Sign up to receive these devotions in your inbox daily!
* indicates required

Friday, November 28, 2014

Carried in the Arms of the Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks Rather Than Giving In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't Hang Up Your Harp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Who Is the Master?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Power of a Single Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never underestimate the power of a single thought! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Won't You Answer Me?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Have a Right

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

I have a right to be angry.

I have a right to be afraid.

I have a right to be worried.

I have a right to feel this way.

I have a right to act this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sacrifice of Praise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On the Other Side of a Miracle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 7, 2014

When Your World Crumbles Apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When It's Time to Say, "Goodbye"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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