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Thursday, March 31, 2016

This Is Not What I Ordered!

Jason and I have a routine.  Whenever we're headed out for a hike, we stop by our favorite convenience store and pick up two of their fountain drinks, typically some form of green tea.  Because neither of us like our tea sweet, we will usually fill the cups nearly full with unsweet tea, then add just a dash of sweet tea to take away the bitterness.  This works well and leaves our tea refreshing to the taste.

Over the weekend, we took Mitch out for a hike, so as usual, we followed our routine.  I stayed in the vehicle with Mitch as Jason ran in to grab the drinks.  After he handed me my drink, I took one sip and realized immediately that there was a problem.  My tea was sicky sweet!  Jason soon realized his was too.  After assuring me that he had put the proper tea in the cups, he surmised that perhaps the pots or labels had been switched accidentally.  Whatever the case, we both soon found that the tea was undrinkable and stopped to pick up two more drinks.  Bleck!

Doesn't life sometimes do the same thing to us?  We're going about our routine, expecting certain results when suddenly life hands us something we definitely did NOT order.  Like the disease that has invaded your body.  Or the financial trouble that is dragging you under.  The job that's stressing you out, or the coworker who's driving you crazy.  Let's face it, few weeks go by without life throwing us some kind of curveball.

Unfortunately, dealing with life's issues is not as easy as dealing with the sicky sweet tea.  We can't simply throw our lives away and get new ones.  It doesn't work that way.  To be blunt, we're stuck with the lives we have.  But here's the catch, we don't have to act like we're stuck.  We can rejoice in the good and appreciate all the wonderful things that our lives do have to offer.  Sure, there are some things we wish we could change, but is that any reason to stop living life?  Is it any reason to stop seeing the good?  Absolutely not!

I don't know what you're going through today, but two things I do know for sure:  God is still God, God is still good.  No matter what you may be facing, God knows and He cares.  Not only will He give you the strength to make it through, but He'll even make it possible for you to smile through your tears.  No, you may not have the life you ordered or expected, but God is giving you the life you need.  Trust Him in that.

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Package Deal

Have you ever longed to have something that someone else has?  Perhaps it's a job, house, spouse, talent or appearance?  We hesitate to answer in the affirmative because envy is a sin, right?  But if we're honest with ourselves and with each other, I think we'll all admit that there have been times when we've looked at someone else and said, "I wish I had that."

This morning the Lord brought to light something that I think will help me every time my mind starts to long for things that others have, and I hope it will be of help to you as well.  What if the Lord would allow you to have the thing that you longed for on one condition--it was a package deal?  In other words, you trade everything you have (talents, possessions, relationships, etc.) for everything that another person has.  Does that "one thing" still look so appealing?  Probably not, but that's how the trade works.

Think about it like this.  Every person is a sum of their individual characteristics, experiences, relationships, talents, etc.  If we were to change any one part, that person would no longer be the same.  And if we were to adopt one thing from that person, we would no longer be the same.  For example, I could wish for the figure of lovely little Betty (a fictitious name, mind you), but what I would soon realize is that while I attained her hourglass figure, I still don't have the skills, strength and discipline required to keep that figure.  If I want to have and keep the lovely figure, I'll have to exchange the entire package, not just long for the single outcome of years of self-discipline and sacrifice on her part.  Make sense?

If not, try this example on for size.  What if a celery stalk could taste like a candy bar yet maintain all of its health benefits?  Wouldn't that be awesome?  I can tell you one thing, celery would be served at every meal at my house!  But what is it that makes the candy bar tastes so good?  All the bad stuff in it, right?  In order for the celery to taste like the candy bar, we would have to fill it with all the bad stuff which, in turn, would destroy all the health benefits, right?  We can't have the flavor of the candy bar and the nutritional benefits of the celery in a single food item.  It just doesn't work that way.  It's a package deal.  If we want the nutrition of celery, guess what?  We need to eat celery.  If we want the flavor of the candy bar (If?  Who am I kidding?), we'll have to settle for the candy bar and the resulting detriments to our health (and waistline).  It's all or nothing!

So, the next time the seed of envy begins to sprout forth in your mind, ask yourself this question, "Do I want that thing enough to give up everything that I have?"  Chances are, the answer is "no," and the seed will quickly wither and die.  That's not to say it won't return, but when it does, you know exactly what question to ask.

Now, before I close, I have a question for you.  In this post, I have spoken equally about celery and candy bars, so why is it that my body is only crying out for one of those things (and it's not the celery)?  Oh dear me!  Another battle rages on.

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. - James 3:14-16

Monday, March 28, 2016

What Are You Offering?

Then David said to Ornan, Grant me the place of this threshingfloor, that I may build an altar therein unto the Lord: thou shalt grant it me for the full price: that the plague may be stayed from the people. And Ornan said unto David, Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all. - I Chronicles 21:22-23

The above passage takes place in the midst of a great plague on Israel.  David, in his folly, chose to number the people of Israel instead of trusting God to meet their needs as He always had.  As punishment, God told David to choose between three consequences, and David chose the pestilence in the land (not that any of the choices was pleasant).  At one point, the Lord stays the hand of the angel of vengeance and gives orders for David to set up a sacrifice and repent of his sin.  Thus, the passage above takes place, and David asks Ornan if he can use his threshingfloor for the offering.

What I want to focus on is Ornan's response.  Not only did he agree to let David use the threshingfloor, but he also offers his oxen, his instruments and his wheat.  Notice the last phrase of his statement:  I give it all.  He wasn't kidding.  Think about it.  He was giving up his livelihood and his means of survival.  He was willing to give the building, the equipment, the animals and his crop of wheat.  What did that leave him?  His house, maybe.  But such was his devotion to the king that he was willing to give everything he had without concern of how he would survive after the fact.

What about us?  When the Lord comes to us and asks for our hearts, are we willing to give them?  Better yet, are we willing to go beyond what he asks and give Him our all?  You see, there are many who give their hearts to the Lord but nothing else.  They're saved, but that's it.  Once they've acquired salvation, they really don't see the need to give anything else.  Sad, but true.

Will we be the same way?  Did we give our hearts to Jesus only for what we could gain in return?  Are we willing to offer Him more?  Our time, talents and ambitions?  Our hopes, dreams and energy?  Are we able, like Ornan, to declare, "I give it all"?  If not, why not?  What is stopping us from giving our all to Christ?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Acquainted With Grief, Part Three

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. - Isaiah 53:3

Over the past few days, we've discussed how Jesus is acquainted with our grief, including sorrow and weariness.  Today, I'd like to talk about loneliness.  Again, let us turn to my faithful friend, the dictionary, and discover exactly what loneliness is. To be lonely is to be destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship, support, etc.; lone; solitary; without company; companionless.

Sad, isn't it? And here's the real kicker:  we don't have to be alone to feel lonely.  That sounds crazy, doesn't it? But I imagine there are many of you out there who know exactly what I'm talking about.  Even when surrounded by family and friends, you feel alone--like no one really "gets" you, right?  Being a writer, I understand that all too well.  You see, none of my family or close friends are writers, so they don't really understand what it means to be a writer.  At gatherings and parties, when others are discussing their latest accomplishments or future goals, I chime in by letting them know about the newest book I'm working on.  Suddenly, it's crickets and blank stares.  Then, someone politely smiles and says, "That's nice," and then immediately turns the conversation in another direction.

Don't get me wrong.  I understand that these people are not being rude or unkind.  They just don't get it!  Sharing a new book idea is not like showing off a newborn baby, a job promotion or a shiny, new car.  No matter how hard I try to share my idea, they don't see what I see.  They don't share in the excitement or the passion.  And frankly, some of them look at me as if they worry that I've gone insane locked up in my office day after day (which, I guess, is a possibility).

When it comes to sharing book ideas and excitement over my latest project, I've found that the Lord is the best place for me to go.  He gets it.  He sees the idea.  In fact, He gave me the idea.  He sees the passion in my heart to write this latest, greatest novel or Christian living book.  He sees the wheels that turn and turn and turn in my poor little mind, exploring every detail and possibility of the story as it unfolds in my mind's eye.  He really, truly gets it, and I can chat with Him about it for hours, and He never gives me a blank stare.  He only smiles and listens and makes me feel like I'm finally understood. (FYI, after the Lord, my sweet husband is the best listener when it comes to my writing.  He doesn't have all the insight, but he's learning how to relate to the writer within me.)

I'm sure many of you can relate.  Perhaps there is one (or more than one) area of your life where you feel like no one understands.  You try to help others see it.  You try to share the vision with them.  But no matter what you say or do, you get crickets and blank stares.  It hurts, doesn't it?  Sometimes, it even causes us to look around and say, "How can I have so many friends and family, yet no one truly understands me?"

Take heart, dear one, because Jesus is acquainted with your loneliness.  He, too, knows what it's like to be surrounded by family and friends yet feel so all alone.  Despite their claims to love and support Him, most of His followers didn't get Him.  They didn't understand His purpose for coming.  They didn't get His way of doing things.  They didn't comprehend the compassion He felt or the heavy load He was carrying.  Seldom in the Bible do we see an account of Jesus being on His own, but that's not to say that there weren't many occasions where He felt lonely.  I imagine there were countless times that He longed for the comforts of Heaven and the company of angels.

But get this, no matter how often we feel lonely, we can ALWAYS take comfort in the fact that we are NEVER alone.  Friends may not understand.  Family may not get it.  But God is ever present, and He understands.  He will never leave us or forsake us, which is something that Jesus couldn't claim for Himself.  In the midst of His darkest hour, when all had forsaken Him, when He needed a friend like no other, His own Father turned His back on Him.

Of all the parts of the crucifixion story, it is this element that always leaves me sobbing uncontrollably.  Jesus was left with nothing!  No strength.  No friends.  No family.  And He did it willingly.  He could have called on the angels to save Him.  He could have saved Himself.  But He had a plan.  He was on a mission, and that mission was to face the indescribable horror of being forsaken by God so that we would never have to.  He accepted absolute loneliness so that we would never know it.

Acquainted with grief?  Yeah, I'd say so.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Acquainted With Grief, Part Two

Earlier this week, we began exploring the phrase "acquainted with grief," which can be found in Isaiah 53:3: He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  The word "grief" can include so many things, and on Tuesday, we began by discussing how the Lord is acquainted with our sorrows.  Today, I'd like to talk about how He is acquainted with our weariness.

According to the online dictionary, the word "weary" means physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired.  I see some of you nodding your heads.  You know exactly what weariness is, don't you?  In fact, far too many of us are more familiar with weariness than we would care to admit.  Just ask the patient who's undergoing another treatment in hopes that the diagnosis will get better or the loved one who sits by that patient, praying and hoping and crying.  Ask the single mother who's trying to work a full-time job and be the loving, supportive parent she knows she needs to be.  Ask the prodigal son who left his family behind in search of a better life only to discover that the grass really isn't greener on the other side of the fence.  Ask the man stuck in a dead-end job or the woman trapped in a body that fails a little more each day.

Let's face it:  we're tired.  Physically tired from the day-to-day struggle to make it through and make ends meet.  Mentally tired from trying to balance lives that are full to overflowing.  Emotionally tired because of the heartache that surrounds our families, friends, coworkers and church members.  And yes, we're even spiritually tired.  Tired of fighting the flesh.  Tired of failing and falling.  Tired of doing the right things and not seeing the expected results.  We're so tired, so fatigued, so weary!

Jesus gets it.  Being born of flesh, He knew what it was like to be tired, hungry, fatigued and yes, even weary.  No matter where He went, the people followed.  They needed Him.  They needed His healing touch.  Over and over again, He gave of Himself without receiving anything in return.  He healed them.  He forgave their sins.  He fed them.  He taught them.  And in the process, He grew weary.

John 4:6 tells how Jesus rested at Jacob's well because He was tired from His journey.

Matthew 14 tells that Jesus, after hearing about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, departed to a desert place to be alone.

Luke 22 tells of how an angel strengthened Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion.

And I doubt any of us could even imagine the weariness that took hold of him during those final hours on Calvary.  Fatigued from lack of sleep.  Exhausted from the relentless beating.  Weak from the lack of blood.  Heartbroken as His Father turned away from Him.

Yes, my friend, Jesus is well-acquainted with our weariness.  And because He is, He understands how we feel and what we need in our own hour of fatigue and exhaustion.  And He has made us an offer that even He never received: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Acquainted With Grief, Part One

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. - Isaiah 53:3

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Hardly the way we wish to describe our Lord and Savior, or is it?  Yes, we want to think of our Savior as strong and formidable.  We cherish the thoughts of Him conquering death and hell.  Triumphant.  Victorious.  Unyielding.  Undefeated.  These adjectives give us hope, but dare I say that the phrases "man of sorrows" and "acquainted with grief" give us comfort.

Think about it for a minute.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was acquainted with our grief.  What exactly does that mean?  It means that He felt our pain.  It means that He understood every grief that we would ever bear.  It means He shouldered our heartaches, sorrows and despair.  It means he felt the weight of our loneliness and our guilt.  In His thirty-three years on this earth, particularly in those last hours, He became painfully familiar with the worst of our worst feelings.  And for the remainder of the week, I would like to single out a few of those griefs that Jesus bore.

Let's begin with sorrow.  We're all familiar with it.  According to the online dictionary, sorrow is a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.  Sounds about right, doesn't it?  Deep distress.  Loss.  Disappointment.  Misfortune.  We've all experienced one or all of those.  We know what it's like to cry until we can't cry anymore.  We understand how it feels to literally make ourselves sick with sorrow.  Its grip is fierce.  Its taste is bitter.  And its effect on our heart and soul is devastating.  Yes, we are all well-acquainted with sorrow, but fortunately for us, so is our Lord.

Yes, He completely understands our tears.  He is familiar with that feeling of deep distress, for He faced it Himself.  He has felt the tears.  He is acquainted with the ache in His chest.  He knows all too well the definition and devastation of sorrow.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! - John 11:33-36

And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. - Luke 19:41-44

And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. - Mark 14:32-34

Jesus wept over the loss of a friend and the grief of the family.  He wept over a city that couldn't seem to grasp what He was trying to tell them.  He grieved over the painful price He was going to have to pay to fulfill His Father's plan.  He wept.  He grieved.  He was sorrowful.

So, how does that help us?  How can that possibly bring us comfort?  I don't know about you, but to me, it brings comfort because if Jesus was moved with compassion for others, I can trust He'll be moved to compassion for me.  Also, there's no comfort in the world like the comfort that can only be received by someone who truly knows and understands.  Encouragement from someone who's walked in our shoes is easier to swallow than that from someone who couldn't possibly understand because they simply haven't been there.

Jesus came down from Heaven to die on an old rugged cross and to be buried and rise again, but I don't think that was all.  I think part of the plan was also for Him to live the life of a "regular Joe" like you and me so that He could be well-acquainted with our sorrows.  He did this so that when we come to Him in our grief, He can hold us and say, "Yes, child, I know.  I truly understand."  And we can smile through our tears because we know He speaks the truth.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

God Always Comes Through

I have to share with you what happened earlier this week.  As usual, my mom was preparing for the annual ladies' meeting at the church she attends, and as I typically do, I agreed to help her set up.  Shortly after I arrived to help on Monday afternoon, I discovered that things were falling apart.  Some of the supplies were missing.  Due to a miscommunication, the freshly baked cookies that were supposed to go in the gift bags weren't going to be there until the following day--the day of the meeting.  And worst of all, the speaker for the meeting had called to say that she wasn't sure if she would be able to make it to the meeting due to an emergency with her husband's health.

Rightfully so, my mom was flustered.  Exhausted from her recent travels to help with my grandmother, she didn't even have the energy to cry, but I could tell she wanted to.  I wanted to cry for her.  As she always does, she had put a lot of time and energy into getting ready for this event and now, because of situations beyond anyone's control, everything was falling apart.

As I sat there staring at the fatigue and frustration in her eyes, I felt the prompting of the Lord.  "I don't mind speaking at the meeting if you need someone to fill in."  I couldn't believe the words that came out of my mouth!  Did I really just volunteer to speak at a ladies' meeting with one day's notice?

"You wouldn't have time to get anything ready," my sweet mother replied.

"It may not fit your theme, but I'm sure I could pull out one of my Sunday School lessons and make it work."  What in the world?  I felt like the dummy in a ventriloquist act.  My mouth was moving, but I was certain those words weren't coming from me. . . or were they?  Despite being amazed at my apparent eagerness to be put on the spot (which I usually despise), I felt completely calm and at ease.  "Really, I don't mind."

A bit of relief showed on her face.  "Well, the theme for this year is love."

All I could do was laugh.  Would you believe that my Sunday School lessons for the past three weeks have been about love?  "Are you serious?" I smiled.  "I think I can handle that."

We praised the Lord for His goodness and provision, went about the rest of our preparations and made plans for the following day.  I was prepared to show up for the meeting ready to speak just in case the planned speaker couldn't make it. . . which, as it turns out, she couldn't.

All during the meeting Tuesday, I sat amazed at how well everything fit together.  The songs fit right in with my lesson, even though they had never been intended to go together.  Testimonies complimented the songs.  The specials went right along with the testimonies.  It was as if a puzzle was being completed right before our eyes, and the crazy thing was that the pieces had all come from different places.

Isn't that just like God?  He met a need before we even realized there was one.  He worked it out so that I would be at this particular point of study in my Sunday School class so that the topic would be fresh on my mind.  He inspired the songs to be sung and the testimonies to be declared.  And He wove it all together into a beautiful masterpiece that I believe brought Him honor and glory.  Even when everything seemed to be falling apart, God sent a beautiful reminder that He has everything under control.  Once again, in a magnificent way, God reminded me that all things work together for good to those who love Him.  He's taking care of us even when we may not see it because that's just the way He is.  How about we take some time today to praise Him!

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. - Zephaniah 3:17

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

No Pain, No Gain -- A Repost

My brain works in odd and mysterious ways.  I never know when a word, song, show or incident will kick my mind into overgear, often producing some of the strangest thoughts.  What's really interesting is when I voice my thoughts and people stare at me like Where in the world did that come from?  Honestly, I don't know.  That's just how my mind works.  I can't explain why mirrors make me think of fairy tales or why I can't stop myself from laughing at the word "duties."  I don't know why songs can stick in my head for years, but I can't remember the name of the person I was introduced to less than five minutes ago.  What can I say?  My mind is a puzzle wrapped up in a mystery.

Anyway, I told you all of that to tell you that this morning, during my devotions, I was thinking about the Christmas gift exchange game, "Dirty Santa."  You know the one, right?  As each person picks a gift from under the tree, they can decide whether to keep the gift or swap it for one that someone else has already received.  It's a fun game as long as all the people participating are good-natured and unselfish.

So, you're probably wondering why I was thinking of that during my devotions on a morning in early March, right?  Well, I came across a verse, and the more I meditated on the verse, the more I thought about "Dirty Santa."  Let me see if I can explain.  (I promise there is a method to my madness!)

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. - Philippians 1:29

This short verse highlights a couple of gifts from God.  First, the gift of belief.  Ephesians 2 tells us that our faith is not of ourselves but is a gift of God.  God gives us the ability to believe in and on Him.  What an awesome gift!  Definitely a keeper.  Unfortunately, the gift-giving doesn't end there, for the verse goes on to explain that God also gives us the ability and opportunity to suffer for His sake.  A gift of suffering?  Who wants that?  In a game of "Dirty Santa," that is certain to be the last gift standing.  Nobody wants a gift like that!  I mean, seriously, who would call suffering a gift.  It's more like a curse, right?

To the human mind and perspective, yes.  But to God, who sees the whole picture, suffering truly is a gift, and He tells us as much in other passages of the Bible.

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. - Hebrews 12:10-11

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. - James 1:2-4

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. - Romans 5:3-5

Suffering, in and of itself, is not fun or desirable, but what it yields certainly is.  Hebrews says it allows us to be partakers of God's holiness and to possess the peaceable fruit of righteousness.  James tells us that our suffering will bring forth patience and perseverance to the point that we'll want for nothing.  And Romans goes a step further by expounding that patience brings experience and, in turn, experience yields hope.  Who doesn't want hope?

I'm reminded of an old movie where a group of warriors were going on a dangerous mission.  Before they set off, they were each given a gift that would somehow aid them on the journey.  One member thought highly of himself and was disappointed to discover that his gift was a rock.  Frustrated, he threw it away before the journey ever began, thinking it to be worthless.  Fortunately, another of the warriors witnessed his discarding of the rock, picked it up and placed it in his pouch.  Before long, the team of warriors came to an impasse, and the leader asked for the rock to be presented.  The one who had discarded the rock was embarrassed and admitted that he had thrown it away.  The second warrior stepped forward and presented the rock.  The leader forcefully threw the rock down on the ground where it broke open, exposing an arrowhead inside.  As the warriors watched, the arrowhead began to move of its own accord, leading the group through the way of safety.  The arrogant warrior learned that the rock was much more than it had appeared to be.

Suffering is the same.  We would so easily discard it if we could.  We don't like it.  It's painful and miserable.  It's discouraging and draining.  We'd much rather swap it out for joy or peace or laughter, but that's just not the way it works because the things that we truly desire lie on the other side of suffering.  Hope, peace, patience.  They are all available to us, but are we willing to pay the price?  As the old saying goes, "No pain, no gain!"

Monday, March 14, 2016

Is It Better To Know or To Trust?

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. - Genesis 3:1-5

We're all familiar with the story.  God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, a literal paradise with flowing waters and fruit-bearing plants.  And in that garden, there was one rule:  Don't eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Everything else was at their disposal.  There was nothing that they lacked.  And as long as they fulfilled that one command, their paradise would never end.

Enter Satan, who refuses to stand by and allow God's children to live trouble-free.  In his soothing, subtle words, he convinces Eve that the tree is safe and that the only reason God didn't want them to eat from it was because then they would become equal with God.  Funny thing, there was just enough truth in Satan's statement to make Eve stop and wonder.  Wonder what it would be like to be God.  Wonder what it would be like to know everything.  I think it's safe to say, in a sense, that Satan appealed to one of humanity's weakest points:  the need to know.

Let's face it, we like to be in the know, don't we?  What's happening today?  What's scheduled for tomorrow?  Next week?  Next year?  We want to know.  What's the matter with us?  What's causing those nasty headaches and spells of nausea? We run to the doctor.  Why?  Because we need to know.  What's going on in the news?  Who's playing in the finals?  What kind of future will my children have?  No matter the question or even the severity of the issue, we feel the need to know the answer.  And in that, we face the same decision Eve faced on that cursed day in Eden.

Eve had two choices:  (1) She could trust God and believe that He knew what was best for her (2) She could not trust God and find out for herself what it was like to be in the know.  She made her choice and quickly discovered that knowing wasn't all that great after all.  In fact, she came to know far more than she ever wanted to.  The pain of childbirth.  The toil and hardship of having to provide for themselves.  The grief of losing a child (actually two when you consider that God sent Cain away).  The guilt of making poor decisions.  Yes, Eve was definitely in the know, but it wasn't all that she had hoped it would be.

What about us?  Do we really need to know everything that our future holds?  Would we be happy if we knew?  Or would we do best simply to make the choice that Eve didn't--the choice to trust that God knows what's best for us and that He'll work all things out according to His perfect will?  I think I know what Eve would say.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Let. It. Go. by Karen Ehman -- A Book Review

About the Book:

Many women are wired to control. You're the ones who make sure the house is clean, the meals are prepared, the beds are made, the children are dressed, and everyone gets to work, school, and other activities on time. But trying to control everything can be exhausting, and it can also cause friction with your friends and family. This humorous, yet thought-provoking book guides you as you discover for yourself the freedom and reward of living a life 'out of control,' in which you allow God to be seated in the rightful place in your life. Armed with relevant biblical and current examples (both to emulate and to avoid), doable ideas, new thought patterns, and practical tools to implement, Let It Go will gently lead you out of the land of over-control and into a place of quiet trust.

About the Author:

Karen Ehman is the Director of Speakers for Proverbs 31 Ministries' national speaking team. A five-time author, her books include A Life That Says Welcome, The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized and the popular ebook Untangling Christmas: Your Go-to Guide for a Hassle-free Holiday. She is a favorite presenter at Hearts at Home moms' conferences and a sought-after speaker for women's events. She has been a guest on national television and radio programs, including The 700 Club, Engaging Women, The Harvest Show, Moody Midday Connection and Focus on the Family. Karen also is a contributor to Focus on the family's magazine Thriving Family. She lives with her family in central Michigan.

My Review:

I came across this book while searching for a book by another author, but as soon as I read the title, I knew it was a book I needed to read.  I, like so many other women I know, struggle with letting go.  With so much to do and so many responsibilities resting squarely on our shoulders, we women often act as if the entire world would crumble if we were to give up a single ounce of control.  Besides, we're not doing such a bad job with this balancing act we call life. . . or are we?  When we're stressed and frazzled, gloomy and grumpy, there's definitely a problem, and the problem is that we're trying to do everything, which simply isn't possible.

With a dash of wit and a sprinkle of personal experience, Karen Ehman tells it like it is in Let. It. Go.: How to Stop Running the Show and Start Walking in Faith.  She confesses to being a card-carrying member of Control Freaks Anonymous (an organization I know all too well) and explains how the Lord has taught her to let go and let God.  I could relate to many of the situations Ehman referred to and learned some valuable lessons on how to release my white-knuckled grip on life and its many circumstances.  Several things truly hit home with me, so much so that I jotted them down in my devotional journal so that I could remember and meditate on them.  But I think the thing that hit me the most was this paragraph:  When we women try to be so on top of things--around the house, at work, in our marriages, in our parenting, and in community ventures--we think we're only taking our jobs seriously, performing our tasks with care, and carrying out the duties of our roles in a way that is excellent and thorough.  So give us a break.  We really are just trying to please God, right?  I thought so.  Sometimes I still think so.  However, I happened upon a thought just a year or two ago that makes me wonder this:  In attempting to be in command and control, are we trying to be godly or are we trying to be God?

That statement was definitely an eye-opener for me because I was playing the "godly" card on a regular basis.  I chalked up my overly-controlling habits to a strict adherence to the verse, "God is not the author of confusion."  But, Ehman has a point--a point that will stick with me for years to come.

I definitely enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to any woman who struggles to let go of the control button and simply enjoy life.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

From Barren to Blooming

It's spring!  Well, not technically, but here in the upstate of South Carolina, it certainly seems like spring.  Not because of the weather, which can't seem to make up its mind what season it is, but because of the blooms.  It began last week with the daffodils, and then the cherry blossoms and then this week, unfortunately, the Bradford Pears (they make me sneeze!).  It seems like each day there's new life when the day before there was only dry, dead plants.  The grass is greener.  The trees are fuller.  And the ground is sprouting a variety of colors and fragrances.  Sounds like spring to me!

While this time of year does create havoc on my allergies, I can't help but love it.  I enjoy watching the earth bring forth new life.  I relish the birdsong.  I awake each morning and run to the window just to relish how the scenery has changed from the day before.  It amazes me.  One day, the trees can appear dull and lifeless, barren and unproductive.  But in the span of a single day, it all changes.  What once seemed dead now displays evidence of life.  What appeared unproductive is now bedecked in colorful buds and blossoms.  What seemed barren has produced life.  During the winter months, the trees appeared lifeless, and because of that, we seem to have forgotten that life still abides within.

I guess I enjoy the process of new life because it reminds me so much of the Christian walk.  Let's face it, there are spells where the journey seems fruitless.  We go through stages where our spirits feel dead, our hearts barren and our souls devoid of all hope.  During those times, each weary step is a struggle, and we tend to forget that, despite all outward appearances, life still abides on the inside.  The Holy Spirit dwells within, and while we're walking the Christian walk, He's working the work that only He can do.  And, as uncomfortable as it may seem, it is a work that must be done from the inside out.  But rest assured, in His time and His way, our hearts will begin to sprout new life.  Our souls will be renewed and revived.  Our spirits will bloom and blossom.  And something that once appeared barren will become instantly beautiful!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Watch Your Mouth!

Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. - Psalm 141:3

We would all do well to pray this prayer on a regular basis.  Of all the things that cause us trouble, I'd have to say the mouth is the worst.  The snide comments.  The gossip.  The lies.  The complaints.  If we were to tally up the number of negative things that comes out of our mouth on any given day, I have no doubt we would be both amazed and ashamed.  I could go into great detail on the many "mouth sins" listed above, but today I want to talk with you about careless words.

Careless words are those that are not necessarily spoken with negative intent but are uttered before the brain has had the chance to process and examine them.  Such were the words that were spoken to me on two different occasions by two different people in the past week.

On the first occasion, the person was asking for help with a certain task.  I assured her I would do what I could to help her, but my experience and ability in that field is limited.  To which she replied, "My daughter says you can do it; you just don't want to."  Talk about keeping the door of my lips!  You have no idea how much I wanted to look up and say, "Excuse me?  Who is your daughter to say what I can and can't do, and furthermore, what business is it of hers?"  I don't believe the woman meant any harm by what she said, but her words stung nonetheless.  In a sense, whether she realized it or not, she was calling me a liar. . . and a lazy one at that.  Ouch!

The second occasion took place more recently when another woman (again, in the midst of asking a favor of me) commented, "You can do a lot more than you think you can."  Well, here we go again!  Don't you just love how everyone else seems to be more aware of my abilities than I am?  Trying my best to keep my cool after a long, stressful day, I replied, "When I'm all alone and nobody is watching, yes, I could probably do it.  But to put me in the spotlight and expect me to perform without the necessary materials is a different story.  I freeze up.  My mind draws a blank."  She laughed and rolled her eyes a bit, like "whatever."

Again, I don't think the lady meant any harm.  In fact, she is one of the sweetest people I've ever met. But here's the thing, words can do a lot of damage, especially when they're spoken without a full knowledge of what the other person is going through.  What neither of these ladies realized is that I'm dealing with extreme adrenal fatigue right now.  That means I stress out easily and because of that, I am supposed to be avoiding stressful situations.  Stressful situations like trying to accomplish things that are beyond my reach, putting myself in the spotlight, setting myself up for an embarrassing situation because I'm not up to the task, etc.  I'm not a liar, and I'm not lazy.  I'm sick, and I need rest and a reprieve from any and all situations that cause my blood pressure to spike and my heart to race.

Please understand, I'm not angry with either of these women though I admit their words stung at the time.  I will also admit that I have wounded others with my careless words in the past.  It's easy to do which is why I wanted to send out this reminder today.  Be careful what you say, or you may unwittingly hurt or offend someone.  Words are powerful and can be extremely dangerous!  For the love of your fellow man, watch your mouth!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Where To Glance and Where To Gaze

Am I the only one who has a problem with televisions in restaurants?  I understand that those dining alone might appreciate watching the game or catching up on the news, but for the rest of us who are dining with family or friends, those stupid televisions are distracting.  Take my precious husband, for example.  When we dine in a restaurant that has televisions, we have to make a conscious effort to seat him back to the offending beast (when that's even possible).  Why?  Because the constant movement on the screen captures his attention, making him inattentive to anyone else at the table.

It's bad enough that technology has made it possible for anyone to reach us anywhere at any time via our cell phones.  But now we have to contend with the distractions of televisions too.  In restaurants.  Where we have gone to get out of the house and away from the television.  Good grief! Does anyone else see the irony?

Though I have, on rare occasions, grown frustrated with poor Jason for paying more attention to the big screen than to me, I can hardly blame him.  Bright lights, blaring noises and constant motion are hard to compete with (unless I want to jump up on the table and do the hula while singing at the top of my lungs though I doubt that will evoke the kind of attention I want).  Let's face it.  Things that move, hop, jump, swirl and dance are much more likely to catch our attention than things that are stable, steady and unmovable.  Movement makes us want to gaze while stillness causes us to only glance.  Is it any wonder, then, that we have trouble in our spiritual walk?

Thoughts, emotions and circumstances swirl through our lives in a constant, frantic motion, drawing our attention this way and that.  With so much going on around us, it's easy to lose focus and to find ourselves gazing at our circumstances.  The trouble is that if we're gazing at our problems, we're only glancing at our Savior.  Unlike our troubles, He remains steady, unmovable and constant.  He seldom resorts to using bright lights, blaring noises and motion to get our attention. He is simply there.  Always present.  Always the same.  Always available.  Always attentive to our every need and cry.  And always longing for our attention.

Could it be that we need to take a proactive approach when it comes to determining our gazes and glances?  Jason and I both understand the trouble caused when he's facing a television in a restaurant, and because we understand the problem, we make a conscious effort to place him outside of temptation by turning his back to the television.  Perhaps we need to do the same in our spiritual walk through life.  First, we need to understand and admit that we are easily distracted by the things of this world, and that distraction causes us to spend time and effort gazing at all the wrong things.  Second, being aware of our issue, we need to try to place ourselves outside of temptation.  If a certain person, place or activity causes us to lose our focus on Christ, then we need to make some changes.  If our troubles and circumstances beyond our control are stealing our time and attention, perhaps we need to spend more time with the Lord, resting in His capable arms.

Yes, the flashy and urgent more easily grab our attention, but what do they offer us in return?  Nothing!  Whereas, the Lord, who is constant and steady, promises us peace, joy, comfort and so much more.  He longs for us to turn our gazes upon Him, leaving everything else with only a mere glance.

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

Friday, March 4, 2016

Is Your Battle Plan in Place?

On Wednesday evening, our pastor preached an excellent message out of II Chronicles 20, and it has stuck with me.  Today, I would like to share with you a bit of what he shared with our congregation, adding to it, of course, my own insights and alliteration (which, unlike many pastors, I don't use often).

In II Chronicles 20, a group of warring nations bonded together in an assault on the nation of Judah.  When Jehoshaphat, the current king, heard of the mob that was coming, he fell to his knees and sought the Lord.  (Let me stop right here and say that the best battle plans begin with prayer.)  Anyway, the king prayed and the King of Kings answered with a four-step plan to win the victory over the invading armies.

Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you. And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord. - II Chronicles 20:17-18
  • Step one:  Wait! -- Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still. -- When the enemy is coming for us, the last thing we want to do is wait.  Run?  Sure.  Fight?  Maybe.  Plan?  Definitely.  But wait?  Wait for the enemy to catch up with us?  It makes no sense to us, and it goes against every fiber of our being.  We want to do something--anything!  Surely, the army of Judah was thinking about donning armor, sharpening weapons and securing the city as much as possible.  But God said, "No, you're not fighting this one.  This battle is mine.  You just sit tight for now."  How many times has God said the same to us?

  • Step two:  Watch! -- . . . see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. -- There are times when God wants us to get involved with the work and times when He wants us to simply sit back and watch what He can do.  He doesn't need our participation.  He doesn't require our best-laid plans.  The battle is His, and He intends to fight it His way.  But He wants to make sure that we're paying attention because He knows we'll need the memories of this victory when we face the next battle.

  • Step three:  Worry not! -- . . .fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you.  -- God basically told Judah, "I've got this.  Don't you worry about it."  I don't know about you, but I've heard God whisper those same words to me on many occasions. When the days are dark, the bills are overdue or the diagnosis is bad, worry seems like an appropriate response.  But it's not.  In fact, it's not even really a response; it's a reaction.  A response is how we act after thinking through a situation and considering all the factors.  A reaction is how we act before taking the time to think through a situation.  It happens before we even realize it.  We don't mean to worry; it just seems to happen.  But God warns us about it so that we'll be better prepared to recognize it and stop it in its tracks.

  • Step four:  Worship! -- And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord. -- It's easy for us to praise and worship God after the battle has been won, but in the passage in II Chronicles,  Judah and its king worshiped God before the battle even began.  God basically said, "Don't worry.  I'll take care of this one.  You just sit back and watch."  And Judah's response was heartfelt praise--not because of what God had done, but rather because of what He said He would do.  Hasn't God said that He would supply our every need?  Hasn't He promised to take care of us just as He promised He would take care of Judah?  Hasn't He promised to fight our battles?  Yes, yes and yes.  So why aren't we down on our knees in heartfelt praise?
Life is full of battles.  Some are physical while others are spiritual.  Some are emotional while others are mental.  Some are financial while others are relational.  Whatever the situation, there is no battle that God cannot win.  As for us, if we'll follow the four-step plan that God has set forth, we'll experience victory every time.  Wait on God.  Watch Him work.  Worry not about the outcome.  And worship the One Who fights all our battles.

The enemy march is drawing near.  Is your battle plan in place?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Didn't God Promise a Life of Ease?

I hear it all the time from Christians and non-Christians alike.  "Didn't God promise a life of ease?"  Actually, no, He didn't.  In fact, He promised quite the opposite--In the world ye shall have tribulation. (John 16:33)  The Bible assures us that there will be tough times, rough valleys and long days.  So, why do so many assume that God promised a life of ease?  I think that perhaps these well-meaning souls are confusing ease with peace, for while God didn't promise us the former, He certainly promised the latter.  In fact, if we go back to the beginning of John 16:33, we'll see, These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.  And this is only one of the many passages where God promises us a peace that passes understanding.

Ease. Peace. What is the difference?  To determine that, let's look at one of my favorite books:  the dictionary.  On the surface, you'll notice that the two words seem to have VERY similar definitions.  Take a look:

Ease: (1) freedom from labor, pain, or physical annoyance; tranquil rest; comfort: to enjoy one's ease. (2) freedom from concern, anxiety, or solicitude; a quiet state of mind.

Peace: (1) freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; (2) tranquillity; serenity.

But, let's dig a little deeper, and let's also take into context the Biblical definition of the word "peace."

Ease can also be defined as (1) freedom from difficulty or great effort; (2) freedom from financial need; plenty.  Well, that certainly doesn't describe my life.  How about yours?  Nope, my life is hardly free from difficulty or financial need.  So, if God did, indeed, promise a life of ease, then it would appear He's breaking His promise, right?

Let's look at what the Bible dictionary has to say about peace in order to really differentiate between the two terms.  It says peace is "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatever sort that is."  Are you starting to see the difference?

Ease means that I don't have any problems.  Peace means that I have them but don't fret because I'm resting securely in God.  Ease is fleeting, depending on our "earthly lot" while peace remains steady because it reminds us that whatever our lot in life, all has passed through God's hands.  Ease is a perfect life meagerly grasped in the hands of an imperfect being, but peace offers us an imperfect life held fast in the hands of a perfect God.  Which one sounds better to you?  The one that God actually promised, right?

I'll be the first to tell you that sometimes life is hard and seemingly unfair.  Valleys come and valleys go, but rest assured that through it all, God's peace is available to you as His child.  He longs for us to live in a state where our minds are free from anxiety--not because we don't have troubles but rather because we're trusting in Him to take care of them.  Are you trusting today?  Are you content with your lot in life?  If not, you're missing out on God's promise--not because He hasn't offered it but rather because you haven't received it.  What are you waiting for?  Claim your gift!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Find and Replace

As a full-time writer with an extremely busy schedule, I make a point of utilizing every shortcut and helpful hint I can find, provided the quality of the job doesn't suffer.  When it comes to writing, one of my favorites shortcuts is a little feature called "Find and Replace" in my word processing software.  This little gem is a life-saver to writers, like myself, who tend to overuse certain words, change the name of a character half-way through the story, or forget the spelling of a particular name--spelling it one way in some places and a different way in others (i.e. Philip versus Phillip).  Don't laugh!  It happens. . . unfortunately, more often than I would like to admit.  Anyway, with this handy little feature of "Find and Replace," I can do just that.  In the "find" box, I type in the word/name that I want to change, and in the "replace" box, I type in what I want to change it to.  Then, like magic, the software finds all the occurrences of that word and changes it to the new word.  Do you have any idea how much time that saves?  What a blessing!

Some days, though, I find myself wishing my brain had a "Find and Replace" feature.  If it did, I could easily replace my thoughts of worry, anxiety and stress with those of peace, tranquility and trust.  Bitterness, anger and frustration would be replaced with happiness, satisfaction and contentment.  Gone would be the thoughts that weigh me down and the words that tear others down.  In their place would be uplifting anthems of praise and encouragement toward my fellow man.  Think of it, to be able to change our thoughts and emotions with the click of a button.  Wouldn't that be awesome?

Unfortunately, I know of no such button (but if you do, please contact me).  That being said, the Bible does offer us many other avenues to find and replace our negative thoughts and attitudes.  While they are not shortcuts and thus require a lot of work, they are effective and a necessary part of any Christian life.  My favorite of these is Philippians 4:8.  If you've followed my writing for any length of time, you know that I refer to this verse a lot.  The reason behind that is actually a bit embarrassing, but I'll share it with you nonetheless (the things I do for ya'll!)

I am over-analytical to a fault.   If something seems too easy, my default setting is to think that it must be a trick question.  I analyze and analyze and analyze.  Does this mean what I really think it means?  That can't be right because that was far too easy.  I feel like God is saying this, but I'm not sure if it's His voice or my own desires.  See the pattern?  Now, you're probably wondering what that has to do with Philippians 4:8, right?  Simply this.  Philippians 4:8 is blunt and to the point.  There is no room for analytical thinking.  There is no room for discussion or explanation.  It says what it means and means what it says, and there's really no mistaking its message.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

See what I mean?  It says, "Think on these things," and then it gives us a list to go by.  That's like me sending my husband to the store, handing him a list of items, and saying, "Buy these things."  He doesn't have to figure out what I mean.  He doesn't have to determine if there's some hidden meaning behind the word "milk."  He takes the list and buys those things (and usually some extra things that catch his fancy, but we won't go there right now).  My point is that Philippians 4:8 acts as our "Find and Replace" feature.  While it doesn't automatically change our thoughts and attitudes for us, it does help us to locate what belongs and what doesn't.  It gives us a step-by-step checklist of what should be there and what needs to be replaced with something else.  I love that!

I'll be honest--very few writing projects go by without the use of the "Find and Replace" feature at least once.  It is a valuable tool, and I take advantage of its benefits.  My prayer today is that each of us will be as faithful in utilizing the Word of God to find the things that don't belong in our lives, hearts or minds and replace them with the things that do.  I encourage you to begin with Philippians 4:8.  It will point out the majority of the problem areas.