Time Like the Present

And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Bethlehemjudah. And his concubine played the whore against him, and went away from him unto her father's house to Bethlehemjudah, and was there four whole months. And her husband arose, and went after her, to speak friendly unto her, and to bring her again, having his servant with him, and a couple of asses: and she brought him into her father's house: and when the father of the damsel saw him, he rejoiced to meet him. And his father in law, the damsel's father, retained him; and he abode with him three days: so they did eat and drink, and lodged there. And it came to pass on the fourth day, when they arose early in the morning, that he rose up to depart: and the damsel's father said unto his son in law, Comfort thine heart with a morsel of bread, and afterward go your way. And they sat down, and did eat and drink both of them together: for the damsel's father had said unto the man, Be content, I pray thee, and tarry all night, and let thine heart be merry. And when the man rose up to depart, his father in law urged him: therefore he lodged there again. And he arose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart; and the damsel's father said, Comfort thine heart, I pray thee. And they tarried until afternoon, and they did eat both of them. And when the man rose up to depart, he, and his concubine, and his servant, his father in law, the damsel's father, said unto him, Behold, now the day draweth toward evening, I pray you tarry all night: behold, the day groweth to an end, lodge here, that thine heart may be merry; and to morrow get you early on your way, that thou mayest go home. But the man would not tarry that night, but he rose up and departed, and came over against Jebus, which is Jerusalem; and there were with him two asses saddled, his concubine also was with him. - Judges 19:1-10

I know this seems like an odd passage for a devotion, but I promise you, there is spiritual meat here to feast upon.  I want to focus on the father in this story.  Did you notice how every time the Levite tried to leave, the father used some means or persuasion to get him to stay?  "Oh, stay another night.  You can leave tomorrow."  "You don't want to leave now.  It's nearly dark.  Wait one more day."  And on and on the excuses went.  Sound familiar?

Have you ever started to perform a certain task (particularly something for the Lord) and heard that persuasive whisper calling out to you?  "You don't need to do that now.  You can wait until tomorrow.  One more day won't make a difference."

Procrastination is an ugly habit, but truth be told it's more than that--it's a sin.  James 4:17 says, Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.  We know it's good to do those things the Lord has set before us to do.  We also know that we shouldn't put things off.  But we do it anyway, and according to James, that's sin.

Never forget that one of Satan's deadliest darts is that of distraction.  He loves to get us sidetracked.  He revels in seeing us put things off time and time again until they either don't get done at all or they get done half-heartedly.  And like the father in the story above, he doesn't stop with one excuse or plea.  He continues on and on until we're so far from where God wants us to be that we don't even know how to begin to find our way back.

Be on guard.  Stay tuned for that little voice in the back of your head that says, "Wait until tomorrow.  Do it later.  Just another day."  These words are not from the Lord, and they can cause a great deal of trouble!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Point Made!

Today's post will not be long.  It doesn't need to be.  I just wanted to take a moment to share with you how good and faithful God is.  Do you remember Tuesday's post, Appearances Can Be Deceiving?  If not, you may want to go back and read it.  Only then will this really have the impact it should.  In that post I gave you some wonderful Biblical examples of how things weren't really as bad as they seemed and how things worked out in the end, right?  Well, just to make sure we don't have the impression that instances like that are reserved for Bible times, I'd like to share with you how I experienced a similar situation this week.

I was scheduled to speak at a ladies' meeting on Wednesday night, the 22nd, and the pastor of the church I was to speak at asked me to bring some of my books.  Gladly, I thought.  And so, based on my many past experiences with ordering books to have on hand for the meeting, I placed the order in plenty of time for the books to arrive.  Typically, after I place an order, I receive an e-mail that very day or the next day at the latest telling me that the books had been shipped.  Unfortunately, this time, more than a week had passed, and I still hadn't gotten word that the order had shipped.

On Monday, I was growing nervous.  I had a few books on hand, but I was completely out of some of my bestsellers.  Part of me wanted to go crazy with worry, but thankfully, God gave me the strength to say, "No, I'm not going to stress about it.  If the books get here in time, fine.  If not, then God has a reason.  It's not that big a deal!"

On Monday afternoon, I checked the order status which read, "Order complete.  Waiting for shipment."  Well, that was that.  Monday was a holiday, so they certainly weren't going to ship that day, and if they shipped out on Tuesday, the likelihood that they would arrive by Wednesday was slim.  Still, I felt calm.  A little disappointed, but calm.

Late Monday night, I received an e-mail stating that the book order had been shipped.  I couldn't believe it.  It shipped out on a holiday.  And I began to hope that the order might just arrive by Wednesday.  Imagine my surprise when I checked the order status on Tuesday morning (note, I said Tuesday, not Wednesday) and saw that the package was out for delivery.  Sure enough, I received the books during the middle of the day on Tuesday, a full day before I needed them.

It appeared that the books wouldn't arrive on time.  All the evidence pointed to the fact that the book order would be delayed.  But appearances can be deceiving.  I received the order in plenty of time.  Isn't God good?

I don't know what you're facing today, but no matter how bad things may look, just hang in there.  Trust in the One who's in control, and wait for His perfect timing.  You'll be glad you did!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Don't You Know?

And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. - Judges 2:8-10

Every family has stories to pass down through the generations.  Stories of heroes within the family or historic events that someone in the family played a vital role in.  Stories of the ancestry are intriguing and eye-opening.  It's fascinating to look back at the family tree and see where we've come from, isn't it?  Evidently, it wasn't for the children of Israel.

If any family had some stories to tell, it was the families within the children of Israel.  These were the ancestors of the original captives from Egypt.  The plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna falling from Heaven, the water from the rock, the serpents, the golden altar, the Ten Commandments, the glory of God shining off Moses' face, the walls of Jericho as they crashed to the ground, the constant defeat of armies who were bigger and mightier.  I mean, good grief, a mother could tell her children a different miraculous bedtime story every night and never run out of material.  There was history here.  There was wonder.  Yet, according to Judges, it died out and was never passed on.

And there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD.  How is that possible?  How could they grow up in the promised land without ever knowing how it was they wound up there to begin with?  How could the adults have gone about their business day after day without ever telling their children about the mercy and goodness of the Lord?  They had seen so much, witnessed so many miracles.  How could they keep quiet?  

How can we?

Will the generation after us know the Lord?  How about the one after that?  Are we imparting enough knowledge about the Lord that it will stick in the hearts and minds of our children after they're grown?  Are we making them thirsty for the water of the Word?  Are we telling them about the miracles we've seen in our own lives, as well as in the lives of others?

Unfortunately, I fear we're often too busy to tell others.  There are so many things to do.  Between work and family and church, there's little time left to reach out to others and talk to them about the Lord.  We rush through life without ever really seeing people.  How many of them are hurting?  How many of them are searching for the answer?  We know, but we keep quiet.  Why do we do that?

There's nothing wrong with talking about the weather or the local sports team.  It's not a sin to discuss a book we're currently reading or a movie we saw at the theater.  However, it's imperative that we don't forget or neglect to talk about the most important thing of all--the Lord.  He's worth talking about, and He's certainly worth knowing!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Let It Go!

I have a song stuck in my head.  Well, not actually a song, just a line from a song.  And it has replayed over and over and over again. . . for an entire week now!  Every day this week, that simple phrase has found its way into some part of my day.  And so, I've sung and hummed until I'm just about sick of the song, although I feel its continual presence is no accident.  The song is from the new Disney movie, Frozen, and the line that won't leave me alone, ironically, is "Let It Go; Let It Go."

I cannot describe to you how the Lord has used that phrase to get my attention this week.  Let it go.  It seems I have a real problem with that.  Let it go.  It sounds so simple, so easy, but it's not.  As the phrase replayed over and over again, I searched my heart and asked myself a very difficult question:  what am I still holding onto that I need to let go?  The list the Lord has revealed is staggering.  Control, expectations of everything going the way I want them to go, bitterness, fear, anger towards God for not working within my time frame, frustration with myself and others for not living up to my standards, and sadly, the list goes on.

Don't get me wrong, I've taken each of these things to the Lord in prayer.  I've laid these burdens and faults down at His feet.  And I thought I walked away empty-handed, but evidently, such is not the case because here I stand with my arms loaded with a pile of junk I was never intended to carry.  I tried to lay it down.  I tried to let it go.  But it seems to have followed me on my way.

When I decided to serve the Lord, I knew it was not going to be an easy task.  I knew surrender was going to have to be a daily thing, and I was positive it was not going to be easy.  I had illusions, however, that the more I grew spiritually, the easier it would be to surrender daily, but I fear the opposite is true, at least in my life.  The more I learn about Christ, the harder I try to serve Him, the more I grow to love Him, the more difficult it seems to be to let everything go, to truly surrender my all.  Why is that?  It makes no sense.  Why is it I have no problem trusting God with my spiritual life but I struggle so trusting Him with my physical life?  Why is it so hard to just let go?  To let go of my expectations of what I think my life should be.  To let go of my need for control.  To let go of my worry and fear over what tomorrow may hold.

The result of such total surrender would be peace and joy.  I want that.  I really do.  But it means I have to make the sacrifice.  I have to give my all, holding nothing back.  Total surrender.  God never promised it would be easy, but He did promise it would be worth it.

Oh, Lord, please help me to let it go!  I want Your best for me.  Get me out of the way, so that You can work in me and through me.  I'm tired of lugging around these heavy burdens.  I give them to You, Lord, and ask You to deal with them as You see fit.  Please give me the strength to surrender my life and my all to You day after day, and to do so with joy and gladness.  I love you, Lord, though I know I often fail to show it.  I want to be used of You, so once again, Lord, I let it go.  I lay it all down at Your feet.  I am Yours.  Do what You will.  Thy will be done!

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Secrets of the Montebellis by Cheryl Colwell

Lisa Richards is far more than she seems.  Despite her unfaithful husband's opinion of her, Lisa has dreams, goals and many secrets.  With opposition meeting her at every turn, Lisa is determined to see her plans come to fruition no matter the cost.  Unfortunately, she has no idea just how high the cost will be.  In a story riddled with greed and mystery, treasure and history, The Secrets of the Montebellis tells the story of one woman's determination to be faithful to herself and her family while struggling to find out who she truly is.  It is a tale of intrigue that will leave you reading long into the night.

When I first read the description of Cheryl's book, I knew it sounded right up my alley.  Treasure hunts, abandoned mines, historical artifacts that point the way to solving the mysteries at hand.  Definitely the kind of book I like to read, and I was not disappointed.  From the very first chapter, I was drawn in to the story, feeling like another character immersed in the mystery.

I would have to say that the thing I loved most about the book was the character development.  Cheryl did a fantastic job of portraying characters that you love and those that you love to hate.  Not only were the characters realistic, but each had their own unique personality that set them apart in the story.  At times, I found myself hurting so much for Lisa (the main character) that I just wanted to be able to reach out and give her a hug.  As for her husband, well, let's just say a well-deserved slap would have certainly made me feel better.

Cheryl also did a fabulous job of weaving a complete history of Lisa's family into the story.  Not only is the history fascinating, but each new fact that is revealed presents another piece of the puzzle in the grand mystery.  I enjoyed keeping track of each tidbit and trying to solve the mystery before the characters did.  While the reading process was a little more exhausting this way, it was still truly enjoyable.

The Secrets of the Montebellis is a wonderful blend of intrigue, romance, adventure, scandal and forgiveness, with Christian aspects and influences thrown in.  Also, being a Christian book, it is free of foul language and other negative features, making this a refreshing read for me.  If you're into mystery, then you'll love this book.  But be warned, once you start, you won't want to put it down!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Keeping the Faith During Divorce - A Guest Post by Edson Senna

Sadly, divorce is fairly common these days, even in Christian marriages. And while we know that divorce is a decision that many people face, we often avoid discussing divorce because of differing views and the uncomfortable nature of the subject. For those who have chosen to divorce, the stress and uncertainty can make it hard to keep the faith and stay close to God. If you have prayerfully made the decision to divorce, consider these suggestions to strengthen your faith during this difficult time.

1. Continue to Pray

Prayer is how we communicate with God, and he is the only one who truly knows you and your situation. Pray for help from God for yourself, but also for your spouse, children, and other family members. Divorce is painful for all involved and may bring unexpected challenges.

As you stay close to God through prayer, you can receive guidance about how to help those involved to heal and move forward. It is sometimes hard to pray during our challenges, but constant communication with God will be a great strength for you. When you don’t feel like praying, pray anyway.

2. Attend Church 

 In addition to communicating with God, you must continue to worship him in order to maintain a close relationship with him. Attending church may be intimidating; there may be some around you who will judge your decision to divorce. Remember that it is not our place to judge our fellowman; God has reserved that right for himself.

Do not let others’ decision to judge you affect your relationship with God. At the end of the day, your relationship with him is the only one that matters. Offense is a choice; choose not to be offended. As you continue to worship, you will find friends within your church who will support you and help you through this difficult time.

3. Serve Others

 Service provides an opportunity to look outside of ourselves and heal our hearts and others’. Look for ways to serve those around you. In serving, we follow Jesus’ example; he spent his entire life helping others.

Serving also helps us realize our own worth. God has given each of us many gifts and he wants us to use these gifts to bless the lives of our neighbors. In 1 Peter 4:10 we read, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Divorce often brings feelings of failure and inadequacy. Serving others will help you to see that God still values you and wants you to help others of his children.

4. Practice Charity 

 It is natural to feel angry or resentful of one’s spouse during a divorce, and it can be tempting to speak harshly to and about that person. Pray for the strength to resist this temptation, and remember that Jesus taught that we should do good to all men and love our enemies. Do not ridicule your spouse, publicly or privately. Doing so will widen the rift between you and will affect your children. Charity is a gift from God; as you practice and pray for charity, God will bless you with more.

In the scriptures, charity is often associated with faith and hope. Pray for the faith that God is with you and the hope that you will be able to live a full and happy life.

5. Ask for Help

God does not expect us to go through our challenges alone. He places people and organizations in our lives to help us through challenging times. Turn to your pastor or a professional counselor for help in knowing how to move forward. Talking about your feelings can help the healing process. Allow friends to help you as well. Turn to friends who will uplift you and strengthen your faith. You may worry about being a burden, but remember that when others serve you God blesses them in their own challenges. Allow God to help you through others.

Each person who goes through a divorce will have a unique experience and will struggle at some point. It is important to stay close to God during this time. Only he can truly heal you and those involved.

Edson Senna is a freelance writer who loves sharing his faith through his writing. In addition to writing about faith and family matters, Edson specializes in finance and law. He sometimes does consulting for Dexter Law, divorce lawyers in Utah. In his spare time, Edson enjoys reading, biking, and running.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Doing The Right Things For All the Wrong Reasons

I don't know about you, but as a Christian, I strive to do the things that bring honor and glory to the Lord.  I don't always succeed, mind you, but I try.  It recently came to my attention, however, to question why I do the things that I do.  To be honest, I was amazed at the answers.  I discovered that while I was doing many good things, I was doing many of them for the wrong reasons.

Take, for example, my resolution to eat better and exercise more.  I've grown tired of the flab and weary of my fatigue.  In fact, this is an ongoing thing for me.  I get frustrated with my health and take great efforts to change my way of eating and exercise patterns.  But here's the catch, when I don't see the desired results, I go back to my old way of doing things.  Why?  In short, because my reason for my new healthy lifestyle was the wrong reason.  I was doing it to see improvements in my health, which is a good reason, but not the right reason.  The right reason to eat healthy and exercise regularly is because it's the right thing to do, and it will never cease being the right thing to do.  Therefore, if I'm living a healthy lifestyle because it's the right thing to do then, no matter the results (or lack thereof), I'll keep doing it.  My efforts to "fix myself" show me that I'm taking on a role that isn't mine to play.

The same can be said of saving money, working hard and even going to church.  There are good reasons to do each of these things, but the right reason to do them is simply because they are the right things to do.  For example, the Bible says in Luke 6:38, Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.  Does that mean we should give in order to get?  Is that the right reason for giving?  No, God doesn't say give so that it will be given unto you, but rather if you give, you'll be given unto.  It's a result of giving, not a reason to give.  And frankly, if we're giving with the sole purpose of getting, we're not really giving, are we?

So who cares why we do something as long as we're doing the right things?  Well, God does.  He not only wants us to do the right things, but He also wants us to do them with the right motives, which is to glorify Him, not to gain something for ourselves, whether it be health, money or something else entirely.  Our duty is to do the right things because they're the right things.  No matter the results.  No matter the costs.  No matter the opposition.

I urge you today to take a look at every part of your life and ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?  Is it to serve God or to gain something for myself?"  I'm telling you, the answers may surprise you, but as the Bible says, the truth can set you free.

O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. - Jeremiah 10:23

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Where's Your Attention?

This morning I had to reset the notification tone for the calendar on my cell phone.  Why?  Well, since the tone was the same as my default notification tone (which I typically ignore), I was missing the events on my calendar because by the time I checked my phone, it was too late or the event had passed.  Unlike most people, I don't pull out my phone every time it makes a sound, .  Phone call?  Sure, I'll answer. . . most of the time.  Text message?  I get to a stopping place in my current task, then check those.  E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc?  As far as I'm concerned, they can wait.  I'll get to it when I get to it.  This works for me, but some people look at me like I've lost my mind.

"You had a notification on your phone," they say.

"I know," I reply.

"Well, aren't you going to check it?"

"Later, when I have the time."

The look of horror that passes across their faces is unmistakable, not to mention humorous.  These are the same people who are seldom seen without their phone in their hands and/or earphones stuffed in their ears.  They spend time all day long checking e-mail, text messages, Facebook statuses and the like.  It's like an addiction.  When the phone sounds, they respond--and quickly!

It makes me wonder what this world would be like if we all responded to God's promptings the same way or even if we spent the same amount of time with Him as we do with our phones.  Instead of checking Facebook statuses, we check out some of God's promises.  Instead of texting back and forth with a friend in the next room, we spend time in prayer with our Heavenly Father.  And as we do with our phones, what about if we stopped everything and gave God our undivided attention every time He spoke?  It's quite a thought, isn't it?

Technology is great--at least, when it's working properly.  But it can also be a trap.  It can make us busier than ever.  It can steal time from our families and, more importantly, from God.  It can distract us from those things that are truly important, sidetracking our priorities.  Let's be careful not to allow it (or anything else) to become an idol in our lives.  God is God alone, and He deserves our time and attention.

 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. - Exodus 20:3

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why Can't That Be Me?

And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. - Genesis 39:2-3

Wouldn't you love to say that everything you put your hand to works out great?  That new job -- no problem.  Recipes -- awesome.  Your marriage -- a piece of cake.  No matter the task, whether duty or delight, everything always works out perfect.  Evidently, that's what was going on for Joseph.  Whatever he did prospered.  When he baked a cake, it came out moist and fluffy.  When he ironed clothes, they looked flawless.  When he split the firewood, one swing of the ax was all it took for the pieces to crumble away into perfectly-proportioned quarters.  When he invested, the stocks soared.  When he took a risk, it paid off.  Though a servant, Joseph didn't seem to lack for much, at least not at this point in his life's story.

I thought about these verses in Genesis this morning when I was reading some verses along a contrary line of thought in my devotions.  As much as I wish the Genesis verses described my life, I fear I relate much more closely with the following verses in Deuteronomy 28:

And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee. . .Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it. Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them. Thou shalt have olive trees throughout all thy coasts, but thou shalt not anoint thyself with the oil; for thine olive shall cast his fruit. Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity. All thy trees and fruit of thy land shall the locust consume. . . And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever. Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things. . . And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life: In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.

I don't mean to sing a sob story, but those verses just ring a tune of familiarity. 

Thou shalt not prosper in thy ways. - Sure does feel that way when I'm struggling to make a single book sale or scouring for the least expensive ways to feed my family for the oncoming week.

Carrying much seed and gathering little -  Oh yeah!  Been there, done that.

Because thou hast not served the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart - Uh oh!  I'm afraid that sounds a bit familiar too.  Don't get me wrong, I want to serve the Lord, and I strive to do so, but I fear it's not always with joyfulness and gladness.

Trembling heart -   Did I mention I've had trouble with my blood pressure lately?

Failing of eyes - Let's not even go there, okay?

Sorrow of mind - Suffice it to say that depression is real and yes, it can strike Christians.

Life shall hang in doubt and thou shalt fear day and night - It's downright shameful how well that describes me.  I'm embarrassed to say that worry and doubt seem to be my constant companions these days.

I wish it were morning/evening - Yep, I've said that too.

Yes, I'm afraid as I read through the passage in Deuteronomy this morning, I couldn't help but see myself and my current state in life. . . and I began to grow discouraged, especially when my mind thought of Joseph and how everything prospered at his hand.  I began to wonder why it is that things seem to work out just right for some people while others can't seem to catch a break no matter how hard they try.  As I pondered these thoughts, I felt the stirring of the Spirit, and in that still small voice, He said, "Did you ever think that maybe everything prospered for Joseph because he was doing all the right things?"  Hmm, interesting thought.  Could it be that the reason things worked out for Joseph was because he was so in tune with God that he was always in His will?  Could it be that he prospered because, no matter what he faced, he served the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart?  I not only think it's possible; I think it's likely.

You know what else I think is possible?  I think it's possible for us to be just as prosperous, but it's going to take some serious changes in our thoughts, actions and attitudes.  If we want to reap the prosperity that Joseph reaped, we need to sow the seeds of faithfulness that Joseph sowed.  Like Joseph, we must be so in tune with God that we are always in His will.  We must determine that no matter what life throws our way, we will serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart.  Then, and only then, will the Genesis passage replace the Deuteronomy passage in our lives.

Are you tired of working for nothing?  Have you had enough of struggling day after day just to make it through?  Are you ready to be prosperous in everything that you do?  If so, then you know what you must do.  As for me, it looks like it's going to be a very busy year--I have a lot of work to do. . .on myself!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Was Blind But Now I See

He was not the first man to drive the ordinary car around the race track.  He was not the fastest or the most outrageous.  He was not a well-known star like all the others.  Yet, there was still something that set his accomplishment above and beyond all the rest.  For Billy Baxter, driving a car had been an everyday activity--that is, before he was blinded by a rare eye disease.  Yet even with his infirmity, not only did he successfully race the car around the track, but he did it faster than two of the earlier participants who were not blind.

Let's face it, it's not every day that a blind man drives a car.  And it's certainly not a typical day when a blind man races around a track at excessive speeds, twisting right, then left, all while avoiding obstacles and following the directions of one of the show's hosts who rode in the passenger seat of the car.  When asked about his success, Billy basically told the host of the show, "I had to literally put my life in your hands and follow your instructions.  I couldn't see the track, so I had to trust in you not to lead me astray."

Shortly before watching this amazing accomplishment on television, I heard a song that spoke to my heart.  In fact, I posted it as today's song of the day.  The tag line states, "When you can't trace His hand, trust His heart."  How well that went right along with the blind driver--at least, in my mind.  You see, I struggle with accepting things that I cannot see.  When I can't see the master plan, I panic.  When I can't figure out how I'm going to pay next week's bills, I worry.  When I can't see how the current storm will work for my good, I doubt.  If I can't figure it out, then something must be wrong.  Did God mess up?  Did He fall asleep?  Is He not paying attention to what's going on down here?  And so, my spiritual blindness keeps me in the dark.  In a dark mood.  With a dark attitude and outlook.  Pouting about my blindness.

Instead, I need to be more like Billy Baxter.  I need to put my life in God's hands and trust that He won't lead me astray.  I need to listen and heed His directions instead of balking every time something doesn't make sense to me.  When I can't see the whole plan, I need to trust that God has everything under control.  And as the song says, when I can't trace His hand, I need to trust His heart.  I have His promise that He is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28).  He has assured me that He has great plans for me and that those plans are not plans of evil (Jeremiah 29:11).  I know He loves me and wants what's best for me.  In short, I guess I need to focus on what I know instead of what I don't, what I can see instead of what I can't.

I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions, but this year, I think I may make an exception.  Lord, please help me to be like Billy Baxter--to place my life in your hands and trust you with my path.

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

Friday, January 3, 2014

First Impressions

Do you know how difficult it is to make a good first impression?  For some, it may be easy, but for others (myself included) it can be daunting.  As a writer, every piece of writing I do is an impression of me and of my other work.  Within just a few sentences, a publisher can determine whether or not he likes my style, my voice, my tone, etc.  A few sentences--that's all I have to make a good impression.

This blog is no different.  People browse through my blog and pick a post that sounds interesting.  They read it and often determine from that one post whether or not any of the rest of my work is worth reading.  What if it wasn't one of my better posts?  What if I was having an "off day"?  It doesn't matter.  The first impression has been made.

What about our encounters with the unsaved?  We have one chance with each individual to portray a good first impression about Christianity.  How many times do we blow it?  How often are our first impressions those of negative attitudes, doctrinal bickering and holier-than-thou speeches?  Shouldn't the first impression of a Christian be one of love, joy and encouragement?  But that's not often the case, and if you don't believe me, visit any Christian forum or chat room.  I've seen some of the ugliest talk in those places.  It's no wonder so many people are turned away from Christianity if that's what they see of it.

We only get one chance to make a first impression.  People are watching us.  What are they seeing?