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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How Do We Increase Our Faith?

Have you ever tried to increase your faith?  You know you're saved, but some days, you just don't feel it.  You know in your heart that you should trust God in all things, yet when trials come along, you find yourself repeatedly taking things into your own hands.  You watch other heroes of the faith as they walk through life with their heads held high, holding securely to God's hand and think, I want that.  So what do you do?

If you're like me, you try to muster up more faith like you would muster up courage.  You try to force it upon yourself by any means necessary:  spending more time with God, reading spiritual books, praying, telling yourself over and over again, "No, I'm not going to worry.  I'm going to trust God."  And, friend, if you're anything like me, you've discovered that it doesn't work.  We can't create faith in ourselves any more than we could create a flower or a rainbow.  We don't have that kind of power.  We didn't work for the faith required for salvation, so why do we think we can work for the faith needed for everyday living?  It just doesn't make sense.

Here's the irony:  we know that!  We know that faith comes from God.  The Bible tells us so.  Ephesians 2:8 says, For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.  Faith is not of ourselves.  It is a gift of God.  It's not something we muster up; it's something we accept.  Hebrews 12:2 reminds us of the same thing by telling us that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.  It is under His control, not ours.  The disciples must have understood this as well because in Luke 17:5, they asked Jesus, Increase our faith.  Notice they didn't ask Him to teach them to increase their faith.  They knew it was beyond them.  And Paul concurs in II Corinthians 10 when he says, Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly,  "When your faith is increased," not when you increase your faith.  The situation is passive, not active which means that it's not attainable by any works.

So if we can't muster up or work for more faith, how do we reach our goal of increasing our faith?  After all, the Bible says that without faith, it is impossible to please God.  We want to please our heavenly Father, so how do we attain the faith to do so?  We receive it.  It is a gift, after all, and what good is a gift if it is given but not received?  Just like salvation, we acknowledge to God that we cannot do this on our own, and we accept His gift of faith, allowing Him to increase it at His will.  The more we surrender our lives to Him and stop trying to fix and control everything ourselves, the more faith we'll receive.

The key to having more faith is to stop trying so hard to have more faith and to allow Jesus to work in and through us.  We must understand our limitations and surrender our lives to the limitless God.  Then, and only then, will we see an increase in our faith.  We've all heard the motto, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."  Well, in this case, throw that out the window and recite this new saying, "If at first you don't succeed, realize that you can't and accept help from the One who can."  Not quite as catchy, but far more accurate in the acquisition of faith.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The End Is Nigh

Today is a very special day.  No, it's not a holiday or even my birthday.  It's the day I plan to write the last chapter of my newest book, The Merlin Missions, Book 1.  I don't know what it is about this particular book, but it has brought about more excitement and more frustration than any other writing project I've ever done.  I have researched until I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head.  I have struggled to find the perfect blend of fact and fiction, careful not to abuse God's Word in any way, shape or form.  The project has brought about moments of elation, as well as its fair share of tears.  But now, all I feel is joy and delight.  I'm so near the end that I can taste it, and that excites me.

Of course, when I say that I'm near the end, that is not entirely accurate.  What I mean to say is that I'm near the end of the rough draft, after which there will be polishing, putting in some tidbits I thought of along the way, editing, editing, oh, and more editing.  Then there's the formatting and publishing bit.  Yes, as a whole, the project still has a LONG way to go {huge sigh}, but as for this stage of the process, I am one day away from completion, and I admit I'm more excited about this book than any of my others.

You know, God is writing a story of His own, and it, too, is nearing completion.  Well, at least this phase of it is.  Can you imagine how excited He must be?  I envision Jesus sitting on the edge of His throne and looking down at the world below.  As the perilous times increase, I imagine Him turning to His Father who is seated beside Him and asking, "Is it time, Father?  May I get your children now?  It's getting pretty bad down there."  To which the Father replies, "Not yet, Son.  Just a little while longer.  I have a few finishing touches; then we'll be ready."

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Did you catch that?  Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him.  I believe we are that joy, and I think He's waiting in Heaven like a child waits for Christmas morning--with eager anticipation and unspeakable excitement.  He can hardly wait for God to finish this phase of our story, much like how I feel about my current project but probably multiplied by infinity.

To think that Jesus is waiting for us with such anticipation is a blessing.  As much as we're longing for Heaven, how much more is Jesus wanting for us to be there with Him?  The good news is, I don't think He'll be waiting much longer.  The end is near, my friends, and I pray to God that you are ready to meet Him.

If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, please don't wait another day.  We may not have another day.  He could come for us at any time, and I do not want you to be left behind.  This is not a game or some cosmic joke.  Your eternity is at stake.  Choose Jesus today!  And if you need help, please feel free to contact me.  I would be thrilled to show you how you can make certain your story has a happy ending.

Friday, May 27, 2016

I'm Gonna Make It - Repost

Do you ever find yourself in a "blah mood"?  Maybe you don't feel well physically, or you're struggling with something emotionally.  Perhaps it's a financial issue or a strain in a relationship.  Whatever the case (or cases for some of us), it seems as if the weight of the issue(s) has become too much to bear.  We long to go on for Christ.  We continue to make an effort to live for Him and fulfill His will, but honestly, our heart isn't in it.  We seem to dwell in a continual state of "whatever." Can you relate?

I was in such a mood last weekend, and unfortunately, it seems to have followed me into the week.  I know I have been tired and fatigued, and I hope that's all that's going on, but for whatever reason, I've had a case of the blues.  The bad news is that having the blues is no fun, and I've found that I don't even want to hang around with me when I'm like this.  The good news is that we often see things in our times of suffering that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.  Such was the case this weekend as I listened to a lesson about Paul's shipwreck.

But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land. - Acts 27:43-44

Those verses held a whole new meaning for me Sunday morning because of the state of my mind and emotions.  I was feeling down.  I was feeling overwhelmed.  But most of all, I was feeling tired.  Tired of everything.  Tired of trying and failing.  Tired of struggling to make ends meet.  Tired of trying to please everyone.  Tired of being tired!  And in that mindset, I found a new source of comfort in the most unlikely of Bible passages.

As the ship was going down, the centurion commanded the prisoners that could swim to jump overboard and make for the shore.  The rest were to find whatever they could get ahold of to stay afloat, eventually making their way to land.  And in the end, just as God promised, they all escaped.  Not one life was lost.

To apply this Scripture to my current state, I often see myself as a prisoner, bound by time, health restraints, financial chains and other bonds.  I've been commanded to make it to shore, and I've even been promised that I will make it alive.  But the truth is that, even though I know how to swim, I just don't have the strength for it right now.  I'm too tired, too weary.  But through this beautiful passage, I'm reminded that that's okay.  I don't have to swim.  All I have to do is hold on to something that is keeping itself above water.  Something, perhaps, like God's promises or maybe His grace.  Even though I may feel like one of those broken pieces of the ship, bobbing up and down on the restless tide, I can find peace in the knowledge that even those pieces made it safely to shore.

I'm not home yet, but I know I'm going to make it some day.  And no storm or shipwreck can thwart God's promise about that.  I may not be able to swim right now, but I can hold on and take comfort in the fact that He's also holding onto me. . . and He will never let go!

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Crying Alone in the Dark

Last weekend, while attending a church function, I was reminded just how important it is for us, as Christians, to bear one another's burdens.  A friend and I were standing in the shade discussing the weather, the volleyball game taking place a few feet away, and other mundane things.  Just your basic chit chat.  Soon, however, my dear friend began to pour out her heart to me.

It seems she has been under a lot of stress lately, and I had no idea.  She confessed to a spiritual battle taking place within her heart and mind and to having spells where all she could do is cry.  As I listened, two thoughts came to my mind.  First off, why hadn't I seen this?  How could I have not noticed that one of my dearest friends was in such turmoil?  Second, I thought of how I could totally relate to what she was saying because I had been going through the same thing.  Though many of the circumstances surrounding our spiritual battles were different, some of them were the same.  The more we talked, the more I realized that we had been experiencing the same feelings of frustration, discouragement, and utter fatigue.  And we had both kept it to ourselves thinking no one else would understand or that others would think poorly of us if we admitted our feelings of total despair.

The rest of the weekend, I found myself wondering if my friend and I could have escaped some of the turmoil we had been through if we had only turned to someone for help.  After all, I did feel better after having talked with her and realizing that I wasn't alone.  It helped to talk to someone about my problems, but it also helped to hear that someone else was dealing with the same issues.  It sounds strange, I know, but when she told me some of the things that she had been feeling, a wave of relief swept over me.  I know this woman, and I hold her up as a beautiful example of what a Godly woman should be.  To learn that she had the same feelings I did made me feel like less of a failure.  Again, I know it sounds weird, but I think you understand what I'm saying.

I wonder how many of us go through our days and weeks crying alone in the dark because we fear that no one will understand or that people will judge us if they knew about the spiritual battle taking place deep within our hearts.  Rather than taking the risk of exposing our faults and feelings, we keep them to ourselves and try to bear the burdens alone.  But that's not how it should be.  We need each other!  God designed it that way from the very beginning.  Remember, in the Garden of Eden, after God had created man, He said that it wasn't good for man to be alone.  The Bible reinforces that fact many times, but none makes it clearer to me than Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which says, Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Today, my friends, I want to make two things clear.  First off, Christians do go through hard times.  They get frustrated and can even suffer from depression.  Knowing Christ does not exempt us from difficult circumstances or a lot of tears.  Life is hard, and while faith in Christ does help us to get through, it doesn't mean that we don't experience times of discouragement and despair.  Just as the psalmist, David.

Secondly, I want to remind you that there is strength and comfort in sharing our burdens with one another.  We don't need to cry alone in the dark or hide our problems from others.  True friends are there for one another in the good times and the bad.  Reach out to them for help, and also pay attention to those around you and see if someone else needs to pour out their heart to you.  Everyone is going through something, so let's make sure we're there for one another.  It's easy to get so caught up in our own problems that we forget that others are hurting too.  I'm reminded of a line from Mark Bishop's song, Can I Pray for You? which says, “Let me be there for you. We’ll divide all your problems by two. And very soon there’ll be three – you and Jesus and me. That’s what friends are supposed to do.”

You don't have to bear your burdens alone.  None of us do!  It's okay to cry, but please, don't cry alone.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What Do Angels and Orange Lizards Have in Common?

After nearly a week of rain, I was itching to get out of the house on Saturday (as was my dog, Mitch, who had taken to running through the house at break-neck speed.)  The forecast for Saturday was partly sunny skies with a slight chance of a shower in the afternoon.  We awoke that morning to overcast skies, thick fog and a slight mist in the air.  Hopeful that the foul weather would pass, we packed up our gear and headed out for a much-needed family hike.

When we arrived at our hiking spot, the weather remained unchanged.  It was cool, damp and less than pleasant.  Still, we soldiered on.  I'm bummed to tell you that it drizzled on and off the entire hike, but on the bright side, the Lord sent out a welcomed reminder (and an excellent idea for a blog post, at least in my mind).

Within just a few minutes of hiking, Jason pointed out a bright orange lizard on the leaf-littered floor of the trail.  He was quite small and dazzling.  As we studied him, I noticed another one just over a foot away.  We resumed our walk, and a few minutes later, we spotted two more, then three more, then another one.  By the end of the hike, we must have seen two or three dozen of the fluorescent creatures.  It was awesome!

But here's the amazing part. Jason and I have been hiking the trails in this area on a regular basis for eight years or more, and in all that time, we've only come across an orange lizard like that on two or three other occasions.  And on each of those occasions, we spotted one, not dozens.  Because of that, I assumed that they must have been some rare species, but Saturday's hike told me that such was not the case.  And after a little research, I discovered that the Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newt is quite common to the wooded areas of eastern North America.  Interesting, huh?  That they could be so popular, yet seasoned hikers like us barely knew of their existence because we'd hardly ever seen them.

Come to find out, the newts prefer moist wooded areas, so the environment on Saturday was perfect for them.  Also, the newts that we saw were the juvenile of the species, for when they mature, they turn to a "normal" lizard color of greenish brown.  Who knows how many adults were present but unseen because of their ability to blend in with the terrain?  It's crazy to think about.

Here's what the Lord brought to my mind about the whole instance.  I don't know about you, but I've heard accounts where someone was in danger, and they believe with their whole heart that they heard a voice that gave them instructions or felt a touch that woke them in time to see the oncoming vehicle. I haven't heard a lot of them, but I've heard enough to know that God has angels watching out for his children.  But seeing those lizards on Saturday made me wonder just how many angels are here on this earth watching over you and me.  Like the lizards, the encounters with angels are rare, making it appear as if the angel population is small, but God reminded me that in the proper circumstances, the angels will make themselves known, just like those lizards.  And we'll be amazed at how many there truly are.

Isn't that a comfort to know?  We are aware that God is looking out for us and that He can protect us, but there's something that calms the soul when we realize that we're surrounded by a heavenly host, much like Elisha and his band were in II Kings 6.  Whether we see them or not, they're there, and they've been commanded to protect God's children.  And I thought the lizards were awesome!

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. - Hebrews 13:2

Monday, May 23, 2016

What Kind of Shoes Are You Wearing?

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; - Ephesians 6:13-15

There is a lot to be said about the armor of God.  In fact, I'm teaching through a series on the armor in my ladies' Sunday School class, and let me tell you, there's a lot to sift through.  But this morning, I would like to focus on verse 15:  And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  In essence, God is telling us to put on our "gospel shoes."  But what are gospel shoes?

For starters, we need to understand what the gospel is.  The word "gospel" literally means "good news," but from there, people are left to interpret their own definitions.  Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15 that the gospel (good news) is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and all that is made possible because of that (heaven, victorious Christian life, etc.).  This is the good news we are supposed to wear and share.  Unfortunately, not everyone is following this gospel, for they have created gospels of their own.  I would like to discuss a few of these today, and since we're talking about having our feet shod with the gospel, I'm going to relate them to shoes.

First off, we have the dress shoes.  They are beautiful and shiny on the surface, but the truth is that they're only brought out for special occasions or Sundays.  This is the gospel that declares that people are doing God a favor by showing up for church in their Sunday best, and God will bless them for that.  It's not about worshiping God.  It's about doing good and being seen, nothing more.

Then we have the bedroom slippers, which are becoming increasingly popular.  This gospel is comfortable and feels good but has no real substance.  Have you ever walked out on the wet grass in your bedroom slippers?  They didn't hold up, did they?  This gospel is preached by those who don't want to offend, so they avoid preaching about sin and instead tell their congregation that everyone is okay as long as they try to do right.  It's a "come just as you are" philosophy.  Unfortunately, people also leave just as they came.  Without real preaching, their hearts remain unchanged.

We can't forget the flip-flop gospel.  Like bedroom slippers, flip flops are casual and comfortable, but they're also easy.  I equate these to people who don't agree with the teaching of their church, but they're too lazy to study the Bible for themselves or to take the effort to find a church they can agree with.  They're content to stay put because it's the easiest thing for them to do.  The problem with flip flops is that they offer no protection neither do they hold firm to the foot, which makes it easy to slip.  For those who are wishy-washy in their faith--not certain what or who they believe--spiritual catastrophe is inevitable.

Let's talk about the work boots.  In general, the work boot gospel sounds good.  It is rigid and protective, but the problem is that it has become too rigid, and it weighs people down with a long list of rules and regulations.  Like the Pharisees of the Bible, they're all about the work to be done.    According to this gospel, grace and faith are not enough to save.  There must be more. . . much more. This crowd is always working to ensure their place in eternity, and they're very proud of themselves for being so holy and righteous.

What about tennis shoes?  Obviously, when running a race (as we are), tennis shoes are great shoes.  They give much-needed support to the foot and are perfect for speed and some endurance.  Unfortunately, they are lightweight and often composed of mesh which won't hold up well in the battles or storms of life.  This reminds me of newer or weaker Christians who don't yet understand the complexities of the Christian life.  In their minds, they still see the Christian journey as a walk in the park, free from heartaches and trials.  They equate God's promise of joy and peace to an absence of trouble, but such is not the case.  They're ready to run the race, but they're unprepared for battle.

Finally, we have our hiking boots (you knew I had to go there, didn't you?).  Hiking boots are supportive, protective and offer a sure grip.  They are made for steadfastness and endurance.  While they are rigid to a degree, they are also flexible enough to allow the foot room to move and grow.  These are the shoes that represent the true gospel, giving us a firm place to stand and holding us securely through every storm.

Just as shoes allow us to walk on painful terrain without fear, the gospel enables us to walk down painful roads and through the trials of life without fear.  Shod with the gospel, we can travel down rough and rocky roads and journey through the fire.

So, I ask you again:  what kind of shoes are you wearing?

Friday, May 20, 2016

What's Your Title?

This morning as I was searching through Amazon for the video to accompany today's Song of the Day, I was disturbed by some of the results that came up under my search.  I typed in "If Not for the Love of Christ," but that was not the first or even second thing that popped up on my screen.  On the contrary, the song was several items down the page.  If you're familiar with Amazon, you'll know that the items are listed according to popularity (which is, unfortunately, why none of my books show up on the first page unless you're searching for the exact title or my name, <sigh>).  That means that every item listed above the one I was looking for was more popular and had sold more on Amazon.

Here are a couple of items that struck me by their titles alone:  If God Gets Angry Why Can't I? and If God Is Not for Me, Then He Must Be Against Me.  I don't know about you, but as soon as I read each of these titles, red flags went up in my mind.  The first struck me as a petulant child making excuses to have his/her own way.  The second brought to mind someone who is going through a rough patch in life and has resolved himself to the fact that God is his enemy.

Disturbed, yet intrigued, I had to pull up the two books and read through their descriptions.  It turns out that I was pretty close on the first one and way off on the second.  The first book is about how we all have feelings and emotions and that all of those emotions are a good thing and are within us to serve us (there's that red flag again).  Dangerous ground, to be sure!  The second is actually a work of fiction about two military lovers (both men from what I can tell) who are separated when a "Stranger" from above enters their relationship and promises salvation for the soul.  Honestly, without knowing where the story is headed, I don't know what to think about it, but I do know this:  I would change the title.

As a writer of ten years, I've come to two important conclusions:  (1) People do judge books by their covers. (2) People are drawn or turned away from a book by its title.  For example, I am drawn to books that use titles that I can relate to such as, "You'll Get Through This" or "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World."  These titles relate to me what the book is about, and the topic is one I want to know more about.  With a title like, If God Is Not for Me, Then He Must Be Against Me, what kind of readers is it going to attract?  Those who feel like God is against them.

Whether you realize it or not, we are all book covers of salvation's story, and each day we plaster a title across our face (i.e. an expression).  Some days our titles read, God Is Good!  Ask Me Why or I Am So Blessed, and they attract others who want to know more about the topic.  Unfortunately, some days, our titles turn to those of distress like I Can't Face Another Day Like Today or I'm So Weary of This Fight, and guess what happens.  Yep, we invite the gloomy guses to our company and scare everyone else away.  One glance in our direction is enough to make most people scurry away.

Please understand, I'm not saying that we should plaster a fake smile on our face as we go about our day.  What I'm saying is that we shouldn't have to.  Our smile should be real because our joy is.  Yes, things may be hard.  Yes, the day may seem bleak.  And sure, we may be going through a rough patch.  But if we'll keep in mind that if God is for us, no one (and nothing) can be against us, we'll find the way to smile genuinely through our tears.  And others will see that smile and inquire about the strength we have to praise in the midst of our storm which will, in turn, open the door for us to be witnesses for Christ.

As you go about your day today, keep in mind that the world is studying your "cover" and reading your "title."  Will they desire to know more or be turned away?

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:31

Thursday, May 19, 2016

There's Something in Your Eye

In I Samuel 14, Saul orders the people not to eat anything until they've won the victory over the Philistines.  A crazy request, to be sure, since the Bible tells us that the people were faint from hunger and not really in any condition to fight.  But then again, Saul wasn't always in his right mind, was he?  Unfortunately, Jonathan wasn't present when his father issued this command, so when he came across a batch of honey in the woods, he had a taste.  When Saul found out what had happened, he was ready to kill Jonathan for it.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die. And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan. - I Samuel 14:43-44

Fortunately, the people convinced Saul not to do it and pleaded with him to keep Jonathan alive.  They reminded Saul of Jonathan's great victory over the Philistines in the past.  If they were going to win the war once and for all, they advised, they were going to need Jonathan.  So, Saul relented, though I don't think he was particularly happy about it.

Here's what gets me about this passage.  Saul was ready to kill his son for disobeying one of his rules when in the chapter before and the chapter after, Saul disobeys God's rules.  In chapter 13, we find him offering the sacrifice that only Samuel was supposed to offer.  When Samuel rebuked him for it, Saul's reply was, "Well, we waited for you as long as we could, and then I did what I had to do."  No remorse.  No regret.  Only justification for his sin.

Then, in chapter 15, Saul was instructed by God to kill the Amalekites and everything in the land.  But instead, Saul spared the king, Agag, and also brought back much of the livestock.  When Samuel confronted him, Saul again sputtered out excuses.  "I know what God said, but I only brought back these animals so that we could offer them to the Lord."  Evidently, Saul didn't realize that obedience was more important to the Lord than any worldly sacrifice.

Do you see the irony in Saul's story here?  On two separate occasions, he disobeyed God then shrugged it off as nothing.  But when Jonathan, his son, violated Saul's order, he sentenced him to death.  Why was Jonathan's disobedience worthy of death when Saul's was barely worthy of a slap on the wrist (in Saul's mind anyway)?  I think it's because Saul suffered from the same thing we do:  Sin Comparison Syndrome.  In other words, when we look at our own sins, we say, "No, I shouldn't have done that, but hey, everyone makes mistakes, right?"  But when we look on the sins of others, we say, "Whoa!  They did such a bad thing.  I hope God punishes them for that."  In short, everyone else's sin is much worse than our own sin and, therefore, worthy of a much greater punishment.

I believe this is why we sit in church services and think, I hope so-and-so is listening.  He needs to hear this instead of examining our own lives and seeing how to apply the message to our personal sin.  Like Saul, when our sin is pointed out to us, we often have a tendency to shrug our shoulders and make excuses.  But the fact of the matter is that sin is sin, whether it's worrying about tomorrow or stealing a car.  God hates sin. . . all sin, and none of it is excusable.  It's time we get that through our heads and spend more time dealing with our own faults instead of examining and pointing out the faults in others.  I don't know about you, but dealing with my own issues is a full-time job.

The next time you want to criticize someone or condemn them for their faults, remember Saul.  His sin and the consequences of those sins led him to madness, but he was too busy pointing fingers at others to notice.  Don't make the same mistake.  Own up to your sin.  Confess it to God, and live in sweet fellowship with Him.  Then, let everyone else do the same.  It's their job to deal with their sin, not yours.  Just leave it alone!

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. - Matthew 7:1-5

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Watch Out For the Snake!

Earlier last week, while on my morning prayer walk, I came upon a baby snake.  Yes, the scaly intruder was on the walking path not in the woods where he belonged.  Yes, he gave me quite a scare.  And yes, I did my very best to avoid him.  I don't do snakes!!!!

On Friday, as I again went about my merry way, pouring my heart out to God and enjoy the lovely weather, I was met by three approaching bicyclists, who each warned me about a snake on the trail ahead.  I thanked them and acted as if it were no big deal, but immediately, I was on full alert.  My mind began to spin.  Was it the same baby snake I'd seen earlier in the week?  Could they have seen such a small snake from their bikes at that speed?  Was the snake actually on the trail or just off to the side?  What kind of snake are we talking about exactly?  And how big?

No matter how hard I tried, I could no longer focus on my prayers.  My eyes darted back and forth across the trail.  I searched the grass on either side.  I watched for any movement.  That silly snake became all I could think about, and here's the real kicker--I never found it!  Nope, all the way back, I searched and anticipated the snake, but I never came across it.  Either the bicyclists had scared it enough that it returned to its natural habitat, or it was only crossing the road to get to the other side (no chicken jokes here, I promise).  Whatever the case, he was nowhere to be found, and I lost a good 20 minutes of my prayer time over that creepy critter.

Fortunately, the Lord also used the situation to teach me a valuable lesson.  There is a reason He doesn't tell us about every bend in the road ahead and every heartache that is awaiting us in the future.  There is a purpose for him not showing us the master blueprint of our lives, complete with all its twists and turns, ups and downs.  And the reason, I believe, is this:  that's all we would concentrate on.

If we knew there was a pitfall ahead, we would spend all of our time thinking about it.  What kind of pitfall will it be?  Is it big or small?  Is it similar to something I've been through before?  We would watch and wait, at every turn expecting to come upon trouble.  And just as my snake-watching did, that intense focus would rob us of our joy, energy and time with God.  It would overwhelm us.  Anxiety and anticipation would permeate every fiber of our being to the point that we would be just about useless in accomplishing anything else.

Once I was off the trail Friday, and back in my neighborhood, I spend the rest of the walk home praising God for this beautiful reminder.  I don't need to see the future; I only need to trust the One who holds it.  And despite how many times I think I want to know all the answers, Friday's snake encounter (or snake non-encounter, as the case turned out to be) reminds me that knowing is not always that great a thing.  After all, if I hadn't known there was a snake ahead, I would have continued in my prayer time and enjoyed my beautiful morning walk.  Knowing about that crazy snake changed everything:  my focus, my attitude and my gaze.

My friend, sometimes it's hard to face the unknown.  I get that.  I really do.  But now I see that sometimes it's better not to know.  It's better to simply trust the One who does know.  He understands the dangers ahead, and He'll keep us from harm.  And when life seems overwhelming, remember that not only does Jesus know the way, He is the way!  That's all we need to know.

Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. - Psalm 37:5

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Poisoned Life

In the final rendition of Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, the envious and arrogant Antonio Salieri admits to poisoning Mozart, though not in the way one would think:

VOGLER:  Why? Why? Why? Why add to your misery by confessing to murder? You didn't kill him.
VOGLER: No, you didn't!
OLD SALIERI: I poisoned his life.

You see, while music came easily and beautifully to Mozart, Salieri, who longed to become a great musician, simply didn't have the talent to compete with someone of Mozart's degree.  This angered Salieri, especially when he learned that Mozart was a man of questionable character and not like him, a devout Catholic, who honored God's ways.  He reasoned that if God was going to gift someone with such musical talent, it should be someone who was pure and right in their living, like him.  Despite his many attempts to destroy Mozart and his musical creations, the famed musician only gained popularity while Salieri was pushed to the background.

In reading the account above, it seems like Salieri's confession is a change of heart.  After the death of Mozart, he admits to poisoning his life with his many attempts to destroy the man he envied, and for a moment, it seems there is hope for the old man.  Unfortunately, bitterness had already rooted itself deep within his heart, and he wasn't willing to release it.

OLD SALIERI: Don't pity me. Pity yourself. You serve a wicked God. He killed Mozart, not I. Took him, snatched him away, without pity. He destroyed His beloved rather than let a mediocrity like me get the smallest share in his glory. He doesn't care. Understand that. God cares nothing for the man He denies and nothing either for the man He uses. He broke Mozart in half when He'd finished with him, and threw him away. Like an old, worn out flute. . . Goodbye, Father. I'll speak for you. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. On their behalf, I deny Him, your God of no mercy. Your God, who tortures men with longings they can never fulfill. He may forgive me; I shall never forgive Him.

And so, the story ends, with Salieri dying in his bitter, unforgiving state. I don't know about you, but reading his account is enough to make my skin crawl.  I know it's a work of fiction, but there are still so many true elements contained within this tale.  For example, envy and bitterness are not mere components of the imagination.  They are very real and extremely dangerous.  Sadly, they are quite capable of turning our hearts away from God no matter how long we've served Him or how much we claim to love Him.

I wanted to share this account with you today as a warning.  It is human nature to have expectations of how we think our lives should be.  We have dreams, goals, and ambitions, but ultimately, we are not the ones in control.  That job belongs to God, and it is up to us to accept His will and way even when it clashes or contradicts our desires and expectations.  If we don't, we are prone to give way to discontentment, envy, anger, and bitterness.  It may start small, as did Salieri's, but if allowed to run its course, it can ultimately destroy us and our relationship with God.  How miserable a life Salieri must have lived--never able to enjoy life because he was always complaining that it wasn't the way it should be.  How many joys and opportunities did he miss out on because he wasn't willing to accept that God knew best?

Let us learn from Salieri's mistake. Take heed.  Watch out for bitterness, envy and discontentment.  Whenever you find yourself thinking, It's not fair or Why doesn't God do something like that for me, take those thoughts into captivity and surrender them to God.  Then, remind yourself how good God has been and how much He loves you.  Bury yourself in the truths of God's Word and choke those pesky weeds of envy and bitterness to death because the fact is, either you kill them, or they'll kill you!

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. - James 3:14

Friday, May 13, 2016

Why Is God Putting Me Through the Fire?

Have you ever used coconut oil?  It's amazing stuff and extremely healthy.  One of the things I find so fascinating about it is the fact that it's solid most of the time. Only above certain temperatures (somewhere around 76 degrees) does it become liquid.  So, in its solid state, it's a bit like butter.  You can spread it on toast or a baked potato.  You can scoop out spoonfuls to top your casserole.  Or, if you're into using healthy cosmetics, you can use the oil as soap, moisturizer or deodorant.  Awesome stuff!

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to deal with coconut oil in its solid state since the temperatures here in upstate South Carolina began to rise a few weeks ago.  It seems that our old air conditioner is not wanting to play nice this year, and until we can get it fixed (or find an alternate solution), the inside temperature isn't much cooler than the outside, which means my coconut oil has remained in a liquid state.  But, you know what?  That's okay because I've discovered many instances where the liquid form works just fine and some occasions where it works even better than it did as a solid.  For example, as a moisturizer, I've found that the liquid allows me to get just the right amount without leaving my skin too oily.  I also discovered that I didn't have to melt the oil first before preparing my little tablets for oil pulling (it's a health thing).  Plus the liquid oil makes an excellent addition to the formula I use to make my all-natural makeup remover wipes.  Yes, I'm finding that the liquid oil has many uses, some of which I would never have thought of when it was in its solid state.

A few weeks ago, though, when I first noticed my soupy oil, I thought, Great!  I can't use my favorite oil. The heat has ruined it and made it unusable.  But what I quickly discovered was that the oil wasn't unusable at all but rather usable in different ways.  As I mentioned earlier, I was able to use the oil for various purposes and even situations in which I had used it before and found that the liquid works better.  Who knew?

God did.  You see, this concept is not new to Him.  He is quite familiar with the process of turning up the heat in our lives.  Not to ruin us.  Not to destroy us.  Not to make us unusable.  But rather to equip us to be used for a different purpose or even to be used better for the same purposes.  Just as silver is tried in the fire to rid it of its impurities, so are we tried to make us the best that we can be.  It isn't a punishment or some cruel cosmic joke.  Once again, God is doing all things for our good, and part of that good is being able to be used in ways that we (and others) never imagined.

Perhaps you're walking through the fire today, wondering if God really cares for you at all.  My friend, He cares.  Otherwise, He wouldn't take the time to make and mold you into what you ought to be.  Don't fight the heat.  Embrace it, knowing that God is preparing you to be used in ways that exceed your imagination.  He has big plans for you if you'll only allow Him to finish His work in you.

For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. - Psalm 66:10-12

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Beauty in the Dark

Imagine, for a moment, that you are being led by a guide down a dark path.  Not only is the path itself dark, but everything around you remains unseen.  There is no light, no hint about what's surrounding you except for what the guide tells you.  Led by his unseen hand, you stumble along, hoping that he won't let you fall.  At one point, the guide stops and whispers to you, "You are now surrounded by ultimate beauty.  I know you can't see it, but I assure you, it's absolutely amazing."  You search the darkness for any sign, any indication that your guide is being truthful, but all you see is darkness.  So, you have a choice to make.  You can carry on blinded by the dark, or you can take the guide at his word and envision yourself in a place that is beautiful beyond description.  What do you do?  What have you already chosen?

You see, this is not a fairy tale; it's life!  Many times the path before us is dark and unfamiliar, and we are forced to carry on with nothing but the direction of our Guide.  Led by His unseen hand, he assures us that we are safe and that, even in the darkest of valleys, we're surrounded by beauty.  The beauty of grace.  The beauty of mercy.  The beauty of a God at work.  But we can't see it.  We only see the darkness.  And we must decide how to carry on.  We can continue stumbling in the dark, believing that this is all there is, or we can choose to take our Guide at His word and trust that there is beauty beyond what these earthly eyes can see.  Either choice will keep us moving forward, but only one of them will lighten our hearts and put a spring in our step.  The choice is up to us.

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. - Jeremiah 17:7

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Be Careful What You Promise

Recently, Jason and I faced a decision.  The Lord opened up a door of opportunity for us, and we inched our way through the door, praying all the while that God would either continue to open the door if it was His will for us to go through or completely close it if it wasn't His will.  We were both excited about the new opportunity and allowed ourselves to hope that it might come to pass.  Still, we prayed that God would have His perfect way and give us grace if the situation didn't turn out like we hoped.

I must be honest.  I was saying the words, and I sincerely desired to mean them, but I know how I am about my expectations.  When they're not met the way I want, I have a tendency to grow quite angry.  Still, I hoped I had matured enough spiritually to accept God's will and go on with life.  Evidently, I'm not quite there yet.

On Friday, it seemed that the door had closed, and while I was completely disappointed and deflated, I was somewhat accepting of the situation.  But then, the strangest thing happened.  It was like God swung the door wide open but just beyond the open doorway was a narrow, crumbling bridge.  The door was open, but the chances of making it across that bridge were sketchy at best.  This new turn of events left us totally bewildered.  When God initially slammed the door in our faces, it was easy enough to determine His will, but what were we to think now?  The door was opened, and it was evident God opened it, but if it truly is God's will for us to go through that door, would He have placed the crumbling bridge in our path?  Oh, the utter confusion, and that, I'm sorry to say, was the straw that broke the camel's back. . . again (my poor camel!).

I'm ashamed to admit that my confusion quickly turned to anger.  "Lord, why can't you ever make things simple?  Why must we constantly play these games?  You know that we long to do your will, so why can't you just make it known to us without all these mixed signs and signals?"  I wish I could tell you that my accusations and pity party ended there, but unfortunately, they raged on for quite a while.  So much for the grace to accept God's answer!  The biggest problem for me is that we couldn't figure out God's answer, and I hadn't prepared myself for that.  I was totally prepared (and even hopeful) for a "yes," and I believe in my heart that I was even prepared for a "no," though there would have still been some disappointment.  But an indistinguishable answer?  Nope, I wasn't ready for that.  And at that moment, I became like the Israelites in Jeremiah 42.

In this chapter, the Israelites plead with Jeremiah to intercede on their behalf.  They beg him to pray to the Lord and seek direction.  After going their way for so long, they had run into problem after problem, and it seemed they were finally ready to do things God's way.  Look at what they told Jeremiah: 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. (vs. 6)

"Good or bad.  Whether we like the answer or not.  Whether we get our way or not.  Whether we like the instructions or not.  Whatever God says for us to do, we will do it."  Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  So, did they follow through with their promise to God?  Unfortunately, no.

And it came to pass, that when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking unto all the people all the words of the Lord their God, for which the Lord their God had sent him to them, even all these words, 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 Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, and all the people, obeyed not the voice of the Lord, to dwell in the land of Judah. - Jeremiah 42:1-2, 4

So much for that promise!  What they really meant was "If God tells us what we want to hear, we'll obey.  Otherwise, we're going to do what we want."  And I'm afraid that's what I meant to.  I didn't want to imply that.  I didn't intend to break my promise to God.  It seems I just didn't completely understand what I was saying, but I made a promise nonetheless.

Did you know that the Bible teaches that it's better not to make a promise at all than to make one and break it?  Yep, you can find it in the book of Ecclesiastes. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. (Ecc. 5:5)  I would have been better off not to say anything at all than to have told God that I would graciously accept His answer no matter what it was, especially since I know my nature and general attitude toward unmet expectations.

In closing, the best thing we can do is to keep the promises we make, especially those we make to God.  However, if we're not sure it's possible for us to do that, it's better to keep our promises to ourselves and instead utter a word of prayer that God will give us the grace and strength to do the right thing.  After all, we can never go wrong with prayer!

(BTW, we are still praying for the Lord's guidance in this issue as a decision has to be made soon.  I would greatly appreciate your prayers on our behalf.  Thank you!)

Monday, May 9, 2016

None Like Him by Jen Wilkin: A Book Review

About the Book:

God is self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, infinite, and incomprehensible. We're not. And that's a good thing. Our limitations are by design. We were never meant to be God. But at the root of every sin is our rebellious desire to possess attributes that belong to God alone. Calling us to embrace our limits as a means of glorifying God's limitless power, Jen Wilkin invites us to celebrate the freedom that comes when we rest in letting God be God.

About the Author:

Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women's Bible studies. She has a background in
women's ministry and has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. She writes and teaches the Flower Mound Women's Bible Study, an interdenominational community study. Jen's passion is to see women become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. You can find her at

My Review:

As soon as I read the description of None Like Him, I knew it was a book for my personal library.  To better understand the full concept of the book, let me share with you the complete title:--None Like Him:  10 Ways God Is Different From Us (and why that's a good thing).  What a concept!

I have explored the attributes of God on many occasions.  I have written about them in books and blog posts and taught about them in my ladies' Sunday School class.  But in all the time that I studied and praised God for Who He is, it never really dawned on me to thank Him for not being like me.  My moods and perspectives are ever-changing.  God's are not.  I am confined by time and its limits, but not God.  I am dependent on food, sleep, and so many other things just to make it through a single day, but God is completely self-sufficient.  He needs no one and nothing.  The more I dug into these truths, the more relieved I felt that God is nothing like me in that He has no limits or needs.  He is God--the awesome, wonderful Creator of all there is.

As much as I enjoyed the message of the book, I must admit that it took me a couple of chapters to get hooked.  The writing style was not one that I'm particularly fond of, and for me, it seemed like the first few chapters moved rather slowly.  After that, however, things picked up, and I found myself totally immersed in the attributes of God.  (Perhaps my issues with the first few chapters were only due to my ever-changing moods and perspectives.  Who knows?)

The author wove in some personal experience stories to help the reader better relate to her points, and I can honestly say that I identified with some of those stories.  Ms. Wilkin also pointed out areas where we try to take God's place, and I was horrified to see some of those traits mirrored in my life.  In all, she paints a very clear picture of who God is and who we are not, and in the end, instead of feeling inferior, I was left with a feeling of elation that I serve such an awesome, indescribable God.

If you want to learn more about who God is, how He differs from us and why that's a good thing, None Like Him is a must read!

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255:  "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

The Giveaway:

How would you like to win a paperback copy of None Like Him:  10 Ways God Is Different From Us (and why that's a good thing)?  The process is simple.  Send your name and mailing address to me at, and type "None Like Him" in the subject line.  Next Wednesday, I'll hold a drawing to find out who the winner is.  Remember, to be entered into the contest, you need to send me your name and mailing address before Wednesday, 5/11/16.  There are no fees involved, so enter today!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Lemons Again?

Life does not always turn out the way we expect, and those unmet expectations can leave us feeling pretty rotten.  I was reminded of this truth on two separate occasions last week.  Yes, twice in one week, life bombarded me with lemons, and did I mention that I hate lemonade?

It all began when the new bedspread I'd ordered arrived in the mail.  It wasn't anything special.  I wanted a simple, inexpensive blanket to place on our bed during the summer months when our hand-made quilt was simply too much.  So, I went on eBay, found a great deal and ordered a rust-colored blanket.  However, what showed up at my door and what was pictured on the website were two entirely different colors.  I ordered rust, and the picture showed what I expected.  The blanket that arrived, though, was Clemson orange.  I'm talking a bright orange that would put Tigger to shame.  In fact, Tigger is exactly what I think of every time I enter my bedroom and am blinded by the bright orange blanket.  Oh, and by the way, the label on the bedspread did read "rust."  Hmm!

My second dashed expectation took place on Sunday morning, the day we celebrated our pastor's 23rd anniversary at our church.  We typically try to do up the day big!  Commemorative plaque.  Gift.  Dinner on the grounds.  And, of course, a video presentation of which I'm usually in charge.  Any of you who have ever done video presentations understand that they take hours to put together.  Finding all the right pictures and music.  Timing everything just so.  Adding in transitions and text.  It is a long, tedious process.  Nevertheless, the Lord helped me to pull everything together in time, and the finished result was fantastic.  At least, it was fantastic on my computer at home.  However, on Sunday morning, when we played the video for all to see, something went horribly wrong.  It seems the computer was having a difficult time keeping up with the load of the presentation, so the entire thing was choppy and jumpy.  The project that I had spent hours on looked like a 5-year-old had put it together. Not only was I embarrassed, but I was downright frustrated that my hours of hard work had turned out to be such a mess.

See what I mean?  We cannot count on our expectations being met.  I anticipated a rust-colored blanket and received bright orange instead.  I expected my hard work on the video presentation to shine through, but instead it flopped.  Why does life keep handing us lemons?  Well, we discussed that a bit in yesterday's post, so I'm not going to go into that again.  Instead, I want to address our response to unmet expectations.

Let's face it, if we're not careful, our unmet expectations can leave us angry and bitter, especially when they seem to pile up on us.  They can leave us doubting that God cares.  They can lead us to search for other answers to life's problems or to seek comfort outside of the arms of our loving Savior.  In short, they can ruin our lives if we'll allow them to.  So, how do we keep that from happening?  What is the best way to respond to unmet expectations?

With praise.  Whoa, I just saw some of you do a double-take.  No, I haven't lost my mind.  Instead, I've put on the mind of Christ as instructed in Philippians 2:5: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.  What does that mean exactly?  It means stepping outside of my own thoughts, ambitions and expectations and trying to see things through the eyes of God.  It means taking a moment to reflect on God and everything I know about Him.  For example, God is always right and just.  God does all things for His glory and our good.  I allow Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 to wash over me with their promises that God is watching out for me.  And with these things in view, I can rest in the knowledge that it was best for me that things turned out the way they did, and I can rejoice that God is in control.

Some of you may be thinking, how could it possibly matter one way or another if I received a rust-colored blanket or a bright orange one?  I don't know, but perhaps only for the sake of giving me something to write about this morning.  God is in the details, you know.  My point is that we don't have to fall apart when life doesn't turn out the way we plan.  Instead, we can rejoice in knowing that God is working all things the way they need to be.  He's giving us His best.  So, let's start expecting that out of life, and we'll never be disappointed.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. - Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sometimes Weaker Is Better

Sixteen years old was Uzziah when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and two years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah did. - II Chronicles 26:3-4

If you've read through the list of Israel's and Judah's kings in the books of Kings and Chronicles, then you'll know that the phrase "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" is, unfortunately, an uncommon phrase.  Yes, it's in there a few times, but more often than not, the Bible tells us that the kings did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.  Honestly, it gets a bit depressing.  But now and then, there arose a king that decided to trust the Lord and do His will, and Uzziah was one of those kings. . . for a while.

Second Chronicles 26 details how Uzziah sought God, and because of that reliance, God made him prosper (v. 5).  The chapter also tells us that God helped Uzziah in the fights against his enemies (v. 7).  The Scripture goes on to talk about how much Uzziah accomplished during his reign because of God's aid and blessing.  Unfortunately, in verse 16, the story takes a horrific turn: But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. 

Everyone knew that only the priests were allowed to go into the temple and burn incense.  It was their job.  It was God's command.  It had been that way since the temple and priesthood began.  But Uzziah didn't care about God's rules anymore.  Evidently, all his prosperity had gone to his head, and Uzziah had begun to think that he was truly "somebody."  Like Nebuchadnezzar, he looked around at his kingdom and accomplishments and said, "Wow!  Look at what I've done!  I must be the best king ever!"  God knocked Nebuchadnezzar off his self-appointed pedestal by turning him into some form of a beast that lived off the land.  He humbled Uzziah by striking him with leprosy--a disease that remained until Uzziah's death.

There is a reason the Bible warns us over and over again about pride.  God hates it, and it's dangerous--not just to us, but to others as well.  Not only that, but I want to take particular notice of the phrasing the Bible used, But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction.  When he was strong.  When I read that phrase, I immediately thought of Paul's thorn.  Though the Bible doesn't specify the nature of Paul's thorn, it does tell us why the thorn was there.  In fact, it tells us twice in the same verse: And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (II Corinthians 12:7) 

The purpose of Paul's thorn was to keep him weak and humble, and I dare to say that the purpose of our thorns may be the same.  You see, when we're weak, we're dependent on God.  We stay close to Him.  We lean on Him for strength.  Our thorns serve as reminders that we cannot make it on our own.  Without them, we're in danger of becoming like Uzziah or Nebuchadnezzar.  In that perfect world where everything goes our way, who needs God, right?

I don't know about your thorn, but I know about my own.  I know how many times I've begged and cried to the Lord to remove it.  I understand how often I've felt hindered from doing the things I want to do for the Lord because of my thorn.  I feel the heartache each morning when I awake to realize that the thorn is still present.  But after reading today's passage in II Chronicles, I see things differently.  If it takes a thorn to keep me humble and dependent on God, then I'll bear the thorn gladly because the alternative is completely unacceptable.  Yes, I see now that sometimes weaker is better!

Monday, May 2, 2016

When God Turns Up the Heat

I love my crock-pot!  Actually, I should say I love my crock-pots--I have four.  One is a jumbo size and is perfect for cooking soups and chili.  The next one is a rectangular one that I often use for cooking a roast or a whole chicken.  The next size down is a round one that is ideal for cooking baked potatoes and other side dishes.  And lastly, I have a tiny one that I use for dips, nacho cheese, or something small like cocktail weenies.  See what I mean?  I love my crock-pots, and I use them all the time.

I'm the type of person that works better in the morning.  I just seem to have more energy and motivation before lunch, so for that reason (among others), crock-pots are my preferred method of cooking.  There's something completely fantastic about finishing a long day of work and remembering that I don't have to fix dinner because it's already done and waiting for me in the crock-pot.  How wonderful! (I will admit, though, that some days it is difficult to smell dinner cooking all day without sneaking a small bite. . .or seven.  Oops!)

I am of the opinion that God is more of a crock-pot chef than He is a microwave cook.  Just look at His track record.  It took Him seven days to create the world when you and I both know that He could have done it with a single breath or batting of the eye.  He waited twenty-five years before fulfilling His promise of a son to Abraham.  He allowed the children of Israel to wander for forty years before finally letting them enter the Promised Land.  He postponed His visit to the sick Lazarus until four days after he'd been dead.  Over and over again, we see God turning up the heat on his children and then waiting for the perfect timing to perform His will.  Sounds like crock-pot cooking to me!

Here's the funny thing.  I enjoy crock-pot cooking when I'm the one doing the cooking, but when I'm the one being cooked, I'd much rather have the microwave.  It's quick.  It's easy.  Yes, the heat is just as intense, but it doesn't last anywhere near as long.  Yes, I'd have to say that on a spiritual level, I'm a microwave kind of girl.  But then I remember how much better things taste out of the crock-pot as opposed to the microwave, and I realize that God is doing me a favor.  Microwaves tend to make things tough, and honestly, they're really not good for us because of how they manipulate our food.  Crock-pots, on the other hand, produce tender, juicy foods and are perfectly safe because they don't try to manipulate the molecules in the food through some unnatural means.  They simply apply long hours of constant heat.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be tough in the sense of being hard-hearted and difficult to be around.  I don't want my circumstances or myself manipulated in a way that's not good for me just so that I can get out of the heat a little sooner.  Instead, I'd rather be tender-hearted and sweet, even if it means I have to spend time in the "crock-pot" of life.  I'll turn out better for it.  After all, God has never messed up a recipe yet.

Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. - Micah 7:7