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Friday, June 27, 2014

May the Force Be With You

While walking the dogs yesterday morning, I saw the coolest thing.  At first, it looked to be a single flower, floating in mid-air, hovering three feet above the asphalt.  As I approached to get a closer look at this strange phenomenon, I realized that the flower wasn't floating but was caught in a single strand of a spider's web.  Only upon closer inspection and when the sun hit the web just right did I notice the web.  The rest of the time, all I could see was the flower, being held there by some invisible force.

We, Christians, are like that flower, for we too are held up by an invisible force. . . or at least we should be.  When the world looks at us from a distance, they see a person not unlike themselves.  But upon closer inspection, they should notice that there is something different about us.  This difference is what makes us capable of laughing and crying at the same time.  It is this force that is responsible for our ability to face challenges of gigantic proportions and to walk away unscathed.

Many Christians have been observed and then asked, "How do you do it?"  It's a logical question, as are these:  How do most Christians deal so well with the loss of a loved one?  How do most Christians battle daily financial battles and still find reasons to smile?  How do most Christians grow better rather than bitter after severe disappointments?  For each and every question, the answer is the same--we are upheld by an invisible force.  His name is Jesus.  He is our strength and our peace.  Without Him, we could do nothing.

Without His invisible force leading us and giving us strength, we would fall.  The flower I saw could not have remained airborne of its own accord.  No matter how much it wished to fly, no matter how hard it tried to stay afloat, without the invisible force of the web, it was doomed to fall.  We are the same.  Our strength is insufficient.  Our abilities are lacking.  Yes, our only hope of rising above the circumstances of life is to allow the invisible force of God's love and goodness to lift us up.

And so, my friend, as Yoda would say, "May the Force be with you."

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - II Corinthians 12:9

**** Excerpt from my newest Christian Living book, Daily Discussions of a Doubting Disciple. Lord willing, the book will be available for purchase at the beginning of July. ****

Thursday, June 26, 2014

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Wonder Woman?

Have you ever dreamed of being a superhero?  I'm not necessarily talking about leaping tall buildings in a single bound or getting the truth from someone who is held fast in the grip of your lasso, although those super powers would be nice to have.  But how about leaping tall piles of laundry, performing your job, fending off negative thoughts and attitudes, shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, exercising and still having enough energy at the end of the day to spend quality time with your family and friends?  Now those are some super powers worth having!

Unfortunately, most days I don't resemble Wonder Woman (and I'm not talking about the clothes; I never resemble that!)  Outside of our shared ability to communicate with animals (we've discussed this previously), Wonder Woman and I have little in common.  In fact, if I were to be named a superhero, I believe the appropriate title would be Wander Woman.  Yep, that's me, wandering aimlessly through life, hoping that I've made the right choices and that I'm still walking the right path.

Robert Robinson said it best in his popular hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing--"prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love."  I don't mean to wander off.  I long to be Wonder Woman, not Wander Woman, but I find that instead of leaping tall buildings (yes, I know that was Superman, but it works, so bear with me), I leap to conclusions.  Instead of lassoing the truth out of someone else, I can't seem to be honest with myself.  And instead of fending off the deadly darts of the devil with my indestructable bracelets (the Word of God), I find myself worrying about the next attack and the next one and the next one.  Some superhero, huh?

Let's face it, I'll never be Wonder Woman.  No matter how much I desire to be the perfect wife, homemaker, writer, friend, etc., I can only be what God intends for me to be.  Yes, I can always strive to do better, but with realistic expectations in view, like we talked about a few days ago.  The sooner I stop lamenting who I'm not, the sooner I can focus on being who I am and who God wants me to be.

In the meantime, I can take comfort in the fact that, while I'm not a superhero, I belong to One who is.  He can do far more than all other superheroes combined.  He is loyal and true, strong and brave, loving and just.  And beyond all of that, He's on my side, which means that I can't lose.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to polish my tiara and wind up my lasso. . . and I think I'll grab my compass too, just in case Wonder Woman decides to become Wander Woman again.  Around my house, you just never know!

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:31

Monday, June 23, 2014

Follow the Leader

On Friday mornings, I go to Falls Park for my weekly "date" with the Lord. This worship time is different than my everyday devotions. It's special somehow. It's just me and the Lord. No distractions. No interruptions. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I speak. And sometimes I just listen. Whatever the situation, I come home feeling refreshed and renewed.

Last Friday, as I was about to leave the serenity of the park, I sat on the bench for a few minutes watching the ducks and geese that had gathered on the water. They played and fought. They swam and dove. It was a lot of fun just watching them. (And I promise you that one of the ducks said, "Bless you" when I sneezed. Weird!)

After a little while, one of the largest of the geese stood and began walking in the direction from which it had flown in. Within seconds, a long line of geese had formed behind him. In one straight line, like a class of school children, they followed the leader. When he walked, they walked. When he swam, they swam. If he swerved, they were right behind him, following his every move.

Then suddenly, he stopped. He stood and looked around him as if he had lost his direction. He glanced to his left and then to his right. Still, he didn't move. He just looked around. Beginning at the back of the line, geese began to turn around and swim back to the area they had just left. I could almost hear their discussion. "What are we following this guy for? He doesn't even know where he's going. Come on. I saw some tasty bugs back this way."

One by one the geese swam away, leaving the "lead goose" standing alone and looking unsure of what to do next. In a way, I felt sorry for him. However, another part of me was thinking, You know, you really should have told them you didn't know where you were going. Then they wouldn't have followed you to begin with.

Aren't you glad that our Guide knows where He's going? Isn't it comforting to know that we aren't following blindly after someone who may end up lost in the long run? As I go through life, whether I be walking or swimming, running or crawling, I can rest assured that my Leader will get me home. If I follow in His footsteps, I will never be led astray.

I shared the joy over this reminder with a duck and a pigeon who wandered close to me in search of food. They didn't seem impressed. If only they knew what they were missing!

Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. - Isaiah 48:17

**** Excerpt from my newest Christian Living book, Daily Discussions of a Doubting Disciple.  Lord willing, the book will be available for purchase at the beginning of July. ****

Friday, June 20, 2014

What Do You Expect?

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a result-oriented kind of girl.  If I perform a task, no matter how big or small, I want to see results.  When I sweep the floors, I expect to see clean, hair-free surfaces.  When I write and publish a book, I long to see sales.  When I diet and exercise, I desire weight loss and improved overall health.  It's that simple.  I do the work, so I want to see the fruits of my labor.

Often, though, that desire gets me into trouble.  I tend to have unrealistic expectations, so when those clean floors don't last the day, I'm frustrated.  When the book sales don't come in, I'm discouraged.  When my weight goes up and I feel horrible after two weeks of healthy eating and daily exercise, I'm devastated.  My expectation of results tends to cause more heartache than joy, leaving me disheartened and discouraged.

As I thought on this quandary this morning, I rationalized, "Well, there's certainly nothing wrong with having hopes and dreams. Goals are good.  They motivate us to move toward something greater.  So how can it be wrong to expect results from my efforts?"  The answer arrived in the form of a still, small voice.  Having goals is not the problem.  My error lies in the identity of my goals.  I'm wanting and expecting the wrong things, so naturally, when I don't get them, I'm disappointed.

What would happen if I had one goal in mind for everything I did in life?  Every load of laundry.  Every toilet I clean.  Every book I write or speech I give.  Every healthy food choice and minute of exercise.  What if, instead of having a myriad of goals, I dedicated my entire life to only one--the glory of God?

This means that instead of doing things to acquire the expected results, I'd do them simply because they were the right things to do.  Instead of cleaning my house because the mess is finally getting on my nerves, I'd clean it because the Bible says for all things to be done decently and in order.  Instead of writing books for an income, I'd write them because that's what the Lord has called me to do.  Instead of dieting and exercising to lose weight and improve my health, I'd do it because my body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and I need to treat it as such.  In other words, I'd be far more focused on the work than I would on the results.  The results are not my concern.  Those are in God's hands, and trying to believe otherwise only leads to discouragement and frustration.

Many tasks.  One goal.  To glorify Christ in all that I do.  And as long as I keep that as my goal and daily work toward it, I'll never be disappointed.

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; - Colossians 3:23

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Broken Branches

About halfway through my morning walk, I came upon a tree from which dangled a large broken branch.  The limb seemed to have been damaged in a storm and was hanging at an odd angle just above the trail.  But what caught my attention was that the limb was still alive.  It was still bearing fruit, well, flowers of some type.  Amidst its lush green leaves sprouted hundreds of pink, fluffy balls, each about the size of a golf ball.  I have no idea what type of flowers or seeds or whatever these things are, but they bloom every summer, and I always enjoy investigating their unusual appearance

As I continued to walk, I thought about that branch and how that it could still bring forth life even though it was broken.  Before long, I came upon another broken branch.  Like the first limb, this one hung at an odd angle just above the trail.  However, in contrast to the first, this second branch already showed signs of withering.  It bore no fruit, seeds or flowers.  Its leaves, withered and brown, drooped from the branch like lifeless fingers.  It was a sad sight.

Walking along, I contemplated the two branches.  Both had been broken, yet one still thrived while the other seemed to have given up all hope of living.  The first was determined to carry out its purpose while the second was content to give in to the pressure of brokenness.  Brokenness has a way of making one decide on a path of action:  keep on or give up.  Better or bitter.

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 15:5

Jesus made it clear that He is the vine and we are the branches.  By abiding in Him, we can bring forth much fruit, but without Him, we can't do anything.  I think that was the difference between the two branches I noticed this morning.  The first was still abiding in the vine.  Though broken, it was drawing strength and nourishment from the tree, enabling it to bring forth much fruit.  Not only that, but the "fruit" that it bore was special because it was down on a level that passersby could observe and study it.  The other limbs were too high for their fruits to be truly appreciated, but this one that had been brought low offered joy and awe to those who gazed upon it.

The second branch had totally detached itself from the vine.  It was dangling there in its own strength rather than calling on the strength of the tree.  And where the first branch offered a delightful view, this one caused the passersby to wrinkle up their noses and avert their eyes.  It wasn't worth looking at.  It had nothing to offer.  Just like the first, it had been broken, but unfortunately, it responded poorly to its brokenness.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. - Psalm 51:17

Brokenness is a necessary part of our Christian walk.  Yes, it is unpleasant and sometimes, downright painful.  But God does not despise our brokenness, for He is using it to bring us to the place where we can bring forth much fruit.  He desires that we become like the first branch--abiding in the vine yet brought low to where others can sample the beauty of the Lord.  Sometimes the broken branches are the most beautiful and the most appreciated whether they realize it or not.

The question for you today is, how will you respond to your brokenness?  Will you be like the second branch that tried to survive on its own, only to wind up withered and dying?  Or will you be like the first that clung tightly to the vine, allowing it to strengthen and nourish it to a fruitful state?  The brokenness does not determine your response.  You do.  Choose wisely.

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. - Psalm 34:18

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Envelope Bursting With Blessing

As you may recall, I've been in the process of working on several devotional books.  A few weeks ago, I finally finished the tedious chore of sorting through the various devotions and placing them in the correct book file.  For the past couple of weeks, I've been working on bringing one of those books to completion by means of editing, formatting, etc.  Lord willing, it will be ready in the next couple of days.

However, for the past week or so, I've also been worrying (I know you find that difficult to believe).  You see, with the time-consuming part of this process finished, I hope to be turning out new books rather quickly.  The only problem is that each of these books will need an illustrated cover, and illustrated covers cost a lot of money.  Just to give you an idea, the cover for Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead cost $250.  That's a lot of money from my viewpoint, and when I considered that I needed six of them in pretty short order, I grew discouraged.

"I don't get it," I told Jason, "I'm doing the very thing the Lord wants me to do.  I'm sure of it.  But I don't have the money to see the books through to publication.  What's the point of writing them and going through all the work to get them ready for publication if I'm not going to be able to see the process through to the end?  It seems like such a waste of time and effort."

I was truly confused.  On the one hand, I knew I was in the Lord's will.  On the other hand, I couldn't figure out how things were going to work out.  I didn't have the money for six new covers.  I didn't even have the funds for one new cover at $250.  So, I prayed.  I poured out my heart.  I voiced my confusion.  And I made a request.  "Lord, if you really want me to get these covers done so that I can get these books published, please help me to find a good illustrator who will do the work for $25 each."  Yes, I know it was a ridiculously low price compared to what I know illustrated covers go for, but I also know that I serve a big God.  If He could part the Red Sea, surely He could accomplish this task, right?

YES, HE CAN. . . AND HE DID!  I found an extremely talented illustrator who agreed to do the entire cover illustration for $25.  He's working on the first cover right now, and it's coming along quite nicely.  But God didn't stop there.  As the Bible tells us, He went exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think.  On Friday, I received a letter in the mail from a friend and reader.  The letter blessed me to my very core and caused tears of joy to flow down my cheeks.  As if that weren't enough, the envelope also included a check for $300.  The dogs were both astounded and amused at the "hallelujah tribal dance" I performed around my dining room table.  Tears flowed.  I laughed and praised God for His wonderful provision.  Whether my friend realized it or not, God used her to speak to my heart, and He said, "Child, just do what I've asked you to do, and I'll take care of the rest.  I always have.  I always will.  Trust me."

God didn't just provide the means for me to get the current book cover done.  He provided so much more.  I can get a few book covers done and still have money to publish and purchase the books when the time comes.  Not only that, but through the precious letter, He reminded me that my work is important and that if only one person is impacted through my ministry, that is enough.  It's all worth it!  I received a reminder of God's faithfulness and a challenge to continue in my own faithfulness in a single envelope.  I'm amazed it could contain such blessings!

My friend, I have no idea what you're facing today or how dark your circumstances may seem.  Perhaps, you are also confused about what God is doing in your life and trying to figure out how to make it all work.  If so, may I pass on the instruction that God gave to me?  Do what you know to do, and leave the rest in His hands.  Remain faithful in your calling, and leave the results up to Him.  I guarantee you, you'll be awestruck by the way He pulls things together.  Who knows?  You may feel the need to do a little "hallelujah tribal dance" of your own.  But you might want to shut the blinds lest your neighbors wonder what you've been smoking.

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. - I John 5:14-15

Monday, June 16, 2014

Align the Spine

No, this isn't a chiropractic post.  Well, not exactly.  I know the past couple of posts have been about walking and trails, but the Lord has given me one more insight to share with you on the topic.  This one, however, is centered on my posture rather that the trail or the walking itself.

My spine doesn't look like a normal spine.  It has a unique shape, one that most closely resembles a constipated snake.  It isn't straight.  It curves the wrong direction at the neck.  And it contains a vertebra in the tailbone region that sits at a diagonal.  In short, it's a mess.  Several years ago, I was seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis, which helped with both the misalignment and the constant pull and strain on my muscles.  Unfortunately, I can no longer afford such treatments, so I do the best I can to keep my spine aligned.

Well, actually that's not true.  I try to do the best I can, but often there's a lot more try than there is anything else.  Some days, I feel downright lazy, and I don't want to take the effort to do the required stretches and exercises to keep things in shape.  This past winter was really bad for some reason, and I found myself growing very stationary.  Unfortunately, I didn't notice just how bad I had allowed things to get until I started back into my walking routine.

The first week of walking, I concentrated on getting my muscles to loosen up.  That was a chore in and of itself.  The second week, I started focusing on posture.  Head up, shoulders back, pelvis tucked under.  I immediately felt taller.  I could breathe better, and for the moment, my muscles actually felt more relaxed.  But after about half a mile of walking, I began to realize just how lazy my muscles had grown.  Because I had been using such poor posture for so long, the muscles that should have been working daily hadn't been used in a while. . . and they didn't like being used now!

The places where I normally feel stretching and tightness while walking weren't hurting at all, but I had new places that were aching like crazy.  My core muscles were on fire.  The muscles at the very top of my thighs twinged with every step.  My poor little bottom was burning on its outer edges.  My lat muscles pulled and reminded me that they were in use.  By standing straight and tall, I was engaging muscles that had been relatively dormant for who knows how long.  And while it still causes me some discomfort each time I walk, I'm striving more and more to pay attention to my posture.  One, because it will help with my spinal alignment and reduce real pain in my body.  Two, I don't want those muscles to get lazy again because I don't want to have to train them again.  It smarts!

The first day I realized my discomfort, I thought, Who knew that standing tall could hurt so much?  On the heels of that thought came my favorite Bible verse:  These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)  Who knew standing tall could hurt so much?  Well, God did.  And Joseph.  And David.  And Paul.  And on and on I could go.  Jesus said we would have tribulation.  He told the disciples that those who stood for him would suffer persecution.  He made it plain that those who name the name of Christ would be despised and rejected in this world.  And sometimes that hurts.  It's uncomfortable, and we find ourselves wondering if it's really worth it.  I can answer that.

Since the two weeks of "posture watching," my chronic headaches have reduced in both number and severity.  My knee pain has almost vanished.  My back and shoulder pain has been reduced to a light twinge or ache.  The swelling and inflammation in my body have gone down.  My energy level has gone up. While the "new muscles" are still resisting the new requirements, the rest of my body is enjoying the benefits.  And before long, those "new muscles" won't be new anymore.  They'll be used to the routine.  They'll be stronger and more able to help me stand tall.

The same is true in our spiritual walk.  Yes, it may cost a little, but the benefits are more than worth it.  And some day soon, even those "new muscles" won't bother us anymore, for we'll be in Heaven for all eternity.  And there are no sore muscles in Heaven. . . not even spiritual ones!

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. - II Corinthians 4:16-18

Friday, June 13, 2014

Trail of Dreams

I have a dream.  It's a dream I've had since I was a child, and unlike many childhood fantasies, this particular dream grows stronger the older I get.  I long to own and live on a large property that includes its own hiking trails and flowing streams.  I often fantasize about how nice it would be to walk out my back door and, within minutes, find myself on my own private trail.  Daily walks in the morning and evening would be an easy task to perform.  In fact, I could even take the dogs.  They wouldn't need leashes, and everyone could walk at his/her own pace.  Oh, yes, it's my idea of the perfect home site.

I was thinking about this dream the other morning as I walked down the road toward my current walking trail.  To gain access to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I have to walk down to the end of my street, turn right, walk another short distance, turn left onto a steep, gravel driveway, descend the slope, cut through the weeded section at the bottom and then turn either left or right onto the trail (depending on which direction I feel like going any given morning).  It's not perfect, but it works.

However, this particular morning, I was comparing my current trail to my dream trail.  With my dream trail, I wouldn't have to feel guilty about leaving the dogs behind.  We could all exercise, and I could still do my prayer walk (an impossibility when Mitch is dragging me at the end of the leash).  I could walk whenever I wanted to.  Jason could join us in the evenings, and we could have quiet family time together.  I wouldn't have to worry about strangers or traffic.  On and on my mind swirled, causing me to grow more discontent with every step.  Fortunately, God was monitoring my thoughts and quickly brought a few things to my mind.

No, the Swamp Rabbit Trail is not my dream trail.  It is not private.  I can't walk the dogs without leashes.  But how many people can say that they're within walking distance of such a trail?  I don't have to drive to a trail head or parking area.  The short walk to the trail isn't strenuous or in a high traffic area.  God has allowed me the health, the time and the freedom to walk and has even provided a safe place for me to do that.  Furthermore, I can get on the trail whenever I want.  It's never closed to me.  Whatever time of day I decide to meander out there, it's waiting for me.

God is the same way.  No matter what time of day I call on Him, He's there.  In the morning, I can walk with Him.  In the noontime, I can talk with Him.  In the evening, I can rest in Him.  No matter what I need or when I seek Him, He's always available.  And unlike the trail, I don't have to share Him with others because when I talk to God, He treats me like I'm the only one in the world.  I never feel rushed or brushed off.  He never makes it seem like He has something more important to do than listen to my petty problems. . . again.  No, He gives me His complete, undivided attention.  How He can accomplish that I don't know.  But I know that all of His children must feel the same way.  What a joy and privilege!

One day, perhaps God will allow my dream to come true, and I can own a property with its own private trails.  Until then, I pray that I will be content with what I have and count it an honor to be so blessed.

 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. - Psalm 55:17

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Daily Walk

Over the past couple of weeks, I've tried to get back in the habit of walking every morning.  I don't know why I waited until the heat of the summer to do this, but as the old saying goes, there's no time like the present.  So, each morning, I pull my sleepy body from the bed, force myself to get dressed and head out the door.  To be honest, at first, I'm quite grumpy.  I like my bed.  I covet more sleep.  I'd rather snuggle with my dogs than sweat out on the trail.  That is, until I reach the trail.  It's an amazing transformation, but as soon as my feet hit the trail, I'm energized and excited about my walk.

I typically walk anywhere from two to four miles each day depending on what time I get started, how busy my day is and how I'm feeling.  And the entire time I walk, I pray.  Despite the passersby on the trail, as far as I'm concerned, it's just God and I.  I pour out my heart.  I confess my sins.  I make my requests.  And I listen as He speaks to me.  Most days, I'm so caught up in my prayer time that I reach the trail's end before I even realize how far I've walked.  It's a glorious way to start the morning!

As I started back in my routine, I was reminded how out of shape I was.  For the first several days, my body hurt from head to toe.  My muscles were stiff and achy.  My flexibility was nonexistent.  My joints seemed locked.  At times, I even wondered why I was punishing myself so much, but then, my body began adjusting itself to the new routine.  My muscles started working out their kinks, and my joints began to lubricate and move smoothly.  Before long, I felt better than I had in months, and the only thing that had changed was the addition of my morning walks.

On the morning I first noticed my improved state of being, I thought to myself, Hmm, I guess a daily walk does more good than I first thought.  And the truth is, it does.  Walking is excellent for the body, the mind and the soul.  And the great thing about a prayer walk is that I can have my daily walk for my body and my daily walk with the Lord all at the same time.  And let me tell you, it does make a world of difference.  However, I will also warn you that as the day progresses, the body begins to protest.  The joints and muscles began to ache again.  For me, the hours of sitting at the desk began to take their toll, and my body screams for another rejuvenating walk.

The same can be said in our spiritual walk.  While it's great to set aside time in the morning to be with the Lord, we need more.  As the old gospel song says, "A daily walk is not enough, I need you every step I take."  If we have our daily walk with the Lord in the morning and then ignore Him the rest of the day, guess what's going to happen.  Our spiritual muscles and joints are going to ache.  Our spirit will get locked up.  The hours of battling the devil and the world will began to take its toll. 

A daily walk (both physical and spiritual) is an excellent way to start the day, but it's insufficient to get us through the day.  For that, we need to be walking with the Lord all day, every day.  Every step we take.  Every decision we make.  Every task we perform.  Hand in hand with the Lord.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? - Micah 6:8

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

This Is the Pits!

And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him; And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. - Genesis 37:23-24

I had intended to share with my Sunday School class a lesson on the pit.  As I sat down to study for the lesson, many thoughts had already begun to take shape.  But the further into the study I went, the more the Lord changed my way of thinking.  He brought to mind things that I never would have dreamed of, and I'm so glad He did.  I was so blessed by the time I finished studying that I couldn't wait until Sunday when I could share it with my ladies.  Today, I would like to share just a portion of it with you as well.

I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Life is the pits" or "This is the pits."  When we look up a few of the definitions of the word "pit," we can understand how those phrases came to be.  Let's look at a few:

1) a hole, shaft, or cavity in the ground -- In other words, a pit is a deep, dark place, surrounded by high walls and often filled with the stench of death, decay and stagnation.  Well, that certainly describes how we feel from time to time, doesn't it?  In a dark place.  Surrounded by walls.  Stagnant.  Reeking of stinky attitudes.  Hmm.

2) an area often sunken or depressed below the adjacent floor area -- I don't know about how well the definition as a whole resonates with life, but I can definitely relate to the words "sunken" and "depressed."  How about you?

3)  a place or situation of futility, misery, or degradation -- Wow, now we're really getting somewhere.  How many times have we found ourselves in futile situations?  How often have we been downright miserable with our circumstances?  How degrading is it to be stuck in a stinky, slimy pit and have no idea how to get out?  Life is the pits?  Yeah, sometimes it sure seems that way.

But this, my dear friend, is where it gets really good.  If that were the last definition of the word "pit," this entire lesson would be more depressing that it would be encouraging.  But, alas, there is another definition.  One that, even though I knew of it, did not even cross my mind until I read it in the dictionary.  And then, I had a bit of a shouting spell.  Are you ready for it?  Okay, here goes:

4) any of the areas alongside an auto racecourse used for refueling and repairing the cars during a race  -- Hallelujah!!!  Doesn't the Bible say that we're in a race? (Hebrews 12:1-2)  So often, we're inclined to think of the pit as a place of punishment or torture, but the fact is that sometimes God places us in the pit (or allows us to be placed in the pit) because He knows we need to be refueled and repaired.

Now, I don't know much about auto racing. To be honest, the mere thought of it puts me to sleep.  But I do know enough about it to understand that the drivers don't enjoy the time in the pit.  Why?  Because they'd rather be racing.  However, they know that the pit is a necessary part of the race.  Refueling and repairing have to be done in order for the drivers to finish the course.  

We are no different.  We have a race to run, and we can't do that when we're falling apart and running on fumes.  So God, in His great mercy, provides time in the pits.  Time to refuel, refresh, and repair.  Time to regain perspective.  Time to refocus.  It's not a punishment; it's a privilege.

Perhaps you're in a pit right now, glancing up at the high walls surrounding you and wondering if you'll ever again see the light of day.  Perhaps you're questioning what you've done wrong and why you're being punished.  Perhaps you're even angry at God for leaving you in such a desolate place.  If so, take heart.  You're actually in a good place.  God is preparing you to finish the work He's called you to do.  He has great plans for you, and this pit stop is just one way He's enabling you to finish the race.

Oh, and one more thing about the pit.  Keep in mind that it is not a destination but rather a rest stop along the way.  Joseph was raised from the pit.  So was David.  You will be too.

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. - Psalm 40:2 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why Bother?

In continuing our discussion on the verses in Malachi, I want to focus today on verse 14 which reads, Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? 

Guilty as charged, I'm afraid.  While I know in my heart that it is not vain to serve God and that He will fulfill His promises to do good unto those who trust in Him, I tend to lose sight of that knowledge in the midst of my pity parties.  When the bills are due and the bank account in empty, I cry, "Why bother?  I've done what the Lord has asked of me, and I still can't pay my bills."  When those around me seem to have success showered upon them and I'm still struggling to sell more than 5-10 books a week, I'm convinced that I missed a memo from God somewhere that read, "Gotcha!  I can't believe you fell for that when I told you to leave your paying job for this."  When my body can't keep up with dreams, when my hopes soar away on the wings of eagles, when frustrations surround me, I walk mournfully before the Lord.  I feel like Eeyore the donkey, "Not that it matters anyway."

But the hard truth is that these thoughts and feelings are the very ones that weary the Lord.  And I'm inclined to think that the main reason they weary Him is because He knows that we know better.  How quickly we forget all that He's done for us.  How quickly we turn our backs on Him when we feel things aren't adding up the way we feel they should.  How quick we are to judge success and blessings according to the definitions of this world.  No wonder God is grieved!

Any form of ministry can be a blessing, but it can also be difficult.  Ministries often consist of thankless jobs that seldom gain any reward or recognition.  They can be lonely positions that often leave the worker wondering if anything he/she is doing is making any difference at all.  They are tasks that are under constant spiritual assault as Satan seeks to hinder and destroy both the workers and the work.  Nevertheless, we have God's assurance that any work we do for him is not in vain.  He is working through it, even though we may never see any evidence of that this side of Heaven.

So, be strong, dear brother or sister.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Stand firm, unmovable.  Do not allow Satan to hinder your work for God.  Those wearisome thoughts about your work being in vain are ploys of the enemy.  They are meant to distract and discourage you from your calling.  Be on guard.  God's grace is sufficient, and His work will be accomplished.  Don't get sidetracked.  Don't listen to the lies of the enemy.  Cling to God's promises and know that everything you do for Him has a purpose, and that purpose will be fulfilled.  It's not vain to serve God.  It's a glorious privilege!

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. - I Corinthians 15:58

NOTE:  Since I've recently shared with you so many of my heartaches, I felt I should also share with you two praises.  First of all, Cornerstone Christian Supply in Pickens has agreed to carry all of my books in their store on a consignment basis.  This is a big deal to me, and I'm thrilled at the knowledge that I can now see my books on the shelf of a brick-and-mortar store.  Woohoo!  Second, Jason finally received his raise, and it was double what we were expecting.  On top of that, he received a $100 bonus last week as part of one of the company's sales incentives.  At the beginning of the week, I found myself, like David, asking, "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?"  But by the end of the week, God had proven that He was still there.  He hadn't forgotten.  He hadn't forsaken.  He's keeping tabs on what's going on.  And, as always, He's taking care of His children!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Talk About Weary in Well Doing

Yesterday, I shared with you some Bible verses that God used to smote my heart about all my complaining.  Today, I'd like to spend a little time on the first verse I mentioned.

Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment? - Malachi 2:17

As many of you know, I love the book of Psalms, and I often quote and cling to the passages where the psalmist declares, "Pour your heart out to God."  To me, the writer (which is God) is informing me that I have permission to tell God my troubles.  He wants to hear from me.  He desires for me to tell Him what's bothering me even though He already knows.  And while all of that is true, in addition to the fact that God listens with a loving heart, there is a point where I go too far.  Often, my prayer changes from an outpouring of my heart to an accusation towards God for not doing things correctly.  And when that happens, God grows weary in well doing.  My words have wearied Him.

"God, you're not taking care of me" can easily be interpreted as "God, you're a liar."

"How come the wicked have it all while the righteous struggle to make ends meet?" can be interpreted as "God, you've turned a blind eye to what's really going on down here."

"I know you know what's best, but. . ." basically means, "I think You've messed this up."

"It's not supposed to be this way" spells out "God, You're not doing Your job."

And all the while, God is working.  He is supplying our needs.  He is directing our paths.  He is portraying every character trait He possesses, which includes holiness, sovereignty, love and much more.  He picks us up when we fall.  He forgives our sins, which are much more numerous than they should be.  He gives and gives, performing a perfect work in us day after day.  He is doing a good work--one that no one else could ever do.  And our response is what?

I've never had any problem relating to the phrase "weary in well doing," but it wasn't until stumbling across this verse that I realized that my actions and reactions can cause my Lord to grow weary in well doing.  Just because I'm feeling weary doesn't give me the right to cast that weariness on the Lord.  Yes, He wants to hear my problems, and yes, He wants to give me the strength and grace to make it through.  But I see now that I need to watch that fine line between pouring out my heart and lashing out in anger.  God is wearied by my accusations against Him because He knows they're not true.  Furthermore, He knows that deep down I know that they're not true.  Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped me from thinking the worst and causing God grief in the process.

God has given each of us a job to do.  How about we focus on our own jobs instead of telling God how to do His?  Wouldn't that work out better for everyone?  Just because we don't understand what God is doing doesn't mean that He's doing it wrong.  It simply means that we can't comprehend so great a work.  God has everything under control, and He doesn't need our help.  He would, however, appreciate our cooperation and support.  Isn't that the least we can do?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sometimes a Whisper and Sometimes a Shout

If you've been following my blog this week, you'll know that I've been a bit confused and discouraged.  Life, it seems, has handed me a bucket full of lemons and, for the life of me, I can't figure out what to do with them.  (I'm not a big fan of lemonade.)  In my frustration, I've questioned God and even accused Him of not caring what happens to me.  And through it all, God was quiet. . . until yesterday.  When I sat down for my daily Bible reading yesterday morning, I had no idea that I was about to get an earful from God.  Keeping in mind my emotional and spiritual state of being, read the following verses:

Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment? - Malachi 2:17

Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered. - Malachi 3:13-15

I'm quite familiar with the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, but I guarantee you that what I heard yesterday was no mere whisper.  It was a shout!  The words rang out and echoed in my ears again and again.  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so honestly, I did a little of both.  God made it clear that He had been listening but now it was my turn to hear what He had to say.  So He spoke, and my heart was renewed.

There is a lot of meat in these two passages, and for the sake of time, I don't want to try to elaborate on them in a single post.  Instead, I hope to take the next few posts to interpret the message I received from the Lord yesterday.  I desire to share with you what these passages say to me.

For now, let me remind you that God is listening and working even when He seems to be silent.  And sometimes, it's not that He's silent but that we're too distracted to hear His gentle whispers.  When that's the case, beware.  You're about to get an earful!  God's words will not return void.  He is speaking and, one way or another, He'll make sure we hear Him loud and clear.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An Audience of One

I don't know about you, but when things go crazy in my life, I begin to question everything.  I mean, after all, something has to be wrong for circumstances to be so yucky, right?  With all the trials of last week, my questioning mind was spinning.

Maybe Jason is supposed to be working a different job that pays a lot better and offers better benefits.
Maybe I'm supposed to be doing something other than writing.  After all, that's not really paying off.
Maybe the Lord opened a door somewhere along the way, and we were too distracted to notice.
Maybe I need to market more.
Maybe I need a part-time job.
Maybe we're just really unlucky.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. . .

When questions and confusion abound, I find myself looking for solutions.  I try to make things work.  I strive to "fix" the problem.  And typically, I begin with evaluating my writing.  On a good day, when I'm thinking clearly, I have no doubt that the Lord has called me into this writing ministry.  On a bad day, however, I think I must have misunderstood the directions somewhere along the way.  Sure, I'm writing, but what good is it doing?  It's not making money, that's for sure.  I'm not selling books.  Are people even reading what I'm writing?  What's the point of writing books if I can't sell them?  My poor little finite brain cannot comprehend why God would call me into a ministry that doesn't make any money and seems to have so little impact.

But the fact that I don't understand my calling hasn't stopped God from trying to explain it, just like He did at my niece's graduation last Friday night.  When the speaker stepped up to the podium, I was expecting words of wisdom to the graduates.  I was anticipating a challenge to follow the Lord in their decisions and to seek to honor Him in all that they do.  What I was not expecting, however, was a message that went straight to my heart.  It was so obviously meant for me that halfway through, Jason leaned over and asked, "Do your feet hurt yet?" because he knew the speaker was stomping all over my toes.

So what was the profound message?  Simply that in life, we ought to seek to please an Audience of One.  God is the only One whose approval matters.  God is the One we ought to obey.  And furthermore, God is the only One who needs to understand what He is doing.  It's all about Him, and that's all we need to know.

Who cares if my books don't sell?  Who cares if no one reads my work?  I'm not supposed to be writing for others, for fame or fortune.  I'm supposed to be writing because that is what God called me to do.  He didn't promise that I would make money at it or that the going wouldn't be rough.  He did promise, however, that He would never leave me.  He reads every word I write and influences the topics I choose for my blog postings and books.  He is my Audience of One, and if I achieve nothing else with my writing, that's fine with Him, as long as I am faithful to the calling.

It's amazing how much more joy there is in my writing when I stop trying to make it something it's not.  When I stop trying to make money with it.  When I stop stressing over the sales or lack thereof.  When I stop looking at how many people are reading my posts.  When I just sit down and write, things are good.  I feel at peace.  I feel like I'm where I belong and that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.  If only I could find a way to block the frustrations and confusions that cause me to try to do my own thing, maybe I'd get a lot more writing done and be a lot happier in the process.

I don't know what you're facing today.  Perhaps, like me, you feel that your work is in vain.  Maybe you've arrived at the place where you're questioning everything that once made sense.  Perhaps you're ready to give in because it just doesn't seem worth it.  Or maybe you're in the process of "fixing" things yourself.  May I remind you that your only responsibility is to be faithful to that which God has called you to do?  It doesn't matter what the results may be.  It doesn't matter if the work seems in vain.  It doesn't matter if no one notices or appreciates what you do.  You are performing for an Audience of One, and I guarantee you that He notices and appreciates every moment of faithfulness.  Make it about Him today and leave the results in His hands.  He can handle it!

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sometimes We Fall Apart

I have argued with the Lord about this post.  I don't want to write it.  I want to write a positive, uplifting post that will make you smile or even laugh.  The last thing I want to do today is to write about another "poor pitiful me" moment.  And so, I have put off this post, thinking that perhaps the Lord would change His mind and allow me to write what I want to write.  Well, I can't put it off any longer, and the Lord seems determined that I tell you my story.  I can only trust that He has a reason, so please bear with me as I share another chapter in the "What Else Can Go Wrong?" story that is my life.

A few years ago, you may remember, our truck burned to the ground.  We never figured out why it caught fire.  All we know is that we had driven it earlier in the day, we sat down for dinner that evening, and within the span of a few minutes, the truck went from a drivable vehicle to a charred carcase.  Memorable moment!

During that fire, the heat became so intense that it melted our neighbors siding and cracked a couple of the windows of our house.  Our neighbor's insurance took care of the damages to her home.  Our insurance would have replaced the broken windows in our home, but the deductible was so high that we decided we would live with the cracks.  After all, we had to fork out thousands of dollars for a new vehicle.  We simply didn't have the money to deal with the windows too.

As the months passed, I quickly forgot about the cracked glass.  From time to time I would notice the damaged surfaces, but overall, it was no longer important.  As far as I was concerned, it was just another battle scar that gave our old house character.  (And let me tell you, our house has a lot of character.)

Last week, a severe storm tore through our neighborhood.  The rain pelted against the house, and the wind whipped the trees in every direction.  In fact, the wind was blowing so hard that it was blowing the rain sideways to where the water puddled on our side step and ran in under the door.  It was intense!  And in the midst of that intensity, I heard the shatter and tinkling of crashing glass.  Yep, you guessed it.  The combination of the wind and rain had turned the cracked window into a broken window, which lay in varied-size pieces in the yard and on the door step.  Once we discovered the source of the sound, one word found its way out of my mouth:  "Seriously!"

It had already been one of those weeks.  First the trailer fiasco, then two days of a migraine, then the mortgage company decided to adjust our monthly payment. . .again (and not for the better).  Oh, and the kitchen light decided to go all wonky where only one bulb worked unless you stood on one foot and cocked your head at a twenty-degree angle to the left. (Well, not quite, but you get the point!)  Was that not enough for one week?  Did we really need one more thing to go wrong?  And in that moment, I knew exactly how that piece of glass felt.

I was broken.  I was shattered.  Though cracked from previous trials, I had held firm for as long as I could.  But one storm too many had left me scattered in pieces on the ground.  It was the last straw.  I had had enough, and frankly, I was tired of playing this game.  Everything felt like a cruel joke and, though I knew better, I imagined God, seated on His throne and laughing at my ridiculous predicament.  In the darkness of the storm (both physical and spiritual), I felt completely forsaken.

By the next morning, though the storm outside had dissipated, the one inside me was billowing at full force.  I felt angry and confused, frustrated and overwhelmed, broken and helpless.  And then I read these words:  "It's not wrong to ask why, but don't stake your happiness or your faithfulness on getting a satisfactory answer."

Isn't that exactly what I was doing?  I was frustrated, angry and uncooperative because God was not explaining His actions to me.  I wanted to know what He was doing.  I wanted to know why He was piling up the trials.  I wanted to see the end result of the suffering.  But God was silent, and the silence infuriated me.  I didn't want quiet; I wanted answers, and furthermore, I felt that I deserved them.  In my despondency, I felt that God owed me an explanation.

But the truth is that He doesn't owe me anything.  I know that now, and actually, I knew it then too.  Funny how quickly what we feel can make us forget what we know.  Romans 8:28 says that we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, but last week, I didn't feel like things were working together for good.  In contrast, it felt like everything was working against me.  And the more I dwelt on those feelings, the deeper I sank into the pit of self-pity.  If only I had dwelt on God's promises instead, I could have saved myself a lot of turmoil.

I don't share this story with you so that you will pity me.  In fact, as I've already stated, I didn't want to share this story at all.  But I choose to believe that someone needed to read this today.  Someone today is feeling just like that piece of glass--broken, shattered, unable to withstand another storm.  To that person, I attest that God is faithful.  Even when times are bad, God is still good.  He is not laughing at our plight but rather catching our every tear.  And while it may seem like all evidence points to the contrary, God is working all things for our good.  Yes, we may be battered and scarred, but God excels at putting the pieces together again, and the end result will be more glorious than we could have ever imagined.

Don't fight it any longer.  Simply place your broken pieces in the hands of the Master and allow Him to finish His perfect work in you.

The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands. - Psalm 138:8