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Friday, January 29, 2016

Coming Soon: What Happened To Prince Charming?

Okay, ladies, today's post is for you (though, men, that's not to say that you can't read it too).  This morning, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my newest book, What Happened To Prince Charming:  Understanding What To Do When You No Longer Know the Man You're Married To.  Lord willing, the book will be available for purchase by Valentine's Day, but I felt led to give you a little preview.  I hope you'll enjoy it.


The Golden Rule can be found in Matthew 7:12 which says: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. 

There are also several Biblical references to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” When Jesus commanded us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, He wasn’t saying that that was as far as we should go. He was cautioning us to think about our actions and how we would feel if we were the recipient of those actions. If we did that, the world would certainly be a better, more peaceful place. But the message of the Bible doesn’t stop there. The Golden Rule is a good start, but there’s more.  Philippians 2:3-4 continues the lesson: Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 

The Golden Rule focuses on what I want, but the Platinum rule follows this advice and goes beyond that. It encourages me not just to do what I want but to love the other person enough to find out how they want to be treated and act accordingly. It involves putting their wants and desires above my own.

Romans 12:10 concurs: Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; And so does I Corinthians 13:5, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil …

So, you see, both rules are Biblical, and both are necessary if we are to live peaceably one with another. The question remains, how do we know which rule to use at any given time? The answer is fairly simple though I warn you, it is not easy. Get to know your loved one well enough that you’ll know when they want to be treated the same way you want to be treated and when they prefer a different approach, and then act accordingly. When all else fails, remind yourself, “It’s not about me!”

I teach the ladies' Sunday School class at my church, so every Sunday morning, I arrive early to set up for my lesson, and my precious husband, Jason, makes coffee for the ladies. What you must understand is that Jason likes his coffee STRONG. It has been known to get up and walk around all by itself. Okay, maybe not quite, but it is strong stuff!!!! And while some of our ladies enjoy it, most of them would rather have it weaker. So, my husband has adjusted his ratio of coffee to water. Instead of following the Golden Rule and making it the way he would want it to be made, he follows the Platinum Rule and makes it the way the ladies prefer it. And let me tell you, good coffee makes for a happy Sunday School hour!

We hear so much about the Golden Rule, but it's a shame that more marriages aren't built on the Platinum Rule. If they were, they would probably last a lot longer. Allow me to boil it down for you. It's not about what you want. It's about giving your man what he wants. That's what love is all about! God demonstrated that when He sent His Son to die for us. Did He want to watch His Son suffer such agony on the cross? Absolutely not. But He did want to make a way for us to have what we want and what we so desperately need: a Savior.

God loves us enough to give. Let's follow the same example.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

That's a Strange Thing To Ask

Have you ever felt God leading you to do something but felt "No, that can't be right.  That doesn't make any sense"?  I have.  For example, when God told me to leave my paid teaching job to take up the occupation of a writer, I balked at the idea.  It didn't make sense.  I had always wanted to be a teacher.  I had studied and gone to college in order to become a teacher.  I loved my job and knew absolutely nothing about being a writer.  The whole idea seemed ludicrous to me, but after the Lord's insistent nudging, I finally gave in and surrendered to His will, even though it didn't make sense.

Today is another example of just such a thing.  As I typically do, I spent time in prayer this morning, asking the Lord to guide me in my writing and to give me the words to share with you today.  He did, but I shook my head.  "You can't be serious, Lord!"  He was.  Fortunately, I can type this from the privacy of my office because I'm sure my face is about to turn very red from embarrassment.  But the Lord commanded, and I have no choice but to obey.

Allow me to share with you another time that God asked someone to do something that made no sense.  This is actually in the Bible, but because it's not as grand as the Red Sea crossing or the calling down of fire from Heaven, I have a feeling it is often overlooked.  Still, it has a powerful message to convey, so embarrassing or not, here we go.

Thus saith the Lord unto me, Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water. So I got a girdle according to the word of the Lord, and put it on my loins. And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying, Take the girdle that thou hast got, which is upon thy loins, and arise, go to Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole of the rock. So I went, and hid it by Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. And it came to pass after many days, that the Lord said unto me, Arise, go to Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there. Then I went to Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it: and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing. - Jeremiah 13:1-7

The word "girdle" is used to represent several different Hebrew words in the Bible.  For the most part, it signifies a belt or sash worn to hold up the robes of the men and women so that they did not drag on the ground.  There are other definitions of the word, as well, in connection with the priests of the Old Testament.  However, in this passage, the word literally means "undergarments."  (Yep, I knew that would make me blush!)

Okay, that being established, look again at what the Lord commanded of Jeremiah.  "Put on your undergarments, but don't wash them.  Now, go to the Euphrates and hide those undergarments in a hole in the rock there."  What?  Then, several days later, the Lord comes back and says, "Okay, go back to the hole in the rock at the Euphrates and dig up your undergarments that you buried several days ago."  Jeremiah did, and guess what?  They were messed up and no longer of any use.  Go figure!  Don't you hate it when that happens?

God did all of this to make a point to Jeremiah about the fate of Israel, but I have to wonder if there couldn't have been an easier way to get the point across.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning God.  His ways are definitely not my ways, but I find it odd that He would choose such a strange task to make a point.  I can't even begin to understand why He chose this method of teaching.  Can you imagine if God came to you today and asked you to go bury your underwear in the woods?  What would you do?  Hopefully, you would obey, and that leads me to the point of today's post (yes, there is a point.)

We have already established that God's ways are not our ways and that His way of thinking is far beyond what we could possibly achieve.  That being said, in His ultimate wisdom, He may ask us to do things that seem ludicrous to us.  Take that job?  Marry that man?  Invest in that stock?  Become a full-time evangelist?  Befriend that girl?  To be honest, sometimes His orders make as much sense to us as if He'd asked us to go bury our underwear in the woods, and we balk at the idea of acting so recklessly.  But if God has commanded us to do it, it's not reckless.  It's obedient.  We don't have to understand.  It doesn't have to make sense to us.  (For example, writing this post about buried underwear does not make a lot of sense to me right now.)  The only thing that matters is that we do what God asks us to do.  He knows what He's doing, and He'll work all things out for our good and His glory. . . if we'll only obey.

Are you facing a difficult decision today?  Is God asking you to take a leap of faith that seems impossible?  If so, don't fret.  Trust God, and follow through with whatever He is asking you to do, no matter how strange it may seem.  And lastly, be thankful that His request doesn't involve your undergarments.  (See, it could be much worse!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Are You Human?

I have another confession to make:  I have a tendency to push myself too hard.  With so many things needing to be done each and every day, I place upon myself the role of Wonder Woman and get to work.  Unfortunately, before the day is halfway done, I find myself exhausted, grouchy and wondering how everyone else can do it all when I can't.  The really bad news is that this prolonged attitude has led to a battle with extreme adrenal fatigue.  Basically, I've pushed my body so long that my body is now starting to push back, and let me tell you, it doesn't play nice.

Because of this newer development in my health, my body now requires more rest, less stress, more frequent meals and moderate exercise.  This means extra time to fix more meals, take short naps and find new ways to relax my mind and body.  Extra time?  Is there any such thing?  Nothing else in my life has changed.  None of the other demands have stepped aside and said, "Oh, I'm sorry.  I see you're already overwhelmed.  I'll take care of myself for a while."  Nope!  It's not happening!  So, the to-do list is greater while both the energy and time are less.

In the beginning, this whole new stress relief lifestyle seemed like a real pain in the you know what, but as time progresses, I'm realizing that I do feel better.  In fact, it's kind of nice.  And when I read a certain paragraph in Holley Gerth's book, You're Made for a God-Sized Dream, I realized that God can still use me just as I am.  Look what she had to say:

God can and will accomplish all he wants to do in and through you.  Your limitations won't prevent that--but pushing yourself to the point of burnout just might.  Take care of yourself.  Respect what you need.  Accept being human.

Suddenly, it makes sense.  God knows my limitations even better than I do.  He knows that I require more rest than others.  He knows how often I need to eat to be at optimal efficiency.  He knows about my multitude of aches, pains and joint troubles.  And because He knows all of these things, He doesn't expect me to push myself beyond those limitations.  He accepts them, so why can't I?  As Holley Gerth so expertly stated, God can use me despite my limitations, but when I push myself to the point of burnout, I'm of no use to anyone.

I have no doubt that your to-do list is just as long as mine, if not longer.  But may I urge you to take care of yourself.  Acknowledge and accept your limitations.  They don't make you weak or inferior.  They make you human.  God can still use you no matter how many limitations you feel you may have, but once you reach the point of ultimate exhaustion, there's not much God can do with you.  Remember Elijah after the big showdown with the prophets of Baal.  He ran for his life, hid in the caves and asked God to let him die.  Elijah had reached a period of extreme exhaustion, and until he was revived, God could not use him.  Instead, God allowed his angels to minister to Elijah, providing him with food and protection so that he could rest peacefully.  Elijah had reached his limit, and God knew it.  We must be careful not to allow the same to happen to us.

Take it easy.  Rest more.  Stress less.  And somehow, through God's grace, He'll still accomplish His will in and through you, and the best part is that you won't be too exhausted to appreciate it.

For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. - Psalm 103:14

Monday, January 25, 2016

Trickles of Blessing?

Yesterday, poor Jason's shower was a mere trickle.  That happens from time to time in our bathroom.  Dirt and debris build up in the filter of the showerhead and eventually block the water flow.  Jason was less than thrilled with his mediocre shower and immediately asked me if I had noticed the water pressure in the shower steadily decreasing.  I had to be honest.  "No, I can't say that I've noticed."  (I promise you, I hadn't!)

Jason gathered up the appropriate tools and immediately went to work.  He took apart the shower head and removed the filter.  Sure enough, that thing was clogged big time!  No wonder he couldn't get any water flow.  After cleaning the filter, he put the showerhead together again and instructed me to let him know if I noticed a difference when I got my shower.  Boy, did I!

I would not be exaggerating in telling you that the water nearly knocked me down.  I wasn't expecting so much force from my little showerhead.  How had I not noticed how much the water pressure had changed over time?  How was it that I hadn't missed the exquisite nature of a shower that pounds on the body like a thousand tiny hammers?  It was the best shower I had had in a long time, and I didn't want to leave. (In fact, I'm thinking about getting another one right now.  Oh yeah!  Well, maybe I'll finish this post first, but then. . . )

I think the reason I didn't notice the diminishing water pressure was because it happened so gradually.  Day after day, the filter became a little more clogged, then a little more, then a little more.  It happened so slowly that I never realized that anything had changed, but once Jason cleaned out that filter, whoa, what a difference!

The same thing can happen in our hearts.  Little by little, they become clogged and weighed down by the dirt and debris of this world.  Things like resentment, anger, and discontentment can gradually block the flow of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  Like my shower, the blockage doesn't happen all at once.  Instead, it builds slowly over time, allowing the heart to become more and more congested without our ever realizing it.

Fortunately, there is a cure, and as strange as it may sound, it is the same remedy that unclogged my showerhead--someone needs to clean out the filter.  In the case of my shower, that "someone" was Jason (like I would know how to do it!).  In the case of our hearts, that "someone" is Christ.  When we confess our sins, He will cleanse us of all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).  He alone has what it takes to remove the resentment, anger, and discontentment from our hearts, and once He does, boy, will we notice a difference!

I wish I could tell you that, like salvation, this cleansing is a one-time fix, but alas, that is not the case.  No, if we're not paying attention, our hearts will become clogged once again, just like my showerhead.  But we can prevent (or at least lessen) this problem with a simple, heartfelt prayer found in the Psalms: 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)

Now that I realize, once again, how awesome my shower can feel, I don't want to let it get clogged up again.  I would miss far too many great showers.  It's not worth it!  I can say the same for my heart.  I don't want to miss out on the best that God has for me because my heart is too blocked by gunk to allow His spirit to flow freely as it should.

Showers of blessing or trickles of blessing?  The choice is ours.

Lord, please search my heart and point out anything that I need to get right with you.  Help me to empty my heart of anything that will hinder my walk with You, and lead me in the way that You have prepared for me.  Amen!

Friday, January 22, 2016

The New NoRmAL

The word "normal" is seldom used when describing me.  I will readily admit, compared to other women my age, I'm a bit out of step.  While others are raising their children, I'm raising up a ministry.  While they attend baby showers and school events, I attend women's seminars and writing workshops.  While they work hard to maintain orderly households and clean houses, I do well to keep up with the dishes and laundry.  Perhaps this is why I struggle to maintain friendships with many who are my age.  I don't fit in.  The conversations of school work and science fairs don't really apply to me, and when someone finally asks about my work (probably out of pity for the poor girl who's sitting there not saying anything), I'm all too happy to tell them. . . and that's when the crickets begin. Yep, everyone stares at me like I'm speaking Klingon, then one well-meaning soul says, "Well, that's nice."  And suddenly, the subject changes.

Does this behavior hurt my feelings?  Sometimes, but not nearly as much as it used to.  Over the years, the Lord has helped me to understand that I have a God-sized dream that only I can see, so when I try to explain it to others, they just don't quite get it.  After all, what could be so great about sitting home alone in front of a computer all day and typing a jumble of words in hopes that others will want to read them?  For you, it probably doesn't seem great at all, but for me, I feel to my very core that I was made to do this, and it excites me.

Noah got it.  After all, while his friends were going about their daily lives of work and family time, he was building a ginormous boat miles away from the nearest water.  Talk about an oddball!  But Noah had a God-sized dream, and he wasn't about to let a little ridicule keep him from accomplishing it.

Abraham knew what it was like to risk everything for the sake of following God's direction.  When God told him to leave his home and go to a different land, Abraham didn't question.  Without even knowing where he was going, he gathered his belongings and set off on a journey to follow his dream.  Did others question his behavior?  I'm sure.  Did some call him a weirdo (or whatever the Hebrew version of weirdo is)?  More than likely.  But it didn't stop him.

Joseph understood.  While his brothers were out watching the sheep, Joseph was dreaming lofty dreams of ruling over the land.  His brothers thought he was a dork, but Joseph didn't care.  He knew the dream that weighed heavily on his heart and was willing to go through a lot of tribulation to see it fulfilled.

What about you?  Are you sensing that God is calling you toward a God-sized dream?  Perhaps you are, but you're fearing the unknown.  What will your friends say?  Will your family understand?  What if you look like a fool?  Join the club!  I know there are many who don't understand my calling or the sacrifices that my husband and I both make to ensure that I follow this dream, but that's okay.  They don't have to understand.  As long as I'm doing what God called me to do, that's all that matters, and the same goes for you.  Don't worry about what others will think or say.  So what is they think you're not normal?  Who cares, and who are they to judge what's normal?

You do what God has set before you, and let Him take care of the results.  As for the opinion of others, well, we could start our own little club.  We'll call it "The Club of the New NoRmAL," and we'll only allow misfits to join (kind of like David in the cave of Adullam, I Samuel 22:2).  So there!  We may be weird, but at least we'll be weird together.  But more than that, we'll be satisfied knowing that we've been obedient to God's will.  In the end, that's all that really matters.

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.- Galatians 1:10

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

I have just finished writing a new book.  At present, the manuscript is in the hands of an editor and fifteen beta readers, helping me to ensure that the book is the best that it can be.  Now, the hard part begins--I have to design and create the cover.  You would think that coming up with a book idea would be difficult, but honestly, I have so many ideas floating around in my poor little head that I can't keep up with them all.  You might also think that planning the book or writing it would be the most troublesome aspect of the entire writing process, but actually, they're not too bad.  The cover, on the other hand, is a nightmare because people ALWAYS judge a book by its cover.

The cover of a book has to be catchy.  It has to be subtle, yet not too subtle, flashy, yet not too flashy.  It must be unique.  It is supposed to convey the tone of the material and the brand of the author.  And above all, it must evoke enough interest in passersby that they pick up the book off the shelf and flip it over to read what the book is about.  One chance!  Authors get one chance to make their book stand up and say, "Hey, over here.  Read me!  Read me!"  That one chance is the book cover.  If the cover is bland, the readers will be few.  Are you beginning to understand why I save this horrendous task until the very end?  I dread it!  I hate to think that all of my hard work and the vital information within my book may be dismissed on account of my cover's appearance.  It's truly unthinkable, but unfortunately, it happens far too often.

I wonder how often the same thing happens with people.  Yes, Christians, I'm talking to you now.  How many times do we dismiss people because of their appearance?  We're shocked by the number of tattoos or piercings.  We're horrified by the tight leather clothing or the spiky hair.  We fear making eye contact because we don't want our judgmental pucker to be seen by others.  Instead, we quickly walk by, thinking to ourselves, Whoa, that's a rough character!  Really?  Is it?  How do we know without bothering to find out?

This truth hit me several weeks ago when Jason and I were watching the worst cooks show I told you about earlier.  One of the participants was a middle-aged single mother who worked as a tattoo artist.  Her hair was black and blue.  Her body was covered in tattoos of all shapes and sizes.  Her makeup was extreme, to say the least.  And she had fingernails that resembled talons.  Ashamedly, I took one glance at her and thought, Boy, she's scary.  I hope she doesn't win.

Guess what.  She was one of the sweetest, most precious women I've ever seen.  She was kind and respectful.  She was helpful and extremely tenderhearted.  She had a heart for others and a sense of humor that was simply delightful.  After a single episode of the show, I realized that I had sorely misjudged this woman.  In fact, I found out that, outside of our appearance, she and I had a lot in common.  Given the right opportunity, I believe she and I could be great friends.

Was she saved?  Probably not, but perhaps she would be if a few Christians would get their high and mighty noses out of the air and befriend her.  Think of the influence they could have.  She seemed like someone who would certainly be open to the gospel if only someone would show her the way--someone who isn't put off by her appearance and occupation.

Please understand, I am not encouraging you to visit the bars and pool halls in order to reach out to the lost.  That would be ridiculous.  However, those people who occupy the bars and pool halls are the same people who shop at your grocery store or visit your doctor's office or whose children attend the same school as your children.  There are plenty of opportunities to reach out to the lost just by doing our everyday activities, but it does require that we keep an open mind and an open heart.  We need to stop judging people by their "covers" because inside, every story has a resounding theme:  I am lost and need to be found.

Are we willing to show someone the way?  Better question, are we willing to show anyone the way?

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. - Matthew 7:1-2

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How Do You Look?

This past weekend, Jason and I watched a show about a young couple who flips houses for a living.  On this particular episode, the couple thought they had lucked out.  Upon first glance, the house they bought appeared to be in very good shape.  The rooms were open.  The kitchen was extravagant.  The rooms were large.  All in all, it seemed that the couple had gotten a great deal for their investment.

Unfortunately, as the renovations began, the couple soon realized that what had appeared wonderful on the surface was a real mess underneath.  Parts of the house were covered with toxic mold, which had to be professionally removed.  A section of the attic had literally burned away, leaving behind charred wooden beams and piles of ash.  Termites were crawling through every area of the house, leading to a rather expensive pest treatment and even more expensive repairs to all the wood that the termites had ruined.  When all was said and done, the couple invested over $50,000 and a lot of time and hard work in repairs to this "lovely" home.

While watching their unfortunate situation, my mind recalled Matthew 23:27 which says, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.  According to Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes had the same problem as the house the couple purchased--it looked good on the outside, but the inside revealed a host of problems.

What about us?  How do we look?  While I do think it's important to have a nice, clean appearance, Jesus' words remind me that it is even more important to make sure my heart is right.  After all, it doesn't matter how nice I look on the outside if my attitude stinks.  Yes, man looks on the outward appearance, and God looks on the heart, and that alone ought to make us desire to clean up what's on the inside. But we must also consider that after a while, whatever is on the inside will come out for all to see.  Luke 6:45 says, A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.  Just as the problems with the house quickly came to light, so will our inner nature, and when it does, will others be shocked and disturbed by what they see?  I pray that what is revealed is far more pleasant than dead man's bones.  Heaven help us!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Limitless Joy - A Repost

To maintain order and a lack of confusion, each of the people involved in the music program at our church is given a song sheet noting which songs we will be singing and in what order.  One copy goes to the song leader while the other two copies go to the audio/visual man (my husband) and the pianist (myself).  I currently put together this list, but such was not always the case.  No, until recently, another member of the church created the song sheets in addition to creating the slideshows for each hymn (another task I've inherited).

One Sunday, the gentleman handed me my song sheet at the beginning of service.  As I perused the list, I couldn't help but laugh.  In his haste, the man had typed "Joy Unpeakable" instead of "Joy Unspeakable".  I don't know why it struck me so funny, but I immediately began singing "Joy unpeakable and full of glory."  I didn't mean to make fun, and the gentleman, understanding my humor, laughed along with me at his mistake.  For some reason, I just got a kick out of that phrase.

Unfortunately, it has stuck with me.  Anytime someone talks about joy or names that particular hymn, my mind serenades me-- "Joy unpeakable and full of glory."  Last week was no different.  I was preparing for my Sunday School lesson on the topic of joy.  The song immediately popped into my mind, and I decided I'd share the story with the ladies of my class just to spread some cheer.  As I continued to study my lesson, however, I realized something I hadn't paid attention to before--joy is unpeakable!

A peak, in its noun form, means the summit, highest point or pinnacle.  In its verb form, the word peak means to reach a highest point.  So far, that sounds like joy, right?  But the problem with a peak is that once you've reached it, there's only one way to go--down.  After you've reached the pinnacle of your career, things go downhill.  Once you've reached the summit of the mountain, you have to descend.  In many ways, while the peak is often the goal, it's also the end of the best part of the journey.  Hmm, it's not sounding much like joy anymore, is it?

The fact is that God is joy.  He's not simply the author of it or the instigator of it.  He is joy itself.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.  It can only be obtained by allowing God to live within us.  Take note, now, I'm speaking of joy, not happiness.  The two are similar, but not the same.  Happiness depends on our circumstances.  Joy does not.  Because God is ever present, so is joy.  It is always there, always acceptable and always perfect.  It has no peak at which it must then descend.  Joy, because it is God, is limitless.  Not only it is unspeakable, but it truly is unpeakable.  It never fails.  It never fades.  I don't know about you, but I think that's something worth singing about!

For the joy of the Lord is your strength. - Nehemiah 8:10b

Friday, January 15, 2016

When It Seems There Is No Way

I'm sure we've all faced circumstances that have caused us to utter the words, "There's just no way!"  Let's face it, sometimes life throws us a major curveball, and no matter how much we try to have faith, we find ourselves in a state of complete hopelessness.  No matter how we look at the situation, we simply cannot see a way out.  No way of escape.  No way of paying the bills.  No way of making it happen.  No way of getting the job.  No way of getting it all done.  There's just no way!

Do you realize that when we say that not only are we denying the power of God, but we're actually denying even the existence of God?  Whoa, now.  Settle down.  I know that sounds rough, but if you think about it, it's true.  In John 14:6, the Bible tells us, Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.  Did you catch that?  Jesus said, "I am the way."  So, when we say there is no way, in essence, we're saying there's no Jesus.  And if there's no Jesus, then there's no God, right?

Do you see and understand how dangerous our words and attitudes can be, not only to ourselves but also to others?  We, as Christians, are supposed to be lights shining in the darkness of this world, but if the unsaved see us walking around muttering about how there is no way, what are they going to think?  They're going to think that our God is not good enough.  Either that or they're going to believe that there is no God to begin with.  Either way, our actions and words can easily lead others astray.

The next time you're facing a situation that leaves you feeling that there is no way, stop and remind yourself that Jesus is the way.  He is always with you.  He will never leave or forsake you.  He's got your back, and He's got your problem.  Trust Him to do what He does best, and in doing so, you'll be a witness to the lost of how awesome and mighty a God you serve.  Who knows, perhaps your faith in God will lead others to find the Way themselves.  Wouldn't that be a cause for celebration?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Asking and Believing, Part Two

A couple of days ago, I posted a devotion about claiming victory over our prayers, and I received an e-mail asking for more information.  Evidently, I didn't express my thoughts as clearly as I had hoped, and this being a delicate topic, I wanted to make sure that I didn't lead anyone astray.  So, I've decided to revisit the topic again today, and I will do my best to explain myself.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.  You can leave a comment below or email me privately.  I'll be happy to clear up any miscommunication on my part.

Okay, there are those who practice a "name it and claim it" gospel which basically says that if you want something, you only need to pray about it and believe that God will give it to you.  If you believe hard enough, God will grant your desires.  These people use (and misuse) Scripture, such as Psalm 37:4, Matthew 7:7, and Matthew 21:22, to back up their standing.  This is where we have to be careful and compare Scripture with Scripture.  To explain it best, I'll take you back to the book of James.

The Gospels tell us "ask and ye shall receive," and that's true, but only when taken in the full context of the Bible.  James 4:2-3 goes on to say, Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.  Here James is telling us that sometimes we don't have what we want because we fail to ask God for it.  But he also points out that sometimes we still don't get what we want even when we have asked because what we're asking for is not in God's will.  That's what he means by asking amiss.  It means we're asking God for something that He does not want us to have, and God says, "No."  It's like a three-year-old child asking his mom for a revolver.  He asked, but Mom denied his request because she was looking out for him.  God does the same for us.

So, the first thing we need to remember when we pray is to make sure we're praying God's will.  If we're not sure if something is God's will or not, then we need to ask Him to let us know.  Remember, If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)  If you're not sure of God's will, ask Him to make it clear to you.

Then, once you feel certain that the thing for which you're praying is God's will, pray with fervency.  Claim God's promises to give you what you ask for as long as you're not asking amiss.  And here's the catch that I discussed the other day:  Don't just believe that God can do it; believe that He will do it.  That's what James means when he says, But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. (James 1:6-7)  Don't waver.  Don't doubt that God will give you what you've prayed for.  Claim God's promises and own your prayer.  Otherwise, according to James, we may or may not receive anything from God.  It's all about faith.

Think back to the many miracles that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry.  How many times did He utter the phrase, "Thy faith has made thee whole"?  People came to Him, believing with all their hearts that He could and would heal them, and because of their faith, Jesus granted their requests.

But, I think the best example of what I'm trying to explain is that of Elijah and the four hundred prophets of Baal in I Kings 18.  When Elijah proposed a contest between God and Baal, he was putting his life on the line.  There he was, for the most part alone, in the midst of 400 prophets of Baal plus other false prophets plus the evil King Ahab, who hated Elijah and would gladly watch him die a horrible death.  Elijah knew it was God's will to destroy the prophets of Baal and win over the children of Israel, so he went all out.  He allowed the prophets of Baal to go first, and as we know, nothing happened.  At that point, Elijah could have just prayed for God to send down fire to consume the sacrifice, and that, in itself, would have won the contest.  But, no.  Elijah claimed God's promises.  He went BIG!  After placing his sacrifice on the altar, he poured water and more water and more water over the sacrifice, the altar, the wood, the ground, etc.  It was all soaked!  Then, he prayed, never doubting what God was going to do.  He wasn't worried about how he would escape if God didn't answer.  He wasn't concerned with whether or not he'd look bad in front of all these people if God chose to ignore his request.  No, he prayed and believed with all his heart that God was going to send down fire per Elijah's request.  Elijah prayed in a big way, and God answered likewise.  Not only did He consume the sacrifice but also the wood, the stone, the water and even the dirt.  God honored Elijah's prayer of faith, and He'll honor yours.

Again, let me make clear that "ask and ye shall receive" doesn't mean that we can treat God like Santa Claus and hand Him a list of our wants.  That's not how it works.  God says that we should abide in Him, which means that His desires become our desires.  Once that happens, we can pray in faith, knowing that the thing for which we're praying is God's will for our lives.  And when we pray in faith, with nothing wavering, God rewards us accordingly.

I hope I have cleared up any confusion on this matter.  As I said, it is a difficult subject and one that has been twisted to suit man's philosophy.  But, if you'll sit down and compare God's Word with God's Word, I think the situation will become clearer.  Still, if you have any questions, fire away.  I don't guarantee you that I'll have an answer, but perhaps we can study it out together.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Asking and Believing

I had an epiphany this weekend.  While talking with a family member at a gathering on Saturday, I finally got ahold of a blessed truth that has been eluding me for years.  Before I tell you what the great epiphany was, let me explain to you the trouble I've had with "asking in faith, nothing wavering." (James 1:6)

I am a firm believer in prayer.  I know that prayer works.  I've seen it work.  But when it comes to praying for things in my own life, I find myself in a pit of confusion.  On the one hand, I want to ask in faith and believe with all my heart that God will answer my prayer in the affirmative, but I also want God's will for my life, and what if the thing I'm asking for is not part of His will?  Then what?  Then there's the real tricky one for me.  If I pray, believing that something is God's will and believing with all my heart that He will answer in the affirmative, and then He says "no," I am certain I will be left feeling disappointed and probably even angry with God.  In other words, I'm afraid to ask in faith because I don't want to get my hopes up only to have them dashed when things don't work out the way I was praying.

I have always been afraid to admit this to anyone else because it sounds so childish and immature, but fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), I found out this weekend that I'm not the only one who feels this way.  A particular family member was telling me about a job for which he had applied.  He was expressing to me how much he wanted the job and explaining that he felt so at peace with it.  The interviews had gone well.  He felt confident, more so than he had with any other job.  And beyond that, he declared that he felt closer to the Lord than ever before and that, in the past few weeks, he had seen God move in several miraculous--yet unrelated--ways.

He even confided in me that others had told him that if he felt that confident that the new job was God's will that he should continue in prayer and truly claim the victory.  "But I'm afraid to," he said, "because what will I do then if I don't get it?"  I couldn't believe it.  I wasn't alone in this struggle.  In a single sentence, he described the web I've tried to untangle for years.  We talked and laughed about our spiritual similarities for quite a while, then suddenly a thought hit me like a baseball to the head.  In fact, the thought was out of my mouth before I even realized what had just happened, so I know God was speaking.  "Well, it's like this.  You can pray about it and claim it, and if you don't get the job, you'll know that it wasn't God's will for you at this time.  On the other hand, you can pray and not claim it, but then if you don't get the job, you'll always wonder if it was because it wasn't God's will or if it was because you didn't ask in faith with nothing wavering."

The expression on his face, I'm certain, mirrored my own.  His eyes grew wide, and a smile broke on his face.  I could almost see the lightbulb come on, but perhaps that's because it had come on for me.  "Well, there you go," he said, but all I could do was shake my head.  It was so simple.  The answer was so clear.  How in the world could it have taken me so long to figure it out?  I don't know, but I'm so glad God revealed this truth to me because now I have such peace in my prayer.  I'm not afraid to claim it anymore because I now understand that by asking in faith with nothing wavering, I am putting the entire situation in God's hands.  That way, if the answer isn't what I want, I can rest in the knowledge that it wasn't God's will for me at this time rather than forever wondering if my own lack of faith cost me the thing for which I was praying.

By committing to my belief in prayer and my faith that God will give me what I ask for if it's in His will, I am cutting myself out of the equation.  Once I've prayed, the results are up to Him, and I know He makes no mistakes!

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. - James 1:5-7

Monday, January 11, 2016

When Good Isn't Good Enough

Reading through the books of I and II Kings in the Bible can be very depressing.  It's not that the Scripture isn't interesting or that there isn't a lot of action taking place.  There's definitely a lot going on in those two books and much that we can learn from them.  But what gets me is how many times I come across the phrase, "And _________ did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord."  The kings of Israel.  The kings of Judah.  King after king after king.  I find myself thinking, "When will you learn?  God promised to bless you when you lived right and trusted in Him.  As long as you're not doing that, your country will be in turmoil."  Yet the list continues.

Occasionally, I come across something that brings a smile to my face and the word "Finally!" to my lips.  "And __________ did that which was right in the sight of the Lord."  It's about time!  But before I can enjoy the fact that one of those kings finally got their act together, the declaration continues:  "But the high places were not taken away:  the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places." (II Kings 12:3)  Seriously?  It's like the guy kind of got it right but then he stopped short of seeing that everything was as it should be.  And the result?  More trouble for the kingdom.  The people weren't worshiping and serving the true God.  They weren't keeping up their end of the conditional promise God made with them.  "If you do this, I'll do this.  Be faithful to me, and I'll keep you safe."

As I came across several instances of this half-hearted service to God, my mind conjured up the words to a familiar hymn:  I Surrender All.  Obviously, these kings were not surrendering all.  They were surrendering part--maybe even most--but not all.  If they had surrendered their all to God, then the high places would have been destroyed and the kings would have made it clear that only the one, true God was to be worshiped.  They were serving God. . .sort of.  That's not good enough.

How often are we guilty of the same thing?  Sure, we stand up in church and lift our voices to Heaven saying, "Yes, Lord, I surrender all," but do we really mean it?  Do our actions live up to our proclamations?  Usually, no.  Like the "good" kings of Israel and Judah, we surrender some--maybe even most--but seldom do we let go of everything and place it in God's hands.  We tend to hold back. Why?  I don't know, but my best guess would be either a lack of trust or a lack of true devotion.  And most of the time, I don't think we even realize we're doing it.  We think we've turned everything over to God, but as soon as tough situations arise, we find ourselves trying to "fix" things.  How can we fix it if it's in God's hands?  Because it's not in His hands; we only thought it was.

If you were to follow me around my house one day, you'd probably be convinced that I'm crazy beyond help.  Not because I talk to my dog (wow, that's strange typing "dog" instead of "dogs") or even because I occasionally talk to myself (who doesn't love a good conversation?).  But rather because I occasionally burst into song, and in my most Elsa-like fashion proclaim, "Let it go, let it go."  Why do I do that?  Because just before my little serenade, my thoughts had drifted somewhere they shouldn't be.  In the moments before I could catch myself, my mind and heart were trying to take control of something that I had already given to God.  So, when I do realize what I'm doing and where I'm heading, I remind myself and God and Satan and anyone else who's listening (sorry, Mitch) that I'm letting it go.

I want to surrender all, not part.  I want to give God everything I have, both the good and the bad.  I want my life to be completely in His hands.  I don't want those reading my story to see the phrase, "Dana did right in the sight of the Lord, but . . . "  No buts!  I want my all to be all.  How about you?

Friday, January 8, 2016

God Makes Music From Our Trash

It's astounding to me how two men looked upon a giant landfill and saw the potential for instruments for an entire orchestra of children who knew nothing about life other than how to survive.  Everyone else looked on that same landfill and saw only trash.  They looked upon those same children and saw only misfits.  But these two men had a vision far beyond what their eyes could see, and because of their dedication to make music out of trash, the Landfillharmonic Orchestra was born.  What an awesome story!

But you know, God does the same thing day after day.  Not only does He turn sinners into saints, but He also has a knack for taking our messy, impossible situations and turning them into beautiful music.  Just this morning, I sent e-mails to a couple of friends describing some positive things that have taken place in my life over the past few weeks, in spite of--or perhaps even because of--negative events.  God works in mysterious ways, and I cannot even begin to explain to you how He takes the ugliest circumstances--the trash of our lives--and turns them into beautiful melodies that float on the breeze of peace and contentment.  It makes no sense to me, but I can attest to the fact that it is true.  No matter how bad the situation may be, God can turn it into something spectacular.

We're quick to quote Romans 8:28 because it's often our "go-to" script when we're feeling overwhelmed by life.  But sometimes I feel it's become too familiar and that we no longer really have a grasp on what that precious verse is telling us.  It's not just saying that things are going to be okay.  It's saying that things are going to be better than okay.  It's a promise that God will always turn our trash into music so that we will never be without a song.

I urge you to let that sink in today.  No matter what you're facing or how dark the valley may seem, you can rest in the knowledge and confidence that God is at work this very moment, doing what He does best--turning trash into music.  Hang in there!  Your instrument is almost ready.

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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Leave It Alone!

Those of you who have followed my blog any length of time know that I am not the world's greatest cook.  Yes, I can put meals together.  In fact, I do most of the cooking in our household, but I don't expect to win any prizes for my cuisine.  The truth is that, when it comes to cooking, I like to keep things simple.  I am not a daring risk taker or an adventurous sort when it comes to the kitchen.  So, I prepare simple meals in a simple way and thank the Lord for a husband who will eat just about anything (love you, honey).

If I had to pinpoint my greatest weakness in the kitchen, I would say it would be my inability to leave things alone and let them cook.  You know, like when you're grilling.  The "experts" say that, after preparing your meat of choice, you should throw it on the hot grill (or in a hot pan) and leave it alone until that side is done.  Then, and only then, should you flip the meat.

Well, sure, that sounds logical, but may I ask a stupid question?  How will I know if that side is done if I don't flip it over and look?  Somehow, I am still missing this piece of the equation.  So, when I feel the meat has been on long enough, I flip it.  Then I flip it again and again and again until I'm satisfied that both sides are cooked to perfection.

The only problem is that my constant flipping leads to other issues.  First off, my meat has a tendency to fall apart after about my third flip.  Evidently, it prefers the "single flip method" as well.  Secondly, the meat is prone to become very dry after its whirlwind affair on the grill or in the frying pan.  In short, my inability to leave the meat alone creates a mess in the kitchen and a frown on my face.   Hmm, who knew?

Evidently, God does because I often find Him telling me the same thing.  Not in reference to cooking meat, mind you, but in many other areas of my life.  I look at how things are progressing, and when I feel I've waited long enough, I grab a "spatula" and get ready to stir things up.  It's then that I hear the Savior gently whispering, "No, Dana, just leave it alone.  I'll take care of it."  "But God," I argue, "I need to check on it.  I need to see what's happening."  Again, that still, small voice tugs at my heart, "No, child, you only need to trust me.  I've got this.  I promise."

And you know what?  He does.  He's not going to ruin it.  He knows exactly what He's doing, and He knows that if I have my way, I'm going to get in there and cause things to fall apart (just like my poor meat).  So, He urges me to leave the "cooking of life" in His hands.

Come to think of it, I like that plan.  I just remembered that I hate cooking!

For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. - Isaiah 30:15

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Prone to Wander

In the middle of the night last night, Mitch came tearing through the doggie door, huffing and panting like he'd just run a marathon.  After gulping down a bowl of water, he came and snuggled in bed with us.  As soon as he came near, his odor reached my nostrils.  "Yuck!" I whined.  "You smell like wet, dirty dog."  (You know that odor that kids get when they run around outside and get good and sweaty? It's like that. . . only worse.)

A little confused by his breathlessness and obvious activity, I wondered what he'd been up to.  But before long, my need for sleep overcame my thought process, and I drifted off.  No worries, though, because all the confusion was cleared up when I looked out the kitchen window this morning.

Before I go any farther, let me say that we got Mitch from the pound over seven years ago.  His reason for being at the pound was because he had a tendency to run away.  For the first couple of years that we had him, he proved this to be true.  He would find a way to get out of the fenced yard and go out to explore the neighborhood.  It's in his nature.  He's an explorer.  He loves to find new things, and when he's done, he finds his way home.

Still, I was not fond of this particular habit, so we did everything we could to ensure that he couldn't get out of the fenced back yard.  We also tried to make sure that we made a nice enough home for him that he wouldn't want to leave.  Little by little, progress was made--so much so that we were finally able to  remove some of the barriers blocking the gates to the fences (which made life easier on us for passing through them).

However, last night--for whatever reason--Mitch broke free and returned to his wandering ways.  My first thought was that it was all part of his grieving process.  After all, he had known and loved Tippy since we brought him home from the pound.  As far as he was concerned, she was his "sissy," and he has certainly mourned her passing.  Whether he went out to look for her or was simply dealing with his grief, I can't say, but I do feel that the stress and heartache of the past week had something to do with his behavior.  I sat him down and had a long talk with him this morning, but I didn't have it in me to scold him.  I understood too well how he felt.  After all, he's not the only one who's prone to wander.

If I'm honest, I must admit that I tend to go astray when things don't work the way I think they should.  When my plans aren't being fulfilled.  When I feel disappointed and discouraged.  When it seems like life is just some unfair joke, and everyone is laughing at my expense. . . God included.  Yes, during those time, I have a tendency, like Mitchell, to return to my old ways.  The old habits.  The old ways of dealing with my problems.  To be perfectly blunt, my behavior conveys the message, "Fine, Lord, if you're not going to take care of this, I will!"

Of course, before long, I find myself so far away from where I really want to be and much worse off than I was when I started and, like Mitchell, I make my way home.  Back into my Father's arms.  Back into the presence of the One who loves and cares for me.  Back where I belong.

What about you?  Are you where you should be today, or have you strayed from the Lord?  It's never too late to go back.  He's waiting for you with open arms. . .and He doesn't even mind if you smell like a dirty dog!

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. - Psalm 119:176

Friday, January 1, 2016

Use the Force, Elisha!

The world is abuzz with Star Wars.  For weeks now, people have anticipated the opportunity to see the new Star Wars movie, and I'll admit, I was among them.  I thoroughly enjoy the first three movies in the saga (which are technically episodes 4,5, & 6).  Confusing, huh?  I didn't care as much for the next three (episodes 1-3), but I had high hopes that this most current movie would be great.  I wasn't disappointed.

So, what makes the Star Wars movies so great?  Well, I guess it's that there's a little bit of something in there for everyone.  There's action, adventure, romance, fantasy, sci-fi and even comedy.  An intricate story weaves around dynamic characters, leaving audiences captivated with the entire premise of the movie and willing to spend an enormous amount of money on souvenirs, toys, posters and much more.  (I have not gone so far!)

Here's what gets me.  Take those same people from the movie theater and hand them a Bible, and most of them will turn up their noses.  Why?  Because to them, the Bible is boring.  In their minds, it is simply a list of dos and don'ts.  Pages and pages of "thou shalt nots."  If only they knew what they were missing.  For example, just this morning, I read a passage that reminded me so much of Star Wars that I laughed out loud.

Remember the Jedi mind trick from Star Wars?  You know, where Obi-Wan Kenobi waved his hand in front of the storm troopers and said, "These are not the droids you're looking for," and the soldiers replied, "These are not the droids we're looking for."  Or, where Luke controlled the mind of Jabba the Hutt's right-hand man.  That's in the Bible!  Don't believe me?  Check it out.

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way, neither is this the city: follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria. And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. - II Kings 6:15-20

Elisha and his fellow prophets were under attack by the Syrians.  Their camp was surrounded by a great host of battle-hardened soldiers who knew exactly where they were going and who they were looking for.  But at the request of Elisha, God struck the entire army blind.  Then, Elisha, in his Jedi fashion, approached the bloodthirsty army and said, "This is not the way you want to go.  These are not the prophets you seek.  Let me show you the way."  Then he proceeded to lead the entire blind army to the heart of Samaria, a rival country.  You see, Elisha used the force--the force of God, that is! Is that awesome of what?  Boring?  I think not!

Like so many others, I enjoy a good movie.  But I praise the Lord for opening my eyes to the wonders within His holy Word.  Just like Star Wars, there's something for everyone:  action, adventure, romance, fantasy, sci-fi and even comedy.  But unlike Star Wars, the Bible offers much, much more.  It offers instruction and guidance.  It provides comfort and encouragement.  And, with no disrespect toward Star Wars, the Bible stays true to its own story line and never contradicts itself.

Am I against movies or movie theaters?  Absolutely not.  But may I urge you to spend as much time soaking in the Word of God as you do sitting in front of the television.  As far as I'm concerned, I can think of no better New Year's Resolution than to spend more time in the Scriptures.