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Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Path Unseen - A Repost in Memory of Tippy


Despite the rainy weather last Friday, Jason and I took the dogs on their favorite hiking trail. Mitch, as usual, was running up and down the sides of the mountain with the vitality of the Energizer bunny. Tippy started off at her leisurely pace, stopping every other step to smell something. But after her warm-up, she evidently decided she was ready to keep up with her brother.

I don't mind Mitch exploring because he has a better sense of direction than I do. He can travel for miles in the woods (off the trail, of course) and still meet us further up the trail. Tippy, on the other hand, has my sense of direction. She couldn't find her way out of a paper bag. If Mitch knows she's following him, he'll usually try to make sure he leads her back out, but sometimes the "explorer" in him forgets to watch out for his sister.

On Friday, it seemed like Tippy knew that Mitch was full of excessive energy, so even though she wandered up down in the woods, she never let us out of her sight. She was determined not to get lost. The funny thing was how she would come out of the woods. To get out of the woods, one has to go down a slope to get back on the trail. There are places where these slopes are very steep and other places where they aren't bad at all. Tippy would decide that she was ready to be out of the woods and go in search for a way down to the trail. Inevitably, she would walk back and forth along the edge of the slope and then pick the steepest part to come down. Thankfully, she's not too proud to slide down on her behind!

The part that makes it funny is that if she had just kept walking in either direction, she would have come to an easy slope to descend. She stopped too soon because she couldn't see the path ahead. Sound familiar?

Oh, how many times do we feel like giving up on life because we can't see the path ahead? Steep slopes surround us, and we panic. In our despair, we usually choose one of two actions: 1) We try to descend the steepest part of the slope and end up bruised and battered; 2) We sit down at the top of the slope and refuse to go any further. If only we would consider option #3 -- Keep going!!!!

God has assured us that He will be our Guide. No, we may not see a way out. Yes, the slopes may look steep. But God is good. He sees what we can't see. He knows what we don't know. He is guiding our paths, and we would be wise to follow His guidance (especially when it contradicts with our "common sense"). After all, when we try to go our own way, we may find that we're spending far too much time on our bottoms to get anywhere!

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. - Proverbs 3:5-6



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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's Wrong With Our Churches Today?

Is it just me, or does it seem like our churches are dying?  What has happened to leave so many empty seats in the house of the Lord?  Why is it that churches with a record attendance of 3,000 are now struggling to reach an attendance of 300?  I'll give you a good idea of what I think has happened, and believe it or not, it can be found by taking a good look at King Ahab (you know, the wicked, wicked king of Israel).

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

In the above passage, Syria was ready to war against Israel, so Ahab sought an alliance with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah.  Jehoshaphat was willing to help, but he wanted to make sure the Lord was with them and approved of their actions, so he asked Ahab to have the prophets enquire of the Lord.  Well, Ahab did just that, only the prophets that were seeking God's will were not God's prophets.  Knowing Ahab's ways, they were more than likely prophets of Baal.  Nevertheless, they gave Ahab the green light from "the Lord," but Jehoshaphat wasn't convinced.

"Don't you have a real prophet of God that we can ask?" the king of Judah queried.  I would love to have seen Ahab's face at this question.  No doubt, his smile faded, but I must admit that his verbal response brings a smile to my face every time.  "Well, there is this one guy, but I hate him because he never tells me what I want to hear!"  Oh my goodness!  What a baby!  Once again, Ahab opened his mouth and displayed his immaturity.  Unfortunately, Christians do the same thing all the time, and that, my friend is what's wrong with our churches.

"Well, I used to go to that church, but the preacher made it sound like I was some big sinner because I like to smoke, so I just don't go there anymore."

"Yeah, I used to attend that church, but the preacher said something that really hurt my feelings, so we joined somewhere else."

"Sure, I'd go to church if the preacher didn't preach so much against sin.  I mean, good grief, can't he find something else to harp about?"

These statements may sound like exaggerations, but I promise you they are not.  I've heard them (and many more) with my own ears.  Now, I understand that God will sometimes move people to another church.  That's fine.  I also understand that sometimes the preacher will stray from preaching the Word of God and will begin preaching his own convictions and pet peeves.  In such cases, I urge you to find another church.  But, more often than not, the problem is not with the church or the preacher, it's with the immature Christian who, like Ahab, says, "Well, there's this one pastor, but I hate him because he never tells me what I want to hear." Hmm!

May I be very blunt for just a moment?  If the preacher is preaching the Word of God, and you're upset because it's not what you want to hear, where do you think the problem is?  After all, if the man of God is preaching the Word of God, and you don't like it, that means that you're upset with what God is saying.  If that's grounds for leaving and joining another church, guess what--You're either going to have to join a church where the preacher is NOT preaching the Word of God, or you're just going to get mad and leave that church too.  Right?

Christians, it's time for us to grow up!  If we don't like what God has to say, it is not God or the Bible or our church membership that needs to change.  It's us!  We need to change.  We need to grow up.  We need to stop worrying about our feelings and start thinking about what we can do to become better servants for Christ.

Yes, sometimes the truth hurts, but the truth will always set us free!  Keep that in mind the next time the preacher steps on your toes.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Fill in the Blank

The holidays are a wonderful time, and for many, it is a time to reflect on the many blessings in our lives.  For some, however, it also tends to be a time when we realize just how much we lack.  We see others with their new clothing, gadgets and gizmos, and feel as if we're missing out because there weren't any gifts under our tree this year.  Some look forward to the new year with great anticipation while others are hoping and praying that the upcoming year will be better than the last.  And, as strange as it seems, in the midst of holiday cheer and time with family, a test takes place.  A fill-in-the-blank test, to be exact.  Not sure what I mean?  Here are a few examples:

If I had _____________, I would be happy.
A new ______________ would fill my heart with happiness and contentment.
More ______________ would certainly change my attitude about the new year.
I would be perfectly content with my life if my _____________ were better.

No doubt, as you read through those four questions, a few answers popped into your head before you even realized it.  You see, this isn't a test we have to study for.  We've already trained the answers into our brains.  Money.  Fame.  Job.  Relationship.  Health.  We know we want.  We know what we feel we need or deserve.  And we've fooled ourselves into thinking that once we have "that" (whatever fills in the blank) our lives will be complete and fulfilled and happy.  But more often than not, what happens is that we move on to the next thing on our lists because, let's face it, we'll never have exactly what we want.

So what do we do?  How do we finish up this year and begin the new one with an attitude of hope and gratitude instead of misery and discontentment?  Well, the first step is to retrain our brains.  We do not need money, fame, relationships, good jobs or great health in order to live fulfilled lives.  The only thing we need is Christ, and if we've accepted Him as our Lord, then we already have that.  We need nothing else!  The sooner we realize and accept that, the better off we'll be.

Yes, sometimes life is rough and seems unfair, but this one thing we can be certain of:  Jesus is the right answer every time!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Who's Gonna Make Me?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. - Psalm 23:1-2

The Psalmist sure does use interesting wording in verse two.  Notice, he doesn't say that the Lord "allows" or "permits" or "urges" him to lie down.  Nope, He "makes" him.  Sounds about right, doesn't it?  When was the last time you voluntarily took some rest for yourself?

Let's face it, we're always on the run, and this time of the year, everything revs up to an even more alarming speed.  So much to do.  So many things on the to-do list.  Too many obligations.  Way too much stress.  Who has time to stop and take a rest?  Obviously, we don't think we do, so that's why God has to be the responsible shepherd and "make" us lie down.

No more excuses.  No way out.  Sometimes, we get to the place where we've run ourselves so ragged that the Lord steps in and says, "Enough of that, child.  Be still for a little while."  And notice, it's not a request but a command.  Often, it's enforced with sickness or circumstances that leave us no other option but to rest.  And, of course, our response is to complain.  We stress about the things that are not getting done.  We wonder if we'll be better in time for all of our upcoming appointments.  And we fuss with God for His poor planning and timing.

If we would only realize that God is not being cruel.  He is showing how much He cares for us--too much to allow us to run ourselves to death.  He knows that we won't stop and rest on our own, so He sees to it that we have no choice but to gain the rest of which our bodies are depleted.  He loves us enough to chance our anger and scorn by giving us what we need instead of what we want.  Just as a parent sends the sleepy child off to bed, God is looking out for our welfare.  He knows what is best for us and just how much we can bear.

Dear friends, I know it is a hectic season, and I realize the many obligations you are probably facing. But I urge you to take some time to rest before the Shepherd forces it upon you.  You'll be glad you did, and you'll likely be able to get so much more accomplished once your body is renewed and refreshed.

Find some green pastures today, and settle in for a little nap.  (Hehehe, I just realized that the music playing in the background is "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."  Coincidence?  I think not.)  Sleep.  Dream.  Rest.  Smile.  It's all good!


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Badittude!

Today was errand day, and let me tell you, it's certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas out there.  No, I'm not referring to the decorations, toys, Santas or bargains, although those are certainly hard to miss.  Rather, I'm talking about all the Scrooges out there.  Good grief!  How is it that, at the most wonderful time of the year, people can be so grouchy?  What happened to peace on earth, goodwill toward men?

I was standing in the long line at the grocery store, annoyed yet not surprised by the many people with carts full of goodies for Christmas parties and dinners.  It is, after all, the week before Christmas.  Others, however, were not so gracious and understanding despite the goodness of others.

Seeing that the man behind me in line only had a few items, I allowed him to go ahead of me.  He thanked me and took his place in line.  At that point in time, the cashier was having trouble with the conveyor belt.  She pushed the button to make it advance, but it seemed to be stuck.  She tried again, but the thing refused to move.  She looked a bit panicked and embarrassed, then noticed that one of the separator bars (you know the little beams that you place between your order and those before and behind you) had inched its way forward just enough to cause the conveyor to bind.  She slid it to the side, and immediately, the conveyor surged forward.  The guy in front of me turned and snickered, saying sarcastically, "Yeah, duh.  If you move the thing, it will go."  Then he proceeded to use the Lord's name in vain and looked up at me to smile.  I'm not sure exactly what he saw on my face, but from the way he frowned then turned back around, I'm guessing it wasn't pleasant.  In fact, I was disgusted.  Here, I had just shown him grace, and he turned right around and gave someone else a hard time.  What's up with that?

At this point, I noticed an elderly gentleman behind me, clutching a pack of paper towels.  "If that's all you have," I said, "you can go ahead of me."  He smiled, thanked me and moved ahead of me in line, leaving another elderly couple in my wake.  The man behind me leaned in, looking for one of the separator bars so that he could begin loading his groceries onto the conveyor.  I walked forward, grabbed one of the bars near the front of the line and placed it behind my groceries.  You'll never believe what he said to me.  "Well, isn't she just being lazy, keeping all those things up there instead of sending them back here like she's supposed to."  I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and frankly, I had had enough.  I turned to him and said, as kindly as I could, "I believe it just got stuck up there.  After all, as you can see, it is quite busy in here."  He harrumphed and turned around.  Oh, bah humbug to you too!

By the time I finally reached the register, I wasn't feeling very cheery.  Yet, that still, small voice inside me whispered to me, urging me to chat with the cashier.  "Has it been this busy all week," I asked, "or did I just pick a bad time?"  She looked up at me with weary eyes.  "I don't know.  This is my first day."  Oh, the poor thing!  I thought back over the complaints in my line and wondered how many she had already heard that day.  "Well, I want you to know that I think you're doing a fabulous job."  She smiled and beamed.  "Seriously, I would have already run out of the store crying by now."  That did it!  She laughed out loud, and suddenly, the weariness in her eyes was gone.  I wished her a good day and a merry Christmas and left the store feeling that I had done my part to spread a little good cheer despite the Ebenezer Scrooges around me.

Today's post is a bit of a rant, request and warning all in one.  Please don't be too quick to judge someone.  I can't help but wonder if either of those men would have made the remarks they did if they had known that today was the poor girl's first day.  Perhaps, they would have, but I doubt it.  Let's give a little grace, show a little mercy and watch our attitudes.  After all, bad attitudes are just as contagious as the flu and far more serious.  This is the season of love, so let's pass the love along instead of jumping up and down on our high horse.

Be gone, badittude!

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. - Romans 2:1

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Does God Call You?

So king Solomon was king over all Israel. And these were the princes which he had; Azariah the son of Zadok the priest, Elihoreph and Ahiah, the sons of Shisha, scribes; Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud, the recorder. And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the host: and Zadok and Abiathar were the priests: And Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers: and Zabud the son of Nathan was principal officer, and the king's friend: And Ahishar was over the household: and Adoniram the son of Abda was over the tribute. And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision. - I Kings 4:1-7

The fourth chapter of I Kings goes on for many more verses to tell us about the officers of Solomon.  Obviously, the king had many people under his command.  A position of such great power required many princes, officers, commanders, and servants.  As we read through the chapter, we see many names (most unpronounceable, which is something coming from someone with the last name "Rongione"), and we also see many titles such as priest, recorder, principal officer, tribute officer, and so on.  But my favorite part of the passage can be found at the end of verse 5:  and Zabud the son of Nathan was principal officer, and the king's friend.

Sure, Solomon had many servants, but how many friends did he have?  Was it possible for such a great man to have true friends?  And if so, how could he know if someone was truly his friend or if they had some ulterior motive?  I'm sure being the king has many perks, but something tells me it can be very lonely at the top.

Still, in this list of name after name after name, God takes the time to point out that Zabud was not only the principal officer but that he was also a friend of the king.  How awesome is that?  First off, that Zabud was a true friend, and second, that God would make sure to note that fact in His Word which is forever settled.  Sure, his service to the king was noteworthy as was all the others' mentioned here, but the thing that sets him apart from all the rest is that he was a friend of the king.

What about us?  Are we set apart, in the same way, today?  Are we friends of the king, or have we settled for the position of a servant?  It is true we are servants of the Lord, and God does desire for each of us to have a servant's heart, but is that all God wants from us?  Are we not also His children, the sheep of His pasture?  Shouldn't we desire to be friends of God?  Moses was granted such a title, and I pray that when God writes my story, He'll be able to say, "and Dana, the daughter of Lewis and Sharon, was a writer of Christian works, and the King's friend."  I can think of no greater honor!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Paul Harvey - The Man and the Birds

The man to whom I'm going to introduce you was not a scrooge. He was a kind decent, mostly good man, generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn't believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn't make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn't swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

"I'm truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, "but I'm not going with you to church this Christmas Eve." He said he'd feel like a hypocrite and that he'd much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound...Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud...At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They'd been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn't let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them...He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms...Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me...That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

"If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself, "and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm...to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand." At that moment, the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Forget About It

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

As I read through this familiar passage this morning, the Lord gave me a new insight on the phrase "forgetting those things which are behind."  In the past, I've assigned that phrase to past sin, guilt, mistakes and such.  But this morning, I heard the Lord whisper, "What about past struggles?  What about past valleys?  What about the difficult yesterdays?"  For me, that's another story.

I don't know about you, but my bad days tend to be more like bad weeks, months or even years.  The valleys in my life are not typically one-day hikes; they are lengthy journeys.  But could it be that I see life that way because I'm carrying yesterday's heartaches into today?  Instead of beginning the day with new strength and a fresh perspective, I wake to the weariness of yesterday still weighing heavy on my shoulders.  Is it any wonder then that the rest of the day is a struggle?

My friend, it's time for us to leave the past in the past, whether that means mistakes or trials.  Forget about the weary yesterdays.  Strike from your memory the pain of last week's heartbreak.  Begin each day with a clean slate and a new perspective:  This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why Aren't You?

And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day? - Genesis 40:6-7

In the above passage, Joseph was speaking to the butler and baker who had both been imprisoned with him.  Each of the men had dreamed troubling dreams, and when Joseph saw them the next morning, he couldn't help but ask, "Why are you so sad?"  My response to Joseph probably would have been, "Why aren't you?"  I mean, seriously, think about it.  Joseph was a prisoner.  Verse three of the same chapter tells us that he was bound.  He had been falsely accused.  His future was uncertain.  It sounds to me like he had plenty of reasons to host a first-class pity party.  Yet, there's no record that Joseph was sad.  Instead, we see him reaching out to others and putting their needs before his own.

And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward. - Genesis 40:4

Did you catch that?  He served them.  He, a prisoner, served the butler and the baker (other prisoners).  He didn't have to.  He could have minded his own business.  He could have done like we often do and grown self-centered and self-focused in the midst of his trial.  But no, Joseph displayed the right attitude by choosing service over sadness.

Life is full of trouble, and those troubles are bound to find each of us from time to time.  But when they come, how will we react?  Will we sink into solitude and despair, or will we, like Joseph, take the opportunity to reach out and help others in need?  It's something worth thinking about today. . . and every day, for that matter.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Spice It Up!

We don't get into too many of the reality television shows, but lately, Jason and I have thoroughly enjoyed a show on Netflix entitled Worst Cooks in America.  I thought I was a pretty bad cook, but after watching some of these contestants, I feel much better about my abilities in the kitchen.  My favorite occurrence would have to be the episode where one of the guys attempted to make grilled cheese.  (Picture, if you will, as he tosses two slices of cheese on the grill and the resulting mess.  I was rolling in the floor!)

One of my favorite contestants was a cute, bubbly blonde who had a unique approach to cooking.  On several different occasions, her coach watched in horror as she combined flavors and ingredients that had nothing in common, such as seasoning her hamburger with cinnamon (wrong on so many levels to me!)  Yet, when it came tasting time, he had to admit that the results were excellent. By the third or fourth episode, he was calling her "the mad scientist." In the end, her risk-taking and "think-outside-the-box" mentality brought her victory, and she won $25,000.

I'm not opposed to thinking outside the box; however, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly a risk taker.  No, I prefer to keep things safe and predictable.  Perhaps, that's why I grow so anxious when God begins combining flavors and ingredients in my life that seem to have nothing in common and that I feel cannot possibly result in anything remotely pleasing.  Like the cooking coach, I watch in horror as God sprinkles in a little chaos here and a few money troubles here.  I cringe as He adds a spoonful of health issues and a dab of heartache.  The more He "cooks," the more certain I become that the end result cannot be tasty.  Yet, history has shown me over and over again that somehow, just like the bubbly blonde, He pulls it off, and Romans 8:28 becomes a reality in my life once again.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us "To every thing there is a season."  I think I would be safe in saying, "To every thing there is a seasoning."  And when it comes to cooking up the perfect plan for our lives, God is the Master Chef.  Trust in His finished product even when the combination of ingredients seems a little iffy.

Grilled cheese, anyone?


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

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Mirror of God's Word

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.- James 1:22-24

I don't like mirrors. Why? Because they reveal the truth. They remind me that I'm having a bad hair day. They inform me of my wrinkles, gray hair, and blemishes. They condemn me for the extra pounds gathering around my midsection. Mirrors. We need them, but that doesn't mean we have to like them.

What good would it do me, however, if I woke up in the morning, took a look in the mirror, and then walked out the door? Why bother looking if I'm not going to do anything about what I see? Why check my hair if I'm not going to brush it? Why inspect my face if I'm not going to apply some makeup? What's the point of having a mirror if we allow it to show us the flaws and then do nothing to fix them?

James is asking the same question. He is telling us that God's Word is like a mirror. Just like we do with a physical mirror, we should stand before God's Word each and every day. We should study it, inspect it, examine the flaws that it reveals. But, James reminds us that that is not enough. We must go beyond knowing what needs to be fixed. We need to step into action and actually work on fixing the problems. Don't just hear, do. Don't just know, do. Don't just study, do. Otherwise, we'll be just like the man who looks in the mirror and then walks off forgetting what he saw to begin with.

I don't know about you, but I do not want the image that greets me in the mirror each morning to be the image that others see. I want to improve. The same goes for my spiritual reflection, for God's Word shows me not only what I am, but what I can be.

An Excerpt from Daily Discussions of a Doubting Disciple
Book 2 in the Giggles and Grace Series by Dana Rongione


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Good Grief, Charlie Brown!

***Spoiler alert - If you haven't had the chance to watch the new Peanuts Movie yet, you might not want to read today's devotion.  Okay, you've been warned!***

Unfortunately, Jason didn't have any work scheduled for Wednesday, which is a bad thing since he's paid by the hour.  Nevertheless, we decided to make the best of a bad situation.  We used the free movie tickets that Jason had received through the Blood Connection and went to see The Peanuts Movie (yep, my idea!).  It was a really cute movie, and believe it or not, I came away from it with several valuable lessons.

In the movie, a new kid moves to town, and that new kid just happens to be "the cute, little redhead."  (I love it already!)  Anyway, Charlie Brown falls madly in love with this new cutie, but he's afraid to even speak to her because he's convinced that everyone else hates him because he's such a clutz.  Still, Charlie Brown clings to one thread of hope:  the new girl has never met him and never witnessed some of his "finer moments."  He hopes to win her over with his newfound confidence and charm, but in the spirit of Peanuts, things go horribly wrong.

Attempt after attempt, Charlie Brown tries to impress the cute, little redhead, but all of his efforts seem to be an epic fail.  His talent show routine is ruined because he gives up his turn to help his sister, Sally, who is on the verge of tears after her own routine goes terribly wrong.  The book report that he spent all weekend working on is reduced to ribbons when the Red Baron airplane flies through it.  After finally catching a break and receiving grand recognition for his perfect score on the standardized testing at school, he realizes that there had been a grave mistake, and the test was not his.  After admitting the error in front of the entire school (including the cute, little redhead), he slumps over and shuffles out of the school house.

The next several scenes are filled with phrases like the following:

"No matter how hard I try, everyone still hates me."
"It seems as if the whole world is conspiring against me."
"I'm nothing but a self-conscious, wishy-washy failure."

But lo, and behold, at the end of the movie when it comes time for the students to choose summer pen pals, the cute, little redhead chooses Charlie Brown.  Delighted yet confused, Charlie Brown finally gathers enough courage to ask her why she chose such a loser to be her pen pal.  She calmly told him that when she looked at him, she didn't see a failure.  She saw a compassionate soul who sacrificed something in order to help another.  She saw someone who was brave enough to step out of his comfort zone and enter the class dance contest.  She saw someone who was honest enough to admit that he hadn't rightfully scored the perfect score on the testing.  In short, she saw a good person.

Suddenly, all of the other children realize what they had been missing.  For so long they had been focusing on Charlie Brown's many mistakes that they had failed to realize what a good person he is.  Aren't we guilty of doing the same?  How often have we judged people by their actions or inactions?  How many times have we thought less of someone because of their inadequacies or failures?  All the while, we may be missing out on the true nature of the person we're judging.

We all have bad days, and honestly, I know I've had days where I could say right along with Charlie Brown, "It seems as if the whole world is conspiring against me."  But bad days don't make me a bad person.  Sure, I may be ditzy at times.  Yes, I have a tendency to be accident-prone.  And yes, I've had my share of "Duh" moments.  But if you only focus on those, you'll miss out on the fact that I am a caring, compassionate, tender-hearted person who longs to serve Christ to the best of my ability.  No, I'm not perfect, but I'm trying, and I'm sure there are many others around me who feel the same way.

After ten years of writing, I can't believe I finally get to say this:  It's time for all of us to start acting like the cute, little redhead.  Look past the mistakes and shortcomings of others and observe their hearts and motives.  After all, isn't that what God does for us?  More often than not, I think we'll discover that we've been sorely misjudging the Charlie Browns in our lives.

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. - Romans 2:1

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Help Yourself?

This morning, our trees are filled with blackbirds.  They're everywhere, and goodness, can they make a lot of noise!  Of course, it's not unusual to see such a sight on this cool, rainy morning.  What is unusual is the fact that I took several minutes this morning to actually observe their behavior, and let me tell you, they made me mad!

I watched in horror for several minutes as the greedy birds tore apart each and every squirrel's nest in the two large pecan trees.  I assume they were looking for food in the form of nuts, berries, seeds and, of course, worms and bugs.  Looking for food is one thing, but tearing apart another animal's home in order to scavenge that food is just wrong in my book!  I mean, these birds were relentless in their demolition, and I have no doubt that, by the end of the day, the squirrel's nests will be completely gone.  Poor squirrels!

Now, don't get me wrong.  I understand that the birds need to eat and that God provides for them.  However, I also know that our yard is absolutely crawling with bugs and worms of every sort, and there is also a variety of seeds and nuts on the ground.  There is food aplenty in the yard, but instead, the blackbirds have decided it would be easier or better to take from someone else.  Unfortunately, we're all too familiar with this concept, aren't we?

Before you start griping about the government or political agendas, allow me to point out that my first thought as I watched the carnage before me this morning was not of the government but rather of Christians, specifically Christians who feel the need to tear others down in order to build themselves up.  For whatever reason, they need a boost--be it spiritual, emotional or even positional--so instead of doing the hard work required to gain that boost, they take the easy route.  After all, if Person A looks bad, surely Person B will look better.

Sad to say, our churches are full of such rivalries.  Instead of spending our time reaching out to the lost or trying to encourage the saints, we're too busy trying to "one up" each other.  Just like the stingy blackbirds, we steal from others what is rightfully theirs in order to fulfill our own goals, giving little or no thought to those we are hurting in the process.

There is nothing wrong with having goals, dreams and legitimate needs, but there is everything wrong in the "blackbird approach."  God has a way for us to gain the things He desires for us to have, and that way does not involve tearing down our brothers and sisters.  On the contrary, we ought to be looking for ways to help one another instead of spending so much time and energy helping ourselves. God has ways of rewarding those that think beyond themselves.  I urge you to keep that in mind as you go about your day.

Now, does anyone know if there's a Habitat for Humanity program for squirrels?  It seems I may need to give them a call.

But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. - I John 3:17-18