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Friday, July 31, 2015

Was Blind But Now I See

Last Thursday, because of the rain and overcast skies, I had to do something I rarely have to do--I had to turn on my office light in the middle of the day.  With four huge windows letting in the daylight, I seldom have to add any extra illumination to my office.  After all, with that much natural light shining in, it makes little difference whether my overhead light is on or not.  In fact, most days I wouldn't notice a difference at all.  So why waste the electricity if the light serves no purpose or has no effect.

On Thursday, however, I needed the light.  With the dark skies and absence of sunlight, my office was dim and gloomy.  I could see well enough to type and use my computer, but not well enough to read.  So, after a few minutes of trying to decipher the words on the paper before me, I finally stood up and pulled on the cord to light up the room.  Wow!  What a difference!  The light that typically would have gone unnoticed created a more comfortable and productive environment.

It's a bit like trying to use headlights or a flashlight during a bright day.  It's pointless.  It makes no difference whatsoever.  But bring on the darkness, and suddenly, we become very appreciative of the light.  Strange, huh?  But Job understood, and I think I'm beginning to.

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. - Job 42:5

This verse takes place smack dab in the midst of Job's suffering.  His wealth had been destroyed.  His children had been killed.  His health had been ripped away from him.  His friends (if you could call them that) had been less than encouraging.  And now, he's just gotten a speech from God like no other.  God wasn't angry with Job.  He wasn't trying to be cocky or condescending. He simply wanted Job to understand that Job couldn't understand. He needed to remind Job Who was in control.

So how does Job respond?  Differently than I often do when God has to set me straight.  I tend to huff and puff, pout and cry and finally realize that God was right (no duh, right?).  Job, on the other hand, decided to take a different approach, to view his trials with a different perspective.  "I've heard about you, God.  I've served You.  I've talked about You.  But, now," Job says as his eyes fill with tears, "now I've seen You."  Leave it to the darkness to reveal the Light.  No, there's nothing like a lack of sunshine to make us appreciative of the Source of all light.

Shouldn't that knowledge change the way we look at our troubles?  Job's wife wanted him to give up and die.  His friends wanted him to look deep inside himself and see where he went wrong.  But God wanted Job to see Him, and in His infinite wisdom, He knew that the Light was much easier to spot in the darkest of times.

So what about our struggles?  Are we having a hard time because we're being punished?  Well, that should be easy enough to answer.  We know what's right and what's wrong.  So, if that's not the cause of our suffering, could it be that God is allowing us to go through some dark times so that we can better catch a glimpse of Him.  Not a glimpse of His blessings.  Not a glimpse of what He can do or has done.  But a glimpse of Who He is.  Counselor.  Comforter.  Savior.  Friend.  Can you see Him?  It's one thing to know God, to serve Him and to talk about Him, but it's quite another to actually see Him for Who He is.  Through the darkness, He's giving us the opportunity to do just that.

Perhaps the darkness isn't so bad after all.  What do you think?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

So Sorry, Lord!

Whew, it has been quite a week!  For the past two days, my poor husband has worked 16-hour shifts, beginning around 7:30 in the morning and getting home after I've gone to bed.  Yesterday, my 14-year-old beagle suffered some sort of pain spasms.  For nearly an hour, she held her left foot off the ground, panted like crazy and limped from room to room, whining all the while.  Honestly, I thought she might have been dying.  So, I did everything I could to make her comfortable, setting her down in a cool place and giving her some pain relievers while massaging the tight muscles in her neck and shoulder joints.  Finally, she calmed down and drifted off into a deep sleep.  By the time we went to bed last night, she was walking around and acting like her normal self.

This morning, because of Jason's schedule, we had to get up around 6:00.  I am not a morning person!  What made things worse it that I discovered that Tippy, the beagle who had had such a hard time yesterday, was lying in a pool of pee.  Evidently, she was feeling some better but not better enough to get up and go outside to take care of business.  I spent the morning trying to get Jason's lunch together, bathing the dog, washing the linens and mopping the floor--all of this before 8:00.  Not a happy camper!  And I won't even go into all the other little inconveniences I've had to deal with already this week.

The more I thought about the hectic schedules and the constant interruptions, the more I wanted to fuss and complain.  But then, I was reminded of a verse I read in my devotions last week--a verse that I marked so that I wouldn't forget it.  I must warn you, though, this is not a flip-flop kind of verse, so you may want to put on your steel-toed boots before reading any further.

And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled. - Numbers 11:1a

Oh, ouch!  It hurts, doesn't it?  But it's true.  Every time we complain, we displease the Lord because He does hear it.  In fact, He evens hears the complaints that never make it through our lips.  Because He knows all things, He is aware of even our thoughts of complaint and discontentment, and those things anger Him.  We can hardly blame Him.  I mean, after all He's done for us, how dare we complain?  He gives us rain, and we wish for sunshine.  He gives us cooler weather, and we wish for warmer.  He gives us provisions, and we desire something else.  Ungrateful, that's what we are.

As much as it hurts to read and to think on this verse in Numbers, though, I'm glad the Lord brought it to my attention.  Without it, I probably would have allowed my complaints to run rampant this morning.  But with that verse in my memory, I was reminded what it would cost me if I complained.  Was it worth displeasing my Lord?  Was it worth evoking His anger?  I mean, when you think about it, when has complaining ever helped to make the situation better?  And despite what some may say, it doesn't make us feel any better either.  If anything, it makes us feel worse and puts us in a state of self-pity.  I don't know about you, but I don't have time for that.  I'm also not willing to displease my Father in such a way.

Life can be rough, and the fact of the matter is that it is in our fleshly nature to complain.  However, our spiritual nature is the one we're supposed to be heeding.  Before complaining, consider the cost.  Is it worth displeasing the Lord for a few minutes of ranting and raving?  I say, "No."  What do you think?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are You Done?

Jason probably won't appreciate my sharing this story, but he knows that I'm telling it to make a point, nothing more.  Besides, it's simply too funny to not be shared.

Sunday mornings are generally a huge rush to get ready for church.  Showers, breakfast, the ironing of clothes, one final practice for my selected offertory, packing up my computer for my Sunday School class, feeding the dogs, etc.  Some things can be done the night before, but most of these things have to be done Sunday morning, so occasionally things can get a bit hectic.  This past Sunday, however, we were doing fairly well on time.  We both got up when the alarm went off, and things seemed to be running smoothly.

The standing rule in our house is whoever gets ready first starts working on breakfast.  Well, this week, it happened to be me, but just barely.  I was just getting started when Jason came out and basically took over the operation.  (Sunday morning breakfasts are usually very simple.)  Since he had the situation under control, I took the opportunity to go put my makeup on.  I was going to wait until after breakfast because in this summer heat, it melts off rather quickly, but since I was really just standing around in the kitchen watching him work, I felt that doing my makeup would be a better use of my time.

When I was done, I came back out to the kitchen and helped Jason put the finishing touches on breakfast.  "Sorry about that," I said, "I just figured since you had everything in hand here, I'd go ahead and put my makeup on."  He looked up at me, studied my face, then asked, "Are you done?"  Having been married to my sweet love for over 18 years now, I knew that what he meant was that if I needed more time to finish my makeup, he would finish up breakfast.  However, my redheaded, sassy side simply could not let a comment like that pass.  I faced him, mustered up the best poochy lip I could and whined, "Yes, honey, I'm done.  I'm afraid this is as good as it gets."  That comment earned me a well-deserved slap on my rear end.  Hehehehe!  Aren't I terrible?

On the serious side, I often look at myself in a spiritual sense and wonder, Is this as good as it gets?  It is then that I hear that sweet, gentle reminder, "No, child.  I'm not done with you yet.  Just give it some time.  I'm still working on you."  Hallelujah!  I am not a finished product, and neither are you.  I honestly believe that God will be working on us until the moment He takes us home, constantly molding and making us into what He wants us to be.  We will never "arrive" this side of Heaven, but we can continue to improve.

I'm not what I want to be, and  I'm not what I'm going to be.  But, praise God, I'm not who I used to be.  He's still working on me and making me into a vessel fit for His use, so that one day He will behold all the work that He's done and exclaim, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."  He does the work, and I get the praise.  How about that!

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6

Monday, July 27, 2015

Beware the Burnout

These long, hot, South Carolina summer days are hard on my air conditioner, which is only about 10 years shy of being as old as I am (not that that's old for people, mind you.)  For air conditioners, however, that's a long life, and with every passing year, the poor thing reminds us just how tired and weary it has become.

On 90°+ days, the air will kick on before lunch time and run non-stop until the wee hours of the next morning.  Let's face it, air conditioners simply aren't made for that kind of consistent running.  And it's not like we keep the house all that cool.  The thermostat is set for 73° during the day and 68° at night.  Hardly the arctic.

Because of its inefficiency, the poor thing will run itself into a state of total exhaustion.  In other words, it freezes up completely.  Yep, after hours of constant running, it gives out and locks down.  The sound of the motor changes into a funky roar, which is my cue to turn the air off until the unit has had a chance to recover and pray that the house doesn't grow too warm in the process.  Just another one of those quirks I've talked about that come with owning an old house full of old equipment.

When the air conditioner decided to throw one of its fits the other day, to be honest, I wanted to join it.  After dancing the dance with my washing machine (see that post here if you have no idea what I'm talking about) and combatting both the ants and fleas that are determined to invade my home, I had honestly had quite enough.  Like my air unit, I felt like I had been running nonstop, and I was tired and weary.  I felt like locking up and shutting down.  After all, it seemed easier than to keep trying to fight these same battles over and over again.

What I had nearly forgotten (praise the Lord for "nearly") was that there was a third option.  Choice number one was to keep running and keep fighting until I finally dropped from exhaustion.  Choice number two was to quit before I reached that point.  Choice number three somewhat combined the first two as it involved my continuance in running and fighting but to quit trying to do it in my own strength.  Don't quit the race; just quit trying to run it on my own.

With that gentle reminder from the Lord, I turned off the air and took a few moments in the silence to be still before the Lord.  I turned my day and my work over to Him, along with all my frustrations and weariness.  I prayed that He would accomplish His work through me and that I would be a willing vessel.  And you know what?  The weariness lifted.  The frustrations eased.  And I felt like I could go on.

We live in hectic times, and it is harder than ever to be still.  There is so much to do, so many tasks to accomplish.  But, friend, remember burnout is real!  And it happens when we get so busy doing that we forget why we're doing it and Who we're doing it for.  It also occurs when we get so caught up in the process of getting things done that we take on each day's battles on our own, forgetting that Jesus said, "Without me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Yes, there is much to do, but God never called us to do it alone.  On the contrary, He promised to always be with us and to be our strength.  Stop stressing.  Stop running yourself to the point of exhaustion.  Give your burden to Jesus and allow Him to work through you.  In His strength, you'll be able to accomplish all that He wants you to do, and you won't suffer a burnout in the process.

But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. - II Thessalonians 3:13

Friday, July 24, 2015

Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

Today's devotion is going to center on an event that took place immediately following the one we discussed yesterday, so if you didn't get a chance to read it, you might want to do that now.  Overall, the story of the twelve spies is well-known, but sometimes I feel that, because it's familiar, we overlook some important lessons.  It is one of those lessons that I would like to focus on today.

And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me. Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. - Numbers 14:26-30

Basically, the ten spies said that there was no way they could conquer the land that God had promised, so God let them have what they wanted.  In essence, God said, "Fine.  You don't want the land that I've saved for you?  That's just fine.  You can wander around in this wilderness until you die."  Sounds cruel, I know, but we must remember that God is not unkind, but He is holy.  Israel had crossed a line this time, and there was no going back.  But that's not to say that they didn't try.  After Moses told the people what God said, they suddenly had a change of heart.

And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly. And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned. - Numbers 14:39-40

Seriously?  The crowd that was murmuring and complaining the day before, angry to the point that they were about to stone Moses and those who trusted in God, was now ready to say, "Okay, we're here.  Let's go to this land that God promised."  What's the old saying?  Too little, too late.

That's basically what Moses told them.  "Are you kidding me?  God said you're not to have that land, and now you want to go?  No.  You can't have it.  If you try to take it, the Lord will not be with you." In other words, if you're intent on fighting this battle, you'll be fighting it all on your own.  But the people refused to listen.  They wanted the land, and now they were willing to disobey God to have it. Evidently, they had forgotten that the wages of sin is death.

But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah. - Numbers 14:44-45

They paid for their disobedience with their lives, and what's so very sad about the entire affair is that they could have had the land if they had simply trusted and obeyed God in the first place.  But they waited too long to do the right thing, and by the time they decided to do it, it was the wrong thing.  God had withdrawn his offer.  It was too late.

Sometimes God gives second chances (i.e. Jonah), but sometimes He doesn't, and there's no way to know which is which.  So, friend, my challenge to you today is to obey God immediately.  Don't wait until it's convenient.  Don't wait until it makes sense.  Don't wait until you have all the details figured out.  If God is asking you to do something, do it now.  Don't delay.  After all, you might not get another chance, and your disobedience might cost you far more than you're willing to pay.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Kind of Spirit Do You Have?

Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it. - Numbers 14:22-24

I think we're all familiar with the account of the twelve spies sent out to survey the land that the Lord had promised them.  Even though the land was flowing with milk and honey and had everything God's people could ever want, ten of the twelve spies decided that it wasn't worth the trouble because the land was currently being occupied by many enemies, including giants.  They chose to ignore God's promise and declared to the children of Israel that it was just too difficult.  They would have to live somewhere else.

Two of those spies, however, decided to take God at His word and tried to convince the people that they could not fail when God was on their side.  And while Joshua is not mentioned in the above verses, we know that God honored his faithfulness.  But this morning, I want to focus on the phrase in verse 24:  "But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him."  Another spirit?  Huh?  What's God talking about?  Was Caleb possessed?  Well, sort of.

You see, the ten spies had some spirits of their own.  They were each possessed with the spirit of fear, doubt and even pride.  God told them straight out that this was their new home, and they said, "Nope, this won't work."  How arrogant!  They were afraid of the giants in the land.  They were fearful of what it was going to cost them to try and drive out the existing inhabitants of the land.  And they doubted that God's aid would make any difference.

Caleb, on the other hand, had a different spirit.  Where they had fear, he had faith.  When they doubted, he stood strong on God's promise.  When they shook their heads and said, "No way," he reminded them, "Have you forgotten Who we serve and all that He's done for us?"  His spirit was positive and encouraging.  He offered the people hope and an end to their endless days of travel.  He saw a victory even though it hadn't occurred yet because He trusted in God with all his heart.

When comparing these spirits, does a particular verse come to mind?  For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (II Timothy 1:7)  So basically, this verse tells us that Caleb had the spirit of God.  He exemplified power, love and a sound mind.  The other ten spies, however, displayed fear and doubt, which according to Timothy is not of God.  Well, if it's not from God, where did it come from?  Since fear is the exact opposite of faith, I think it's safe to say that its source is the exact opposite of God.  Yep, these men had the spirit of the devil in them.  It was that sly old serpent who led them to fear and convinced them that God's way wouldn't work.  And sadly, they heeded his direction, and it cost them. . . a lot!

So, I ask you, friend, what kind of spirit do you have today?  Is it a spirit of faith that uplifts and encourages or a spirit of fear that leaves your heart heavy and your mind racing?  One is a gift from God; the other is a curse.  You have a choice in which one you accept, so choose wisely.  After all, your decision won't only affect you, just as the decision of the ten spies didn't only affect them.  The entire congregation suffered because of their lack of faith.  Let's be careful not to cause any suffering because of ours.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Cry of the Pastors

And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.  I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. - Numbers 11:11-14

I think it's safe to assume that every pastor, at one time or another in his ministry, has uttered this same cry as Moses.  After all, as the shepherd of the flock, the pastor is charged with the responsibility of feeding his sheep week after week, month after month, year after year.  And guess what?  We, the sheep, complain.

"This isn't what I wanted to hear."

"Why don't you ever preach on this topic?"

"Forget all that sin stuff.  We want to hear something that makes us feel good."

A good pastor prays, studies and prepares for each and every service, seeking nothing more than fulfilling the will of God.  But just like Moses, those pastors can grow weary.  Weary of the discontentment of those he's charged to feed.  Weary of the constant complaining.  Weary of giving his all only to have members stab him in the back when he doesn't say or do whatever it is they think he should.  How many pastors have fallen to their knees and cried, "Lord, I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me"?

And you know what?  They shouldn't have to.  There are certain tasks that are specifically assigned to the pastor and the deacons, but beyond that, it is up to the rest of us to step up and help out.  Rather than complaining, how about we compliment?  Instead of dwelling on our discontentment, how about we determine ways that we can help and encourage our pastor?  What are we doing to lighten the load so that the pastor doesn't feel like he's carrying the burden alone?

Most pastors won't get up in front of the church and share just how heavy their loads are.  It's not in their nature.  They keep it to themselves.  They put on a smile and bury their hurts.  And even when they are heartbroken, they will seldom ask for as much as a prayer on their behalf.  Well, if they won't ask, I will.  In fact, I am encouraging each one of you reading this to stop right now and say a prayer on behalf of your pastor.  Pray for his strength, wisdom and guidance.  Pray for his health.  Pray for his family.  Pray that God will place a hedge of protection about him and keep him safe from the fiery darts of the devil.  And while you're at it, pray that God will show you a way that you can better support your pastor.  What can you do to make his job a little easier?

Sometimes we put our pastors up on pedestals and forget that they are mere humans just as we are.  They are capable of falling, and they, too, are apt to grow weary in well doing.  I think it's time to stand up and let our pastors know that they are not alone.  All for one and one for all, right?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Who's Waiting?

If you've followed my writings for very long at all, you'll know by now that I despise waiting.  I don't like waiting for my computer to boot up in the morning.  I don't like waiting in traffic or in the line at the grocery store.  I don't like waiting for the weekly paycheck so that I can pay all the bills.  But most of all, I have a hard time waiting on the Lord.  After all, I know exactly how I want things to work out in my life, so why can't I just have all those good things now?  Why wait?

Fortunately, I have matured a bit in my spiritual walk, and while I still get antsy during waiting periods, I now understand that they have a purpose.  God's timing is perfect, and when I try to rush that, I only make a mess of things.  God, in His infinite love and wisdom, knows exactly what I need and when I need it.  In fact, He knows even better than I do, so it benefits me to wait on Him and His timing.

Only recently, however, did it come to my realization that I'm not the only one waiting.  Check out this awesome verse: And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18)

Have you ever bought a present for someone for a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or Christmas?  Sure, we all have.  Now, have you ever given that person their present early because you simply couldn't wait any longer to give it to them?  Come on, admit it.  I know I'm not the only one who does that.  The fact is that we're so excited about our gift and so looking forward to the look of joy and appreciation on the recipient's face that we simply can't wait.  Don't you think our heavenly Father feels the same way?  Check out these verses:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. - James 1:17

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? - Matthew 7:11

Think about it.  God knows exactly what He has in store for us.  He knows the wonder and perfection of it all.  The things in our future that are all for our good.  Don't you know He wants to give them all to us now, especially during times when we're so discouraged and downcast?  Don't you think He would love to pour out all those blessings He has in store for us, if nothing else, to see us smile once again?

So, why doesn't He?  If you'll look back at Isaiah 30:18, the Bible tells us why:  "that he may be gracious unto you."  Good parents understand that they are not doing their children any favors by giving them everything they want when they want it.  They understand that the children need to grow and mature before receiving some of the things that the parents intended to give them all along.  They understand the importance of waiting for the right timing.  And God, as the perfect parent, understands that as well.  As much as He longs for us to have the things that we want, He longs even more that we grow into the spiritual adults He desires for us to be.  And that means that not only do we have to wait to get those things but He has to wait to give them too.

So, the next time you find yourself in a period of waiting, just remember, you're not alone.  God is waiting right alongside you, but His waiting is all part of his grace and mercy toward you.  He knows you'll be much better off if He waits.  And in the end, you'll be glad He did!  After all, waiting is a gift. . . a gift of grace.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What Are You Writing?

Have you ever watched a show or movie and been hit with a spiritual lesson despite the fact that the show or movie is not necessarily Christian-based?  It happened to me just the other day.  While the show is very clean and speaks highly of church and God, I wouldn't call it a Christian show (although I guess by today's standards, it's pretty close).

Anyway, a conversation was taking place between two of the characters, and the lady was voicing her disappointment and regret over things she had done.  The man (who, as it turns out, was a bad guy) uttered this profound statement:  "There is no turning back.  Life is written in permanent ink, so turn the page and write something new."  Bam!  Yep, a heavenly slap found its way to the back of my head, and in a gentle whisper, the Lord said, "Did you catch that, Dana?"

May I let you in on a little secret?  I'm not perfect.  I know, I know, it's hard to believe.  After all, I serve the Lord with such fervor and I daily illustrate my mountain-sized faith.  Certainly I don't have any regrets, right?  Actually, I'm going to stop now before lightning strikes me where I sit.  The sad fact is that I have many regrets.  I regret things that I've done and the things that I didn't do when I should have.  I regret making stupid decisions and rash judgments.  I regret spending money I didn't have and not saving money when the Lord provided.  I regret the time that I've wasted on fruitless pursuits that led me further away from God's will for my life.

Yes, my friend, when I look back on my life, I definitely have regrets.  And, as the character so adequately put it, those many mistakes are written in permanent ink.  There is nothing I can do now to fix them.  I can't take back the words I spoke.  I can't erase the deeds I've done.  They are a part of my life, no matter how much I wish I could change them.

But the point is that my story doesn't end there.  Yes, I've made mistakes.  No, I can't change my past, but my future is a series of blank pages (at least from my viewpoint, not God's, of course).  So, I can spend my time dwelling on the past, which I can't change, or I can spend that time writing something new.  Those blank pages beckon to me, pleading with me to fill them with words of joy, hope and comfort.  They implore me to make the end of my story better than the beginning.  I needn't dwell on the mistakes.  Instead, I need to be busy writing the rest of my story, and so do you.

Are you writing something new today, or are you spending all your time re-reading the mistakes and crushed dreams of yesterday?  Which do you think God wants you to do?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What's Keeping You Going?

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. -Psalm 27:13

We've talked a lot recently about trials, hard times and perilous valleys.  If anyone knew about these, it was David, the human author of Psalm 27.  Although we cannot be sure when the psalmist wrote this powerful chapter, we can be sure of one thing:  he understood heartache.  Just read through chapter 27, and you'll see a man who understands what it's like to have troubles and to have enemies. Fortunately, he also knew where to find hope.

After several verses explaining his dire situation and outlining his desire to trust, he spilled out this sentiment:  "I would have fainted if not for my faith that one day this trial would soon be over."  David knew all too well that life was full of valleys, but as he wrote in Psalm 23, God leads us through those valleys.  They are not the destination, only part of the journey.

In his darkest times, David clung to God's promise that this meager life is not all there is.  He held tightly to the hope that, one day, every wrong would be made right.  He looked beyond his current circumstances and allowed his eyes of faith to dwell on what would be.  And by his own admission, that faith kept him going, even when the way was rough.

What about you?  What keeps you going?  Sure, we can look forward to the next paycheck, but then what?  Or how about the next pay raise or the new car or the marriage?  Good things, no doubt, but unfortunately, they are also things that come and go.  The pay check is spent before it's even been deposited.  The raise still isn't enough to pay off the debt.  The new car loses a chunk of its value the minute you drive it off the lot.  And as for the marriage, well, even though it's supposed to be a union  broken only by death, the sad fact is that fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce.  So, if we're hanging all our hopes on these situations and depending on the things of this world to lend us strength, then we're in big trouble.

Let's face it, we will all have days where we feel we simply cannot carry on.  The path is too difficult.  The hill is too steep.  Our strength is gone, and we feel we have nothing left to give.  Like the psalmist, we find ourselves dizzy and out of balance, ready to faint if we're required to take one more step.  But it is during those times that we must look beyond our immediate circumstances and look forward to something that cannot be taken away.  God's goodness can be revealed, even in the midst of our sufferings.  And in those dark times, we can cling to His promise that this too shall pass.  It's going to get better. . . much better.  Hang in there!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

When the Truth Really Hurts

We had a guest speaker at our church Sunday morning, and while I admit the entire message was compelling, there was a single sentence that affected me more than all the rest of the sermon combined.  It was one of those hard truths that grabbed ahold of my heart and squeezed until tears ran down my cheeks.  The sentence was simply this:  "Man acts according to his own view of God."

The speaker used that sentence in conjunction with his summary of how far our land has strayed from God.  He remarked that as long as man believed there was no God and therefore no accountability, he would act with complete disregard to consequences for his actions.  And his interpretation and application of the statement was spot on; however, as soon as my ears heard that powerful sentence above, my mind went in another direction.

"Man acts according to his own view of God."  That includes Christians.  What we say we believe and what we really believe doesn't always mesh, does it?  Think about it.  If we act according to our own view of God, then what must our view of God be when we live our lives in worry and fear?  When we face each new day with dread instead of hope?  When we look at the circumstances around us and despair of making it through?  We say, "I know God can do it, but. . . " or "I know God has a purpose, but. . ."  But what?  Either we know it and believe it, or we don't.  There is no "but."

I must admit that I phased out for a little while during Sunday's morning message because I was caught up in that single statement.  It doesn't matter how much I say I trust God or even how much I believe I trust God.  My actions will always follow through with my true beliefs, so if my actions are those of a doubting saint, then what does that say about my beliefs?  My fear and worry might as well be signs that read, "I want to trust God, but I honestly think this problem is too big for Him to handle."  And the more I think about it, the more ashamed I become.  The only one I've been fooling all this time is me!

What about you?  What do your actions say about your view of God?  Are you living a life of fear and constant stress?  If so, your true view of God is obviously not much different than mine. . . but it should be!  Let's face it, if ever there was a time to stand up for what we believe in, it's now.  But how can we stand up for what we believe when we don't even know what we believe?  It's time to make a choice.  Either God is able, or He's not.  Either He is almighty, or He's not.  Either we trust Him, or we don't.  It's time for us to decide and then to follow through on that decision with the proper actions.

It's true what they say, "Actions speak louder than words."  So what are your actions telling you?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. - James 2:17-18

Monday, July 13, 2015

Quick! Close the Door!

This morning as I opened the kitchen door to enter into the laundry room that remains open to the outside via a sliding glass door, I was immediately assaulted by a vile smell.  It was fragrant.  It was pungent.  And it became all too clear to me that there was a skunk (whether dead or alive I could not tell) in the near vicinity.  I did not need to see him to know he was near.  His stink preceded him.

What did amaze me, however, was how oblivious I was to the skunk's presence before I opened the door.  Despite the powerful force of his stink, his odor did not reach me until I opened the door and allowed it inside.  At that point, I couldn't close the door fast enough, but unfortunately, the damage had already been done.  In that few seconds, that putrid smell filled the entire kitchen.  Breakfast, anyone?  I think not!

I have to wonder, though, how often we make the same mistake with our stinky attitudes.  Lying beneath the surface, they remain unknown to those around us.  While they have permeated our hearts and minds, they have yet to make their way out into the open. . . that is, until we open the door (aka, our mouths).  Once that door is open, the pungent scent of our attitudes becomes all too obvious, and despite our effort to "shut the door quickly," the damage has already been done.  We've already stunk up the place with our vile-smelling attitudes.

Luke 6:45 says, A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

In other words, whatever is rolling around in our heads and our hearts is bound to make its way out of our mouths.  We cannot keep it hidden forever.  Someone is bound to open the door, and when they do, heaven help us all.  So, unless we intend to never open our mouths again (which is doubtful), we need to get to the heart of the problem. . . literally.  I could spend all day spraying deodorizer around the house, but until the skunk is gone, the smell will remain.  The same can be said for our stinky attitudes.  Until we deal with the cause, the odor will linger.

The process involves digging deep into the recesses of our hearts and minds and discovering what's amiss.  It entails asking the Lord to show us the seeds of bitterness that have taken root in our souls.  It is an unpleasant and even tedious task, but as we've already discussed, it is a necessary one.  After all, the longer the skunk lingers, the worse the smell will become, eventually driving everyone away from the area.  The attitude is the same way, and I don't know about you, but I'd hate to think that I'm driving people away because of the stink that comes out of my mouth (and I'm not talking about my breath, thank you).

In the animated movie, Bambi, the character Thumper reveals this old adage taught by his parents:  "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all."  If we were to live by this philosophy, how many of us would spend our days in complete silence?  Yet, isn't that exactly what Paul admonishes us to do in Philippians 4:8? Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.  If we're only thinking good things, we'll only say good things, and the air around us will remain fresh and odor-free. . . unless, that is, another skunk wanders by.

Whew!  Talk about stinkin' thinkin'!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Highly Illogical Decisions

I did something last week that Star Trek's Mr. Spock would deem "highly illogical."  I turned down an offer for a paying job so that I could spend more time and energy on a non-paying one.  It makes no sense, I know, yet I am certain it is the Lord's will.  But, even with that certainty, I find myself wondering, Why bother?  Will this writing ministry ever really get off the ground?  Will it ever make any money at all?  Will spending more time and effort produce a greater acceptance of my work?  And the more questions that bounce around in my mind, the more I hear Mr. Spock's clear, emotionless voice, "It's highly illogical."  And you know what?  He's right.  But my decision was not an act of logic.  It was an act of obedience and faith.  Faith that the Lord knows what He's doing and that He will, somehow, some way, use my ministry to accomplish good for His kingdom.  And in that decision, I am in good company.

After all, was it logical for Abraham to pack up his family and all of his belongings and start off on a journey when he didn't even know where he was going?  Not at all, but Abraham had faith and it was counted unto him as righteousness.

Was it logical for a little shepherd boy named David to go toe to toe with the meanest and ugliest giant in the land?  Hardly, yet David's story lives on to this day as a testament to what God can do when his children obey in faith.

And I doubt anyone would deem it logical for the three Hebrew children to disregard Nebuchadnezzar's order to bow down to the idol, especially when they knew the penalty for such an act was a death sentence.  Their allegiance to the one, true God had nothing to do with logic, but it had everything to do with faith.

Then, of course, there's Peter.  Stepping out of the boat in the midst of a storm-tossed sea is a hardly an act of logic.  Well-known Christian author, Max Lucado, agrees with me on this point when he said, "Stepping onto a stormy sea is not a move of logic; it is a move of desperation." (In the Eye of the Storm)  So true.  As far as Peter was concerned, he was likely to die either way, so might as well get as close to Jesus as possible.  After all, isn't that what faith and obedience is all about--growing closer to the Father.

There are times in this life where we will be faced with decisions that have logical conclusions.  After weighing out the options, determining that the choice will be in our best interest, we do the logical thing.  But is the logical thing always the right thing?  I think the Biblical accounts above prove that it is not.  Before making any decision (no matter how logical it may seem), it is imperative that we seek the Lord's will in the matter.  His will may concur with our logic, but then again, it may not.  He may have other plans for us, plans that don't necessarily make sense from our point of view.  But neither obedience nor faith hinges on our understanding.  God's plans don't need to make sense to us as long as they make sense to Him. . . and they always do.

Facing a decision today?  Don't act too quickly, even if the decision seems simple.  Seek God's will and make sure that you know where He is leading.  The Bible gives countless examples of when faith and obedience paid off.  Take God at His Word, and place the decision in His hand, determined to obey no matter what He asks.  Then have faith that it will all work out for your good so that you can "live long and prosper."  (Sorry, I simply couldn't resist!)

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, July 9, 2015

The Message in the Music

This morning as I was loading the dishwasher and placing dinner in the crockpot, I was talking to the Lord, but I kept getting distracted by a song that was floating around in my head.  That song led to another and then another, and before long, I realized I had stopped praying altogether and was simply serenading myself and anyone else who cared to listen.  When I realized how distracted I had become, I was, at first, upset with myself, but the more I thought about what I was singing, the more I realized that I was still praying and worshiping the Lord, just in a different way.

At that point, I had to stop and thank the Lord for music.  I know that may sound silly to you, but when I think about all the times God has used a song to see me through a difficult time, I'm amazed.  I appreciate soft instrumental music that gets my heart focused on God and quiets my spirit so that I can hear His still, small voice.  I enjoy music that lightens my heart and sets my toes to tapping because of the joy that has worked its way from my heart to my foot.  I cherish the songs that remind me of God's sacrifice on the cross, of His promises to me and of the heavenly home for which I long.  Yes, to me, music is an indescribable blessing, and this morning I felt that I needed to take a moment to thank the Lord for it.

I admit, I felt a little silly.  I mean, who thanks God for music?  Well, I did, and evidently, God appreciated it because when I sat down to read my daily devotions I was met with this title:  Something Special About a Song.  The devotional went on to discuss Ephesians 5:19 which states, Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.  Coincidence?  Nah, I don't believe in those.  I think it was God' way of reminding me to give thanks in everything, no matter how small, insignificant or silly it may seem.  He longs for our joy and for our praise, and if something makes us happy, we ought to let Him know about it, right?

The fact of the matter is that I have a song to sing. . .several, in fact.  I only need to be careful that unwanted melodies don't wiggle their way into my repertoire.  In other words, I don't want "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" to be replaced with "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."  Singing and making melody in our hearts is a good thing, as long as it's the right kind of melody.  Good melodies should encourage, enlighten and help you feel at peace.  They should draw your focus to God and to His Word.  Bad melodies turn your focus to yourself, your problems and worldly solutions to those problems.  They stir up feelings of discouragement, bitterness and rebellion.

Whether you can sing or play an instrument or struggle to carry a tune in a bucket, we all have a song to sing.  The question is, what kind of song is it?   Is it making a melody in our hearts to the Lord or to something altogether different?

Thank you, Lord, for giving us music to calm our hearts and restore our souls.  Thank you for the joy it brings and for the opportunity You give us to sing praises unto You.  But most of all, Lord, I want to thank you for the song in the night, the one that reminds us of Your loving care and encourages us to keep on keeping on.  May we never take it for granted, and may we ever be mindful of the message in the music.

 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search. - Psalm 77:6

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thankful for the Dreary Days

Many of you who are regular readers know that I've been on a journey to better health, but despite my efforts, I haven't arrived at that "I feel great" stage yet.  For the most part, I haven't felt bad, but I haven't exactly felt good either, or at least, not as good as I would like to feel.  Last week, however, when I was sick, I was reminded just how miserable it is to feel bad, and I began to appreciate feeling good or even fair.  Compared to how I felt last week, the few weeks leading up to it were Heaven on earth.  Funny how our perspectives can change, huh?  Now that I'm recovering and regaining some strength, I realize how much I'm longing to at least feel fair again.  It's a shame that it took being sick for me to appreciate what health I did have.

The same can be said for our spiritual condition.  Oftentimes it takes a severe storm to allow us to appreciate not only the calm waters but also the slightly choppy seas.  A long stretch through the valley helps us appreciate not only the mountaintops, but also the strenuous climb to get there because we realize we're finally heading up.  Leave it to the "really bad" to help us appreciate the "not-so-bad."  It's all a matter of perspective.

I don't know what you're going through today, but I do know this--our storms have a purpose.  Our valleys inspire growth.  And while your current dilemma may seem like the end of the world, it's not. God promised to bring us through the storms and through the valleys.  They are not our destination, only pit stops along the way.  Some days will be better, and others, not so much.  But keep in mind that even though our moods and perspectives may change, the God who is controlling all things doesn't.  He is, and always will be, a God of love.  He doesn't send the storms to punish us but rather to remind us of just how much we have to be thankful for.

So, when was the last time you thanked God for the dreary days?

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. - Isaiah 43:2

Friday, July 3, 2015

I'm Sorry, Did You Say Something?

May I be honest with you?  I have been distracted this past week and have found it difficult to perform the most ordinary tasks.  The housework has been neglected.  E-mails have gone unanswered.  Even my daily blog writings have seemed like a chore where they are normally a pleasure.  It is as if everything in my life has been out of sorts except for one area:  my latest novel.
Yes, the source of my utter distraction is my latest writing project.  In short, I am caught up in the story I've created.

When I lie down at night, my mind swirls about with new ideas and interesting twists I can add to my story.  As I go through the day, trying to concentrate on other tasks, my thoughts are drawn to new possibilities for my detective team.  And with this particular book being part of a series, my mind is already plotting out the next few books in the series so that I can make sure I have somewhere to go with the story at the end of this current book.  It is a long, drawn-out process, but I love every minute of it.

What I don't love is that once I get into "book-writing mode," it's difficult for me to think about anything else.  Everything else seems to become a blur in the background.  The tasks are there, calling for my attention, but I can't seem to hear.  I am completely and totally focused on my book.  And, to a degree, that sort of focus is commendable, but it can also be costly. . . especially if the focus is on a not-so-worthy goal.

How often do we become so focused on the negative circumstances in our lives that everything else becomes a blur in the background?  The other things, including our many blessings, are there, calling for our attention, but we can't seem to hear them.  We are completely and totally focused on our problems.  It's all we see when we look around us.  It's all we can think about when we lie in bed at night.  It permeates every fiber of our being and dictates our every attitude and action.  In short, we become caught up in the misery we created.

While we are not responsible for every circumstance that comes our way, we are responsible for our attitudes and actions concerning those circumstances.  We can choose to allow ourselves to become solely focused on our problems, or we can take the extra effort and look beyond our circumstances to the One who is in control of it all.  If we feel we must be solely focused on one thing, let God be that one thing!

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; - Ephesians 5:19-20