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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.

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From Whence Cometh My Help? - Part Nine (Repost)

Well, we've reached the end of our study on the Wonder Woman/Superman Complex, and you know what?  I'm starting to recognize and identify some of my actions based on our recent lessons.  Just this morning, I refused my husband's offer to walk the dogs.  The truth is that I really wanted him to because if he did, I could have my own personal prayer walk without feeling guilty about not taking the dogs along.  But I could tell that he wasn't really in the mood to walk them which meant (in my mind) that the dogs wouldn't get as good a walk as they would if I took them myself.  Before I reached the end of my street, I realized what I had done and smacked myself in the head.

The bad news is that I'm still battling the complex.  The good news is that I'm finally beginning to recognize and identify the symptoms.  Progress is being made.  It's slow progress, but it's progress nonetheless.  So, let's dive into our last question and see what other symptom(s) we may bring to light.

Wonder Woman/Superman Complex Test:

Question #9 -Do you accept additional responsibilities when you know your plate is already full?

In other words, do you struggle with that dirty little word "no"?  Maybe because you don't want to let others down.  Or perhaps you feel that if you don't do it, it won't get done.  Or it's possible you may fear others thinking less of you if you don't fulfill their wishes.  Or maybe it's a combination of all of the above with a few other reasons sprinkled in.  Whatever the case, you take on more and more, causing yourself new levels of stress and exhaustion.  Ever been there?

Sometimes I feel like I live there; however, I must admit that I've been getting better.  I finally reached a point where I realized that I can't be everything to everyone.  There's not enough of me to go around, and God has given me my own responsibilities and priorities.

Does that mean we should never do anything for others?  Absolutely not.  The Bible encourages us to help each other out.  Helping people is one thing.  Do something for others that they are not willing to do themselves is a different story entirely.  There's an old saying that goes something like this:  If you need something done, don't ask those who aren't doing anything.  Ask those who are doing everything, for then you can be assured that it will get done.  Sad, but true.  The problem is that those people who are doing everything will eventually burn out and/or grow bitter with their load.  Then what?

Just because someone asks us to do something does not mean that it's God's will for us to comply.  Before agreeing to take on another task, let's spend some time with the Lord and get His opinion on the matter.  He may want us to assist that person, or He may want us to focus on the tasks He's already assigned us.  If we allow Him to direct us, we'll find it easier to say "no" without feeling guilty.  After all, there's no reason for remorse if we're following the will of the Lord.

But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. - Galatians 6:4-5

Monday, June 5, 2017

From Whence Cometh My Help - Part Eight (Repost)

We're winding down.  Only two more questions to go.  So how are you doing so far?  Have your confirmed whether or not you suffer from the Wonder Woman/Superman Complex?

Wonder Woman/Superman Complex Test:

Question #8:  Do you make tasks more difficult than is necessary?

Oh dear!  All the perfectionists just cringed.  Yes, this is a tricky one, for it's all about balance.  The Bible tells us that we should do all things to the glory of God, and there's no doubt that this command implies that we should do our absolute best.  God is not satisfied with our half-hearted efforts and our thought patterns of "Well, it's good enough."  We should always strive to do our best, no matter the task.

On the other hand, in our attempts to do our best, we can sometimes tip the scale to the other extreme.  Instead of just printing out the Sunday School handouts, we insist on finding the perfect font and printing the pages on colored paper with appropriate designs.  Instead of singing the song to the best of our ability, we insist on mimicking the "star" who has all the right flair and inflection.  Instead of creating a home atmosphere of comfort and relaxation, we buzz about in a flurry of activity to ensure every pillow is fluffed and the last dust bunnies are rounded up. (Obviously, I don't struggle much with this one.  My house is a dust bunny asylum.)

Do you know what I'm talking about?  Perfectionists do.  We excel at turning molehills into mountains and simple tasks into large, time-consuming projects.  We go far beyond our best, never satisfied with what we've accomplished.  And sadly, in our attempt to do things for the glory of God, we lose sight of Him entirely.  Instead, we become focused on doing things to the best (and beyond) for our own satisfaction and peace of mind.  We become obsessed with doing more, being better and reaching new heights.

As you can imagine, when we reach that level, we're no longer acting in God's strength, but our own.  When we had the right heart and motives, God was with us, helping us until the point where we shoved Him away so that we could show Him what we were really capable of.  Yes, God was still there, but as far as we were concerned, He wasn't.  We were paying Him no heed, and we certainly weren't allowing Him to work through us.  No, pride had stepped in once again and consumed us.

I'll be the first to admit that it's a precarious balance to find and hold, and I'm still struggling with it.  I want to always put forth my best effort and never be satisfied with "good enough," but on the other hand, when God says, "That's enough," I want to be so in tune with Him that I both hear and obey.  One thing is for certain, it would save me a lot of wasted time, energy and strength.  How about you?

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. - Hebrews 13:20-21

Friday, June 2, 2017

From Whence Cometh My Help - Part Seven (Repost)

Wonder Woman/Superman Complex Test:

Question #7 - Have you ever turned down an offer for help but then complained about the task and the unwillingness of others to aid you?

To quote Winnie the Pooh, "Oh, bother!"  I fear that, once again, I must plead guilty.  I don't know why I do it, but I know that I do it often.  Perhaps, I feel the task will be a simple one, but once I get into it, I realize it's not as simple as I first thought, but then I don't want to go back and ask for help after I declined the initial offer.  Or maybe, it's that Wonder Woman Complex that spurs me to turn down the offers of help and then complain about my lot in life.  I don't know what it is, but I know who it reminds me of--Martha.

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. - Luke 10:40

If Martha's actions had been accompanied by a soundtrack (like in the movies), I think it would have sounded a little like this:  "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.  Nobody knows my sorrow."  Poor Martha.  Cumbered about with much serving.  But honestly, who's choice was that?  Martha's, right?  No one asked her to make such a fuss.  No one told her she had to do it all alone.  No one forced Martha to play Wonder Woman.  It was Martha's choice, and while I believe she had good intentions, her attitude wreaked of bitterness.

Like Martha, we often feel we can do it all or go it alone until frustration and exhaustion start to set in.  Then, watch out!  Our attitudes turn sour, and our thoughts turn negative.  Our delight in serving turns to duty, and our joy flies south.  Sure, we may accomplish the task at hand, but at what cost?  How about if we let Jesus answer that one.

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 10:41-42

May I spell that out for you in today's vernacular?   "Martha, you need to chill out.  You're working yourself to death trying to accomplish your goals, but you're missing out on what's really needful.  You're leaving me out of the process.  You're trying to act in your own strength, and it costs you your health, your energy, your testimony and your sanity."

Sound familiar?  Not only are we guilty of turning down the help of other people and then complaining, but we're also guilty of doing the same thing with the Lord.  "No thanks, God.  I've got this one."  Then, when everything falls apart, we cry, "Where are you, God?  How could you let this happen?"  Fickle, aren't we?

It's high time we accept the fact that we can't do it all and willingly accept the help of others, especially the Lord.  Just think, if Martha had asked for help instead of complaining, perhaps she would have finished sooner and with a better attitude.  Her acceptance of aid could have provided more time for worship.  Ours could do the same.  How about it?  Will you spend the day in frustration and complaints or in acceptance and worship?

Choose wisely, for much depends on it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

From Whence Cometh My Help - Part Six (Repost)

Wonder Woman/ Superman Complex Test:

Questions #6 - Do you set unrealistic demands on your time, talent and/or strength?

Do I?  You have no idea!  I take the title "Great Expectations" to all new levels.  Each day, I create of list of what I want to accomplish.  The list includes work tasks such as blogging, article writing, working on my current book, editing and so on.  It also includes house chores such as dishes, laundry, sweeping, cleaning bathrooms, running errands and the like.  Daily routines like devotion time, exercise and taking care of the dog grace the list.  As do various other tasks such as choosing and practicing offertories for church, preparing my weekly Sunday School lesson, creating lesson plans for the college class I teach, etc.   Before the day begins, the list is full.  Unfortunately, I rarely, if ever, complete everything on my list.

Why?  Well, maybe because I'm not Wonder Woman.  I don't have the time or the energy to fulfill all the obligations I impose on myself.  And it seems that when I have one (time or energy), I lack the other.  In short, at the end of the day, I find myself exhausted and frustrated because I feel like I haven't accomplished anything.  I set myself up to fail.

The dangerous part is that my actions open my heart and mind to attacks from Satan.  A weary soldier doesn't put up much of a fight.  And a discouraged warrior wants nothing more than to drop everything and go back to bed.  My unrealistic expectations lead me to view myself as a failure, and Satan is quick to second the motion.  And once he has a foothold, I'm in big trouble!

Having goals is good.  It's wonderful to be prepared.  There's nothing wrong with having a daily schedule or a to-do list.  The problem comes when we forsake all else to accomplish everything on that list.   The plan becomes our god, and we live only to serve it.  And in the process, life is stripped of joy, and our bodies are stripped of energy.  It's too much!  God never intended for us to try to conquer the world in a day.  And when we do, we're not following His will for our lives.

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