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Monday, November 30, 2015

The Power of a Single Word

This morning as I worked around the house, I was singing along with one of my new favorite songs.  Yes, the first time I heard this particular song, I knew it would quickly become a favorite and that it wouldn't take me long to memorize the words to it. . . at least, most of the words.  One particular word keeps giving me trouble.  The last phrase of the chorus states, "It's quite a valley, but nothing He won't bring you through."  For some reason, I always want to sing, "but nothing He won't see you through."

Other than being frustrated each time I say the wrong thing, I didn't see the slip up as a big deal.  After all, "see you through" and "bring you through" mean the same thing. . . or do they?  As I thought about it this morning, I realized that the songwriters, whether intentionally or not, chose very wisely when they opted for the word "bring" instead of "see."  And when you think about the difference between the words, a great song transforms into an awesome song.

To see something through implies taking care of something from a distance.  Yes, the one doing the overseeing is involved but not in a hands-on way.  He's there.  He's watching.  He knows what's happening and is in control of the outcome.  And while that does sound like God, it pales in comparison to the meaning of the authors' choice of words.

To bring something says that it is with you.  If you bring a bottle of water, that means the bottle is with you, in your possession.  It is an indication that the bringer and the item brought are in close proximity to one another--very close proximity.  Now that sounds more like God!

It's comforting to know that God is up in Heaven looking down on me.  It's good to know that He knows my every move, every care and every valley.  It's encouraging to know that from that "bird's eye view," He can direct me in the paths I should take and turns I should make.  But what's even more encouraging is the thought that He's in the valley with me.  He's not just seeing me through; He's bringing me through.  Leading and guiding, not just with words, but with His comforting hand placed gently on my back, steering me in the way I should go.  He is both before me and behind me, and with His hand in mine, He will bring me through every obstacle, every valley.

As a writer, I often find myself staring off in the distance searching for the perfect word.  How do I say it?  What will have the biggest impact?  How do I describe the indescribable?  It's a daunting task, but this morning I was reminded just how important a single word can be, and with that reminder, I am committed more than ever to allowing God to speak through me rather than trying to find the right words on my own.

I don't know what you may be facing today.  You may be in the valley, or you may be singing praises on the mountain top.  Either way, take comfort in the fact that God is with you.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  Not when the way gets tough.  Not when the path grows dim.  Not when the days grow long or the body grows weak.  He is with us, and He is bringing us through.

Hand in hand with Jesus.  What better way to draw this year to a close!

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. - Deuteronomy 31:6

Friday, November 27, 2015

Are You a Butterfinger or a Reeses?

Due to some recent health issues, I have renewed my efforts to cut back on caffeine and sugar.  That being said, I did splurge today on a little chocolate after our hiking trip.  I was looking forward to the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cup that awaited me, but as I ate it, I came to a conclusion:  it wasn't as good as a Butterfinger or a Reeses.  In trying to be something it wasn't, not only did it fall short of the very thing it was trying to imitate, but it fell short of itself.  I would have much rather had a regular Butterfinger bar or a Reeses cup than that peanut butter hybrid.  But that's what happens when we try to be what we were never intended to be.

Take, for example, my desire to play the piano like so many others I know.  They have style.  They have class.  They have the technique and the perfect fingering.  They utilize grand runs and unique chords.  I, on the other hand, am a competent pianist, but no more.  I can make my way through most songs, but don't count on fancy chording or impressive fill-ins.  I don't do that.  I can't do that!  However, I have been told, on many occasions, that my music is beautiful and full of feeling and emotion.  Unfortunately, I don't feel that my "emotion" is as nice as someone else's flair, so I try to up my program.  I practice a song until my fingers are numb, but that doesn't matter to me because I've worked in all the proper things at the proper places, determined to make my music sound as impressive as another's.  But guess what?  It falls short. . . way short.  Despite the hours of practice and the intense concentration, the piece still lacks the quality of a better pianist, and because I am so focused on the technique, I lose all feeling and emotion.  In short, I'm still not as good as they are, and now, I'm not even as good as myself.  What a lousy deal!

God has given each of us talents and gifts, and there is even a variety within each of those talents and gifts.  He has blessed us with skills and personalities that are perfectly suited toward the things He has called us to do.  So, why would we try to be something or someone else?  We're not equipped to do those jobs because God never intended for us to do them.  He has given us each our assigned tasks, and He does not give us a job to do without giving us the skill with which to do it.  We may not be the best at what we do, but that's not what God is interested in.  First off, He's concerned that we are faithful in what He's called us to do.  Second, He wants us to do what we've been called to do in the way we've been called to do it because, while we may not be the best, we will often deliver something that "the better ones" do not.

If God made you to be a Butterfinger, please don't try to be a Reeses.  It simply won't work.  Just be yourself and allow others to appreciate you for your faithfulness to who you are.  After all, I'd rather have a Butterfinger that tastes like a Butterfinger than one that's trying to imitate something else.  Be what God intended you to be.  Don't fall short of yourself!

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. - Romans 12:6-8

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Poem

Today I am thankful for so many things
Houses and family, my hopes and my dreams
A husband who loves me, a church fami
ly who cares
Nights that are free from fear and despair
Knowing that God has my best interest at heart
Showers of blessing that I know will soon start
Grace and mercy to get me through every day
I'm thankful for how the Lord guides my way
Victories that have come, and defeats to inform
I can do nothing without the strength of my Lord
Now on this day, I remember these things
Giving glory to God for all the goodness He brings.

Poem by Dana Rongione

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The "Positive to Poo" Ratio - Repost

If you missed my earlier post with minister/comedian/marriage counselor, Mark Gungor, you'll want to go back and watch that video.  This guy is a hoot, but he offers very valuable information.  In the video, he uses the Bible verse, Proverbs 14:4a, to explain that there is no such thing as a trouble-free marriage.  Proverbs 14:4a states, "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean."  In other words, if you have oxen, you're going to have ox poop!  Likewise, if you have a marriage, you're going to have some differences in opinion somewhere along the way.  It's just a fact!

I laughed at his explanation but realized that the concept goes far beyond marriage.  In fact, it applies to all life.  If you're alive, you're going to have trouble.  The Bible says so.  In Job, it says, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble."  In John, Jesus Himself said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation."  It's depressing, I know, but it's unavoidable.  Let's boil it down:

Ox = ox poop
2 dogs = lots of dog poop (trust me, I know this one well)
Life = life poop

The key to dealing with this inevitable situation, as Mark Gungor explains, is to find the proper "positive to poo" ratio.  This goes back to a couple of my earlier posts that discussed getting rid of the inner Eeyore and retraining our brain.  It's simply too easy to focus on all the poo in our lives.  It's all around us.  It stinks.  It seems to permeate every fiber of our being.  And at times, we're so tired of the poo that we contemplate ending it all, just to get rid of the poo. 

Do you know the best way to stop thinking about the poo?  Think about something else.  Don't focus on the negative.  Focus on the positive.  What's good in your life right now?  Do you have loved ones who care for you?  Do you have a good job (or in this job market, a job at all)?  Do you have good health?  Were you able to take a breath this morning?  Do you have plenty to eat?  Surely, there's something.  Think about it.  Ponder it.  Meditate on it.  Put it above your negative thoughts.  Whatever you do, don't let the poo outweigh the positive!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hope in the Midnight Hour

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. - John 11:32-35

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. - John 19:26-27

The above passages are two occasions where we see Jesus grieving for those who were suffering.  In the first passage, He wept because of the pain that Mary and Martha were going through at the loss of their brother, Lazarus.  In the second passage, Jesus had compassion for his weeping mother and dear friend, John, who could only stare in horror at the sight before them.  In both instances, Jesus was filled with sorrow and longed to take away the hurt.  However, He could see what the sufferers couldn't--the end result.

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus purposefully delayed His coming.  He could have gone as soon as He received word that Lazarus was ill.  Since He knows all things, He could have arrived before that.  But He waited.  Why?  Well, He answers that at the tomb of His dear friend. Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 11:41-42)  Healing the sick is one thing; raising the dead is quite another.  Jesus waited so that the people would believe, and that's exactly what happened.  Though it broke His heart to see the tears of Mary and Martha, He understood that it would all be worth it in the end.  He understood His delay.  He understood the greater miracle that would take place.

The same thing happened at the cross.  Jesus could have come down from the cross and ended Mary and John's suffering right then.  He could have personally wiped the tears from His mother's eyes and held her in His strong arms.  But He knew that the cost of alleviating their temporary suffering was an eternity of suffering in Hell.  He knew what had to be done even though it caused His mother and friend great grief.  I'm sure He longed to end their sorrow, but He could also see beyond the midnight hour.

Dear friend, I realize that all of us are going through something.  For some, it is one huge trial.  For others, it's like the death by a thousand cuts where we can't recover from one injury before encountering another blow.  Whatever the case may be, I am here to tell you that there is hope in this midnight hour.  Your suffering has a purpose, and there is a greater good beyond this dark time.  God does not delight in our suffering.  In fact, He hurts when we hurt.  However, He loves us enough to allow us to go through certain suffering in order to bring about something better than we could ever imagine.

Hang in there, and don't quit fighting the good fight.  God isn't late, nor has He forgotten about your need.  He is working all things for our good.  Just keep in mind that a little suffering may be the pathway that leads to treasures unseen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Are You Delighting In Blessing?

As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. - Psalm 109:17

In the above psalm, David is speaking of the wicked, but I have to admit that the latter half of that verse gave me pause:  as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.  In essence, David was saying, "Since he doesn't acknowledge his blessings anyway, stop sending them."  And that smote my heart to the very core.

How often do we take our blessings for granted?  How many times do the blessings come, and we merely nod our heads like that was exactly what was supposed to happen?  Why is it that it is so much easier to remember our troubles than it is our blessings?  Could it be that we, like the wicked David spoke of, are failing to delight in our blessings?

Sure, we may send up a quick prayer of thanks.  And yes, we'll often tell a few people about what God did for us.  But then another day passes and instead of being thankful for what we have already received, we start looking to God and asking for more.  Shameful, isn't it?  What's worse is that Satan can get us so bamboozled that we begin to doubt that we have any blessings at all.  It goes something like this:

"Yes, I have a roof over my head, but unfortunately, it leaks."
"It's true the Lord allowed us to replace the washing machine, but now the dryer is acting up."
"Yes, the Lord has always met our needs, but things are tighter than ever, and I don't see any way out."

Do you see how easy it is to bypass the blessing in order to find a reason to complain?  I don't know why we do it, but it seems to be our natural tendency, doesn't it?  I don't know about you, but I am desperately feeling the need for a change of tactics.  I believe it's time to kick some "buts" out of my life and focus only on the blessings.

"Yes, I have a roof over my head."  Stop!
"It's true the Lord allowed us to replace the washing machine."  Stop!
"Yes, the Lord has always met our needs." Stop!

It sounds a bit like I'm trying to send a telegram, but I think you get my point.  Don't state a blessing then negate it by saying, "but. . . "  State the blessing and focus on that blessing lest God take David's advice and stop sending the blessings altogether.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beware Counterfeits

The topic of knowing and understanding the Lord's will has been heavy on my heart for the past couple of weeks.  Certain events have led my family to the place where we're wondering if God's plans for us have changed.  Unfortunately, we have a lot of questions and no answers.  In many ways, the leadership of the Spirit has seemed quite obvious; however, the clarity and conviction has always been lacking.  In other words, it seems like God is trying to tell us something, yet neither of us can detect His voice.  We feel that something is amiss, like we're no longer where we're supposed to be, yet no direction for anything else has been given.  It seems like God is putting roadblocks in our paths, but the detour signs are glaringly absent.

As we discussed this last night, Jason reminded me of an important truth:  if it sounds like God and seems like God, but not completely, then there is a good chance that it's not God at all but rather someone trying to imitate God.  And I think we all know who does an excellent job at that--the one who, from the very beginning, stated "I will be like God."

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (I Corinthians 14:33).  What we've been feeling of late is not peace.  It's confusion, plain and simple.  We're confused by the signs.  We're confused by the signals.  We're confused by the lack of direction.  So, if all we're getting from this is confusion, we can be assured it is not God.  It is a counterfeit trying to deceive us and lead us astray from God's true calling.

I've heard that when bank personnel are taught to identify counterfeit money, they are never shown a single piece of counterfeit currency.  Instead, they are directed to study the real thing until they know it well enough that anything else won't seem right.  That's how we need to deal with "the imitator."  We don't really need to study him or his tactics.  Instead, we need to study the "REAL THING" and know Him well enough that anything else won't seem right.  We need to know and understand God's nature enough to say, "No, this can't be God because if God wanted me to do something, He would make it clear.  He has done so in the past, and I can trust that He will do the same in the future."

I don't know what you may be facing today, but perhaps, like me, you're facing a time of confusion.  If so, keep in mind that confusion is not from God.  He gives peace, not unending questions.  Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.  Watch out for the one who loves to play "dress up" and parade himself around as something that he's not.  Learn to identify the true voice of God, and that can only be done by studying Him closely.  Learn His voice, His nature, His methods.  And understand that God never changes.  If He made His instructions clear before, He'll make them clear again.

I also ask that you pray for my family as we face this time of uncertainty that God will make His will clear and that we will be faithful in identifying who is talking and what they're saying.  We desire God's will above all else.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. - II Corinthians 11:3

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Guided by Hindrance?

Does your spiritual walk ever feel like a multiple choice test?  Things are going well.  You're serving God to the best of your ability, and then suddenly you're in the midst of a mighty storm.  At first, you simply shrug and keep on.  After all, God never promised us an absence of storms.  But when the winds continue to blow and the rain continues to pour to the point where you feel you're about to drown, something within you says, "Now, wait a minute.  Is this a typical storm or not?"  Suddenly, you're staring down three possible explanations for your current, seemingly never-ending valley:

1) I'm under spiritual attack.
2) God is punishing me for sin in my life.
3) God is trying to get my attention and tell me something.

But which one is it?  How can you know?  The first one is a little tricky, but be assured that spiritual attacks typically come when you're serving God with all your heart.  So, if you know you're doing all the right things, but the storms still come, the likelihood that you're under spiritual attack is a good one.

As for God punishing you, well, the Bible is clear that God does chastise His children.  But let's face it, we all usually know when we've done something (or are doing something) that isn't right.  If you're not sure, you can always do what the psalmist did and ask God. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)  Obviously, if God is punishing you because of sin in your life, He's not going to keep you in the dark about it.  After all, His purpose of punishment is so that you'll get right with Him.

The last one is usually where I get confused.  After all, long-lasting storms can rattle the brain and shake your faith to its very core.  Those trials can dissolve everything you thought you knew and have you questioning, "Lord, am I where I'm supposed to be or not?"  Unfortunately, that question only leads to more.

"If I'm not in your will, what do you want me to do?"
"What are you trying to tell me, Lord?"
"You have my attention, Lord, but where are you leading me?"

We've all heard the old saying, "When God closes a door, He opens a window."  Well, that is actually Biblical, to a degree.  There are instances in the Bible where God guided His people by hindrances.  Take, for example, Acts 16:6-10:

Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

Paul was doing God's will--no doubt about it.  He was preaching.  Souls were being saved.  The church was growing both physically and spiritually.  Then, all of a sudden, Paul ran into a couple of closed doors.  First the Lord forbade them to preach in Asia.  Odd, huh?  Then, He thwarted their plans to go into Bithynia.  If I were Paul, I would have been confused.  As respectfully as I could, I would have asked, "Okay, Lord, do you want me to preach or not?  Everywhere I turn, there's a roadblock!"

Sound familiar?  I hope you've never been in such a state of hopelessness and frustration, but I have a feeling that you're all too familiar with the scene.  I know I am.  So, what do we do?  Well, for one, we pay attention.  Notice that Paul received more than just roadblocks.  He also received instructions.  God didn't only tell Paul what not to do; He also gave him clear instructions on what to do.

So, if you're wondering if the roadblocks you're facing are God's way of trying to tell you something, remember this:  I can't think of a single instance in the Bible where God's children were hindered by a roadblock that He didn't give them further instructions.  When the Israelites were cut off from the Promised Land by the Red Sea, God gave them directions on how to get across.  When the famine came to the land, God gave Elijah orders of where to go to receive both food and water.  It seems to me that if the Lord is trying to tell you something, He won't keep it hidden.  He may put up barriers to prevent you from going down certain paths or making particular decisions, but I believe He will also direct you in the way you should go.  After all, He understands that "No, not that way" is not clear enough for us to understand.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wait! This Doesn't Look Right!

Have you ever been on a trip in unfamiliar territory and taken a wrong turn?  It's funny.  At first, everything seems normal.  We're simply driving along, doing our best to follow the directions we've been given.  But before long, even though we're not familiar with the area, doubt starts to wriggle around in the back of our minds and we find ourselves saying, "Wait, this doesn't look right?"

Crazy, isn't it?  How could we possibly know what "right" looks like if we've never been down that road?  But, in our minds, something causes us to examine our surroundings and come to the conclusion that we must have missed a turn somewhere.  What we see doesn't mesh with the sketchy directions and details we've been given, so we turn around and go back, hoping to find where we got off track.  Sometimes, our doubts pay off, and we discover that we actually did miss a turn.  Sometimes, though, we waste all that time, effort and gas only to find out that we were going the right way after all, and then we have to retrace our steps (or tire tracks, as the case may be).

Life can be the same way.  Sometimes we'll be walking along down the path we've been assigned, but then suddenly, doubt creeps in and we find ourselves saying, "Wait, this doesn't look right!"  Perhaps the way is darker than we anticipated, or maybe the constant turns have us wondering if we aren't simply chasing our own tails, destined to end up back where we started.  For whatever reason, there are seasons in life that cause us to stop and wonder if we've missed a turn somewhere.

"Lord, did I miss something?"

"Am I still in your will?"

"Am I still going the right direction, Lord?  I mean, you did promise joy and peace, and well, if you don't mind my saying so, this road is hardly joyful or peaceful.  In fact, it's downright bumpy and unpleasant."

The more we examine our spiritual surroundings, the more we're convinced that the path doesn't look right.  But again I must question, how do we know what "right" looks like if we've never been down the road?  No, it may not look like we're going the right way, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we're not.  The destination we're seeking may be right around that next corner or just over the rise, but we'll never know if we turn back.

Just as with the car trip, there may be occasions where we do, in fact, miss a turn in our spiritual journey, but more often than not, the road that we're traveling is the right one.  It just may not be what we were expecting.

If you find yourself "lost" spiritually, wondering if you've missed a turn somewhere, I urge you to seek God's face.  Ask for direction and clarification.  But once you have it, keep going and don't turn back, even if the way doesn't look right.  After all, who are we to determine what's right?  The Father has promised to lead and guide us, and He will ensure that we get where we need to go.  Maybe we would do better to stop studying our surroundings and start studying our Savior.  With our eyes on Him, we'll never go astray.  He is the ultimate GPS--God Positioning System!

Man's goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way? - Proverbs 20:24

Friday, November 13, 2015

When I Can't See

Several nights ago, Jason and I were driving home from an enjoyable date night in North Carolina.  With all that's been going on and my poor health of late, Jason felt I could use a short time to get away from the house and try to forget my troubles.  It was a great idea and quite successful. . . until the drive home.

As we began our descent of the mountain, we ran into the densest fog I've ever seen in my life.  It was beyond thick, and I couldn't see anything.  Not the vantage point one desires when driving down a curvy mountain road.  Evidently, I wasn't the only one having trouble as numerous cars--and even motorcycles--were parked on the sides of the road, presumably waiting for the fog to clear.  I wondered if we shouldn't do the same, but Jason (who was thankfully driving) assured me that he could see.  "I've got it, babe.  Just sit back and relax."  Yeah, right!  Did he seriously expect me to relax?  Doesn't he know me at all?

I tried to calm down or, at the very least, sit back in my seat, but it just wasn't working for me.  I wanted to see, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't.  It was like staring into a misty void, and more than once I wondered how in the world Jason was able to see.  I mean, I know his eyesight is better than mine, but this was ridiculous fog.  Sensing my increasing apprehension, every few minutes he would squeeze my hand and say, "Trust me.  I'll get us home."  I wanted to trust him, but I simply couldn't understand how he could see any better than I could.  It wasn't until we neared the bottom of the mountain that the fog cleared and I could finally unclench my various body parts.

As Jason drove and I tried to remain calm, a line from an old Gold City song kept playing through my brain:  "When I can't stand, I have to lean, and when I can't see, I must believe."  That's what Jason was asking me to do.  He wanted me to believe that he could see what I couldn't.  He longed for me to trust him enough that I could relax.  God desires the same.

How many times in life does God lead us through a patch that is so dense with fog that we can't even see where we're going?  And how many times does God squeeze our hands and say, "Trust me.  I'll get you home"?  I don't know about you, but it happens often in my life.  I've seen more fog in my spiritual journey than I care to admit, but the shameful part is not that I've had to make my way through the misty void but rather that I've found it nearly impossible to simply relax and trust God to see me through.  Just like on my trip with Jason, I can't understand how God could possibly see when I can't, so instead of relaxing and enjoying the ride, I tense up and strain my eyes and neck trying to see something. . . anything!

But you know what?  As hard as I tried the other night, I still couldn't see anything.  No matter how much I strained my neck and squinted my eyes, the dense fog was still unpenetrable to me.  My efforts only caused a lot of tension and worry.  The same can be said in our spiritual walk.  When God leads us through a dense section in our journey, it's not because He longs for us to strain harder to see.  It's because He wants us to let go and trust Him.  Give up control!  Stop trying to see what He's hidden for a reason.  He wants us to know, without a doubt, that He can see just fine and that if we'll simply trust Him, He'll lead us through.

When I can't see, I must believe.  It's really the only thing to do!

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . .But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. - Hebrews 11:1,6

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Do You Say to That?

And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. - I Kings 22:7-8

Time and time again, King Ahab portrays his immaturity.  When Elijah defied him and destroyed the prophets of Baal, Ahab ran home and whined to his wife, Jezebel.  When Naboth refused to give Ahab his vineyard, the king stomped home and refused to eat as he pouted about the problem.  Now, Ahab implores Jehoshaphat to go to war with him, and when Jehoshaphat tells Ahab to inquire of the Lord, Ahab hurries to his false prophets who tell him, "Absolutely!  Go to war, and God will give you the victory."  But Jehoshaphat wasn't satisfied with taking their word for it and asks Ahab if there isn't a true prophet of the Lord whom they could ask.  Ahab's answer, in a nutshell, was "Well, yeah, there's this one guy, but I don't like him because he never tells me what I want to hear.  So, I just don't ask him anymore."  Sheesh, what a baby!

But as I criticized, the Lord smote my heart and showed me the many ways that I have done the exact same thing.  There have been times that I wanted to do something, but I feared (and sometimes downright knew) that it was not the Lord's will, so rather than disobeying, I just didn't ask for permission at all.  There have been times in my Christian walk where I've asked God for things that He didn't see fit to give me, but instead of thanking Him for keeping me from things that would distract me from His will, I grew angry and determined that I just wouldn't ask Him for anything else since He always said "no" anyway.  Childish?  Absolutely.  Bratty?  Unquestionably.  True?  Unfortunately.

I'll be honest with you, sometimes the truth hurts.  Sometimes we feel we would be better off if we hadn't found out the truth or hadn't asked the question to begin with.  But the fact remains that Jesus is the TRUTH, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).  It may not be pleasant from the start, but all things will work together for good to those of us who love God (Romans 8:28).  When?  I can't tell you that.  I don't know.  God's timing is not my timing, and sometimes He requires us to wait for the freedom that comes from the bearing of truth.  But the freedom will come.  We have His promise on that!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jeanne Robertson - Thank You for Serving

I would like to share this with you today in honor of our veterans and all our military.  God bless the men and women who serve to keep us safe!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Out of Joint

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent... I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. - Psalm 22:1-2, 14

Oh man, oh man, can I relate to this psalm right now!  Let me take a moment to fill you in on what's been happening in my life over the past few weeks.  I have been suffering from chronic dislocations of the shoulder, shoulder blade and collarbone--all on the left side.  Basically, my bones and joints feel as if they're playing tug-of-war with one another, and it's excruciating.  (Just to give you an idea, the picture above is kind of how I feel right about now.) The chiropractor has done his best to set each joint, but by the end of the day, one or more of them have moved out of place again.  In a sense, I'm caught in a "catch 22."  The joints are popping out because the muscles around them are so weak (presumably from years of babying my left side because of my severe bursitis).  Obviously, though, I've not done myself any favors.  Now, the muscles are too weak to hold the joints in place, but they can't be strengthened as long as the bones are out of whack.  So, until the joints go in and stay in, I can't do what's necessary to strengthen the muscles, but it's unlikely that the joints will go in and stay in until I strengthen the muscles.  See my conundrum?

I can honestly tell you that through the pain and frustration of the past few weeks, my prayers have sounded just like the first couple of verses of Psalm 22:

"God, why have you forsaken me?"

"God, why aren't you helping me to get better?"

"God, why aren't you answering my prayers?"

"God, I have begged and pleaded and begged some more, but it's like You don't even hear me.  Either that or You just don't care that I'm suffering."

Yes, pain and misery can addle the brain.  That's where verse 14 in the above passage comes in:

"I am poured out like water" - My mom often uses the phrase "weak as dishwater."  I'm not exactly sure what that phrase means or from whence it originated, but I think of it when I read this verse.  Weak as dishwater?  Yep, that sounds about right.  Pain and frustration are very tiring.

"All my bones are out of joint" - Oh, don't even get me started on that one.  I had to play the piano for church on Sunday, and if you've never tried to play the piano when your entire upper body on one side is out of joint, well, you just don't know what you're missing!

"My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels" - My heart is so weary that it feels like nothing more than a puddle of wax.  I feel no joy, no hope, no peace.  Only pain and frustration.

As many of you know, I love the psalms and read it frequently.  I guess that's why my mind has been dwelling on this particular passage for the past couple of weeks.  But it wasn't until this morning that a new thought hit me.  For just a moment, I was able to put aside my self-pity and take note of a sobering truth.

Psalm 22 is a Messianic psalm, meaning that it points to Christ.  If you read through it, you'll see many similarities between the psalmist's account and the crucifixion of Christ.  The cry of being forsaken.  The agony of torment.  The presence of the enemy.  The pleas and prayers uttered. It's all there, and as I thought on that this morning, I realized that what I'm going through is nothing compared to the agony that Jesus suffered on the cross.  But, get this--He did it willingly!

When Jesus went to the cross, He knew exactly what He was going to face.  He knew the agony. He understood the loneliness.  He was fully aware of what He was going to endure, yet He did it anyway because of His great love for us.

I don't know that I would ever choose to be in this much pain.  I would like to think that I love my husband and my family enough that I would willingly take on such anguish out of love, but honestly, after a few weeks of dealing with it now, I have to say that I'm not sure I could do it.  I would want to, but I don't know if I could make myself do it.  But Jesus did, and He did it without hesitation.

My goal from now on is to view my own suffering as a reminder of what Jesus did for me and how much He loves me.  I pray you can do the same.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Obstacle Course

I don't like walking my dogs through our neighborhood because there are so many other dogs.  Tippy usually ignores them, but Mitch is far too protective of me to let another dog challenge him.  He's sweet, loving and gentle, but if he feels his mommy is being threatened, he turns into Mr. Hyde.  Trying to control a 90+ pound dog who is determined to "get at" the threat proves very interesting for me at a little over 120 pounds.  But no matter which direction we go, there are other dogs to deal with, so usually I take the path of least resistance.

As I tried to take that path this morning, there was a very large dog standing in the middle of the road waiting for us.  I don't know if he had escaped from his fence or what, but he was all alone and looked ready to rumble.  I turned Mitch around (with great effort) and determined to try Plan B which was to go past the fence with two aggressive dogs that Mitch really didn't like.  Still, I thought we could get past quickly and be on our way.  When we passed, however, we were greeted by four aggressive dogs instead of two.  It took every ounce of strength I had to keep Mitch going forward.  He so wanted to protect me.

With this added twist, I decided we would take a different route home.  It took some thinking on my part, but I devised a path that should have allowed minimal confrontation.  As we took the main road I had in mind, I looked ahead to see two grown cats playing and wrestling in their yard.  Just yesterday, I had to battle Mitch because he had seen a gray cat that he wanted to "play with."  I knew two cats would be far too great a temptation.  That left only two options:  go WAY our of the way to get around or go back the way we came.  I had a brief, but stern, talk with Mitch, and we hustled our way past the four aggressive dogs.  Mitch did splendidly, and I was relieved to finally be through with the drama.

Do you ever have days where it feels like no matter which way you turn, there's an obstacle?  You're trying to do what you know is best, but you find yourself staring at one dead end after another.  You're trying to serve God, but resistance seems to be your constant companion.  If this sounds all too familiar, take heart.  There is a way out.  Sometimes God will provide a way around the obstacles you're facing.  And sometimes, you may have to go through them just as Mitch and I had to go past the aggressive dogs.  But do not be afraid, for you are never alone.  He will walk with you.  He will strengthen you.  He will guide you.  Trust in Him, and you'll find your way.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to see if I can get my shoulder back in its socket.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. - I Corinthians 10:13

***** Excerpt from 'Paws'itively Divine:  Devotions for Dog Lovers *****

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Cart Before the Horse

Matthew 6:25-34
25Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

There is a lot of good meat in these verses, but I want to focus on verse 33. It is probably the most well-known verse in this passage, but sometimes I think a few things get overlooked. Let's look at it again:  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

What things shall be added? If you go back to verse 25 and read up to verse 33, you'll find out. What things? All of the things that we are worried about! What are we going to eat? What are we going to wear? How are we going to pay the bills? These are all important questions, but more than that, they are questions that can cause us to lose our focus.

This verse tells us that if we will keep our priorities straight (i.e. - focus on accomplishing God's will), God will meet all our needs. Maybe not all our wants, but definitely all our needs.

But, when faced with so many questions and uncertainties, it's so easy to get distracted. It's so tempting to start scheming and plotting to find "the answers." The funny thing is that we know the answer. It's right in front of us. We just fail to do it. Why? Honestly, because sometimes it's not as easy as it sounds, but that's not a very good excuse. Is it?

So, as we face the questions and problems of today, let's try to "seek first the kingdom of God." Then, everything else will fall into place. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen. We have God's Word on it!

***** Excerpt from Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead *****

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How the Mighty Are Fallen!

Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power. And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people. - I Samuel 9:1-2

If I were entrusted with the responsibility of choosing the new king, I'd have to admit that Saul sounds like the perfect candidate.  He was a choice young man.  He was goodly, which according to Biblical references means exactly what it sounds like.  He was good and kind, pure and holy, agreeable and pleasant.  In fact, the Bible goes on to say that there wasn't anyone among the children of Israel that was as good as he was.  Hmm, sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Best in the land would make the perfect king.  But how, then, would we explain the following:

In I Samuel 13, Saul grows tired of waiting for Samuel to arrive and offer up the offerings of the people, so the king knowingly defies God's law and offers the sacrifices in Samuel's place.  Big mistake!

As if that weren't bad enough, two chapters later, Saul disobeys God again and doesn't slaughter all of the Amalekites and their livestock.  Instead, he saved the king, Agag, and the best of the livestock.  His reasoning?  "Well, I wanted to sacrifice them to the Lord."  Sounds nice, but obedience is better than any sacrifice in God's eyes.

In I Samuel 18, Saul, in a fit of rage and envy, commits his first act of attempted murder against David, the newly anointed king.  And, as we know, he spends the rest of his days chasing after poor David.

How did a choice young man who was the goodliest in the land take such a drastic turn toward "the dark side"?  What happened to his goodness and kindness?  His purity and holiness?  His agreeable and pleasant attitude?  How did he fall so far so fast?

I believe we can find the answer to that in Samuel's rebuke of Saul's actions in regard to the Amalekites. And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel? (I Samuel 15:17)  Did you catch that?  When thou wast little in thine own sight.  Before Saul was king, he was essentially a nobody, at least in his own eyes.  But give a good man a lot of wealth and power, and there is a great probability that the man will change and not for the better.  Saul, the nobody, was a good character--someone people wanted to be around.  Saul, the king, was an arrogant soul who sent people scurrying for their lives.

It seems to me that Saul would have been better off to spend his life as a nobody rather than a king.  At least then he would have maintained what truly matters--a clean heart.  I urge you to keep this in mind the next time you long for more.  More money.  More fame.  More position.  More possessions. Whatever it may be that stirs up a whiff of discontentment in your life.  More isn't always better, and sometimes it can turn a good man into a very bad character.  Be careful what you wish for.  You might just get it and find out that it's not all you thought it would be, but by then, it will be too late!

Monday, November 2, 2015

You're Not Wearing That, Are You?

Sunday mornings are stressful for me.  Not only am I struggling to make sure I have my lesson ready for Sunday School, my song sheets ready for the congregational singing, my songbooks available for offertories and other Sunday morning necessities, but I'm also performing what has become one of the most difficult tasks for me to complete:  figuring out what to wear.  Those of you who know me will have guessed that I actually take care of most of these things on Saturday to avoid creating more stress on Sunday mornings, but picking out my clothes is something I usually have to do that morning.

The first consideration for choosing an outfit is whether or not we will be coming home Sunday afternoon.  Some days we go over to my sister's house in between church services.  Sometimes, we have lunch with my in-laws and then return to church to catch up on some things that need to be accomplished.  On rare occasions, we come home for a couple of hours of rest and relaxation.  If we're coming home, my options of clothing are greatly increased.  I know I only have to wear the selected outfit for a few hours, so comfort, aptitude for wrinkles and other such considerations are not such a big deal.  If we'll be gone all day, however, the clothing must be comfortable and not apt to wrinkle.  Either that, or they must be easily changed into casual wear for the afternoon.

The second consideration, I'm sorry to say, is the state of my left shoulder.  I have severe bursitis (and who knows what else) in my shoulder.  This causes swelling, pinching, throbbing and a number of other issues that spread from my neck to my wrist.  A shirt or dress that may have fit fine yesterday could be completely uncomfortable on Sunday morning if my shoulder has decided to swell or act up.  Most times, I can tell as soon as I put the garment on that I'm not going to be able to wear it.  Other times, I think maybe the material will stretch or the pain and pinching will go away.  But before long, the garment is discarded and another one is chosen to take its place.  It is not uncommon for me to go through three or four outfits on any given Sunday morning.  This, as you can imagine, leads to tears and frustration--not exactly the spirit of worship one hopes to be filled with on Sunday morning.

You may be wondering why this happens on Sunday mornings and not other times.  To be honest, it does happen at other times, but since I work from home, my work attire consists of yoga pants and floppy t-shirts.  No, I'm not likely to win any beauty contests, but I'm comfortable, and as I sit and work in front of my computer, that's what matters to me.  When I run errands, I usually wear casual clothes that are made to be stretchy and comfortable, so again, the clothing is not as much an issue as it is on Sunday morning when trying to wear dress clothes that are designed to be attractive, not comfortable.

That's not to say, however, that I don't have many days where I suffer from poor-fitting attitudes.  Just like my church clothes, these attitudes pinch and pull.  They hurt and make me uncomfortable.  Why?  Because they don't fit.  I'm a child of God and, as such, certain attitudes simply don't fit the way they used to.  Anger, bitterness, jealousy--I still own them.  I keep them in my closet just in case.  But every time I pull them out and try them on, I realize that I must have grown. . . spiritually, that is, because those attitudes don't fit right anymore.  I've outgrown them despite my attempts to "squeeze" back into them from time to time.  Sometimes I even manage to get them on, but they don't feel right.  They restrict my movement (my walk with the Lord).  They make me look bad (not fat, but undesirable).  They pull at my conscience and pinch my spirit.  And so I'm faced with a choice:  continue to struggle in the discomfort or cast it off and try something else.

I'm a comfort kind of girl.  I like to be comfortable, especially now with my back and shoulder issues.  If I can pull off stylish and comfortable, fantastic!  If not, well, sorry, but the comfort is the deciding factor.  Now if I can just remember that each time I reach for one of the uncomfortable attitudes.  They don't fit, so why don't I reach for ones that do, like peace, joy, goodness and the lot?  After all, they're attractive, stylish, and they fit so much better.  And the crazy thing is that the more I wear them, the better they'll fit and the more comfortable they will become.

We need to be careful to spend as much time dressing the inward man as we do the outward one.  Wouldn't it be a shame to have God stop you during the day and ask, "You're not wearing that, are you?"  He knows it doesn't suit you, and deep down, you know it too.  Choose wisely.  Comfort is not the only thing at stake.

But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;  Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. - Colossians 3:8-14