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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Living Dead, Part Seven

Whew!  We've finally made it to the last point on The Living Dead Test.  I don't know about you, but I've learned a lot along the way--both about myself and about what it really means to be fully surrendered to God in all things.  So, let's finish this test up, okay?

"When you can take correction, when you can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, with no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart--that is dying to self."

This is where that ugly thing called pride comes in. . . again.  To be corrected means that obviously someone thinks we're doing something wrong.  Now, whether we're actually doing something wrong or not, our natural tendency is to balk at correction, is it not?  Our pride doesn't like to hear the words, "You're not doing it right" or "You shouldn't be doing that."  We like for our egos to be stroked.  We enjoy encouragement and consent, not correction.

Just this weekend, I was discussing something with Jason, and from the information I had given him, he felt that I was making hasty conclusions on a particular topic.  In an effort to "correct" my way of thinking, he brought up a side of the topic that I was trying to ignore.  It wasn't that I didn't know it was there, but I had already thought it through and was trying to avoid thinking any longer on the drawbacks.  Because I didn't bring them up, Jason assumed (and rightfully so) that I hadn't thought things through, and he was trying to help me avoid setting myself up for failure or frustration.

I see that clearly now, but I must admit that, at the time, my pride was wounded.  My knee-jerk reaction was, "What, does he think I'm stupid?  I know this.  I've thought it through.  Why did I ask for his opinion in the first place?"  But even as these thoughts swirled through my mind, trying to find a foothold, the Lord brought to mind this study on dying to self, and I was able to recognize those thoughts for what they were--the results of wounded pride, nothing more.  Upon this realization, I cast the thoughts aside, and Jason and I were able to have a wonderful day of communication and fellowship, without any trace of bitterness or negative feelings.

Jason was completely right in what he said and did.  He was acting as a faithful and loving husband should.  He was being a spiritual leader and protecting me from all enemies (even myself).  I was the one in the wrong because I was the one who almost allowed my proud heart to ruin a wonderful family day.  I was the one who balked at the correction and decided to take it as an insult to my intelligence when it was truly intended as wise counsel.  Thankfully, the Lord helped me to see what I was doing before things got really ugly, but oh, how wonderful it would be to get to the point where we don't jump to faulty conclusions or react out of foolish pride.  It's going to take some work, but that's where I want to be.  How about you?

"When you can take correction, when you can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, with no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart--that is dying to self."

As we close, let me remind you that dying to self is not a one time thing.  It happens every day, often several times a day.  It entails constant surrender to the Lord, allowing Him to live through us in everything that we say, do and even think.  And while I know it seems impossible, may I leave you with this one comforting thought--Nothing is impossible with God!!!!!

And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. - Mark 10:27

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Living Dead, Part Six

Hang in there, everyone!  I know the past several posts have been tough, but I can honestly say that they've done me a lot of good.  By discussing "dying to self" in specific terms, I have become more aware of my thoughts and actions and have even caught myself in the process of living for self rather than dying to self.  That being said, I'll be happy to have the last two points finished so that we can hopefully move on to happier and more encouraging posts.  Ready for number six?

"When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, or any society--that is dying to self."

Hmm, it seems to me that those categories list the things of which most complaints exist.  Seriously, how often do we complain about how bad the food is or how little we received when we felt we deserved more?  Or how about the famous statement, more often associated with females rather than males, "I don't have anything to where," when, in fact, we have an entire closet full of nice things?  Climate and society?  Oh, don't even get us started, right?  It's too hot.  It's too cold.  I'm tired of the snow.  I'm sick of all this rain.  These politicians are all crooks.  Our government is going under faster than the Titanic.  Just look at all these deadbeats that are benefitting from my hard work.  Would you like some cheese with that whine?

Let's face it, as a whole, we're seldom content with anything.  More often than not, we find ourselves complaining about something.  Things just aren't good enough for us.  But if we'd really stop and think about it, we would see just how selfish and self-centered that type of attitude is.  It's all about us and what we want, but isn't it all supposed to be about God?

I must admit that the very first part of this one hits me the hardest as I have been contemplating making a drastic change in my daily diet.  As a sufferer of many health issues, I have grown weary of the constant pain and fatigue.  So weary, in fact, that I've found myself looking into meal plans that I would have never considered before.  I mean, seriously, who wants to give up chocolate and pizza and pastas?  For so long, I've told myself that I simply can't do it.  I can't give up these foods.  Truth is, I can, but I don't want to.  I've been living for self and indulging in the foods I enjoyed rather than those my body needs.  In short, I have not been content with any food, only those foods that I consider yummy.  Now, I am faced with a decision:  continue to live for self and let my health suffer or take control of my eating habits by eating what I know is right rather than what tastes good.  Not an easy decision, let me tell you, but it is a necessary one.

The same can be said for every area mentioned in this sixth point.  God is in control of all things, and when we complain about our lot in life, it is a slap in God's face.  Without saying the exact words, we are basically accusing God of "not doing it right."  I think back to the advice my wise husband gave me a few years ago:  If you're not happy with something in your life, do what you can to fix it, but don't complain about it.  Complaining doesn't solve the problem; it only spoils the attitude.  Well said, dear hubby!

"When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, or any society--that is dying to self."

Contentment versus complaining.  Dying to self versus living for self.  A choice must be made.  There's really no such thing as the living dead, despite what the horror movies would have you believe.

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. - Philippians 4:11

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Living Dead, Part Five

Today we are going to be looking at number five on "The Living Dead Test," but before we do, I want to remind you why we're doing this.  The purpose of this series of posts is not to discourage you or to put you down, but rather to help you see what areas of your spiritual walk still need work.  Understanding our weaknesses is the first step to correcting them, right?  That being said, let's continue the test.

"When you can see your brother or sister prosper and can honestly rejoice with him, and feel no envy even though your needs are greater--that is dying to self."

Ouch, that's another tough one, isn't it?  Have you ever been guilty of thinking or saying, "Why doesn't that ever happen to me?" or "Why can't I catch a break like that?"  Oh boy, I have!  Sometimes it does seem like those "big breaks" always happen to everyone but you, right?  The great job with good pay and benefits.  Really?  That writing contract that would have expanded your ministry to new heights.  Seriously?  The monetary gift that would have enabled you to pay all of this month's bills instead of having to pick and choose which payments would be late.  For real?

I personally know of a few people who seem to have blessings literally fall in their laps all the time, and the truly sad part is that some of these people are not using their time and talents to serve the Lord.  And honestly, when I hear them talk about blessing after blessing while I'm secretly wondering how I'm going to pay the mortgage and whether we'll ever be able to fix our leaky roof, I find it difficult to rejoice but quite easy to envy.  "Why do they get all the breaks and I get all the problems? It's just not fair!"

Well, the truth, my friend, is that God never promised that life would be fair, but He did promise that He would supply all our needs.  That being the case, we can all say that we have been blessed, and we need to be careful that we do not allow envy to blind us to our many blessings or to cause a seed of bitterness to well up in our hearts.  No, we may not have what John Doe has, but we can trust that we have what God wants us to have at present.  When He's ready for us to have more, He'll open that door of opportunity.  In the meantime, while we're waiting on those doors to open, He would like for us to praise Him in the hallway.

"When you can see your brother or sister prosper and can honestly rejoice with him, and feel no envy even though your needs are greater--that is dying to self."

Oh, good grief!  I've got some serious dying to do.  How about you?

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? - I Corinthians 3:3

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Living Dead, Part Four

I don't know about you, but I'm not doing so well on this test, and we're only halfway through.  Are you ready for number four?  Well, ready or not, here it is:

"When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works, or itch for praise after an accomplishment, when you can truly love to be unknown. . . that is dying to self."

This one has a lot of facets to it, so let's break it down one by one, starting with "never care to refer to yourself in conversation."  Some of you may be thinking, Well, if I don't talk about myself, what am I going to talk about?  Let's face it.  We like to talk about ourselves, our dreams, our accomplishments, and we even have the gall to get upset if the recipient of our "conversation" doesn't seem as interested as we think he/she should be.  When was the last time we simply listened to someone else without waiting in expectation for our turn to talk?  The last time I checked, dead people don't talk. . . especially about themselves.

How about part two:  "itch for praise after an accomplishment"?  Lord knows, I have tried to work on this one.  The Lord has blessed me with a variety of talents, and I honestly want to use them for His honor and glory.  But I must admit that there is still a part of me that secretly longs for applause and praise.  "Beautiful offertory this morning, Dana."  "Wow, you did such a great job on that song."  "That lesson was exactly what I needed to hear.  How did you know?"  I admit, it feels good to hear these things, and I often struggle to find a way to turn the praise back to God.  This kind of leads into the next point:  "truly love to be unknown."

When was the last time we did something for someone else anonymously?  It's probably been a while, huh?  We don't mind doing things as long as everyone knows we did them, right?  We're so proud to point out the bathrooms that we cleaned at the church or the cookies we baked and carried to the shut ins, but all the while, God is disappointed.  Not that we're serving, but with the attitude with which we're serving.  Are we doing it for Him or for us?  Are we giving Him the praise for the opportunity to serve or are we hoping to gain praise for ourselves?

I believe today's point could be summarized by saying that those who are dead to self are not selfish and self-centered.  They put God's work and the needs of others before their own, and they do so without any hope of praise or recognition.  They are content to serve in the background, knowing that God knows what they are doing for Him and realizing that that is enough.

"When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works, or itch for praise after an accomplishment, when you can truly love to be unknown. . . that is dying to self."

Die already, self!  Die!!!

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. - Philippians 2:3-4

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Living Dead, Part Three

I wish I could tell you that "The Living Dead Test" was about to get easier, but for me, this third point is probably the most difficult.  This is the one that I read and immediately cringed.  Hopefully, you'll score better than I did, but there's really no way to know until I share point number three with you, so here goes:

"When you lovingly and patiently bear disorder, irregularity, tardiness, and annoyance. . . and endure it as Jesus endured it--that is dying to self."

Yikes!  I need my steel-toed boots for this topic.  Lovingly and patiently bear disorder?  Not an easy task for a perfectionist.  Despite the ongoing mess and disorganization in my house, I am otherwise a very orderly person.  Each thing has its place and woe unto the person who does not put said item back where it belongs.  I love schedules, routines, checklists and agendas.  I desire to know what's going on, when it's happening, who's involved and what I need to do to prepare.  I have bags, folders, baskets and many other tools that help me to keep things in order so that when I need them, I know right where to find them.

Lovingly and patiently bear tardiness?  Really?  I don't like to be late.  That's part of being organized. I understand that things happen, and everyone is late now and again.  (In fact, I was late for church Sunday morning because my watch was running slow, and I didn't know it.)  That's fine.  I can understand having a bad morning or getting caught in traffic.  But, must I really bear patiently those who are late all the time?  Why don't they leave five or ten minutes earlier?  I don't understand this, and it drives me crazy!

Lovingly and patiently bear annoyance?  How?  Isn't the very definition of "annoyance" something that gets on your nerves.  I don't like annoying people or annoying circumstances.  They disturb my plans and my order.  They throw a curveball in my neatly-organized day.  And let's face it, sometimes they're simply too blaring to overlook, so they must be dealt with in one fashion or another.  Sadly, that fashion is not usually to endure or patiently bear, is it?

Can you imagine what it would be like if Jesus simply got fed up with us?  After all, we're all disorganized, irregular, tardy and annoying to a degree, especially compared to Him.  What if He decided He would no longer put up with us?  What if He grew tired of our faults?  We'd be in a horrible place, wouldn't we?  Thankfully, we know that He would never do that, but that tells us that we shouldn't either.  We are not judge and jury, and despite how we often act, we are not perfect either.  We need to show a lot more love and a lot less judgment.

"When you lovingly and patiently bear disorder, irregularity, tardiness, and annoyance. . . and endure it as Jesus endured it--that is dying to self."

She's alive!  She's alive!  Unfortunately!!!!!  How about you?

Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? - James 4:11-12

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Living Dead, Part Two

Yesterday, we began a new series where we take a little test and find out whether we're really dying to self.  Point number one was a tough one, but I do believe point number two is even worse.  Are you ready?

"When your advice is disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, and take it all in patient, loving silence--that is dying to self."

Oh dear!  Now, there are some people who give advice on every topic under the sun, and they do so in an arrogant, condescending way that drives everyone crazy.  If this describes you, then you may have some issues far beyond what we'll be discussing today.  For the rest of us, when we give advice, we do so in an effort to be helpful.  Our advice is not meant to overrule or undermine someone else.  We're simply trying to help by offering a suggestion.  And most of the time, we offer it with a "take it or leave it" attitude, right?

There are times, however, when we KNOW that our advice or opinion is worth taking into account.  We've been down that road.  We've walked the path before.  We know what lies at the other end.  And with that knowledge, we try to help others learn from our mistakes.  We advise, counsel and lead.  We offer suggestions based on our own personal experience with the very matter they're facing.  And sometimes, they heed our warnings.  But other times, we're totally ignored.

When that happens, I don't know about you, but my first reaction is to feel hurt and angry.  "Why did I bother?  Why did I pour out so much of my time and energy if they weren't going to listen to a thing I said?  Next time they can solve their own problems!"  And as you can see, that "patient, loving silence" thing ain't happening (and yes, I said "ain't").  Let's face it, when we're hurt and angry we have a tendency to voice that frustration to anyone who will listen (and sometimes we even tell God about it--sometimes).  We fuss.  We fume.  We yell and scream.  I mean, how dare they not listen to us, right?  Oh boy, oh boy!

There is nothing wrong with offering advice, provided it is done in a loving way.  There is no sin in offering opinion, again, if it is done with love.  But what we must understand is that once we've done that, our part is done.  We cannot make that person act in a certain way.  Only God controls that.  We have done our part, and we need to leave the rest up to God.  If that person chooses not to heed our advice, then instead of getting angry, we ought to pray for that person.  We need to pray that God will protect them and nudge their heart about the right path to take, whether that be the path we suggested or not.  God's will must be done, not ours.  And let's face it, they're not always the same, are they?

"When your advice is disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, and take it all in patient, loving silence--that is dying to self."

Well, how did you do on today's test?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. - Romans 12:1

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Living Dead, Part One

I've come to the conclusion that anything can inspire a blog post (or a series of posts).  Bugs, funny incidents, glaring mistakes, my crazy mutts.  You name it, God can use it to bring a devotion to mind.  Such was the case with a convicting pin I came across on Pinterest.  Now, I try not to spend a lot of time on social media, but when I do have a few minutes to spare, I enjoy browsing through comments on Facebook or pins on Pinterest.

Anyway, I came across a pin that spelled out a test you can take to determine whether or not you are dying to self.  I like to call it "The Living Dead Test" because we are alive in Christ, yet to be fully alive in Him, we must die to self, hence, the living dead!  The author of this particular test is unknown, so please understand that I am not claiming credit for his/her creation.  What I would like to do over the next several posts, however, is to break down and examine each point of the test.  To be honest, I failed the test.  In fact, I didn't even get one point, which is very depressing, but at the same time, helpful in identifying my weak areas.  Hopefully, you'll score better than I did.  Now, on to point number one.

"When you are forgotten or neglected, and you don't hurt with the insult, but your heart is happy--that is dying to self."

I remember hearing the story of a church pianist who felt forgotten and neglected every year at the church Christmas party when the choir director received a Christmas gift for his faithful service yet she received nothing.  In her mind, she was as much a vital part of the choir music as the director.  She put in just as much time as he did if not more.  Yet, her efforts were taken for granted and overlooked, and the pianist's heart hurt despite her efforts to not let if bother her.

One year, the choir director decided that the choir would perform a Christmas cantata that was beyond the pianist's ability to play.  That being the case, a substitute pianist was brought in for practices and the presentation of the cantata.  This did not bother the church pianist, for she knew that the work was beyond her ability.  What did bother her, however, was that at the end of the cantata, the church presented the substitute pianist with a gift and offering for her services.  It was all the poor church pianist could do to hold back the tears.

No one likes to be forgotten or neglected.  It hurts.  It makes us sad.  It causes us to feel sorry for ourselves, and there's the problem.  The feeling of neglect turns our focus inward instead of outward. It causes us to concentrate on "poor pitiful me" instead of looking out for others that are hurting, for others who also feel forgotten or neglected.  If we're only concerned with our feelings and our well-being, we are not dead to self.  We're very much alive to self!

The second problem with our reaction to being forgotten or neglected is that it's totally unnecessary because the fact of the matter is we have never been completely forgotten or neglected.  Yes, man may have overlooked us, but God never does.  He does not forget or neglect His children.  He watches and notices everything we do, both the good and the bad.  While no one else may applaud your work or notice your contribution, God does, and He will reward you in His own time.

"When you are forgotten or neglected, and you don't hurt with the insult, but your heart is happy--that is dying to self."

So, are you dead yet?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Now You See Me, Now You Don't

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria. - II Kings 6:15-19

In the above passage, the king of Syria was upset with Elisha because the prophet continued to thwart the king's plans to destroy Israel.  So, the Syrian king sent out an army to "deal with" the prophet.  When Elisha's poor servant exited the tent in the morning, he was greeted by an enormous army surrounding their camp, and in his fear and despair, he asked a logical question:  "Um, Master, what do we do now?"

Elisha's answer, I'm sure, seemed rather odd to the fearful servant.  "No worries.  There are more of us than there are of them."  Now, at this point in time, Elisha and his servant are camping out with the sons of the prophets, so I'm not sure how many people Elisha actually had on his side, but I am of the opinion that it wasn't many compared to the number of battle-hardened soldiers surrounding them.  But that's okay because Elisha wasn't referring to the sons of the prophets.  He was referring to the unseen heavenly army that was currently surrounding them.

There are so many things I could say about this passage, so many blessings within these verses, but for now, I want to focus on the thing that hit me last week as I read through this account.  Did you notice that the heavenly army didn't actually do anything?  They were there, but they didn't battle the opposing army.  In fact, no one did.  Elisha simply prayed that they would be struck blind and then the prophet led them away to Samaria, which, I'm sorry, but I find very comical.  I mean, seriously, the man for whom the army had been sent is saying, "Sorry, guys.  You're in the wrong place.  Here, let me show you the way."  And they followed!  Not the brightest crowd evidently.

Anyway, back to my point.  If the heavenly army wasn't there to fight against the opposing army, why were they there?  I mean, as far as we know, the only ones who even saw them were Elisha and his servant, so it's safe to assume they weren't even there to intimidate the Syrian army.  So why were they there at all?  Honestly, the Bible doesn't say, but I have a pretty good idea.  I personally believe that the heavenly army was a reminder to Elisha's servant that, no matter what he faced in this life, he would never have to face it alone.  God was with him even when he couldn't see His hand at work.  In essence, I think God was telling that poor servant, "Don't worry.  I've got your back.  I've always got your back."

I don't know about you, but that gives me glory bumps.  Some days, we need God to step in and fight our battles for us, but some days, we just need that heavenly reminder that we're not alone.  No matter what we face.  No matter how many obligations the day may hold.  No matter how big and fierce the enemy may appear.  It doesn't matter because compared to God, our biggest foe doesn't stand a chance.

You may be facing a situation today that seems so overwhelming, and despite your prayers, you cannot see God at work.  Elisha's servant learned that just because you can't see Him doesn't mean that He's not there.  My prayer for you today is that God will open your eyes just as He opened the eyes of this servant and help you to see the ways He is working all around you.  If nothing else, simply as a reminder that you're not facing this situation alone.  God's got your back and He's far bigger than anything else that may come your way.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cut It Down to Size

The other day, I was looking for a treat for my two dogs.  One, they had been extremely good despite the crazy schedules over the past couple of weeks, and I thought they deserved a reward. (Yes, I know they're spoiled.)  Two, (and please don't hate me for this), I needed them out from under my feet for a little bit.  I was trying to get some work done around the house, bring in firewood and sweep the floors--all of which become a major hassle when both dogs insist on following my every step.

Anyway, I went to the top of the refrigerator where we keep the treats and noticed that there was a large rawhide bone leftover from their Christmas present.  Again, there were two issues.  First off, I didn't want either one of them to have a bone that large.  This thing was gigantic.  I'm talking the Goliath of all rawhide bones.  Secondly, there was only one bone.  Not a good thing when you have two dogs.

After examining the bone for a minute, I took it to Jason who was doing some paperwork for the company he works for and inquired if there was some way to split it in two.  He looked it over and then headed out the back door with it.  (Please keep in mind that this bone has already been spotted by both dogs who are dancing, barking and howling with both delight and frustration.)  As Jason walked out the door, he gave me one instruction:  keep the dogs inside.  Yeah, right!  Easier said than done.  He was walking out the door with their bone in his hand.  They weren't staying inside!

Sure enough, before I could even get to him, Mitch was running out behind Jason.  I called to him.  He looked up, then continued on his way, following Jason.  Jason ordered him to go to me.  He ignored him and instead danced around in eager anticipation of his tasty treat.  Finally, I had to get mean.  In my most serious voice (which I don't have to use very often with my sweet pups), I commanded, "Mitchell, come here now!"  All I can say is be careful what you wish for.  He nearly plowed me over.

The poor thing was upset that he had been fussed out, distraught that he hadn't received his bone and confused about the circumstances surrounding the simple treat.  As Jason used his firewood maul to hack the bone apart, I knelt down beside Mitch and tried to comfort him.  I explained to him that he could have the bone when it was ready, but that we needed to cut it down to size for him first.  I applauded his restraint when I could tell he was bursting at the seams to run to his daddy and grab his prize.

Let's just say the next hour was pure bliss for everyone in the house.  The dogs chewed happily on their treats.  Jason was able to finish his paperwork, and I was able to complete my housework and even sneak in some quiet reading. As I worked on my chores, though, a reassuring thought niggled about in the back of my mind.  The words I had spoken to Mitch took on new meaning, and in the peace of my meditation I heard the still, small voice of God speak, "I know it's hard to wait, Dana.  But be patient while I cut this down to size for you."  To say I felt encouraged would be an understatement.  In this simple reminder, God reassured me that even while I'm waiting, He is still working.  Not only that, but He's working for my good.  He's making things better.  He's cutting my problems down to size for me.  He's taking care of me in a way that no one else can or will.  And in the process, He comforts me just as I was comforting Mitch.  He speaks to me and reminds me that everything is okay.

I don't know about you, but I now have a totally new outlook on waiting.  It seems it's not so bad after all.  Who knew?

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. - Psalm 27:14

Friday, April 10, 2015

Teaching By Example

The number one rule in the writing world is "Show; Don't tell."  In other words, a writer should never simply state a fact or condition.  Instead, he/she should paint a picture with words that leads the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about the matter.  Take, for example, the samples below:

Example One (Telling):  It was a cold, snowy night.

Example Two (Showing): The wind whipped past her, pulling at her hair with each blustery breath. Snow pricked her rosy cheeks as it swirled about in every direction, blinding her with its dizzying brightness against the night sky. Stretching her numb fingers, she reached up and grasped the locket around her neck, the only thing she had left of her former life.

Which one paints a better picture?  Sure, the first one tells you that it's cold and snowy, but the second one gives you a vivid description, so much so that you (the reader) almost feel the effects of the cold. Showing can make the reader shiver while telling typically only makes him yawn.  It's an effective practice, but one that is not easily mastered.

On my prayer walk this morning, I was reminded that this method of "Show; Don't Tell" reaches far beyond the writing world.  Then I was convicted by the realization that I've been doing a lot of "telling" and not much "showing."

This realization began as I prayed for a loved one who is struggling with health issues and is refusing to come to grips with what it means to eat and live and healthy lifestyle.  While pouring out my frustrations to the Lord and asking Him to open the eyes of this loved one, I heard that still, not-so-quiet voice urge, "Why don't you show him instead of just telling him?"  Um, well, because that means I'd have to do what I know is right instead of doing what I want to do.  That means I'd have to give up my treats and my sweets.  That means I'd have to get more serious about exercising regularly and doing what it takes to care for my temple.  Crazy!  All this time I've been telling my friend how to eat healthy, but not once have I made the effort to show him.  I have been a voice but not an example.

Unfortunately, God's guidance this morning didn't end there.  "And what about your spiritual walk, Dana?  Are you leading by example there?"  Um, well, not really.  I mean, I follow Your will the best I can, and I tell others what I feel You want me to share.  I encourage others to trust You and to surrender their lives to You.  But, alas, I do it with words.  Once again, I'm telling, not showing.  How can I expect to impact the lives of others if I say one thing, then act another way entirely?  I speak of trusting God, yet live my days in worry and fear.  I urge others to leave their expectations behind, yet grow angry when things don't work out my way.  What in the world?

The Lord and I had a nice, long chat this morning, and He opened my eyes to some heartbreaking things.  But He also reminded me that it's never too late to change.  He brought to my mind Lamentations 3:22-23, It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.  No, I cannot go back and re-write my past, but I can make sure that the future of my story has a lot more "show" and a lot less "tell."  After all, it is true what they say--Actions speak louder than words.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Let Go and Let God!

There's nothing like a movie where the handsome hero saves the damsel in distress.  In modern day tales (you know, the ones that aren't set in medieval times with castles and dragons, which are my absolute favorites), I'm drawn to the scenes where the damsel has just fallen off the edge of a cliff or a collapsed bridge and is dangling by her fingertips above the dizzying precipice.  The following moments are so predictable, but I love them nonetheless.  The hero reaches down and issues the command, "Grab my hand."  Indecision shadows the face of the damsel.  She knows that in order to grab his hand, she has to let go of whatever it is she's currently holding to.  If she releases her grip to grab his hand, she might fall.  But on the other hand, is it ever the right move to hold onto something that can't hold onto you?  In the end, she lets go of her handhold, grabs his outstretched arm and finds herself lifted to safety.  And they live happily ever after.

Sometimes in life we get to play the hero, but more often than not, we're the damsels in distress (sorry, guys, no offense).  Too often we find our bridges crumbling out from beneath us, and we're left dangling above the precipice of hopelessness, despair, guilt, depression and grief.  We struggle, trying to lift ourselves up.  We put forth all the effort and strength we can muster, but eventually, we weary of the fight.  Our strength is gone.  Our bodies are tired.  Our souls are weary.  And our hearts are broken.  It takes every ounce of strength we have to hold on to that narrow outcropping.  And that's when we hear the voice from above, "Grab my hand."

Indecision clouds our minds.  If we let go, we might fall.  Then suddenly, we remember to whom that outstretched hand belongs.  This is no ordinary hero.  This is no typical knight in shining armor.  This is Heaven's Hero, and the Bible tells us that He alone is able to keep us from falling. . . but first, we must let go of whatever it is we're depending on for support and safety.  We must release that ledge of financial security.  We must pull our hands away from our own dreams and ambitions.  We must let go of our pride and insecurities. 

World-renowned author and speaker, Nick Vujicic, puts it like this:  "When people read about my life or witness me living it, they are prone to congratulate me for being victorious over my disabilities.  I tell them that my victory came in surrender.  It comes every day when I acknowledge that I can't do this on my own, so I say to God, 'I give it to You!'  Once I yielded, the Lord took my pain and turned it into something good, which brought me real joy."

"Victory came in surrender."  What a beautiful thought.  Is it any wonder so many of us are struggling, constantly fighting battles we can't win.  Could it be we can't find the victory because we're not fully surrendered to God?  As long as we're holding onto the ledge, He can't pull us to safety.  He needs us to let go.  He wants us to let go.  He's pleading for us to let go.

Whatever you're facing today, no matter how difficult or disheartening, won't you let go and let God pull you up to higher ground?  He won't let you fall, for if you're His child, you are forever in His grip.  And if you're not His child, He wants you to be.  Call to Him; He will answer you.  Reach out to Him, and He'll lift you to realms unlike any you've ever known.  He is able.  He is willing.  He is there with an outstretched arm.  Release your burdens.  Release your grip.  And grab hold of that nail-scarred hand.  Your "happily ever after" is in the making.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. - Jude 1:24-25

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Is Something Different About You?

A common plot in sci-fi/fantasy shows is that of switched consciousness.  In other words, Person A's consciousness somehow gets stuck in Person B's body, and often vice versa.  It typically makes for very interesting episodes because you have to wonder what's going to happen and how are they going to get back where they belong.

One thing that always puzzles me, though, is the time where no one seems to notice or believe that a consciousness swap has taken place even though it is glaringly obvious (at least to me) that Person A is not acting like himself.  For example, Person A, who is usually kind and gentle, behaves in a brusque, rough manner.  Or Person B, who is allergic to tomatoes, is suddenly sitting down to a huge bowl of pasta, and no one seems to notice.  The mannerisms are different.  The speech is different.  Their entire approach to life is different, yet no one seems to pick up on these differences.

Now, I understand that for the sake of "good television," the lack of observation in these matters is necessary.  It keeps up the suspense and adds to the intrigue.  If the same were to occur in real life (which would be difficult since I'm pretty sure it's impossible), surely people would notice that their loved one or closest friend was not himself/herself.

But that got me thinking (yeah, I know, dangerous territory), if Jesus and I were to "swap bodies," would anybody here on earth notice?  Would my family notice a change in me?  Would my friends see that I was different?  Would I be kinder, gentler, less selfish and more helpful?  Um, I think we all know the answer to that, don't we?

The problem is that, if such an event took place, no one should notice any difference at all.  My actions and attitudes should seem exactly the same.  After all, aren't I supposed to be living a life where Jesus lives through me?  So, if He's already living through me, then there wouldn't be a change if He were to "physically" take over my body, would there?

While this insight is convicting to me, it's also educational.  It has allowed me to see just how much control I've been clinging to and how little I've been surrendering to Jesus.  This train of thought has opened my eyes to some of the changes I need to make in my spiritual walk.  Step one, I guess, can be summed up by Elsa from the movie, Frozen--Let it go!  Let go of the control.  Let go of my own plans and desires.  Let go of the way I think things should be.  After that, things really do get a lot easier, but I must admit, that first step is a doozy!

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. - Romans 12:1-2

Monday, April 6, 2015

Think Less; Pray More

Last week, I sat down to start setting up my slideshow for an upcoming ladies' meeting at which I will be speaking.  I was pretty sure I had my topic and points in order, so putting the slideshow together should have been simple.  But as I worked, something didn't feel right.  In fact, the whole message felt wrong.  It felt forced.  Assuming it was just my mood or current state of being, I decided to set that task aside and try to work on it later.

When I did get back to the task at hand, I found that the feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty was still present.  I've prepared enough lessons and written enough books and devotions to recognize the feeling.  What I had come up with for my meeting was exactly that--what I had come up with.  Not that it wasn't good material, but it wasn't the message that God had given me.  It was what I felt I should speak on.  So, I scrapped all my work, prayed some more and started again.

A few days after preparing a second lesson, I sat down to set up the slideshow and was overcome, once again, by that dreaded sensation that the message was all wrong.  Things weren't flowing naturally like they do when I'm following the Lord's leading.  Instead, I was fighting for every thought and idea, struggling to make the pieces fit together.  After several moments of frustration, I set the project aside once again.

As I lay in bed last night, a new train of thought for my lesson swirled about in my brain.  I couldn't help but ask, "Is that you, Lord, or am I trying to invent ideas myself. . . again?"  Evidently, I fell asleep before getting an answer.  Fortunately, I had a few minutes to talk with Jason this morning before he left for work.  I explained what was going on and how I felt so overwhelmed with confusion about the topic of this meeting.  As usual, his advice was brief, but oh so wise:  think less; pray more.

Not an easy task for me, let me tell you.  I'm a thinker.  I'm a planner.  I am supposed to speak at an event in two weeks, and I feel that I should have my thoughts in order and my slideshow prepared by now.  I don't like waiting until the last minute.  So, I've been doing a lot of thinking.  Unfortunately, I have definitely been thinking much more than I've been praying.  And when praying, I've been doing a lot more talking than listening.  Hmm, and I wonder why I'm not hearing the voice of God!  Duh, Dana!

Thinking is good, but sometimes too much thinking gets us into trouble, especially when our thoughts are dwelling on things that are best left alone.  Praying, on the other hand, is never a bad idea.  It is always beneficial.  So, it would seem that once again, my sweet husband has solved, in a matter of minutes, a problem with which I've wrestled for over a week now.  Smarty pants!

Seriously, perhaps you, too, are struggling with a decision.  Maybe you're not sure which way to go or which path to take.  Perhaps you're simply feeling overwhelmed by what life has thrown at you recently.  If so, may I share with you my husband's advice:  think less; pray more.  Stop trying to figure it all out.  Stop striving to make it work.  Instead, make every effort to quiet your mind and open up your heart.  Spend time in God's Word and allow Him to speak to you in whatever way He chooses.  He is our guide.  Perhaps we're confused about what to do and where to go because we haven't sought His will in the matter.  If we ask, He'll make things clear.  He's given us His word on that.

And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them. - Isaiah 42:16

Friday, April 3, 2015

Precious Jesus

I have the best husband in the whole wide world!  He was working split shifts yesterday, so he was home earlier than normal.  In fact, with the crazy and frustrating morning I had had, he actually beat me home.  After I cried on his shoulder for a while and vented my anger and frustration, he asked if there was anything he could do around the house to help me out.  I gave him a list nearly a mile long of things that I had intended to try to get done that day and told him I would be thrilled if he would do any of them.  He set to work.

Not only did he do the dishes and wipe down all the counters, but my precious husband cleaned out the microwave (a task that was WAY overdue) and wiped down the face of all the cabinets (another task that has needed my attention for far too long).  When I was finally able to step away from my computer, I was welcomed into the front part of the house by the clean, refreshing scent of mint and citrus.  I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the kitchen.  I honestly can't remember the last time it looked so spotless (yes, I'm a horrible housekeeper).  I was overwhelmed by Jason's hard work, but he didn't stop there.  Even though it wasn't on my "to-do" list for the day, he decided to scrub the shower--a task which is extremely difficult for me due to my arthritis and bursitis.  I am still in awe of his goodness to me and his willingness to sacrifice his rest time in order to help me out.  Precious!  There's just no other word for it!

But as sweet and precious as Jason's actions were, they still don't hold a candle to what my Lord did for me around two thousand years ago.  Like Jason, my sweet Jesus went above and beyond all expectations, but He sacrificed so much more than a few hours of rest.  He sacrificed His very life.  He gave up the fellowship with His Father.  He traded His riches for rags, all because of love.  Before I was even born, Jesus knew who I would be.  He knew how I would act and how many times I would fail him, yet He still walked up that long, lonely road to Golgotha proclaiming, "Yes, Father, I'll die for her.  She's worth it!"

Oh, I can't hold back the tears.  As much as I want to, I simply cannot understand such love and grace.  What did He see in me that He felt was worth dying for?  How could He love me so much when He knew how much I would doubt Him?  Am I really worth that much pain and suffering?  Evidently, I am, and so are you.

Because of his love for me, Jason took on a task that was difficult for me.  Jesus, however, took on a task that was impossible for me.  There is no way that I could ever make it to Heaven on my own.  I needed a Savior.  I needed Someone to pay the price that I could never afford.  And He did so, willingly.  Gladly, even.  Precious!  No, there's just no other word for it!

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. - I John 3:16

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Method to the Madness

Today has been one of those days.  It started out well.  Beautiful day.  Nice prayer walk.  No headache, unlike yesterday.  All in all, despite the enormous "to-do" list staring me down, I felt good about the day. . . until I left the house.  Everywhere I went created a new sense of frustration and grief.  This store didn't have what I was looking for.  The next one did, but not in my size.  One little errand took nearly 45 minutes and a whole lot more money than I was expecting.  The next store was out of the one thing I needed.  And the prescription I called in yesterday, well, the pharmacy had no idea what I was talking about.  I'll have to go back later to pick that up.  Aaauuuggghhh!

By the time I got home, I was hungry, tired and of course, in tears.  I just wanted to run a couple of errands.  I only needed to pick up a few things.  And I had no intentions of spending as much money as I did.  To be honest, I felt sick to my stomach.  How had such a lovely day turned so topsy turvy in such a short amount of time?

As I cried out to the Lord in my despair, I remembered the words I had uttered during my prayer walk.  Something to the effect of "but I won't quit, Lord.  I'll keep on serving You even when things get hard."  Hmm, I guess I'd better be more careful with my words.  I don't know if the Lord was testing me to see if I really meant what I said or what, but I found myself uttering the following:  "Lord, it's been a horrible day, but I meant what I said.  I'm not going to quit.  I'll try not to be frustrated and to trust that there is a method to this madness.  I don't have a clue what you're doing, but as long as You do, I guess that's good enough for me."

I'd love to tell you that I felt better immediately, but the truth is that I didn't.  I fussed a bit more and cried a few more tears, but after my emotions were spent, I realized that I was experiencing dejavu.  How many times have I been in this situation (or similar)?  How many times have I stressed out over things that were beyond my control?  How many times have I questioned what God was doing?  And yet, how many times have I later realized that God had a plan all along?  Go figure, there was a method to the madness after all.

So, as I go about the remainder of my day, I will strive to focus on Him rather than on the craziness around me.  I will concentrate on His words rather than the frustrations that continue to creep in.  And above all, I will trust that none of this morning's happenings caught Him by surprise.  Though I faced the unexpected, He certainly did not, yet He allowed me to walk through the valley anyway.  That tells me I'm right where He wants me to be, and in this place, He is working all things for my good.

No need to stress!  God has everything under control.

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. - I Peter 4:12-13