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Monday, February 29, 2016

The Frog and the Ox

"Oh Father," said a little frog to the big one sitting by the side of a pool, "I have seen such a terrible monster! It was as big as a mountain, with horns on its head, and a long tail, and it had hoofs divided in two."

"Tush, child, tush," said the old frog, "that was only Farmer White's ox. It isn't so big either; he may be a little bit taller than I, but I could easily make myself quite as broad; just you see." So he blew himself out, and blew himself out, and blew himself out. "Was he as big as that?" asked he.

"Oh, much bigger than that," said the young frog.

Again the old one blew himself out, and asked the young one if the ox was as big as that.

"Bigger, Father, bigger," was the reply.

So the frog took a deep breath, and blew and blew and blew, and swelled and swelled and swelled. And then he said: "I'm sure the ox is not as big as. . .But at this moment, he burst.

Aesop's fable of the frog and the ox is an excellent reminder of Proverbs 16:18: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. We must be careful how much we puff ourselves up, for eventually, we will pop.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Tear Down the Walls

Jason and I enjoy watching home renovation shows.  I'm often amazed at how an outdated house can be transformed into a lovely home by simply adding some paint and a few nice splashes of color here or there.  What I really love, though, is when they tear down some walls.  It's nice to see a small, closed-in kitchen become one with the living room and/or dining room.  Many times, tearing down a single wall opens up the house, causing it to appear twice as big as it actually is.  The transformation is astounding.

I thought about the process this morning as I was reading in Joanna Weaver's book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.  The entire premise of the book is about finding the balance between our Martha-like need to serve and be busy and our Mary-like desire to sit and worship at the feet of Jesus.  I relate all too well to the book because I often find myself on the teeter totter of life.  So much to do.  So little time.  Oh, but I need to be still too.  Seriously?  Instead of balancing the two, I often find myself leaning heavily to one side or another. . . usually to the Martha side.  I want to worship.  I want to be still and sit at Jesus' feet, but who has the time for that when there's so much else to be done?

In her book, Joanna refers to Martha's behavior as "kitchen service" while referring to Mary's as "living room worship."  In the final chapter of the book, the author has this to say:  "In my once-divided heart, the two had become one.  I no longer had to worry about my motives, whether I was acting out of duty or devotion.  God had knocked down the wall and made the Living Room and Kitchen all one."

That's what I want in my life!  It's time for a remodel.  I no longer want to be in one room or the other.  I want to be able to occupy both rooms at the same time.  I want to live a life that is so surrendered to God that every act of service is, in itself, an act of worship and vice versa.  No more tiny, cramped spaces.  Open it up, or as the psalmist said, "Unite my heart."  One motive.  One goal.  Mary and Martha all rolled into one.  Yes, indeed, that is my heart's desire.  What about you?

Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. - Psalm 86:11

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How Are You Packing Your Bag?

You would think that packing a bag of groceries would be an easy thing, right?  I mean, it's not rocket science to know that the heavy, sturdy items go on the bottom while the lighter, perishable items go on top.  As for mixing items, no, household cleaners shouldn't go in the same bag as my food.  Yes, I would like my cold items placed together so that they will stay cold longer.  And could you please place the dog treats in a separate bag from the pouch of candy lest I make a horrible mistake on the long car ride home?  Seriously, is there anything more frustrating than getting home after a long grocery trip to find that your bread is mashed, your eggs are broken, your chips are now chiplets and your favorite candy tastes like bathroom cleaner?  It's enough to drive a girl crazy. . . well, this girl anyway.

Unfortunately, it was recently brought to my attention that we often pack our "spiritual groceries" in the same haphazard manner.  What do I mean?  Well, we're quick to pack the Bread of Life and the fruit of the Spirit because we feel compelled or obligated to take them along for the ride.  After all, we're supposed to take those with us, right?  But then what do we do?  We toss all of our problems, worries, frustrations and everything else on top of them.  We bury them beneath our daily woes and proceed to drag the heavy bag from place to place.

The result?  The Bread of Life, the Word of God that we've hidden in our hearts, becomes smashed and unrecognizable.  It's there, somewhere, in the bottom of the bag, but we can't find it because of all the other "stuff" we have to weed through to get to it.  We try to remember and meditate on God's promises, but our thoughts are so overwhelmed with the cares so evident on the top of the bag that we can't recall the truth that's buried deep beneath the surface.

As for the fruit of the Spirit, well, it gets battered and bruised.  Love?  Sure, I'd love to get out of this dark valley.  Joy?  Are you kidding me?  Peace?  Yeah, right, not after hauling around this bag of trouble.  Goodness?  Why bother?  Things aren't going so well for me, now are they?  Longsuffering?  Not likely.  I've been as patient as I can be, but now I want solutions. And on and on.  The fruit never stood a chance under the weight of all those circumstances.

Had we packed our bag differently, however, things would have been much better.  Toss in the cares, frustrations, trials and disappointments of this life, but then cover them with the Bread of Life and the fruit of the Spirit.  Amazingly, the bag will seem lighter.  The Word of God will be much more easily accessible.  The fruit of the Spirit won't get bruised and battered.  In a sense, we've covered today's trials with grace and given ourselves a chance at victory.  Victory over defeat.  Victory over depression.  Victory over another bad day.

Be careful how you pack your bag today.  It's not enough to simply take the Word of God and fruit of the Spirit with you.  They must be accessible.  They must be on top.  Keep them in the forefront of your mind, and I guarantee you the burden will be lighter and the day will be brighter.

Chiplet, anyone?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23

Monday, February 22, 2016

I Can't See a Thing!

Here's an interesting fact for you.  A fog bank a hundred feet deep, covering seven city blocks, is composed of less than one glass of water.  Can you imagine?  I've seen fog so thick that I literally couldn't see anything but white.  It seemed as if the entire world had been blotted out by a giant cloud.  Yet that "giant cloud," scientists say, can be contained in a single glass.  Who would ever imagine that entire cities could be brought to a standstill by a single glass of water? Mind blown!

It reminds me of our problems.  Like those billions of water droplets that form the fog, each problem actually has little substance.  A dead car battery here.  A dog-poo-encrusted shoe there.  Traffic.  Whiny children.  Discovering halfway through the day that you're wearing one blue shoe and one black one.  Business delays.  Power outages.  Nothing out the ordinary.  Nothing catastrophic.  Just normal, everyday annoyances.

But, let me tell you, when those bad boys gang up, it becomes like that fog, only instead of bringing the city to a standstill, it brings our faith to one.  Sure, everyone has a bad day, but when that day's problems seem to pour over into the next day and the next and the next, faith disappears, and from what we can see, God does too.  Just like in the fog, we can't see anything but the vapor surrounding us.  We can't see God.  We can't see solutions.  We can't find hope.  We only find ourselves surrounded by problems--problems that seem to be closing in on us all the time.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it difficult to breathe in the midst of fog?  I don't know what it is.  I can be in the car, the house or outside, and the feeling is the same.  In a dense fog, my chest tightens and I find myself struggling to breathe.  It's like I'm inhaling smoke instead of water vapor.  I literally feel like I'm suffocating.  Crazy, isn't it?

Not so much when that fog is made up of trouble because trouble makes us worry.  And ironically enough, the word "worry" comes from a term that is literally translated "to strangle or choke."  Hmm, interesting.  So not only is worry a sin, but it's a serious health hazard as well.  But what do we do when we can't see God or His promises because of the dense fog of troubles surrounding us?  How can we cling to Him when we can't find Him?

It all starts with perspective.  Just as that huge bank of fog can be contained in a single glass, so can our huge bank of problems be contained in the single hand of God.  There is nothing that we're facing that He cannot handle.  If we will view our problems as single droplets instead of focusing on the immense fog they create when banding together, we'll see that each problem is not really that big.  Grasshoppers rather than giants.

As for not being able to see God, that's what the Bible is for.  When circumstances have us so blinded that we can't see beyond them, that is the perfect time to open up God's Word.  If we can't see Him in our story, then let's read about how He worked in the stories of others.  Let's remind ourselves how He delivered His children time and time again from all sorts of problems.  Let's reacquaint ourselves with His grace and mercy.  And you know what?  Before long, that fog begins to clear, and we can see God quite clearly--possibly even better than we did before the fog rolled in.

I have no idea what you're facing today, but I realize that it may seem overwhelming.  You may feel as if you're lost in a fog so deep that you'll never find your way out, but I assure you, God is in control.  What to you appears to be a deep, dense cloud is a mere glass of water in His eyes.  Trust in His goodness, and try to remember that all of your problems are in God's hands.  He'll see you through to the other side.  No need to worry.  No need to suffocate in the midst of your trouble.  Just lean on Him and look to Him the best that you can.  He will deliver you!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Things Aren't Always What They Seem

I have to be honest, I don't typically enjoy reading through the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Isaiah is full of prophecy and always leaves me confused about what's what and what's happening when because it jumps from past to present to future (and you are all aware by now how much trouble I have with time travel!).  As for Jeremiah, well, it's just a tough read.  There's a lot of whining and fussing going on, and again, the account jumps from person to person during the reign of this king and that king, and I get lost.  Please understand, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the Bible.  There's not.  There's something wrong with me and my limited understanding of God's Word.

Still, I try to make myself do the reading and to pay attention as much as possible.  For the past week, that practice has been paying off, and God has revealed some interesting things to me through the book of Jeremiah.  I shared with you yesterday from chapter 42, and today I'd like to share with you a few verses from chapter 44.

Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying, As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. - Jeremiah 44:15-18

Basically, the remnants of Judah were saying, "Hey, look here, Jeremiah.  Things were working out just fine for us when we were serving the queen of heaven.  We had plenty to eat.  We were happy.  We didn't experience war or famine or anything else bad.  But as soon as we stopped and tried to serve your God, everything fell apart.  Well, no thank you!  Just leave us alone and let us do what we want to do.  After all, it's been working out just fine."

It's a sad state of mind, but unfortunately, I can relate, and I'm sure you can too.  There are times when it seems like doing the wrong things pay off better than doing the right ones.  Eating what I want when I want is so much nicer and less stressful than watching calories and limiting sweets.  Trying to fix problems myself instead of waiting on God to do something seems like a more productive way to spend my time.  Doing my will instead of God's will seems to often bring about some benefits like extra money, more exposure to my ministry, and so on.  Meditating on a Bible verse for a few minutes then muttering a quick word of prayer may not be as effective spiritually as sitting down to really read God's Word and spend time with Him in deep prayer, but it seems like it leaves me a lot more time for accomplishing other things (including serving God).

Did you notice a trend throughout that paragraph?  How about the word "seems"?  If nothing else, these verses in Jeremiah remind us that appearances can be deceiving.  Sure, things may look good in the short term, but what happens over time.  Eating recklessly may make me happy temporarily, but what about after I've gained fifty pounds and I'm suffering from a myriad of health problems?  Still good?  Not so much.  Trying to fix my own problems may seem like I'm being productive, but in the long run, I'll realize that while I've been spinning my wheels, I haven't been going anywhere.  And yes, sometimes there are benefits to be had by circumventing God's will, but experience has taught me that the consequences far outweigh any benefits.  As for skimping on my quiet time with God, it may seem that I have more time to do other things, but the problem is that I've walked away from God, leaving me to complete my many tasks in my own strength alone.  And guess what?  It doesn't go well.

The Bible states very clearly that there is pleasure in sin for a season.  There will be a stretch of time where everything seems to be going just the way we want despite our disobedience to God.  But take it from Jonah and Abraham and David and many others throughout the Bible, there is always a payday.

Things are not always what they seem, and that goes for the positive things in life too.  Sometimes we get it in our heads that if we're serving and obeying God, life will be a bed of roses.  Along with our obedience, we set up certain expectations.  Without verbally uttering the words, we say, "Okay, God, I'm obeying, so that means you're going to take care of this bill or that situation, right?"  Then, when the bill goes unpaid and the situation goes unresolved, we throw up our hands and declare, "Well, I tried serving God, but it just didn't work for me."  What we really mean is "He didn't work for me."  Well, the last time I checked, He was the employer and we the employees, right?

Look, I get it.  I really do.  I'm in that same boat.  I find myself clinging to the expectations of how God will reward my service to Him, but when things don't work out the way I think they should, I find myself confused.  But if we would only cling to what we know instead of what we feel, we would be much better off.  If we would commit to the truth of how things are instead of focusing on how things appear, we might become more dedicated and more surrendered to the cause of Christ.  Imagine the impact that would have on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

Things aren't always what they seem.  Sometimes they're better, and sometimes they're worse.  Keep that in mind as you go about your day, and try to keep your focus on the One who never changes!  I guarantee you it will be worth it!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

To Go or Not To Go?--That Is the Question

Have you ever desired something more?  Something better?  Something different than the life you're currently living?  I think if we're honest, we'll all admit to having desires about the "greener pastures."  After all, none of us have a perfect life, right?  Who among us doesn't wish to be thinner, richer, younger, older, more spiritual, and so on?  Having desires is normal, but the question is this:  do we want what we want enough that we'll go against God's will to have it?  Unfortunately, the children of Israel did.

The book of Jeremiah paints a vivid picture of a terrible time for Israel.  They were backslidden and hard-hearted, and despite Jeremiah's numerous attempts to convey the Lord's wishes for reconciliation, the nation would not have it.  They were content in their wicked ways. . . until, that is, God's punishment fell upon them.  As He had declared He would do, He allowed the nation to be taken over by the king of Babylon.  Most of Israel was taken away captive, but a few were left behind to tend the fields.

Over time, more and more refugees found their way to Judah where the king of Babylon had set up an overseer to rule the people.  The prophet Jeremiah was among those in this camp, but though they were not captives in Babylon, their lives were far from easy, especially after their leader was killed.  In a panic, the people sought to flee to Egypt, but before going, they asked Jeremiah to seek the Lord's will.  Look what they had to say:

Then they said to Jeremiah, The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the Lord thy God shall send thee to us. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the Lord our God. - Jeremiah 42:5-6

After ten days, the Lord gave Jeremiah the directions he had been seeking.  He basically told the people to stay put.  He promised them that if they would stay where they were, He would set everything straight.  He would return them and all that they had to their rightful land.  They need not fear the king of Babylon any longer.  If they would just hold out and stay put, God promised to meet all their needs and more.

On the other hand, if they went to Egypt, God assured them that they would all die.  Take a look: But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the Lord your God, Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: And now therefore hear the word of the Lord, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; Then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there ye shall die. So shall it be with all the men that set their faces to go into Egypt to sojourn there; they shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: and none of them shall remain or escape from the evil that I will bring upon them. - Jeremiah 42:13-17

Pretty clear answer, huh?  So what did Israel do? Then spake Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men, saying unto Jeremiah, Thou speakest falsely: the Lord our God hath not sent thee to say, Go not into Egypt to sojourn there. . .So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: thus came they even to Tahpanhes. - Jeremiah 42:2,7  So much for following the Lord!  I could say a lot about that right now, but for the sake of time, I'm going to move on to the main thought that the Lord impressed on me this morning.

Without doing any harm to the Scriptures, I would like to share with you the interpretation of God's command that came to my mind upon reading it.  "Child, I know you're tired and you're scared, but I have you where you are for a purpose.  If you'll just be still and stay where I've placed you, I will set everything straight.  You don't need to fear.  I will save you.  I will deliver you.  I will show you mercy upon mercies.  Stay and be blessed.  However, if you're determined to go your own way and do your own thing, I won't stop you.  But know this:  when you're outside of my will, there will be consequences, and they will be severe.  I know it looks better over there right now, but I promise you, it's not what it seems, and you will come to regret it later.  Trust me, child.  You're better off where you are, safe and secure in my will.  Won't you stay with me?"

Stay or go?  The choice is yours, but I warn you, anytime we stray outside of God's will, we'll wish we hadn't.  Follow God's leading even when the path looks grim, for He has promised there's a brighter day coming!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How Do You Treat God's Love?

With the release of my newest book, I've been thinking and talking a lot about Prince Charming.  Today, I'd like to brag a little on my own Prince Charming.  He is a gentleman in every respect.  He is kind and sweet and completely spoils me rotten.  He opens doors for me and carries my bags (even my purse from time to time). He pulls out chairs and even cuts my meat for me (although I'm not sure if this is his attempt at sweetness or self-protection; knives aren't my thing!)  Several nights each week, he pampers me with neck, shoulder and/or foot rubs.  Yes, my Prince Charming is just that--mine.  Oh, and charming, of course.

But as good as he is to me, he still can't compare to my Lord.  Never has there been one so gentle or precious.  He, too, opens doors for me.  Doors of possibilities.  Doors of excitement.  Doors of change.  Doors of growth.  He, too, carries all of my heavy loads, that is, when I'll let Him (more on that in a moment). He has even been known to pull out a chair and invite me to a quiet time of intimacy with Him.  Just my Lord and me, which is how He likes it.  He may not cut my meat for me, but He does cut my problems and worries.  He pampers me with love, life and happiness.  Ah, yes, my Lord is certainly the most charming in all the land (and beyond).

Here's what gets me.  When Jason dotes on me, I love it.  I am, in no way, offended when he offers to carry my stuff.  On the contrary, I enjoy the freedom and lack of burdens.  I am honored when he pulls out my chair and extends his hand in greeting for me to join him. Whatever else I may have had planned no longer seems important--only spending time with my love. I am not embarrassed when he cuts up my meat, orders my food or completes any other niceties for me.  I feel blessed, cherished and well taken care of.  And unlike some ladies who feel that waiting on their husband to open the door for them is a waste of time, I don't mind one bit.  I think it is a beautiful show of love and compassion, and I wouldn't deny him that, so I gladly wait.

That being said, I tend to react differently to God's show of "gentleman" qualities.  When He offers to carry my burdens, at first, I'm relieved.  But before long, I find myself inwardly accusing Him of not carrying things the proper way, and I take them back.  When He pulls out a chair and invites me to share some quiet time with Him, I find myself making excuses.  I'm running late for an appointment.  I have too much to do.  Maybe later.  Can't You see I'm busy serving You, so I don't have time to just sit and be with You?  And as for waiting on Him to open doors, good grief, I become the most impatient person I've ever known.  "What's taking you so long, Lord?  If you don't hurry and open up this door, I'll just have to do it myself."

Is that crazy or what?  I lovingly accept my husband's charming behavior toward me, but when God does the same thing and much more, I resist His attempts to shower me with love.  It makes absolutely no sense.  Even now, I'm trying to figure out what causes me to act in such a way, and I'm coming up blank.  I have no answers, but maybe you do.  Perhaps, from the vantage point of one viewing the situation from "outside the box," you see the answer that is so elusive to me.  If so, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Or, maybe, you're in the same boat I'm in.  In that case, you can also leave a comment.  Maybe a fresh perspective or two will help us figure this thing out.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Check Your Expectations at the Door -- An Excerpt from What Happened to Prince Charming?

My new book for Christian wives, What Happened to Prince Charming:  Understanding What To Do When You No Longer Know the Man You're Married To,  is now available in Kindle format on Amazon, so today I'd like to give you a preview.  Guys, you're welcome to read on, but keep in mind that this book was written with the ladies in mind.  Without further ado, here's a little excerpt from Chapter Four of the book.


I don't think there's a woman alive who hasn't, at some point, wished that her husband were more like herself. On the one hand, we all know we have flaws—some of us more than others—and there are things about ourselves that we don't like and wouldn't want to have to put up with in our spouses.

On the other hand, there are areas of our lives that we feel we manage well and would like to see mirrored in our men.  For example, as women, we tend to be better at multitasking and understanding what needs to be done, how long each task will take, and what order would be the most efficient to get everything accomplished.  Most men seem to lack this particular skill and often fail to see beyond their own needs and obligations.  It's not because they're lazy or uncaring but rather it's because that's what they're used to.  In many ways, we have promoted that behavior.

We each have our own ways of doing things. Unfortunately, we tend to cling to those ways as the only right way when that is not, in fact, the case.  In order to live in harmony with our husbands, we need to first realize that they are not us.  They don't think like us.  They don't act like us.  They don't perform tasks in the same way that we do.  And neither should we expect them to. As we have already discussed, they have different personalities and ways of doing things.  That doesn't make them wrong, only different.

One thing I want to make very clear is no matter how much our husbands' behavior irritates us, it is not our place to try to change them.  We can talk to them and express our concerns about a particular behavior that we feel is impacting our relationships in a negative way. But we should never harp on them or degrade them in any way.  For one thing, it's not loving. For another, that kind of treatment will only make them balk like stubborn mules.  Rather than trying to change the way our men behave, how about trying to change our attitudes instead?

Ladies, our expectations will get us into trouble every time. Let's face it, we expect a lot out of life and those with whom we share it. We expect people to do things the way we think they should be done, and we expect things to turn out the way we want them to. Well, that's just not the way life works! The more we expect, the more we'll be disappointed. We would do well to tone down our expectations (even what we expect of ourselves), and approach life with more realistic hopes.

Proverbs 19:13 has some somber words about wives who complain when they're expectations aren't met. The contentions of a wife are a continual dropping. Contention. Strife. Anger. Complaints. It's like a continual dropping. This past year has been one of the wettest years I remember in my life, particularly this winter. It has rained and rained and rained. In fact, for nearly two straight weeks around Christmas, the sun never made an appearance. Despite the holiday spirit, the days were dark and dreary, and let me tell you, the constant downpour really began taking a toll on people's emotions. Endless rain will do that, and so will endless complaints. Be careful, ladies. I know we expect as much or more from ourselves as we do from our husbands, but often they are the ones who bear the brunt of our frustrations when those expectations aren't met.

In the words of Disney's Elsa, let it go!

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Don't Tip the Dana -- Repost

I have an entire list of devotion ideas in my notepad, but for some reason, the Lord brought this old post to my mind this morning, and I just can't get away from it.  It would seem that the Lord wants someone to read this today (or maybe it's just for me). Either way, without further ado, here's a post from October of 2009.  I hope you enjoy it!


Do any of you remember the old game, "Don't Tip the Waiter?" It was a cardboard cutout of a waiter holding a tray above his head. The waiter was set up in such a way that he rocked back and forth each time you touched him. The object of the game was to put as many foods (also cardboard cutouts) on the waiter's tray as you could without causing him to tip forward or backward to the point where he dumps everything. It was a fun game. . .frustrating, but fun.

Recently, I've felt like I've been part of the game. The problem is that I've felt like the waiter. I feel like God is placing one difficult situation after another on my tray. Let me tell you, I'm rocking. I haven't fallen on my face yet or dumped the entire load, but I have honestly questioned how many more things I can take. Most of the situations are not serious. It's just one thing after another, and that becomes very wearying. We can't get rid of the dog's fleas. The dishwasher is leaking. . .again. Someone (actually 419 someones) hacked into my e-mail account and sent out boatloads of spam. Last night, I discovered a hoard of creepy, crawly insects on my back step. At first, we thought they were termites, but closer examination revealed to us that they were actually winged ants. Better, but still not good.

As I've thought about it, I've realized that I'm not the only one going through these valleys. For example, a dear friend in our church is going through a similar situation. He's been out of work around a year now. As if that's not discouraging enough, he lost his vehicle, was blessed with a new one, but then it broke down after only a few weeks. He's trying to go to school so that he can get a job, but his vehicle situation won't even allow him to get there.

Another church member has been taking care of her husband ever since he had a stroke several years ago. He went in for surgery to remove water from his brain, but had a severe stroke on the operating table and hasn't been the same since. She has scraped and saved to be able to provide for them both while still being able to pay for his many doctor bills. His latest tests show a mass that looks a lot like cancer. He goes in for more tests soon.

One of my dearest friends has suffered the loss of both parents. She now juggles around her daily tasks to take care of her mother-in-law, her uncle, and her aunt who are all elderly and sickly. She spends her days tending to the sick, driving them to doctor's appointments, and trying to care for their houses and yards as well as her own. I've seen her turn down numerous invitations to go to lunch with friends because she just couldn't get away from her obligations.

Why? Why do Christians go through such hard times? You would think if God really wanted us to serve Him, He wouldn't make it so difficult. But then, my mind goes back to Joseph. Remember him? Loved by his father. Hated by his brothers. Given a special gift. Sold into slavery. Promoted to chief servant. Falsely accused and thrown into prison. Promoted to prison guard, so to speak. Forgotten by the butler for over a year. Brought before Pharaoh. Promoted to second in command. Saved the world from starvation. That Joseph. Remember him now?

If anyone had reason to question, "God, what are you doing?" it was Joseph. Yet, instead, he said, "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." Joseph knew God had a purpose.

As we face the many trials of life, may we ever be reminded that God has a purpose. We don't know what it is. We don't understand our current circumstances. But we can rest assured that God means it for our good. The key word there being "rest."

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. - Psalm 37:7

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Conflicting Melodies

I love music.  Truth be told, I enjoy several different types of music and typically have some form of music playing throughout the day.  During my devotions, I enjoy soft, instrumental music that helps me reflect and meditate on God's Word.  While working around the house, there's nothing like good Southern Gospel or Contemporary Christian tunes to keep my toe tapping and my heart intent on worship.  At my desk, my music choice varies depending on what I'm doing.  If I'm doing intense writing, I need something soft and soothing (but not so much so that I fall asleep).  For less intense writing, I prefer instrumental music that is uplifting and bright, like Celtic melodies or epic movie soundtracks.  Every once in a while, I love to turn on classical pieces like Mozart, Beethoven or Rachmaninoff.  For other computer tasks, the music varies based on my present mood, but it's typically something lively and positive.

As you can see, I enjoy a variety of music, but one thing I cannot stand is to have two separate songs playing at once.  It drives me crazy!  For example, I play soft music when I go to sleep each night, and that music plays until I turn it off in the morning.  On Sunday mornings, however, I have my clock radio tuned to come on because a local station offers Southern Gospel music on Sunday mornings.  Sure enough, at 7:00, the radio comes to life, and I began to scramble.  I have to turn off the music that is playing on my phone because the two conflicting melodies wreak havoc in my mind.  I simply cannot stand it.

It doesn't seem to bother most people.  In fact, Jason can sit down and play his bass along with some music through his headphones while I'm listening to something else through the house radio.  The thing about his headphones is that they don't block out outside noise.  They keep others from hearing what he's listening to but are not designed to work the other way around.  That means he's hearing both pieces of music and playing along.  With what?  How could he possibly know what to play?  For the life of me, I can't figure out which melody to tune in and which one to tune out.  It's frustrating!

And do you want to know the most frustrating part of it all?  I have conflicting melodies flowing through my mind and heart all the time.  One melody proclaims, "Have thine own way, Lord; have thine own way" while the other serenades "I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way."  Yes, I constantly find my will at odds with God's will.  I don't mean for it to be that way.  I want to serve God and to fulfill His will for my life, but when it comes down to following certain orders, those confounded melodies begin to clash, and I find myself having to choose which one to tune in and which to tune out.  I wish I could say that I always make the right decision, but if I did, I probably wouldn't be writing this post.  After all, how many of you want to hear about the perfect little redhead who always follows the Lord's directions and never takes a wrong turn?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

The truth is, I'm human, and I make many mistakes along the way.  Fortunately, the God I serve is a God of grace.  He loves me in spite of my failures and somehow, He still finds a way to make beautiful music out of my life.  Knowing this doesn't give me an excuse to sin or to do things my own way.  On the contrary, it makes me want to serve Him more--to tune out the melody that is my will and to tune in to His.

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. - Hebrews 13:20-21

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What Are You Staring At?

I saw this experiment done a few days ago, and it nearly blew me away.  Looking at the picture with the four snowflakes, allow your eyes to focus on a single snowflake.  Stare at that one snowflake for several seconds and watch what begins to happen to the other snowflakes. (You may need to click on the picture to enlarge it for this to work.)  They begin to fade, blink or even disappear altogether.  Is that cool or what?

Why does this happen?  Basically, our brains process the information sent to us by the eyes.  We see something, and the brain processes exactly what it is we're seeing and then determines what to do with that information.  Because of limited storage space; however, the brain doesn't retain all of the information that it records.  Sometimes, it has to decide what to keep and what to throw away.  (We are fearfully and wonderfully made!)  When we focus on a particular thing for an extended length of time, the brain assumes that everything else is unnecessary and will actually move the information to the trash bin.  So, while our eyes can still see four separate snowflakes, our minds have forgotten that the other three are there.  I find that completely fascinating!

I also find it frustratingly familiar but in a different sense.  How many times have I focused on my problems to the point that I nearly forgot about God altogether?  How many times have I become so captivated by my situation that God practically disappears from my life?  How many times have I stared at my trials then found myself asking, "Where did you go, God?"  Like the other three snowflakes, He's still there, but it's been so long since I've focused on Him that my brain has categorized Him as unnecessary.

Life is hard and sometimes unfair, and it is all too easy to get distracted by the many things that weigh us down day after day.  But we must be careful that we never take our eyes off the one, true answer to all of life's problems:  God!  Not only is He a problem-solver, but He is also a Father, a Friend, a Counselor, a Guide, a Comforter and so much more.  He is all that we need, yet so often, He is the one thing we leave out.  And after a while, we begin to wonder if He was ever here to begin with.

Look to Jesus today.  Don't take your eyes off Him for a moment.  Yes, the problems are big, but God is bigger.  Yes, the situation is tough, but God is tougher.  Sure, the battle is tiring, but God can give you strength.  Cling to Him.  Call to Him.  And think about this:  if God fades from view when we stare at our problems, what will happen to our problems when we stare at God? To borrow the words from an old hymn, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

So I ask you, what are you staring at?

I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. - Psalm 16:8

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Worrier's 23rd Psalm

A few days ago, my Song of the Day choice was "The Warrior Is a Child."  There is a reason I chose that particular song.  You see, on Monday, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown.  I was extremely tired from a busy weekend, and as I faced the prospect of another hectic week, I lost it.  As I cried on Jason's shoulder, I tried to explain my feelings and frustrations but, to be honest, I didn't think I was making much sense.  Evidently, though, I was because he pulled out his phone, pressed a few buttons, then placed the phone in my hand.  He had pulled up a video of "The Warrior Is a Child."  As I listened/watched, I cried that much more.  The song conveyed the exact message I was trying to get across.  So many people look to me for answers and encouragement, and that's fine.  But some days, this warrior gets weary and needs some encouragement as well.

While I watched the video, Jason went out to the kitchen to fix me some breakfast.  (Is he a gem or what?)  When the video was through, I met him in the kitchen and tried to smile.  "That's pretty accurate," I said, "although right now I feel like the line should be the worrier is a child."  He laughed, and I did too, but deep down I was cringing because I knew it was too true.

This morning, as the Lord dealt with my heart about my tendency to worry, I wondered what Psalm 23 would sound like if David had written it during one of his downward spirals into despair rather than on one of his "up days."  (Yes, I know.  I wonder about strange things.)  Anyway, this is what I came up with.  I call it The Worrier's 23rd Psalm.

Anxiety is my shepherd, and I never have all I need.
It maketh me to lie down in sleepless frustration.
It leadeth me beside the tumultuous waves.
It exhausts my soul.
It leadeth me in the paths of despair for its name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear all the more.
For anxiety is ever with me.  The chocolate and caffeine, they comfort me.
Anxiety preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
It anointest my head with devastating thoughts.
My frustration runneth over.
Surely, despair and sickness shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the pit of hopelessness forever.

I'm sure we wouldn't hear that passage quoted in many church services, now would we?  Unfortunately, it's all too familiar to some of us.  No, we may not put it in those words--or any words, for that matter.  But we display it by our actions and attitudes.

By adjusting this psalm to the worrier's viewpoint, I ruined it.  I turned something beautiful into something hideous.  Something comforting into something depressing.  I made it exactly the opposite of what God intended for it to be.  When we worry, we do the same thing.  We turn our lives into the opposite of what God has in mind for us.  He longs for us to focus on Him, but we're too busy looking at our problems.  We destroy the loveliness and comfort that we could have if only we would trust the Lord.

I was reminded twice recently that if you hold a coin up in front of your face in the right way, that coin can actually block out the entire sun.  Our worries do the same thing.  They block out the SON.  Let's be careful.  Worry is a drain on our time, energy, and health.  It is also a sin.  Trust God today.  He's earned it!

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. - Psalm 28:7

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. - Psalm 33:1

Comely.  It isn't a word we use or even hear often anymore.  Its most basic definition is "pleasant to look at, attractive, agreeable or suitable."  Common synonyms include handsome, pretty, good-looking, lovely and beautiful.  Comely.  A good thing.  A pleasant compliment.  After all, who doesn't long to be attractive, right?

If you don't agree, spend a few minutes watching commercials (or better yet, infomercials).  Browse through magazines or surf the web.  I guarantee you'll find all sorts of products, supplements, devices and gadgets for improving one's looks, whether it be by means of weight loss, hair growth, wrinkle remover or the perfect tan.  There's a lot of money to be made in the search for the perfect beauty aid.

Oddly enough, though, if people would take the time to look in their Bibles, they may find the answer they've been seeking for and at a much better price than they ever imagined.  Psalm 33:1 tells us that praise is comely for the upright.  Praise makes us beautiful, not just on the inside but on the outside too.  Have you ever noticed how much more attractive someone appears if that person is happy and positive and speaks kindly of others?  On the flip side, those who are always negative, griping, complaining and sporting a frown that would frighten bats away are just not very pleasant to look at.  With their bitterness exposed, they appear harsh and unfriendly, an extreme contrast to the definition of "comely."

Sure, you can try the creams and sprays and mechanisms if you want.  There's nothing wrong with trying to keep up our appearances.  After all, we are commanded to take care of the temple of God.  But in our efforts, let's make sure we're not overlooking the simplest remedy of all.  A mere attitude adjustment is the best face lift we could ever have.  With a smile on our lips and praise in our hearts, our true beauty will shine forth.  The worry lines will fade away because we're focused on the positive instead of the negative.  The dark circles under our eyes will disappear because we're no longer losing sleep over today's struggles and tomorrow's possibilities.  The peace of God will put a rosy glow in our cheeks and a spring in our steps.  Our posture will improve as we stand tall in the knowledge that God is working all things together for our good.

They say that beauty is only skin-deep, but the comeliness the Bible speaks of penetrates the soul.  It is the inward beauty that radiates out through us when we allow ourselves to be used by God as vessels of honor and praise.  We spend so much time and money on the outward beauty that is only skin-deep.  Don't you think it's time to give some attention to the inward beauty?  Unlike the many beauty gimmicks out there, this beauty treatment won't break the bank.  In fact, the only thing it will cost us is a willingness to let go of our old attitudes and adopt a new attitude of praise in every part of our lives.  It's a bit like cleaning out our closet--out with the old, in with the new.

Comely.  Yes, that's what I want to be.  How about you?

Monday, February 1, 2016

What's Wrong With Me?

"What is wrong with me?"

It wasn't the first time I had asked myself this question, nor, I fear, will it be the last.  Perhaps you can relate.  Maybe you understand all too well what it's like to fall back into a bad habit or forbidden sin.  If so, you can comprehend my frustration.

Last week was one of the best, most productive weeks I've had in a very long time.  With wrapping up the ends of one book and beginning the planning process of another, I was full of motivation and passion for the work God had given me to do.  Overall, my health cooperated and didn't hinder me from accomplishing my daily goals.  My mind, though buzzing with ideas, felt free as a bird, uncluttered (for a change) by worry and anxiety.  I felt close to the Lord as if He were literally walking by my side as I followed His will for my life.  And even though I knew things were far from perfect in my life, I felt content.

And then the storm began.  First, it was a letter bearing bad news.  Drip!  Then it was five (yes, five!) friends/family members who contacted me, asking for prayer about major issues they were struggling with in their lives.  Drip, drip!  Then there was the "in your face" reminder that Jason's weekly paycheck sported a whopping 25 hours. . . again!  Boom!!!!  And suddenly, I felt my happy little world crumble.

It wasn't the letter or the phone calls or the measly paycheck that rocked my world though they certainly didn't help.  But rather, it was the result of those things.  After a week or more of resting soundly in the grip of God's faithfulness, I felt the tug of anxiety on my soul.  At first, it was a mere annoyance.  But as the trials of the week grew, I found myself thinking less about God and more about my problems.  My writing focus became more centered around profitability than on writing what God wanted me to write and leaving the results to Him.  My mind, that only a few days before had been a placid pond, was now a roaring turbulence of thoughts on how to "fix" things before they get any worse.  And that's when I uttered the question I've become far too familiar with:  "What is wrong with me?"

I had been making progress, finally leaving worry and anxiety in my wake.  It hadn't been easy to make it so far, but the Lord helped me reach a new place in my spiritual walk, and I was happy there. And then I blew it!  A few raindrops and claps of thunder sent me crawling back to my old ways, and when I realized how far I had fallen, I felt ashamed.  And confused.  Hasn't God proven Himself faithful to me time and again?  Haven't we faced tougher situations than this?  Didn't He always work it out somehow?  Yes, yes, and yes!  So, what's my problem?  Why did I fall back to my old habit of worry?  Why did I allow the storm to take away my serenity?  What's wrong with me?

The same thing that's wrong with you.  We're humans living in a fallen world.  We're not perfect and never will be this side of Heaven.  We mess up.  We fall down.  We fall back.  But you know what?  God knew all of this about us before He sent His Son to die for us.  Before such a great sacrifice, God knew exactly who we would be and what we would do.  He knew that we would fall.  He even knew how often we would fall, yet He still loved us enough to offer His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for us.  And as if that weren't enough (which it is), He promises to help us when we fall.  He doesn't laugh at our misfortune.  He doesn't shake His head and mutter, "What's wrong with you?"  No, in love, He reaches down and lifts us from our self-made pit.  Why?  Because of a love so strong that it can never be broken, not even by our mistakes.

Whatever you've done, God still loves you.  No matter how far you've strayed, He will take you back.  He longs to lift you up, dust you off, and shower you with blessings of His love.  Don't sit there pouting about your hard times or giving yourself a guilt trip about your recent slip-up.  Get up.  Get over it.  And get back in God's will.  I can't guarantee you things will be easy, but I can guarantee you that there will be peace and contentment.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll even find a bit of joy as you dance in the rain.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39