Saturday, September 29, 2012

Large With Strength

"Thank You for Your love,
Thank You for Your faithfulness;
Most holy is Your Name,
Most holy is Your Word.
"The moment I called out, You stepped in; 
You made my life large with strength."
Psalm 138:3 (The Message)

     My graduation certificate from Physical Therapy arrived in the mail yesterday and deserves the same amount of wall space as anything I've ever earned. So, today I thought I'd see just how much I've improved now that I'm a pro, a grad, by pitching things into the corner of the fence where the bamboo grows. All three tosses hit their mark.  Amazing, three months later what was broken is healed, what was weak is strong, what was shaky is steady.  In June, I was sure I'd never do much with this arm again and in September, I find I was wrong.  
     Did it take a piece of paper to tell me I could do that?  Could I have been tossing things far and wide yesterday? Last week? Two weeks ago?  Maybe so, and that's my problem.  In spite of all the times God has made me "large with strength" before this bummer of a summer, I didn't realize I was still waiting for visible evidence and the go-ahead nod from an expert before testing my strength.  
     If you've just hit bottom or you're looking at the long middle of a difficult valley, what you see is not what you get in the end.  When we keep calling out to the Lord, September arrives and we see how God has made us large with strength. If we immerse ourselves in growing in His grace, in fervently praying His Word, and in allowing Him to work out His Loving purposes in us, the valley becomes the place He heals, strengthens, and steadies us. 
     Father, we want out of the valleys.  We confess: we don't want to be strong or stronger; we want out.  But You have plans to make us "large with strength" to keep us from walking through life afraid or uncertain. You allow the valleys to make us able to praise You in any circumstance and so we'll call out to You to fill us with faith.  Thank You for Your love, for Your faithfulness.  We call and You step in - not always to lift us out of crises, but to strengthen us through them.  Give us the wisdom to accept what You're doing in us and to understand that what we see in the valley isn't what we get permanently. Help us act on the strength You provide.
In the the Name of Jesus Who, because He knew heaven lay ahead of Him,  was able to suffer merciless torture before carrying His own cross up a hill to die a death He didn't deserve.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Over and Under

     A few days ago I overheard the following final sentence in a conversation between two people just before they walked away from each other. 
"She just overreacted - which is better than under-reacting, I guess." 
If this statement is true, I'm doing a lot better than I thought. How about you? 
     I would love to know the subject of that conversation because I rarely agree with the conclusion. Most of our over-reactions turn molehills into mountains and  misdemeanors into felonies.  And, honestly, I've discovered my overreactions are sure-fire signs of fear or wounded pride ruling my life.
 "A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out." Proverbs 25:28

    Galatians 5:22-23 lists self-control among the fruit of the Holy Spirit that fills our lives. 
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
Galatians 5:22-23

While we shouldn't be guilty of under-reacting when someone's about to get hit by a car or when a relationship is in crisis, we still need to learn to underreact verbally while at the same time responding actively to the needs and situations God places in our paths.  

"So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world." 1 Peter 1:13


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Enlighten me, Lord, but manageably!

Enlighten me, Lord, but manageably.   

My devotional from "Come Away, My Beloved" reminded me of the power of praising God. So, I began praising Him instead of praying about all the specifics bothering me. As praises filled my mouth and heart, the Light grew brighter in my mind. Possibilities and joy began jostling previous ones out - like rabbits multiplying - before I could grasp them. Alarmed, my eyes popped open and I prayed.
Enlighten me, Lord, but manageably.  
     A few moments of praise and God caused a brainstorm of ways to help and encourage others.  Praising Him opened my mind and heart to accept the comfort, joy and love He was waiting to pour in. A few moments of praising Him opened the door of Hope.  
     God doesn't want us to carry a blessing to someone else. He calls us to be a blessing and allows no shortcuts in our character.  He doesn't let His children get away with checking off a good deed for the day.  He's all about shaping us, hollowing us out to carry more Light.  A lantern has to be empty on the inside to hold a light and only empty buckets can be filled with fresh water.  A heart filled with the blues has no room to "make melody" to the Lord. 
     Prepare to be amazed by the power of praise.
Enlighten me, Lord, but manageably!

Father -  You're worthy to be praised!  There's no one like You.  You always consider what's best for everyone else for now and the future.  For these moments, we empty ourselves of everything but You.  You're as unattainable as the stars.  Your Love is infinite, Your wisdom incomprehensible.  You created all that is and You can scale every hurdle on today's track.  We can't hold You; we can't control You. You are Perfect in every way. We love You. We want all You have for us but show us how to manage the blessings You pour into empty vessels.

In the Name of Jesus Who was filled with Your Spirit and overflowed on everyone He touched! 

17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,  Ephesians 5:17-19

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Making An Inferno out of a Flame

"A man's steps are directed by the LORD. 
How then can anyone understand his own way?"
Proverbs 20:24

"Therefore, is anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!"
2 Corinthians 4:17
I don't like to lose and I don't like losing things. I don't like the feeling I didn't get my fair share of the good stuff and I don't like getting an unfair share of misunderstanding or blame I don't deserve. I don't like watching helplessly as Plan A falls down the ranks to Plan D.  Yuck, pooey, and splttttt. Welcome to Life 101.

Today's Jesus Calling offers us a way to handle these potential day-ruiners: barely touch the disappointment before looking at God and saying "Oh, well."  Our joy won't be disturbed if we learn to handle life's little disappointments the same way we're able to move a finger quickly through a candle flame without getting burned. A light touch with daily worries and disappointments opens our eyes to realize the day's irritations don't have to ruin our moods or put our faith in the balance. We leave our fingers in the flame when we dwell, sulk, complain, and lash out at others over what could have been a brief flash in our day. 

Lord forgive us for living our days as if we're the only ones who matter.  Lift us above the trivial "I don't likes" and help us see with Your great, far-reaching eyes.  If we must complain, let it be to You.  If we feel overlooked, help us look to You.  If no one appreciates us, may we look around us to see who we need to appreciate.  Lord, help us grow up and shine for You instead of making destructive infernos out of flames.
In the Name of Jesus Who was treated unfairly yet remains the Light of the World

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's for dinner?

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time. 
Cast all your ansiety on Him because He cares for you."
1 Peter 5:5-6

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." 
Proverbs 16:9

"Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this: 
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." 
Psalm 37:5-6

     Julie inspired me to plan home-cooked meals and stick to the plan.  She's always been a great eater, willing to try anything Tom and I liked, and she would leave the house for school in the morning asking, "What are we having for supper?"  When she came through the door after school, she asked, "Are we stilling having ___________ for supper?"  She had set her mind to remember the plan and prepared her taste buds to enjoy whatever I had told her we were having. 
     Both of my children settled down when they knew the plan for the day.  When we prepared them , they either looked forward to what was coming or resigned themselves to it.  At different points in their lives they were easily upset when "the plan" didn't fall into place exactly- what, when, where, and how -we had laid it out for them.  We learned to cushion "the plan" with flexible terms like "if" and "I hope we can" and "I think so." 
     Spiritual maturity means setting our devotion to God in stone by keeping our plans in pencil.  We commit the calendar to Him one minute at a time.  It's only natural to plan, but if our anxiety levels rise every time God mixes it up a bit, it's because we placed our faith in "the plan" and not God.  
     Lord, keep us from worshiping "the plan."  Help us ask You rather than tell You what's out there for the day.  We want to submit to Your plans because deep down we know whatever You're cooking up will be the most nourishing thing for us in the long run.  Help us set our taste buds for what You're planning - even if it's surprise casserole.
In the Name of Jesus Who followed Your Plan all the way through and now sits beside You

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Everybody Needs Every Day Off (from some things)

     As I waited to sign in for my final occupational therapy appointment (woo-hoo!), I heard the gentleman at the receptionist's window saying, "Don't make it on Monday - that's my day off.  Now that I'm retired I'm busier than ever and I have to have a day off.  Monday is my day off."
     I'll bet I know why he chose Monday.  For years he probably groaned on Mondays ("Moan-days"), but not anymore.
     Everybody needs a day off, but today's thought has to do with taking every day off from mental strains we shouldn't be carrying any day of the week. From what exhausting activities do our minds need a break? Worry and planning come to mind immediately, but there are other mind activities we may not realize wear us down and out.  
     Do we realize how much mental effort we use to judge? The judgmental machine in our heads requires input and, sadly, we're happy to oblige. We feed this hungry gadget with our opinions of of people, situations, decisions, comparisons, etc., etc.  We even judge God for what He's doing (or not doing) in our lives, for His timing, and for making us the way He made us.    
     What about anger? It takes a lot of energy to hold on to a grudge. We spin our wheels and spend precious time playing those annoying scenes and conversations over and over in our mind's theatre.  
     How about the time and effort we spend figuring out how to avoid confrontation when a loving confrontation would be more cathartic and productive?
     What is the answer to all this mentally draining activity? Trusting God to work everything out and to lead us when He wants us to take part in His plan. Trusting Him to make the right judgment at the right time.  Resting in His promise to work all things out for the good of people who love Him.  Allowing Him to show us when it's time to speak up and when it's time to walk away. Trusting God knows what He's doing. Giving people the benefit of the doubt takes the responsibility off of our shoulders, allows us clear minds and mental rest. Only then can we focus on the transcendant thoughts God wants us to ponder. A rested mind can enjoy abundant life and hear His whispers.  It's time to take some time off.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged." 
  Matthew 7:1
"Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."     John 17:3
"But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?"
 Romans 9:20-21

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Today's the Day

"I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or want."
Philippians 4:12

     A package of Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies doesn't stand a chance in my pantry.  
Neither does a bag of peanut M&Ms or a certain friend's homemade banana bread.  Why put off until tomorrow what I can enjoy (in large quantities) today?  Self-control in the kitchen is a problem for me and the older I get, the more it shows.  
     However, I exhibit amazing self-control when it comes to the joy God puts in my heart's pantry for me to enjoy at will.  Sometimes I show such restraint the package gathers dust.  
     Why in the world would anyone leave joy untouched? I have a feeling we forget we have it because we also use our hearts and minds as storage facilities for worries and burdens.  Or maybe we've settled for circumstantial happiness which lacks quality control, proving tasty one day and unsatisfying the next. Or maybe we're under the impression that we're allotted only so much joy in the Lord, so we save it for a rainy day when we'll really need it.  
     Paul popped open a pack of joy in prison.
"Rejoice in the LORD always! I will say it again: Rejoice!" 
Philippians 4:4
     King David led God's people to sing His joyful praises, but only after years of solo work among the sheep in the pasture. 
"They will celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness."
Psalm 145:7
Why put off until tomorrow what we can enjoy (in large quantities) today?

Father, let today be the day we rediscover the joy we have in You, our loving God, no matter where we are or what's on the agenda.  Help us dig around in our hearts until we find it. There's no expiration date because You, Lord, never change, ("But You remain the same, and Your years will never end."  Psalm 102:27) but we do need help opening this gift You've given us. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

No Cold Shoulder, Never the Silent Treatment

     Some of the most effective weapons in our relationship armories don't involve words or eye contact: They are the cold shoulder and the silent treatment.  We've all used them and we all suffer when others use them on us. Home sweet home isn't so sweet when tension and anger pollute the air of a too-quiet house.  Friendships become mysteries when people we once trusted suddenly leave us in the chill distances we don't understand. Church isn't the safe place it should be when cold shoulders replace Jesus' command to love one another because "by this shall all men know that you are mine, if you love one another."  Shame on us: the deep pain we feel in these moments is the same reason we inflict these tactics on those who hurt us. 
     Praise God, His ways aren't ours.  He doesn't return a cold shoulder when we're silent toward Him. His friendship and love don't depend on our performance.  He's consistently not moody.  His mercy keeps His arms and ears open to us.  He watches us and speaks to us, all the more when we're pouting and not speaking to Him. He can't not keep His covenant to us and He can't be unfaithful to His own nature and promises.  

"'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, 
yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,' says the LORD, Who has compassion on you."  
Isaiah 54:10

"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, 
and I will bring you back to this land. 
I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 
Genesis 28:15

" . . . and teaching them to obey every thing I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20

Dear, sweet Faithful Friend and Father, Thank you that "Cold Shoulder" and "Silent Treatment" are foreign terms to You.  Thank You for embracing children, touching lepers, feeding the poor, making eye contact with adulteresses, and rubbing elbows with the rabble of sinners who followed You on earth.  Thank You that "the least of these" have always been on Your A-list; forgive us for turning a blind eye to them.  Thank You for loving the most unlovable me and for saying "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing," as You suffered with only a few loved ones around You.  Forgive us our touchiness and pride.  Forgive us for wanting to hurt each other; make us better than that.  Holy Spirit, sweep out our armories and refill them with Your fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (and don't let use cold shoulders and silent treatments as substitutes for self-control.)

In the Name of Jesus Who, silent in the face of suffering but never in the faces of people who needed Him

I Said to Myself . . .

"I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint."
Jeremiah 31:25
One of my daddy's running jokes when I was little was, "I said to myself, 'Self, . . . "  It stuck. Sometimes we need to have a good talk with ourselves. However, most of our talking to "ourselves" is really out-loud talking directed to people who aren't there so it  does no good.  We practice giving others a piece of our minds, using persuasion to get what we want, and strategizing how to win or how to avoid confrontations.  Most of our private "out-loud" conversations assume we're not the ones who need to change attitudes and, let's face it, God wouldn't approve of what we want to tell those people anyway.  So, much of our talk is just talk.  It does no good, goes nowhere, and never affects any kind of positive change. Yet, we keep talking.

David, the man God called "a man after My own heart,"  knew how to talk effectively.  He spoke directly to God and then he allowed his talk with God to guide his talks with himself.

By day the LORD directs His love, 
at night His song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, 
"Why have You forgotten me? 
Why must I go about mourning and oppressed by the enemy?
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, 
saying to me all day long, 
'Where is your God?'

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, 
For I will yet praise Him,
my Savior and my God."
Psalm 42:8-11

How in the world did David get from telling God "My bones suffer mortal agony" to telling himself "Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God?"  If you've experienced "Peace that passes all understanding" despite shake-your-world circumstances, you know it can happen, although how to explain the transformation to other people is a mystery. David poured out his complaints to God and as he poured them out, God poured back into his mind, times when he felt God's Presence, times of hope and peace. (Ps. 42:4-6)  That's when David was able to say to himself, "Self . . . Why are you so down and out?  Hope in God. I'll be praising Him again soon for saving me and for proving He is God."

Reminder to self:  Long winters make us want the warmth and color of spring. Scorching summers leave us longing for the refreshing and cool of autumn. Like the seasons which pass, pain, persecution and suffering leave us panting for God "as the deer pants for streams of water" and we "will yet praise Him." (Psalm 42:1-2)

Father, You've promised throughout Scripture to be with us and guide us. Even when circumstances seem to say otherwise, You're with us, using those circumstances to make us long for You. Thank You for wanting us to pour out our complaints to You. Help us not waste time with useless talk, but remind us to talk to You first.  Make us wise so we listen with our hearts and heads, allowing You to pour Your refreshing Spirit and Hope into us.  Teach us to give others the peace of our minds instead of a piece of our minds.

In the Name of Jesus Who was crucified in weakness, yet lives by God's Power.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Surround Sound

"You are my hiding place; 
You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." 
Psalm 32:7

     We watch a lot of movies at our house and the other night as we watched a thriller, we were glad the music cued us before evil attacked.  We've found that the scariest movies don't offer a musical warning: the worst happens when the soundtrack is silent and there's no time to hide behind the throw pillow or make a quick trip to the safety of the kitchen.

     David, son of Jesse, was the King of Hide-And-Seek before he became the King of Israel.  He hid in caves from a murderous madman filled with jealousy, yet this period of his life brought forth some of the most comforting Scriptures and songs in the Bible.  How?  He turned up the surround sound of God's promises and power until they drowned out the enemy's threats.  He raised his own voice to sing and shout praises to the LORD until he felt once again steadied, assured, and safe as he remembered the ways God works.

"Many are the woes of the wicked, 
but the LORD's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him.
"Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous:  
sing, all you who are upright in heart!"
Psalm 32:10-11

The warrior and giant-slayer David discovered he could do what he must when he remembered God's Presence surrounded him, buffering him from his enemy.  When he let his natural feelings rise, he heard his knees shaking, but when he turned up the surround sound of God's Presence, he heard songs of deliverance.

LORD God, be the Song we can't get out of our heads today.  Your Presence with us hums, but show us how to turn up the volume.  May we be able to say like David, 
"I sought the LORD, and He answered me.  
He delivered me from all my fears." 
(Ps. 34:4-5).  
May Your songs of deliverance ring in our hearts so that we fulfill the Word:
"Those who look to Him are radiant; 
their faces are never covered with shame. " 
(Ps. 34:5)
In the Name of Jesus, our Song and our Light
"When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, 'I am the light of the world.  
Whoever follows  Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" 
John 8:12

Monday, September 3, 2012

First Thing First

"Step out of the traffic!  Take a long, loving look at Me, your High God, 
above politics, above everything."  
Psalm 46:10 (The Message)

Getting our priorities out of order
is more dangerous than we think.
          What issues keep your nervous energy and worrisome thoughts in high gear?  Is it something you can't control, or something you think you can control?  Whatever it is, God calls us to lay it aside, still our bodies, and stay our minds on Him until we're relaxed, calm and have His perspective. 
    Our worlds are filled with ways to give us information immediately.  The problem with this technology is that it has convinced us that we must respond immediately.  Cell phone buzzes and email notification dings sound urgent, but God calls us away for a while to enjoy the blessing of the one essential thing: time with Him, listening and learning.  Today, I'm laboring to relax in His Presence until I've received what is most urgent, most important, most lasting.

"As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village.  A woman by the name of Martha welcomed Him and made Him feel quite at home.  She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word He said.  But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen.  Later, she stepped in, interrupting them.  "Master , don't you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me?  Tell her to lend me a hand."
   The Master said, "Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.  One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it -- it's the main course, and won't be taken from her." Luke 10:39-42 (The Message)

Lord, before I opened my eyes this morning, the list had unfurled in my mind and distracted me from saying "Good morning, Lord."  I need you.  I need You and I love You for wanting me to need You - for DESIGNING me to need You and then for embracing me when I acknowledge my need.   Remind me until I put everything else aside that the greatest thing I can do for You, the greatest gift I can bring to You, is me - fully engaged.  I set my heart and mind like baskets before You to be filled.  Stop me from allowing good intentions to replace the one essential thing.
In the Name of Jesus Who told us Mary was getting it right

Saturday, September 1, 2012

From There

""But if from there you seek the LORD your God, 
you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul." Deuteronomy 4:29

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" Psalm 42:1-2
     I grew up in and near Atlanta, GA, and have lived in Birmingham, AL, and New Orleans, LA but none of them proved to be as difficult to navigate as our suburb of Benton, AR.  When I-30 and other main roads cut through smaller ones, they left bits of streets sharing the same name. In addition, the service roads on each side of the Interstate are one way, so getting to the other side requires forethought, even after living here for two years.  Even the one-way streets in our charming downtown area required a GPS for our first few weeks.  Sometimes we truly felt we couldn't get from where we were to where we wanted to be. 
     Life can leave us feeling the same way.  We envision a goal but the trip there is a labyrinth of insurmountable obstacles.  It seems easier to stay where we are, even if it's in the middle of a mess we've slipped into or created.  
     The verse at the top of the page offers hope in the form of two little words: "from there."  From where?  

     From false ideas of what's right and wrong:
"Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. . ." (Deut. 4:1-2)

      From not being the example, the witness God calls us to be:
Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and  understanding people. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to Him?" (Deut. 4:6-7)
   From idolizing what we can see and touch:
"Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any creature or created thing." (see Deut. 4:15-20 for specifics)

     From slipping into apathy towards God:
"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live." (Deut. 4:9) 

 These are the places from which God will open His arms to receive us back again: If  from there you seek the LORD your God,  you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."

Father, What god in heaven or on earth can do the mighty things You do? Not one because there is no other GOD: only human-made gods.Your Word is powerful and true because You are Powerful and True.  You love us even when our love for You turns lukewarm. Forgive us and bring us back "from there."  We look to a man to save our nation when You've called us to be Your witness of Truth to the world. Forgive us and bring us back "from there." We sit back and pay others to "go tell."  Forgive us and bring us back "from there."  We slip into spiritual comas, allowing our culture rather than our God to influence us most. Forgive us and bring us back "from there.' Make Your church a nation of "wise and understanding people" who prove daily how near, how great and how wise You are.  Strengthen our minds with Truth so we don't become discouraged or never start the journey back "from there."
In the Name of Jesus Christ our Supreme Example
 "For the LORD your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which He confirmed to them by oath." (Deut. 4:31)