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Friday, December 15, 2017

Four Steps to Making It Through When It Feels God Has Forsaken You

Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.  The chapter goes on to explain.  A time to be born and a time to die.  A time to reap and a time to sow.  A time to speak and a time to keep quiet.  And while the following principle is not mentioned in this particular passage, its truth is echoed throughout the Bible:  a time for us to be thrilled with our lives and a time for us to wonder if this is all there is.

You've been there, right?  Sometimes, life seems perfect.  A great spouse, a beautiful home, money in the bank, a healthy body, loving children, a faithful church.  Absolute perfection!  And in these times, you happily tell everyone, "No, I wouldn't change a thing."  But let's face it, life is seldom perfect.  More often than not, we find ourselves saying, "I wish. . . "  Yes, the truth is some days we endure life rather than enjoy it.  We wake up in the morning and sigh, dreading the oncoming day of bills to pay, doctor's appointments, rowdy children, ungrateful spouses, and the monotony of nothing new to look forward to.  It is during these stretches we look up to Heaven and question, "God, where are you?  I know this is the day you've made, and I should rejoice and be glad in it, but how can I?  I'm so tired and weary.  My life is ho-hum, and it seems there's no escape.  Please help me, Lord, or at least let me know You've heard my cries.  I don't know how much longer I can take this!"

What do we do on those imperfect days?  How do we carry on when it seems like even God has forsaken us and left us stuck in the stress?  Fortunately, Psalm 44:17-20 gives us a four-step guide to follow.  The beginning of the chapter describes how God led the children of Israel out of Egypt and protected them through the wilderness.  But then it goes on to discuss how they passed through the hands of various enemies because of their disbelief and disobedience to God's commands and sometimes just because it was part of God's plan.  By verse 17, things look grim, but check out what the psalmist says,

All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;

Notice, first off, that the psalmist is not pretending like everything is fine.  He's not putting on a false smile and shoving his problems aside.  He acknowledges "All this is come upon us."  No sugar-coating; only truth.  But the powerful part of this verse is that he doesn't stop there (like many of us do when life doesn't go our way).  Instead, he implements this life-giving plan.

1) Remember Who God is and what He's done.yet have we not forgotten thee
When times are rough, and it seems that God has forsaken, stop and remember.  Think back to the names and attributes of God.  Bring to mind all the times He's helped you in the past.  Fill your heart and mind with His promises, knowing that God does not lie.  In other words, spend less time focusing on the problem and more time focusing on God, even if you can't see Him yet in your current situation.

2) Keep doing the right things.neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant
I don't know about you, but when life turns upside down, I have the inclination to turn away from the things I know to be right.  For example, when facing a health crisis, I'll stop taking my vitamins and exercising, arguing that those things are apparently not working.  Some will stop serving God or going to church because they feel it isn't helping them any.  But we shouldn't stop doing right when things aren't going our way.  If you think about it, the behavior is downright childish.  But, it's also natural.  Still, we must fight the temptation to withdraw from the right.  It is often those things that will eventually turn things around for us.

3) Don't quit.Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way
Not only does heartache make us want to stop doing the right things, it often makes us want to give up on everything.  We're tired of working hard and getting nowhere.  We're sick of fighting just to make ends meet.  It's too difficult, so why keep trying?  As Job's wife suggested, we're ready to curse God and die.  But quitting is never a good choice.  We must be strong and keep going, even if it's a struggle to get out of bed.  Take it one step at a time, but whatever you do, don't quit!

4) Don't turn to false idols.If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
I know what you're thinking--we don't do that kind of thing anymore, right?  WRONG!  Not all idols are made of stone or wood or even gold.  An idol is anything in our lives that takes the place of God.  For example, if we turn to something else to find peace, joy or comfort, that "thing" is an idol in our lives.  For me, this idol typically takes the form of junk food and energy drinks.  When life gets me down, it's not uncommon to see me stuffing cookies in my face and washing them down with caffeine-laden sodas.  I tell myself I need these things to help me get through, to cope with the stress of life, but the truth is they only make things worse.  And the guilt I feel over seeking comfort in these things instead of from God is overwhelming.  If you're like me, you get clever in trying to justify your idolatry and say things like, "Well, God wasn't helping me, but this does."  Lies!  We know it.  But when life is hard, it's easier to believe the lies than it is the truth.  That's why it's so important to have this battle plan in place before the fight even begins.

My friend, I wish every day could be filled with roses and butterflies and singing birds, but life's not that way.  There will be hard days--or even weeks, months or years.  There will be times when you question whether God cares or hears.  I'm here to remind you that He does and that you will get through this if you'll follow the psalmist's plan for keeping things in the proper perspective.  Sometimes life gets ugly, but that doesn't mean we have to get ugly alongside it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Chasing Peace

Peace.  It's a word (though not necessarily a concept) that is highly visible this time of year.  We see it in lights of red, blue and green.  It is neatly scrolled upon thousands of Christmas cards.  It graces our carols in phrases like "Peace on earth, goodwill to men" and "Sleep in heavenly peace."  But what is peace?  The online dictionary gives a five-fold answer.  Peace is. . .

1) a state of tranquility or quiet
2) freedom from oppressive thoughts or emotions
3) harmony in personal relations
4) a state or period of mutual concord between governments or nations
5) used interjectionally to ask for silence or calm or as a greeting or farewell

I've been praying for peace a lot lately.  Peace on earth would certainly be wonderful, but I'm afraid my motives have been more selfish.  My prayers have been focused more on the first two definitions: tranquility and freedom from oppressive thoughts and emotions.  Yes, it would seem that the most wonderful time of the year is not necessarily the most peaceful time of the year.  With shopping and dinners and caroling and cantatas and the list goes on, who has time to be tranquil or quiet?  And with the million things to do and places to be, whose mind isn't running around in circles?

In my Bible reading this morning, I came across a verse I've read a million times, but a particular phrase struck a chord in me and caused me to question, "How do you do that?" Psalm 34:14 says, Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

Depart from evil. - That's pretty self-explanatory.  Run away from bad things.  Don't do evil.

Do good.  - Again, no real explanation needed here.

Seek peace. - Yes, I get that.  In fact, that's what I've been doing.  I've been praying for peace in my heart and seeking to find peace in the midst of the holiday craziness (as well as all the other craziness life throws our way.)

Pursue it. - Say what now?  Pursue peace?  What does that mean?  How do you chase after something that has no physical form?

That, my friends, is the question I pose to you today.  (I know, you thought I was going to tell you the answer, but I'm not going to make it that easy.)  I want you to meditate on this thought today and leave a comment when you have an answer.  What does it mean to you to pursue peace?  I can't wait to hear what you have to say.  And remember, your answer may be a help and encouragement to someone else, so please take a moment to give us your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

God Can Resolve It - A Guest Post

Today I want to do something a little different.  As I prayed and thought about what to post today, nothing was coming to my mind or heart.  When I checked my email, I found a message that I desperately needed (and oddly enough went right along with my lesson about the plankton) and felt I should share it with you.  Below is the email I received this morning from the best-selling author, Eileen Wilder.  Let me say, I have read some Eileen's books and listened to a few of her podcasts, and I've been happy with her message.  Even though I have just released an entire series of books on anxiety and depression, I still intend to purchase Eileen's book, The Pivot Plan.  Maybe I'll do a review of it in a future post.  But for now, take heart is the message she shared today, and enjoy the video at the end of one of my favorite newer songs.

Have you ever felt like you had gotten "victory" in an area...only to find out it resurfaced?

...Recently I found myself struggling with issues I thought I had totally conquered (overwhelm & anxiety) and as it kept surfacing I was getting more and more frustrated!

I was getting mad at myself. "Why is this happening? Where am I missing it?"

And to be totally honest with you...

I began believing that it would never change. That I would wrestle with feeling overwhelm and anxiety forever.

Have you ever been there? Tempted to settle with less than God's best?

So often we get tempted to try to make it happen ourselves, and without realizing it—we are trying to struggle to receive something God would like to FREELY give us.

During a really hard day, I was so discouraged...but I felt the Lord whisper to me: 

"In a split second—I can completely resolve it."

It reminded me of 2 Chronicles 26:29, "...all the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people, for the thing came about suddenly."

It was as if my attitude shifted from "It-will-Never-Happen" to:


If you're struggling with something that is very discouraging, perhaps even emotionally debilitating—I showed up in your inbox today to remind somebody:

And in a split SECOND—He is gonna completely resolve it. Suddenly.

If this resonates with you, I encourage you to let the issue GO—and Trust God right now, fully and completely—to take care of your issue.

It's not yours any longer. It's His issue to solve. Amen?

If you are looking to dive in deeper into how to stop struggling and start receiving, my new book The Pivot Plan is designed to reduce stress and resolve low-level depression. You'll find a step-by-step system that will give you:
  • 4 tried and true methods to stop striving that are simple, easy & fast
  • A reframing technique that ends anxiety (in as little as ten seconds)
  • Simple strategies for preventing & defeating low moods
  • The #1 way to actually stop overthinking everything and quit worrying (hint: it has nothing to do with suppressing negative thoughts)
I am 100% convinced before you finish reading The Pivot Plan, you will feel lighter, freer, and enjoy an unexplainable peace of mind.

You can learn more + find some cool new Bonuses (Worth $397!) I'd love to give you.

I know you're going to trust God like never before. Know I appreciate you and am cheering you on every step of the way!

P.S. If you haven't Pre-Ordered yet we have a special BONUS to offer! (Value $397) It's an awesome 2-hour New Year's Strategy Session! (It's me, January 5, 2018, for 2 hours to get you strategic about winning your year).


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

God Wants Us To Be Like Plankton

God works in wonderful and mysterious ways.  As I was preparing for my Sunday School lesson last week, I felt the Lord leading me to focus on the idea of wandering.  Easy enough since the series I'm teaching on is called "The Wilderness Wanderings," but the prompting was a little more specific.  In the passage we were to discuss, the children of Israel had arrived back at Kadesh, thirty-eight years after they had decided it was too difficult to go in and conquer the Promised Land.  Because of their unbelief, they had wandered around in the wilderness for decades, only to arrive back where they had begun.

As I was reading a book completely unrelated to my Bible studies, I came across some interesting information about plankton, and through it, God gave me a timely reminder.  Did you know that the word "plankton" is derived from a word that means "wanderer"?  The reason for this, according to the article, is that plankton (organisms that serve as a significant food source for much of the ocean-dwellers) begin their journey on the ocean floor.  Unable to swim against the current, they are at the mercy of the shifting tides, which eventually carry them to the ocean's surface.  Once there, the plankton (specifically phytoplankton) soaks up valuable nutrients from the sun and begin the process of photosynthesis.  At the proper time, the plankton is then carried back down into the sea where it becomes fuel and nutrition for other ocean life.  In fact, 50% of the oxygen we breathe comes from plankton, while the remaining 50% comes from plant life on land.  Who knew the life cycle of plankton could be so exciting?

But here's what I learned.  Wandering isn't always a bad thing, and finding ourselves back where we started could all be part of God's plan for us.  Like plankton, we have been called to soak up the light (the Light of God's Word and His truth) and then to take it to those who dwell in darkness.  I'm sure the plankton would be delighted to float on the water's surface soaking up more and more energy for itself, but God has other plans for it.  Similarly, God wants more for us than to just soak up as much of Him as we can get, basking in the warmth and goodness of His love.  Yes, He wants us to do that and allows times in our lives for us to do just that.  But then, He wants us to share what we've learned with others.  He has called us to see beyond ourselves and to be willing to offer life and warmth to those who need it.  He wants us to be like plankton!

Times of wandering are often difficult and frustrating.  So much is uncertain, and we grow weary with the journey.  But remember this--our wandering has a purpose.  It is during these times that we learn and develop.  And whether we realize it or not, it is on the journey that we receive the energy and life-giving power we need to reach out and help others.  So, view the wandering as a time of growth, and when you find yourself back where you started, ask the Lord if perhaps it's time for you to share what you've been given.  Look beyond yourself to the needs of others and trust that God will get you where you need to go in His perfect timing.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 5:13-16

Monday, December 11, 2017

Are You For Real?

Recently, in my daily reading, I came across an interesting idea for the new year.  Instead of making New Year's resolutions (which I rarely stick with), the author suggested choosing a word or phrase that would be your theme for the year.  She gave some guidelines and ideas about what kind of word or phrase to select and then shared what she had chosen after much prayer and Bible study.  I liked the idea and began praying about what word or phrase the Lord would have to be my motto for 2018. No answer.  Well, that's not entirely true.  On several other occasions, I came across this same suggestion about selecting a word or phrase for the new year.  "I'm trying," I grumbled, "but nothing is coming to mind."  Frustrated, I put the thought aside.  After all, my brain has enough to focus on without constantly whirling about trying to decide on a motto.

But then, as I relaxed in the tub last night, the phrase came to me as if it had been whispered in my ear.  It was quiet but precise, and immediately, I knew I had my motto--"Get Real."  Ironically enough, God even solidified the idea in my mind while I was watching a Christmas episode of one of my favorite shows, When Calls the Heart.

A man had bought a gift for his new wife.  In his mind, the jeweled, spider brooch was rare, exquisite and breath-taking.  Well, he was right on the last point.  When the wife "stumbled upon" his gift for her before Christmas (yes, she was sneaking around, but hey, that's part of the fun of gift-giving, right?), her breath caught.  Never in her life had she seen something so hideous and gaudy.  She took the brooch and sold it to a traveling peddler, hoping the husband would assume he had lost the gift and would buy her something else (can we say "ungrateful"?).  Anyway, her scheme was discovered by the local constable who told her she was going to put the brooch back, and when her husband gave it to her on Christmas morning, she was going to do the right thing and act surprised and delighted.  She did, and the husband was none the wiser.

Oh, how I can relate to the wife on that Christmas morning!  Putting on a show.  Playing a part.  Doing what's expected.  Hiding my real feelings.  After all, that's what we're supposed to do, right?  As Christians, aren't we supposed to smile through the heartache, laugh when we want to cry and encourage others when we'd rather just sit down on the couch with a tub of ice cream in one hand and a pan of brownies in the other?  When someone asks how we're doing, shouldn't our answer be something like, "I'm so blessed" or "I'm wonderful because God is so good to me"?  After all, we're supposed to be the light of the world, and we can't do that if we're in the dark.

So, what do we do?  We shove our hurts and frustrations deep down inside and put on an act.  We smile and sing and serve, but all the while, we're crying and dying on the inside, and we're too afraid to let anyone else see.  What would they say?  How would people respond to your despair or confusion?  Surely it's better to just keep your feelings to yourself, right?

I get a lot of comments from readers of my blog and books and from those who watch my teaching videos on YouTube, and the thing I hear the most is, "I love how genuine and real you are.  It makes me know like I'm not the only one who feels this way."  You know what that tells me?  It tells me that people don't need someone who's polished and refined and "practically perfect in every way."  They need transparency.  They need someone who is flawed, who gets frustrated from time to time and who falls as often as she dances (though neither are pretty sights, I admit).  They don't want or need someone on a pedestal.  They need to see someone walking through the muck of life alongside them and saying, "Here, let me give you a hand."

Funny thing, even though I've been told that a hundred times or more, I still find myself hiding behind a mask of self-righteousness and togetherness.  I fear what others might say if I reveal too much of myself, too much of my struggles, too much of my reality.  What, for example, would others say if they knew I was typing out this devotion in my pajamas--no makeup, no jewelry--shoot, I haven't even brushed my hair or teeth yet?  Or how about this one?  How can I possibly admit that I'm engaged in a fierce battle with anxiety and depression when I've just released an entire book series on how to handle those things?  Who would want to buy those books if the principles within them don't even work for the one who wrote them?  See what I mean?

The truth is, I'm afraid to reveal too much of myself because I'm afraid of what others might think of me.  I'm terrified of losing their respect or even their love.  The question that plagues my mind night and day is, "What would happen if people found out I'm not as nice and sweet as they think I am?"  I honestly don't want to think about it, but I don't think the Lord is giving me a choice.  He's been working in my life a lot over the past few months, and I've been struggling to identify exactly what He's doing.  But I believe I have my first clue--get real.  In my daily life.  In my relationships.  In my ministry.  I believe that God wants me to remove the mask and show the world the real Dana Rongione, scary though it may be.  No more hiding behind what I believe others want and expect of me.  It's time for me to be what God has called me to be and to admit (and show others) that I am not "practically perfect in every way."  That being said, though, I can also serve as a picture of imperfect progress.  No, I haven't arrived, and I have a LONG way to go, but I'm making progress nonetheless.

What about you?  Are you tired of playing a part?  Do you fear what others might think of you if you were to take off the mask and be who you really are?  If so, I invite you to adopt my New Year's motto--"Get Real."  It won't be easy, and it probably won't be fun.  But I sense God telling me that it's necessary.  We can't hide forever, and I have the feeling I'll be a greater help and influence to others by being real than I will be by having it all together.  So, with that, it's time for an introduction.

Hi.  My name is Dana Rongione.  I eat way too much chocolate and drink too much caffeine.  My hair has been white since before I was 20-years old, so I color it each month.  I chose the color red because I felt it best reflected my personality--fiery.  I often work in my pajamas or my "work clothes" which so closely resemble pajamas that I've been known to sleep in them.  I crave order and routine and get quite cranky when those things aren't possible.  I've been known to snap at others when they throw off my groove or interrupt me when I'm doing "important work."  Some days my patience is as thin as tissue paper and my mood is as stormy as the weather we're experiencing here today.  I long with all my heart to love and follow the Lord, but some days I feel like I take as many steps backwards as I do forward.  I am socially awkward and despise talking on the phone.  I enjoy hiking but hate bugs and things that slither, creep or crawl.  On more than one occasion, I've spoken ill of a fellow Christian and even fellow church members.  During any given week, I can swing from thinking the world couldn't make do without me to feeling I could disappear entirely and no one would notice.  I have barked at my husband more times than I care to admit and questioned God so many times that I've lost count.  And sometimes I go to church because I'm supposed to instead of because I want to.  I am far from perfect, and I know it.  And now, you know it too.  Welcome to reality!  It's not always pleasant, but no matter how you look at it, the truth will always set us free.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Promises, Promises

I have become fascinated with the book of Nehemiah, and not only that, but also with the character of the prophet himself.  After the Israelites had rebuilt the temple and the wall, there was a great revival in the land.  As Ezra stood up and read the law of the Lord, the people wept openly and repented of their sins.  They also made a covenant with God and secured it in writing, determined they wouldn't be like their ancestors who had consistently turned away from God.

The covenant contained many elements, but to highlight a few, they swore to God that they would not intermarry with other lands that did not serve the one, true God.  They agreed that there would be no buying or selling on the Sabbath day because it was set aside to be holy.  They vowed to pay a tithe to the service of the house of God and to offer up the firstfruits.  And the Levites and those who were selected to serve in the house of God promised to do their part in bringing in the offering of corn, new wine, and oil. Their final words were "We will not forsake the house of our God."

As you can imagine, Nehemiah was thrilled by this turn of events.  He couldn't have known when he gathered the people together to rebuild the wall that the construction project would turn into a revival of hearts and souls.  What a blessing, but I'm afraid the people weren't wholly as committed as they said.  That's the thing about revival.  True revival is real, and it changes us.  But what appears to be revival is sometimes nothing more than an emotional high that wears off once the reality of life kicks in and the warm, fuzzy feeling goes away.  Evidently, that's what happened here.

In chapter 13, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem after being away for a while, and he is dismayed by what he finds.  The people had broken every promise they had made.  Verse 10 tells us that the tithes were not paid and the Levites had fled and forsaken the house of God.  Verses 15-16 speak of how the people were buying and selling on the Sabbath day.  Verses 23-24 talk of how the children of Israel had married with the children of Ammon and Moab, and their children couldn't even speak the Hebrew tongue.

Promises are lovely but only if we keep them.  It aggravates me to the very core to hear someone make a vow they may not be able to keep, even in a movie.  "We'll find your father.  I promise."  How can you promise that?  It's not within your power to make it happen.  "I promise I'll be there for you."  What if you can't?  What if you're hindered in some way?  My philosophy is that we should never promise to do but to try.  "I promise I'll try my best to..."  And then, only if we really intend to do so.

I'm not alone in this thinking.  The Bible says it's better not to make a vow at all than to make one and break it. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6)  The children of Israel would have been better off to keep their mouths shut, but instead, they made both an oral and written covenant to God that they would abide by all His laws, and then they refused to follow through on what they had promised.

The moral of the story?  Be careful with your words.  Don't promise something unless you're confident you can follow through on it.  If you're not certain, just keep quiet.  By all means, try to do good, but don't promise if it's not in your power to live up to that promise.  Otherwise, you'll end up eating those words later, and they have a nasty taste. . . just ask the children of Israel.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Why of the Wilderness

Wilderness.  Dry.  Barren.  Dark.  Scary.  Tiring.  We all face wildernesses in our lives from time to time.  The idea of a wilderness can be summed up as a long stretch of time in which we feel lost, hopeless, confused, frazzled or all of the above. But here's the tricky thing about the wilderness.  For some reason, we have come to believe the source of the wilderness is one of two things: (1) God placing us there as a consequence for sin in our lives or (2) Satan and his minions driving us there to destroy us.  And while I do not doubt that both of those may occasionally be true, I feel it's necessary to inform you of a third possibility--God puts us there to teach us and help us grow.

The Bible tells us that sometimes God leads us into the wilderness, not because of sin, but because He has a plan.  For example, when He led the children of Israel out of Egypt, He took them the long way around, through the wilderness.

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. - Exodus 13:17-18

God led them into the wilderness, and it was there that they learned many things, including how to trust God (though admittedly, it was a LONG lesson).  But the point is that God led them.  The enemy didn't trick them into going that way.  The people didn't choose the path.  God had a plan, and that plan involved the wilderness.

We see the same lesson in Matthew 4:1. Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.  Say what now?  Why would God lead His own Son into the wilderness?  Why would He put Him in the position to be tempted of Satan?  Why would He insist that Jesus fast for forty days?  God had His reasons, and those plans could only be accomplished in the wilderness.

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty (I have no idea where that saying comes from).  We love it when life is great, don't we?  All is well when there's money in the bank, food on the table, love in our marriage, obedience from our children, health in our bodies, and so on.  But is there growth?  Aren't we more prone to go it alone and forget God when the going is good?  However, when times are tough, and we can't find answers, our troubles drive us to the Lord.  In Him, we find strength.  During the darkest times in our lives, we discover just how brightly the truth of God's Word can shine.  Yes, it is in the wilderness that we find out just how much we need God.

Perhaps you're painfully familiar with the wilderness.  Maybe you've been there for months or even years, and you're starting to grow bitter and weary.  Weary of the journey.  Fatigued from the battles.  Discouraged by your lack of progress.  May I remind you that many times the wilderness is a blessing, not a curse?  It is an indication that God is working on you, molding you into what He wants you to be.  It is a reminder, too, that you are not alone, for God not only leads us into the wilderness; He also guides us through it.  He walks with us every step of the way, giving us the strength to complete the journey.

Why the wilderness?  Because God has something beautiful planned for you, and the wilderness is His staging ground.  Hold on tight!  God is about to do something greater than you could ever imagine, and when you see what He has in store for you, you'll look back at your time in the wilderness, smile, and whisper, "It was worth every mile!"

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Training in Progress

Overall, I'd have to say that Barnabas' training is going well.  With all the obstacles he's had to overcome, including a recurring skin infection, he has made great strides toward becoming the dog we want him to be.  The crazy thing is that he'll do a wonderful job one day, but then the next day it's like we're back to square one.  Seriously?  One day he understands and obeys the rules, but the next, he does whatever he wants.  It's so frustrating, but as God quickly pointed out to me, Barnabas is not the only one with this problem.

As I voiced my distress to the Lord, I heard that still, small voice whisper, "Dana, you have learned to walk with me, but how many times do you try to run ahead of me just as Barnabas does with you?"  Um, well. . . Of course, the lesson didn't stop there (it never does, does it?).  "You know what I require of you, and you understand the rules I've put in place for you, yet how many times do you act in accordance to your own desires rather than my will?"  Um, well. . . (eloquent, huh?)  "And, Dana, you complain that Barnabas has difficulty staying focused on you, but I must point out how many times you fail to focus on me because you're distracted by so many other things."  Okay, Lord, I get it.  I'm just like Barnabas, but fortunately, You are not just like me!

Aren't you glad we serve a Master who is patient and kind, One who understands that we will often fail and forget everything we've learned?  As I examine my own fatigue and frustration over Barnabas' training (or lack thereof, depending on the day), I am overwhelmed by how good God is to me.  He's had to put up with a lot.  I will readily admit I have not been the perfect child--far from it!  But never once has He given up on me.  Not once has He declared, "That's it!  I've tried to teach you, but you keep doing the same thing over and over again, and I've had it."  No, His love for me is so great that He'll keep training me until I become exactly what He wants me to be.  Now that's a loving Master!

But the lesson goes one step further.  Second Corinthians 1:3-4 says, Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.  In other words, God bestows compassion on us, and He expects us to show others that same level of compassion.  This means each time I'm tempted to throw in the towel with Barnabas' training and simply allow him to do what he wants, I need to remember that God has compassion and hasn't given up on me.  And since I need to be like Him, I must act in the same manner.  It will be better for me.  It will be better for Barnabas (who, by the way, is not as disorderly as I may make it sound).  In short, I would do well to remember that, like me, my sweet pup is not a finished product--he's a work in progress.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6

Monday, December 4, 2017

My Grown-Up Christmas List

As I drove over to visit my parents last week, I was listening to one of the local Christian radio stations.  In between Christmas music, they were talking with callers about the topic of "What is the one wish you have for Christmas that money can't buy?"  It was an interesting discussion.  One caller mentioned that all she wanted for Christmas was for her son to get off drugs and clean up his life.  Another mother described that her Christmas wish was for her prodigal son to come home.  I was amazed at how many mothers called in with hopes for their children's welfare and/or spiritual growth.

Naturally, as I listened, I wondered what my answer would be.  What is one thing I want for Christmas that money can't buy?  Several things immediately came to mind.  Healing for myself and my family.  A less stressful and more consistent work schedule for Jason.  Expansion in my ministry and outreach.  Spiritual growth and more faith.  Answered prayer for friends and family who have heart-wrenching needs.  It would seem my problem is not thinking of one thing but rather narrowing it down to one thing.

Money is nice.  In fact, I often dream of having more (who doesn't?), but it does my heart good to be reminded from time to time that money isn't everything, nor can it buy everything.  Not all things in life have a monetary price tag, and not all problems in life can be solved by the almighty dollar.  They can, however, be solved by the Almighty God.

Those mothers who called in to the radio station on behalf of their children weren't doing so with hopes that someone would send them money or buy them something nice.  No, it was their way of reaching out to other Christians and saying, "Please help me pray for my child."  These mothers realized that prayer can accomplish far more than money can.  They are putting their trust and the well-being of their children in God's tender care and encouraging others to do the same.

My grown-up Christmas list doesn't include the latest gadgets or new clothes.  Instead, it is a prayer list.  A compilation of wants and needs that only God can supply.  And I happily share some of the items on that list with you today so that you can help me pray.  I also encourage you to share your Christmas wish in the comments below so others (myself included) can see it and help you pray.  Many prayers are more effective than just one.  So, what's the one thing (or more) you would like to have for Christmas this year, and remember, it must be something money can't buy?

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. - James 5:16

Friday, December 1, 2017

Ah, But You Haven't Met My God!

I can't stand a bully.  There's just something about a person picking on someone weaker that makes my blood boil.  People were not created to walk on one another and stir up trouble amongst themselves.  I guess my aversion to bullying is why I find such great satisfaction in the bully being set straight, like the situation that takes place in II Chronicles 32.

Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, was as mean as they come, and he was determined to destroy Judah.  It wouldn't be his first conquest.  According to his personal proclamation, he had invaded and annihilated many.  Judah was just another puny land to be conquered.

But when Hezekiah, the king of Judah, heard of Sennacherib's plans, he fortified the city and gave the people hope by assuring them God was on their side and would protect them from the enemy.  And we know his pep talk worked because the people relaxed and trusted in God for their salvation.  That is, until the enemy started running his mouth.

Thus saith Sennacherib king of Assyria, Whereon do ye trust, that ye abide in the siege in Jerusalem? Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, The Lord our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it? Know ye not what I and my fathers have done unto all the people of other lands? were the gods of the nations of those lands any ways able to deliver their lands out of mine hand? Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed, that could deliver his people out of mine hand, that your God should be able to deliver you out of mine hand? Now therefore let not Hezekiah deceive you, nor persuade you on this manner, neither yet believe him: for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of mine hand, and out of the hand of my fathers: how much less shall your God deliver you out of mine hand? (vs.10-15)

See what I mean?  A bully through and through.  Not to mention he had an ego the size of the city itself.  Listen to this guy.  "Don't you know what we've done to other lands?  Their gods weren't able to save them.  What makes you think your God will save you?  You're dirt.  You're scum.  You're weak.  Don't hold onto false hope.  Your God can't help you any more than those other gods helped their people.  You're done for!"

Hezekiah's response was to pray, which is an admirable response to such a threat.  However, I do wish he would have also given a little speech of his own.  I'd love to see Hezekiah stand up to King Bully and say, "Ah, but you see, you haven't met my God.  My God isn't like these other gods who have no eyes to see or ears to hear.  My God is mighty.  My God is always present.  He never leaves or forsakes me, and He has promised to protect me from fiends like you.  So, if I were you, I'd take your army and run back home.  We may be weak, but I assure you, my God is not!"

Maybe I've watched too many movies, but I like the idea of a showdown like that.  However, Hezekiah didn't need to tell the enemy anything.  God spoke loud and clear, and the Assyrians soon learned there was something different about Judah's God.

And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword. (vs. 21)

You were saying, Sennacherib?  What was it that you were going to do?  Oh, yeah, you were going to prove that Judah's God was like all the rest.  Hmm, how did that work for you?  Well, seeing how an angel destroyed his army and his own sons killed him (in the house of his god no less), I'm guessing that wasn't exactly what the king had in mind.  Talk about poetic justice!  Not only did the one true God prove that He could and would protect His children, but he also confirmed to Assyria that their god wasn't even able to save their king from assassination and apparently could not be trusted.  I think it's safe to say God doesn't like bullies either.

Perhaps you're facing a bully in your life.  Maybe it's someone who is always putting you down, telling you you're not good enough.  It could be that the bully has no physical form or even that the guilty culprit is yourself.  Whatever the case, is there something within you that leaves you feeling incapable, insufficient and hopeless?  Is there an inner voice telling you, "Don't cling to false hope.  You'll never get out of here.  The situation is inescapable.  Not even your God can help you now."?  If so, I urge you to remember this account of Judah and Assyria.  Respond to that accusatory voice in confidence, "Ah, but you haven't met my God!"  And spend some time reminding yourself (and your accuser) precisely who your God is and what He's capable of.  Then allow God to fight the battle and destroy the enemy.  There is no room for bullies in the life of a Christian.

God is in you.  God is with you.  God is for you.  Cling to those truths today no matter what the enemy may say.  Bullies seldom tell the truth, but God can always be trusted.  Just ask Hezekiah.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Do You Hear What I Hear?

A couple of evenings ago, while putting away laundry, I heard the strangest sound in our bedroom.  The best way I can describe it is that it was like the sound of scratching mixed with the sound of static.  Oddly enough, it sounded as if it were coming from inside the wall.  Now, we've had mice and squirrels inside our walls before, but this noise was distinctly different.  Uncertain what else to do, I called for Jason.

Evidently, he had heard the same sound that morning and had dismissed it, thinking it was coming from our neighbor's yard.  Now, he knew it wasn't, so he began to investigate.  He pulled the dresser out, peeking behind to see if he could identify the source of the noise.  I'm sorry to admit that my mind had already played out the worst possible scenarios.  What if it was a water leak that had been pouring away all day long?  What would that cost?  What kind of damage will it have done?  Shaking my head and assuring myself it wasn't water, my mind moved on to the next worst-case scenario.  It definitely has a static-like sound.  What it there's some sort of electrical short inside the walls and any moment now, the entire structure will begin to fill with smoke.

Anxiety is a thief.  It will steal our joy, our peace, and even our sanity.  It creates problems where they don't exist.  It takes everyday occurrences and the assorted odd situation and turns them into floods, fires, and devastating circumstances.  While working on the principles laid out in my book, Rise Up and Build, I have come along way in my journey toward freedom from anxiety and depression.  But this experience with the mysterious sound reminded me that anxiety doesn't take "no" for an answer.  It is determined and adamant to have its way.  In a matter of moments from the time I first heard the noise, my mind had conjured up the thought of losing our home and spending the rest of our lives homeless and destitute.  Good grief!

That's the way anxiety works.  It doesn't stretch the truth.  It stretches what we think might be true.  It turns our daydreams into nightmares and our lives into an endless sea of fear and dread.  It is often the source of discontentment and hopelessness.  And, I hate to tell you this, but it never takes a vacation.  I learned this the hard way.

Despite the urgings in my book to be on guard, ever watchful for the attacks from anxiety and depression, I let my guard down.  After working hard on building up the walls of protection in my life, I saw such significant progress that I evidently let my guard down.  I didn't mean to.  In fact, I didn't even realize that I had done so until I noticed the anxiety pouring in through small cracks in each of my walls.  It began as a stray thought here, a panic episode there and quickly escalated into an all-out battle for my life.  Now, I find myself like Nehemiah's crew--working to repair the walls with one hand while defending my life with a sword in the other hand.  Yes, anxiety is a formidable foe, and we must be on guard constantly lest it slips in unawares.

You would think it would be easy to resist anxiety.  After all, most of its predictions never come to pass.  For example, that horrible, dreadful, deadly noise in my bedroom that was undoubtedly rooted in some form of major electrical damage actually came from a bug.  Somehow, a curious and crazy insect had wedged its way between a picture and the backing of said picture that was hanging on the wall and gotten himself stuck.  The sound we were hearing was the bug flopping around, trying to escape its self-imposed prison.  I understand exactly how it must have felt!

Fortunately, for the bug, there was someone outside of its circumstance who could see and understand its predicament.  Jason adjusted the backing of the frame, allowing the insect to fall free from its captivity.  Praise the Lord, I, too, have Someone who sees and understands my situation and can set me free from my imprisonment.  His first word of advice?  Do what you know to do.  He's given me the keys to my prison.  He's taught me how to build and protect my walls.  Now, I need to do what I know and leave the results up to Him.  Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

What about you?  Is anxiety a formidable foe in your life?  Do you live each day in a prison of your own making?  If so, I encourage you to take the steps necessary to build up the walls of protection around your heart and life and to keep doing what you know to do.  God can set you free, but often He requires a little participation on our part.

Why not begin your journey to freedom from anxiety and depression with a free copy of my book, Rise Up and Build:  A Biblical Approach To Dealing with Anxiety and Depression?  It's free on Kindle through 11/30/17, so act fast.  But don't just download it.  Read it and follow it.  Use it as your guide to freedom, and stop letting anxiety ruin your life!

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. - I Peter 5:7

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

But I'm Already So Tired -- An Excerpt from Rise Up and Build Study Guide

Key verse: 
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. - Galatians 6:9

Recommended Reading: 
Rise Up and Build: A Biblical Approach to Dealing with Anxiety and Depression pp. 27b-29a

Inspiration for the Day: 

Last night, due to my husband’s crazy work schedule and a sick doggie, I didn’t get much sleep. I don’t function well on little sleep—not well at all!

As I stumbled around the house this morning, I noticed several things. I was hungry, thirsty and achy. I had visions of chocolate donuts and Pepsi dancing in my head. I even told my husband, Jason, "I'd give my right arm this morning for some caffeine." I was joking, of course, but I can't deny the cravings were there.

As I thought about this, I remembered reading once how when our bodies are tired, they will crave other things to make up for the lack. My body wasn't really hungry or thirsty (although, I believe it was achy). My body was tired, and no matter how many donuts I ate or sodas I drank, my body would still be tired. Why? Because I'm not giving it what it needs. It needs sleep. Lots and lots of sleep! While food and drink may offer a temporary pick-me-up, they will not fulfill the deeper craving.

I wonder how many times we try to stuff our lives with things to fill the void, knowing deep down that only God can fill that emptiness. I'm not just talking about salvation, but even in the Christian walk, it's possible to meet our cravings without meeting our need. Our spirit craves time with God, but we're too busy to make that happen. Our spirit craves spiritual bread from the Word, but instead, we fill it with television and internet. It's no wonder something always seems to be missing. There's a place in our hearts and lives that only God can fill. It's time we stop trying to stuff it full of other things and start giving ourselves what we truly need.

Discussion Questions: 

1. Describe how you're feeling at this moment. Are you suffering physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually? Be specific.

2. Many people refuse to embark on a journey such as this because they claim they cannot spare the time, money or energy. How much is it worth to you to feel better? If you could purchase a guaranteed cure for your anxiety and depression, how much would you be willing to pay? If you knew for sure that every moment spent on your health was reaping good rewards, how many minutes per day would you be willing to spend?

3. Do you spend time and energy on things that are adding to your anxiety and depression instead of spending that time and energy on things that would remedy them? To what items, activities or people are you turning to fill the void in your life?

4. Are there “to-do’s” in your life that you are doing out of obligation or a desire for approval? Is removing these things an option? Make a list of draining activities you could remove from your life to make more room for the things that truly matter.

Action Step: 

Set a timer for ten minutes and spend that time creating a plan that will allow you to get more rest and still have more time for implementing the practices in the Rise Up and Build book to treat your anxiety and depression. This may require giving up some television or computer time, and you must decide whether it’s worth it to you. Be sure to create a plan you can stick with long term.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

'Tis the Season To Be Better or Bitter

This time of year tends to bring out either the best or the worst in people.  For some, the joy of the holidays puts a smile on their face and a spring in their step.  They give more than usual, do more for others and live out the motto "Peace on earth, good will toward men."

For others, however, the rush and busyness of the season put a grimace on their face and a stomp in their step.  They're more selfish than usual, do less for others and live out the motto "Bah humbug!"  The difference, I believe, lies in a single aspect:  bitterness.

It's difficult to say what makes people bitter around the holidays.  There could be many roots to their resentment, but the outcome is the same--a Scrooge-like attitude and misery to everyone around them.

It's safe to safe we all understand that bitterness is wrong, and we must be careful because it is also VERY contagious (much like the upper-respiratory gunk that's been going around in this area for months now).  But, this morning, I want to help you see exactly how dangerous bitterness can be, and to do that, I want to look at a woman named Naomi.

Naomi's story is a sad one.  Forced to leave her home in Bethlehem, her family, and friends because of famine, she and her husband and two sons settled in the land of Moab.  Over the course of time, she lost not only her husband but both her sons as well.  Distraught over her situation, Naomi decided to return to her home in Bethlehem but urged her two daughters-in-law (Orpah and Ruth) to stay where they were.  After all, Moab was the only home they had ever known.  At first, both daughters-in-law refused, saying that they would instead accompany her to Bethlehem.  But after much protest, Orpah finally conceded to her mother-in-law's wishes.

Ruth, on the other hand, was determined to stick with Naomi.  It is at this point in the story that we realize just how bitter Naomi had become and how much her bitterness cost poor Orpah.  Take a look at what Naomi said to Ruth:  And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. (Ruth 1:15)

Orpah went back to her people.  Nothing wrong with that.  I'm sure she had family and friends in the area, so I see no issue with her staying.  However, it's the next statement that makes the jaw drop.

"She has gone back to her gods."  Moab was a heathen nation that worshiped many gods, none of which was Jehovah.  I have to believe that Elimelech (Naomi's husband) and the family continued to worship the one true God after moving to Moab.  That means Orpah had been introduced to the true God.  But in her bitterness, Naomi turned this poor girl away from the true God and sent her back to her false gods.  Could there be anything more tragic?

And it wasn't just Orpah.  Naomi was trying to force Ruth to do the same.  Evidently, she wanted nothing to do with these two young ladies.  Maybe they reminded her too much of her sons and what she had lost.  Or perhaps, in her warped frame of mind, she thought she was doing what was best for them.  It's hard to say, but what is abundantly clear is that Naomi's bitterness cost Orpah dearly.

We don't know how Orpah's story plays out because the Bible doesn't tell us, but I can't help but wonder how it would have turned out if she had accompanied her mother-in-law to Bethlehem.  How would her life had been different if she had spent the remainder of her days in a land where the true God was worshiped freely?  As we know, things worked out pretty well for Ruth.  So well, in fact, that we find her name in the lineage of Christ.  But what of Orpah?  Not only was she cast away, but she was encouraged to walk away from God.  How very sad!

Watch out for bitterness.  It may begin as a small seed and may seem harmless enough, but it can quickly entangle us in a snare of resentment and frustration.  Not only that, but we need to remember that our bitterness affects and influences more than just ourselves.  If we're not careful, those around us will pay the price for our resentment and frustration, just like poor Orpah.

So, I urge you, in the busyness of this Christmas season, seek to be better, not bitter.  It's best for everyone in your life.

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; - Hebrews 12:15

Monday, November 27, 2017

One of the Most Overlooked Gifts

As I type out this devotion, it is the morning of Black Friday.  While some (perhaps you) are out in the cold, fighting for parking spaces and waiting in long lines for all the super deals offered by the stores, I am snuggled up with Barnabas on the couch in front of a roaring fire.  This is how I do Black Friday!

As I went through my morning routine of having my devotion time and then checking my email (most of which were ads of some sort for Black Friday), I began to think about the search for the perfect gift.  How much time, energy and money do we spend each year trying to find that perfect gift for the friends and family in our lives?  Probably more than we'd care to admit, right?  But as I thought on that this morning, I realized that we take for granted and downright overlook one of the most precious gifts ever given.  It is so valuable that its very name is a form of the word "gift."  Yes, I'm talking about the present.

Let's be honest.  How many of us miss out on the joys and blessings of the day because we're too focused on the past or the future?  Haunted by mistakes we've made.  Worried about what tomorrow may hold.  Looking back.  Looking forward.  Existing in the present but seldom living in it.  I guess it's one of the curses of living in such a fast-paced world.  We don't feel we have the time to stop and smell the roses or take a walk or lend a hand.  We rush through today only to get to tomorrow and repeat the frenzy.  Is it any wonder we're tired, stressed and anxious?  We weren't made to live this way.

Allow me to lay a little Kung-Fu Panda wisdom on you.  According to the wise old turtle, Oogway, "The past is history.  The future is a mystery.  But today is a gift.  That's why it's called the present."  Today is a gift.  The question is, what are we doing with that gift?  Are we enjoying it?  Are we relishing it?  Are we thankful for it?  Or are we too busy living for tomorrow that we barely notice it?

I've been working hard over the past few months to be more mindful of the present.  Simple things like enjoying my food rather than swallowing it whole and taking time to sit on the floor and pet the dog have genuinely impacted how much pleasure I find in each day.  It takes time and effort to live in the moment, but I believe it affects us far more than we realize.

If you feel like a hamster on a wheel, running hard but going nowhere, or life seems like a rut of routine and obligations, then you may be overlooking one of life's greatest gifts--the present.  Slow down. Take a breath.  Enjoy the moment.  After all, we can't change the past, and the future hasn't yet arrived nor is it promised.  So, let's live in today.  Let's take the time to notice each blessing and embrace each opportunity.  Let us not be so focused on tomorrow that we completely lose sight of today.  After all, it is a gift from God.

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

A couple of days ago, I posted a devotion entitled, You Shall Not Pass!  Overall, I received great feedback from the post, but I also got an email that indicated I didn't do a very good job of explaining myself.  The point of the devotion was paying attention to our thoughts and turning them over to God before they created a stronghold in our minds.  I discussed the defense of our minds.

But as one reader pointed out, the best defense is a good offense.  If we are continuously filling our minds with God's Word, there will be little room for other thoughts to enter our minds.  This is a very good point that I failed to mention.  Meditating on the things of God, reading or quoting Scripture, and keeping an open line of prayer are excellent ways of keeping negative thoughts at bay.  The fewer evil thoughts we have, the easier it will be to defend against them and place them in the captivity of Christ.

That being said, it seems I may have also given the impression that the process of "standing up" to our thoughts can be done in our own strength.  If that is the case, I sincerely apologize.  By no means was that my intention.  The Bible makes it clear that without God, we can do nothing.  However, we can do all things through Christ because He gives us strength.  It is only through His power than we can win the war against negative thoughts.

I believe the main point the reader was trying to get across was that the best battle is one that never has to be fought.  In the case of our thoughts, our best defense is the proper offense of keeping our minds focused on God's Word.  Give thanks.  Offer praise.  Quote the Scriptures.  Stay in constant communication with the God of the universe.  As Philippians 4:8 tells us, "Think on these things."  If we do that, we won't face as many enemies in the form of negative thoughts.  Instead, we'll destroy them before they ever take shape.

I hope that has cleared things up, and I appreciate the reader who took the time to point out the omission in my devotion.  The last thing I want to do is to lead people astray by not having a clear message.  So, if anything is ever confusing to you, or if you feel I left something out, please don't hesitate to contact me.  I'm here for you, and it's vital that I be faithful to God's Word and that the message is always clear.  If it's not, I want to know.  Remember, iron sharpens iron!

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. - Proverbs 27:17

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Cart, A Cart, My Kingdom for a Cart! - A Repost

Today I had to pick up some supplies for a wedding with which I'm helping.  The trip was supposed to be relatively simple.  Pick up the wooden bases for the lanterns and some small flameless candles. . . and possibly some ribbon. . .and maybe some floral supplies if they were on sale. . . and. . . and.  As I entered the store, I had it in my mind that I only needed a couple of things, so I bypassed the shopping carts.  After all, I didn't need one for the few things I was picking up.

Unfortunately, a few minutes later, I was standing in the ribbon aisle with a box of candles under one arm, four lantern bases under the other, along with some rolls of burlap.  On each finger I was wearing a roll of ribbon, some sapphire, other emerald.  Knowing that I had better check out or get a cart, I decided to head to the register, but as I did, I noticed some raffia at a good price and remembered that I needed that as well.  I eyed the raffia and then the collection of stuff in my arms and wondered if there was any possible way to add the new item to my current load.  Thankfully, after shuffling some things around, I was able to grab the raffia, after which, I hurriedly made my way to the register before I dropped everything.

Naturally, the line was four customers deep. As I stood there, trying to wait patiently, I felt the ribbon shift.  I readjusted in an effort to secure the falling item, but in the process, I ended up with the sharp edge of the wooden bases cutting into my forearm.  I dared not shift again lest it all come tumbling down.  Finally, another register opened up, and I rushed over and dropped everything onto the counter.  My hands were cramped.  My arms had indentations all over them.  And as I exited the store, I eyed the shopping cart and wondered, Why didn't I just get a cart?  Even if I had only ended up with a few items, this entire experience would have been much more delightful.

You know, I often have the same thought in life.  I march along in my own strength thinking, I can handle this.  It's not that much.  But before I realize it, my arms are full and my strength is gone.  I find myself precariously trying to balance everything lest I drop it all.  I take on too much, and then I pay the price.

And all the while God, just like the shopping cart, is standing by, offering help to carry the heavy load.  His hands don't get tired, and they're big enough to carry whatever I need.  He doesn't get overwhelmed by the weight of the burden or bogged down by the immensity of the task.  He's there.  He's available.  All I need to do is ask, yet I find myself doing the very same thing I did with the shopping cart this morning.  I don't know if it's pride or stubbornness or what, but you would think I would know this by now.  God desires to help me.  In fact, He'll carry the entire load if I'll simply let Him.

So, as I end this post today, I am asking myself, "Why don't I let God carry my load?  Even if I only face small troubles today, the entire experience will be much more delightful."

Are you, too, carrying a heavy load today?  If so, may I urge you to call on the One who can lift any burden and carry any load?  Stop struggling and striving to find that perfect balance.   Give it all to Jesus.  Not only will He carry your burdens, but He will also carry you through those burdens.  He longs to help.  Will you disappoint Him?

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. - I Peter 5:6-7

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

You Shall Not Pass!

I know, I know.  You're probably thinking, What in the world does this have to do with anything?  I thought this was supposed to be a devotion.  It is.  I promise.  I could have described this epic scene from The Lord of the Rings to you, but I felt it would have a greater impact for you to see it for yourself (assuming you haven't seen it before).

I've been thinking about this movie clip for a few weeks now.  As I've already told you, the past couple of months have been busy, stressful and very non-routine.  I like routines.  I like schedules.  I enjoy having a plan for my days and seeing those plans fulfilled.  I'm not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal.  Give me order, please!

But, I am not the author of my life, and invariably, things don't always work out the way I hope or plan.  In times like these, when stress and fatigue are threatening to overwhelm me, I have to heed the advice in my book, Rise Up and Build.  I have to guard my walls:  my thoughts, my words, what I see and what I hear.  I particularly have trouble with my thoughts, and I have to constantly remind myself of II Corinthians 10:5 which says, Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;  And that's where the above movie clip comes into play.  
I see my thoughts as that fiery monster--mean, threatening, scary and relentless.  I see myself as Gandalf, standing before those thoughts and uttering the words in a somewhat calm but authoritative tone, "You cannot pass."  The thoughts seem momentarily stunned by my brave stand, but soon they are pressing forward again, intent on conquering me.  At which time, I summon up every ounce of strength I have and yell, "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"  Seemingly defeated, the thoughts fall away, and I sigh in relief and turn to walk away.  Big mistake!  Never, ever turn your back to the enemy.  If I'm not careful, I will find myself like Gandalf, defeated by the foe I assumed I had destroyed.
That's the thing with battling our thoughts.  It's not a one-time event.  It's a constant war, and we must be wary to never lower our guard.  The mind is a battlefield.  It is here that peace and joy are won or lost.  These constant battles decide whether we will live in faith or in fear.  So, it's imperative that we stay focused and never take our eyes off the enemy.  Not a single thought should be allowed to pass without a thorough inspection of its content and intent.  Those that are in tune with Philippians 4:8 may be allowed entrance.  Those that are not must be treated with a firm stand, "You shall not pass!"
I used to think that bringing thoughts captive simply meant pushing them away or trying to ignore them.  I would find myself saying, "No, I'm not going to think about that" and trying to shove the thought deep into my subconcious (much like sweeping dirt under the rug).  But the problem with that is I didn't handle the problem; I only hid it temporarily.  For the issue to be properly dealt with, it must be addressed and handled.  That means recognizing the thought for what it is (a big, fiery monster out to destroy the abundant life God has promised me), refusing to allow it to remain, and handing it over to God, the only One who can really destroy it.
Several months ago, I started a program on mindfulness.  The first session involved sitting quietly for three minutes and identifying thoughts as they came and went.  I can't even tell you how many thoughts passed through my brain in that three minutes.  The harder I tried not to think, the more ideas came to me.  It was an eye-opening experience because it helped me to see how inattentive I had been to what was going on in my brain.
My challenge for you today is to guard your thoughts.  They can be dangerous and even deadly.  We must be on guard.  We must be tapped into our power source (God).  And we must be vigilant to continuously take a stand and boldly declare, "You shall not pass!"  For some reason, visualizing this movie scene helps me when I'm facing a particularly stubborn thought that is determined to find a hold in my brain.  Maybe it will help you as well.  
Keep in mind that negative thoughts may not have a physical shape, but they are deadly enemies all the same, and we must treat them as such.  Don't give them an inch.  Don't give them access.  And whatever you do, don't turn your back on them.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What's Wrong With Our Churches Today? - Repost

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

And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. - I Kings 22:7-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Are You Faltering or Fighting?

May I be brutally honest with you?  The past few weeks have been busy and somewhat discouraging. On a personal level, we lost Mitch, gained Barnabas and have spent the recent weeks dealing with sickness, training and all that is involved in getting a new dog (especially a young one).  Please don't misunderstand.  I love Barnabas, and he is making significant progress.  It's just been a lot to deal with.

On a professional level, I've been a vendor at three different events in the past three weeks.  Knowing that I had the meetings but uncertain how much I would sell (as is the case with every opportunity), I ordered nearly $200 worth of books to make sure I didn't run out.  With all three events combined, I sold a grand total of five books.  Yep, five!  I have another speaking engagement today to a group of school children, so I don't expect to sell much, but maybe I'll be able to earn at least a little bit of my money back.

To top it all off, as I was thumbing through my journal this morning, I came across my 2017 Goals.  Well, that was depressing!  I haven't met any of them.  The goal sheet included items like making enough money to support the family so Jason could stay home and keep the house while I made more time to write (which is something we would both love!).  Not even close on that score!!!!  There was a goal that I would have improved my health, lowered my blood pressure and stabilized my joints.  While there has been some progress in those areas, it's all a bit up and down.  Some weeks are good while others are not.  Also included in the list was that Mitchell's tumor would be healed and that his strength and stamina would be renewed.  I guess, in a sense, that is the case, but that's certainly not what I had in mind when I wrote my goals for the year.

It's discouraging to look back and feel that I've not lived up to my expectations over the past year.  It makes me wonder if I'm wasting my time.  What am I actually accomplishing with my life?  Some days, it seems we're stuck in a rut of just getting by.  Never enough money to accomplish the things that need to be done.  Never enough time to do the things we would truly enjoy.  Yes, sometimes, it feels like we're just going through the motions, but is that really living?

God promised us an abundant life, but for those of us in full-time ministry, some days, that seems out of reach.  It feels like it's our lot in life to simply give of ourselves and live in obscurity.  But when these feelings of self-pity and discouragement arise, I have to pay attention to the source.  Is it really the circumstances that have me down, or is it the echo of Satan's cries in my ear:  "It's just not fair"?  After all, God never promised an easy road.  He never said that faithfulness to Him would result in smooth sailing.  In fact, He declared just the opposite: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Have the past few weeks been rough?  Sure.  But is God still good?  Absolutely.  Is He still faithful?  No doubt about it.  Can I still believe He's working all things (even these frustrating circumstances) for my good and His glory?  Yes, even though it's difficult to believe at times.

In situations like these, it's so important to know and understand God's promises.  It is His truths that will serve as an anchor during life's roughest storms.  It is His faithfulness that will keep us from giving up and giving in.  But you cannot cling to what you do not know, so I encourage you to spend some time in the Word of God.  Dig out those precious promises.  Write them down.  Commit them to memory.  Hide them in your heart.  That way, when the storms come (and trust me, they WILL come), you'll be ready.  If the Word of God was Jesus' weapon of choice when dealing with difficult times and people, then I believe it's the best weapon of all.

Troubles arise.  Discouragement comes.  But they don't have to destroy us.  We can fight back through prayer and the promises found in the Bible.  And while our immediate circumstances may not change, our attitude and focus surely will.  And that makes all the difference!

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10