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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mysteries Revealed

For the past couple of weeks, I've been working on the third book in my middle-grade mystery series, The Delaware Detectives, and I have to admit, I've been having a blast.  For the most part, I enjoy writing nonfiction more than fiction, but there's something about piecing together a mystery novel that is utter joy for me.  Using my rough outline (which is actually a set of index cards organized by chapter), I type out the story, inserting embellishments and other little ideas that come to me as I write.

My favorite part of the writing process is when I add in the red herrings.  For those of you who don't know what that is, red herrings are little clues or components added to the story in an effort to distract the reader from the truth of the mystery and instead lead them to their own false conclusions.  In other words, I'm faking you out!  Red herrings are a vital part of any mystery, and to be honest, they are a lot of fun for the author of the story.  For example, the other day, as I planted evidence (twice) that leads my reader to suspect John Doe to be the culprit, I literally laughed out loud.  I knew the secret.  I knew who the real culprit was.  And I reveled in the fact that I was leading my readers astray.  Why?  Because it makes for a better mystery.  (That, and according to Jason, we mystery writers are a bit sadistic.  Who knew?)

What aggravates the life out of me, however, is when people put a question mark where God has placed a period.  Why does the world insist on making a mystery out of something that is quite clear? Take, for example, the end times.

I told you a couple of posts back how I was watching a series of documentaries on the "science of the Bible," where scientists (both Christian and non-Christian) debate whether or not the Bible is true and if there is any evidence to its claims.  For the most part, the show has just made me angry, but they've also said some things that have made me want to dig deeper into God's Word.

In the episode I watched this morning, the scientists were discussing the validity of the book of Revelation.  Wow, some of those people were out there on what they believe!  And get this, some claim to believe that Jesus is coming again in the final revelation just as the Bible says, but it will be a time of peace and joy for all because that whole "hell thing" is just not true.  How is it, exactly, that man can determine which parts of the Bible are true and which are not?  As far as I'm concerned, either it's all true or it's all false!  After all, if part of it is false, how can we trust anything it says?  That line of thinking makes absolutely no sense to me, yet there are entire movements out there that pick and choose which parts of the Bible are true and which parts are not.

The segment that really stumped me, though, was one of the closing statements.  The narrator stated that over half of the world's population seems to agree that we are in the end times, and that soon Jesus will return.  Then, he said this, "But the question that remains is one that has been passed down through the ages:  who will be rewarded with eternal life and who will be cast into that place of eternal punishment?"  Then he commenced to talk about people living in fear because of not knowing what God will do to them in the final days, like it was some big mystery.

My friends, I have news for you:  There is no mystery here.  God has made this abundantly clear throughout the entire Bible.  Who will be rewarded with eternal life?  Those who have trusted in the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Who will be cast into the place of eternal punishment?  Those who have not accepted Christ's sacrifice on the cross.  The Bible makes that abundantly clear!  There is no question about it.  People don't need to wonder what God will do to them.  They can know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  All they need to do is accept Jesus.  After that, there is nothing to fear.

If you are unsure about what would happen to you if Jesus were to come back today, I urge you to seek salvation immediately.  If you don't know how, contact a local pastor, a saved friend or send me an e-mail.  I would be happy to show you the way.  For those of us who are saved, there is no need to fear the future.  We already know that God wins and that we will rule and reign with Him for all eternity.  There's no mystery.  No red herrings.  The Bible is clear, and unlike sadistic mystery writers (myself included), God is not out to trick us.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. - John 3:16-18

Monday, June 29, 2015

How's Your Balance?

My washing machine has major issues.  A couple of weeks ago, it started making this horrendous noise about halfway through the wash cycle.  When I stepped into the laundry room, I became even more concerned.  The machine was dancing back and forth in its small space and ringing out with a loud clanging and banging.  Upon opening the lid, I noticed that the inside of the washing machine was not only spinning but also gyrating wildly, signifying to me that the basin was out of balance.  After adjusting the clothes more evenly around the inside of the machine, I closed the lid, waited in breathless anticipation, then sighed in relief.  The washing machine was back to normal. . . until the next load.

Yes, most (but not all) of the loads since that time have had to be readjusted (sometimes multiple times per cycle) to restore the balance in the machine.  For the most part, this latest "malfunction" is an annoyance, nothing more.  But when I'm deep into the writing process and I have to stop to go dance with my washing machine, I am less than pleased.  And those times when it gets picky and demands that I readjust the clothes over and over again until it's happy with my arrangement drive me absolutely mad!

Yet I have to wonder if it's the washing machine that's making me crabby or the fact that it serves as a metaphor for my life.  How often do I feel out of balance?  How many times in a single day must I readjust my schedule to prevent my life from shifting about wildly?  How many times do I readjust and readjust my plans or goals only to discover that that order doesn't work either?  Yep, I understand exactly how my washing machine feels, for I, too, often feel like I'm spinning out of control.

Jason believes the washing machine needs new springs, which thankfully are not very expensive.  The trouble lies in the actual process of replacing the springs.  According to my husband/handyman, it's going to be a booger of a job, and possibly not worth the time on a machine as old as ours.  So, for the time being, we have decided to let it dance, knowing that means countless interruptions and a good deal of frustration on my part.  Still, it's better than not having a washing machine at all! (I guess I just need to learn to dance, huh?)

As for me, I wish the solution were as simple as replacing some broken springs, but I fear the process will be much more tedious and time-consuming than fixing the washer.  Balance is not something one achieves once and then possesses for the rest of his/her life.  Finding balance is a daily task.  Just as each load of laundry has to be readjusted--sometimes more than once--so does each part of me and my life need to be readjusted from time to time.  This means making tough decisions like letting go of some things and deciding what's really important.  Finding balance is not always comfortable, and sometimes it takes multiple attempts to find what works.

This is where it's important to listen to the Lord's leading.  He understands your schedule better than you do.  Turn it over to Him.  Ask Him to show what things He wants you to emphasize and what things (if any) He would have you turn over to someone else.  Only then can we find true peace and joy in our daily walk with Him.  Dancing is great, but I'd rather dance for joy than dance because I'm spinning out of control.  One is a blessing, the other a curse.  And one is God's will, the other, not so much.

How's your balance today?

A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight. - Proverbs 11:1

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Too Politically Correct - Repost

I was in a Christian forum the other day when I came across a post from a guy who needed some help. He explained that he was feeling very distant from the Lord lately. He said that it seemed like the Lord had left him. He could no longer feel His presence or hear His voice. Then he made this statement: "I don't know what's going on. I've always been a Christian." Big red flag!!!!!! He went on to explain how his parents raised him in a Christian home and he's a really good person. That was enough for me.

I kindly replied to his post and asked if he could explain what he meant by his statement, "I've always been a Christian." I went on to kindly explain that one is not born a Christian, nor does one become a Christian by having Christian parents or by doing good works. Then, I proceeded to tell him what it truly means to be saved. I felt good as I pushed the "send" button. I felt like I might have had the opportunity to help someone who was truly in need. I was not expecting my post to be deleted.

Yep, deleted! By whom? The moderator of the forum. It seems that this particular forum is very strict about what can be posted. If a post is in any way argumentative or has the potential to hurt someone's feelings, it is deleted. At first, I was shocked. Then, I became angry.

"Hurt his feelings?" I complained to Jason. "I wasn't trying to hurt the guy's feelings. I was trying to make sure he wasn't trusting in the wrong things for salvation. I was trying to keep him from burning in hell for all eternity. But that's not important to them, is it? No, they want to keep this a happy confrontation-free place." (I was just a little angry, as you can tell!)

The truth is we need to stop worrying about hurting people's feelings and start telling people the truth. Our country is full of churches who act more like social clubs than houses of the Lord. They seem more interested in growing attendance, going on outings of all kinds, having fancy facilities, etc. What about the souls that are lost and on their way to hell? Why are we avoiding them? Because we don't want to hurt their feelings? We don't want them to be mad? We don't want them to think bad of us?

We're running out of time. I strongly believe we are in the last days. Jesus will return soon, and those who don't know Him will be left behind, to later be cast into the lake of fire. Will their blood be on our hands? It will be if we don't do our part. Frankly, I'm getting tired of all this "political correctness." How about you?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Good Place To Stop

If you've been following my posts lately, you know there's been a lot of talk about valleys and waiting on God and feeling like you're stuck in a rut.  God has given me the privilege and duty to write the things that He lays on my heart, but frankly, sometimes those things are not easy to write.  It's not always easy to open up my heart and pour out those feelings that I would rather keep inside.  Still, I know God has a purpose for them, and He has shown me (even through your many e-mails and comments) that God uses these posts to encourage others.  Knowing that makes it all worth it.

Sticking with the theme that's been running rampant through my latest posts, I want to share with you a little "hallelujah moment" the Lord gave me the other day.  As is common, I was reading.  In fact, I was nearing the end of a rather exciting fiction book about a Christian archaeologist and his two children who were solving a mystery in the deserts of Africa.  Jason arrived home after a long, grueling day at work, and I wanted to be able to give him my complete attention.  The problem was that I hate stopping in the middle of a chapter.  It was bad enough that I was only a chapter and a half from the end of the book, but it really rubs me raw to have to stop reading in the middle of the chapter.

Trying to be a good wife and put my own pet peeves aside, I read to the end of the paragraph, then placed my bookmark in the book and closed it, determined to give my husband the attention he deserved.  But Jason knows me all too well.

"Go ahead and get to a good stopping place," he urged.

"I read to the end of the paragraph," I assured him.  "I can stop there."

He shook his head.  "That's not a good stopping place.  Get to the end of the chapter.  You know that's a good place to stop."

By that point, I didn't care whether I finished the book or not (well, not too much).  Something Jason said struck a chord within me, and it was like I finally saw the light.  Crazy enough, it was something I had known all along.  The end of the chapter is a good stopping place.  So, could that be why God is not allowing me to get to the end of this particular chapter in my life?  Could it be that's why this valley has stretched on for so long?  Could it be that this rut is actually a blessing?

Like all things in life, running the Christian race requires momentum, and once we stop, even if it's just to take a rest, we have to gain that momentum all over again, right?  Maybe God is doing me a favor by keeping me going.  While I'm not exactly enjoying my time in the valley, I'm learning a lot along the way, and I've certainly gained some momentum.  There will be an end to this valley, and there will be a "good place to stop," but I haven't arrived yet.

As Jason's words echoed in my head and my heart, it was as if that still, small voice of the Lord said, "Yeah, Dana.  Get to the end of the chapter.  You can't stop in the middle.  You'll know when it's the right time to stop."

The crazy part for me is that once I stop reading a book, even though I found a good stopping place, I can't wait to pick it up and start reading it again.  Perhaps the Christian walk can be the same way.  By going when we're supposed to go and stopping when we're supposed to stop, we not only gain momentum, but we also gain a desire to continue the journey.  And with that mindset, the end of the race will be here before we know it.

There is a good place to stop, but you may not be there yet.  Hang in there.  God will lead you through to the end of the chapter.  Until then, enjoy the story.  After all, it's not just about the destination; it's also about the journey.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another book to read, and I'm pretty sure that once I start, I won't want to put it down.

I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. - Proverbs 4:11-12

Monday, June 22, 2015

Stuck in a Rut

As I was preparing for this week's Sunday School lesson, I came across an interesting little tidbit of information.  According to Phillip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, "sheep will blindly, habitually, stupidly follow one another along the same little trails until they become ruts that erode into gigantic gullies."  These gullies, in turn, become hazardous opportunities for the sheep to become cast (turned upside down), which is not only uncomfortable but can also be fatal to the sheep.  This is one of the main reasons that sheep must be led to new pastures frequently.

This information reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad a couple of weeks ago.  He had called to give me some bad news concerning some ailing members of my family and some updates on how things were going with him and my mom.  At one point during the conversation, we both grew quiet.  Finally, he sighed and said, "It seems like it's always something, doesn't it?"  My eyes filled with tears as a myriad of needs and requests (both mine and those of family and friends) passed through my mind.  "Yeah, it does.  Do you ever feel like you've been in the valley so long that you've completely forgotten what the mountains look like?"  My dad admitted that he had felt that way, then encouraged me to hang in there.

What about you?  Do you ever feel like one of those sheep meandering down the same path through the same pasture (or valley) over and over again?  The scenery never changes except to offer a new obstacle for you to overcome.  Otherwise, you just keep going through the motions day after day, praying that soon the Shepherd will arrive and take you to a new pasture.  After all, you're tired of being in a rut.  You're frustrated with being cast down time and time again.  You're ready for some greener grass and smoother trails, right?

I hear you, my friend, and more than that, I'm right there with you.  I know what it's like to be stuck in a rut, to be cast down.  The good news is this:  our Shepherd cares for His sheep.  He knows where we are and what we're doing.  He also knows how we feel.  But He has a plan for each of us, and only He knows the best timing for moving us to greener pastures.  In the meantime, He asks that we trust in His love and care and follow wherever He leads. . . even if it's through the valley.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. - Psalm 42:11

Friday, June 19, 2015

Watch Out for Open Doors!

Okay, I have to admit something to you, but promise me that you won't laugh.  Promise?  The other night, I ran into a door. (Hey, you promised!)  Really, though, I did.  I woke up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature, stumbled around the bed, then the next thing I know, there was a resounding thud and excruciating pain.  I cried out, both in pain and frustration.  The whole thing was loud enough that even Jason woke up and immediately asked, "Are you okay?  Please tell me that was your foot that hit the door."  He knows I hate walking around barefoot, so I usually put my house shoes on.  Unfortunately, I didn't this time.  Not that it would have mattered because I didn't hit the door with my foot.  I hit it with my face, and I have the bruises to prove it.

Go ahead and laugh.  Yes, I'm the poor girl who walked face-first into a door.  Ha ha!  Although, in my defense, it wasn't entirely my fault.  The problem was that the door was only partially opened.  It was opened enough for me to see beyond it, so I naturally assumed that it was open all the way.  But it wasn't.  It was only halfway opened, which means it was also halfway closed--a deadly trap in the darkness of night.  Honestly, I don't know which one of us left the door in such a precarious position, but I think we've both learned our lesson.  If we're going to leave the door open, it's going to be open all the way.  It's just better for my poor face that way!

In life, we must be wary of open doors.  Yes, sometimes God opens a door with every intention of allowing us to walk through, but an open door isn't always an indication of God's will.  Sometimes, in the darkness of night, what seems like an open door may be a deadly trap, just waiting for you to run into it.  You think it's open because you can see beyond it, but trust me on this one, test it out first.  Pray about the door you're facing.  Ask God to make His will perfectly clear.  As the Bible says, Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (I John 4:1)

Going through an open door in perfect submission to the will of God is a great thing.  Running into an open door because you're stumbling around in the darkness is not.  Beware.  As the old saying goes, "Not everything that glitters is gold."  Likewise, not every door that appears to be open is the right door for you.  The Lord will lead you through the proper doors--doors that no man can shut. Trust in that.  Your face will thank you!

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. - Revelation 3:7-8

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Much Longer, Lord?

My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long? - Psalm 6:3 

How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? - Psalm 13:1 

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? - Psalm 13:2 

O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? - Psalm 80:4

Do you notice the theme in the four verses above?  The psalmist is plagued by a question:  how long?  And these are not the only verses like this in the Scriptures.  In fact, in the book of Psalms alone, there are at least fifteen different verses where the psalmist questions the Lord, "How long?"

I imagine Abraham asked that question when the Lord came to him time and time again and promised him a son.  "I want to believe you, Lord, but how much longer do I have to wait?"

Moses surely asked the question while wandering around in the desert those long forty years.  "I've done what You asked, Lord.  I led the people out of Egypt, but how long until we reach our destination?  To be honest, Lord, these people are getting on my last nerve!"

Even Joshua and Naaman, I'm sure, had to ask the Lord, "How long?'  Yes, the Lord had given them specific directions like march around the wall seven times and dip in the water seven times.  But I'm prone to believe that their efforts didn't really have any effect (at least none that they could see) until that seventh and final time.  I imagine Joshua studying those walls of Jericho on the fifth day, keenly searching for any sign of crack or weakness.  After all, they'd been following God's directions.  Surely, they should see some difference by now, right?  Or how about Naaman after that fifth dip in the nasty waters of the Jordan River.  Don't you know he was examining his skin, searching for any indication that his leprosy was getting better.  But I don't think it was, not until all was done in God's timing.

I have certainly had my fair share of "how long" questions lately, one of the most prominent concerning my health.  As many of you know, over seven weeks ago, I embarked on a difficult journey to improve my health through dietary changes and increase in exercise.  From all the reports and testimonies I've read, the first couple of weeks were rough, but after that, people felt absolutely amazing.  Their energy was sky high.  Their minds were clear and more focused.  Their physical symptoms practically disappeared.  Their skin looked better.  Even their attitudes and emotional outlooks were improved.

I admit, I hit a similar spell during my third week, but it only lasted about four days.  Since then, I've felt as bad, and some days worse, than I did before I began this strict health plan.  I'm tired and moody.  Every inch of my body aches.  I'm experiencing headaches about four days a week.  All in all, I feel yucky!  So I look back over what I've done for the past several weeks, and it doesn't make sense.  I haven't cheated.  I've been faithful to my diet and exercise.  I have exercised control in all things, yet I don't feel better.  I feel worse.

Part of me understands that my body has a lot of repair work to do and is willing to admit that these repairs will take time, thus meaning that I will probably feel worse before I feel better.  Another part of me, however, is ready to throw in the towel.  "It's not worth it!" my body cries.  "The time, the effort, the physical exertion--all for what?  So I can feel worse?  No, thank you!"

But then I remember all of the various people in the Bible who must have felt the exact same way.  Joseph in his roller coaster ride from the pit to the palace.  Daniel in the midst of the lions.  The disciples who gathered in the upper room after the crucifixion of Christ.  Certainly, they were all questioning whether or not it was worth the effort to continue.  They had to be wondering, How long until we see some results?  How long until we see the good in all of this?

Maybe you, too, can empathize.  Perhaps you have your own "how long" questions.  If so, take this to heart.  We know that everything worked out for those who were faithful and obedient to the Lord's command.  Things didn't necessarily happen in their timing, but miracles did happen.  The key is to hang in there and keep doing whatever it is that God has called you to do, even if you don't see immediate results.  After all, just because we can't see God working doesn't mean that He isn't.  Hang in there, dear friend.  It's not much longer now!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Progress Through Perseverance - Repost

As I prepared the lesson for my Child Development class this morning, I realized how the topic can be applied to all areas of life, not just teaching.  Yes, the topic of perseverance is a deep one that has been discussed since the beginning of time itself.  The Bible is full of passages dealing with perseverance.  Our history books contain motivational quotes by famous men and women throughout the ages.  Yet despite all the advice, the lack of perseverance still abounds today.

If I may, I would like to share with you the brief outline I shared with my class.  It highlights three areas in which we should persevere.

1. Persevere through fear.
Fear is not necessarily a bad thing.  Moses was afraid.  Joshua was afraid.  Gideon was afraid.  Paul was afraid.  The key in dealing with our fear is to face it head-on.  We should never run from our fear, but rather, we should allow it to drive us to our Source of strength.  Only then can we persevere.

2. Persevere through failure.
Failure can teach us more about perseverance than success ever could.  Remember the old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again"?  What a wonderful thought!  Failure gives us the chance to complete a task over again, and this time, to do it better.  It offers an education that cannot be gained elsewhere.  Again, though, there is a trick to dealing with failure; otherwise it can discourage and overwhelm.  When looking at our failures, it is imperative we don't forget to look at our successes as well.

3. Persevere through favor.
Sometimes people tend to "give up" when things are going well for them.  They allow money, success or fame to distract them from their true calling in life.  They're content to sit and enjoy the fruits of their labor without giving a second thought to how much more they could accomplish if they just kept going.  Yes, we all need to rest now and then, but there's a big difference between a catnap and permanent slumber.  Slow and steady wins the race.  We'll never reach the finish line if we're distracted by the pleasant things along the way.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. It is far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight of life, knowing neither victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, June 15, 2015

All Things Work Together

I think we've all heard sermons and read books based on Romans 8:28.  And I think it's fair to say that eight out of ten times, the messenger uses the illustration of baking cookies.  Some of the ingredients (such as the chocolate chips) are good and tasty on their own.  Others, like the flour and sugar, are not so great.  However, when all the ingredients, both the good and the bad, are mixed together, they work together for good, right?  You've heard the illustration, I'm sure.

I recently heard it once again, and even though the preacher didn't go any further than this in his illustration, the Lord brought to my mind a deeper thought.  Yes, all things work together for good, just like the ingredients of the cookies, but the process also takes time.

I know some people are content to eat raw cookie dough, but not me.  However, the ten minutes it takes for the cookies to bake is pure torture.  The entire house smells of cookie delight.  My mouth waters.  My stomach growls.  My entire body tenses in anticipation of those heavenly morsels. (Oops, I got a little bit of drool on my keyboard.) And then, even once they've baked, I still have to wait a little for them to cool.  Torture!!!!!  But I understand that the period of cooling off is necessary. One, because the cookies are too hot to handle.  And two, because they have no strength or stability when they're that hot.  To eat them straight from the oven one would almost need a spoon (not that I'm opposed to that, mind you).  And so, I wait, knowing that it will be worth it shortly.

Yes, all things work together for good, but it does take time.  It also takes a fire.  You can eat the cookie dough if you want, but I prefer those nice, hot, gooey cookies after they've been in the heat for a while.  The fire makes them better, just as it does for us.

Yes, all things work together for good, but it takes time, fire and also a period of cooling off.  When we come straight from the fire, we are a lot like those freshly-baked cookies.  We're fragile.  We have little strength and stability.  The fire was good for us, but we need a little bit of time to regain our footing.  Then, after the ingredients have been blended, placed in the fire for a time and given a period of cooling off, we will realize that it was worth every minute of the wait because all things really do work together for good.  We have God's word on it!

Does anybody else suddenly have a craving for chocolate chip cookies?

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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Enough Is Enough

And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it: And they received of Moses all the offering, which the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the sanctuary, to make it withal. And they brought yet unto him free offerings every morning. And all the wise men, that wrought all the work of the sanctuary, came every man from his work which they made; And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much. - Exodus 36:2-7

Now, there's something we don't hear nowadays, huh?  When was the last time your pastor stood in the pulpit and proclaimed, "Now, I'm going to have to ask each of you to stop putting so much money in the offering because it's simply too much, and we don't know what to do with all of it"?  Or how about "It's great to have so many volunteers to help with this church project, but to be honest, there are just way too many here, so I'm going to ask two-thirds of you to go home"?  Or maybe "I've had to plan out our singing schedule clear into next year because we have so many willing to share their musical talents with us"?  It doesn't happen, or at least not anywhere that I've heard of.  How about you?

On the contrary, most of our churches are barely scraping by.  There aren't enough funds to pay the bills, let alone start new projects.  The only volunteers are those that seem to wear so many hats, they're growing weary and burning out.  And as for sharing talents, well, it's easy to think that we have nothing to share as long as someone else can fill the position.  And so, we hold back.

We hold back our tithes because just like the church, we're barely scraping by and a quick glance at the checkbook tells us that if we pay the tithe this week, there won't be enough money to pay the power bill.  Surely God doesn't want us living in the dark, so He'll understand.  We'll make it up next week.  Unfortunately, next week brings about the same plight, and we find ourselves holding back once again.

We also hold back our time.  I mean, seriously, there is so much to do, who has time to get it all done?  Just meeting the needs of our own individual households takes up a huge chunk of time, so where are we supposed to find time to read our Bibles, pray, visit the sick, bake cookies for the shut-ins, help out at the church work day or even have lunch with a friend?  There just isn't time for it all, so we hold back, making sure we conserve enough time and energy to meet our own needs.

And then we hold back our talents.  After all, the use of talents is risky and takes a concentrated effort.  It also usually takes time and practice, two things that are in short supply.  Besides, Sister Solo sings much better than I do anyway, so I'll just let her occupy three weeks on the singing schedule.  But what if Sister Solo needs a break?  What if she begins to think the same way I do?  Then what happens to the singing schedule?

It's bad enough that we hold back our tithes, time and talents from our family, friends and church, but the sad part is that we hold back from God too.  Somehow, in the midst of our warped thinking, we've gotten the idea that we have to take care of ourselves first and foremost, then if there's anything left over, we'll give it to God and others.  But that's not how it works.  God said that if we'll give to Him and then to others, there will be plenty left over for us.  Could it be that so many of us are struggling because we have our order of giving out of whack?  Could it also be that our attitudes about giving are warped as well?

And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord's offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the Lord. - Exodus 35:21-22

Oh, wow!  Did you catch that?  The men and women were willing hearted.  Their hearts were stirred up to give of themselves.  They were more focused on others than they were on themselves, and such an attitude brought abundance, not only to the work but also to the people who gave.  God rewarded their generosity and willingness to give, and He will do the same for us.  It's time to stop holding back.  God deserves our all, and it's not only our responsibility, but also our privilege to give.  So, let's get busy!

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. - Luke 6:38

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hung Up on Happy

The words "happiness" and "joy" are often used synonymously, but in fact, they are very different.  You see, our happiness is dependent on our happenings.  The circumstances in our lives determine whether or not we are happy.  When the car breaks down, we're not happy.  When the boss takes his frustration out on us, we're not happy.  When the week's paycheck is spent before it's even been deposited in the bank, we're not happy.  Negative events can put us in a very negative mood, stealing our happiness from us.

Joy, on the other hand, is from the Lord and is constant.  It does not depend on life's circumstances.  The ups and downs of life do not affect it.  It is the mysterious element that causes us to smile through our tears and laugh in the midst of our pain.  It is the strength of the Lord made manifest in our lives.  It is the key factor that keeps us from giving up when all seems hopeless.

Do you want to know the problem most of us have today?  We're hung up on happy.  We're not satisfied with being joyful, we think we should be happy too.  Now, don't get me wrong.  God does want us to be happy, but more than that God wants us to grow spiritually.  He wants us to learn.  He wants us to follow His will and trust in His leading.  And sometimes, that just rubs the wrong way against our happiness.  Think about the following statements:

I know I shouldn't spend money on things I can't afford, but these things will make me happy.

I know I shouldn't eat that entire chocolate cake, but chocolate makes me feel better.

I know I should read my Bible instead of this magazine, but I just need some time to relax and to do something I enjoy.

I know God's way is best, but I would feel better if I did it this way.

Sound familiar?  Who are we to think that our happiness should be placed above the will of God?  When God brought this to my attention the other day, I was embarrassed and ashamed.  I had turned happiness into an idol in my life, and I wasn't satisfied unless I was pleasing my "happy".  In essence, I was telling God, "Yes, I know Your joy is my strength to make it through this trial, but right now, it's just not enough.  I want to be happy too.  And I'm going to pout and complain until I get my way."  It sickens me that I can be so stubborn and rebellious.

I know one thing.  I can live without happiness, but I can't live without joy.  I need joy!  It is my strength.  It is the thing that keeps me going.  And by God's grace, I'll stop taking it for granted.  I've made the decision to tear down my idol of happiness.  I wish to serve it no longer.  Instead, I want to put all of my time, effort and strength into serving the One, True God. . .the only One worthy!

I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. - Psalm 16:8-9

*****Excerpt from Lilting Laments of a Looney Lass by Dana Rongione*****

Monday, June 8, 2015

How Do You Like Those Odds?

I have had three thoughts rolling around in my head for a week, and this morning, it was as if they all collided in my head, and I saw a connection that I had not recognized before.  All I can say is that it had to be God.  Never before have I had such a collision of thoughts that brought such peace to my heart.  Yes, God definitely works in mysterious ways.

First off, I've been meditating on Gideon, particularly the part where God whittled his army down to a mere 300 men.  If you study it out, you'll see that the odds against Israel's army were 450 to 1.  That means every soldier of Israel would have to take on 450 soldiers of the Midianite army, or at least that's what they thought.  Horrible odds, don't you think?  It sounds like an impossible situation.  Fortunately, our God excels in creating possibilities even against impossible odds.

I've also been meditating on Psalm 3, particularly the first couple of verses: Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.  Now, for the psalmist, I'm pretty sure he was referring to people.  Many people are troubling me.  Many people are rising up against me.  Many people are saying that it's all in vain.

In my life, it's not so much people as it is thoughts and situations.  Many are the thoughts that trouble me.  Many are the situations that rise up against me.  Many are the thoughts that tell me it's all in vain.  Why bother?  Just like the poor army of Israel, it seems as if the odds are stacked against me, and I'm afraid.  How can I possibly win?  How can I defeat so great an enemy?  The answer to that lies in the third verse of Psalm 3 and also in the third thought that's been occupying my brain all week.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. (vs 3)

I love the shift in perspective here.  The odds are against me.  I don't think I can possibly win.  There's no hope.  BUT. . .God is a shield.  He is my glory, and He will help me to hold my head up high.  He will give me the victory, no matter how great the odds may be.  Which leads me to my third thought, a song entitled "God Says You Can."

The theme of the song is story after story of impossible situations--circumstances that the world looks at and says, "No way," but God says, "No problem."  Broken homes, bankrupt families, lost jobs, physical difficulties.  Whatever the situation, no matter how impossible it may seem, God says, "I will work all things for your good."  He did for Gideon.  He did for the psalmist.  And He will for us.

You see, one thing each group failed to take into consideration is that God was on their side, and when God is on our side, it doesn't matter what the odds say.  Whether it's 450 to 1 or 45,000 to 1, as long as God is with that 1, the power is unlimited and the victory is assured.

Do you realize that most of the Midianite army was slaughtered before the Israeli army even lifted their swords?  God took care of them.  That's just how mighty He is.  If He could conquer Israel's enemy and lift up the fallen psalmist, don't you think He'll take care of you as well?

So, I ask you again, how do you like those odds?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness by Candace Cameron Bure and Darlene Schacht

Candace Cameron Bure first became known to millions as a co-star on the hit ABC television series Full House. Today, like her brother Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains, Fireproof), she is the rare Hollywood actor who is outspoken about her Christian faith and how it helps overcome certain obstacles. 

Bure’s healthy lifestyle has been featured in US Weekly and People magazines as well as national talk shows including The View and NBC’s Today. In Reshaping It All, she continues the story, inspiring women to embrace a healthier lifestyle by moving faith to the forefront, making wise choices, and finding their worth in the eyes of God. Candace shares a candid account of her struggle with food and ultimately her healthy outlook on weight despite the toothpick-thin expectations of Hollywood. 

More than a testimony, here is a motivational tool that will put readers on the right track and keep them there. In addition to practical advice, Candace offers a biblical perspective on appetite and self control that provides encouragement to women, guiding them toward freedom. 

My Review:

I first came across this book several months ago and thought it sounded like something I needed to read, but with a pile of books that still needed to be read, I decided to wait. A few weeks ago, however, my husband surprised me with my very own copy. The crazy part is that he had no idea I had been looking at the book and waiting for the right time to add it to my collection. God was in this, and the timing was perfect.

This book was exactly what I needed at this time in my life.  With a renewed goal to adopt healthy habits and restore my health, I appreciated everything that Candace had to say.  She is forthright and completely honest about her own personal struggles with healthy eating habits and exercise.  Not only does she share her spiritual testimony, but she also gives the readers an insight into what can be accomplished with enough motivation and will-power.

Another thing that I appreciated about Reshaping It All is Candace's approach to a healthy lifestyle.  She does not push calorie counting, low-carb or low-fat diets or any kind of radical fasting.  Instead, she embraces the same attitude that I do about healthy eating.  No food is forbidden, but all food must be eaten in moderation, keeping in mind what we know about certain foods and our bodies reactions to them.  Moderation and mindset are the key, and that works for me and prevents me from feeling like I'm starving or being deprived of my favorite foods.

This book was an enjoyable read for me especially at this point in my life.  I was able to both laugh and cry as I made my way through the chapters, encouraged by the thought that if she could make it through, I can too.  That being said, I do want to caution you that you do not compare your own journey to better health to that of another person.  At first, I made this mistake, and before long, I was frustrated and confused.  I had read so many accounts of those who had completely turned their health around in just a couple of weeks.  Here I was a month into my healthy journey, and I had very little to show for it.  While I had lost a few pounds, my energy and overall well-being were still on the pitiful side.  This led me to thoughts of quitting.

What I realized just this morning, though, was that I can't compare my health journey to anyone else's because we're not traveling the same path.  My path is one that has been burdened down with a myriad of health issues for many years now.  It's not realistic to assume that all of those issues can be remedied within a couple of weeks, no matter how many healthy habits I've adopted.  For me, the journey may take a little longer, but it will still be worth it.  Depending on where you're starting from and how many health issues you're dealing with, your journey may take a little longer too.  Keep that in mind when reading this book or any other book on creating a new, healthy lifestyle.  Big changes take time.  Be patient.

If you are interested in improving your physical or spiritual health, this book is a great place to begin.  Read it.  Follow the advice.  Stay focused and motivated.  And whatever you do, don't give up.  The destination is worth whatever bumps you may face on the journey.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What Do You Have To Lose?

Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. . . So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? - II Kings 5:1,9-13

We can boil the story down like this:  Naaman was a leper and sought out the prophet Elisha in hopes of being healed.  But when Elisha told Naaman what was required, the leper grew angry because it wasn't what he had expected.  First off, he expected Elisha to speak to him directly, not some lowly servant.  Second, he expected some power-packed, call-down-fire-from-Heaven healing service to take place, not a bath in what was possibly one of the muddiest rivers around.  Thirdly, he was offended that the prophet would even suggest that a man of his high standing swim about in the nasty Jordan instead of the rivers of his own land.  Picky, huh?

Unfortunately, we're no different.  We want God to do a work in our lives.  We long for a miracle, but like Naaman, we want it on our terms.  We have it all figured out.  We know how exactly how God should work out our problems, but when He chooses to do things His own way instead of ours, don't we react the same way Naaman did?  We get angry.  We're offended that God wouldn't take our plans into consideration.  We fuss and fight about the very thing that God asks us to do to achieve our miracle.

Fortunately for Naaman, his servants weren't so quick to give up.  Underneath Naaman's pride, they could see his suffering, so they persuaded him to give the "remedy" a chance.  "If the prophet had sent you on a long quest or asked you to do some grand thing, you would have done it, right?  So why can't you do this little thing that he's asked of you?  Is it really that big a deal?  What do you have to lose?"

Really, what did he have to lose?  So, he got a little dirty.  Wasn't it worth it if he could finally be healed of his leprosy?  Dirt would wash off.  Leprosy wouldn't. . . or would it?

Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (vs. 14)

How about that?  God's plan worked.  Only God could wash away leprosy with the muddy waters of Jordan.  No, it didn't make sense to Naaman, but it didn't have to.  Naaman didn't have to understand; he only had to obey.  And when he did, he was healed.  I'd say he learned a very powerful lesson that day.  So how about us?

Perhaps God has already given you a task to do, but you don't understand.  It doesn't fit within your plans or expectations, and for the life of you, you can't figure out how God can work a miracle through such an odd command.  I ask you the same question the servants asked Naaman:  what do you have to lose?  It won't cost much to obey, but it could cost you your miracle if you don't.  Isn't it worth the risk?  Stop trying to figure it out.  Stop trying to understand.  Just obey.  Do whatever it is that God has told you to do, and leave the results up to Him.  He won't let you down.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Things That Bug Me

I seem to have a bug theme going on this week, but I guess that's not too unusual for summertime in South Carolina.  After all, as soon as it starts to get warm around here, the bugs come out like crazy.  I hate bugs!

I am especially loathing a particular bee-like insect who has made it its soul purpose in life to annoy and distract me during my morning prayer walks.  These bugs are just downright irritating.  I'm walking along, minding my own business, talking with the Lord, and here they come, buzzing around my head, landing on my face and neck.  I shoo them, and they fly off only to return a second later with more of their buddies.  Even my essential oil bug repellent doesn't deter these party crashers.  And unfortunately, their annoyance and distraction turns my morning time of solace into a major irritation.  All I can think about is how much I want to get away from those pesky critters and how I long for them to leave me alone.

Negative thoughts seem to pester me the exact same way.  No matter the time of day, they buzz around me, landing in my mind and heart.  Their constant buzzing blocks out the voice of the Lord.  Their constant movement around me distracts me from my walk.  And their determination aggravates the snot out of me and typically leads me into a place of major irritation.  No matter how much I try to shoo them away, they only return a few seconds later with more of their buddies.  And all I can think about is how much I want to get away from those pesky critters and how I long for them to leave me alone.

But in doing so, I am not accomplishing what I'm supposed to do.  I'm distracted and irritated, and I'm certainly not thinking on the things listed in Philippians 4:8.  Those pesky little irritants have me distracted to the point that I'm ready to call off the walk altogether rather than to put up with their constant annoyance.  Not good!

A couple of days ago, I thought I'd find out what happened with these bee-like creatures if, instead of shooing them, I caught them.  You know what?  They didn't like it too much and eventually, they left me alone.  Granted, I had to deal with another batch the next day, but at least I knew how to fight against their invasion.

Thankfully, I can approach my negative thoughts in the same way.  Instead of simply trying to shoo them away, I can grab hold of them and actually deal with them like it says in II Corinthians 10:5: Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;  Did you catch that?  Bringing into captivity, not shooing away every thought.  Shooing won't work.  Wishing the thoughts away won't either. The only way to rid myself of those pesky, annoying thoughts is to turn them over to Jesus and let Him deal with them.  And then, the walk will be so much sweeter. . .and so will my attitude.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Yet Will I Praise Him

The other night I had the privilege of walking through a spider web that was stretched across the pillars on our side porch.  I despise spider webs.  They're nasty and sticky, but worse than that, when I walk through one, I'm always wondering, Okay, where's the spider?  Fortunately (or not), I didn't have to wait very long on this particular night to discover exactly where the spider was.

As I set about getting things put away, I noticed a movement to my right.  I turned, but nothing was there.  Then, I caught a glimpse of something again.  I turned my eyes and noticed something hanging from my hair.  Yep, it was a spider.  A teeny, tiny spider hanging by the remains of the web.  I pulled it free from my hair, did a little dance to get the "creepies" out of my system, ran my hands through my hair a couple of times then got back to work.  A few seconds later, I caught a glimpse of something again.  Another tiny spider was hanging from a strand of web that was evidently attached to my hair.  I disposed of the second intruder, did my dance, ran my hands through my hair again and shook it violently.  It didn't help.  In the next few minutes, two more tiny spiders made their presence known.

If it hadn't been so late and me already so tired, I would have headed to the shower.  I mean, seriously, how many spiders were crawling around in my hair?  But I opted for more dancing, hair combing and head shaking.  I think I finally got them all, but the whole thing was crazy.  Just when I thought I'd taken care of the problem, another showed up to take its place and then another and another.

Unfortunately, my life for the past few weeks has been the exact same way.  Problem after problem.  Situation after situation.  Just inside my small circle of friends and family, these are some of the burdens that have been shared, not counting my own personal household issues:

My grandmother was placed in the hospital due to a severe infection in her blood stream.
My aunt passed away from cancer.
My parents' house was hit by a storm, and they lost nearly all of the electronics in their home.
Two good Christian families are being torn apart at the seams.
One of my dearest friends' dog was killed by a reckless driver.
Another dear friend lost his mother to cancer.

Just like with the spiders, it seems as soon as I've dealt with one issue, another comes to take its place.  Even getting through the many requests during my prayer time has left me weary and discouraged.  So many burdens.  So many good people who are under Satan's attacks.  So much sickness and disease.  My heart aches for each and every need, and to be honest, I'm beginning to feel overwhelmed.  And while I could whine and cry about it, I know it won't help.  However, the prophet Habakkuk has a word of advice on what will.

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments. - Habukkuk 3:17-19

In short, the prophet said, "Even when bad things happen and good things don't, yet I will still praise the Lord.  He is my strength, and He alone can get me through this valley."  Amen and amen.  Yes, times are hard.  Yes, some situations are dire.  Yes, the weight of these burdens can grow so heavy.  But that's why God urges us not to carry them alone.  Rejoice in the Lord today.  Cast your burdens on Him and cling to Him for strength during your current trial.  He alone can help you to rise above those circumstances and find true peace amidst the storm.  No strings (or spider webs) attached!