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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Speak Up!

In yesterday's post, we discussed the importance of sharing our testimony with others and the impact we can have on the lives of others if we would only dare to open our mouths and tell others about Jesus.  In my devotions this morning, I was reminded that this is not the only occasion where we need to speak up.

Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day. - Job 2:11-13; 3:1

When Job's three friends learned of all the tragedy that had befallen him, they got together and formed a "cheer up" party at Job's house.  The trouble is that they didn't cheer Job up.  In fact, they merely sat with him for seven days in complete silence.  Now, I understand that sometimes it's nice to have someone simply be there for us.  During certain times, no words are necessary, and frankly, sometimes, they're not wanted.  I understand that.  But for seven days?  Didn't one of these guys think that maybe Job needed to hear some words of encouragement?  How about a reminder of God's promises?  Or how about just asking the simple question, "Hey, Job, do you want to talk about it?"

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.  Yes, there is a time when the one who is hurting simply needs the presence of a friend or loved one.  But sometimes, we need to speak up.  That person needs encouragement.  He/she needs a word of cheer or perhaps a Scripture verse.  How about a song that fits the situation in which the person is mired?  When it's time to speak, God will give you the words to say, but you must be attentive to His voice.  After all, God may be trying to use your voice to drown out all the other voices that are filling the head and heart of your hurting loved one.  Yours can be the voice of reason in the midst of their total chaos.

Job's friends decided to give him the silent treatment, and we clearly see the result of that in chapter 3.  Job went from "blessed be the name of the Lord" to "I wish I had never been born."  Wow, some "cheer up" party, huh?  I think it would have been better for all involved if those friends had sat quietly with him for a day, then offered some encouragement.

On that note, let me mention that Job's friends do have plenty to say in the rest of the book, and unfortunately, it has no better encouraging effect than their silence does.  But that's because they weren't allowing God to speak and encourage through them.  They were ushering out their own thoughts and opinions.  The hurting and discouraged don't need our advice, opinions or criticism.  They need to hear from God.  They need to be reminded of His goodness.  And we can be a conduit for such edification if we'll only be willing to be used of God in such a way.

Speak or be quiet?  God will give you wisdom as to which is best during any given situation.  But when you speak, make sure it's His words coming out of your mouth and not your own.  Your friend is depending on you!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Are You Willing To Share Your Story?

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.  And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.  And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away;  And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.  But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter. - Mark 1:40-45

Oh, the irony!  In this passage, Jesus urges the leper to keep his miracle to himself.  "Don't tell anyone," Jesus commands.  "Just show yourself to the priest and follow the rules concerning your cleansing, but I'd appreciate it if you keep this event between you and me.  Okay?"

Yeah, right!  I don't think the leper meant to be disobedient or disrespectful.  I think he was simply so overwhelmed that he couldn't help but tell anyone and everyone what Jesus had done for him.   According to the wording "to blaze abroad the matter," the news of this man's healing spread like wild fire.  He could not keep it to himself.  He had to share Jesus!

The irony is that we have been commanded, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), yet we can barely rouse ourselves to get to church, let alone to reach out and tell others what Jesus has done for us.  The man who was sworn to silence couldn't help but tell, and we who have been commanded to share the gospel can't seem to open our mouths.  What's the problem?  Hasn't God done a miracle in our lives just as He did for the leper?  Don't we have some good news worth sharing?  So why aren't we like the leper?  Why aren't we eager to tell anyone and everyone what the Lord has done for us?

Perhaps we've grown complacent.  We're saved.  We do our best to live like we should.  We go about our daily lives and strive to follow the Lord's leading.  But is that enough?  We treat it as if it is.  We're settled, content to just exist in the here and now, hiding our miracles from those who really need one themselves.  I guess when we boil it all down, we're selfish and self-centered.  We're saved, and whether or not we share our testimony with others won't change that.  True, our witness (or lack thereof) won't affect our salvation, but it may affect someone else's.

Someone today needs a miracle.  Someone is walking down a lonely pathway, wondering if there's any hope.  Someone is looking for a friend.  These people need to hear our stories.  They need to know what Jesus did for us and what He can do for them.  They need to see the results of an encounter with Jesus and to be assured that it's not a temporary fix.  They need to hear a true story.

The leper's testimony sent people flocking to Jesus.  Who knows?  Ours may do the same!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Crying Over Dashed Hopes

Do you ever grow weary of things not living up to your expectations or even to the advertisements and claims of others?  Have you ever asked yourself, "Am I the only person in the world who can't get this to work?"  If so, you're in good company.  In fact, that seems to be my dwelling place of late.

Try this flea remedy.  It's guaranteed.  Yeah, right!  I've tried them all, and you know what, I can't get any of them to work.  We must have the most resilient fleas in the world!

Just plug and play.  No setup required.  Are you kidding me?  I've already spent hours trying to get this crazy thing to work, and it still says it doesn't recognize the software.

A few minutes of this exercise each day will leave your abs flat and toned.  Yeah, I guess, it will eventually.  In the meantime, my abs are neither flat nor toned.  They're sore!

Rub this special oil on your dog's fatty tumors, and they'll disappear within a couple of weeks.  Weeks?  I've been doing it for months and have seen little to no change.

It's discouraging, isn't it?  Time after time, when searching for solutions to the daily problems of life, I seek out a new product or formula and get my hopes up that this time is going to be different.  This time, my effort will pay off.  This time I will be successful and finally conquer one of the many problems that creep in and out of life on a constant basis.  But then, with time and money wasted, the results are no different than the dozen of other things I've tried, and frustration sets in anew.

I cannot tell you how many tears I've shed over these solutions that seem to work for everyone but me.  The discouragement is simply too great, and combined with a sense of hopelessness, I don't know what else to do but cry.  Cry over my dashed hopes.  Cry over the time and money I've wasted. Cry over one more failure in my life.  Cry over the repeated appearance of disappointment in my life.

But amidst my tears, I am reminded of a precious truth.  There is one remedy that I've tried that has worked far better than I could have ever imagined, and His name is Jesus.  He has never left me frustrated or disappointed.  He lives up to His claims and far beyond what mere words can describe.  He has never let me down, and though I don't always understand what He's doing, I can rest assured that He is working.  And as long as I have that going for me, the rest of life's problems don't seem so serious.  Annoying?  Sure, but they are also temporary and not worth my tears, or yours, for that matter.

Instead of focusing on the things that haven't met your expectations, try focusing on the One who has.  It will change your entire outlook and before long, all those other problems will fade from view.  Isn't that how it's supposed to be?

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. - Psalm 116:5-7

Thursday, March 26, 2015

To Whom or What Are You Yoked?

Last Sunday night, my pastor preached out of Matthew 11:28-30 which reads, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Always a comfort to me, this passage reminded me that I don't have to carry my burdens alone.  In fact, Jesus doesn't want me to.  He wants to share my load, but even more than that, He wants to carry it for me.  For a better understanding of this passage, I urge you to read an earlier post, My Yoke Is Easy.

I listened to the familiar passage and its interpretation during the church service, then suddenly, my peaceful calm was interrupted by a pointed question from the pastor:  So who or what are you yoked to?  The question caught me off guard because I felt that the answer was obvious.  Jesus, of course.  I'm yoked to Jesus.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn't necessarily so.  You see, if I am truly yoked to Jesus, then that means He's carrying my load and I'm following every step of His leading.  Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."  In other words, when yoked with Him, I'm not striving and struggling to figure out what to do and how to do it.  He's doing the work through me, and I am merely a willing vessel.

Unfortunately, that doesn't exactly describe my behavior of late.  My burden has seemed anything but light.  I've fought and struggled to make things work.  I've plotted and schemed to figure out how to make ends meet.  I've worried and cried about things that were obviously beyond my control.  I haven't been yoked up with Jesus.  I've been yoked up with fear, and let me tell you, fear does not hold up its share of the load.  On the contrary, it adds more weight.  No wonder the yoke has not been easy nor the burden light.  I've been yoked up to the wrong thing.

Jesus offers to carry my load, but fear adds more and more to my burden.  Jesus offers to lead and guide, but fear leads to distraction and disorientation, often resulting in frustration and indecision.  Jesus offers to do the work for me and through me, but fear piles on more work for me in the form of worry, despair and hopelessness.  Jesus offers rest, but fear steals strength and energy from both today and tomorrow.  Why, oh why have I yoked myself together with my sworn enemy?  It's like I'm trying to run a three-legged race with a snake.  I'm doing all the work and wearing myself out in the process.  This is totally unacceptable!

Today is a new day, and I have the opportunity to choose my "plowing partner."  Will I once again choose to yoke myself to fear, or will I choose the One who will never let me down and will carry my load?  It seems like such an obvious choice, doesn't it?  Sadly, that doesn't mean it's easy.  But thankfully, Jesus' yoke is, and He will even give me the strength to make the right decision.

It's time to plow.  Pick your teammate, but I warn you, choose carefully.  The wrong choice could leave you weary and worn while the right choice will leave you rested and refreshed.  The choice is yours.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Where Do You Place Your Burdens?

My dining room table often serves as a catch-all for the many things that are carried in and out of my home.  We typically enter the house from the side door, so a quick turn to the left, and there's a nice, open table to lay down our many burdens.  Unfortunately, the busier we get, the more cluttered the table becomes.  For example, it wasn't but a few days ago that I cleaned off the table, but to look at it now, you'd never know.  The empty box from my recent shipment of books occupies one end of the table.  Miscellaneous mail is scattered across the other end.  Receipts.  Bags. Birthday cards.  Gifts. You name it, you can probably find it on my dining room table.

The problem with this "catch-all" system is two-fold.  First off, because the table is cluttered with stuff, Jason and I must eat elsewhere.  There is simply no room for food or fellowship in the midst of the chaos that is my dining room table.  Secondly, laying down our burdens at the table is not the same thing as dealing with them.  They're not only constantly in view, but they're also in the way, creating the necessity of handling the same stuff over and over again until I eventually grow weary enough of it to put it all where it belongs.

So often in life, we are so weary and heavy laden that we simply cannot wait to unload our burdens.  The problem is that we often do as I do with the loads of stuff I dump on my dining room table.  We create a temporary solution that isn't really a solution at all.  Instead of taking our burdens where they belong, we drop them at the first opportunity, not realizing that we'll have to continually stumble around them until they're cast out of sight. 

And in the process, we're creating another problem.  There's no room left for food or fellowship with the Father.  Let's face it, it's nearly impossible for us to focus on the nourishment of the Word and our sweet fellowship with the Father when we're surrounded by a cluttered mess of burdens and worries.  Burdens and worries, mind you, that should have been dealt with immediately instead of merely set aside in hopes that they would magically disappear.  And without the food and fellowship of the Father, our spirits grow more weary and our hearts more heavy.

It's so easy to let my dining room table get cluttered.  When I walk through the door, the first thing I want to do is set down my heavy load.  But wouldn't I be better off to set everything down where it belongs instead of creating more work and frustration for myself in the future?  The same can be said in our spiritual walk.  Yes, we need to lay our burdens down, but unless we're laying them down where they belong--at Jesus' feet--we're only creating more frustration and spiritual clutter, which will eventually drive a wedge between us and our Savior.  It's time to stop the clutter!  Who's with me?

 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. - I Peter 5:7

Friday, March 20, 2015

Even Little Injuries Can Cause Great Pain

Paper cuts are the worst!  Who would have thought that such a thin slice on the skin could cause such pain and agony?  Yesterday, I was the recipient of one such injury.  As I opened the mail, one of the envelopes sliced the tender flesh between my thumb and index finger.  At first, it stung, but as the day wore on, especially after loading up a haul of firewood, it began to ache and actually bruise.  The crazy thing is barely visible, yet every time I touch it (or it touches something else), I nearly jump out of my skin.  Insane, huh?

But as I examine my nearly invisible injury, I wonder how often I wound my Savior with my "little things."  A white lie here.  An omission of prayer there.  A bad thought or stinky attitude.  Sins that we would consider minor in the grand scheme of things.  After all, it's not like I murdered someone or committed some other heinous crime.  Sure, it was a premeditated act that I willfully committed, but it's not really that big of a deal.  Or is it?

As I thought about my painful little paper cut this morning, I realized that even the "little things" must cause Jesus pain.  After all, He died for my little sins just as much as He died for those two thieves hanging on either side of them.  There is no scale in Heaven that weighs out the pain or penalty for sin.  The weight is the same no matter the sin, and unfortunately, so is the price.  But what I often fail to realize is that, just because Jesus paid for my sin, it doesn't mean He doesn't still feel the pain of those nails every time I fail Him.  And my "little" sins hurt Him just as much as someone else's "big" sins.

The truth is, there is no such thing as big or little sin.  Sin is sin, period.  And even though Jesus has paid the ultimate price and forgiven us of our sins (if you're saved, of course), our willful rebellion is still hurtful to Him.  It pains Him when we go off our own way and do things that we know we shouldn't.  Yes, He still loves us, but His heart is grieved, and that pain is very real, just as the pain of a paper cut.  In our eyes, the wound may not seem deep, but if you think about it, those nails pierced all the way through Jesus' hands and feet.  It would seem that the wound caused by our "little sins" went a lot deeper than we care to think about.

Jesus knows we're not perfect, and He understands that we will fall.  But that doesn't mean that it doesn't still hurt Him.  You know, ever since getting that paper cut yesterday, I've been careful around other things with piercing edges (including paper).  Perhaps now that I have this new insight on how much my "little" sin wounds my Savior, I'll be a little more careful about avoiding those things I know I shouldn't do.  If nothing else, I know my effort will make my Father proud.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. - Romans 6:23

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Strong in the Strength of Someone Else

Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel. - Joshua 10:12-14

I think we're all pretty familiar with the story of the day the sun stood still per Joshua's request.  It's an intriguing tale and, unfortunately, one of great debate since the earth revolves around the sun and technically, the earth would need to stand still, not the sun.  All I can tell you is that there will always be critics of the Bible--those who refuse to believe what they cannot understand.  Well, I certainly don't understand exactly what took place that day, but I believe it happened.  That's what we call a miracle!

In a recent study on this passage, however, I noticed a second miracle that I had overlooked until God opened my eyes to it.  It's not big and flashy.  It doesn't necessarily involve distorting the laws of nature or the laws of physics.  But as my weary mind and body read through this account a few days ago, I stumbled upon a miracle of comfort.  

Leading up to the day of battle in verse 12, Joshua and the children of Israel had marched all night from Gilgal, an uphill journey of 15 to 20 miles.  Then, as far as I can figure from the wording of the Scripture, they fought all day long and what would have been all night after that.  Don't you know they had to be exhausted?  I certainly would have been.  Marching all night.  Fighting all day.  Then, just when you think night is about to fall so that you can have a bit of rest, no, the day continues on and on and on for another entire day.  Huh?

I know that the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made and that, in times of need, a person can push himself beyond the limits of what he thought was humanly possible. (Can you say "Incredible Hulk"? Hehehe!)  But can an entire army do that?  Is it possible for an entire army to go days without sleep?  And, remember, we're not just talking about lying around watching television.  They were marching uphill for an entire night and then entrenched in combat for the next 24 to 48 hours.  Swords swinging.  Sweat dropping.  Muscles bulging.  Yet, despite their obvious fatigue, they still defeated their enemy.  In my mind, that's a mighty big miracle!

Are you tired today?  Have you convinced yourself that you cannot possibly make it another day?  Does weariness have a grip on your heart?  If so, take comfort from this passage.  God gave Israel strength and energy for the battle they had to face.  He will do the same for us.  Whatever the need.  Whatever the situation.  Whatever the battle.  We can do all things through Christ because He is our strength.  Don't give up.  Don't give in.  The battle's not over.  I know you're tired, but God's grace is sufficient.  Rely on His strength and send the enemy running for cover!

 The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. - Psalm 29:11

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Word Became Flesh

Dr. Temple Grandin is an American professor of animal sciences, a livestock consultant, a best-selling author and a well-known speaker.  She was listed by Time 100 as one of the most influential heroes in the world.  Oh, and did I mention?  She's autistic.  Yes, that's right, despite being diagnosed with autism during an age where such a label sentenced one to being institutionalized at the very least, Temple has not only learned to deal with her autism, but she has also found a way to reach out and help others like her.

There is so much that could be said about this extraordinary woman, but obviously, I cannot cover it all here for sake of time.  What I would like to discuss today, however, is her work with cattle.  With all her accomplishments, I realize it may seem strange to focus on cows, but it was in the midst of learning about her work with cattle that the Lord reminded me of a blessed truth.

Being autistic, Temple has a different way of thinking.  She sees and learns everything through a series of pictures and mental images.  She also relates to the fear, frustration and confusion of animals in a way that most "normal" individuals cannot.  In combining these two characteristics, Temple has been able to create various equipment, corrals and techniques for dealing with cattle.

The unusual thing is that Temple's work didn't begin in a workshop.  No, the first stage of the process for her was to study the cows.  She watched their movements.  She studied the volume and intensity of their mooing.  She became one of them in order to learn more about them, even to the point of getting down on her hands and knees and crawling through the various corrals.  She knew it was imperative for her to see what the cows saw and to feel what they felt as they made their way through the maze of corrals.  And in doing so, she discovered things about the animals that no one else seemed to notice.  This understanding gave her insight into how the cows think and act, making it possible for her to design the most productive and efficient cattle systems to benefit both the ranchers and the animals.

Just last week, I had the privilege of watching a movie based on the life of Temple Grandin.  As I watched her crawl through the mud on her hands and knees, I had to weep.  She cared so much about the welfare of those cows that she was willing to become one of them.  And that is exactly what my Jesus did for me.  He cared so much for this world that He was willing to leave all the splendor of Heaven and come down to dwell in the mud with us.  Even though He already understood how we think and act (for He is all-knowing), He still came.  He became one of us not so that He could understand what it was like to be human but rather so that we would understand that He understands because He has walked in our shoes.  He didn't have to do it.  We certainly weren't worth it.  But He cared about our welfare, so He traded the riches of Heaven and the praises of angels for earthly rags and the mockery of men. Like Temple, Jesus realized how important it was to see what we see, hear what we hear and feel what we feel. 

And I'm so glad He did.  Why?  Because now when I have no words to describe how I feel, I can trust that Jesus already knows.  After all, He's walked this same dark road.  He's faced the bitterness of betrayal.  He knows the loneliness.  He understands the tears that fall in the night. He is well-acquainted with disappointment. Whatever I may face in this life, I can be at peace knowing that Jesus completely understands both me and my plight.  And because He understands, He can see me through.

The Word became flesh.  May we never take that lightly!

 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. - John 1:14

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Itsy, Bitsy Spider

At the end of last week, I was driving to the grocery store, minding my own business.  I hummed along to the CD in the player, occasionally blurting out a stray chord or two. Thankfully, no one else was in the truck. . .or so I thought.

A quick movement directly in front of me caught my attention.  A small, black spider was descending via her web which seemed to be attached to my visor.  "Okay," I said to myself, "don't panic.  It's just a spider--a little, tiny spider.  Just watch the road."  But as hard as I tried, I couldn't seem to focus on anything but that stupid spider hanging only inches from my face.

My first instinct was to swing at it, but I knew that would only cause the spider to fall into my lap, and then I would spend the rest of the day feeling like something was crawling on me.  No, blindly slapping at it was not an option.  I prayed for a stoplight where I could carefully wrap the spider in a tissue or something.  Why is it you can't catch a red light when you want to?  As I stared ahead, willing my eyes to stop focusing on the spider, the unthinkable happened. . .the spider fell.

If it survived the fall, it didn't survive the lap-slapping I did for the next ten minutes.  I'm sure fellow drivers were concerned about this crazy woman squirming around in her seat and slapping herself repeatedly.  It's a wonder I didn't get pulled over.  Wouldn't that have been an interesting conversation?  "No, officer, I haven't been drinking.  I was just playing pat-a-cake with the itsy bitsy spider."  To which his response would be, "Ma'am, would you please step out of the car?"  Thank the Lord for ALL his blessings!

As I laughed/slapped my way to the store, one thought kept ringing through my mind:  there's a lesson in this somewhere.  Immediately, Hebrews 12:1-2 came to mind:  Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

"Looking unto Jesus."  Some days it's just as hard for me to look unto Jesus as it was for me to look past the spider and out the windshield.  No matter how hard I try, there's always something to distract me.  Family, friends, work, hobbies, personal desires, doubt, fear.  The list could go on for miles.  It's so easy to lose my focus.  It's so easy for me to focus on anything and everything but Christ.  But then I am reminded of what could have happened if He had lost his focus.  What would life be like if Christ had been distracted from His true purpose:  the cross?  Life would not be worth living, and He knew that.  That's why He didn't allow anything to distract Him.  He set His face toward the cross and never looked back.  If Christ can do that for me, the least I can do is attempt to do the same for Him.

He carried His cross.  It's time for me to carry mine.  But you see, I have an advantage.  Christ will help me carry mine.  He will add His strength to my own.  He will accomplish through me what I could never accomplish on my own.  I only need to be willing!

Did I mention I hate spiders and all other creepy crawly things?

*****Excerpt from Lilting Laments of a Looney Lass*****

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wile E. Coyote Christian

I am what you would call a perfectionist. I like things done a certain way, and if I'm going to accomplish a task, I will put my all into it. That's just the way I am. I always have been. I was the student in school who took the extra time to type out the report and put it in a binder instead of just handing in stapled notebook pages with a hand-written report. I'm not bragging, mind you, because sometimes being a perfectionist can get me into a lot of trouble. Sometimes, I demand more of myself than what I'm capable of doing.

For example, in my spiritual walk, I expect excellence. What I receive, however, is very short of that. Instead of humility, I get pride. In place of kindness, I spy a mean spirit. In lieu of forgiveness, I find bitterness. And then . . . I get mad. Mad at myself. Mad at my weakness. Mad at my lack of discipline. Once the anger wears off, I find myself encased in discouragement and disappointment. "Let's try this again," I mumble to myself, when what I really want to do is sit there and throw a pity party.

I need to be more like Wile E. Coyote. Remember him from the Roadrunner cartoons? How many plans did he try and fail at? How many cliffs did he fall from? How many explosions did he survive? And yet, after every failure, what do we see of Wile E. Coyote? He's trying again. He's determined, and no setbacks will stand in his way. Sounds like a good role model to me!

What about you? Are you a perfectionist like me, always setting goals far higher than you could ever reach? Perhaps you're the kind of person that does just enough to get by in life. Neither type is likely to get us through. No, from this day forward, when asked what kind of Christians we are, we need to proudly proclaim, "I'm a Wile E. Coyote Christian. I'll keep trying until the job is done, and I won't waste any time on anger or self-pity."

Now, if you could just point me to the nearest ACME factory. . .

*****Excerpt from Lilting Laments of a Looney Lass*****

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Labels Can Be Dangerous

This morning was much more eventful than I had anticipated.  Despite my mile-long list of things to do, I decided to sleep in a little in an effort to gain enough strength and energy to tackle the busy day.  Upon rising, one of the first things I did was to open the back door so Tippy could get out and take care of her morning business.  We do have a doggie door, but Tippy, in her old age, is a bit stiff in the mornings and struggles to get through the doggie door.

Anyway, as I opened the door this morning, I was greeted by an energetic, bouncing puppy, who immediately bounded into my kitchen and jumped in circles around me.  One problem--this wasn't my puppy!  Tippy was on her way out the door, and Mitchell was making his way from the bedroom.  I anticipated a horror show once Mitchell noticed the intruder.  After all, he's very protective of me, especially around other dogs.  Fortunately, he recognized the dog, as did I, and gave it very little notice (after a thorough sniffing, of course).  It was Abby, the sweet pup that lived in the yard behind ours.  Upon inspection of the fence that separates our two yards, I discovered that Abby has been very busy.  There was not one but three different holes under the fence.  Mystery solved!

After settling my dogs, I put a leash on Abby's collar and walked around the block to return her to her owner, whom I actually met on the road just outside his house.  He had noticed her missing and had gone out in search of her.  He told me that he enjoyed having Abby, but that he was trying to give her away because he just couldn't control her rambunctious nature and the results of such nature (i.e. running away, digging holes, etc.).  "The problem is," he told me, "that nobody wants her because she's part pit bull.  Once they hear that, they don't want anything to do with her."  As a dog lover, this absolutely broke my heart.  What a horrible thing--to know that no one wants you.  I can think of nothing more sad.

The real shame is that, while Abby is a puppy full of energy, she is the sweetest little thing.  She is friendly with both people and other animals.  With the proper training and attention, I believe she has the ability to become a wonderful guard dog and a faithful friend.  But no one is willing to give her a chance because she is wearing a label that gives people pause--"pit bull."  One glance at that label, and people make their decision.  Without even having met this playful pup, others judge her by her breed and slap another label on her--"unwanted."

As I walked home this morning and thought about the poor unwanted creature and the dastardly effects of labels, I realized that I am often prone to do the same thing.  Sometimes it's with people, but mostly it's with situations in my life.  Impossible.  Hopeless.  Stressful.  Unworthy of my time or attention.  Labels of all shapes and sizes, but mostly negative in nature.  As I thought more on this, I realized that I did it just this morning.  I took one look at my "to-do" list and labeled the day as both stressful and impossible.  In my mind, there was no way to accomplish all that needed to be done today, and I was positive I was going to stress myself out trying to get it all done.  Then, when sweet, little Abby added to the day's confusion, I immediately labeled her intrusion as a distraction and time drain.  By the time I had reached my home again, however, I realized that perhaps I had been too quick to slap a label on that situation.  That "distraction" had taught me a valuable lesson and caused me to refocus my thoughts and attitude concerning the remainder of the day.  The "distraction" turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Be careful with labels.  Whether it's in regards to people or situations (or dogs, for that matter), labels can be very dangerous.  But if you feel you must label things, then I urge you to use this "one size fits all" label:  "Handle With Care," or better yet, "Handle With Prayer."

Monday, March 9, 2015

How Far Are You Willing To Go?

 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. - John 18:15-16

This tragic passage follows on the heels of Judas' betrayal of Jesus and Peter's haughty remark that even if everyone else forsook the Lord, he would not.  Yet, as Jesus was led away to the high priest to be judged, Peter couldn't even seem to make it to Jesus' side.  Yes, he followed, but he followed afar off and when the mob stood still, Peter halted at the door.  The Bible says he stood without until John (often referred to as "the other disciple" or "the disciple whom Jesus loved") came and got him.

In a matter of hours, Peter went from forceful to fearful.  One minute he's slicing off the ear of a soldier, the next, he's cowering in the corner, hoping that no one will associate him with the man on trial.  Just a few hours before, Peter was certain he was willing to follow the Lord all the way, no matter what.  But dark reality has a way of setting straight our disillusionment and grandiose ideas.  The cold, hard fact was that Peter was willing to follow Jesus as long as it didn't cost him anything.  He was committed to Christ. . .sort of.  Sound familiar?

Ah, yes!  On the sunny mountaintop, we, like Peter, proudly proclaim, "Yes, Lord.  I'll follow you anywhere.  I'll do whatever you ask of me.  Just name it.  There's nothing too great.  I am fully committed to you."  But when dark reality sets in, we begin to whistle a different tune, and like Peter, we find ourselves slipping further and further behind, hiding in dark corners and hoping no one recognizes us.  After all, it's hard to acknowledge that we're Christians when we're cowering in fear or living in sin.  So, we play it safe.  We hang back just a little farther, grudgingly acknowledging that perhaps we're not as committed as we once thought.  After all, there's no such thing as "kinda committed."  The term "committed" means "wholehearted devotion."  Wholehearted, not wishy washy.  Commitment has no room for fair-weather friends.

And one day, if you haven't already experienced it, we'll discover the comforting, yet convicting, lesson that Peter encountered that horrible night--no matter how far back you are, God still sees. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61-62)

It was a hard lesson for Peter to swallow, but I believe he did.  I am of the mindset that this single look from the Lord changed Peter.  After that, the pride seemed to melt away, and Peter appeared to take more thought before he acted and/or spoke.  Not only that, but I believe that after this night, Peter determined that "the next time" he would go all the way, no matter the cost.  And here's why I believe that:

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. - John 20:1-8

Do you see the role reversal?  This time John stopped short at the entrance of the tomb, but Peter ran all the way in.  He didn't hold back.  He didn't stop short.  He didn't worry about what it might cost him to see things through.  He just went. . .all the way.  Committed.

What about you? Are you serving God with wholehearted devotion today, or is there something preventing you from fully committing to Him?  In the words of the popular Frozen character, Elsa, "Let it go!  Let it go!  Can't hold it back anymore!"

Friday, March 6, 2015

Do Believers Still Sin?

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. - I John 3:9

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. - I John 5:18

These verses, and others like them, are often interpreted in one of the following ways:

1) Born again believers do not sin after they are saved.  Their salvation purchases them not only eternal life but also a life of sinless perfection here on earth.  Any wrongdoings they commit after salvation are titled "mistakes" and do not count as sins.

2) Born again believers are not supposed to sin, so if a born again believer does sin, it must mean that he was never saved to begin with or he was saved and then lost it because he sinned.

And we wonder why so many Christians are miserable!  Who wouldn't be trying to live up to such expectations of sinless perfection or questioning from one minute to the next whether or not they are still saved?  Didn't Jesus say that He came to bring us life more abundantly?  This doesn't sound like abundant life.  It sounds more like abundant fear and stress.

I will be the first to admit that there are passages in the Bible that seem to contradict other passages.  But notice I said they "seem" to contradict.  They don't.  God's Word is perfect, forever settled in Heaven.  There are no errors or misprints contained within.  Just because we don't understand a particular passage doesn't mean there's something wrong with it.  That being said, the best advice when studying the Bible is to compare Scripture with Scripture.  If one verse is clear and another is more obscure, cling to the clear one and pray for God to give you wisdom regarding the other.  By applying this principle to the verses above, one can ascertain a clear, simple clarification.

Both verses tell us that "whosoever is born of God" does not sin.  That is true.  My spirit is born of God, and it does not sin.  My flesh, on the other hand, was born of man, and it does sin.  I know this because the Bible tells us that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  I also know because Jesus made a distinction between being born of water (physical birth) and being born again (spiritual birth) when He spoke with Nicodemus in John 3.  There are other passages in the New Testament that help to clarify the matter.  So, you see, the Bible doesn't contradict itself but rather it confirms its message.

Now, you may have noticed I asked, "Do believers sin?" rather than "Do Christians sin?"  My reason for that is, even though we use the terms interchangeably, the two are not the same.  A believer is one who has been saved.  A Christian is one who acts like Christ.  A believer can and will sin.  A Christian, on the other hand, will not because if he is truly acting like Christ, then He will follow Christ's sinless example.  The truth is we are only part-time Christians.  Some of the time we are following God's will and acting like Christ.  The rest of the time, we're doing our own thing in our own way.  Still believers.  Still saved.  Still bound for heaven.  But not Christ-like at all.

And that's why I John 1:8-9 is in the Bible:  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Yes, believers will still mess up.  No, salvation does not equal freedom from sin.  However, God has given us the promise that if we'll confess our sins, He'll throw them away and continue to treat us just as if we'd never sinned.  He won't hold it against us, and by confessing those sins and asking for forgiveness, we will un-hinder the fellowship with our heavenly Father.

Perfection may be out of reach, but forgiveness is not.  And that, my friend, is the best news I've heard all day!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Soggy Christians

It has been a cold, wet winter this year in the upstate of South Carolina.  That being the case, not only have we burned through all of this year's firewood, but we've made our way through most of next year's wood as well.  Bummer!  The biggest problem is that the wood that was set aside for next year was not ready to be burned.  It wasn't dry, and it hadn't yet been split and stacked out of the weather.  So, the already wet wood recently became thoroughly soaked as it sat under a layer of ice for nearly a week, then a layer of snow just a few days later.

Let me tell you, trying to burn that soggy wood this week has been a chore!  It doesn't want to light, and once we finally get it lit, it doesn't want to stay that way.  It smolders and smokes, but it doesn't want to burn.  I can't explain the frustration of being cold and having to fight with wet wood in an effort to take the chill off, but it's much like the frustration of dealing with soggy Christians.

You know the type.  They walk the walk and talk the talk, but when it comes time to actually do something, they're nowhere to be found.  Despite their many years on the church roll, they seem to have no fire for God or for Christian service.  It seems like their attendance is nothing more than a duty to them.  Still, the other members try to nurture them.  Just as I try to stoke the fire, loving members of the body of Christ pour out their time and effort in an attempt to start a fire within these soggy souls.  Yet, for whatever reason, they simply won't light.  Like my wet wood, they smoke and smolder, but the warmth of the fire is still absent in their lives.

If you're taking the time to read this post, I think it's safe to assume that you are among the members of the body of Christ that are on fire for the Lord.  That being said, my plea today is not for you to get on fire but rather for you to not give up on those soggy Christians.  It's frustrating, I know, just like trying to get this soggy wood to burn, but if we give up on them, what happens next?  I believe the result will be the same as an unattended fire--the flames will eventually burn out all together.  No smoke.  No smolder.  No heat.  Nothing!  How horrible would it be for these weaker Christians to end up in such a state when we have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.  We need to teach and encourage as much as possible.  But whatever we do, we mustn't throw in the towel.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ need us.  Let's not let them down.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to check on the fire. . . again!

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: - Ephesians 4:11-12

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Do You See the Light?

And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night. - Exodus 14:19-20

I know that the actual parting of the Red Sea is considered the "big miracle" in this passage of Scripture, but I'm sorry, I find these two verses just as amazing. . . maybe even more.  Okay, the cloud (which was God) moved from in front of the people of Israel to a place behind them.  I get that.  In doing so, God accomplished three things.  First off, He set Himself as a barrier between Israel and Egypt, meaning that the only way the Egyptians could get to Israel was by first going through God.  In other words, God literally had Israel's back. I love that! Secondly, He set Himself in a place to block Israel's view, so that the children would stop looking back at the approaching army and instead focus on the path ahead of them.  Thirdly, by taking up a position in the rear, God could keep the Israelites moving forward, much like a sheepdog herding sheep or me urging Tippy onward when we go on our many hikes.

That part I get, and I truly appreciate.  In fact, I could probably write several posts on that one verse alone (and I have, hehehe).  But today I want to focus on verse 20:  And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.  How can one cloud provide both light and darkness?  How is it that the people of Israel (and keep in mind there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them) could all see clearly like it was day while, at the same time, the Egyptians were stumbling along in the dead of night?  One single cloud.  Hmm.

I think the best explanation of this (if one can truly explain a miracle) can be found in the book of John.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:5,9-10)

Darkness simply doesn't understand light, and the Egypt in this passage is certainly a picture of darkness (i.e. wickedness).  John makes it clear that the Light came to light every man; nevertheless, the world knew Him not.  They did not accept the Light.  They couldn't comprehend it, so rather than taking a leap of faith that Jesus was who He said He was, they accused Him of blasphemy and sentenced Him to death.  While Jesus' followers were walking in the Light, the rest of the world saw only darkness, just like the Egyptians.

What about you?  Are you walking plainly in the Light of day or stumbling about in darkness?  The Light is available to all who will trust in Him.  You don't have to remain in the dark.  Come on, let the Son shine in!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Things That Make You Go "Huh?"

While reading through the book of John, I noticed an underlying theme that has the tendency to give me a headache when I think about it too hard.  We know that Jesus is God and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist as three in one.  That alone makes my head throb, but I've come to accept that it is what it is even though I don't understand it.  But what should I make of the following verses?

 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. - John 5:30

For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. - John 6:38

Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him. - John 7:16-18

Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. - John 8:28

Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. - John 8:42

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. - John 9:10

For the sake of time, I'll stop there, but there are many more examples like these.  Do you notice the trend?  In each of these passages, Jesus is making a clear distinction between His will and His Father's will.  But since Jesus is God (i.e. the Son is the Father), wouldn't their wills be one and the same?  Is it possible for Jesus to have a different will than God the Father?  Or is it possible Jesus was simply trying to explain a mind-numbing situation to mankind in terms that they would understand?  Since Jesus was in human form at this point in time, perhaps He was making sure that man understood that the fragility of His humanity had not changed His directive--to seek and save the lost.  I really don't have a clue.

I do know that God's Word is true and flawless.  I am not, by any means, trying to imply that these verses indicate an error or contradiction in Scripture.  I am merely trying to get a grasp on a concept that may be beyond human understanding.  If any of you have any thoughts on this topic, I'd love to hear them.  I'd hate to think I'm the only one who reads these verses and goes, "Huh?"

One thing these verses do make abundantly clear to me is the importance of following God's will.  If Jesus made a point of repeating His desire to do the Father's will, it is obvious that we should endeavor to do the same.  And in that, the Father will be pleased. . .and so will the Son.  Right?

Good grief!  Does anybody have any Tylenol?