Friday, July 21, 2017

What a Tangled Web!

I walked through a spider web this morning. That, in and of itself, is not unusual. What is unusual is that I wasn't outside at the time. No, this spider web was in my house. And it was not a little web by any means. No, this web had its own zip code. It stretched from my curtains to my mantel and then down to my stereo.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I haven't won any "Housekeeper of the Year" awards. In fact, my housekeeping leaves A LOT to be desired (sorry, Mom). Nevertheless, I do frequently take the time to rid my house of spider webs. The problem is that we live in a very old house which means there are a lot of cracks and crevices for pesky little critters to enter in. And enter in they do. I can be completely rid of spider webs in the morning, but by afternoon, my house resembles the ancient crypts. It's unreal how quickly and elaborately these spiders can spin their webs.

You know who else is good at spinning webs? Satan. He can spin webs of discouragement, discontentment, and doubt better than any spider alive. The tricky part about these webs is that, like the web I walked through this morning, they often show up in unexpected places. Before we realize what's happening, we're tangled in a sticky web for which we were unprepared. 

For this reason, the Bible tells us to always be on guard. "Watch and pray," Jesus said. "Put on the whole armor of God." Over and over again, we are warned to expect the unexpected. When we do, we are less likely to become snared in one of Satan's webs.

As you get ready for the day today, be sure to grab your armor, your sword, and your shield. You may be facing fiery darts, but also be on guard for the unseen webs that may be in your path. They can often be as dangerous (and sometimes more) than the fiery darts. Beware!

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. - Ephesians 6:13

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build Devotional:  52 Inspirational Thoughts for Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Pit of Voices

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. - Psalm 40:2

I believe all Christians can relate to this verse in one form or another.  How many times has God delivered us from danger?  How many times has He led us where we needed to go?  While there's loads of good meat in this one verse alone, I want to focus on the phrase "an horrible pit."

Have you ever felt like you were in a pit and no matter how hard you struggled, you just couldn't get out?  Maybe it was a pit of despair.  Or perhaps it was a pit of loneliness.  A pit of depression or a pit of fatigue.  I think we would all agree that those are horrible pits to find oneself in.  But the pit to which David is referring here is even worse.  In the Hebrew, the phrase "an horrible pit" is translated as "pit of voices."  Unfortunately, we can relate to that pit as well.

The world cries out to us, "Have it your way!"  Satan whispers in our ears, "Hath God said. . .?"  Even our own flesh calls out, "Life is hard.  I deserve a little happiness, don't I?"  And somewhere amid the cacophony is the still, small voice of the Savior saying, "Child, follow my lead."

We used to play a game with our church youth group that illustrated this pit of voices rather well.  Each team was made up of two players.  One player traversed an obstacle course while blindfolded, and the other gave the teammate directions.  The trick was that every other team was allowed to speak to the obstacle-facing contestant, and of course, they often chose to shout out incorrect directions meant to confuse, overwhelm and lead astray.  The only way the player could be successful was if he/she drowned out all other voices except that of his/her teammate.

Sometimes in life, I feel like I'm a contestant in this game without even realizing it.  Just like the player, friend and foe alike are filling my ears with advice, direction and suggestions.  It's up to me to filter out all other noise and to listen intently for that still, small voice.  Only then will I successfully finish the course.

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build Devotional:  52 Inspirational Thoughts for Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fit for the Master's Use

In I Chronicles 21, King David sins against God and causes a plague to come upon the people of Israel. Repentant for his disobedience, David seeks to offer a sacrifice to God and plead for mercy. He goes to a man named Ornan and asks to buy a piece of his land on which he wants to offer the sacrifice to God. Ornan, being a good and gracious man, told David that he did not have to buy the land. Ornan would gladly give the land, the oxen for the sacrifice, the wood and whatever else David needed. But notice David’s response: And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings without cost (vs. 24). 

David understood that a sacrifice that didn’t cost him anything wasn’t really a sacrifice at all. He understood the importance of going above and beyond for the Lord because God had certainly done that for him.

You’re probably wondering what that has to do with our health and/or anxiety and depression. Allow me to explain. We are living sacrifices unto God (Romans 12:1), but too often we shy away from anything that’s going to cost us something. The Bible tells us that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and that we should care for it, but we have a tendency to shrug off the conviction about our health because we know if we do what God is asking of us, it’s going to cost us something. It will mean having to give up bad habits, junk food and some of our favorite treats. And sadly, as much as we love God, we obviously love our comfort foods more because we refuse to give them up.

The result is that we are destroying our bodies, and with them, our mental and emotional capabilities. We are unwilling to acknowledge that “garbage in; garbage out” is just as applicable in our physical and emotional health as it is anywhere else. We mistreat our bodies and fool ourselves into thinking that the only consequence is a little extra pudge. We have deluded ourselves and justified our poor health habits, and it has to stop!

I hope you are reading this because you’ve reached the place of King David. I pray you’ve come to the point where you can say, “I know it’s going to cost me something, but it’s definitely worth it. I’m doing this for God, and I’m doing it for me!” If you’re ready to be a living sacrifice fit for the Master’s work, then let’s get started.

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build Good Health:  Practical Insights To Heal Your Emotions by Healing Your Body

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Changing the World One Prayer at a Time

Once or twice a week, I enjoy browsing through Pinterest to find interesting ideas and profound quotations. Recently, one of those quotes struck a chord with me and has been convicting me ever since. It read, "If God answered all of your prayers, would the world look different or just your life?"

That makes you think, doesn't it? As I thought about that quote, I looked back over many of my previous prayers. Prayers for my health, my safety, my provision and my wants and needs. Me, me, me! Sure, I've prayed for the needs of others, but if I'm honest, I haven't spent nearly as much time praying for others as I have for myself. Yes, I have to admit, when it comes to prayers, I'm rather selfish. The sad part is, I didn't even realize it--or at least not the extent of it--until I came across that quote.

I don't know about you, but I want my prayers to move mountains, not just in my own life but in the lives of others as well. I would love to see my prayers change the world, not just my existence. I want to pray prayers that please the Father, lift up the fallen and represent the needs of others. Being a prayer warrior involves not only fighting for your own life, but fighting for the lives of others also. Praying on their behalf. Speaking to God when they can't find the words for themselves.

I encourage you today to examine your own prayer life. Is it self-centered, or do you spend as much time praying for others as you do for your own needs? If your prayers are selfish, what can you do to change that?

Brothers and sisters, let's do what we can do to become the prayer warriors we ought to be. Let's change the world one prayer at a time!

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Dealing With Foul-Weather Friends

I believe we are all familiar with the term fair-weather friends. These are the individuals that only seem to stick around when things are going well, but as soon as the waters grow rough, they're nowhere to be found. Today, however, I want to talk about foul-weather friends. These are the people who seem only to come around when they're in trouble and need something. You know the type, right? So does Jephthah.

In Judges 11, the Scripture tells us of an illegitimate son named Jephthah. Though born to a harlot, the Bible says Jephthah was a mighty man of valor, just like Gideon. However, his stepbrothers could not see past his illegitimacy, and when they were old enough, they cast him out of the house and told him to never return. They wanted nothing to do with him… until, that is, they were in trouble.

And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob: And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon. - Judges 11:5-6

Okay, a show of hands. How many of you have been in a situation similar to this? You were minding your own business, staying out of the way of those who wanted nothing to do with you when out of the blue, they come asking for a favor—typically, a big favor. I see those hands! Now, how many of you would be honest enough to admit that your first response to the request was the Biblical equivalent of "Not my circus, not my monkeys"? Okay, maybe you didn't say it out loud, but you wanted to, didn't you? So did Jephthah.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress? - Judges 11:7 

Yep, Jephthah could have easily used one of my favorite words—"Seriously?" He could not believe they had the audacity to ask a favor of him after the way they had treated him, yet they did, and after some negotiation, Jephthah accepted the request. My first thought upon reading this passage was that Jephthah must have been a better person than I am, but as I thought about it further, I realized that I probably would've done the same thing. Not because I'm good or kind or that full of the spirit, unfortunately. But rather because I hate to say "no" or to have others think poorly of me. No matter what they've done to me, when they ask, I come running.

I cannot know the motivation behind Jephthah's actions, but I know if I am only helping others out of fear of being disliked, left out or talked about, my actions are in the wrong. It's nice to fit in, and I believe we all want to fit in, but let me ask you this: if we constantly have to prove ourselves to others, are we fitting in or are we being used? The Bible teaches us to be good unto one another, but it does not advocate allowing others to treat us like dirt or to misuse us and our talents. God has given each of us a work to do, and many times, those foul-weather friends only distract us from our true calling.

Please understand, I am not saying we should not help others or we should never go out of our way to be a blessing. What I am saying is that we need to be careful not to let people take advantage of us as this leads to bitterness and resentment in our hearts. Foul-weather friends can be toxic to our health, attitudes and relationships. When it comes to their requests, I advise you to seek God's will before agreeing to help. Saying "no" may keep you out of the in-crowd, but many times, that is a blessing. Sometimes it's better just to say "no."

On the flip side, I would also like to urge you not to be a foul-weather friend. Don't make a habit of calling people only when you need something from them or only giving when you get something in return. Be a real friend, a faithful friend, a friend like Jesus.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Rise Up and Build: Don't Believe Everything You Hear

I would like to have a word with the weatherman. He said that yesterday was supposed to be mostly sunny with a high of 72°—beautiful weather for taking the dog to the lake. The only problem is that he was WRONG!

It was not mostly sunny; it was quite cloudy all day. It was also windy and cool. Thankfully, I had taken a jacket for the morning chill. I ended up wearing it the entire time. My hands were so chilled I could barely write. The temperature was 58° when I began my hike. It was 60° when I was done. Ooooh, heatwave!

I'm not complaining about the weather, mind you. The cool temperature was quite a relief from the extreme heat we've been dealing with. No, my complaint is not with the weather—it's with the weatherman. If he doesn't know what the weather will be like, he should just say so. It just goes to show us that we can’t believe everything we hear.

We’ve already discussed how the world’s teachings don’t line up with God’s Word, so we must be careful to block out their voices or at the very least, to take what they’re saying with a grain of salt. Nehemiah learned that lesson as well.

Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee. And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in. And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me. (Nehemiah 6:10-14) 

Shemaiah was supposed to be on Nehemiah’s side. He was a fellow prophet and supposedly a good guy, but when he told Nehemiah that he should hide in the temple, Nehemiah knew that something wasn’t right. Even though the source was trustworthy, Nehemiah was smart enough and clear-headed enough to run those instructions through the filter based on what God had already told him. When he did, he figured out that Shemaiah had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat (yes, the same old enemy). Their goal was to make Nehemiah fear for his life and run to the temple to escape his fate. But Nehemiah knew that his fate was in God’s hands, and that Tobiah and Sanballat couldn’t do anything to him unless God allowed it.

We cannot believe everything we hear from the enemy or even so-called friends. And we especially cannot trust what our emotions are saying to us. They are the biggest liars of all! They will tell us that we’re all alone, that no one cares about us, that things will never get better, that we might as well help ourselves because no one else will do it, and on and on. Don’t listen! Our feelings and emotions, when left to their own devices, will seek to do what Tobiah and Sanballat attempted to do to Nehemiah—they will make us fearful and ineffective. Don’t listen. Do what Nehemiah did and compare the statements of your feelings to the truth of God’s Word. Here’s what you’ll find:

Feelings say, “You are all alone.” God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Feelings say, “No one cares about you.” God says, “I loved you enough to send my Son to die for you.”

Feelings say, “You’re such a loser. You’ll never accomplish anything.” But God says, “You are more than conquerors through me, and you can do all things through me.”

Feelings say, “You’ve tried before and failed. This time won’t be any different.” God says, “Though you fall, you will not be cast down, for I’m upholding you with my hand.”

See what I mean? Don’t listen to the myriad of voices around you. Tune in to the only one that matters!

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build:  A Biblical Approach To Dealing With Anxiety and Depression

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hiding God's Word in My Heart

For the past couple of months, the Lord has impressed upon me the importance of memorizing Scripture. To say that I have been lax in this area would sadly be an understatement. While I read the Bible daily, I'm ashamed to admit that it has been a long time since I've made an effort to commit a verse to memory. Over the past few weeks, I've been deliberating where to begin in my Scripture memorization. Should I highlight some of my favorite verses? Should I concentrate on memorizing entire chapters? Where, oh where to begin?

Then, it hit me. For me, Scripture memorization is about storing God's promises and directions in my heart so I can refer to them at any time. It's about having "go-to scripts" with me day in and day out. That being the case, I can think of no better place to begin my Scripture memorization journey than with I Corinthians 13.

I know that may sound odd to you. After all, I Corinthians 13 is the love chapter, so surely, there would be more appropriate passages to memorize. But this is the way I see it. God is love. We are supposed to be like God; therefore, we are expected to be love. But how can we be love if we don't truly understand it? My goal is to get I Corinthians 13 in my heart and mind to the point that I can run all of my actions through its filter and determine whether or not I am acting like Christ. In short, I can think of no better how to guide for the Christian then I Corinthians 13. Thus, my memorization has begun.

How about you? How long has it been since you memorized Scripture? Do you have a favorite verse or go-to passage that you would like to hide in your heart?

I realize that as we get older, our memories are not what they used to be, but the only way to keep them strong is to keep stretching them. It only takes a few minutes per day to read and reread the verses we want to memorize. While these things may not come as quickly to us as they did when we were young, they are still possible if we will put forth the time and effort to do them.

God's word is precious, and I want to carry it with me wherever I go. How about you?

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. - Psalm 119:11

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rise Up and Build: When Your Efforts Feel Inferior

But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall. (Nehemiah 4:1-3) 

Seriously? This guy won’t quit, will he? The taunts didn’t work. The distraction plan proved ineffective. So, he moved on to Plan C—make the hero feel inferior. Notice the words he used: feeble and rubbish. Not exactly encouraging, is it? And, not to be outdone, Tobiah adds, “Even if they did build the wall, it would be so weak and wobbly that a little fox could crawl on it and cause the whole thing to crumble.” Deadly darts away!

The enemy will have you doubting yourself. Is it worth it? Are you doing it right? Shouldn’t you be further along? He will make you feel inferior and try to convince you that your efforts are in vain. “After all,” he will say, “you can build the walls, but as soon as something bad happens, they’ll crumble again. Just wait and see.” If we’re not careful, we’ll let him get to us, and we’ll spend more time worrying than working.

Don’t let the enemy tell you that you aren’t good enough! Do not let him fool you into thinking that your efforts are worth nothing. Don’t let him have the victory over you. It’s not his. We are the victors. According to God’s Word, we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), which means we can build these walls, and they will stand. Besides, we have the Master Builder on our side and if God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

We’ll talk a little more about listening to the voice of the enemy in a later chapter, but for now, just remember that the enemy is a liar, and he’ll say whatever it takes to get you to stop building. Don’t give in to him and his wishes. Don’t let him be your puppet-master by allowing him to control your actions by his taunts and scare tactics. He’s just a bully trying to have his way, and you need to decide that you won’t be bullied any longer. That’s part of rising up. It’s not just about building the walls, but it’s about standing tall in the process, and it’s impossible for someone who is being bullied to stand up tall. It’s time to rise up. You are good enough because God said so. In fact, He thought you were worth dying for, so take that, enemy. God is doing a work in and through you, and He will complete it if you let Him.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. - I Corinthians 15:58

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build:  A Biblical Approach To Dealing With Anxiety and Depression

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Inner Workings of My Heart and Mind

As you know, I've been seeking your input on what you like and don't like about Dana Rongione Ministries, and the reason I've done that is because I feel some decisions need to be made to make the ministry as effective as possible.  For the past year, I've felt the Lord urging me to expand the ministry, or at the very least, opening up doors for expansion.  In my mind, however, expanding the ministry meant adding more things:  videos, podcasts, expanded programs, etc.  I'm now beginning to wonder if I misunderstood the Lord's meaning.

Don't get me wrong.  I've enjoyed many of the new outreaches, but I'm starting to feel like a hamster on a wheel.  Imagine if you will the mental energy it takes to plan and prepare for a devotion every day, a video each week, a song for every day, a 30-minute Sunday School lesson each week, songs for the congregational singing each week, songs for the offertories for Sunday School, Sunday morning and Sunday evening services every week, and that's just the areas of ministry.  That doesn't include planning meals or shopping trips or anything else.  I love what I do, and I'm thrilled that the Lord is using me in so many ways, but recently, a single statement has been floating through my mind on a regular basis:  "More is not always better.  Sometimes, it's just more."

With that in mind, I began to wonder if God's idea of expanding the ministry was merely to spend more time and energy and outreach doing the things I was already doing:  writing and blogging.  Expand the audience.  Expand the awareness.  Do the same things, but do them better.  As I stated earlier, I haven't made any decisions yet, but the survey results helped me to see that my main passion and the most well-liked areas of my ministry were the same--blogging and writing books.  So, I am currently praying about the decision of cutting back on the various other methods of outreach.

One response I received from the survey was that I needed to stop trying to limit the ministry, and I completely agree.  But, the way I see it, cutting back, in this case, would not be limiting the ministry but rather focusing it on one or two areas.  There comes a point when we have so many things going on that we're not able to do any of them well.  I feel like that's the point I've reached.  The quality is lacking.  My zeal is faltering.  And my brain is overwhelmed by the constant demand for more, more, more!

As I thought on this, my mind was drawn to Martha.  Good ole Martha.  Friend of Jesus.  Sister to Mary and Lazarus.  Hard worker and gourmet chef (at least, in my mind she was).  But Martha had the same problem I've had of late.  She was so busy serving that she lost sight of all else.  The joy of serving was replaced with bitterness.  The reason for serving was hidden behind her to-do lists and daily schedules.  She had so many good things to do that she lost sight of the best thing.

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. - Luke 10:38-42

I don't want to be careful and troubled about many things.  I want to find the one (or two) things that God wants me to do and then do them to the very best of my ability.  I fear being spread so thin that I'm not doing anything well.  After all, this is not just a job.  It's a ministry--God's ministry, and I want to be confident that He's in charge.

So, please bear with me for the next little bit as I continue to pray and meditate on what the Lord would have me do.  And, if you would help me pray, that would be fantastic.  I know that none of us likes change, and cutting certain areas out may offend some and even cause them to walk away, and I hope that's not the case.  But I need to make sure that God is my ultimate authority and that I do not allow myself to be swayed by my own emotions or the disapproval of others.  I do greatly appreciate all the feedback I've received, and I am taking these things into consideration as I consult with the Lord.  I will let you know what's going on as soon as I am aware, but I can tell you that the daily devotions and books will be continuing until the Lord tells me to stop.  These areas are not in question, so I hope that brings joy and contentment to you.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or contact me directly.  I always love hearing from you!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rise Up and Build: Avoid Distractions

That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief. And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner. (Nehemiah 6:2-4) 

That’s just like the enemy, isn’t it? Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they change tactics. When Sanballat and Geshem saw that their taunts and ridicule were not affecting the people, they tweaked their approach. If they could pull Nehemiah away from the job at hand, perhaps the people would grow weary and stop working. You know, take the cat away so the mice can play. Yes, the people had a mind to work, but how long would that last if their leader disappeared?

Fortunately, Nehemiah was too smart for their plan. He knew that they had no intentions of sitting down for a friendly cup of tea. He was acutely aware that they were out to destroy him and his efforts. So, he told them “no.” Well, that didn’t sit too well with these men—a lowly commoner disregarding them in such a way. So, they continued to “request” his presence.

Notice Nehemiah’s response: I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? I am doing a great work, and I can’t stop right now. That is the attitude we need to adopt if we’re going to rebuild the walls around our heart. No matter what comes our way—good or bad—we must avoid distractions! It is imperative that we awake every morning with the attitude that we are doing a great work, and we cannot and will not be stopped. We cannot afford to lose sight of our goal—to banish anxiety and depression from our lives once and for all. That task is great, so our determination will need to be great, as will our focus.

Sometimes the enemy’s attacks come as full-on assaults, but often they take the form of distractions. The urgent comes into our lives, causing us to lose sight of the essential. Or even the good floats in, pulling our attention away from the best. Whether in the form of something good or bad, distraction will hinder our progress, and we must be on guard against it.

Nehemiah refused to be called away from his efforts. We must do the same.

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build:  A Biblical Approach To Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Simple Formula for Daily Strength

I pray for a lot of things.  Health, safety, provision--these are just a few that top the list.  But if I had to qualify the majority of my prayer requests into a single word, that word would be "strength."  Strength of body to perform the tasks that need to be accomplished.  Strength of character to do what's right no matter the situation.  Strength of mind to make wise and timely decisions.  And strength of faith to trust God in all things.  I need strength.  I crave it.  And recently, I heard a Biblical formula for gaining such strength.

Psalm 22:3 tells us, But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.  God inhabits the praises of His people, so it's safe to say that praise brings about God's manifest presence, right?  Okay, then let's move on to the next step.

Psalm 16:11 says, Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.  Praise brings about God's manifest presence, and in His presence, there is fullness of joy.  So, praise = presence = joy.  Still with me?  Good, let's take it one more step.

The last phrase of Nehemiah 8:10 says, For the joy of the Lord is your strength.  According to that, joy = strength.  So, if we put it all together, we see that praise brings about God's presence which, in turn, brings about joy which brings about strength.  Praise = Presence = Joy = Strength.

Want strength?  It all begins with praise.  Whether we need physical, mental, emotional or spiritual strength, the formula is the same.  It all starts with praise.  Daily worship of the Lord opens doors that nothing else can open.  If we're seeking to feel God's nearness, we need only praise Him.  If we long for more joy, praise can accomplish that too.

We often talk about how powerful prayer is, and I completely agree.  But I think we have a tendency to lose sight of how powerful praise can be in our lives.  Prayer is talking to God.  Praise is thanking Him.  Prayer is asking for God to move.  Praise is honoring Him for how He has already moved or how He's going to.  In many ways, the two go hand in hand.

Looking for strength to make it through the day?  Well, now you know where to begin.  Let the praises roll!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Every now and then, I like to submit a survey to test the effectiveness of different areas of my ministry.  This information helps me to give my followers more of what they like and also helps me to determine the best way to reach my target market (the lost and Christians who need encouragement).  The survey is only seven questions long (most of them multiple choice) and shouldn't take longer than five minutes to complete.  Would you please take some time right now to let your voice be heard?  What do you think of Dana Rongione Ministries?  What would you like to see more or less of?  This is your chance to make your requests and desires known.  Isn't that worth a few minutes of your time?  Feel free to be honest.  All answers are anonymous, so I won't know who said what.  Thank you in advance.  I appreciate your participation and help in this matter.  (If, for any reason, the form below is not cooperating, you can fill out the survey here:

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What Difference Does It Make? (Repost)

In my daily Bible reading, I've come around again to Psalm 119, and as usual, I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I love the Psalms, and I enjoy the many golden nuggets to be found in each chapter. On the other hand, I know that I have a tendency to get bogged down in those 176 verses and also to be convicted by them.

The theme of Psalm 119, if you don't know or couldn't guess, is the Word of God.  In fact, the Scriptures are referred to in one word form or another (precepts, testimonies, commandments, etc.) in all but four verses of the entire chapter.  But it's what the psalmist has to say about the Word that's so convicting.

As I read through the chapter this week, one thought kept coming to mind--if all God's people felt this way about God's Word, how different would things be?  When was the last time we craved the Bible?  Have we rejoiced in it?  Have we meditated on it?  Have we delighted in it?  Have we memorized it, shared it or fallen in love with it?  When was the last time we chose the Word of God over riches, fame or selfish desires?  The psalmist said multiple times within chapter 119 alone that the Scriptures made him alive, but if that's the case today, why are so many of us walking around with our heads down and shoulders slumped?

Yes, when I read this chapter, I'm both humbled and ashamed.  It is a glaring reminder that I don't love and respect the Bible as I should.  I take it for granted and fail to treat it with the glory and honor that it deserves.  I fear that if I were to ask, many of you would say the same thing.  Could that be why we do not see revival like we used to?  Could that be why our churches are not on fire like they once were?  Could that be why we're so complacent to just "live and let live"?

May I be blunt with you? Today is Independence Day here in America, and as a nation, we celebrate how far we've come.  Unfortunately, many of us also cringe at how far we've fallen.  Our Christian nation is Christian no more.  We are being destroyed from within, and I fear it will only get worse unless the Lord comes back very soon.

That being said, the reason our country is in such a mess is because our churches, as a whole, are in a mess.  They're more concerned with rules and guidelines, dress codes and ceremonies, tickling ears and making friends than they are about standing up for the truth.  And the reason the churches have slipped so far is that the people who make up those churches have lost all love and reverence for the Word of God.  Perhaps if we had a few attitude adjustments and started taking God seriously, we would see a change in our lives, our churches and our country.

If you're unsure how exactly you should feel about and treat the Scriptures, turn to Psalm 119 and read a while.  Pay attention to each verse.  Meditate on what it's saying.  Then ask yourself, "Am I as devoted to the Word of God as I should be?"  Then say with the psalmist, O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!  Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. (vs.5-6)

What difference does it make?  All the difference in the world!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Little By Little

Do you ever feel like God is taking His sweet time in answering your prayers or meeting your needs?  Maybe it's a relationship, a job, health, finances or some other equally troubling circumstance. You know that God sees what's going on, and you understand that He cares for you. So why does it take Him so long to act?  Surely, the God who spoke the world into existence could easily speak our problems out of existence, but He chooses not to work that way. All it would take is a single word or possibly even a thought, yet even in the circumstances where we see God moving, it seems like the process is excruciatingly slow. Why would a loving God make us wait for an outcome when He could easily make things right immediately? I believe we find the answer to that in Exodus 23.

I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. - Exodus 23:29-30

In this passage, God is making a promise to the children of Israel that He will drive out the inhabitants of Canaan so that Israel can possess the land. But notice what He says in verse 29:  He makes it clear that even though He could, He was not going to drive out all the nations in a single year; He was going to do it little by little. And if we look carefully, we'll identify his reasoning.

First off, God needed the Israelites to understand that He could see the consequences of a rushed takeover. The land would suffer, and instead of walking into a paradise, the children of Israel would enter a land unsuitable for survival. The slow process of driving out the nations was not a punishment but rather a provision. God knew what Israel did not, and acting with that knowledge, He decided on a course of action that was best for His people. Likewise, God sees our future and the consequences of rushed actions. Knowing what lies ahead, He gives us what we need when we need it in order to bring about the best outcome.

Secondly, if you will look at verse 30, God told the children that He was waiting until they had increased. It's very possible that God was speaking about increasing in number, but I think it went further than that. Sometimes, God takes us the long way around because it is in the process that we grow. If God were to instantly give us the things for which we've been praying, how would our lives change? Would we become closer to Him? Would we become more spiritual? How would our relationship to others be influenced? And, to be blunt, how long would it take before we were asking God for more? God knows and understands that it's not enough to give us what we want, but it's imperative that we grow along the way. And as much as we hate to admit it, growth takes time.

Too often, we are so focused on the destination that we lose sight of what God is trying to teach us in the journey. His delays are not a punishment or means of instigating frustration. He is truly doing what's best for us whether we realize it or not. So as you embark on your journey, I urge you to remember that God is working all things for your good, and if it's taking longer than you expected, that's okay because God has something good in store for you. Be open to His working in your life and accept the growth He wants to see in you. And as difficult as it may seem at times, try your best to enjoy the journey.  God is working. . . little by little.

Friday, June 30, 2017

If God, Then Why?

And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. - Judges 6:11-13

I'm so glad the pages of the Bible are not full of the stories of perfect people with unwavering faith and constant good attitudes.  I'm thankful for the cries of David, the temper tantrum of Elijah and the hint of "Yeah, right!" from Gideon.  And the reason I'm glad is because I can relate.  I've had conversations just like this one.

Gideon's question was valid, "If God is with us, then why is this happening?"  My questions are valid too.

If God is the Great Physician, then why am I still suffering from chronic illness?

If God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, why do I have to pinch pennies to make it from paycheck to paycheck?

If God answers prayer, then why don't I have the thing for which I've been praying for years?

If God. . ., then why. . .?

Sound familiar?  The good news is that God is not offended by our questions.  Despite Gideon's lack of faith, God was patient and kind to him, just as He is with us.  However, our questions can lead to a problem on our behalf in that they can deepen our unbelief.  If we're not careful, our questions can quickly become accusations.  "God, why aren't you taking care of me?"  "Lord, what happened to all that faithfulness you're supposed to possess?"  Do you see the turn?

The truth is, we'll never understand why God does the things He does and doesn't do the things He doesn't.  On this side of Heaven, we'll never really have an answer to "If God, then why?"  It makes no sense to our finite minds why God would not act when He could.  Why doesn't He heal?  Why doesn't He spread the wealth out among His children?  Why doesn't He give us the things we ask for?  I don't know.  You don't know.  Only God knows, but you know what?  That's enough.

Instead of dwelling on what we don't know, how about we spend time thinking about what we do?  We know that all things work together for our good and God's glory (Romans 8:28).  We know that God has great plans for us, and those plans involve our good, not evil (Jeremiah 29:11). We know that God can and will deliver us though not always in the ways we expect (Psalm 34:4).  We know that God answers every prayer though not always in the affirmative (Jeremiah 33:3).  In short, we know enough about God to understand that if He's not doing something our way, there must be a good reason.

So, hold tight.  God is up to something.  It may not be what you thought or expected, but you can rest assured that it's better than you could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Much Ado About Everything

Twenty years ago, Dr. Richard Carlson released a new book entitled, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Before long, the book was far more than just something to read. It was an entire movement dedicated to helping people focus on the big things in life while releasing anxiety and stress. The book and its concept were very well received. In fact, the book has sold over 25 million copies around the world. Why is it then that stress and anxiety are at an all-time high?

To be honest, I'd have to say that the reason for this is because while we know what to do, we often fail to do it. We know we shouldn't focus on the negatives – God's Word tells us as much – yet we do it day in and day out. And strangely enough, the small stuff becomes very, very big! What we often fail to realize, however, is that while the small stuff becomes big, the big stuff becomes small. What I mean by that is that we spend far more time and energy focusing on the bad things in life than we do on our blessings.

Now, I know sometimes the trials of life seem like giants, hardly small stuff, but in the grand scheme of things, how do they really compare to our blessings? Why is it that the good things in life get lumped together into a group we assume we deserve while the bad things in life get itemized and blown out of proportion? For example, if you asked me about my day yesterday, I would tell you it was a bad day. My chiropractic visit revealed more joint issues. My computer software was acting haywire. The progress on the project I was working on seemed slow. and on and on I could go, listing out my many woes from the day. But what about my blessings? I woke up. I spent time with my mom. I had good food to eat all day long. I had the opportunity to work a job I love. I got to spend time in the word of God in prayer with my Heavenly Father. If I were to continue the list, I would see that my blessings far outweighed my troubles. So was it a bad day? Only because I allowed it to be.

The first part of Zechariah 4:10 says, For who hath despised the day of small things?  I believe the reason we are living stressed and anxious lives is because we have categorized our blessings as small things and our troubles as big things. So, when we tell ourselves "Don't sweat the small stuff," what we're really saying is "Don't focus on your blessings." Yes, there will be days when those blessings do seem like small things, but they are blessings nonetheless. It could be something as simple as finding a good parking space or having a co-worker compliment your outfit. Small things, but only if we choose to let them be. Let us not despise those things. Let us not overlook them or treat them as things that we deserve. Let us keep track of each and every blessing that comes our way and focus on them more than we do our troubles.

When it comes to the negative things, don't sweat the small stuff. On the other hand, when it comes to blessings, make much ado about everything!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Setting Your Mind to the Good Work

So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work. (Nehemiah 4:6) 

After Nehemiah examined the foundation of the wall and deemed it sound, he explained to the people the plan to rebuild the wall. The inhabitants realized that this was a gargantuan task, but notice that at the end of verse 6, the Bible tells us they had a mind to work. What does that mean? It implies they were determined. The people purposed in their heart just as Daniel did when he refused to defile himself with the king’s meat. They decided that they would do this, and nothing would stand in their way. They were resolute. Committed. Serious.

How about you? Are you committed to taking action? Most times, I think we're serious enough to complain about it but not enough to take action. If we could have an instant fix, well, sign us up, but if we have to work for it, maybe not.

Are you ready for this? If we're not serious enough about the changes we wish to see to take action to achieve them, then we need to be quiet about it and let it go. No more whining and complaining! If it's important enough to complain about, then it's important enough to act on. So, if we're not willing to work, then we need to keep our mouths shut and accept things as they are. There are no instant fixes! Our problems didn't arrive instantaneously, and the solutions won't either. They require time and effort.

I’m ashamed to admit that, for many years, I fell into the category of caring enough to complain but no more. I wanted things to be different, but I wasn’t willing to do what I knew to do to make them different. I had some warped notion that knowing what to do and doing it were the same thing, but that’s not true. And knowing won’t build walls or free us from our prison. The Bible spells this out in great clarity in James 1:22—But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. We need to stop fooling ourselves and ask the tough question—how badly do we want to get better? Is it worth denying ourselves our creature comforts and favorite habits? Is it worth investing time and energy into it? Is it worth re-training our brain? How serious are we?

Before you throw something at me and call me unkind names, I beg you, hang in there just a little longer. I know how you’re feeling. Remember, I’ve traveled this same road, and I’ve been at this same point along the way. It goes something like this, “Yes, I’m serious about wanting to get better, but I’m already so busy and so tired. I don’t know if I have the time and energy to put into it. It sounds like too much to handle right now.” Am I right? (Maybe I should go into business as a mind-reader. I wonder how much money they make. LOL)

Honestly, I know where you’re coming from, and I feel your pain, but this is what I finally realized. I can’t afford NOT to take action. Getting rid of anxiety and depression became more than a hope or dream; it became a necessity. I finally realized I was dying a slow death, and enough was enough. So, I asked myself the following questions:

1) You say you don’t have the energy to build these walls, but how much energy would you have if anxiety and depression weren’t continually sapping it from you?

2) You say you don’t have time to work on these issues, but how much more time would you have if you weren’t crippled by anxiety and depression, which often results in long stretches of time where you’re unmotivated to do anything?

3) You say you’re busy, tired and weary, but what have you got to lose? If you build the walls and nothing happens, you won’t be any worse off. On the other hand, if you build the walls and find that the added protection around your heart is hindering anxiety and depression from assaulting you, then you’ll be much better off in the long run. My point? You are already paying the price, so the question is, do you want to pay the price to be miserable or to be protected from that misery? The choice is yours, but once you make it, the real work begins. Remember, it’s not enough to know; we must take action. We must have a mind to work.

***Excerpt from Rise Up and Build:  A Biblical Approach to Dealing with Anxiety and Depression -- COMING SOON! ***

Monday, June 26, 2017

Accompanied by the Master - Repost

I read the story this morning of a mother who took her young child to a concert.  Upon finding their seats, the mother was overjoyed to recognize a friend and soon became lost in conversation.  As the lights went down, signaling that the concert was about to begin, the mother realized that her child was no longer in his seat.  In the darkness, a simple piano tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was heard throughout the building.

The spotlight illuminated the stage, and much to the mother's embarrassment, her child was sitting at the grand piano, pecking out the simple tune.  What the child didn't know is that the star of the evening, the pianist for whom the concert was building held, was approaching him from behind.  The musician slipped onto the bench beside the young child and whispered in his ear to continue playing.  The child happily obeyed and repeated his simple piece.  However, the tune sounded nothing like it had before, for as he played, the master musician accompanied him.  The notes were sweet, and the melody flowed.  What had begun as a child's meager melody had turned into a musical masterpiece.

Isn't that what God does with us?  He takes our meager attempts and turns them into miracles.  In and of ourselves, we can do nothing, but that doesn't usually stop us from trying.  Even our efforts to serve Him are lacking in strength, devotion or skill.  Yet, God uses us to perform a masterpiece.  He turns our meager melodies into musical delights.  He transforms our words into blessings.  He takes the simplest of the simple and turns it into something indescribable.  And just like the master musician in the story above, He urges us to keep playing.

The musician could have been angry or offended at the child's nonsense.  But instead, he encouraged the giver to keep on giving, even if his offering was paltry.  God, too, encourages us to keep on serving, even if it seems our efforts are in vain or our services are of no consequence.  Does God need us to work for Him?  No, but He allows us to, and our response should be the same as the little child at the concert--unreserved joy at the privilege to play alongside the Master.

 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. - Philippians 2:13

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Biblical Mantra for Difficult Days

According to the online dictionary, a mantra is "a word or phrase that is often repeated or that expresses someone's basic beliefs."  When it comes to Christianity, some of the most-used mantras include passages like Psalm 23, Psalm 91, and individual verses like Philippians 4:13.  When choosing a mantra from the Bible, you can't go wrong as long as you're quoting the verse correctly and in context. (We've discussed this before, but if you're not sure to what I'm referring, feel free to contact me.)

I know a lot of Scripture, though not as much as I should.  And when troubles arise, I'm quick to search for a verse that will bring comfort to me during that particular circumstance.  Sometimes it's easy because verses immediately pop into my mind, but during the darker days, I have to pull out my worn copy of There's a Verse for That to find what I'm looking for.

This morning, however, I came across a couple of verses that are guaranteed to cover any situation or emotional struggle I may face.  If I can remember this one passage (or at the very least, the mantra I can glean from this passage), I'll never have to search for comfort again.  These two verses cover it all.  Are you intrigued?  Good!  Have a great day.  (Just kidding, I'm going to tell you!)

And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. (Exodus 3:7-8)

Now you're probably confused, right?  What does this have to do with your problems?  Well, in this passage, Israel was in trouble, and in these couple of verses we see God's response to their predicament, and because God is not a respecter of persons, we can be assured He will respond to us in the same way.  If you read back through those verses very carefully, you'll find our new mantra.  Ready?

God sees.
God hears.
God knows.
God comes to the rescue.

Woohoo, I've got glory bumps!

God sees the circumstances we're facing.  He sees the sorrow of our heart and the tears on our face.  He sees the heartbreak, the frustration, the hopelessness.  He sees it all.

God hears our cries and our torment.  He hears the pain in our voice and the hoarseness of our pleas.  He hears the taunts the enemy throws our way and our own words of discouragement and fear.  God hears it all.

God knows.  He knows how long we've been waiting.  He knows how much we've suffered.  He knows the road has been rough and we're ready to quit.  He knows because He's been there.

Just when we feel we are all alone.  When we are ready to throw in the towel.  When it seems we can't take another step, God reminds us that He's here.  He has never left us.  He's been watching, listening and understanding--waiting for His perfect timing to make His presence known.  He was there all along, and now He's here to rescue us.

We see this story play out time and time again throughout the Bible.  Though the people and circumstances vary, God's gameplan remains the same:  He sees, He hears, He knows, He rescues.  And we serve the same God.  The One Who is unchanging.  The One Who loves us and cares for us.  The One Who knows what's best for us even when we can't see it.  We need to trust Him.  He has a plan, and if we constantly remind ourselves of that plan (our mantra), we'll find it easier to get through life no matter what comes our way.

So, let's say it again, and say it like we mean it.

God sees.
God hears.
God knows.
God comes to the rescue.

He's done it before, and He'll do it again.  Trust Him and keep these words close to your heart at all times.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Whatchu Talkin' About?

A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! - Proverbs 15:23

I love verses like that!  So simple.  So concise.  So straightforward.  But how often do we glance right over the meaning of such wonderful passages?  Too often, I'm afraid.  But not today.  Today, we're going to dig into that first phrase:  A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth.

Do you want to be happy?  To feel good?  To be encouraged and hopeful?  Sure, we all do.  Then according to this verse, we need to guard what comes out of our mouths.  If we want to feel good, we need to speak good (no, I don't mean well, I mean good).  To speak well is to be eloquent, clear and expressive, and while those are excellent qualities, they are not the things that will bring or expel our happiness.  No, that comes from speaking good.  Talking about positive things.  Using words that lift others up rather than tearing them down.  Words of praise and gratitude.  Uplifting.  Encouraging.  Joyful.

I challenge you to take a moment and think back over the words that have come out of your mouth today.  Were they good?  Could they be considered joyful?  Or were they words of complaint, criticism, cynicism and the like?  As I type this, it's only a little after 9:00 in the morning, and I must confess that not all of my words today have been joyful.  Words of praise didn't escape my lips this morning when I discovered that the ants had gained entrance to the pantry and were helping themselves to anything and everything they could.  I didn't shout "Hallelujah" when I stepped outside for my prayer walk and was met with the rising heat.  Even during my prayer time, many of my words wreaked of complaint and dissatisfaction.  Hmm, and I wonder why I get discouraged and downcast.  The verse above tells me exactly why.

We need to watch our words.  They have power--far more than we give them credit for.  We cast them around so carelessly, but Proverbs 18:21 tells us, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. . .  Did you catch that?  We have the power over life and death, and that power resides in our tongue.  So, I ask you again, what are you talking about?  Are your words killing you or giving you life?  Are they bringing you joy or heartache?

Speak well, but more than that, speak good!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Finding Your Purpose in Life, Part Four

I hope you've enjoyed this short series on finding your purpose in life and that it has helped you to see your gifts and talents for what they are.  I pray you've also identified your passion in life and are now on your way toward a happier and more fulfilling existence.  Before we close out the series, however, I feel we must cover one more point.  It doesn't matter how much we know or understand if we're not willing to put that knowledge or those skills to work.  So, the final piece of this purpose puzzle can be summarized with one word:  ACT!

If you read the rest of Exodus 36 and chapters 37-39, you'll see that these men completed the work that God called them to do.  Step by step, piece by piece, they followed the directions of the Lord and used their knowledge, skill and passion to perform each task.  Verse 43 of chapter 39 tells us, And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them.

Did you notice that twice in that one verse it says, "they had done it"?  They didn't just think about it.  They did more than plan for it or envision it.  They did the work.  They completed the job.  They put their knowledge, skill and passion to the test, and God wants us to do the same.  He not only wants us to find our purpose, but He also wants us to live out that purpose.  What good is the knowledge if we don't put it to use?  Who cares how talented you are if you're unwilling to use those talents for God's glory?  Don't just know; do!

This principle is repeated elsewhere in the Bible.  For example, James 1:22 says, But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.  And Philippians 4:9 tells us, 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.

You've heard; now do.  You've seen; now do.  You've received; now do.  You've learned; now do.  Don't squander what God has given you.  Use it!  God gave you that knowledge, skill and passion for a reason, but you'll never know that reason if you don't act.

So, what are you waiting for?  Time is short, and believe it or not, the world needs you.  It needs you to be exactly what God has called you to be.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  It's time to be the best version of yourself--one committed to God's purpose and plan!

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, June 15, 2017

Finding Your Purpose in Life, Part Three

In a couple of previous posts, we covered the first two steps to determining your purpose in life. To boil it down, we discussed how God will give you both the knowledge and the skill to perform the tasks to which He has called you. I saw an excellent example of this in the devotion book I was reading this morning. The author put it like this: "If I gave you some wood, a saw, a hammer and some nails, you would know that I want you to build something. If I gave you several cans of paint and a variety of paintbrushes, you would understand that I wanted you to paint something. It's the same way with the things that God gives us. We need to examine the knowledge and skills He has given us and determine what He wants us to do with them."

Sometimes, that can still be a bit tricky. After all, as we mentioned earlier, many of us have a range of knowledge in many subjects and quite a number of talents. So, where does that leave us? With so many things to choose from, what exactly is God trying to tell us about our purpose? That's where step three comes into play. Let's go back to our example above. If I gave you wood, a saw, a hammer and some nails, you would know that I want you to build something, but what exactly do I want you to build? It's up to you. What do you want to build? What are you passionate about?

To understand this point further, let's consult our passage of Scripture. Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded. And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it. (Exodus 36:1-2)

Today, I want to focus on that last phrase, whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it. To have your heart stirred up is to have passion about something. These men were passionate about the project ahead of them. They were excited about it. They couldn't wait to get started. Maybe you can relate. I know I can. This is exactly how I feel about writing, especially when I'm working on a new project or even nearing the end of a project that I've been working on for some time. My mind is focused on the task, so much so that I have trouble sleeping and eating. I awake in the morning and can't wait to get started. I think about it day in and day out. It's always on my mind. That's what it means to be passionate about something. Yes, there are other things I enjoy and other things that I consider myself good at, but when I boil it all down to what I want to do the most, the answer is simple. I'm a writer, and I want to write!

Some of you may be raising your eyebrows and declaring, "But that's what I want, not what God wants." Who says it can't be both? Why do we have it in our minds that the tasks God wants us to perform have to be unpleasant and undesirable? After all, if He gave us the skill and the knowledge, doesn't it make sense that He would also provide us with the desire? This is where Psalm 37:4 comes into play: Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. This verse is often quoted in support of the theory that if we pray for something, God will give it to us simply because we want it. But that is not what this verse is saying. What it mean is if we delight in the Lord (seek to do His will), He will plant the proper desires in our hearts. So, when it comes to determining your purpose in life, you need only look at the things God has given you and figure out which of those things brings the most joy to your life. Which one gets you the most excited? It's not about money or fame or anything else for that matter. It's about having your heart stirred to perform the task.

Here's the best part about doing something you're passionate about: it doesn't feel like work. Yes, it will probably require a lot of time and effort, but because you're enjoying the process, it seems more like a hobby. That's not to say it won't be difficult at times or that it won't have its ups and downs, but overall, it will be something that will bring you joy time and time again.

We must remember that God has given us free will, and while that does not give us the freedom to do what we want or act how we want, it does mean that He has given us choices to make. If you're seeking His will, He will enable you to find your purpose, and if, for some reason, you get off track, He is both willing and able to lead you back where you need to be. So don't be afraid to take a risk or step out in faith. After all, you'll never find your true purpose if you don't go looking.

Have you found your passion?  Would you like to share it with the other readers?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Finding Your Purpose in Life -- Part Two

Yesterday, we began a discussion on how to find our purpose in life.  Our first point was that if God calls you to a particular task, He will supply the knowledge and education you need to perform it.  Today, I want to talk about skills and talents.

Did you know that there are professional musicians who have never taken a music lesson?  It's true.  It makes me sick, but it's true.  I took piano lessons for maybe eight years, and I can play well enough to make most people believe I actually know what I'm doing.  But, since I never completed my formal training, my skills are limited.  I can only play in certain keys and at certain levels.  I'm not comfortable playing something I've never had the chance to practice, and songs that have all those "weird chords" are not my friend!  I received the education, and while I do have some level of skill or talent, I don't have enough that I feel God wants me to be a professional musician.

My husband is a man of many talents and skills--most of which he has never been formally trained to do.  He amazes me with his ability to fix automobile issues, electrical problems, plumbing disasters and more.  His ingenuity knows no bounds.  He can engineer solutions that I would never dream of.  I cannot tell you how many times I've watched him and asked, "Where in the world did you learn to do all this stuff?"  God taught him.  God placed the "know-how" in him and gave him the understanding to apply that knowledge, just as he did with the men building the tabernacle.

Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded. And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it: - Exodus 36:1-2

God has given each of us many skills or talents.  Some are obvious (like playing an instrument) while others (like Jason's handyman skills) often go overlooked or taken for granted.  But we all have something!  Perhaps you're good with numbers, and God is calling you to work for a bank or maybe to be a church treasurer.  Maybe your skill is organization, and God has plans for you to head up the next fundraiser.  Examine your gifts and talents.  What things are you good at?  What things come to you easily?  It's likely that your purpose and calling lie within one of the skills.

I encourage you to take a few moments and jot down every skill or talent you have.  This is no time for modesty.  After all, this really isn't about us.  It's about what God has blessed us with.  Write down everything you can think of and then go back and rate them on the following scale:  Fair, Good, Very Good, Excellent.  Remember, this is not about bragging or being arrogant.  It's about pointing out and recognizing the talents God has given us.  After all, He didn't give us skills so we could squander them.  He gave them so they would be used for His honor and glory. I, for example, would rate my people skills as fair, my musical talents as good, my teaching/speaking skills as very good and my writing as excellent.

How about you?  What do you do well?  Finding the answer to that question will go a long way toward understanding your purpose in life.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Finding Your Purpose in Life -- Part One

Have you ever wondered why you've been placed in the life you've been given?  What's your purpose?  Why are you here?  Does God have a plan for your life, and if so, what is it?

Ultimately, we all have the same purpose in this life--to glorify God.  But in that, God has called and equipped each of us for different tasks.  Some jobs are big and obvious while others seem small and insignificant, but make no mistake, if God called you to it, the task is big and important in His eyes.  For the next few posts, I would like to explain some ways that you can discover your purpose in life, or more specifically, in what ways God wants to use you to further His kingdom and bring glory to His name.

There are many passages in the Bible that we could use, but I can cover each point using a single portion of Scripture.  Exodus 36 details the calling of particular men to oversee the building of the tabernacle.  It was a huge and very specific job, and God picked out a couple of men by name to be the ones in charge and to teach the others what needed to be done.

Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded. And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it: - Exodus 36:1-2

First off, we see that God gave these men wisdom.  Chapter 35 also states that they had knowledge.  In basic terms, knowledge is information acquired through experience or education.  Wisdom is the act of putting that knowledge to good use.  These men had both.  God didn't just tell them to build a tabernacle and then leave them on their own to figure out how to do it.  He taught them.  He gave them detailed instructions.  He placed in their hearts everything they would need to know to do the task God had given them to do.

When God calls a person to do something, He will ensure that they have the education and experience they need to see it through.  For missionaries, that may mean giving them the opportunity to attend classes to learn a foreign language.  For teachers, this could include schooling or one-on-one training.  One way or another, God will equip you with the knowledge you need to perform the thing He's called you to do.

For me, my formal education includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education.  Guess what?  I haven't taught elementary in eleven years!  Sure, for nine years, I put that education to work, but then God moved me to another task, and you know what?  He arranged for me to be educated in various writing skills and techniques.  Not only that, but I still use much of the knowledge I obtained in my college classes even though I'm not pursuing that vocation anymore.  I use my teaching techniques every week when I stand before my Sunday School class, even though the students are adults rather than children.  My purpose is to teach and encourage others through writing, speaking, teaching, music and more.  God has given me the knowledge I need to do these things, and He is continuing to meet that need by giving me the ability to learn more about my craft and ministry every day.

The first step in finding your calling is to look at the areas in which you have knowledge or the desire to gain knowledge.  Does science fascinate you?  How about history?  Do you love to take stuff apart simply to figure out how it works?  What kind of things do you know or want to know?  This will give you a good idea of how God is preparing you for the work He has for you.  Lord willing, we'll talk about the next step tomorrow.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Paving the Way for Others

As I've mentioned before, I live within walking distance of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is a twenty-mile run of paved trails built on retired train tracks.  Obviously, I don't walk all twenty miles of it, but most mornings, I do a prayer walk that ranges from three to four miles.  To get to the trail, I need only walk to the end of my road, take a right, follow that street for a short distance, then turn left at the steep driveway for a manufacturing plant.  The driveway itself turns right at the bottom of the hill, but when I continue going straight through a small batch of bushes and other foliage, I arrive at the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Before you accuse me of trespassing, the manufacturing company has no problem with this use of their driveway, and many others use this shortcut to get to the trail.  The issue in the summer is that the small bush and foliage area between the driveway and the trail can get severely overgrown.  This results in briars, thick leaves, and various critters that love the woody atmosphere.  It's not uncommon for me to fight through that area and come out on the other side wet (from the dew) and scratched all to pieces.  It's rather annoying, to be honest.

Anyway, this morning, when I arrived at the "war zone," I immediately noticed that some kind soul had trimmed back all the weeds and bushes, clearing a nice path for walkers like me.  I couldn't contain my smile or the words that tumbled from my mouth, "Thank you, trail people!"  If the person/people who did it was/were standing there, I would have probably hugged them.  I would want them to know how much I appreciated their efforts.  It made my morning, both coming and going.

You know, we have the opportunity each day to do the same for others.  I'm not talking about weedeating necessarily, but I'm referring to paving a trail for others to follow.  Think about it, someone else did all the work, but I had the privilege of reaping the rewards.  It cost someone else time and effort, and in return, I got the opportunity to continue my walk unhindered.  We can do the same.

When we learn from our mistakes, we can teach others so that they can avoid making the same mistakes we did.  When we receive comfort, we can pass that comfort on to others in their time of need.  When we go out of our way to do something for others, knowing that the only thing we'll get in return is the satisfaction of knowing that we made someone's day a little brighter and their journey a little easier.

I'm reminded of the valley of Baca.  Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. (Psalm 84:5-6)  The man passing through the valley doesn't dig the wells for his sake but rather for the benefit of all those who will follow in his wake.  He does the work, and others reap the rewards.  Why?  Because it's the right thing to do.  Because it's what he would hope someone would do for him.  Because it's an outpouring of the fruit of the Spirit.  Kindness.  Compassion.  Love.

My challenge for you today is two-fold.  First off, I encourage you to look for ways to pave the path for others.  Share your knowledge, wisdom, experience, funds, etc.  Find the means to encourage those around you and to help bear the load of fellow runners in this race we call life.  Second, don't forget to thank those who have been that trailblazer in your life.  Too often, we take for granted what others do for us when we should be offering thanks.  Give a hug.  Or a smile.  Someone has taken the time and effort to pave the way for you so that your journey would be a little easier.  Don't they at least deserve some gratitude?

Enough said.  Let's get busy blazing some trails!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Is It Okay To Be Angry at God?

That's a loaded question, isn't it?  Should we be angry at God?  The short answer is, "No, we shouldn't because to do so is an implication that He has done something wrong."  However, things are not always as cut and dry.  While we know in our hearts that God does nothing wrong, when He doesn't live up to our expectations, we feel He has let us down.  Deep down, there's a brewing resentment that's muttering, "Some loving God!  You obviously don't even care enough about me to fix this situation or answer my prayers."

When I say this conversation takes place deep down, there's a reason for that.  We're ashamed to admit that we're mad at God.  After all, what kind of Christian gets angry with the holy God?  So, we keep our anger to ourselves and think we've overcome the problem, but the truth is, the anger is still there, and as long as it's there, it's hindering our relationship with God.

So, what are we to do?  Obviously, the best thing would be not to get angry with God to begin with, but as humans, we often fall prey to our emotions.  So, then what?  When the anger is there, and we feel we can't even pray--or maybe don't want to pray--what should we do?

First, admit it!  It's a hard thing to accept.  I know; I've been there.  But until we admit that we're angry at God, we're not going to make things any better.  We can't avoid the issue and hope it will go away. It won't.  It will be there until we address it, and the first step is admitting those feelings, no matter how guilty they make us feel.

Secondly, we need to talk to God.  This sounds simple, but let's face it, when we're mad at someone, the last thing we want to do is speak to them, right?  However, if we want the issue resolved, it's the only way.  Go to God and tell Him exactly how you feel.  Yes, you read that right.  Tell God that you're angry at Him.  Tell Him why you're upset.  Pour out your feelings in every detail.  Don't be rude or disrespectful, but be honest.  Hold nothing back.  I assure you, God is big enough to handle it.  Besides, He already knows what's going on.  He's fully aware of our anger, so our confession will not be a surprise to Him.  But once we open up those lines of communication again, healing can begin.

Lastly, we need to listen.  Okay, we've had our say.  We've laid out our feelings and complaints.  Now, it's God's turn to talk.  He may speak to us in His still, small voice, but typically, in times like these, He speaks to us through His Word.  You know what that means, right?  We have to read it!  Once we've admitted our anger and laid it out before the Lord, it's time to sit down with our Bible and hear what God has to say to us.  He may speak an explanation or answer a prayer right then and there.  Or He may give us words of comfort and encouragement to help us through.  Sometimes, the words He gives are reminders of just how much He loves and cares for us.

When we first start reading, our anger and bitterness may prevent us from hearing what God is saying.  In this case, we need to decide that we will allow Him to speak.  He listened to us.  It's our turn to listen.  We must actively cast aside all negative feelings and turn our full attention to God's Word.  When the feelings resurface (and I can almost guarantee you they will), tell yourself aloud, "No, I am not giving myself the freedom to address my anger and hard feelings right now.  This is God's time to speak, and I will listen."  Then, go back to reading until you hear from God.

Is it okay to be angry with God?  Not really, but it happens.  A lot.  Far more than I think we care to admit.  But we need to admit it.  Only then can we open up the door to resolving the issue at hand.  In the end, you'll be glad you did.

I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.  O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life. - Lamentations 3:55-58