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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Straight Talk

I hope you're sitting down.  If you're not, you may want to, for I have a serious topic to discuss.  It has been brought to my attention that some of my recent actions concerning my ministry, along with some of my recent devotions, have displayed a lack of faith in God and have revealed a spiritual battle going on in my life.  I do not deny that I have had a heavy burden on my heart for some time, and I do not apologize if my devotions gave evidence to that.  I stand behind my posts and feel that they were Spirit-led.  I am not ashamed to admit that I am human and that I struggle just like everyone else.  Like Paul declared, I count not myself to have apprehended.  I have not arrived as some form of a spiritual giant.  I'm a real person with real problems, and in that, I hope that others can relate to what I have to say.

All that being said, I now realize that, because of disappointments in my life, I have had a limited view of God and what He's willing and able to do in my life.  And if that thought process has come across in my writing, I genuinely apologize.  If my lack of faith has hindered this ministry in any way, I humbly ask for your forgiveness, and I assure you that, with God's help, that ends now--beginning with this post.

One of the things that my readers tell me that they like most about my writing is that I'm honest.  I'm bold enough to speak the truth in love and say the things that need to be said.  But in the area of my heavy heart and my burden for this ministry, I have been timid, bashful and almost embarrassed.  No more.  I'm about to lay it all on the line, and I hope you will take this message as it is intended.

For more than ten years, I have poured my heart into this full-time ministry which brings in less than $100/month in any form of income.  During that time, my husband has worked his tail off to not only pay our bills and put food on the table but also to support my calling.  It has cost him dearly, but he has been faithful to the call.  However, the Lord has impressed on me that it is time for this ministry to grow, and without additional income, it simply isn't going to happen.  That's not doubt; it's fact.  To take this ministry any further will require additional funds.  I have reached the limit of what I can do with "free" options.  That's where you come in and where my leap of faith begins, but first, let me explain why this is awkward for me.

1) I despise confrontations of any sort.
2) I don't like to ask for help, especially when it involves money.
3) I fear that my request for donations will seem like a lack of faith in God's ability to provide.
4) When it comes down to it, I don't feel like I'm worthy of your money.
5) I don't want to come across as pushy or greedy.

Okay, now you see where I'm coming from, but just like God responded to Moses when he offered excuses, God has responded to me with some facts.

1) This ministry is of God and serves to further His kingdom.
2) Working another job while doing the ministry on the side is not an option. (Trust me, I've tried.)
3) I have no doubt that God provided the donation opportunity through Patreon and that He wants me to use that money to grow this ministry.
4) If this ministry is not supported financially, it may cease to exist.
5) God uses His people to provide for His ministries.

For just a moment, I want to look at Exodus 25:1-2, And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering.  God had already parted the Red Sea, rained down manna and quail, made bitter waters sweet, brought water from a rock and so much more.  Now, when it came time to build a building, He didn't just speak it into existence.  He told Moses to command the people to build it, and more than that, He commanded the people to give towards the expense.  You probably know what happened next, but just in case, let's skip over to Exodus 36:5-7, And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much.

These were the same people that God repeatedly referred to as "stiffnecked people."  They were stubborn, disobedient, ungrateful and often selfish, but on this occasion, God told them to give, and they did.  So much so that Moses had to command them to stop.  It was too much!  Could it be that this was the first and last time that God's people gave too much toward His cause?  I certainly hope not.

In faith and boldness, I declare to you what God said to Moses, Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. If this ministry is to grow, then it needs your financial support.  I'm not trying to give anyone a guilt trip.  Neither am I saying that everyone needs to sign up to give $20 a month (because I won't limit you like that).  What I'm saying is that God's people need to support His work, and when they fail to do so, the work ceases.  That's why churches are closing their doors.  That's why missionaries are leaving the fields.  God has issued a call, and it's up to you what you do with it.

As for me, I'm going to start acting in faith that God will provide.  I choose to believe that God will bring in enough support for this ministry that all the needs will be met and then some.  But these are not just words; I'm putting that faith in action.  Starting this week, Lord willing, I am upgrading to the paid newsletter service so that I can resume posting every weekday instead of only four days a week. As of right now, I plan for the Wednesday posts to be one of two types of short videos:  Meditative Moments where I explore encouraging Bible passages and Ponder That where I bring to light some of the things in the Bible that make us go "Huh?"  I am excited about these additions and have been contemplating them for some time.  As for the Song of the Day, I am hoping to return to the previous format, but that change may take place next week as I am swamped right now getting ready for a book launch.

So, to sum it up, God has spoken, and I am stepping out in faith.  I pray you will do the same.  The time for tiptoeing around the issue has come to an end, and it's time to act.  If you are not financially able to support this ministry, please consider supporting me in prayer.  As I'm sure you've figured out by now, I could use it!

I love you all and thank you for your support through the years.  I pray that God will speak to your hearts through this post and that, with your help, this ministry can expand to reach more souls for Christ and encourage those who have lost all hope for a better tomorrow.  We can make a difference. . .if we'll only obey God's leading!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Who's Your Daddy?

We all know the story of David and Goliath, right? It is the epic tale of a scrawny shepherd boy who stood up against a merciless enemy and came out the victor. Of course, we must not lose sight of the fact that God was the true champion, for it was He who defeated Goliath through David. How else do you explain that the giant fell forward after being struck in the forehead with David’s stone? The laws of physics dictate that he should have fallen backward, but God operates by His own laws.

One of the things that I find intriguing about this story is Saul’s question to his captain, Abner. Take a look: And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, the captain of the host, Abner, whose son is this youth? And Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell. (I Samuel 17:55) He didn’t ask who David was? He didn’t question how such a gangly youth could have defeated a giant? No, only one inquiry seemed important to Saul at the time: “Who is his daddy?”

Is it possible that the world asks the same of us when God conquers giants through us? Whether it be the giants of fear, discouragement, grief, loss or some other mighty foe, the world around us is quite aware of their existence, for they battle them too. The difference is that they fight their enemies alone, without the power of God on their side. We don’t. The battle is God’s, and if we allow Him (as David did), He will fight for us and through us, bringing victory time after time.

How else do you explain the mother whose children have forsaken her yet she still lives for Jesus? How do you explain the couple who lost their baby yet grew closer to God and each other in the wake of their grief? How do you explain the Christian who’s fighting a lengthy battle with cancer yet encouraging others along the way? The world can’t explain it. They cannot understand it. All they can say is, “What do they have that I don’t?” What they really want to know (though they may not fully understand it) is, “Who’s your Daddy?”

Facing giants is no fun, and anyone who says otherwise is obviously not in their right mind. It’s terrifying, discouraging and frustrating. And often we find ourselves wondering, Why do I have to fight this battle? May I offer this conclusion? Could it be that God is allowing us to go up against these giants so that He can open the door for the Sauls of this world to ask, “Who’s your Daddy?” And in the aftermath of our victory, we can tell them. You see, it’s not just a battle for bragging rights (though it certainly gives us the opportunity to brag on God), but it’s a battle for souls. The biggest giant the world is fighting is the one most of them aren’t even aware of: unbelief. But maybe after witnessing our fighting strategy, they’ll notice the difference in our tactics (fighting in God’s strength instead of our own) and long to know more, just like Saul did.

And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, Whose son art thou, thou young man? And David answered, I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite. - I Samuel 17:57-58

David answered the question that Abner couldn’t because the young boy knew exactly who his daddy was. We should be able to do the same, for we know whom we have believed. (For those of you who don’t know, I’d be happy to introduce you to my Daddy. I promise you, He’s unlike any other, and He excels at defeating giants!)

Friday, January 27, 2017

God's Answer To Our Cries

In yesterday's post, we looked at Exodus 5, where Moses' obedience to God didn't turn out the way he had planned. Confused by the outcome, Moses sought an answer from God, and boy, did he get an answer! Today, I would like to share it with you, and I hope it's as much of a blessing to you as it was to me. God's response can be found in Exodus 6, but for the sake of time and space, I will highlight the gist of His answer.

Verse 1– See what I will do.
Verse 2 – I am the Lord.
Verse 3 – I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Verse 4 – I have established my covenant with them.
Verse 5 – I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel.
Verse 5 – I have remembered my covenant.
Verse 6 – I am the Lord.
Verse 6 – I will bring you out.
Verse 6 – I will rid you out of their bondage.
Verse 6 – I will redeem you.
Verse 7 – I will take you to me for a people.
Verse 7 – I will be to you a God.
Verse 8 – I will bring you into the land.
Verse 8 – I will give you the land for an heritage.
Verse 8 – I am the Lord.

Just to make sure Moses remembered who he was speaking to, God reminded him three times, "I am the Lord." Beyond that, He not only told Moses what He was going to do but also what He had already done, proving that He is a God who can be trusted to do what He says He's going to do.

Personally, I love the placement of the times God intersects the statement, "I am the Lord." Before He states what He has already done, God makes it clear that He is the Lord. Then, before switching tenses to the future, He says once again that He is Lord. Finally, after listing the things that He will do, God repeats Himself one more time, assuring Moses that He is the Lord. I cannot say for sure why God placed the phrase in that particular order, but to me, it serves as a reminder that the God of today is the God of yesterday and tomorrow. He is the same day after day. He never changes. He is ever faithful and has never failed to follow through on his promises. I don't know about you, but I find great comfort in this.  I have.  I am.  I will.

No matter what happened yesterday or what the future may hold, I can live today in God's presence, trusting that while His mercies are new every morning, His nature is not. I can count on His grace and compassion and love. I can depend on His help, counsel and support. I can trust that the God who has seen me through many trials will see me through many more because He is the Lord.  He was yesterday.  He is today.  And He will be tomorrow.  And nothing, my friend, can change that!

Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it? - Isaiah 43:13

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When Things Go From Bad to Worse

Have you ever followed God's instructions for your life only to find that things got worse instead of better?  We're taught that obedience leads to blessing, but sometimes it doesn't really seem that way, does it?  The children of Israel understood that all too well.

In Exodus 5, God commands Moses to tell Pharoah to set His people free.  When Moses declares God's will to the people of Israel, they are thrilled that God has heard their cries for deliverance.  But when Moses obeyed God and spoke to Pharaoh, the Egyptian king refused to let the people go.  Not only that, but he also stated that the people must have too much time on their hands if they're wasting time dreaming about being rescued.  Pharaoh commanded that the people were no longer to receive straw to make their bricks, but they now had to go out and gather the straw themselves.  Plus, they were still required to make as many bricks as they had before.  When the people failed to meet the quota, they were beaten.  After a few days of this, they pleaded with Pharaoh whose response was, "You brought this on yourselves.  That's what you get for listening to God."

Well, that's not how things were supposed to go, was it?  God commanded.  Moses obeyed.  The people should have been set free, right?  But instead, their lives grew more miserable than they were before, and according to Pharoah, they had God to thank for their worsened state.  Needless to say, when Moses went back to talk to the people, they didn't want anything to do with him.  Moses understood, and he had a little chat with God.

And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all. - Exodus 5:22-23

I detect several things in Moses' tone:  frustration, confusion, and maybe even a hint of bitterness.  "Why am I even here, Lord?  Ever since I came, things have only gotten worse, and you still haven't delivered your people!  What's the deal?"

Oh, how I can relate!  I cannot tell you how many times I've followed the Lord's will only to have things turn out differently than I expected.  In fact, things go from bad to worse.  I give money to a hurting friend and overdraft on my account.  I go out of my way to help someone in need and end up missing out on an opportunity that would have furthered my ministry.  I take a class that I thought would step my writing up to the next level only to later regret spending the money.  Over and over again it has happened.  And each time, I find myself where Moses is in this passage:  "What gives, Lord?  I obeyed you.  I followed your instructions.  I gave the money, met the need or took the class, and now I'm worse off than I was before.  I thought obedience was rewarded, but it certainly doesn't seem like it from where I'm standing."

Do you detect the same frustration, confusion and even bitterness?  I don't mean to be disrespectful though it often comes across that way.  It's just that things seem so out of order.  How can obedience to God's will leave us worse off than we were before?  It doesn't make sense. . . at least, not to the human mind.  Lord willing, in the next post, we'll analyze God's response to Moses (and let me tell you, it's awesome!), but until then, let me just say this:  God has a plan even when it seems like He doesn't.  He is working even when it appears like things are spinning out of control.  And sometimes, as difficult as it is for us to swallow, things have to get worse before they can get better.  Yes, God could have set Israel free right away, but while that seems like a good plan, God had a better one--one that would take care of Egypt once and for all.

I wish I could tell you that obedience to God always makes things easier and better, but that's simply not so.  However, disobedience to God's commands will always make us miserable.  Of that, we can be certain.  So, if we're going to be miserable either way, wouldn't it be better to obey God, knowing that, in the end, everything will work out as it should?  With obedience, things might go from bad to worse, but we can be assured that they will get better.  With disobedience, the misery will never end.

Does it seem like situations in your life have gone from bad to worse?  If so, don't lose heart.  God has a plan, and He is working on your behalf.  Don't grow bitter.  Just hold tight to God's promise that He is working all things together for your good, and check back tomorrow to see what God has to say in response to Moses' query.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Get Over It!

Get over it.  I despise that phrase.  Just typing it makes my red hair stand on end.  Though, to be honest, I don't think it's the phrase that bothers me as much as the attitude with which it is usually uttered.  I can't tell you how many times I've poured out my heart about an issue that was a heavy burden to me only to have some insensitive soul state, "Well, you need to just get over it."  Seriously?  That's the best advice or comfort they could offer?  No, what it says to me is "I don't have time to deal with your issue, and I don't really care enough to even pretend like I care."  Perhaps that is not what the person means, but it sure does come across that way to me.

However, as I listened to my pastor's sermon on Sunday night, I realized that there is actually some sound advice in that seemingly careless statement.  Isaiah 40:31 says, But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.  Notice that phrase, "mount up with wings as eagles."  The eagle soars high above the ground, over the valleys and mountains alike, just as God wants us to do.  He doesn't want us to be trapped beneath the weight of our burdens, but rather He wants us to soar above them.  From there, not only is our load lightened, but we also gain a different (and better) perspective on our situation.

Get over it.  Get above it.  Don't let the circumstances weigh us down to the point that we can't even look up.  Rise above them.

As my pastor pointed out, there is an odd placement of phrases in this verse.  It speaks first of flying, then running, and lastly walking when human logic would argue that one must walk before he can run and run before he can fly.  That's an interesting point, but even more intriguing to me is that the strength to mount up with wings as eagles only comes after we wait, but doesn't it take strength to wait on the Lord in the first place?  It feels like being caught up in a Catch 22.  You have to wait to have strength, but you need to have strength to wait.  So, how are we supposed to find the strength to rise above our problems if the strength isn't there to begin with?  Fortunately, the Bible covers that as well.

In Exodus 19, God is speaking to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai and reminding them of how He had brought them safely up out of their Egyptian bondage.  Notice what He says in verse 4: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.  Did you see it?  God said, "I bore you on eagles' wings," not "you lifted yourself up on eagles' wings."  When Moses arrived on the scene to lead God's people out of Egypt, he found a nation who was tired, weary and discouraged.  They had no hope, no faith and no strength.  They couldn't free themselves, and they knew it.  As downhearted as they were with their complicated lives, they couldn't find the strength to rise above their circumstances.  They couldn't "get over it."  So God lifted them up and above their circumstances.  He bore them on eagles' wings when they didn't have the strength to mount up as eagles themselves.

And God will do the same for us if we'll allow Him.  Will the troubles vanish?  Not likely.  Will everything work out the way we want?  Probably not.  But God is in control, and He will ensure that everything works out as it should.  If we will surrender the situation to Him and trust Him to do what's best, we'll find ourselves rising above our circumstances.  And take it from a seasoned hiker, the view always looks better from the top!

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Half Truth Is a Whole Lie

I've been busy working on book four in the Delaware Detectives Mystery Series, and I finally finished the rough draft.  As I typically do in these middle-grade novels, I wove a thread of moral lessons throughout the book, helping children to see that God's ways are always best.  Today, I'd like to share with you one of those lessons by quoting a portion of the new book.  Yes, I realize that you are adults and not children, but I know quite a few adults who have trouble with this particular nasty habit.  Either way, it's a good reminder for all of us.

Before Mr. Reed could respond, we explained to him about our spy mission from the night before. We gave him every detail about what we had heard and seen outside of Oldie’s Antiques. In our excitement, the four of us talked over one another as we all tried to fill in bits and pieces of the story. When we finished, I stared at Mr. Reed, certain that he would be thrilled with our findings, but instead, the look on his face was one of disapproval. 

“Your grandfather and your parents gave you permission to go on such a spy mission alone?” 

I grimaced. “Not exactly, but we did have permission to be out that late at night.” 

Mr. Reed folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head to one side. “And how is that exactly? What reason could you kids possibly have to be out that late at night?” 

Before I could answer, Jamie spoke up. “Well, you see, the library was having a movie night, so we told Pop-Pop and Mrs. Hicks that that’s where we were going.” 

“You mean you lied?” Mr. Reed asked. 

I shifted my weight from one foot to another, suddenly uneasy with the direction the conversation had turned. As I was trying to come up with something to say, Scott, who was also swaying on his feet, decided to speak up. 

“We didn’t exactly lie. We did go to the movie night at the library. We just left after it started, but we were there for some of it. So, it wasn’t really a lie. We went where we said we were going to go.” 

I shook my head, knowing this was not going to end well. 

Mr. Reed uncrossed his arms and laid his hands, palm down, on the counter, leaning forward to the point where his face was only inches from ours. “Oh, I see. So, because part of your story was true, it doesn’t matter that you left out the rest of it?” 

Scott didn’t answer, and it was clear to me he was regretting speaking up in the first place. The four of us stood quietly, waiting to hear what Mr. Reed would say next. 

The store owner shook his head. “What you kids did was very dangerous, but more than that, it was wrong. I don’t care how you look at it or how much you sugarcoat it, when you don’t tell the whole truth, it’s still a lie. It doesn’t matter if you tell half the truth or even most of the truth, if you leave out any part of it, it’s a lie, and I think, deep down you kids know that. If you didn’t, you would be defending yourselves right now instead of standing there in shame. You owe your grandfather and your parents an apology and an explanation of what you were really doing last night. It’s up to them how they want to proceed from there, but I don’t mind telling you that I’m disappointed. I expected more from you.” 

Tears sprang to my eyes. I don’t know what was worse: Mr. Reed’s lecture or the fact that he was disappointed in us. Over the past few weeks, we’d grown to really like and respect the elderly man. To know that he thought less of us at this point was truly heartbreaking. But he was right. We did know better. At least, I did. I understand—and have understood for a while no—that telling a half-truth is the same as telling a whole lie. But I knew that Pop-Pop would have never let us go if I told him the truth, so I convinced myself that it was worth a little lie to get what I wanted. But now, I realize that I was lying to myself as much as I was lying to Pop-Pop. Lying is never worth it, and it only brings trouble.

As Abby and her detective team discovered, lying can take many forms, and if we are ever leaving out certain details of the truth, we're telling a lie.  The kids omitted parts of the truth because they knew that their guardians would never agree to their dangerous plans, so rather than risk them saying "no," the kids simply left out some of the facts.  They tried to justify the deception by saying that most of their story was true, but as Abby finally realized, they were lying to themselves as much as to anyone else.  And, as the Bible says, Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)  They knew to tell the whole truth, but they didn't, so it was a sin.  Plain and simple.

May we not be guilty of the same!

***Special Note:  I am currently putting together the launch team for I Once Was Lost:  A Delaware Detectives Mystery.  If you would be interested in receiving an advance copy of the book, offering valuable feedback on cover design and such, winning valuable prizes, having your name listed in the book and more, please visit the sign-up page here:  Enrollment ends on January 27th.***

Friday, January 20, 2017

Revisiting Bad Habits

Yesterday was such a gorgeous day that I couldn't resist the urge to do some of my work outside.  With notebook and pen in hand, I set up my outdoor chair in the sunshine and sat down to do some serious writing.

The work session would have been more successful, I dare say, if Mitch had not decided that he wanted to be a clown.  Excited to be outside in the beautiful weather, he ran and jumped and danced and, of course, rolled over and over again in the dirt.  Mitchell is all boy!

After one of his rounds of "dirty dancing," he walked over to me, presumably to show me how filthy he was.  Needless to say, I was not amused.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I was actually quite amused at his antics, but I wasn't pleased with the amount of grass and leaves he had managed to acquire in his coat.

Setting my work aside, I rubbed my hands repeatedly down his back and sides, ridding him of as much of the loose debris as I could.  Then I grabbed his face in my hands, placed a kiss on top of his head and told him to go play so I could finish my work.  Evidently, we have different definitions of the phrase "go play," for as soon as I issued the command, he dropped down on the ground and proceeded to roll around in the dirt again.  Then, just as quickly, he jumped up and ran in the house before I could stop him.  Guess what I found all over the couch when I finally decided to go inside!  Rotten dog!!!

But truth be told, I don't have any room to talk because I've been known to do the same thing.  Not roll in the dirt--yuck!  But return to my dirty habits.  How many times have I run to Jesus, ashamed of something I'd done, only to have Him wipe me clean and send me back on my way?  And how many times does my way lead me right back into the very thing that brought me trouble to begin with?  Let's face it, some habits are really hard to break.

Take, for instance, the habit/sin of worry.  I know it's wrong.  I don't want to do it.  I don't even mean to do it.  But, just like Mitch, no sooner have I been cleansed of my lapse in trust than I return to the same old ways.  Fretting over the bills.  Fearful whether or not Jason will have work tomorrow.  Wondering if my health will ever improve.  Anxious over every decision.  It's enough to make the Charlie Brown in me shout, "Good grief!"

But this post is not intended to make you feel guilty or ashamed.  If you're anything like me, you're already there.  Instead, I believe we could all use a blessed reminder of how God handles our relapses.  Is He pleased with our behavior?  No, just as I wasn't pleased with Mitch's return to the dirt pile.  But do you know how I handled Mitch's second round of "dirty dancing"?  I went in the house, brushed him down (again) and cleaned up the mess He had made on the floor. . .and the blanket. . .and the couch.  I didn't fuss.  I didn't give him the silent treatment or explode in anger.  I loved him in spite of his wrongdoing and cleaned up both him and the mess he made.

Now, I cannot assure you that God will always clean up our messes.  Sin has consequences, and often we're left to face them.  However, despite what we've done, God's love for us never falters, and He longs to clean us up and set us back on the right path.  Knowing this doesn't give us a license to sin, mind you, but rather it helps us to understand how much our Father loves us and how far He's willing to go to help us succeed.  I don't know about you, but that makes me want to try that much harder to please Him.

Now, if you'll excuse me, another beautiful day is beckoning me, and I fancy a walk with my Lord.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:9

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What's With All the Detours? - Repost

Yesterday morning, I left the house early in hopes of getting my errands done before lunch and, with that done, to be able to go about the rest of my day.  As I typically do, I decided to take the back roads to avoid traffic.  (I don't know about you, but traffic does not bring out the best in me.) Sadly, within two minutes of my drive, I came upon a road sign saying that the road ahead was closed at the railroad tracks.  With no place to turn around, I thought, Okay, no big deal.  I'll turn at the road just before the tracks and head down the road where it actually goes underneath the tracks.  Problem solved.  Never, ever say or think that!

I took the road under the tracks which brought me out right in front of the street I wanted to go down.  Guess what?  Yep, another sign.  It would seem that the road ahead was closed at that set of tracks as well.  Good grief!  No problem.  I would simply go down to the next road and turn there.  That worked until I arrived at the next intersection where I encountered another detour/road closed sign.  "You've got to be kidding me!"  I exclaimed in aggravation.  To be honest, I was running out of ideas of how to get to my desired destination and was seriously contemplating turning around and going home.  This was just too much work!

After a few more turns, twists and recalculations, I finally arrived at my first destination.  To say I was frazzled would be an understatement.  I finished my errands as quickly as possible, then sat in the car for a moment to see if I could remember which route I took so that I could get home without all the extra twists and turns.  With my plan in place, I headed toward home and was actually in my neighborhood when I spotted it. . .well, actually, I should say them.  At first, I noticed the ambulance and police car, but they were both pulled over to the side of the road, so I figured I could just go around them.  But as I swerved a little to see around, I noticed another stupid, orange road sign, this one bearing the words, "Road Closed Ahead."  That did it!  The camel's back was broken, and this little, fiery redhead was indeed fiery.  After another unscheduled detour, I finally arrived safe and sound at my beloved home.  And might I say, I haven't left the house since then!!!!

Doesn't life sometimes seem to treat us the same way?  We set off for an intended destination.  We have a plan.  We have the right motives.  We're doing a good thing.  Then, out of nowhere, we see the sign, "Road Closed.  Detour Ahead."  At first, it's an annoyance, but not much else.  We cope.  We work around it.  We find another way to reach our desired end.  But then, there's another detour and another one and another one.  Pretty soon, we find ourselves sitting on the floor and wondering if we'll ever reach our destination or if we really even want to anymore.

Let's face it, life can be quite frustrating from time to time.  When things are humming along smoothly, we're good, but when life starts throwing those detours in our paths, we're anything but good.  We're aggravated.  We're confused.  We're discouraged.  And we find ourselves wondering if it's really worth it.  May I offer you three suggestions?

1) Pray. -- It could be that God is placing the detours in our lives to set us on a different path. If we're encountering detour after detour, our first order of business ought to be to seek the Lord's will and direction for our lives.  Before we do anything else, we need to know if these detours are new directions for our lives.  If they are, then God will reveal what changes He wants us to make.  If they are not "signs from God," continue on to #2.

2) Don't give up. -- Yesterday, I was tempted to forget about the errands and go home.  My frustration got the best of me and encouraged me to quit.  But if we quit every time we come across a stumbling block, we'll never reach our spiritual "pot of gold."  God has great plans for each of us, but we'll never see those plans realized if we give up at every turn.  Keep going.

3) Encourage yourself in the Lord. -- Yes, road closures and detours are a huge pain in the. . . well, you know.  However, the primary purpose for such things is so that improvements can be made.  The multiple road closures I faced yesterday were the result of repairs on the railroad tracks.  The tracks were being made better, safer and more functional.  So while, yes, detours are a hassle, aren't you glad that someone is looking out for your well-being by ensuring that the roads and railroad tracks are safe?  God is doing the same thing.  If He is allowing roadblocks in our lives, it could be that He is working to improve a particular area of our lives that needs some work.  Instead of complaining about the inconvenience, we ought to be thankful that God loves us enough to help us be the very best that we can be.

What roadblocks are you facing today?

Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. - Psalm 143:10

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Where Do You Go?

Once in a while, everyone needs an escape from the nasty now-and-now.  Let's face it, when the Bible says, Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble (Job 14:1), it isn't kidding.  Life is hard.  It seems that we get bounced from one problem to another, and sometimes, it's easy to get weary in well-doing.

That's when it's nice to be able to get away for a day of rest and relaxation.  Some fun in the sun.  A hike through nature.  A day inside buried in a favorite book or playing your favorite video game.  Yes, if we're honest, I think we'd all admit to the need to escape "real life" every now and then.

However, escape can become a problem.  While it's normal and even healthy to enjoy the occasional retreat from life's demands and difficulties, it is both abnormal and unhealthy to constantly be seeking an escape.  It is possible to get to the point where we find life so tedious and discouraging that we spend more time escaping life than we do living it.  But what's even worse is that we can become so used to avoiding life that it becomes our default setting to dealing with our struggles.  Instead of running to the Lord, we run away.  Away from Him.  Away from life's demands.  Away from family obligations.  Away to our chosen place (or places) of escape.

Again, I am not bashing downtime.  There's nothing wrong with watching television, reading a book, playing a video game, indulging in a hobby or any other healthy habit that reduces stress and makes us happy.  But we must be careful not to allow those things to take the place of God.  He is our Comforter.  He is our Joy.  He is the Problem Solver.  When life gets us down, rather than running away to our escape zones, we need to run to Jesus.  Only He can settle our hearts and nurture our souls.  The other things may offer temporary relief, but only Jesus can give us lasting help and hope.

I know life can be trying, and sometimes you may feel like you just have to get away.  I understand.  I really do.  But before you fly off to points unknown, please take a few minutes to give the problem to Jesus.  Invite Him to be the Solution.  Who knows?  Maybe after spending a little time with Him, you'll find that you can enjoy your favorite activities just for the joy of doing them and not for the need of escape.

Jesus has the answer.  He is the answer!   Don't run away from Him.  He wants to help you today.

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. - Psalm 55:22

Monday, January 16, 2017

When Good Instruction Turns to Humble Pie

If you've been following along, you know that we just finished a series on how to know the will of God.  I, for one, was humbled by the things God was teaching me, but I felt I needed to share with you something that happened after the fact.  This is concerning the first point we discussed which was that if we want God's direction on a particular situation, we need to make sure we're already doing what He's asked us to do.

I will freely admit to you that two of the main areas I've been asking for guidance is my health and my spiritual life.  Healthwise, I am seeking answers to my joint issues and trying to find ways to have more energy and stamina throughout the day.  (If you're not aware, constant pain is a significant energy drain!)  Spiritually, I simply long to know God more.  I want to make sure that every step I take is in His perfect will, so I'm always seeking guidance in that area.

Okay, now for the terrible admission.  When I was considering point one, I was pretty proud of myself, though I didn't really think of it as pride at that point in time.  Healthwise, I felt I was doing everything right.  I'm eating right.  I'm exercising.  I'm seeing the chiropractor regularly.  I've even been working to manage my stress.  Yep, I'm following God's directions there.  My inner conversation regarding my spiritual life went the same way.  I spend daily time with God.  I read my Bible and pray regularly.  I attend church pretty much every time the doors are open.  Yes, as I completed my mental checklist, I, once again, felt like I was doing everything God required of me.

Later on in the week, as I was doing my devotional reading, the Lord struck me with a thought.  In the blink of an eye, He conveyed to me that if I want His guidance in life, I need to make sure I'm obeying His will in regards to all areas of my life, not just the ones for which I'm currently seeking answers.  I wanted to argue that I didn't understand, but before I could, He convicted my heart about some of the things I've been watching on television.

Jason and I are not big television watchers.  In fact, we don't even have it set up to where we can watch regular tv.  No antenna.  No satellite.  No cable.  We have Netflix and Hulu, which give us more than enough things to watch.  Anyway, several years ago, the Lord convicted my heart about a particular sitcom we were watching.  It wasn't that the show was bad, but there was a lot of loose living going on, and overall, the show did not, in any way, promote good values.  In obedience to the Lord, I discussed my feelings with Jason, and we stopped watching the show.

A few years later, I realized that we were watching new sitcoms, but they had the same issues like the one God had convicted me about.  Jason and I discussed it, but we came to the conclusion that it was okay because we weren't really agreeing that the lifestyles were right, and it wasn't the sin we were laughing at.  It was other parts of the show that made it humorous.  Still, there were certain times I would cringe at something that was said or done in the series.

As I sat on my couch doing my devotions a few days ago, I heard the Spirit whisper to me, "How many times have I asked you to give up those shows?  Why are you still watching them?"  Again, I was ready to argue, to defend myself with the crafty logic that Jason and I had earlier discussed, but before I could say anything, the Lord brought a verse to my mind.  First Corinthians 10:31 says, Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  On the heels of that, God left me with one final question:  "Can you honestly say that what you're watching brings glory to God?"  Ouch!

I talked things over with Jason that night and explained why I didn't want to watch those particular sitcoms anymore.  We both agreed that it would be best if we spent our time in other ways, or at the very least, watching things that were pleasing to the Lord.  Suddenly, I feel free!  I can't explain it.  I had no idea that I was being held captive by my own disobedience, but now I see it so clearly.

You're probably wondering if God has now answered all my questions and shown me the answers I've been seeking.  No, not yet, but at least I know I've removed an obstacle that was probably preventing some blessings and was definitely harming my relationship with God.  So, why did I tell you all of this?  I just wanted to encourage you to be open to God's voice and His conviction.  There may be hidden sin in your life that you're not even aware of.  When going through your mental checklist of whether or not you're following God's will, be sure to check all areas of your life, not just the ones in which you're seeking answers.  Then, when God reveals something to you, be ready and willing to confess it and get it right.  I promise you'll be glad you did!

Friday, January 13, 2017

How Can I Know the Will of God? - Part Four

In our study on discerning the will of God for our lives, we've covered three points thus far.  (1) We must follow the guidelines outlined in Scripture  (2) We must seek God's counsel by reading His Word and spending time in prayer  (3) We must surrender our wills to God, accepting that His will is best.  Though there are other ways to determine God's will--like seeking Godly counsel from a pastor or elder in the church, laying out a fleece like Gideon did in the Old Testament and so on--I'm going to end with this one because, in my life, I've found that if I follow through with these four steps, God's way becomes clear even if it may take some time, which leads right into today's point.

Trust God's timing.  Such a short sentence yet such an arduous task.  Let's face it, we are not exactly patient people.  We live in the day of fast food, express lanes, mobile everything.  Rush, rush, rush.  Always in a hurry.  So much to do, so little time.  Honestly, who among us has time to wait on the Lord to show us the next step in our path?  Sadly, not many of us take the time even though we're repeatedly commanded in the Bible to wait on the Lord.

As many of you know by now, I have a difficult time with expectations.  I set high expectations for myself and others (including God), and when those expectations aren't met, I fall apart.  When it comes to seeking God's will, I "logically?" conclude that since God wants me to do His will, He won't hide it from me; therefore, as soon as I ask for clarity, He'll give it.  All done.  Case closed.  Moving on.  Only, I forget to factor in to my "logic" that God doesn't answer to me.  He has His own logic, and it often contradicts and even opposes my own.  Does He want me to do His will?  Absolutely.  Does He want me to know His will?  Sure.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that He wants me to know it right when I think I need to know it.  He may have another plan.

I can't tell you when God will answer your prayer or how long it will take from the time you ask Him to show you His will until the time that He answers.  I honestly have no idea.  Only God knows that.  But what I will tell you (and what I constantly have to remind myself) is that God's timing is always perfect.  We see proof of that over and over again in the Bible.  Even when it seemed God was late, He was still on time to perform His will--the greater picture that nobody knew or even suspected.

In my life, I find this step the most demanding.  It can be so difficult to trust God's timing when I feel I need guidance NOW!  But the truth is, nobody knows what I need more than God does.  He sees beyond what I do and understands the perfect timing.  That being the case, I can grow weary of waiting and try to jump ahead of God, doing things my own way and in my own timing, or I can wait on God to work things out according to His plan.  (For those of you taking notes, the first one only leads to disaster and heartache, so it's a bad, bad idea!)

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. - Psalm 27:14

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How Can I Know the Will of God? - Part Three

In the last few posts, we've been discussing how to know the will of God.  To summarize what we've learned thus far, we must (1) Follow the guidelines of Scripture, and (2) Grow closer to God by prayer and Bible reading.  The more we know someone, the more we understand their desires.  Yes, one of the best ways to find out what God wants is to spend time with Him, but knowing God's will often requires all of these steps, not just the most convenient one.  And that includes step three which is to surrender to God's will.

How many times have you asked for God's will about something, but when He showed you, it wasn't what you wanted to hear, so you ignored it?  Maybe you've never done that, but I'm sorry to say that I have.  I prayed in earnest, expecting that God's ways would be my ways, that He would know how much I wanted my will to be His will and give in to my expectations.  But God doesn't work that way, and I'm glad He doesn't.  I'm so thankful He's not a puppet on a string that can be controlled by each of my passing fancies.  Who knows what kind of mess I would be in if God always let me have my way?  Yikes!

The fact of the matter is that God knows our hearts.  When we're seeking His will, He knows whether or not we're actually going to do it once He reveals it.  He knows if we're going to obey or pull a Jonah and run the other way.  He understands our hearts better than we do, and while we may think that we're seeking His will, often we're seeking for Him to agree with our will.  It's not the same thing.

If we really want to know God's will, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that the answer may not be what we were expecting or even what we want but that we will obey no matter what.  And let me tell you, this is not a one-time decision.  No, this is a battle that must be fought day after day.  "Thy will be done, Lord.  Thy will be done."  It's not about what we want or what we expect.  It's about what God wants and what He knows is best for us.  Although God's direction may seem terrifying at first, we'll soon discover that when we are in the center of God's will, we are the happiest people on earth.  There is true joy and contentment in doing God's perfect will, and it cannot be found elsewhere.

So, if you want that peace and contentment, it means giving up your desires and expectations and honestly saying, "Thy will be done, Lord."  Then, when God gives you the answer you were seeking, obey with a willing heart and a grateful spirit.

The chances are God won't reveal His will if He knows we're not going to follow it anyway.  He's waiting for us to be willing.  He's looking for our white flag of surrender.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How Can I Know the Will of God? - Part Two

As we discussed in the previous post, the first step in discovering the will of God is to make certain that we're already doing the things that He's told us to do.  Most of these instructions can be uncovered by spending time in the Word of God, and that's what I would like to discuss today.

As Christians, we shouldn't need to be told how important it is to read God's Word on a regular basis. It is the source of information and encouragement we need to face whatever each day may bring.  It is the means by which we can better know and understand our Lord and Savior.  It is a guidebook, a love letter, a history book, a tale of miracles and so much more.  That being the case, hearing the preacher read a few verses in Sunday morning service simply isn't enough to get us through each week.  We need more, and that's why the Bible encourages us to study for ourselves. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15)

I think we all realize the importance of daily Bible time, and I pray that we're all doing our best to set aside time each day to read God's Word.  But simply reading isn't enough.  We need to meditate on it. We need to understand how the passage that we're reading applies to our current lives.  We need to ask God to speak to us through His Word and to reveal His will.  Sometimes the answer comes quickly, and it's so obvious that God may as well have placed a neon sign in the heavens.

For example, when I began writing, I knew--without a doubt--that the Lord wanted me to write, but I honestly wasn't sure what He wanted me to write.  Books?  Articles?  Copyright work?  Blogs?  Believe it or not, the possibilities are boundless.  So, for the first couple of years, I found myself flitting from one thing to another, never finding peace or settled that I was fulfilling God's purpose.  Finally, I had had enough, so I sat down with my Bible and prayed my heart out.  I pleaded with God to make His will in regards to my writing perfectly clear.  I begged Him to speak to me through His Word so that I would have no doubt that the message was from Him.  I began with my scheduled Bible reading which was in the book of Ecclesiastes.  I didn't really hold out much hope of finding an answer to my question there and was prepared to read several different passages until I had my answer.  Fortunately, I didn't have to.  As I read Ecclesiastes 12:12, a particular phrase leaped off the page and smacked me across the head (not literally, of course). And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.  Of making many books there is no end.  That was it!  That was the answer I needed.  After reading it and meditating on it and praying about it, I had such overwhelming peace that I needed to focus my writing on making many books.  Now, sixteen books later, I can tell you that there are still many more books on my "to-do" list.  The ideas for new books come far faster than I can write them, but I cannot describe to you the peace that I have in knowing that I'm in the Father's will.

Sadly, the answers don't always come that quickly or precisely.  I have followed the exact formula in other areas of my life, and it took far longer to find out the Lord's will and to have peace in that revelation.  In fact, there are certain circumstances where I'm still seeking His will (for example, the Song of the Day), and the answers haven't come.  The way I see it, the more time I spend in God's Word, the more likely I am to uncover His answer.  We can't ask the Lord to speak to us, then ignore the very Book through which He often speaks.  Yes, there are other ways for God to reveal His will, and we'll get to those, Lord willing, in the following posts, but one of the main ways God reveals His will is through His Word.  It is amazing how God can (and often will) lead you to verses that you never even realized were in the Bible.  You know you've read them, but for whatever reason, they didn't stick.  But now, when you need them the most, God will allow them to leap off the page.  But the only way you'll find those amazing passages is if you'll spend regular time in the Word, prayerfully seeking God's will.  God has a lot to say.  It's up to you whether or not you'll listen.

Monday, January 9, 2017

How Can I Know the Will of God?

If I were to make a list of the top five questions asked by believers, this one would rank among the highest.  As believers, our heart's desire is to serve the Lord, but how?  What does He want from us?  What is His will for our lives?  The Bible says that we can't know the mind of God, so is it even possible to know His will?  The answer to that is a resounding "yes."  God is not playing some cosmic joke on us where He expects us to follow His way yet fails to reveal that way to us.  He longs for us to know His will, and He will make it known to us, but over the course of the next few days, I would like to discuss a few things to keep in mind when seeking God's will for your life.

First off, if we want to know what the Lord would have us to do in a particular situation, we need to make sure that we're already doing the things He's told us to do in general.  For example, it we're pleading with God for direction concerning a certain health issue, but we're not eating right and exercising regularly, then what's the point?  God is not likely to reveal new information when we're not following the guidelines He's already outlined in His Word.  In other words, we shouldn't ask or expect step two if we haven't yet followed step one.

The Bible, as a whole, offers guidance on how we should live, but just in case we miss the big picture, there are several passages where God spells out plainly what His will is for our lives.  Here are a few of those passages:

Accept the Gift of Salvation:  In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: - Ephesians 1:7-9

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. - II Peter 3:9

Give Thanks:  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. - I Thessalonians 5:18

Submit to Authority: Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. - I Peter 2:13-16

Abstain from Sexual Sin:  For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; - I Thessalonians 4:3-4

For the most part, these passages explicitly state that "this is the will of God," but any command in Scripture that is directed to the church is the will of God.  After all, it is God's will that we follow His commands.  If the Bible says not to do it, then we shouldn't do it.  If the Bible says to do it, well, then there you go.  That being said, the only way to know for sure what God's Word has to say about His will is to read it, and that's the point we'll cover in our next post.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sense and Sensibility

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.  And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. - Genesis 3:1-6

Any leader in any branch of the armed forces will tell you that the best way to win a battle is to know your enemy.  As Christians, we have an enemy.  His name is Satan, and according to the above passage, he's subtle.  That's why it's so important for us to learn and recognize his tactics.  Otherwise, we'll fall for them every time.  Take, for example, this episode with Eve.  

The first thing Satan did was to appeal to Eve's sensibilities.  "Hath God said?"  Not only does Satan want to access what you know, but he desires to twist it to suit his own purpose, just like he did with Eve.  Watch how masterfully he intertwined truth and lie:

Ye shall not surely die. - No, Eve didn't die immediately.  The fruit was not a fast-acting poison.  So from Eve's perspective, she could eat the fruit, and when nothing happened, she would assume that God's words had not been true.  She didn't die right then; however, Satan neglected to mention that her disobedience would indeed result in death.

Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. - Again, partly true.  Yes, her eyes were opened and she did know good and evil, but her "godlikeness" stopped there.  No powers.  No omniscience.  Nothing.  Not quite the way Satan made it sound, is it?

Interestingly enough, a half truth is much more convincing than a whole lie, and Satan knows it.  He relishes in twisting the truth to where we're no longer sure what we believe or why we believe it.  And then, when we're good and confused, he implements step two:  appeal to the senses.

Way back in school, we all learned about the five senses:  sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  Notice how Satan tempted Eve's senses:

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food - First off, she saw the fruit, and it looked good.  Second, things that are good for food generally smell and taste good.

And that it was pleasant to the eyes - Again, it looked splendid.

And a tree to be desired to make one wise - Desire and wisdom can make a body feel pretty good.

She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat - Why not?  Everything Satan had told her sounded rewarding.

And so, in the blink of an eye, Eve's senses overcame her sensibilities, and she made a bad choice.  It's so easy to throw blame at her, but we do the same thing.  Bad decisions.  Unhealthy habits.  Day after day, we allow our senses to overcome our sensibilities.  We put much more stock in how we feel and/or what we want than we do the truth of God's Word.  The result is ineffective Christians with no joy or peace but plenty of stress.

As I wrap up this post, I leave you with one warning--KNOW YOUR ENEMY.  Learn to recognize his tactics.  Be on guard for his attacks on both your senses and your sensibilities.  And when the attacks do come (and they will), grab your sword (the Word of God) and be prepared to fight for your life. And whatever you do, don't eat the fruit!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

When Good Times Are Forgotten

Have you ever been in a valley so long and so dark that you eventually forgot all the good in your life?  You didn't mean for it to happen.  In fact, you didn't even realize it was happening until one day you examined your life and said, "This is my life.  This is how it's always been, and I guess this is how it will always be."  The happy times aren't even a memory.  The blessings can't be remembered.  It seems like the length and severity of the valley have cast a shadow over the good times that once were.  In a sense, you find yourself in a famine. . . not of food, but of hope.

Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. - Genesis 41:29-31

The above passage takes place during Joseph's captivity in Egypt.  Temporarily free of his prison bonds, the young foreigner interprets Pharoah's dreams, informing the ruler that the kingdom would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.  He goes on to warn that the famine would be so severe that the plenty would be forgotten.

Strange, isn't it?  Seven years of plenty.  Seven years of famine.  Seven years is seven years, right?  So how can one time period wipe out the memory of the other?  If you've ever been in a valley that seemed to stretch on for years, you'd understand the answer to that question.  Seven years of plenty seems like a drop in a bucket compared to seven years of famine.  Why?  Because we have a tendency to take our blessings for granted.  We expect life to treat us well.  We expect to have our needs met.  We expect God to bless us.  And when He does, we briefly acknowledge it (if that) and then continue on our way.

When life isn't so kind, however, we tend to keep count of all that's gone wrong.  We tally the injustices.  We log the times when God could have intervened but seemed nowhere to be found.  We chart the slight rise and continuous fall of our spirit and find ourselves asking, "God, how long will this last?"

I'm curious at what point during the seven years of famine the people forgot all about the time when they had plenty.  One year?  Halfway?  I doubt it was the entire seven years though that's not to say it didn't feel like it.  Yes, famines have a way of making time stand still, at least that's the way it seems to us.  The good times, if we remember them at all, seem so far away, yet the famine appears to stretch on forever with no hope in sight.  What can I say?  That's the nature of famines.

We don't, however, do ourselves any favors by dwelling more on the negative than we do on the positive.  Think about it for a moment.  When we need something, how many hours do we spend praying for it?  How many times do we ask God to grant our petition?  How often do we ask others to help us pray about it?  Then, when/if God does give us what we asked for, how do we respond?  Do we spend as many hours thanking Him as we did asking for what we wanted?  Do we continue to praise Him after the deed is done, or do we settle for a simple, "Thank you, Lord"?  Do we tell others what God has done and invite them to join in our worship?  Sometimes, maybe, but not usually.  Is it any wonder, then, that the good times are forgotten so easily?  If we don't spend time focusing on our blessings, they're very likely to be forgotten when tough times roll around.

Famine will come.  It is inevitable.  But we can be prepared.  By focusing on our blessings and adopting an attitude of gratitude day after day, we can help our brains hold onto the good times even when things turn bad.  Repetition aids learning, but it also supports memory.  If we don't want to forget the good times, we need to rehearse them over and over again to keep them fresh in our minds.

How has God already blessed you in this new year?  Think about it.  Write it down.  Praise the Lord for it.  Tell others about it.  Keep it fresh in your mind and in your heart.  After all, it's hard to forget something that you're always thinking about.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I Press On

As you probably know by now, I'm not one for setting New Year's resolutions.  I don't have anything against them, per se, it's just that I know myself.  No matter how lofty my goals or how firm my motivation, I have a tendency to fall short of the mark.  I don't mean to.  I have every intention of seeing things through and reaching my full potential, but life often has other plans for me.  Trials, obstacles, distractions--these things and more make it nearly impossible to fulfill the resolutions I set forth for myself.  So, rather than set them up and find myself disappointed when I don't make it, I just don't bother to make the resolutions to begin with.

That being said, I have decided that this year I will live by a new motto:  I press on.  I have no idea what 2017 may bring.  It may be a "Joseph Year" where everything I touch prospers and succeeds (see Genesis 39), or it could be a "Charlie Brown Year" where, according to his own words, everything I touch turns to a disaster.  Obviously, I'm hoping for the first, but only God knows what awaits me in the coming year.  But no matter what happens, I pray that I can fervently say, "I press on."

When trouble comes, I press on.

When I stand alone, I press on.

When I feel like giving up, I press on.

When it seems like God has turned against me, I press on.

When the answers to my prayers seem so far away, I press on.

When prosperity finds me, I press on.

When my health wavers, I press on.

When my faith is tested, I press on.

Day after day, week after week, I pray that God will remind me of my motto for the year and that He will give me the strength to follow through with it.  I cannot control what will happen over the next year, but I can choose how I will respond.


Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14