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Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Path Unseen - A Repost in Memory of Tippy

Despite the rainy weather last Friday, Jason and I took the dogs on their favorite hiking trail. Mitch, as usual, was running up and down the sides of the mountain with the vitality of the Energizer bunny. Tippy started off at her leisurely pace, stopping every other step to smell something. But after her warm-up, she evidently decided she was ready to keep up with her brother.

I don't mind Mitch exploring because he has a better sense of direction than I do. He can travel for miles in the woods (off the trail, of course) and still meet us further up the trail. Tippy, on the other hand, has my sense of direction. She couldn't find her way out of a paper bag. If Mitch knows she's following him, he'll usually try to make sure he leads her back out, but sometimes the "explorer" in him forgets to watch out for his sister.

On Friday, it seemed like Tippy knew that Mitch was full of excessive energy, so even though she wandered up down in the woods, she never let us out of her sight. She was determined not to get lost. The funny thing was how she would come out of the woods. To get out of the woods, one has to go down a slope to get back on the trail. There are places where these slopes are very steep and other places where they aren't bad at all. Tippy would decide that she was ready to be out of the woods and go in search for a way down to the trail. Inevitably, she would walk back and forth along the edge of the slope and then pick the steepest part to come down. Thankfully, she's not too proud to slide down on her behind!

The part that makes it funny is that if she had just kept walking in either direction, she would have come to an easy slope to descend. She stopped too soon because she couldn't see the path ahead. Sound familiar?

Oh, how many times do we feel like giving up on life because we can't see the path ahead? Steep slopes surround us, and we panic. In our despair, we usually choose one of two actions: 1) We try to descend the steepest part of the slope and end up bruised and battered; 2) We sit down at the top of the slope and refuse to go any further. If only we would consider option #3 -- Keep going!!!!

God has assured us that He will be our Guide. No, we may not see a way out. Yes, the slopes may look steep. But God is good. He sees what we can't see. He knows what we don't know. He is guiding our paths, and we would be wise to follow His guidance (especially when it contradicts with our "common sense"). After all, when we try to go our own way, we may find that we're spending far too much time on our bottoms to get anywhere!

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

***Excerpt from 'Paws'itively Divine:  Devotions for Dog Lovers***

Monday, December 28, 2015

Fill in the Blank

The holidays are a wonderful time, and for many, it is a time to reflect on the many blessings in our lives.  For some, however, it also tends to be a time when we realize just how much we lack.  We see others with their new clothing, gadgets and gizmos, and feel as if we're missing out because there weren't any gifts under our tree this year.  Some look forward to the new year with great anticipation while others are hoping and praying that the upcoming year will be better than the last.  And, as strange as it seems, in the midst of holiday cheer and time with family, a test takes place.  A fill-in-the-blank test, to be exact.  Not sure what I mean?  Here are a few examples:

If I had _____________, I would be happy.
A new ______________ would fill my heart with happiness and contentment.
More ______________ would certainly change my attitude about the new year.
I would be perfectly content with my life if my _____________ were better.

No doubt, as you read through those four questions, a few answers popped into your head before you even realized it.  You see, this isn't a test we have to study for.  We've already trained the answers into our brains.  Money.  Fame.  Job.  Relationship.  Health.  We know we want.  We know what we feel we need or deserve.  And we've fooled ourselves into thinking that once we have "that" (whatever fills in the blank) our lives will be complete and fulfilled and happy.  But more often than not, what happens is that we move on to the next thing on our lists because, let's face it, we'll never have exactly what we want.

So what do we do?  How do we finish up this year and begin the new one with an attitude of hope and gratitude instead of misery and discontentment?  Well, the first step is to retrain our brains.  We do not need money, fame, relationships, good jobs or great health in order to live fulfilled lives.  The only thing we need is Christ, and if we've accepted Him as our Lord, then we already have that.  We need nothing else!  The sooner we realize and accept that, the better off we'll be.

Yes, sometimes life is rough and seems unfair, but this one thing we can be certain of:  Jesus is the right answer every time!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Who's Gonna Make Me?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. - Psalm 23:1-2

The Psalmist sure does use interesting wording in verse two.  Notice, he doesn't say that the Lord "allows" or "permits" or "urges" him to lie down.  Nope, He "makes" him.  Sounds about right, doesn't it?  When was the last time you voluntarily took some rest for yourself?

Let's face it, we're always on the run, and this time of the year, everything revs up to an even more alarming speed.  So much to do.  So many things on the to-do list.  Too many obligations.  Way too much stress.  Who has time to stop and take a rest?  Obviously, we don't think we do, so that's why God has to be the responsible shepherd and "make" us lie down.

No more excuses.  No way out.  Sometimes, we get to the place where we've run ourselves so ragged that the Lord steps in and says, "Enough of that, child.  Be still for a little while."  And notice, it's not a request but a command.  Often, it's enforced with sickness or circumstances that leave us no other option but to rest.  And, of course, our response is to complain.  We stress about the things that are not getting done.  We wonder if we'll be better in time for all of our upcoming appointments.  And we fuss with God for His poor planning and timing.

If we would only realize that God is not being cruel.  He is showing how much He cares for us--too much to allow us to run ourselves to death.  He knows that we won't stop and rest on our own, so He sees to it that we have no choice but to gain the rest of which our bodies are depleted.  He loves us enough to chance our anger and scorn by giving us what we need instead of what we want.  Just as a parent sends the sleepy child off to bed, God is looking out for our welfare.  He knows what is best for us and just how much we can bear.

Dear friends, I know it is a hectic season, and I realize the many obligations you are probably facing. But I urge you to take some time to rest before the Shepherd forces it upon you.  You'll be glad you did, and you'll likely be able to get so much more accomplished once your body is renewed and refreshed.

Find some green pastures today, and settle in for a little nap.  (Hehehe, I just realized that the music playing in the background is "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."  Coincidence?  I think not.)  Sleep.  Dream.  Rest.  Smile.  It's all good!

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Today was errand day, and let me tell you, it's certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas out there.  No, I'm not referring to the decorations, toys, Santas or bargains, although those are certainly hard to miss.  Rather, I'm talking about all the Scrooges out there.  Good grief!  How is it that, at the most wonderful time of the year, people can be so grouchy?  What happened to peace on earth, goodwill toward men?

I was standing in the long line at the grocery store, annoyed yet not surprised by the many people with carts full of goodies for Christmas parties and dinners.  It is, after all, the week before Christmas.  Others, however, were not so gracious and understanding despite the goodness of others.

Seeing that the man behind me in line only had a few items, I allowed him to go ahead of me.  He thanked me and took his place in line.  At that point in time, the cashier was having trouble with the conveyor belt.  She pushed the button to make it advance, but it seemed to be stuck.  She tried again, but the thing refused to move.  She looked a bit panicked and embarrassed, then noticed that one of the separator bars (you know the little beams that you place between your order and those before and behind you) had inched its way forward just enough to cause the conveyor to bind.  She slid it to the side, and immediately, the conveyor surged forward.  The guy in front of me turned and snickered, saying sarcastically, "Yeah, duh.  If you move the thing, it will go."  Then he proceeded to use the Lord's name in vain and looked up at me to smile.  I'm not sure exactly what he saw on my face, but from the way he frowned then turned back around, I'm guessing it wasn't pleasant.  In fact, I was disgusted.  Here, I had just shown him grace, and he turned right around and gave someone else a hard time.  What's up with that?

At this point, I noticed an elderly gentleman behind me, clutching a pack of paper towels.  "If that's all you have," I said, "you can go ahead of me."  He smiled, thanked me and moved ahead of me in line, leaving another elderly couple in my wake.  The man behind me leaned in, looking for one of the separator bars so that he could begin loading his groceries onto the conveyor.  I walked forward, grabbed one of the bars near the front of the line and placed it behind my groceries.  You'll never believe what he said to me.  "Well, isn't she just being lazy, keeping all those things up there instead of sending them back here like she's supposed to."  I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and frankly, I had had enough.  I turned to him and said, as kindly as I could, "I believe it just got stuck up there.  After all, as you can see, it is quite busy in here."  He harrumphed and turned around.  Oh, bah humbug to you too!

By the time I finally reached the register, I wasn't feeling very cheery.  Yet, that still, small voice inside me whispered to me, urging me to chat with the cashier.  "Has it been this busy all week," I asked, "or did I just pick a bad time?"  She looked up at me with weary eyes.  "I don't know.  This is my first day."  Oh, the poor thing!  I thought back over the complaints in my line and wondered how many she had already heard that day.  "Well, I want you to know that I think you're doing a fabulous job."  She smiled and beamed.  "Seriously, I would have already run out of the store crying by now."  That did it!  She laughed out loud, and suddenly, the weariness in her eyes was gone.  I wished her a good day and a merry Christmas and left the store feeling that I had done my part to spread a little good cheer despite the Ebenezer Scrooges around me.

Today's post is a bit of a rant, request and warning all in one.  Please don't be too quick to judge someone.  I can't help but wonder if either of those men would have made the remarks they did if they had known that today was the poor girl's first day.  Perhaps, they would have, but I doubt it.  Let's give a little grace, show a little mercy and watch our attitudes.  After all, bad attitudes are just as contagious as the flu and far more serious.  This is the season of love, so let's pass the love along instead of jumping up and down on our high horse.

Be gone, badittude!

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. - Romans 2:1

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Does God Call You?

So king Solomon was king over all Israel. And these were the princes which he had; Azariah the son of Zadok the priest, Elihoreph and Ahiah, the sons of Shisha, scribes; Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud, the recorder. And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the host: and Zadok and Abiathar were the priests: And Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers: and Zabud the son of Nathan was principal officer, and the king's friend: And Ahishar was over the household: and Adoniram the son of Abda was over the tribute. And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision. - I Kings 4:1-7

The fourth chapter of I Kings goes on for many more verses to tell us about the officers of Solomon.  Obviously, the king had many people under his command.  A position of such great power required many princes, officers, commanders, and servants.  As we read through the chapter, we see many names (most unpronounceable, which is something coming from someone with the last name "Rongione"), and we also see many titles such as priest, recorder, principal officer, tribute officer, and so on.  But my favorite part of the passage can be found at the end of verse 5:  and Zabud the son of Nathan was principal officer, and the king's friend.

Sure, Solomon had many servants, but how many friends did he have?  Was it possible for such a great man to have true friends?  And if so, how could he know if someone was truly his friend or if they had some ulterior motive?  I'm sure being the king has many perks, but something tells me it can be very lonely at the top.

Still, in this list of name after name after name, God takes the time to point out that Zabud was not only the principal officer but that he was also a friend of the king.  How awesome is that?  First off, that Zabud was a true friend, and second, that God would make sure to note that fact in His Word which is forever settled.  Sure, his service to the king was noteworthy as was all the others' mentioned here, but the thing that sets him apart from all the rest is that he was a friend of the king.

What about us?  Are we set apart, in the same way, today?  Are we friends of the king, or have we settled for the position of a servant?  It is true we are servants of the Lord, and God does desire for each of us to have a servant's heart, but is that all God wants from us?  Are we not also His children, the sheep of His pasture?  Shouldn't we desire to be friends of God?  Moses was granted such a title, and I pray that when God writes my story, He'll be able to say, "and Dana, the daughter of Lewis and Sharon, was a writer of Christian works, and the King's friend."  I can think of no greater honor!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Paul Harvey - The Man and the Birds

The man to whom I'm going to introduce you was not a scrooge. He was a kind decent, mostly good man, generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn't believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn't make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn't swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

"I'm truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, "but I'm not going with you to church this Christmas Eve." He said he'd feel like a hypocrite and that he'd much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound...Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud...At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They'd been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn't let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them...He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms...Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me...That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

"If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself, "and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand." At that moment, the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Forget About It

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14

As I read through this familiar passage this morning, the Lord gave me a new insight on the phrase "forgetting those things which are behind."  In the past, I've assigned that phrase to past sin, guilt, mistakes and such.  But this morning, I heard the Lord whisper, "What about past struggles?  What about past valleys?  What about the difficult yesterdays?"  For me, that's another story.

I don't know about you, but my bad days tend to be more like bad weeks, months or even years.  The valleys in my life are not typically one-day hikes; they are lengthy journeys.  But could it be that I see life that way because I'm carrying yesterday's heartaches into today?  Instead of beginning the day with new strength and a fresh perspective, I wake to the weariness of yesterday still weighing heavy on my shoulders.  Is it any wonder then that the rest of the day is a struggle?

My friend, it's time for us to leave the past in the past, whether that means mistakes or trials.  Forget about the weary yesterdays.  Strike from your memory the pain of last week's heartbreak.  Begin each day with a clean slate and a new perspective:  This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why Aren't You?

And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day? - Genesis 40:6-7

In the above passage, Joseph was speaking to the butler and baker who had both been imprisoned with him.  Each of the men had dreamed troubling dreams, and when Joseph saw them the next morning, he couldn't help but ask, "Why are you so sad?"  My response to Joseph probably would have been, "Why aren't you?"  I mean, seriously, think about it.  Joseph was a prisoner.  Verse three of the same chapter tells us that he was bound.  He had been falsely accused.  His future was uncertain.  It sounds to me like he had plenty of reasons to host a first-class pity party.  Yet, there's no record that Joseph was sad.  Instead, we see him reaching out to others and putting their needs before his own.

And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward. - Genesis 40:4

Did you catch that?  He served them.  He, a prisoner, served the butler and the baker (other prisoners).  He didn't have to.  He could have minded his own business.  He could have done like we often do and grown self-centered and self-focused in the midst of his trial.  But no, Joseph displayed the right attitude by choosing service over sadness.

Life is full of trouble, and those troubles are bound to find each of us from time to time.  But when they come, how will we react?  Will we sink into solitude and despair, or will we, like Joseph, take the opportunity to reach out and help others in need?  It's something worth thinking about today. . . and every day, for that matter.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Spice It Up!

We don't get into too many of the reality television shows, but lately, Jason and I have thoroughly enjoyed a show on Netflix entitled Worst Cooks in America.  I thought I was a pretty bad cook, but after watching some of these contestants, I feel much better about my abilities in the kitchen.  My favorite occurrence would have to be the episode where one of the guys attempted to make grilled cheese.  (Picture, if you will, as he tosses two slices of cheese on the grill and the resulting mess.  I was rolling in the floor!)

One of my favorite contestants was a cute, bubbly blonde who had a unique approach to cooking.  On several different occasions, her coach watched in horror as she combined flavors and ingredients that had nothing in common, such as seasoning her hamburger with cinnamon (wrong on so many levels to me!)  Yet, when it came tasting time, he had to admit that the results were excellent. By the third or fourth episode, he was calling her "the mad scientist." In the end, her risk-taking and "think-outside-the-box" mentality brought her victory, and she won $25,000.

I'm not opposed to thinking outside the box; however, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly a risk taker.  No, I prefer to keep things safe and predictable.  Perhaps, that's why I grow so anxious when God begins combining flavors and ingredients in my life that seem to have nothing in common and that I feel cannot possibly result in anything remotely pleasing.  Like the cooking coach, I watch in horror as God sprinkles in a little chaos here and a few money troubles here.  I cringe as He adds a spoonful of health issues and a dab of heartache.  The more He "cooks," the more certain I become that the end result cannot be tasty.  Yet, history has shown me over and over again that somehow, just like the bubbly blonde, He pulls it off, and Romans 8:28 becomes a reality in my life once again.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us "To every thing there is a season."  I think I would be safe in saying, "To every thing there is a seasoning."  And when it comes to cooking up the perfect plan for our lives, God is the Master Chef.  Trust in His finished product even when the combination of ingredients seems a little iffy.

Grilled cheese, anyone?

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Mirror of God's Word

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.- James 1:22-24

I don't like mirrors. Why? Because they reveal the truth. They remind me that I'm having a bad hair day. They inform me of my wrinkles, gray hair, and blemishes. They condemn me for the extra pounds gathering around my midsection. Mirrors. We need them, but that doesn't mean we have to like them.

What good would it do me, however, if I woke up in the morning, took a look in the mirror, and then walked out the door? Why bother looking if I'm not going to do anything about what I see? Why check my hair if I'm not going to brush it? Why inspect my face if I'm not going to apply some makeup? What's the point of having a mirror if we allow it to show us the flaws and then do nothing to fix them?

James is asking the same question. He is telling us that God's Word is like a mirror. Just like we do with a physical mirror, we should stand before God's Word each and every day. We should study it, inspect it, examine the flaws that it reveals. But, James reminds us that that is not enough. We must go beyond knowing what needs to be fixed. We need to step into action and actually work on fixing the problems. Don't just hear, do. Don't just know, do. Don't just study, do. Otherwise, we'll be just like the man who looks in the mirror and then walks off forgetting what he saw to begin with.

I don't know about you, but I do not want the image that greets me in the mirror each morning to be the image that others see. I want to improve. The same goes for my spiritual reflection, for God's Word shows me not only what I am, but what I can be.

An Excerpt from Daily Discussions of a Doubting Disciple
Book 2 in the Giggles and Grace Series by Dana Rongione

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Good Grief, Charlie Brown!

***Spoiler alert - If you haven't had the chance to watch the new Peanuts Movie yet, you might not want to read today's devotion.  Okay, you've been warned!***

Unfortunately, Jason didn't have any work scheduled for Wednesday, which is a bad thing since he's paid by the hour.  Nevertheless, we decided to make the best of a bad situation.  We used the free movie tickets that Jason had received through the Blood Connection and went to see The Peanuts Movie (yep, my idea!).  It was a really cute movie, and believe it or not, I came away from it with several valuable lessons.

In the movie, a new kid moves to town, and that new kid just happens to be "the cute, little redhead."  (I love it already!)  Anyway, Charlie Brown falls madly in love with this new cutie, but he's afraid to even speak to her because he's convinced that everyone else hates him because he's such a clutz.  Still, Charlie Brown clings to one thread of hope:  the new girl has never met him and never witnessed some of his "finer moments."  He hopes to win her over with his newfound confidence and charm, but in the spirit of Peanuts, things go horribly wrong.

Attempt after attempt, Charlie Brown tries to impress the cute, little redhead, but all of his efforts seem to be an epic fail.  His talent show routine is ruined because he gives up his turn to help his sister, Sally, who is on the verge of tears after her own routine goes terribly wrong.  The book report that he spent all weekend working on is reduced to ribbons when the Red Baron airplane flies through it.  After finally catching a break and receiving grand recognition for his perfect score on the standardized testing at school, he realizes that there had been a grave mistake, and the test was not his.  After admitting the error in front of the entire school (including the cute, little redhead), he slumps over and shuffles out of the school house.

The next several scenes are filled with phrases like the following:

"No matter how hard I try, everyone still hates me."
"It seems as if the whole world is conspiring against me."
"I'm nothing but a self-conscious, wishy-washy failure."

But lo, and behold, at the end of the movie when it comes time for the students to choose summer pen pals, the cute, little redhead chooses Charlie Brown.  Delighted yet confused, Charlie Brown finally gathers enough courage to ask her why she chose such a loser to be her pen pal.  She calmly told him that when she looked at him, she didn't see a failure.  She saw a compassionate soul who sacrificed something in order to help another.  She saw someone who was brave enough to step out of his comfort zone and enter the class dance contest.  She saw someone who was honest enough to admit that he hadn't rightfully scored the perfect score on the testing.  In short, she saw a good person.

Suddenly, all of the other children realize what they had been missing.  For so long they had been focusing on Charlie Brown's many mistakes that they had failed to realize what a good person he is.  Aren't we guilty of doing the same?  How often have we judged people by their actions or inactions?  How many times have we thought less of someone because of their inadequacies or failures?  All the while, we may be missing out on the true nature of the person we're judging.

We all have bad days, and honestly, I know I've had days where I could say right along with Charlie Brown, "It seems as if the whole world is conspiring against me."  But bad days don't make me a bad person.  Sure, I may be ditzy at times.  Yes, I have a tendency to be accident-prone.  And yes, I've had my share of "Duh" moments.  But if you only focus on those, you'll miss out on the fact that I am a caring, compassionate, tender-hearted person who longs to serve Christ to the best of my ability.  No, I'm not perfect, but I'm trying, and I'm sure there are many others around me who feel the same way.

After ten years of writing, I can't believe I finally get to say this:  It's time for all of us to start acting like the cute, little redhead.  Look past the mistakes and shortcomings of others and observe their hearts and motives.  After all, isn't that what God does for us?  More often than not, I think we'll discover that we've been sorely misjudging the Charlie Browns in our lives.

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. - Romans 2:1

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Help Yourself?

This morning, our trees are filled with blackbirds.  They're everywhere, and goodness, can they make a lot of noise!  Of course, it's not unusual to see such a sight on this cool, rainy morning.  What is unusual is the fact that I took several minutes this morning to actually observe their behavior, and let me tell you, they made me mad!

I watched in horror for several minutes as the greedy birds tore apart each and every squirrel's nest in the two large pecan trees.  I assume they were looking for food in the form of nuts, berries, seeds and, of course, worms and bugs.  Looking for food is one thing, but tearing apart another animal's home in order to scavenge that food is just wrong in my book!  I mean, these birds were relentless in their demolition, and I have no doubt that, by the end of the day, the squirrel's nests will be completely gone.  Poor squirrels!

Now, don't get me wrong.  I understand that the birds need to eat and that God provides for them.  However, I also know that our yard is absolutely crawling with bugs and worms of every sort, and there is also a variety of seeds and nuts on the ground.  There is food aplenty in the yard, but instead, the blackbirds have decided it would be easier or better to take from someone else.  Unfortunately, we're all too familiar with this concept, aren't we?

Before you start griping about the government or political agendas, allow me to point out that my first thought as I watched the carnage before me this morning was not of the government but rather of Christians, specifically Christians who feel the need to tear others down in order to build themselves up.  For whatever reason, they need a boost--be it spiritual, emotional or even positional--so instead of doing the hard work required to gain that boost, they take the easy route.  After all, if Person A looks bad, surely Person B will look better.

Sad to say, our churches are full of such rivalries.  Instead of spending our time reaching out to the lost or trying to encourage the saints, we're too busy trying to "one up" each other.  Just like the stingy blackbirds, we steal from others what is rightfully theirs in order to fulfill our own goals, giving little or no thought to those we are hurting in the process.

There is nothing wrong with having goals, dreams and legitimate needs, but there is everything wrong in the "blackbird approach."  God has a way for us to gain the things He desires for us to have, and that way does not involve tearing down our brothers and sisters.  On the contrary, we ought to be looking for ways to help one another instead of spending so much time and energy helping ourselves. God has ways of rewarding those that think beyond themselves.  I urge you to keep that in mind as you go about your day.

Now, does anyone know if there's a Habitat for Humanity program for squirrels?  It seems I may need to give them a call.

But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. - I John 3:17-18

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Power of a Single Word

This morning as I worked around the house, I was singing along with one of my new favorite songs.  Yes, the first time I heard this particular song, I knew it would quickly become a favorite and that it wouldn't take me long to memorize the words to it. . . at least, most of the words.  One particular word keeps giving me trouble.  The last phrase of the chorus states, "It's quite a valley, but nothing He won't bring you through."  For some reason, I always want to sing, "but nothing He won't see you through."

Other than being frustrated each time I say the wrong thing, I didn't see the slip up as a big deal.  After all, "see you through" and "bring you through" mean the same thing. . . or do they?  As I thought about it this morning, I realized that the songwriters, whether intentionally or not, chose very wisely when they opted for the word "bring" instead of "see."  And when you think about the difference between the words, a great song transforms into an awesome song.

To see something through implies taking care of something from a distance.  Yes, the one doing the overseeing is involved but not in a hands-on way.  He's there.  He's watching.  He knows what's happening and is in control of the outcome.  And while that does sound like God, it pales in comparison to the meaning of the authors' choice of words.

To bring something says that it is with you.  If you bring a bottle of water, that means the bottle is with you, in your possession.  It is an indication that the bringer and the item brought are in close proximity to one another--very close proximity.  Now that sounds more like God!

It's comforting to know that God is up in Heaven looking down on me.  It's good to know that He knows my every move, every care and every valley.  It's encouraging to know that from that "bird's eye view," He can direct me in the paths I should take and turns I should make.  But what's even more encouraging is the thought that He's in the valley with me.  He's not just seeing me through; He's bringing me through.  Leading and guiding, not just with words, but with His comforting hand placed gently on my back, steering me in the way I should go.  He is both before me and behind me, and with His hand in mine, He will bring me through every obstacle, every valley.

As a writer, I often find myself staring off in the distance searching for the perfect word.  How do I say it?  What will have the biggest impact?  How do I describe the indescribable?  It's a daunting task, but this morning I was reminded just how important a single word can be, and with that reminder, I am committed more than ever to allowing God to speak through me rather than trying to find the right words on my own.

I don't know what you may be facing today.  You may be in the valley, or you may be singing praises on the mountain top.  Either way, take comfort in the fact that God is with you.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  Not when the way gets tough.  Not when the path grows dim.  Not when the days grow long or the body grows weak.  He is with us, and He is bringing us through.

Hand in hand with Jesus.  What better way to draw this year to a close!

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. - Deuteronomy 31:6

Friday, November 27, 2015

Are You a Butterfinger or a Reeses?

Due to some recent health issues, I have renewed my efforts to cut back on caffeine and sugar.  That being said, I did splurge today on a little chocolate after our hiking trip.  I was looking forward to the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cup that awaited me, but as I ate it, I came to a conclusion:  it wasn't as good as a Butterfinger or a Reeses.  In trying to be something it wasn't, not only did it fall short of the very thing it was trying to imitate, but it fell short of itself.  I would have much rather had a regular Butterfinger bar or a Reeses cup than that peanut butter hybrid.  But that's what happens when we try to be what we were never intended to be.

Take, for example, my desire to play the piano like so many others I know.  They have style.  They have class.  They have the technique and the perfect fingering.  They utilize grand runs and unique chords.  I, on the other hand, am a competent pianist, but no more.  I can make my way through most songs, but don't count on fancy chording or impressive fill-ins.  I don't do that.  I can't do that!  However, I have been told, on many occasions, that my music is beautiful and full of feeling and emotion.  Unfortunately, I don't feel that my "emotion" is as nice as someone else's flair, so I try to up my program.  I practice a song until my fingers are numb, but that doesn't matter to me because I've worked in all the proper things at the proper places, determined to make my music sound as impressive as another's.  But guess what?  It falls short. . . way short.  Despite the hours of practice and the intense concentration, the piece still lacks the quality of a better pianist, and because I am so focused on the technique, I lose all feeling and emotion.  In short, I'm still not as good as they are, and now, I'm not even as good as myself.  What a lousy deal!

God has given each of us talents and gifts, and there is even a variety within each of those talents and gifts.  He has blessed us with skills and personalities that are perfectly suited toward the things He has called us to do.  So, why would we try to be something or someone else?  We're not equipped to do those jobs because God never intended for us to do them.  He has given us each our assigned tasks, and He does not give us a job to do without giving us the skill with which to do it.  We may not be the best at what we do, but that's not what God is interested in.  First off, He's concerned that we are faithful in what He's called us to do.  Second, He wants us to do what we've been called to do in the way we've been called to do it because, while we may not be the best, we will often deliver something that "the better ones" do not.

If God made you to be a Butterfinger, please don't try to be a Reeses.  It simply won't work.  Just be yourself and allow others to appreciate you for your faithfulness to who you are.  After all, I'd rather have a Butterfinger that tastes like a Butterfinger than one that's trying to imitate something else.  Be what God intended you to be.  Don't fall short of yourself!

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. - Romans 12:6-8

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Poem

Today I am thankful for so many things
Houses and family, my hopes and my dreams
A husband who loves me, a church fami
ly who cares
Nights that are free from fear and despair
Knowing that God has my best interest at heart
Showers of blessing that I know will soon start
Grace and mercy to get me through every day
I'm thankful for how the Lord guides my way
Victories that have come, and defeats to inform
I can do nothing without the strength of my Lord
Now on this day, I remember these things
Giving glory to God for all the goodness He brings.

Poem by Dana Rongione

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The "Positive to Poo" Ratio - Repost

If you missed my earlier post with minister/comedian/marriage counselor, Mark Gungor, you'll want to go back and watch that video.  This guy is a hoot, but he offers very valuable information.  In the video, he uses the Bible verse, Proverbs 14:4a, to explain that there is no such thing as a trouble-free marriage.  Proverbs 14:4a states, "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean."  In other words, if you have oxen, you're going to have ox poop!  Likewise, if you have a marriage, you're going to have some differences in opinion somewhere along the way.  It's just a fact!

I laughed at his explanation but realized that the concept goes far beyond marriage.  In fact, it applies to all life.  If you're alive, you're going to have trouble.  The Bible says so.  In Job, it says, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble."  In John, Jesus Himself said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation."  It's depressing, I know, but it's unavoidable.  Let's boil it down:

Ox = ox poop
2 dogs = lots of dog poop (trust me, I know this one well)
Life = life poop

The key to dealing with this inevitable situation, as Mark Gungor explains, is to find the proper "positive to poo" ratio.  This goes back to a couple of my earlier posts that discussed getting rid of the inner Eeyore and retraining our brain.  It's simply too easy to focus on all the poo in our lives.  It's all around us.  It stinks.  It seems to permeate every fiber of our being.  And at times, we're so tired of the poo that we contemplate ending it all, just to get rid of the poo. 

Do you know the best way to stop thinking about the poo?  Think about something else.  Don't focus on the negative.  Focus on the positive.  What's good in your life right now?  Do you have loved ones who care for you?  Do you have a good job (or in this job market, a job at all)?  Do you have good health?  Were you able to take a breath this morning?  Do you have plenty to eat?  Surely, there's something.  Think about it.  Ponder it.  Meditate on it.  Put it above your negative thoughts.  Whatever you do, don't let the poo outweigh the positive!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hope in the Midnight Hour

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. - John 11:32-35

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. - John 19:26-27

The above passages are two occasions where we see Jesus grieving for those who were suffering.  In the first passage, He wept because of the pain that Mary and Martha were going through at the loss of their brother, Lazarus.  In the second passage, Jesus had compassion for his weeping mother and dear friend, John, who could only stare in horror at the sight before them.  In both instances, Jesus was filled with sorrow and longed to take away the hurt.  However, He could see what the sufferers couldn't--the end result.

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus purposefully delayed His coming.  He could have gone as soon as He received word that Lazarus was ill.  Since He knows all things, He could have arrived before that.  But He waited.  Why?  Well, He answers that at the tomb of His dear friend. Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 11:41-42)  Healing the sick is one thing; raising the dead is quite another.  Jesus waited so that the people would believe, and that's exactly what happened.  Though it broke His heart to see the tears of Mary and Martha, He understood that it would all be worth it in the end.  He understood His delay.  He understood the greater miracle that would take place.

The same thing happened at the cross.  Jesus could have come down from the cross and ended Mary and John's suffering right then.  He could have personally wiped the tears from His mother's eyes and held her in His strong arms.  But He knew that the cost of alleviating their temporary suffering was an eternity of suffering in Hell.  He knew what had to be done even though it caused His mother and friend great grief.  I'm sure He longed to end their sorrow, but He could also see beyond the midnight hour.

Dear friend, I realize that all of us are going through something.  For some, it is one huge trial.  For others, it's like the death by a thousand cuts where we can't recover from one injury before encountering another blow.  Whatever the case may be, I am here to tell you that there is hope in this midnight hour.  Your suffering has a purpose, and there is a greater good beyond this dark time.  God does not delight in our suffering.  In fact, He hurts when we hurt.  However, He loves us enough to allow us to go through certain suffering in order to bring about something better than we could ever imagine.

Hang in there, and don't quit fighting the good fight.  God isn't late, nor has He forgotten about your need.  He is working all things for our good.  Just keep in mind that a little suffering may be the pathway that leads to treasures unseen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Are You Delighting In Blessing?

As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. - Psalm 109:17

In the above psalm, David is speaking of the wicked, but I have to admit that the latter half of that verse gave me pause:  as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.  In essence, David was saying, "Since he doesn't acknowledge his blessings anyway, stop sending them."  And that smote my heart to the very core.

How often do we take our blessings for granted?  How many times do the blessings come, and we merely nod our heads like that was exactly what was supposed to happen?  Why is it that it is so much easier to remember our troubles than it is our blessings?  Could it be that we, like the wicked David spoke of, are failing to delight in our blessings?

Sure, we may send up a quick prayer of thanks.  And yes, we'll often tell a few people about what God did for us.  But then another day passes and instead of being thankful for what we have already received, we start looking to God and asking for more.  Shameful, isn't it?  What's worse is that Satan can get us so bamboozled that we begin to doubt that we have any blessings at all.  It goes something like this:

"Yes, I have a roof over my head, but unfortunately, it leaks."
"It's true the Lord allowed us to replace the washing machine, but now the dryer is acting up."
"Yes, the Lord has always met our needs, but things are tighter than ever, and I don't see any way out."

Do you see how easy it is to bypass the blessing in order to find a reason to complain?  I don't know why we do it, but it seems to be our natural tendency, doesn't it?  I don't know about you, but I am desperately feeling the need for a change of tactics.  I believe it's time to kick some "buts" out of my life and focus only on the blessings.

"Yes, I have a roof over my head."  Stop!
"It's true the Lord allowed us to replace the washing machine."  Stop!
"Yes, the Lord has always met our needs." Stop!

It sounds a bit like I'm trying to send a telegram, but I think you get my point.  Don't state a blessing then negate it by saying, "but. . . "  State the blessing and focus on that blessing lest God take David's advice and stop sending the blessings altogether.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beware Counterfeits

The topic of knowing and understanding the Lord's will has been heavy on my heart for the past couple of weeks.  Certain events have led my family to the place where we're wondering if God's plans for us have changed.  Unfortunately, we have a lot of questions and no answers.  In many ways, the leadership of the Spirit has seemed quite obvious; however, the clarity and conviction has always been lacking.  In other words, it seems like God is trying to tell us something, yet neither of us can detect His voice.  We feel that something is amiss, like we're no longer where we're supposed to be, yet no direction for anything else has been given.  It seems like God is putting roadblocks in our paths, but the detour signs are glaringly absent.

As we discussed this last night, Jason reminded me of an important truth:  if it sounds like God and seems like God, but not completely, then there is a good chance that it's not God at all but rather someone trying to imitate God.  And I think we all know who does an excellent job at that--the one who, from the very beginning, stated "I will be like God."

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (I Corinthians 14:33).  What we've been feeling of late is not peace.  It's confusion, plain and simple.  We're confused by the signs.  We're confused by the signals.  We're confused by the lack of direction.  So, if all we're getting from this is confusion, we can be assured it is not God.  It is a counterfeit trying to deceive us and lead us astray from God's true calling.

I've heard that when bank personnel are taught to identify counterfeit money, they are never shown a single piece of counterfeit currency.  Instead, they are directed to study the real thing until they know it well enough that anything else won't seem right.  That's how we need to deal with "the imitator."  We don't really need to study him or his tactics.  Instead, we need to study the "REAL THING" and know Him well enough that anything else won't seem right.  We need to know and understand God's nature enough to say, "No, this can't be God because if God wanted me to do something, He would make it clear.  He has done so in the past, and I can trust that He will do the same in the future."

I don't know what you may be facing today, but perhaps, like me, you're facing a time of confusion.  If so, keep in mind that confusion is not from God.  He gives peace, not unending questions.  Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.  Watch out for the one who loves to play "dress up" and parade himself around as something that he's not.  Learn to identify the true voice of God, and that can only be done by studying Him closely.  Learn His voice, His nature, His methods.  And understand that God never changes.  If He made His instructions clear before, He'll make them clear again.

I also ask that you pray for my family as we face this time of uncertainty that God will make His will clear and that we will be faithful in identifying who is talking and what they're saying.  We desire God's will above all else.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. - II Corinthians 11:3

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Guided by Hindrance?

Does your spiritual walk ever feel like a multiple choice test?  Things are going well.  You're serving God to the best of your ability, and then suddenly you're in the midst of a mighty storm.  At first, you simply shrug and keep on.  After all, God never promised us an absence of storms.  But when the winds continue to blow and the rain continues to pour to the point where you feel you're about to drown, something within you says, "Now, wait a minute.  Is this a typical storm or not?"  Suddenly, you're staring down three possible explanations for your current, seemingly never-ending valley:

1) I'm under spiritual attack.
2) God is punishing me for sin in my life.
3) God is trying to get my attention and tell me something.

But which one is it?  How can you know?  The first one is a little tricky, but be assured that spiritual attacks typically come when you're serving God with all your heart.  So, if you know you're doing all the right things, but the storms still come, the likelihood that you're under spiritual attack is a good one.

As for God punishing you, well, the Bible is clear that God does chastise His children.  But let's face it, we all usually know when we've done something (or are doing something) that isn't right.  If you're not sure, you can always do what the psalmist did and ask God. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)  Obviously, if God is punishing you because of sin in your life, He's not going to keep you in the dark about it.  After all, His purpose of punishment is so that you'll get right with Him.

The last one is usually where I get confused.  After all, long-lasting storms can rattle the brain and shake your faith to its very core.  Those trials can dissolve everything you thought you knew and have you questioning, "Lord, am I where I'm supposed to be or not?"  Unfortunately, that question only leads to more.

"If I'm not in your will, what do you want me to do?"
"What are you trying to tell me, Lord?"
"You have my attention, Lord, but where are you leading me?"

We've all heard the old saying, "When God closes a door, He opens a window."  Well, that is actually Biblical, to a degree.  There are instances in the Bible where God guided His people by hindrances.  Take, for example, Acts 16:6-10:

Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

Paul was doing God's will--no doubt about it.  He was preaching.  Souls were being saved.  The church was growing both physically and spiritually.  Then, all of a sudden, Paul ran into a couple of closed doors.  First the Lord forbade them to preach in Asia.  Odd, huh?  Then, He thwarted their plans to go into Bithynia.  If I were Paul, I would have been confused.  As respectfully as I could, I would have asked, "Okay, Lord, do you want me to preach or not?  Everywhere I turn, there's a roadblock!"

Sound familiar?  I hope you've never been in such a state of hopelessness and frustration, but I have a feeling that you're all too familiar with the scene.  I know I am.  So, what do we do?  Well, for one, we pay attention.  Notice that Paul received more than just roadblocks.  He also received instructions.  God didn't only tell Paul what not to do; He also gave him clear instructions on what to do.

So, if you're wondering if the roadblocks you're facing are God's way of trying to tell you something, remember this:  I can't think of a single instance in the Bible where God's children were hindered by a roadblock that He didn't give them further instructions.  When the Israelites were cut off from the Promised Land by the Red Sea, God gave them directions on how to get across.  When the famine came to the land, God gave Elijah orders of where to go to receive both food and water.  It seems to me that if the Lord is trying to tell you something, He won't keep it hidden.  He may put up barriers to prevent you from going down certain paths or making particular decisions, but I believe He will also direct you in the way you should go.  After all, He understands that "No, not that way" is not clear enough for us to understand.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wait! This Doesn't Look Right!

Have you ever been on a trip in unfamiliar territory and taken a wrong turn?  It's funny.  At first, everything seems normal.  We're simply driving along, doing our best to follow the directions we've been given.  But before long, even though we're not familiar with the area, doubt starts to wriggle around in the back of our minds and we find ourselves saying, "Wait, this doesn't look right?"

Crazy, isn't it?  How could we possibly know what "right" looks like if we've never been down that road?  But, in our minds, something causes us to examine our surroundings and come to the conclusion that we must have missed a turn somewhere.  What we see doesn't mesh with the sketchy directions and details we've been given, so we turn around and go back, hoping to find where we got off track.  Sometimes, our doubts pay off, and we discover that we actually did miss a turn.  Sometimes, though, we waste all that time, effort and gas only to find out that we were going the right way after all, and then we have to retrace our steps (or tire tracks, as the case may be).

Life can be the same way.  Sometimes we'll be walking along down the path we've been assigned, but then suddenly, doubt creeps in and we find ourselves saying, "Wait, this doesn't look right!"  Perhaps the way is darker than we anticipated, or maybe the constant turns have us wondering if we aren't simply chasing our own tails, destined to end up back where we started.  For whatever reason, there are seasons in life that cause us to stop and wonder if we've missed a turn somewhere.

"Lord, did I miss something?"

"Am I still in your will?"

"Am I still going the right direction, Lord?  I mean, you did promise joy and peace, and well, if you don't mind my saying so, this road is hardly joyful or peaceful.  In fact, it's downright bumpy and unpleasant."

The more we examine our spiritual surroundings, the more we're convinced that the path doesn't look right.  But again I must question, how do we know what "right" looks like if we've never been down the road?  No, it may not look like we're going the right way, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we're not.  The destination we're seeking may be right around that next corner or just over the rise, but we'll never know if we turn back.

Just as with the car trip, there may be occasions where we do, in fact, miss a turn in our spiritual journey, but more often than not, the road that we're traveling is the right one.  It just may not be what we were expecting.

If you find yourself "lost" spiritually, wondering if you've missed a turn somewhere, I urge you to seek God's face.  Ask for direction and clarification.  But once you have it, keep going and don't turn back, even if the way doesn't look right.  After all, who are we to determine what's right?  The Father has promised to lead and guide us, and He will ensure that we get where we need to go.  Maybe we would do better to stop studying our surroundings and start studying our Savior.  With our eyes on Him, we'll never go astray.  He is the ultimate GPS--God Positioning System!

Man's goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way? - Proverbs 20:24

Friday, November 13, 2015

When I Can't See

Several nights ago, Jason and I were driving home from an enjoyable date night in North Carolina.  With all that's been going on and my poor health of late, Jason felt I could use a short time to get away from the house and try to forget my troubles.  It was a great idea and quite successful. . . until the drive home.

As we began our descent of the mountain, we ran into the densest fog I've ever seen in my life.  It was beyond thick, and I couldn't see anything.  Not the vantage point one desires when driving down a curvy mountain road.  Evidently, I wasn't the only one having trouble as numerous cars--and even motorcycles--were parked on the sides of the road, presumably waiting for the fog to clear.  I wondered if we shouldn't do the same, but Jason (who was thankfully driving) assured me that he could see.  "I've got it, babe.  Just sit back and relax."  Yeah, right!  Did he seriously expect me to relax?  Doesn't he know me at all?

I tried to calm down or, at the very least, sit back in my seat, but it just wasn't working for me.  I wanted to see, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't.  It was like staring into a misty void, and more than once I wondered how in the world Jason was able to see.  I mean, I know his eyesight is better than mine, but this was ridiculous fog.  Sensing my increasing apprehension, every few minutes he would squeeze my hand and say, "Trust me.  I'll get us home."  I wanted to trust him, but I simply couldn't understand how he could see any better than I could.  It wasn't until we neared the bottom of the mountain that the fog cleared and I could finally unclench my various body parts.

As Jason drove and I tried to remain calm, a line from an old Gold City song kept playing through my brain:  "When I can't stand, I have to lean, and when I can't see, I must believe."  That's what Jason was asking me to do.  He wanted me to believe that he could see what I couldn't.  He longed for me to trust him enough that I could relax.  God desires the same.

How many times in life does God lead us through a patch that is so dense with fog that we can't even see where we're going?  And how many times does God squeeze our hands and say, "Trust me.  I'll get you home"?  I don't know about you, but it happens often in my life.  I've seen more fog in my spiritual journey than I care to admit, but the shameful part is not that I've had to make my way through the misty void but rather that I've found it nearly impossible to simply relax and trust God to see me through.  Just like on my trip with Jason, I can't understand how God could possibly see when I can't, so instead of relaxing and enjoying the ride, I tense up and strain my eyes and neck trying to see something. . . anything!

But you know what?  As hard as I tried the other night, I still couldn't see anything.  No matter how much I strained my neck and squinted my eyes, the dense fog was still unpenetrable to me.  My efforts only caused a lot of tension and worry.  The same can be said in our spiritual walk.  When God leads us through a dense section in our journey, it's not because He longs for us to strain harder to see.  It's because He wants us to let go and trust Him.  Give up control!  Stop trying to see what He's hidden for a reason.  He wants us to know, without a doubt, that He can see just fine and that if we'll simply trust Him, He'll lead us through.

When I can't see, I must believe.  It's really the only thing to do!

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . .But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. - Hebrews 11:1,6

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Do You Say to That?

And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. - I Kings 22:7-8

Time and time again, King Ahab portrays his immaturity.  When Elijah defied him and destroyed the prophets of Baal, Ahab ran home and whined to his wife, Jezebel.  When Naboth refused to give Ahab his vineyard, the king stomped home and refused to eat as he pouted about the problem.  Now, Ahab implores Jehoshaphat to go to war with him, and when Jehoshaphat tells Ahab to inquire of the Lord, Ahab hurries to his false prophets who tell him, "Absolutely!  Go to war, and God will give you the victory."  But Jehoshaphat wasn't satisfied with taking their word for it and asks Ahab if there isn't a true prophet of the Lord whom they could ask.  Ahab's answer, in a nutshell, was "Well, yeah, there's this one guy, but I don't like him because he never tells me what I want to hear.  So, I just don't ask him anymore."  Sheesh, what a baby!

But as I criticized, the Lord smote my heart and showed me the many ways that I have done the exact same thing.  There have been times that I wanted to do something, but I feared (and sometimes downright knew) that it was not the Lord's will, so rather than disobeying, I just didn't ask for permission at all.  There have been times in my Christian walk where I've asked God for things that He didn't see fit to give me, but instead of thanking Him for keeping me from things that would distract me from His will, I grew angry and determined that I just wouldn't ask Him for anything else since He always said "no" anyway.  Childish?  Absolutely.  Bratty?  Unquestionably.  True?  Unfortunately.

I'll be honest with you, sometimes the truth hurts.  Sometimes we feel we would be better off if we hadn't found out the truth or hadn't asked the question to begin with.  But the fact remains that Jesus is the TRUTH, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).  It may not be pleasant from the start, but all things will work together for good to those of us who love God (Romans 8:28).  When?  I can't tell you that.  I don't know.  God's timing is not my timing, and sometimes He requires us to wait for the freedom that comes from the bearing of truth.  But the freedom will come.  We have His promise on that!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jeanne Robertson - Thank You for Serving

I would like to share this with you today in honor of our veterans and all our military.  God bless the men and women who serve to keep us safe!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Out of Joint

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent... I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. - Psalm 22:1-2, 14

Oh man, oh man, can I relate to this psalm right now!  Let me take a moment to fill you in on what's been happening in my life over the past few weeks.  I have been suffering from chronic dislocations of the shoulder, shoulder blade and collarbone--all on the left side.  Basically, my bones and joints feel as if they're playing tug-of-war with one another, and it's excruciating.  (Just to give you an idea, the picture above is kind of how I feel right about now.) The chiropractor has done his best to set each joint, but by the end of the day, one or more of them have moved out of place again.  In a sense, I'm caught in a "catch 22."  The joints are popping out because the muscles around them are so weak (presumably from years of babying my left side because of my severe bursitis).  Obviously, though, I've not done myself any favors.  Now, the muscles are too weak to hold the joints in place, but they can't be strengthened as long as the bones are out of whack.  So, until the joints go in and stay in, I can't do what's necessary to strengthen the muscles, but it's unlikely that the joints will go in and stay in until I strengthen the muscles.  See my conundrum?

I can honestly tell you that through the pain and frustration of the past few weeks, my prayers have sounded just like the first couple of verses of Psalm 22:

"God, why have you forsaken me?"

"God, why aren't you helping me to get better?"

"God, why aren't you answering my prayers?"

"God, I have begged and pleaded and begged some more, but it's like You don't even hear me.  Either that or You just don't care that I'm suffering."

Yes, pain and misery can addle the brain.  That's where verse 14 in the above passage comes in:

"I am poured out like water" - My mom often uses the phrase "weak as dishwater."  I'm not exactly sure what that phrase means or from whence it originated, but I think of it when I read this verse.  Weak as dishwater?  Yep, that sounds about right.  Pain and frustration are very tiring.

"All my bones are out of joint" - Oh, don't even get me started on that one.  I had to play the piano for church on Sunday, and if you've never tried to play the piano when your entire upper body on one side is out of joint, well, you just don't know what you're missing!

"My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels" - My heart is so weary that it feels like nothing more than a puddle of wax.  I feel no joy, no hope, no peace.  Only pain and frustration.

As many of you know, I love the psalms and read it frequently.  I guess that's why my mind has been dwelling on this particular passage for the past couple of weeks.  But it wasn't until this morning that a new thought hit me.  For just a moment, I was able to put aside my self-pity and take note of a sobering truth.

Psalm 22 is a Messianic psalm, meaning that it points to Christ.  If you read through it, you'll see many similarities between the psalmist's account and the crucifixion of Christ.  The cry of being forsaken.  The agony of torment.  The presence of the enemy.  The pleas and prayers uttered. It's all there, and as I thought on that this morning, I realized that what I'm going through is nothing compared to the agony that Jesus suffered on the cross.  But, get this--He did it willingly!

When Jesus went to the cross, He knew exactly what He was going to face.  He knew the agony. He understood the loneliness.  He was fully aware of what He was going to endure, yet He did it anyway because of His great love for us.

I don't know that I would ever choose to be in this much pain.  I would like to think that I love my husband and my family enough that I would willingly take on such anguish out of love, but honestly, after a few weeks of dealing with it now, I have to say that I'm not sure I could do it.  I would want to, but I don't know if I could make myself do it.  But Jesus did, and He did it without hesitation.

My goal from now on is to view my own suffering as a reminder of what Jesus did for me and how much He loves me.  I pray you can do the same.