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Friday, October 30, 2015

Things That Go Bump in the Night

I do not celebrate Halloween, and unlike the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, I don't believe in spooks.  That is not to say, however, that I don't appreciate a good ghost story.  And would you believe that one of the greatest ghost stories can be found in the Bible?  Yes, the Bible.  Don't believe me?  Check it out:

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) - Ephesians 4:8-10

The Bible tells us that during the three days after Jesus' death and before His bodily resurrection, He descended to Hades (which, at that time, consisted of both Hell and Paradise) and led captivity captive.  In other words, those who were saved and were being held in Paradise as a temporary holding place were released to ascend to Heaven with Christ.  Where that gets weird is that we know that Christ didn't ascend until after speaking with Mary Magdalene at the tomb after His resurrection (John 20:17).   Remember, Jesus told Mary not to touch Him because He hadn't ascended to His Father yet.  The blood had not yet been applied to the mercy seat.  So, my question is, where were all those spirits that He freed from Paradise during the time between when He set them free and when He ascended?  Here's a thought:

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matthew 27:52-53) 

Okay, majorly creepy, right?  Who were these people, and why in the world were they walking among the living?  Could it be that the bodies that came up out of the graves belonged to the spirits that were set free from Paradise?  I mean, it seems like a bit of a coincidence, doesn't it?  I have no conclusive proof that the captives freed and the resurrected bodies were "match sets," but I believe there is enough evidence to conclude that there were people in that area walking around muttering, "I do believe in spooks!  I do believe in spooks!"  Can you imagine?

Now, if that weren't creepy enough, ponder this:  what happened to those bodies when Christ finally ascended?  It's safe to assume (especially based on the wording of Ephesians 4:8-10) that the souls of those who were freed from Paradise ascended to Heaven with Christ, but what happened to their bodies?  Did they ascend too?  Did they die a second time and have to be buried again?  What happened to the living dead?

Alas, I fear we'll never know all the details of this intriguing ghost tale until we reach Heaven, but that doesn't mean we can't study it out and try to fill in the blanks the best we can.  In the end, we'll know all there is to know, but for now, at least we know what's truly important.  Christ conquered death and hell and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and because of His great sacrifice, one day we will get to join Him in that place of endless wonder.

And I'm pretty sure there won't be any spooks!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

When Faith Isn't Really Faith

I came across a sentence in my devotional reading this morning that caused me to stop and think about my faith in a new light.  Allow me to share with you this sentence from Beth Moore's book, Whispers of Hope:  "Our faith must rest on God's identity, not His activity."

When I think back to the blessings I've received over the past week, I realize that my "faith" has not been resting on God's identity but rather on the activity that I've seen Him performing in my life.  Last week, He provided the firewood and just yesterday, He took a doctor's bill that should have been near $200 and reduced it to $30.  With blessing after blessing, I find myself on a spiritual high, but after reading that sentence this morning, I am left with no choice but to ask myself a few questions.

Has God changed over the past couple of weeks?
Is God still good when it doesn't seem like He's answering my prayers?
What exactly is it that makes God God in my life?
Isn't God still worthy of my praise on the days when everything seems to be falling apart?

You see, by allowing my faith to rest solely on what God is doing rather than who He is, I have set myself up for the mother of all roller coasters.  When things are going well, my faith in God is strong, but when life is not so kind, I have the tendency to believe that God isn't either.  I have set myself up for disappointment, frustration and, above all, doubt.

How can I believe God is good when it doesn't seem like He's working on my behalf?  How can I trust His promises when I don't see Him at work?  If my faith is resting solely in God's activity, I can't.  That's why it's important to make sure our faith is in the right thing.  Yes, the Bible is full of accounts where God met the needs of His people, and it's important that we know and cling to these accounts as proof of God's provision.  But proof isn't faith, is it?  According to Hebrews 11:1, Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  If we're seeing it, it's not faith; it's fact.

Faith is believing that God is good even when life isn't.  Faith is knowing that God is a loving Father even in the times we feel forsaken.  Faith is choosing to believe that God is working on our behalf even when there is no evidence to support it.  Faith is trusting God to be God and leaving the results up to Him.

So I ask you, in what or Whom have you placed your trust?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Lame Leading the Lame

We're all familiar with the phrase "the blind leading the blind," right?  As Christians, we are blessed in that we can say we were blind but now we see--maybe not with physical eyes, but certainly with spiritual ones.  Our salvation has equipped us with eyes of faith, so we will never be the blind leading the blind.  We have a vision, and with that vision, we can lead others to Christ.

That is not to say, however, that we won't sometimes feel like the lame leading the lame.  Burdened Christians helping to encourage and lift up other burdened Christians.  Let's face it, we all have our share of trouble on this earth, and often those troubles can weigh us down to the point that we feel we can't even walk.  But then, a brother or sister in Christ shares their burden, and we feel the need to help lift them up.  But how does the lame lead the lame?  How can we lift up our fellow believers when we feel so downhearted and weary ourselves?  Second Corinthians 1:3-5 has the answer to that:

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

In essence, God says that He will comfort us so that we can pass that comfort on to others.  Does that mean that our problems simply vanish away?  Unfortunately not, but it does mean that God will give us the strength not only to make it through but to help others make it through as well.  And just think, while He's doing that for you, He's doing the same thing for someone else--giving them comfort so that they can, in turn, comfort you.  It's like a big circle of encouragement where everyone receives so everyone has something to give.  And in that way, the lame are truly leading the lame.

Also, God makes a point of reminding us that our suffering is not in vain.  He says that our sufferings abound so that our encouragement to others can also abound.  The more we suffer; the more encouragement we have to give.  Sounds backward, I know, but God has the whole thing figured out, and He doesn't want us to waste our time in self-pity when we should be helping others to bear their burdens.

I don't know what you may be facing today, but I can assure you that God will give you the grace and strength you need to get through it.  In the meantime, look for someone else who is also suffering (it shouldn't be hard in these dark days), and ask the Lord to reveal some ways that you can pass on the comfort that He has given you.  I'm sure He'll share a few ideas.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Who Would Have Thought?

The subject of today's post is one that came to my mind Thursday afternoon in light of certain events which I will reveal in a moment.  I know that I have covered the topic in my Sunday School class, but honestly, I can't remember if I have covered it on here or not.  I did a quick search through my older posts this morning and couldn't find where I had posted anything about it, but I may have missed it.  So, if I've covered this before, I apologize for the repeat, but honestly, this is the message the Lord has laid on my heart this morning.

Due to a number of circumstances that I won't go into, Jason and I have decided that our best course of action for heating our home this year is to purchase firewood that is already seasoned and split.  While this decision will offer relief in some areas of our lives (i.e. time and energy), it will create issues in another area--finances.  The great part about collecting and splitting our own wood is that it doesn't cost us any money.  Time?  Yes.  Energy?  Absolutely.  Sweat, tears, cuts and bruises?  Yep.  But not money, which, as you're aware, does NOT grow on trees.

So, with this new decision came a new prayer:  "Lord, we need wood, and we need a way to pay for that wood.  Basically, we need a miracle!"  From Monday until Thursday, my morning prayer included my heartfelt plea that God would provide a miracle regarding our heating situation.  With the cold mornings pressing down on us and our current firewood stash so meager, I was tempted to allow fear to take control.  But God gave me strength, and instead, I prayed for a miracle.

On Thursday afternoon, there was a knock at my door.  I answered it and saw a man standing in front of a truck and trailer full of split firewood.  "I have a delivery from Dan Wagner," he said.

I shook my head.  "I'm sorry.  You must have the wrong address.  I don't know anyone named Dan Wagner."

"Is this 102 Edwards Street?" he asked.


"Are you Dana?"

"Um, yes."

"Then I'm at the right place."

My thoughts were that Jason must have found a good deal on some firewood and had it delivered to the house.  I was pleased but also a little apprehensive.  It was Thursday, and Jason didn't get paid until Friday.  How much was this wood going to cost?  After all, there was a bunch of it!

"Let me read the message," the man replied, bringing me out of my thoughts and confusion.

He pulled out his phone and read, "Please deliver this load to Jason and Dana Rongione at 102 Edwards Street.  The wood is a surprise and has already been paid for.  There is no charge.  Please deliver and stack."

I was dumbstruck!  I stood there staring through my tears at the piles of wood in the truck and trailer. For the next half hour or so, the kind man (who works for Dan Wagner, owner of Dan's Exterior Home Services in Easley) unloaded and stacked the firewood that had graciously been given to us.  He joined me in praising the Lord for His goodness and provision, then he was on his way.  Jason and I have no idea who set up the delivery or paid for the wood, but in our eyes, they are angels of mercy.

All afternoon, I felt a bit like Sarah must have felt when she finally had the child that God had been promising her for over twenty-five years.  And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age. (Genesis 21:6-7)

After all of God's promises and all His provision, Sarah, too, was dumbstruck by God's goodness and faithfulness.  "Who would have thought?" she asked.  That was me yesterday.  I prayed for a miracle. I believed that God could send that miracle, but I don't think I really believed that God would send a miracle because when it showed up at my doorstep, I was completely in awe.  What?  Did God really meet my need?  And, wow!  That was quick!!!!

My friends, I want to remind you today that we serve a faithful and loving God who has promised to meet our every need.  And when God makes a promise, He keeps it.  It may not happen in the way we imagine or even the way we hope, but God will make good on His word.  Whatever your need, whatever your prayer, have faith that God will come through.

Who would have thought God would send a double load of firewood literally to my doorstep?  Well, I should have because that's the kind of God I serve.  The kind that does above and beyond what we could ask or think.  Will you join me in praising Him today?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Words Without Knowledge

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? - Job 38:1-2

Did you know that, after years of touting slogans like "Fats make you fat," the experts are now saying that they were wrong?  Come to find out, all that fat-free living caused a spike in blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity.  Oops!  Their bad!  It only serves to remind me why I don't listen to these "experts" for health and nutrition advice.  They don't know what they're talking about!

Unfortunately, the same misinformation is taking place in churches throughout the world, but especially, it would seem, in America.  Words without knowledge.  Feel-good sermons.  Tickling the ears and telling people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.  Do you realize there are pastors out there teaching that everyone is going to Heaven?  Or how about the teaching that good works is the way to true salvation?  These so-called experts on the Bible are leading people to Hell because they're either too ignorant or too ashamed to tell people the truth.  And when these lost souls stand before the judgment seat of God, what are these "experts" going to say?  "Oops, our bad!"  Unacceptable!

Sadly, we can't keep people from spreading their lies and false doctrine.  What we can do, however, is spread the truth.  It's not too late for us to stand up and say, "No, what they're saying is wrong, and you need to hear the truth.  Jesus is the only way to Heaven, and if you don't accept Him, you will spend eternity in Hell."  No, it's not a pretty message, and yes, many will be offended by the fact that we've labeled them "sinners," but even if the truth hurts, the fact remains that it sets us free!  We need to get busy letting people know what the Bible says.  It's about time they heard words with knowledge!

I'm a firm believer that if you don't know what you're talking about, you should just be quiet.  Unfortunately, many disagree.  Their flowery speeches and feel-good messages make them popular and wealthy, so they'll tell people whatever they want to hear as long as it keeps the pews filled and the money rolling in.  Disgusting, isn't it?  It's one thing for a preacher or pastor to make a living; it's quite another to get rich by darkening the counsel of the Lord.  Woe unto these false prophets when they stand before God!

But my message today isn't to them (because they probably won't give me the time of day), but it's to you.  What are you doing to spread the truth of God's Word?  When you hear someone spouting false teachings, do you speak up or simply let it slide?  Let's face it, Jesus is coming back soon.  How many people will miss Heaven because we were too afraid to stand up for the truth here on Earth?  It's a convicting thought, isn't it?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Searching for the Source

When I returned home from the grocery store, I found Tippy (our beagle) snuggled up--blanket and all--on the rug in front of the wood stove.  For those of you who don't already know this, we heat our home with wood.  There is no other source of heat other than a few space heaters in the other rooms.  In the winter, the wood stove runs 24/7.  In the spring and fall, however, it gets a little tricky.  The mornings are cool enough to warrant a fire, but by the afternoon, I prefer to have the windows open.  This morning was cool though I didn't realize just how cool it was in the house until I returned from my errands.

Before I left the house, I made sure each of the dogs had a blanket and a warm place to sleep.  What I didn't take into consideration is how much Tippy, in her old age, is becoming sensitive to the cold weather.  It is affecting her more than it ever did before, which was made evident to me when I saw how she had dragged herself and her blanket in front of the wood stove.  The only problem was that I hadn't started a fire before leaving.  The wood stove was just as cool as the rest of the house, but Tippy (even being as dense as she is) knew that the stove was typically a source of heat, so she snuggled up to it to get warm.  Obviously, once I saw such a pitiful sight, I started up the wood stove and gave Tippy the warmth for which she had been searching.

We can all relate, can't we?  You exercise for weeks, yet you still don't have the strength to make it through the busy day.  You flip the light switch, and the room remains dark.  You call a friend to share a burden and get an earful instead.  Do you see the pattern?  The search for power, light and encouragement falls short of our expectations and leaves us wondering why we can't find what we're looking for.  Could it be that we're looking to the wrong sources?  Let's break it down.

Looking for strength?  Psalm 28:7 says, The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.  Yes, exercise and healthy habits are great for the body and mind, but if we're trusting in those habits to give us the strength we need to make it through our days, we're depending on the wrong things.  What happens when we can't exercise?  Where is our strength then?  If we're searching for the true source of strength, we'd be better off trusting in the Lord who never wavers and never fails.

Needing light?  Psalm 27:1 says, The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  (Cool!  Did you notice how we got "strength" in there again?)  Lights are great, and it isn't unreasonable for us to expect the lights to come on when we flip the switch.  That is how they're supposed to work, right?  But sometimes I think we count on those same lights to dispel the darkness within our souls, but frankly, that's not their job.  Only God can shine a light in the dark places of our hearts and minds.  He is our light, and the darker the day seems, the brighter He shines.

Want encouragement?  First Samuel 30:6 says, And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.  When David didn't have anyone to turn to in his grief and frustration, he knew he could turn to the Lord.  I couldn't even give you a guess as to how many times in the Bible the Lord uttered the words, "Be of good cheer."  It's a lot, I know that much.  It's a blessing to have friends and family with whom we can share our burdens, but there is absolutely no encouragement like that which comes from the Lord.

What are you searching for today?  The source of strength, light or encouragement?  Or perhaps you're looking for the source of something else.  May I remind you that Jesus is all we need, and He is the source of ALL things? For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (Colossians 1:16)

Come to Jesus.  He has what you need.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Testimony of the Past

Why is it that negative things are so much easier to remember than positive ones?  I can't remember when my husband complimented me on Sunday, but I can remember three years ago when he looked at me cross-eyed and hurt my feelings.  I can't remember the multitude of e-mails I receive telling me how much my ministry has been an encouragement, but I can remember every word of rejection letters or notes of complaint.  I can't remember the times I chose a piece of fruit over a piece of chocolate cake (I'm pretty sure there have been a few), but I can remember every time I gave in to the temptation to satisfy my desires.  It's like my memory is made of Swiss cheese, but only the positive things are falling through the holes.

We often do the same thing with the Lord, don't we?  In the here and now of our troubles or trials, we remember all the trials we've already endured.  We think back over the past few days, weeks, months and even years and say, "Here we go again."  I don't know about you, but I often find myself pleading toward Heaven and crying, "Stop the ride!  I want to get off!"  Yet, even during these difficult times, my heart has a song.  Unfortunately, it's not a song anyone wants to hear.  "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen; Nobody knows my sorrow."  Boohoo!  Sniff!

If anyone can relate, I know it would be David.  You know, the shepherd boy who killed Goliath and was promised a kingdom.  Only things didn't work out the way David had envisioned them.  He found himself in a cave instead of a palace.  He had to flee before he could rule.  Yes, he certainly had some down days, and if you don't believe me, read through some of the Psalms that he penned.  Talk about a pity party!  But the thing I love about the Psalms is how David's weeping is always turned to joy, his mourning into dancing.  You may be wondering how it's possible to have such a change of heart within just a few verses.  David answers that question in Psalm 40.

 I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. (vs. 1-3)

Do you see what's happening here?  David is going back through his mental journal and seeing how God had come through for him in the past.  He is forcing himself to remember the good, not just the bad.  Pastor David Jeremiah puts it this way:  "When anxiety for the future built up--and it did time and again--David faced it with the testimony of the past."  What a beautiful thought--the testimony of the past!

No matter what we're facing today, God can handle it.  Let's make it our duty (and delight) to focus on His previous track record.  Sure, we've had problems before, but He fixed them, didn't He?  Sure, we've had rough roads, but He made sure we arrived at our destination, right?  Sure, we've encountered our fair share of storms, but He's always been there to calm the seas at the right time.  He's always come through for us.  We can trust Him for today because He was faithful yesterday.  Let's face today (and each day to come) with a testimony of the past.  David did, and he discovered a new song.

Now that's something worth celebrating!  Chocolate cake, anyone?

*****Excerpt from Daily Discussions of a Doubting Disciple*****

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Expectation Conversation

Have you ever tried to set up a piece of electronics and found that the directions were useless?  You read them.  You followed them exactly.  Step by step, you never strayed from the instructions on the page.  Yet, when all was said and done, you pushed the power button, and nothing happened.  Frustrating, isn't it?

Or maybe you're more familiar with accomplishing a task or project.  Again, you followed the directions.  And again, the results were not the ones you were expecting.  In fact, you even went back and double checked the instructions.  Did I do every step?  Did I complete them in the right order?  And after discovering that the answer to both of those questions was "yes," you scratched your head (or pulled out your hair) and whined, "Then why isn't this working?"

Ever been there?  I sure have.  In fact, I am there.  After taking some classes on how to attract more attention to my books and increase my book sales, I decided to try out all this new information (well, new to me) on my book launch.  So, I sought out the reviews.  I called in the beta readers.  I spent days and days contacting this person and that person about promoting my new middle-grade novel.  I researched out the best keywords for my book description and narrowed down my categories to the best and most specific ones I could find on Amazon.  I did free advertising, and yes, I even paid for advertising.  I marked down the price of all the books in the series and even offered the first book for free.  All of these things, mind you, were steps in the process of gaining more exposure and, in turn, more sales.

Well, the book promotion began on October 5th, and at the time of this writing, I've sold three copies of the new release, five copies of the second book in the series and given away one hundred twelve copies of the first book.  Now, I know that the last figure may sound impressive, but I assure you, it is not.  In comparison to other books on Amazon (and even other books within the same category), the number of giveaways is abysmal.  But it's the first number that really depresses me.  All that time, money and energy spent for three copies.  Three!!!!  Seriously?  I've sold more books than that without ever doing a bit of marketing.

It just seems so unfair.  I followed all the proper steps.  I closely adhered to the advice of my instructors.  I crossed every "t" and dotted every "i," but the results were downright discouraging.  I was expecting so much more.  After putting in so much time and effort, I felt sure that my hard work would pay off.  But so far, it hasn't.  (And please understand that I am not, in any way, trying to guilt you into buying my book).  That's not my point.  Rather, my lesson is that expectations can be dangerous and can lead us into the valley of discouragement, disappointment and depression.

Each day of our lives, we're bound to build up expectations about the way we think things should happen.  We skip breakfast and expect the scale to read two pounds lighter the next morning (oh, if only!!!).  We leave early for work, expecting to miss the bulk of the traffic.  We hint around to our spouse about an upcoming event we would like to attend and expect that they'll understand that the subtle hint was actually a request.  We expect others to treat us the way we want to be treated.  And yes, we even expect God to act according to our plans and timetables.  How's that working out for us?

Just this morning, Jason and I had the "expectation conversation". . . again!  And once again, he reminded me that I would save myself a lot of disappointment if I would stop expecting things to go my way.  Instead, I should leave all things in God's hands and trust that He will work them out according to His plans.  Isn't that the best?  Aren't God's ways the best ways?  Plus, if I expect God to do things His way, and He does just that, then I have nothing to be disappointed about, right?

So, when it all boils down, I guess I haven't been doing all the right things after all.  Sure, I may have been following my book promotion checklist, but have I been following God's checklist?  Um, it would seem not, but that's about to change.  I have decided to place my writing and all other factions of my ministry in God's hands and leave the results up to Him.  He's already opened many wonderful doors for me this year, so I have no reason to doubt He will continue to bless.  From now on, I need only to have one expectation--I expect God to be God!

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. - Psalm 55:22

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Prodigal Has Returned

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. - Luke 15:17-24

Most of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son, but it's not every day that one actually gets to encounter it.  Several months ago, our church experienced a great loss.  One of our own went astray.  Just as he had done with the prodigal son, Satan had duped this dear soul into thinking that things would be better away from the flock of God.  So she left, and we mourned.  And we prayed, oh, how we prayed.  When others would have given up hope, we (as a church) were determined to do just as the prodigal's father had done--we waited for our loved one to return.

And last night, she did!  Just as the prodigal did, she confessed her sin and apologized for her actions, and just as the father did, we accepted her back with open arms and lots of tears.  The prodigal has returned, and the church is rejoicing.

Knowing how much my heart was blessed last night and how greatly my tears flowed, I cannot imagine how the prodigal's father must have felt.  I mean, this was his son.  His own flesh and blood. How he must have mourned his departure.  How he must have prayed every day as he waited for his child to return home.  But can you imagine the joy that overwhelmed him when he saw his son in the distance?  After experiencing what we experienced last night, I have an idea but to the extent that the father rejoiced I simply cannot fathom.

And that leads me to wonder how God must feel every time one of his children finds their way home.  Can you imagine the rejoicing?  Can you hear the angels shouting praises?  Can you see the smile on the Father's face and the tears streaming down His cheeks?  Can you imagine the embrace of the One who has waited and waited for the prodigal to return?  Wow!  Yep, all I can say is, "Wow!"

Perhaps you have run away from the Lord, seeking your own way.  Let the prodigal son be an example to you.  It's not worth it, and when all is said and done, you'll only find yourself in the pig pen.  The Father is waiting with open arms.  In His presence, you will find acceptance and forgiveness.  Don't wait another day.  Make your way back to your Father.  After all, there's no place like home!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

When Grief Gives Way to Bitterness

And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. - Ruth 1:14-15

To catch you up on what's happening, Naomi, after leaving Israel because of famine and moving to Moab, lost her husband and both her sons.  Now, left alone with her two daughters-in-law, she decides to travel back to Israel, but she is determined that her daughters-in-law not follow her.  She compels them to stay with "their people."

Grief and disappointment can throw a person for a loop.  They can turn a sane, rational individual into an illogical, weak-minded person.  They can bring out emotions that one never even realized he/she had.  But most importantly, they can pull us away from God.  I believe this is what happened in Naomi's case.

First off, she tries to send off the only family she has.  Why would she do that?  Did she want to be alone?  Didn't she love her daughters-in-law?  While suffering from grief and disappointment, the last thing we should do is to distance ourselves from others.  We need to be around family and friends.  We need to be around God's people.

What's even worse about this whole situation is that Naomi not only distanced herself from her daughter-in-law, but she drove a wedge between Orpah and God.  Notice what it says in verse 15: Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods:  In her hour of confusion and desperation, Naomi turned her own family away from God.  She sent her back to her people and their false gods.  Not only that, but she tried to get Ruth to do the same.  Thankfully, Ruth refused.  Still, it makes me wonder what ever happened to Orpah.  Did she ever get saved?  Is she in Heaven today or in Hell?  Naomi had a chance to teach those young women about the one, true God, but instead she allowed her own circumstances to make her selfish.  She thought more about her temporal existence than about her daughter-in-law's eternal one.  What a shame!

Once she and Ruth arrive back in Israel, the evidence of Naomi's attitude toward God continues:
And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? (vs.20-21)

The name Naomi means "pleasantness, joy, bliss," but Mara means "bitter."  Naomi decided to change her name.  She was no longer pleasant or joyful.  She was bitter, and she blamed God for it.  "God dealt bitterly with me.  God did this to me.  God is against me and has afflicted me."  Wow, she really was bitter.  You see, Naomi had a made a choice--the same choice we often make when dealing with grief, frustration or disappointment.  Naomi decided to view her circumstances from her perspective, without even taking into consideration that maybe God had a plan.  Things looked bad, so she decided to take them as such.  Instead of allowing God to work in her and through her during this difficult time, she chose to grow bitter and withdraw.  How often do we do the same?

Grief and disappointment are serious matters and are difficult to deal with.  I understand that, really, I do.  But we must be careful not to allow those things to cause even greater harm in our lives.  We must guard against growing selfish in the midst of difficult circumstances.  We must be steadfast to maintain our connections with friends and family that can help us through our trials.  And above all, we must not allow our storms to deter others from the path to Christ.  We should be an example and a guiding light, not a stumbling block. 

As we can see from the rest of Ruth's story, God did, indeed, have a plan--a marvelous plan. He has a plan for you too, and your current circumstances are simply a part of that plan.  I know it's tough.  I know it's dark, and the way seems long.  But hang in there.  Don't grow bitter.  Grow better!  The best is yet to come.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What's It Going to Be?

I hate tests!  I don't know what it is, but tests bring out new levels of stress in me.  I can study.  I can know all the answers.  It doesn't matter.  The tests still scare me.  And if I must take a test, please don't let it be true/false.  Those are the worst. . . especially for someone like me who over-analyzes everything.  For me, a true/false test goes something like this:

"This is true.  No, wait.  There could be something false within this seemingly true statement.  Let me examine every word and the meaning of every word.  Okay, yes, it's true.  But wait!  What if they're trying to trick me by making me believe that it's true when really it's false.  Tricky, very tricky."

Yes, I'm serious.  That's how I am when faced with a true/false test.  It takes me forever, and I'm so stressed by the time I'm done that I almost don't care how I scored.  I'm simply relieved to be finished.  No, true/false is not for me.  If I must take a test, I prefer multiple choice.  To me, it's just much simpler.  Sure, the odds of getting the answer correct are greater with true/false; unfortunately, the odds of getting the answer wrong are also greater. With multiple-choice, on the other hand, you typically have a one in four chance of coming up with the correct answer; however, I don't feel as if the tester is trying to trick me. With less stress and greater confidence, I am then able to remember the facts I studied and choose the correct answer.

As much as I hate tests, you can imagine my horror at discovering that I face a test day after day. Thankfully, it is multiple-choice. Each day, the test presents the same question: what will you do today? Similarly, it also gives the same two choices: (1) deny yourself or (2) deny Christ. And every day, I must make a choice. You will notice, however, that unlike many multiple-choice questions, there is no "none of the above" option. We don't get off that easily. If we choose to live out our day according to our own plans and ambitions, then we have essentially made the choice to deny Christ. It's harsh, I know, but it's true. The striking fact is that if we do not deny ourselves, we deny Christ. There is no other option available.

This should be an easy test. After all, we know the correct answer, but knowing and doing are two different things. I sometimes think we fool ourselves into thinking that no action is the best action, but we now know that is not the case. James 4:17 tells us, Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. We know it is good to deny ourselves, and failing to do so is sin. We must make a choice, and whether we pass or fail the test is dependent on that one question: what will you do today?

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. - Luke 9:23

Monday, October 12, 2015


During my Bible reading this morning, a thought struck me about Samson.  He was blind long before the Philistines put out his eyes.  What do I mean?  Well, as we read through Judges 16, we can see several areas where Samson was blind.  Take a look.

1) He was blind to his weakness. - From the very beginning, Samson had a woman problem.  When it came to picking his "better half," Samson had all the wisdom of a turnip.  His first wife left him for his best friend.  Nice!  After that, he turned to harlots.  Lovely!  Then, of course, there was Delilah (we'll talk more about her in a minute).  But Samson didn't see the pattern.  He seemed clueless to the fact that his lust for women was leading him to his own destruction, so he continued down that path until it ultimately led to his death.

2) He was blind to Delilah's true nature. - All I can say is that Delilah must have been quite a looker because, from what the Bible says about her, she had no other redeeming qualities.  She was greedy.  She was manipulative.  And honestly, how blind did Samson have to be not to realize what she was doing when she kept asking him about how to defeat him?  Didn't he think that was a rather odd question?  And didn't he further think it strange when each night he was subjected to the "binding" that would cause him to lose his strength?  Talk about clueless!  He was so blinded by love or lust or something that he spilled his secret and wound up a prisoner of the Philistines.

3) He was blind to the fact that the power of the Lord was no longer with him. - And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him. (Judges 16:20)
I don't know about you, but it sounds to me like Samson had a bit of a pride problem too.  Did you catch his response to Delilah?  "No big deal.  I'll just go out and defeat them like I always do."  Hmm, the only problem was that Samson wasn't the one who had defeated the enemy before.  It was God working through him, and God wasn't taking part in this particular fight.  Unfortunately, Samson was too full of himself to notice that he was fighting the battle all alone.

Obviously, the results of Samson's blindness to these things led to his literal blindness and incarceration.  He spent the rest of his days as a slave, ridiculed and mistreated.  Fortunately, in the end, Samson began to see things clearly.  While he had been blind to so many things, he wasn't blind to the fact that God is good, merciful and forgiving.

And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life. - Judges 16:28-30

Despite all that Samson had done, the Lord still heard and honored his request.  He gave Samson one more moment of glory.  He lent Samson His strength to win one last battle.  As He has done so often in our lives, God proved Himself gracious and merciful.  What a blessing!

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. - Psalm 86:5

Friday, October 9, 2015

Make Way For the Judge

As the music faded from the room, Mr. Reed pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the flute. After returning the flute to its place and replacing the glass lid, he turned to me. "Well?" His tone had taken on a hint of harshness, but that was hardly unreasonable. 

Tears trickled down my face as I looked him in the eye. “I am so sorry, Mr. Reed. I thought I had enough proof. I thought I had the facts. I didn't want to believe it was you, but that seemed to be where the evidence led me.” 

Mr. Reed's tight lips curved up into a slight smile. “Evidence is a tricky thing, my girl. Sometimes it will lead us to answers, but often it will only lead us to what we expect to find. That is why we must be careful to judge correctly and not jump to conclusions when we don't have all the facts.”

In my newest mystery novel, Abby faced the same problem we often face:  she jumped to conclusions.  She looked at the facts.  She followed the evidence.  She thought she had everything figured out, but in the end, she accused an innocent man of a severe crime.  How could she have been so wrong?  How could the evidence have led her so far astray?  How could she have misjudged the situation?  The same way we can.

Evidence is great, but as Mr. Reed said, it can be a tricky thing.  We can take evidence and skew it with our own interpretations and assumptions, just as Abby did in the book.  Take, for example, the woman who sits in the back pew of the church.  She never smiles.  In fact, she looks like she's been sucking on a lemon all her life.  So, we examine the evidence, add up the facts and come to our concrete conclusions about her.  She must be rude and not right with God, which explains both her sour look and her backslidden position in the church house.  Who knows what kind of trouble she could cause if someone were to anger her? So we avoid her, just to be safe.

Sadly, there is some evidence that is not visible to the human eye.  What we mistook for evidence of a sour attitude was actually the grimace of a body wracked with pain.  Her position on the back pew?  Well, that's as far as she can walk inside the doors without needing to rest her weary body.  And as for her rude, standoffish manner, well, that's not true either.  In fact, if we were to make our way over to shake her hand, we would discover that she is one of the sweetest people in the entire world.  She's not trying to avoid others.  She simply can't stand the pain long enough to walk around and mingle.  Do you see what a terrible mistake we've made?

Whether it be in the church, in the workplace or even at home, we all have a tendency to appoint ourselves judge and jury.  We examine "all" the evidence and judge people according to what we see and think, but it's high time we realize that we're not fit to be judges because we cannot adequately examine all the evidence.  We need someone who is just and holy.  We need someone who can see the obvious and the not-so-obvious.  We need someone who knows what's good and what's right.  We need to let God be God, and part of His job as God is to be the ultimate Judge.

As for us, well, may I be blunt?  Perhaps if we spent as much time minding our own business and judging our own actions, attitudes and motives, we wouldn't have time to worry about anyone else.  Yeah, I know, that hurts, but it's true, isn't it?  God is excellent at His job, and He doesn't need our help.  Let's leave the judging to Him!

There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? - James 4:12

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Will You Carry Me?

A few days ago, I saw the cutest commercial.  It began with a scruffy, little dog--with his back leg in a full cast--hobbling along behind his master.  As he made his way down the sidewalk, dogs of all shapes and sizes ran past him.  He stopped at the park and looked longingly at the dogs that ran, played and wrestled with their owners.  Then he turned and looked at his master with a look that said, "Seriously, dude?  This is not fair!"  (Yes, I speak "dog."  It's just one of my many talents.  Just kidding!)

Anyway, back to the commercial.  At the point where the poor dog gave his master "the look," the guy pulled out his phone, opened up his Amazon app and placed an order.  The next thing the viewer sees is the owner strolling down the sidewalk with the scruffy, little dog nestled securely in a carrier that is attached to the owner's chest.  Both master and dog are happy and content.  It really is an adorable commercial.  I love it!

But what I love even more than the commercial itself is the lesson of which it reminds me.  There have been many times I've been just like that scruffy, little dog (well, maybe not the "scruffy" part).  There have been days when all I could do was hobble along.  There were times when I looked on longingly at those who dashed past me with the health and energy that I could only dream of.  And yes, there have even been times when I've looked to the Master and said, "Seriously, Lord?  This is not fair."  Yep, I can certainly relate to the plight of the poor pup.

Fortunately, I can also relate to the Master's care and concern.  Aware of my injuries and my failing strength, the Master lifted me up into the comfort of His bosom and carried me.  He brought me up from the low places and made it where I could keep going, despite my halting step.  Nestled safely in that embrace of grace, I found a different viewpoint, a new perspective.  Things looked so much better from that vantage point, and the fact that I was moving again brought a smile to my lips.  You could say that both the Master and I were happy and content.

Are you limping along today wondering if you'll ever make it through?  Do you stare at others, longing for the freedom and energy they seem to enjoy?  If so, don't forget that your Master knows all about it.  He sees your need.  He knows your failings and your frustrations.  He also knows that you can't make it alone, and He is ready and willing to carry you.  All you need to do is ask.

Don't stumble around any longer.  Ask the Master for help, and then allow Him to lift you up into that precious embrace of grace.  From there, the whole world seems brighter, and your steps are certainly lighter.  God longs to carry you through this day and every day to come.  The question is, will you let Him?

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. - Isaiah 40:11

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Are There "Ments" on Your Pillow?

Have you ever been to a fancy hotel?  You know, the kind where they leave mints on your pillow.  I don't think I have, but that's okay.  I'm not a fancy hotel kind of girl.  Frankly, I'd rather stay in a cabin in the woods, but maybe that's just me.  Besides, it's probably a good thing that I don't crave that kind of hotel stay because I'm pretty sure I couldn't afford it.

I did, however, go to bed with "ments" on my pillow last night, but let me tell you, they were not the kind of mints one desires, and they did not leave a pleasant taste in my mouth.  No, I'm afraid the "ments" on my pillow were discouragement, discontentment and disagreement.  You know how it is, you fall into bed at the end of the long day.  You're exhausted.  You crave sleep like Cookie Monster craves chocolate chips.  But the minute your head hits the pillows, you're assaulted with a million thoughts, most of them negative.

For me, it was discontentment over the leaky roof that had consumed much of our time, energy and patience over the weekend.  It was discouragement over the aches and pains of my body that haven't given me a moment's peace for months.  It was disagreement with God over the definition of "good" because at that point in time, I didn't see any of these things working out for my good like He promised they would in Romans 8:28.

Guess what!  After sucking on those "ments" all that time before finally drifting off to sleep, I awoke this morning to an exhausted body and a weary spirit.  It turns out that these "ments" don't dissolve when you suck on them; they grow.  The more time we spend with them, the bigger they become.  The more we think about them and dwell on them, the more of our time and energy they eat up.  And let me tell you, unlike other mints, these turn sour rather quickly.

So, how do we avoid the "ments" on our pillows?  How do we overcome the discouragement, discontentment and disagreements in our lives?  Well, first off, we can't ignore them and hope they'll go away.  Trust me, that doesn't work.  We must deal with them but through the strength and grace of God.  We must take them to God, just as we would any other burden, and explain that they are too heavy for us to bear.  Then, with all sincerity and commitment, we must give them over to Him and walk away.  Yep, I'm quoting Elsa from Frozen again, "Let it go, let it go!"

Seriously, we will all face discouragement, discontentment and disagreements from time to time.  Often, we may face them all at once, and the result can be overwhelming.  But the fact is that we don't have to suck on those "ments."  Acknowledge them, and then let them go.  Hand them over the One who can actually do something about them.  And then, maybe we can get the peaceful sleep we so deeply desire.

As soon as you have the chance, make yourself a note and leave it on your pillow.  When you go to bed tonight, you'll have a written reminder to cast your burdens on the Lord before crawling under the covers and attempting to sleep.  What should the note say?  That's up to you, but I'll tell you what mine says: "Hold the ments, please!"

I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. - Psalm 3:5


If you'd like to read more about dealing with discouragement, discontentment and disagreements, check out my book, The Deadly Darts of the Devil.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hang On a Little Longer

The other night I decided to fix a big pot of chicken and dumplings.  Mitchell and Tippy were all for this idea.  They understood that the big bag of leftover chicken meant they could have a few samples. What they didn't understand, however, was that the chicken was the last thing to go in the pot.  First, there would be a lot of waiting as the dumplings cooked.

Mitchell quickly realized that the process was going to be a long one, so he went and made himself comfortable on the couch.  Tippy, on the other hand, was determined to wait it out.  So, she waited while the water boiled.  She waited while the dumplings were added.  She waited as I unloaded and loaded the dishwasher while the dumplings were cooking.  She waited while I checked to see if the dumplings were done.  Patient as ever, she sat behind me and waited.

After seeing that the dumplings needed a few more minutes before I added the chicken, I went into my office to do a quick task that I had forgotten about until then.  Unfortunately, Tippy misunderstood my actions and obviously assumed that the "chicken feast" was a bust.  When I went back to the kitchen, she was gone.  As I opened the bag of chicken, Mitchell came running, but Tippy was still nowhere to be found.  As I added the meat to the pot and tossed bits and pieces to Mitchell, Tippy was still AWOL.  Finally, just as I was about to add the last of the chicken, she came in through the back door.  Fortunately for her, I had been saving some scraps.

Funny, isn't it?  She waited all that time, then just about the time she was going to get her reward, she gave up and wandered off. . . and nearly missed the reward because of it.  Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Look at the passage I read in my devotions this morning: Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee. (Psalm 81:13-16)

Did you catch that phrase, "I should soon have subdued their enemies"?  God was saying, "I was about to give them what they wanted.  I was about to make their dreams come true.  I was about to bring all my promises to fruition.  But Israel wouldn't wait any longer."  No, they grew tired of waiting on God and decided to do things their own way.  If only they had waited just a little while longer!

I don't want to be like the children of Israel.  I don't want to be like Tippy.  I don't want to miss out on the blessings of God because I gave up one hour too early or one day too early or even one year too early.  I want all the things that God has promised me and all the blessings that He has in store for me, but in order to have them, I need to be patient throughout the entire process.  Yes, it may seem like nothing is happening, but God is always working.

Maybe today you're about ready to give up.  I urge you to hold on a little longer.  God has a treat in store for you. Don't wander off.  Stay in His presence, and wait on His timing.  I promise you the blessings He has for you will definitely be worth it (and they may or may not taste like chicken).

Friday, October 2, 2015

Let's Handle It Together

Writing is a tricky business. Many people don't realize this, but a writing career involves much more than simply putting words to paper. One way I strive to become a better writer is by studying the work and schedule of well-established authors. But to be honest, after reading through their daily schedule, I'm left with more questions than inspiration.

Many of the writers' schedules I've studied include a set number of hours for actual writing, a set number of hours for revising old projects, a set number of hours for marketing, and a set number of hours for reading. That's a lot of hours. In fact, most of the schedules added up to 10-12 hours per day. When do these people eat or exercise or spend time with their families? Where in their schedules are the grocery store trips and church functions? I shake my head, realizing that I'll never get to the point these writers are at because I'm just not able (or willing) to devote that much time to it. Don't get me wrong. I love to write, but I can't neglect everything else in my life. I have other responsibilities.

Sometimes I look at other people and can't help but ask, "How do they do it all? How can they accomplish so much and still have time and energy to spare?" I know people whose lives seem to be running in so many directions at once it makes me dizzy, yet they still seem to be able to accomplish their goals. My schedule seems flexible and even easy compared to some, yet I struggle day after day to accomplish all the things on my "to-do list." It frustrates me because I feel like I should be able to do more.

Often, this frustration leads me to the Lord, where I bow my head and pray for more strength. "I need more time, Lord," I plead. "I need more endurance. I know I can get it all done. Other people do it. I know I can too." It is at this point the Lord speaks, and while His tone is gentle, His words are not.

"Child, how many times have I asked you not to compare yourself with others? You are no one but who I made you to be. You have chores and duties that are designed just for you. It does no good to compare your life or your workload with that of another. As far as time, you have the same twenty-four hours that everyone else has. How are you using it? Are you wasting time with worry and doubt? And concerning strength, I have all the strength you need right here. All you have to do is ask, but you're so busy just trying to get things done, you forget to allow me to be part of your work. You cannot do it on your own, and trying to do so will only lead you back to this place, frustrated and defeated. Trust me, child. I can get you through each day and help you to accomplish all your goals. Take my hand, and let's handle this day together, shall we?"

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. - Psalm 18:35