Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Are You Thinking?

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”  Proverbs 23:7  (KJV)

What are you thinking about right now?  Depending on how deep of a thinker a person is, studies show that each person can have anywhere from 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day.  Other research from a study quoted by Dr. Deepak Chopra suggested that an average person thinks about 65,000 thoughts per day.  Whether it is 12,000 or 65,000 or somewhere in between, that is a LOT of thinking!  So, what kind of thoughts are they?  According to today’s passage, whatever we think in our heart, so we are.  Remember the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out”?  What do you allow your mind to think about in the course of a day? 

Destructive thoughts will eventually destroy us, as a person.  Negative thoughts that are permitted to linger in our minds eventually mold us into being that kind of person.  Ungodly thoughts, left unchecked, ultimately end us up taking the next step from just a thought to a full-blown action that we live to regret.  We cannot control the thoughts that are presented to our minds, but we can control how long we keep them there.  As the famous quote by Martin Luther says, You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair.”  When an unwholesome, negative, or otherwise bad thought comes to our mind, we have a choice.  Will we shoo it away, or will we allow it to “build a nest” and take up permanent residence?

Do you know the Bible has quite a lot to say about our thoughts?  One of the more notable passages that has really been on my heart is the one found in 2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)  “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…”  There is SO much in this verse!  This is important stuff, as is all of God’s Word, but this is really, really deep.  Did you catch that little phrase in there?  Every thought!  Every thought?? 

So, whether I think 12, 000 or 65, 000 thoughts in one 24 hour period, every, single one of those thoughts need to be reined in and brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.  No exceptions.  No wiggle room.  No loopholes.  No negotiation.  Why?  Because as you think in your heart, so you are.  The longer you allow those thoughts to linger, the greater your risk of acting them out, of accepting their logic, and becoming what they suggest.  So, if each one of our thoughts needs to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, what does this mean?  I believe the safe question to ask ourselves is would Jesus think these thoughts?  If the answer is no, then the thought needs to be taken captive and brought into obedience to His mindset.

God never gives us a command, especially one of this magnitude, without also offering us the sure-fire solution to make it happen.  We aren’t told to rein in every, single thought, and then never instructed as to how to do this enormous task.  So, here are three steps to carry out this vital process.

Step One:  First of all, we have to analyze the thought.  Is it a thought Jesus would think?  If the answer is no, then you can rest assured the thought needs to be dismissed and rejected.

Step Two:  If we identify the thought as being unhealthy and one that Jesus would not think, we can know of a certainty where it came from.  So, the Biblical command is to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  James 4:7  (KJV)

Step Three:  Immediately, without delay, replace the thought.  Fill its place as soon as possible with a thought Jesus would think. 

In Philippians 4:8, the Apostle Paul gives us wonderful counsel on what we are to think upon and allow our minds to dwell on.  It is a fool-proof plan to keep our minds clean, pure, and acceptable before God.  Here’s what it says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” 

You may never have to go anywhere past the first one on the list…because something that is true is that God loves you.  Instead of beating yourself up after finding you have indulged in thoughts that were not Christ like, take the three step approach.  Analyze it, resist it, and replace it….with thoughts of the truth of God’s love…for you, my friend.  Remind yourself over and over that God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die for you on a cruel, rugged cross.  Think on that thing.  Meditate on it.  Indulge in it.  Let it sink deep into the core of your consciousness.  This is TRUE.  This is a thought that Jesus would think….that He would be happy about you thinking.  Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life.  If that is all that will come to your mind, when you are in a “bringing-a-thought-captive-to-the-obedience-of-Christ-and-replacing-it-with-a-thought-Jesus-would-think” moment, that is enough.  It will always be enough.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Place for Everything

Neither give place to the devil.”  Ephesians 4:27  (KJV)

Remember the saying, “A place for everything, and everything in its place”?  Living organized makes life much easier, simpler, and more peaceful.  I am amazed at how much “stuff” we have accumulated over the years!  We’ve been on a de-cluttering rampage around our house since the new year began.  Things have been uncovered that we haven’t seen for months…maybe years!  It feels so good to open a cleaned-out, organized closet or drawer and know exactly what is in it and that we actually use or still want every item in there.  It is taking time and a lot of effort, but we are getting there…slowly…one drawer, closet, shelf, and cupboard at a time.  J 

Sometimes it is hard to know how to categorize things…should the baseball caps go with other types of hats and toboggans, or should they be in separate drawers?  Should the markers go with the colored pencils or should they be in separate crates?  What would be the most time-effective?  How can we most efficiently utilize the storage capacity we have on hand?

As we strive to create a place for every single item in our home, I am finding more and more that some of the stuff we have and have been holding on to really don’t need a place any longer.  It either has absolutely no sentimental value to us, we don’t use it anymore, or looking at it resurrects bad memories or causes anxiety.  So, we have been enjoying looking at each item and deciding if it is really something that is any longer bringing us joy or useful to us.  If we determine it stirs up negative emotions or is just taking up space and no longer an important part of our lives, we do one of two things…either give it to someone who will enjoy, use, and cherish it…OR we throw it away.  We’ve gone through quite a few trash bags lately!  And for things we are passing on, I discovered a wonderful system.

Right after Christmas, I was shopping for bargains and sales, and I came across these wonderful bags from Cracker Barrel.  They are sturdy tote bags that will hold a LOT of stuff, and they were reduced to .60 cents each!  I bought several, came home and have almost finished filling all of them with good, useful things that we no longer use or want.  It gives such a sense of fulfillment to pass them on to those who need or want them, and it sure gives us a lot more space to store things we actually still want and use.  Some we’ve passed on to a local homeless ministry.  Some we’ve passed on to friends who needed and wanted them.  Some we are still working on.  And the pretty tote bags are part of the gift…for the recipient to keep.

The Lord recently led me to get rid of a quilt and some blankets that we were not using.  He also led Kevin and Zachary to donate a lot of Zach’s books that he no longer reads.  When we got to the drop-off site for the charity, the lady met us outside and asked us if we had brought any books or blankets.  She said the shelter had called and said the children were asking for books…and they really needed blankets!  Isn’t it amazing how God works on both ends of a problem? 

Sometimes we need to take inventory of what we have on hand in our hearts, as well as our homes.  It is a time-consuming process, it will take much effort on our part, and it can even become painful, at times, as we discover things we really didn’t realize were there.  Things may come to the surface that will surprise us.  We may uncover things we forgot were in there…things we haven’t thought of or seen manifested in a long time…yet they are there, buried, below the surface.  By the way, when you start, you may want to have a big, spiritual trash bag handy….and some “pretty” ideas for give-aways, too!  J

We might find some unforgiveness kind of wedged deep under our facade of outside hypocrisy.  There may be a clump of jealousy that we thought we’d gotten over a long time ago.  As we dig, we could stumble upon some pride and feelings of superiority that rare up their ugly heads.  And a bit of malice and ill will towards someone who hurt us long ago…still smoldering, seething, waiting for the right moment to strike out and land a retaliatory blow.  Whew!  There can be some mighty unsightly things hidden there under our sanctimonious "Christian" exterior, huh?  Wouldn’t it feel great to dump those things into that garbage bag as we come across them?  To just feel that freedom of letting them go.  They no longer need a place, and they are taking up precious storage space.

After we get rid of all the negative stuff, we find some things that we could really give away.  What about that desire to help others buried way down under all the rubbish we’ve scraped away?  How about the long-ago buried supply of love and generosity and kindness and patience…you know, the way you used to be…before all of the clutter and trash covered you over.  There are people who could really benefit from you passing on the love.  There’s probably someone in your circle longing for it right now.  You could empty some of it into a pretty tote or package…and tell them its theirs to keep….be creative, there’s lots of ways. 

Donate time to a soup kitchen.  Overlook the faults of your spouse, and compliment him/her a little extra instead.  Instead of giving up on a relationship you still want to salvage, put some extra effort into it.  Call your grandparent or some other relative and tell them how much they have always meant to you….one day they won’t be around for you to call.  Forgive the person who wronged you, and show it by buying them something they like and taking it to them in a pretty gift bag….or surprise them by sending it to them by mail, with a sincerely sweet card attached.  Be happy for the one you used to envy, (before you tossed your jealousy into the bag, remember?) and rejoice that God has blessed them so much.  Go a step further…tell them how happy you are for them…and mean it. 

A place for everything, and everything in its place….some things just don’t need a place anymore….in our homes and/or in our lives.  If it needs a place, create one and put it there, so it is always handy when you need it.  If doesn’t need a place, let it go.  You….and someone else…will be very glad you did.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On The Other Side

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 
I Corinthians 2:9  (KJV)

Have you ever thought much about Heaven?  Unfortunately, there isn’t an abundance in the Bible about it or what happens when our spirit leaves our body.  There are a few passages about it, along with many interpretations as to their meanings.  One thing we do know is that Jesus said He was going away to prepare a place for us, and since He went away to prepare it, He will come again and receive us unto Himself that where He is, there we may be also.  (John 14:1-3)

Please take the time to listen to a song called “On The Other Side” by one of Kevin’s and my favorite bluegrass groups, Dailey and Vincent.  This song was written by Tommy Dunbar and Kyle Vincent and really goes along with my thoughts tonight.

Have you ever wondered if there is a connection between us and the ones who have gone on before us?  I have a great interest in this, since two events happened regarding my Dad who died eleven years ago.  Both happenings were truly remarkable, and brought a great deal of comfort to me.  I haven’t shared these stories with many people, but I felt like God wanted them told, so here goes.

After Dad passed away, we moved a few hundred miles away to a whole new place that was very unfamiliar and very much unlike what we were used to.  We didn’t know anyone, felt completely out of place, and it was a pretty tough adjustment in many ways.  I was missing Dad so much, along with many other things that had been the same and familiar in our lives for so many years.  One of the things that hurt me most about leaving Florida was the fact that Dad is buried there.  I knew I probably wouldn’t get to go back often, and I just felt like I was leaving him behind and deserting him.  I know it isn’t really him in that grave…just the outward shell that I knew and loved.  But, yet, it still bothered me somehow, and I was having a hard time letting that part go. 

One evening, Zachary and I were in the strawberry field next door to our house picking strawberries, along with some young people from the church we were attending.  One of the girls snapped a picture of Zach and me.  I had the picture developed and noticed a light in the corner of it, but didn’t pay it much notice until one particular night.  We were getting ready to go to leave for West Virginia to visit Kevin’s family, and I was getting some things together that I wanted to take, including some pictures.  As I flipped through them, I came across the picture of Zach and me, and something just told me to look at it closer.  I began to closely examine it, and in the corner, where the light was streaming down, was a man’s face surrounded by white hair.  I know this may sound bizarre, especially to those of you who don’t believe things like this ever happen.  I didn’t either…until that night. 

As plain as day, it is my Dad’s face in that picture.  I am convinced of it.  It was like he was looking down upon Zachary and me, letting me know that he is at peace, and he is helping God watch over us.  It seemed like he knew I needed to know that I had not deserted him.  That his spirit is not in that grave, and that wherever I go, he will, in some sense, be with me.  I sat and stared at the picture for a very long time.  What a comfort it was that night and still is to me!

A few years later, in late 2005, I was going through a very low place in my life.  Some things had happened in my family that nearly crushed my spirit, and I was troubled and under an enormous amount of stress.  One night before Kevin and I went to sleep, I told him, “How I wish I knew what Dad would think of all of this!  I just wish I could somehow know how he would feel and what he would say.  Would he think I have done the right thing?  I wish so bad I could talk to him!”  We went to sleep and I thought no more of it, until I received two phone calls the very next day.  My Aunt Joyce called and told me she had dreamed about my Dad the night before.  In the dream, he told her to “Tell Cheryl everything is going to be all right”.  She had no idea I had gone to sleep wishing to hear from my Dad! 

Then, my brother-in-law, LD called me the very same day, unbeknownst to the fact that my aunt had called, and told me he had to tell me about a dream he had.  He has never met my Dad.  He and my sister were married a few years after Dad died.  But, he told me he dreamed of a man with white hair, whom he assumed must be my Dad.  The man told him to “Tell Cheryl not to let her good be evil spoken of.”  I said, “Isn’t that a Bible verse?”  Sure enough when I looked it up, it is found in Romans 14:16, and it says, “Let not then your good be evil spoken of…”  Without going into detail about what I was going through at the time, there could have been no words that would have been more appropriate to my situation.

I cannot begin to put into words how much both of these dreams comforted me.  And I will never be convinced of anything other than the fact that God allowed my deceased father to communicate that comfort to me and let me know I was on the right track.  Neither my aunt nor my brother-in-law knew about the other one’s dream, and neither of them knew how much I was longing to hear from my Dad. 

I have a dear friend, Jeanne, who has also had remarkable experiences of communication with her deceased parents.  She wrote an article about it that was featured in Woman’s World magazine.  With her permission, I am inserting her story here…
Dad died in 1975.  He started sending me pennies in the days following his funeral.  I was bombarded!  I got them when I needed them the most. For example, one day, while building my Department 56 Christmas village, I was praying out loud and talking to Dad saying I wished he were here to see this village.  At that moment I saw an empty space so I reached for a brand new accessory and when I opened it a penny fell out.  The accessory was tightly packed in a hugging styrofoam casing so there was really no room for a penny! I found pennies so often I filled up the various sizes of containers I kept them in.  Then my Mother passed away.  On the day of her funeral I found a dime.  I laughed and asked Mom if she was going to send me dimes.  I placed that dime in her hand before they closed her casket.  Then I started finding dimes all over in unusual places.  I once was watching TV when the dog had to go out.  I left the bedroom and when I came back I noticed something shiny on the rug next to the bed.  I reached down and picked up a tiny DIME charm.  I had never seen that charm before and had no idea how it got there!  Then I asked them to send me a dime AND a penny so I would know they were together.  I was bombarded with dimes and pennies together!  When my sister and I were together, we'd find TWO.  This has gone on since 1975 and my box is filled with coins.  NO nickels, and NO quarters except for once I laughed and said for them to send something bigger.  I got nickels next, then quarters then 2 one dollar bills. Then they went back to dimes and pennies and I haven't found anything bigger since.” 

My cousin, Julie, also told me a story about a time when she was feeling particularly low, wondering about the other side and how things would be, and God sent great comfort to her through a dream she had of a friend who had died.  In the dream, he came to her and said, “I can ASSURE YOU that we will be together.”  His words brought solace and greatly helped her through a difficult time in her life.

Some people find this a strange subject, and I surely do not mean to imply anything offensive or outlandish.  I can’t explain these kinds of things, but I absolutely believe they happen and are signs sent to us from a loving God.  He sends us the comfort we need, when we need it most and through the channel that would best convey and prove that it is Him.  He is so faithful...and He, along with our precious loved ones who are at rest with Him, are waiting for you and for me…on the other side.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pass It On

I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Acts 20:35 (KJV)

I was so encouraged during this past Christmas season when Kevin and I read about the secret donors who were going around to Kmart stores and paying off layaways for people they didn’t even know.  There was a real spirit of generosity in that.  Anonymous giving that came from the heart and needed no accolades, applause, or commendation.  Isn’t that what true charity is all about? 

When Zachary was a baby, he, Mom, and I went into a local restaurant and enjoyed a meal.  During the meal, we noticed an older couple sitting across from us, and now and then, our eyes would meet.  I don’t remember having any conversation with them, other than a smile here and there.  They got up to leave before we finished our meal, and that was the last we saw of them.  When we were finished eating, I walked up to the register to pay, and the cashier told me our meal had already been paid for….by the kind couple who had sat across from us.

On another occasion, Mom, Zachary, and I went to a local Cracker Barrel and ate lunch.  I remember seeing a gentleman dressed in business attire sitting at the table adjacent to ours.  I remember his friendly smile, but other than that, I don’t remember us having any other communication.  I remember seeing him leave and pass by our table on his way out.  When our waiter brought our check, it had been paid in full ….by this very kind gentleman. 

Both of our benefactors were anonymous….each of them had performed a much-appreciated random act of kindness…then slipped quietly off the scene.  They didn’t announce their kindness or make a big deal of it, and we didn’t find out about it until they were gone.  What a blessing they both were to us!  Obviously, they were not looking for thanks, but they were nice just for the sake of being nice.   I regret not being able to thank them, personally for their thoughtfulness, and though I tried to think of a way to do that….it would be impossible.  

But, it occurred to me that there is something I can do.  I can pass along their kindheartedness to others…anonymously….as opportunities arise.  Having been the recipient of the caring heart of another, I know how blessed I felt to accept their generosity.  So, I look for these types of occasions, and as God leads and prompts and provides, I try to take advantage of them.  And in doing so, I have learned one thing.  As much as I loved, appreciated, and enjoyed another’s kindness by having those two meals paid for and many other kindnesses shown to me through the years, I receive an even bigger blessing and sense of satisfaction when I am the one who is doing the giving.    

Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.  It seemed to give Him a sense of ultimate joy when He met up with someone who had a need, and He was able to fill it.  Acts 10:38 (KJV) says, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”  He went about doing good.  Jesus never wasted precious time, or missed a golden opportunity to help another.  He realized that His human, physical path would only cross that person’s once…and no occasion to bless another was ever lost or wasted by Him.

In Matthew 25:40 (KJV), Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  Who wouldn’t want to buy Jesus a meal?  Who wouldn’t give anything for the opportunity to pay for something He needs?  Are we not His hands and His feet…bodies that house His precious Spirit?  Proverbs 3:27 (KJV) says, “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.”  Do we have the right to withhold good when it is in our hand to bless another on life’s way? 

Sometimes we are just not in tune with the needs of others around us.  Sometimes we are so burdened down with our own problems that we forget that there is always someone worse off than we are.  It is amazing how doing something nice for someone else inevitably causes us to feel better about our own situation. 

Think about how many people you come across on any given day.  What about in the grocery store?  It holds a wellspring of prospects to bless others.  Do you have a few extra dollars?  Why not offer to buy the person’s handful of groceries in front of you?  I’ve never met anyone who would refuse an offer like that.  If they do, then move on to someone else in your day, and try again.  Sooner or later, you will find someone who will thankfully accept your kindness.

I remember one time in particular that God opened a door for me to do this.  Please understand that I tell this only as an example and to provide an idea, not for self-praise.  It was a situation that didn’t allow me to be anonymous, but I pursued it just the same.  I was shopping for groceries, and I noticed a grandmotherly-looking woman with a baby in tow.  She stood staring at diapers for a good, long while, and finally ended up picking up a pack of the off-brand.  She walked past me, and headed toward the front of the store, mumbling something about this being her last $10.00.  As she passed by me, the Holy Spirit began to deal with me, reminding me that I had a little extra money, and I needed to help this woman.  By God’s providence, I ended up in line right behind her.  I noticed that all she was buying was the pack of diapers and a pack of peanut butter and crackers.  It was more than I could take.  I mustered the courage to say, “Ma’am, would you allow me to bless you?”  She looked at me cautiously, at first.  Then with a little more coaxing, she consented, took her two meager items, along with her $10.00 bill, thanked me, and left me standing in line.  I could see how much it meant to her, how surprised she was, and gratitude was written all over her face.  I know she appreciated it and felt greatly blessed, but let me assure you that her blessing couldn’t have been greater than the one springing up in my heart.

Imagine our world if each one of us would do one random act of kindness every, single day.  It doesn’t always have to be monetary.  What about doing a chore for your spouse that you know they don’t enjoy?  How about lifting your co-worker’s load?  Isn’t there something you can do to bless another person around you?  Think of all the people in your life.  Recollect all of the kindness you have been shown.  Then purpose it in your heart…starting today….to pass it on.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dedicated Gifts

Then David gave to Solomon his son….the pattern of all that he had by the spirit…and of the treasuries of the dedicated things...”  I Chronicles 28:11 (KJV)

When I was a young girl, I heard of a comment that was made by Dwight L. Moody, one of the great American evangelists of the late 1800’s.  The saying was this…“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.  It resonated within me so much that I have never forgotten it.  God, our Creator, has endowed each of us with unique qualities and gifts.  It is His desire that, in turn, we consecrate those gifts and special qualities back to Him for Him to use as He chooses as we pass our sojourning experience through life. 

Have you ever wondered what your life’s purpose really is?  Why are you here?  Why were you born when you were?  What are your gifts? 

The best way to identify your individual gifts is to ask yourself these and similar questions:

  • What comes natural to me? 

  • What am I good at?

  • What can I do that requires the least effort on my part?

  • What do I truly find fulfillment doing?

God’s calling always matches His gifts.  In other words, He would never call you to do something that He has not first gifted you to do. There is no greater gratification in this life than to know, indisputably that you are fulfilling the Divine calling God has placed upon your life….that you are utilizing your God-given gifts and talents in perfect alignment with His original intent and purpose for you.  That you have yielded those gifts and surrendered them fully to the wisdom and discretion of the God Who gave them to you.

There are things that only you can accomplish.  There are people that only you can reach and touch.  There are situations that only you can understand and relate to.  Your unique God-given gifts are placed within your nature for a Divine purpose…not to be cast aside or downplayed, but to be used for His glory.

We tend to look down upon ourselves and discredit our own abilities.  We compare ourselves to others whose gifts we view as greater as or more important than our own.  We feel inferior because we cannot do certain things as well as others, instead of focusing on the things we can do well. 

Just listen to these wonderful, enlightening words written by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12:13-25 (KJV).  I know this is a LOT of reading, but please bear with me and hear me out…this is important.  J  “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?  And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?  If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.  And if they were all one member, where were the body?   But now are they many members, yet but one body.  And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.  Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:  And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.  For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:  That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.”

In other words, every, single member in the body of Jesus Christ is on an even plane of necessity.  Each one is equally important.  The quiet prayer warrior, hidden in obscurity by circumstances beyond their control, is just as vital in the eyes of God, as the famous evangelist who reaches thousands of souls each time they preach.  The hands that work behind the scenes in support of those on the front lines of ministry are as needful and honored by God as the feet of the ones who carry the Gospel of Jesus to a dying, hurting world.  The eyes that see the needs of others and respond to those needs, are loved by God in the same degree, as the ears of those who are faithful to be in church Sunday after Sunday listening attentively, even though this is all they are capable of. 

Remember the story of Esther?  If you have never taken the time to read and study it, I highly recommend it to you.  It is fascinating reading in the Old Testament.  As Esther’s Divine life’s calling became apparent to her, her uncle, Mordecai, made a profound statement.  In Esther 4:14 (KJV), Mordecai asked, “…and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Are you a hand or a foot?  An eye or an ear?  Have you sought God and identified His true intended purpose for the use of your individualized gifts?  Do you know that God has allowed you to be what and who you are?  He has allowed you to be in the Kingdom “for such a time as this”.  He has gifted you with your own qualities, talents, and gifts.  The world has yet to see what God can do with and through you…in this time, in this age.  Will you dedicate your gifts back to God?  Will you allow Him to use you and your capabilities to His glory?  What are you good at?  God has placed you in your current situation to shine for Him….to use those gifts in His church.  He has tempered the members of His body together to work side-by-side to accomplish His perfect will.  He has paired you with the people who are around you and in your life…to minister and bless and be His hands and feet.  Just as in today's passage of Scripture, David gave Solomon the pattern of the treasuries for the dedicated things in the temple, God has bequeathed a treasury of gifts placed within you, His living, breathing temple.  He has a pattern of how He intends you to use them.  Won’t you allow Him to? 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What We Really Need

                    "This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing…"
                                                                      Isaiah 28:12  (KJV)

I love old hymns.  One of the dearest to my heart, (and there are many!), is “Sweet Hour of Prayer”.  The song was written by William Walford in 1845.  I will insert here an article written by Thomas Salmon that appeared in the New York Observer on September 13, 1845, concerning the origin of this precious song. 

During my re­si­dence at Coles­hill, War­wick­shire, Eng­land, I be­came ac­quaint­ed with W. W. Wal­ford, the blind preach­er, a man of ob­scure birth and con­nect­ions and no ed­u­ca­tion, but of strong mind and most re­ten­tive mem­o­ry. In the pul­pit he ne­ver failed to se­lect a less­on well adapt­ed to his sub­ject, giv­ing chap­ter and verse with un­err­ing pre­ci­sion and scarce­ly ev­er mis­plac­ing a word in his re­pe­ti­tion of the Psalms, ev­ery part of the New Tes­ta­ment, the pro­phe­cies, and some of the his­to­ries, so as to have the rep­u­ta­tion of “know­ing the whole Bi­ble by heart.” He ac­tu­al­ly sat in the chim­ney cor­ner, em­ploy­ing his mind in com­pos­ing a ser­mon or two for Sab­bath de­liv­ery, and his hands in cut­ting, shap­ing and po­lish­ing bones for shoe horns and other lit­tle use­ful im­ple­ments. At in­ter­vals he at­tempt­ed po­e­try. On one oc­ca­sion, pay­ing him a vi­sit, he re­peat­ed two or three piec­es which he had co­mposed, and hav­ing no friend at home to commit them to paper, he had laid them up in the store­house within. “How will this do?” asked he, as he re­peat­ed the fol­low­ing lines, with a com­pla­cent smile touched with some light lines of fear lest he sub­ject him­self to cri­ti­cism. I ra­pid­ly co­pied the lines with my pen­cil, as he ut­tered them, and sent them for in­ser­tion in the Ob­serv­er, if you should think them worthy of pre­ser­va­tion.

Can you imagine?  The last part of the last sentence says, “if you should think them worthy of preservation’!  I am so thankful someone found them worthy, and then a few years later, William B. Bradbury added the melody and set the words to the music of the beloved song we sing today.  (Click here for a beautiful version by the Mark Taylor Quintet.  Be sure to look at the pictures. :-)

I think one of the main reasons I love this song so much is that I love to pray.  I don’t know of anything I would rather do in this life than to kneel before the throne of my Heavenly Father and spend that one-on-one time with Him….pouring out my heart, then listening for Him to pour out His.  One of my favorite parts of this dear, old hymn is the last verse,
Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight.
This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise
To seize the everlasting prize,
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

I cry and am deeply touched, nearly every time I think of those last words, and it occurs to me that one day I will need to bid farewell to this precious, cherished part of my earthly life.  That makes me feel sad…until I realize that once I pass through the air and shout farewell to those sacred moments spent at the feet of Jesus, I will enter a realm where I can see Him…face-to-face!  I can kneel down, and I can bow at His feet throughout all eternity!  No more to be called away from His presence because of the toilsome duties of this life!  No more to cry and weep before Him over the burdens upon my soul!  No more to be pulled aside by the tempter and tormented!  The everlasting prize will be seized, and never again will there be a need to pray, for I will be in His presence forevermore.

I used to find it hard to understand people who would confess to me that they were neglecting their prayer life, knowing that mine was such an integral and vital part of my life.  It was only after I went through my own personal experience of neglect that I could see and understand how they would end up in such a sad, spiritually drained and depleted condition.  I don’t know how it happened with me, but it did.  Just a little neglect here and there….I just didn’t seem to find the time to pray.  I became so busy and caught up in so many other things, that I would put it off and promise myself I would do it later.  How I could ever think I could go on in my own strength and not draw from its all-sustaining well, I do not know.

I began to feel the lack…it didn’t take long, either.  I found myself in a state of full-blown depression…such deep, intense sadness way down inside.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong…why was I so sad?  Why did I feel so empty?  How could I be unhappy?  I had so much around me to give me joy.  I began to seek the Lord about it, and I found that the more I prayed, the better I felt.  I found that when I would make the sacrifice to make sure I prayed the very first thing each day and spent that essential time with my dear Lord, my depression dissipated.  I no longer felt sad inside.  I felt complete, filled, and deeply happy. 

I learned the hard way that prayer is absolutely vital and crucial to not only my spiritual, but my emotional and mental well-being.  I cannot afford to go without it.  There is just something transforming about coming into God’s holy presence…I never leave it unchanged.  I have never left my knees from my “sweet hour of prayer” feeling anything but relieved.  There is sweet release in laying my burdens out before Him, and feeling His tender compassion and knowing that He knows exactly what is wrong and how to fix it. 

You see, God created everything else before He created man.  But none of it filled HIS longing.  He wanted a being that He could establish a relationship with that was interactive.  Someone He could love and someone who would love Him back.  Someone He could spend time with and someone who would spend time with Him.  So, at the end of the creation process, He created man…in His Own image…and in his heart, He created a desire and longing for Him.

I have it, and you have it, too.  There isn’t a conscious, competent human alive who doesn’t feel that….we do everything we can to mask the symptoms and hide the unhappiness.  But, at the end of the day, it is still there. 

My friend, are you troubled?  Are you depressed?  Is there sadness within you that nothing seems to take away?  Have you tried it all, and still nothing has eased the pain?  There are a lot of things in this life that have been created for the very purpose of taking away the pain…and many of them do…for a while.  But, when the fix wears off, that old, nagging, deep-down sorrow, misery, and gloom is still there.  There is a despondency buried deep within the heart of every person for which there is only one remedy.

Can I lovingly ask you a question…not to scold or condemn, but to help?  How long has it been since you prayed?  I mean really prayed?  You’ve tried everything else.  You keep coming up empty.  Aren’t you tired of the vicious cycle?  Don’t you want relief?  God loves you.  He hates to see you struggling, running here and there, trying to find the answers….it breaks His heart.  His arms are open.  He has the “fix” you are looking for.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  His invitation is for YOU.  He’ll come where you are…all you have to do is whisper His name….He’ll be right there.  I promise.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Least Said

                                 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” 
Proverbs 15:1 (KJV)

It is not my intention to insert politics into my devotionals, so I will not mention names or specifics, but I will say that I do enjoy following the political scene.  I think it is important that we stay informed of what is going on in our nation, as it has a direct influence on how we, as Christians, need to direct our reasons for fasting and prayer.  Since this is a presidential election year, I, along with millions of others, am praying hard for God’s hand to direct and lead our nation in the way we should go at this critical time.  I also listen to a lot and read a lot…about candidates, their beliefs, and their persuasions on issues that are important to me.  I was recently at a relative’s home, and I noticed that almost every time the television program being watched was interrupted by a commercial, it was one commercial after another about politics.  Candidate A was pointing out the faults of Candidate B.  Then in the very next ad, Candidate B was attacking Candidate A.  Then Candidate A was flaunting his many credentials, strong points, and experience.  On and on it went.  It was a constant war of mud-slinging and disrespect, in my opinion, each one vying for the votes and support of the viewers.

Have you ever been spoken to or about in an unkind, disrespectful way?  Maybe unexpectedly?  What was your first reaction?  Don’t we all have in instinct that immediately tells us to fire back at the person inflicting the impudence?  I have recently been studying the example of our humble Lord, Jesus Christ.  When I was faced with a situation that was especially hurtful, caused by the insolent, rude, and presumptuous tone of another, I felt flesh rise up within me to lash back….to point out the many faults and points that I found offensive about this person….to rise up in my own defense.  As I prayed, I said, “Lord, what would YOU do?  If You were in my exact situation, what would You do?”  Instantly, I heard His meek and quiet voice.  He answered my question, with a question of His Own.  “Child, what DID I do?”  What did He do?  The Bible says in Matthew 27:12, “And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.”  Nothing.  Not a word. 

Jesus’ chief accusers, persecution, and problematic acquaintances were who?  The chief priests and the elders?  How could this be?  Shouldn’t they have been His biggest supporters and defenders?  These were religious people who professed a relationship with, as well as the approval of, Almighty God.  They knew the law.  They were steeped in long-standing traditions; some of them part of the original Mosaic Law, some of them contrived by their ancestors.  Yet, their spirit was carnal, critical, condemning, judgmental, and extremely abrasive.  Who were they to judge Jesus Christ?  He was God in the flesh…the very One they professed to be serving and defending.  Yet, they were the ones who accused Him, constantly caused Him distress and trouble, and eventually condemned Him to the most cruel, agonizing, torturous death ever imagined by the human mind.

So, how did Jesus deal with these types?  Did He stand up and start pointing out all of their faults and offensive attributes?  Did He go through each of their accusations and defend Himself regarding them, even though every, single one of them were false?  Jesus knew the hearts and minds of each of the ones who were spitting on Him, saying He had a devil (can you imagine the impudence and insolence of these people?), and contriving other heinous lies against Him.  He could have risen up in the “courtroom” and spoken with tones of thunder.  He could have called thousands of angels to come down and destroy them all instantly.  He could have named out every, individual sin that was hidden in the hearts and lives of each one of His mean-spirited accusers.  But, what was Jesus’ answer and response?  Not a word.  No retaliation.  Just humble, complete silence.  And His very silence brought overwhelming condemnation on the minds and hearts of His accusers. 

The truth needs no defense.  Yet, there is something deep in the carnal heart and mind that longs for vengeance and yearns for self-justification.  Have you ever noticed how unkind words seem to “hang” in the atmosphere, long after they are spoken?  How they seem to continue to cut and hurt as their reality sinks further in?  Today’s Scripture came to me recently as I pondered on these thoughts.  It occurred to me that when I am spoken to in an offensive or disrespectful way, there should be no retaliatory retort on my part.  That if I remain silent and allow the hurtful words to hang in the air, their weightiness will echo back to the one who said them.  How many of us have not had this happen and been on the giving end of this kind of hurt?  Maybe we have lashed out in exasperation, self-defense, or frustration…and then when no one returned our grievous words, we heard the echo of our own voice ringing back to us loud and clear…our very own words hanging above us in the atmosphere like an ugly, black cloud.  And this is the very thing that caused us remorse….we felt like we would have given anything to take the words back, if only we could have.

Unfortunately, once words are spoken, they can never be taken back.  They are out there, and they are recalled time after time by their hearers.  I heard an analogy once comparing words being a feather pillow being opened in the wind.  Once the feathers are scattered, it is impossible to go around and retrieve them all.  Once words are spoken, we can never recapture them all, correcting every misconception, and erasing every hurt. 

God sees the heart and knows the motives and intentions of every action.  Offenses will come to us all.  Rude treatment, disrespect, and insolent people are always going to be a part of life.  We will be falsely accused; our Master was.  We will be confronted with sharp, hateful words filled with malice.  When it happens, as it inevitably will, is it really that important to give a sharp retort?  Must we lash back at the offender and correct every lie told, every wrongful insinuation implied, and every false accusation made?  Mom always tells me that the least said is the easiest mended.  I believe she is right.  A soft answer turneth away wrath….and sometimes, as in Jesus’ case, complete silence is the softest, most powerful answer of all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From Nothing to All Things

                                           Jesus said, “…for without Me ye can do nothing.”  John 15:5 (KJV)

Recently, I was asked to do something that, at one time, would have seemed impossible to me.  I was asked unexpectedly, so it took me completely by surprise…kind of hit me out of left field, so to speak.  I was humbled and honored to be asked, and the impact and meaning of the request was not lost to me.  I knew how important it was and how much it meant to the person asking me.  Their request spoke volumes as to the level of confidence they felt comfortable placing, and I began to feel a sense of panic inside wondering how I would ever fulfill their request.  I stammered and told them I would pray about it and let them know.

That night was pretty much a sleepless night for me.  I tossed and turned and agonized over my decision almost all night long.  I prayed and begged God to make it clear to me.  How could I be sure that He would be with me and do the work through me?  I had to know for certain.  Because I have lived long enough to realize that without Jesus added to the equation, no matter what it is, I can do nothing.  I am without strength, without focus, without passion, without anointing, without life itself.  Jesus Christ is the source and giver of life and without His approval on what I do, I am helpless, unable, and unequal to any task.  It is in Him that I live and move and have my being.  (Acts  17:28)

Sometime during that restless night, I got my answer.  The Lord gently and very clearly reminded me of a Scripture He had led me to the day before in my devotions.  It is found in Haggai 2:5.  “According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remaineth among you:  fear ye not.”  It was as if God, through His Holy Spirit, was witnessing to my inmost soul that He had not left me, that He would be with me in this great challenge, and that I did not have to fear or question His anointing or presence with me.  What a comfort!    

The feat the person was asking me to accomplish was something I wouldn’t even consider attempting on my own.  Never.  I have nothing to offer.  Without Him, I can do nothing.  But, it occurred to me that WITH Him, I can do all things.  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  Philippians 4:13 (KJV)   Without Him, we can do nothing.  With Him, we can do all things.  He makes all the difference.

Remember the song “Without Him”?  Here is a link to it being sung by Elvis Presley.

My friend bought me a plaque for Christmas that says, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you”.  I love that!  The will of God is leading us into some wonderful, exciting new places….wonderful and exciting, yet uncharted, unfamiliar, and very uncomfortable.  But, as we go, step by step, He is making it plain that as long as He is WITH us, we have nothing to fear.  He is our Leader and our Supplier of everything needed to perform the tasks He is requiring, and even though we have not passed this way before, He has, so He knows the way by heart.

When I was asked to do this hard task, I had a choice.  I could stand immobilized by the dread and fear and “what ifs” the enemy was bringing to my mind.  “What if God isn’t with me?”  “What if I falter?”  “What if I cannot do what they expect of me?”  “What if I step forward and don’t feel God’s presence?”  OR, I could make the other obvious choice and step out in faith, knowing that the same God Who has been with me every inch of the way so far will continue to be with me and never leave me.  I chose the latter, and as I took that leap of faith, God did everything He promised He would do.  He proved faithful to His Word once again, and through Him, I was able to do what was asked of me.  And, again, I found that the “what ifs?” were all lies…sent to foil God’s purpose and plan.

How about you, my friend?  Is God asking you do something that you feel is impossible?  God has a plan and purpose for your life.  He wants to use you in His Kingdom, and there is a role that only you can fill.  You have unique qualities, a unique background, and unique life experiences that are invaluable to God.  When He looks at you, He doesn’t focus on your inability and what you are without Him, but He looks at the potential of what you can be with Him and through Him.  He would never ask you to do something and then not supply the courage, grace, and strength you need to perform it.  All you to have Him on board.