Thursday, February 28, 2013

Trying Scenes of Life

"...there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
Proverbs 18:24

Last night was what you would classify a bad night...
in some ways, at least.
All three of us are battling illness.
None of us could sleep.
If Kevin or I did finally doze off,
one of us would waken the other with a loud coughing fit.
Or Zachary would cough from down the hall, 
and we would find ourselves awake again...
unable to fall back to sleep.

You know how those kinds of nights are.
We all have them.

Why does illness always seem to worsen at night?
I think it is because the devil loves
to work and dwell in dark, shady places.

I finally ended up in the living room recliner somewhere around 6:00 am,
exhausted, frustrated, longing for healing for all of us.
I figured if I sat upright or kept somewhat elevated,
maybe the coughing would subside.
It helped some.
As I sat there,
I realized the Potter had set this up...on purpose.
Out of the great love in His heart, He had orchestrated a divine appointment.
He wanted to talk to me.
I was more than ready to listen.

Sometimes He speaks by bringing a Scripture passage to the mind.
Other times, He speaks directly...straight to the heart.
Still others, He brings words from a comforting song.
Last night, He spoke words from the old, familiar hymn, 
written by Mrs. H.A. Hendricks & Daniel O. Teasley in 1903,
"There Is Not A Friend Like Jesus".

"There is not a friend like Jesus,
In the trying scenes of life;
He can hear the heart's faint whisper,
Calm the tempest's raging strife.

There is not a friend like Jesus,
Patient, tender, kind, and true;
If you'll be a friend to Jesus,
He will be a friend to you."

Penned by inspired writers 110 years ago,
yet, so relevant.
So applicable.
So true.

The trying scenes of life.
Who would you rather have there with you?
By your side?
Pulling for you?
Cheering you on?
Giving you hope for a brighter tomorrow?
Always positive.
Always steadfast.
Always strong.

Throughout life, I have learned that
there is not a friend like Jesus,
and there is no one I would rather have on board during a trying scene.
There is none more capable of easing the worry, distress, and heartache.
None other so kind and so gentle.
He never scolds.
He doesn't say, "I told you so".
Who needs that?

I felt His comfort so strong,
felt the warmth of His everlasting arms,
as I listened to His reassuring voice.
He is so faithful.
Such a mighty fortress.

"For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy."
Psalm 61:3

I love this verse!
He is my shelter.
How many times have I run to Him throughout the ups and downs of life?
There is no other friend like Him.

Life has its share of trying scenes, doesn't it?

Trying scenes.
God never promised we wouldn't pass through them.

But they are only scenes.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17, the Apostle Paul wrote,
"For our light affliction,
which is but for a moment,
worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory..."
(emphasis mine)
Trying scenes are mere snapshots...
eventually fading into more pleasant times...
in our individual stories of life.
They are not permanent.
Later, we look back upon them and realize that
we are better and stronger for having passed through them.

The trying scenes are not without purpose.
Sometimes, we are running too fast...full speed ahead...
without devoting sufficient time to spiritual growth.
God knows we will turn to Him in distress,
therefore He allows a trying scene to appear.
There is no soil more fertile for the deepening of spiritual roots
than soil that is saturated with trials and suffering.

We all cringe from the trying scenes.
We draw back from the mere thought of anything uncomfortable.
We don't want to hurt,
spend sleepless nights,
see our loved ones ill,
or pass through anything undesirable.

The world in which you and I live is obsessed 
with the elimination of anything unpleasant.
Quick fixes and fast remedies....
so we never have to feel.
We dull our senses to the point of completely deadening our emotions,
and in the process, we stifle God's opportunity to minister
and reveal His love to us in the most personal of ways.

He longs to do that.
His great, Father-heart yearns to nurture His children.
He can most effectively do that in trying scenes.

A friend of mine relayed a story to me recently about a family member
who passed through a vale of great sorrow,
losing her husband and two sons in a matter of a few, short years.
While passing through such suffering,
she began deadening her pain to the degree that
she never permitted herself to grieve properly.
After many years of remaining in a completely numbed state,
the doctor began to wean her off the substances to which she had become addicted.
As she went through withdrawal and the numbing effect wore off,
she surprisingly found herself at the exact point of grief
she was experiencing when she began deadening the pain.
It was like her emotions were frozen in time,
put on hold, if you will,
and they were staring her straight in the face

Her emotions were never permitted to feel God's healing touch.

Last night, as I listened to God's voice,
I was thankful for the trial.
Because otherwise I would more than likely have been sound asleep,
oblivious to anything He wanted to share with me.

Times of adversity are grand opportunities to draw nigh to God.
We can fuss and complain and gripe,
continually asking God "why me?" and "why now?",
or we can look for the good.
It is there.
Every time.
God never allows a trial that is without the intent of our spiritual betterment.
It is all a part of the refining process....
here on the Potter's wheel.

The sooner we relax in His arms and stop squirming,
the more effectively He can work and speak and teach.

I will here insert a story from a Homespun Devotional dated October 6, 2011,
entitled, "Squirming Puppies".

"Not long after Kevin and I got married, we went to visit my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Orville who were living in JacksonvilleFL.  It turned out that their neighbor’s Chow had just had puppies.  They were the cutest things, and naturally, they talked us into bringing two of them home with us.  We were living in an apartment without a fenced-in yard, so it became obvious very soon that our puppies needed to be taught obedience.  Especially, the female, whom we affectionately named Katie.  She was quite a little gal, with plenty of spunk and rebellion and her own will.  She refused to cooperate and come to us when we called her, and she would take off on daring adventures that left us exhausted in our quest to bring her safely back home. 

We had heard of a local obedience class for dogs, so we enrolled Katie and her brother, Teddy, and began our weekly classes.  One of the exercises they taught us is still fresh in my mind after all these years.  It involved the issue of trust, and it has taught me valuable spiritual lessons about our view of God in our trials.  We were taught to hold the puppy on its back in the palm of our hands and make it stay in that position until it stopped squirming.  Can you imagine?  As crazy as it sounded, we began to try it at home.  At first, the puppies squirmed and squealed and tried every way possible to wiggle over on to their feet and away from the firmness of our hold on them.  But, try as they would, we wouldn’t give in.  We would force them to stay on their back in our palm until the squirming stopped.  The whole point of the exercise was to prove to the puppy that they were safe.  That we would not drop them or let them go, under any circumstance.  That we were in control, and they had to succumb to our authority.  That their will must be yielded to ours.  Needless to say, they didn't like this exercise...not one, little bit. 

Wow!  Who does that remind you of?  I hate to admit it, but I must say it sounds very much like me.  Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”  Everlasting arms.  Arms that have always been and always will be.  Arms that have enough power and strength to hold the world in place.  Arms that have picked me up time after time after time and held me close until the fear in me was stilled, and I stopped trembling.  Arms that have carried me across raging tempests and through fiery furnaces and over insurmountable mountains.  Arms that make me feel safe and loved and comforted.  How many times has God had to hold me firm in an uncomfortable, vulnerable position until I stopped squirming?  And when will I learn that the longer I squirm, the more I complain and whine and grumble, the longer He will hold me there?  It is all a matter of trust.  If His everlasting arms are underneath me, and they have never let me go, why can’t I trust Him now? 

I am just like the puppies, sad to say.  But, you know what?  Over time and with a lot of patience and consistency, those puppies finally learned that we were not going to drop them, nor were we going to let them go until we were good and ready.  Trust was built between us.  They knew they would be okay, that they were not in control – we were, and one day the time came that they didn’t squirm anymore…well, at least, not as much or as often!! 

So, I believe there is still hope for me.  The other day, it hit me that I was just a bit more trusting while going through a severe test and trial.  I realized that I had consecrated the battle to my dear Lord a LOT quicker than I used to.  So, maybe I, like Teddy and Katie, am making progress in this issue of trust.  
Maybe one day, I won’t squirm at all."

As time goes by, I am learning more and more to trust.
I don't squirm quite as much.
I am learning to be content...
even in the trials.
They all time.
The Potter's time.
He knows how long they should last.
When trying scenes make their way onto the steadily moving picture of life,
I turn to Him a lot quicker...
eager to know what it is that He is trying to teach.
There is always an object lesson behind a trying scene.
It is always valuable....
always worth the effort to learn.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fighting Forest Fires with Garden Hoses

"God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.
Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias?
how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying,
Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.  But what saith the answer of God unto him?
I have reserved to myself seven thousand men,
who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace."
Romans 11:2-5

Last night, Kevin forwarded an email article to me that disturbed me deeply.
Moved me to tears.
It was such a blatant moral compass...
made me realize, once again,
with crystal clarity
where we really are...
spiritually, as a nation.
It filled me with a deep sense of burden.
For our nation.
For our world.

How can they do this??
How can they openly mock and scorn and ridicule...
and blaspheme...
the One Who hung on an old, rugged cross
and spilled every last drop of the blood in His body...
for their salvation?

To be honest, I was furious....after I read it.
My righteous indignation was full to the brim...
and overflowing.
I began to pray...
pleading with God to do something.
Asking Him why He allows people to get by with such.
After reading the article, it felt like the whole world is turning against God.
The media is notorious for making a person feel that way.
They take the sentiments of a mere handful and paint a deceitfully inaccurate picture
that portrays the mere handful as the mass majority.
Their far-reaching impact is most effective
in twisting the truth,
spinning the facts,
distorting reality,
and in the process planting seeds of hopelessness
in the hearts of those who desire to stand for the right.

Turns out, I'm not the only one who is so highly upset.
There are others.
Who feel as fired up...
and fed up as I do.

Today, we got an email from Penny Nance,
the CEO of Concerned Women for America.
Ever heard of them?
Here's her article, if you care to take the time to read it:

After I read it,
I turned to Kevin and said,
"I am so glad and thankful she is out there doing what she is doing.
But, it feels like fighting a raging forest fire with a single garden hose."

It just feels like evil is winning.
I am not a pessimist.
Never have been.
But, the reality of the evil with which we are at war
is near-overwhelming to me, these days.

As I pondered how it seems we are outnumbered,
God brought today's passage of Scripture to my mind.
There was a time when the great Old Testament prophet, Elijah,
felt the same way.

He was surrounded by evil...
on every side.
Heathen, idol worship was prevalent.
The land had in a great degree forgotten
and turned against the one true God.
Elijah felt that he was fighting a losing, impossible-to-win battle.
Kind of like me feeling that we are fighting a raging forest fire 
with a single garden hose.
Elijah felt troubled.
Hopelessly alone.
He hid himself in a cave.

Sound familiar?
Ever feel like doing that?
I'll admit, there are moments
I become so sickened by evil
that I am tempted to look for the closest cave I can find,
run into it, and hide.
Wouldn't it be so much easier?
To just recede...
get away from it all?

I never fault Elijah when I read this story in I Kings 19.
I relate to his frustration.
We all enter our caves of hopelessness from time to time.
God loves us too much to leave us there for too long.

He called to Elijah from outside the cave.
He opened his eyes.
He made him to understand that there were 7,000 others....just like him....
who refused to bow their knees to Baal
or to abandon their faith.
There were 7,000 others who were intent and adamant
in their stand for the righteousness of God.
Elijah was not alone.

After I read Penny's email,
other emails came trickling in from others
who are equally righteously-indignant.
Reminding me that we aren't alone in this fight, either.

Several are out there...keeping the torch aflame....
on the public square....
in the public arena.
In the face of anti-God schemes and systems.
Standing firm, regardless.

Tony Perkins & Pierre Bynum of the Family Research Council
Jim Daly of Focus on the Family
Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel
Michael Farris of Home School Legal Defense Association
David Barton, Rick Green, Tim Barton, Rene Diaz, & Matt Krause of Wall Builders
Mike Huckabee
Kirk Cameron

are just a few that readily come to mind.
There are many others.

As I read their emails, I feel a sense of gratitude to God.
I am so thankful they are out there...
on the front lines...
fighting against the evil.
I pray for them as they come to mind.
That God will keep them strong,
protect them and their families,
keep them firm in what they are doing,
keep their lives above reproach,
keep them away from temptation's snares,
and not allow them to fall into scandalous situations.

They are the ones we hear about.

What about the many whose names we will never hear?
Thousands, maybe millions, in the background...
toiling diligently...
keeping the faith...
preserving our Christian heritage.
Fighting their own battles.
Winning their own victories...
in the name of the cross of Christ.
Those who care deeply, with all their heart,
who are profoundly committed to being all God requires them to be.
Pastors, evangelists, Sunday School teachers,
deacons, speakers, and everyday Christian lay-people who
stand determined at their individual posts of duty every single day.
How I praise God for the faithful soldiers of the cross 
who are completely unashamed, absolutely undeterred, 
and whole-heartedly bent on defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of the them, personally.

The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:17,
"But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel."

How set are we?
For the defense of the Gospel?
On defending the faith in which we so strongly believe?
Will we step up to the plate?
Be a true soldier and let our light shine?
No matter the cost?

Maybe our voice will never be heard by the masses.
But, someone will hear.
Maybe our face will never be in the public arena.
But, someone is watching.
Maybe we can't do everything.
But, we can do something.

Jude told us,
" was needful for me to write unto you,
and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith
which was once delivered unto the saints."

The faith...
the belief system established through great sacrifice
by Jesus Christ on Mt. Calvary.
It is worth our defense.
It absolutely merits our loyalty.

"Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace."
God has a remnant.
Each with his or her own garden hose.
It is a mighty big fire.
Seemingly out of control.
My little hose, alone, by itself,
won't make much of a difference...
in putting out the fire.
But when you add yours to mine,
and your brother adds his to yours,
and his sister adds hers to his....
on down the line...
you get the picture...
a mighty big impact is made.

Don't lose hope, my friend.
I know times are hard.
Evil is an out of control fire.
The enemy would love to convince us that our individual efforts
in being pro-active are insignificant, pointless, and unsuccessful,
and that since we can't make a huge impact,
we might as well not do anything at all.
Don't listen to his lies.
What if we all laid our armor down?
What if we looked around,
saw only hopelessness,
and decided there was no use to keep fighting the good fight of faith?

We all have a responsibility.
To be the individual person God needs us to be...
at this crucial time of unbelief.
There is no way of measuring the cost or repercussions
of one child of God dropping the ball.

God needs us all to be strong.
Never before has it been more important.
Fulfilling our God-given duty,
requires us to be pro-active...
no matter how small our contribution.

Don't put away your garden hose
just because the trickle is small and seemingly useless in putting out the fire.
Don't muzzle your testimony
just because other voices seem to be drowning you out.
Don't stop standing for righteousness
just because the forces of evil appear to be winning.
Don't throw away your witness
just because you fear persecution.

Through the ages,
the Church has grown and prospered
during eras of persecution and distress.

The truth is marching on.
You are not alone.
There are many others...
standing faithful guard,
publicly and privately,
not willing to compromise.
God still has a remnant...
at this present time...
even now.

You are a part of the remnant...
so am I.
Take courage.
Be strong.
Don't waver.
What would Jesus do?

Let's follow His lead,
pick up our garden hose,
and keep fighting the fire.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Leaving Shallow Waters

"Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, 
Launch out into the deep, 
and let down your nets for a draught."
Luke 5:4 

I thought I had left shallow waters a long time ago.
Thought I had launched out...
let go of "self-clingers"...
handed God my nets....
and ventured away from the shoreline.

I thought I was doing pretty good...
in letting go of my fear of the unknown...
and trusting God to not let me drown.

My thoughts and the thoughts of the Potter are worlds apart.
The Potter knows the truth.
He told me so...
today on the wheel.

His thoughts are so much bigger than mine.
His dreams for me so much more lofty.

"Self has held you back.
Dependence upon your own abilities.
Reliance upon your own capacities.
You fear to trust Me fully.
To just let go of the safety net.
You are afraid you will drown.
You need to feel ground beneath your feet.
The draught will not shallow waters, child.
You will never have the depths of Me you so deeply crave...
until you are willing to let go...
of  you."

He glanced my way as He said the word "you".
His eyes seemed to pierce all the way to the inner core of my soul.
False pretense was stripped completely away.
There were no excuses.
The thoughts and intents of my heart
were laid out before Him like an open book.
Self-righteousness was completely disrobed.
There was no cloak...
no covering...
all was exposed.
I couldn't run...or attempt to hide.
His hand held me firm...
close to the wheel.

"Lord, I want to launch out.
I am tired of floundering...
in shallow waters.
I long to release control.
To fling myself at your mercy.
To trust you.
I have toiled...on my own....
trying to accomplish Your tasks...
as long as I could lean on my own understanding.
I see how self-reliant I really am."

In my heart, I so wanted to learn how to let go.
But, how to get rid of self-reliance?
Obviously, it is another clinger of self...
some of the residue...
that I could not see.
But, He sees.

"One day I was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret.
There were many there...
wanting to hear my words.
They pressed from every side.
I looked over and saw two ships.

The fishermen who owned them were nearby,
washing their nets, as if they were finished.

Peter was there.
He owned one of the boats.
James and John were there, too.
I decided to step on board Peter's boat,
so I could sit down and speak to the crowd.
When I was finished talking,
I told Peter to launch out into the deep
and let down his nets to receive a draught of fish.
At first, he hesitated.
He told me he had fished all night long
and hadn't caught one fish.
Peter was a good fisherman.
He knew the lake by heart...
had spent a lot of time there.
I saw it in his eyes.
He thought he knew more about it than I did.
I watched as he fought a fierce inner battle
between his own self-sufficiency and My command.
Peter always was impulsive.
Confident in his own capabilities.
It was hard for him to let go...and just trust Me.
Walking with Me daily,
seeing what I could do,
sensing the changes I was making in him and others...
was slowly breaking down his resolve...
to depend on his own strength.
After a little while, he melted and decided to do things My way.
He turned the boat away from shore...
out into the deep.
I knew where the fish were.
I created them.
When we got there,
Peter let down his net.
The onslaught of fish was so great,
it broke his nets.
He and his friends motioned to the men in the other ship
to come and help gather the fish.
They came,
filled both boats...
to the point that the boats began to sink.
That was the day Peter saw...
Who I really am....
what I can do.
You need to see this.
You need to focus on My ability...
not your own.
You are limited.
You won't grow in shallow waters.
You will never reach the potential I have planned for you to reach...
as long as you hold back...
as long as you cling to the shore...
as long as you depend on your own safety nets...
as long as you rely on self.
It wasn't enough for Peter.
It is not enough for you.
I created you to need Me."

How many times have I proved the validity of His words?
Why do I feel the need to continue to wade in shallow waters,
trusting in my own capabilities?
I always need to feel that my feet can touch bottom,
since I don't know how to swim.
Why can't I trust Him to keep me afloat?
I realize I am not enough.
I acknowledge that He is.
So, why do I continue to cling to selfishness?
When I have proven time and time again
that He will not let me go?

The Potter continued,
"There are deeper waters...
much deeper...
than the ones into which you have yet dared to venture.
You need to let down your nets....
those nets of safety to which you so tightly cling.
Turn loose of the lines holding you to shore....
giving you a sense of security.
Just let them go.
Step out into the deep.
Don't worry when you can no longer feel ground beneath your feet.
Everlasting arms are beneath you.
Holding you up.
Holding you close.
You can trust Me, child.
How long must I prove that to you?"

Such a penetrating question.
And one that I have asked myself over and over.
I really don't know the answer.
I have relied on "self" for so long.
Depended on "me".
When will I learn that I am so undependable...
so incapable...
of doing anything at all without Him?

The Apostle Paul said in Acts 17:28,
"For in Him we live, and move, and have our being..."

I think it all boils down to us coming to the point that
we truly realize the truth in Paul's words.

It is not about me....
but about the fish out in the deep waters.
The souls God has placed there.
Ones who need to hear about Jesus.
Ones who yearn for Him and long to know more about Him.
I won't reach them comfortably seated on the shore.
I will never meet them wading leisurely around in shallow waters.
The safety of firm ground beneath my feet is tempting.
The security of my comfort zone compels me.
But, I see Jesus standing on top of deep water...
far ahead of me....
surrounded by blinded, drowning people who need to see Him, too.

I hear my heart cry,
"Lord, if it is you,
bid me to come to You."

He beckons.
Both arms are wide open.

I take one staggering step...
then another....
then another....
each time it is harder for me to reach bottom.
At last, I can feel the ground no more.
My head is barely above water.
I start to look around me...
feel a sense of panic....
terrified, I flail.
Then, at once, I have reached Him.
He stands...
on top of the waves...
calm, incredibly strong...
and I see His hand...
reaching for mine.

"Help me, Lord!
I am drowning!"

I won't allow that.
I am here.
And I always will be.
You are not alone.
With the sacrifice of self-surrender,
I am well-pleased."

His words soothe my rattled nerves.
Bring a sense of peace and calm.
The waves are still.
I am safe.

I talked to my cousin, Eddie, in Tennessee the other day.
He inspires me every time we talk.
He is on fire for God....
has amazing zeal and a burning desire within him to reach the lost.
His most pressing burden is for the homeless.
There are literally hundreds...
right there...
in and surrounding my Dad's hometown.
His words, spoken in true Tennessee drawl,
 are still ringing in my ears.
"It's like I told the churches around here.
Jesus didn't sit up in the Temple waiting for people to come to Him.
He went out...met them...on their level.
He set the example.
We should do the same."

He has launched out into deep waters.
Over his head.
Completely left his comfort zone.
The undertaking he has taken on makes my head swim.
He and a friend are renovating an old building,
turning it into a homeless shelter.
Once it is finished,
he isn't going to go home at night to the comfort of his own home.
Not Eddie.
He plans to move into the shelter...
and live with the homeless.
He plans to provide meals,
for the body and the soul.
He has a heart for God.
He has let go of the shoreline...
and he's going after the fish.
Wherever he can find them.
Regarding not personal cost.

He isn't wealthy.
He is trusting God...
and God alone.
I don't think he has a safety net left.
Thankfully, he doesn't need one.

Neither do you, my friend.
Thank God, neither do I.

The sky may be gray.
The road ahead may be slippery and uncertain.
But, the Potter has already walked this way...
ahead of us.
He has cleared the path,
and He will not let us fall.

Leave shallow waters behind...
and trust Him.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Some Things Are Personal

"But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
Jude 1:20,21

I am so thankful for God's interruptions.
Grateful beyond words for the way He intercepted my life
to bring me here...
to the Potter's house.
And though it has been tough...
facing reality...
facing the truth....
seeing myself for who I really am...
it has meant everything to me.
It isn't easy admitting our own weaknesses.
It hurts to have our eyes peeled back,
with no choice but to stare into the illuminating light of God's truth.
The more He reveals to me,
the deeper my realization of why He brought me here.
The lessons I am learning are rich.
They are profoundly deep.
Worth more to me than I could ever put into mere words.

The other night, I was sitting with Zach,
listening to "Unshackled" on the Bible Broadcasting Network,
absorbed in a story about a woman whose life reeled out of control
until she came in contact with Jesus.

Right there,
in the midst of her compelling story,
God began to speak.
Straight to my heart.

I felt that familiar nudge...
that gentle urge...
to take time to be holy...
to go get my Bible...
right then and there.
God nudged me to make sure to pick up my notebook, too.
And to not forget a pen.

I love when God does that.
I cherish the moments His Spirit comes to me like that...
compelling me to drop everything...
and follow Him...
to a place of uninterrupted communion.

Anxious beyond words to know what God wanted to share,
I eagerly grabbed my Bible, notebook, and pen,
and headed to Mom's praying chair near Zach's school desk in the back room.
I've learned it is worth it....
to drop it all...
and follow Him.
I sat...
I was hungry.
What was God going to do?
Inspire for a devotional?
A message?
I knew it would be special.
Worth laying everything else aside for.
It always is.
I continued to wait....
but not for long.

God came....
gently leading me from one Scripture to the next....
a spiritual smorgasbord of goodness...
filling my soul with brand-new information,
fresh insight,
and original inspiration.

He is the Creator.
He causes creative juices to flow...
through and in us...
if we care enough to follow close to Him....
and listen.

As I sat soaking it all in,
caught up in worship,
I realized the reality of what was going on.
The precious thoughts He shared...
weren't for anyone else at all.
They were for me...

They fit my situation.
My current state of mind.
Exactly what I was going through.

My talk with God was not meant to be shared...
not this one.
Not in a devotional.
Not preached.
Or blogged about.
Or repeated.

Some things are just personal.
Individualized messages that come straight from the throne
and take a direct route to the inmost soul and spirit of the hungry.

I felt so small...
and inadequate.
To think that God loves me enough
to come and share His mind with me.
Not to pass it on to someone else.
Not for anyone else's benefit....
just a one-on-one visit and special time...
between Him...and me.
A complete mess, at times.
Yet, He loves me.
His love has no contingency clauses.

He laid aside Heaven...for us...
to come down to this sinful world,
to be our Savior,
and to prove His love.
He loves us enough to call us away...
from the busyness of life...
to a place of solitude...
to share His mind and heart.
If He could leave Heaven for us,
can we not leave all else to come aside for Him?

Do you know that there are things God wants to share with you?
Just you?
Nuggets of wisdom and spiritual gold that have your name on them?
No other name....just yours?
God wants a relationship with you.
He created you with an innate longing for a relationship with Him, too.

We spend our lives trying to fill that void
with so many other things.
I don't think there has ever been an age of time
that has been busier than the one in which you and I live.
It nearly makes me dizzy sometimes.
Social media has taken over the majority of our lives.
The saddest part is that in the process of taking over our lives,
oftentimes, it is taking over and replacing our time with God.
He has so much to share!
Personalized things.
Solutions to our problems.
Encouragement for our distresses.
Wisdom for our situations.
But, sadly, we are too consumed to meet with Him.

In Romans 8:38-39, we read that there is nothing in this world
or the world to come that will ever be able to separate us from God's love.
Nothing will ever cause God to stop loving us,
nor will anything ever cause God to stop wanting to spend time with us.
Maybe we should turn those two verses in Romans around,
and make a personal commitment.
Maybe we should tell God and prove it with our actions
that nothing will ever separate us from loving Him...
with all our hearts.
If we expect God to retain His love for us,
no matter what we do,
doesn't He deserve the same from us in return?
Won't we clear our schedules and do what it takes
to spend time with Him and put Him first?

We already know God will not change.
We can absolutely count on Him..
and His Word.
He will always love us.
He will always want to spend time with us...
like we are the only person in the world.

Shouldn't we give Him the same level of dedication?
Shouldn't we tell Him....and mean it....
that nothing...
absolutely nothing....
will keep us from loving Him...
with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?
That no matter what others are doing around us,
we will remain steadfast...
to our commitment to Him?
That we will give Him the time He deserves...
every, single day?

What tugs at your heart the hardest?
What do you love to do the most?
If I may be so bold, what are you addicted to?
What pulls you?
Compels you?
Causes you to lay aside everything else?
Isn't this proof of where your love is directed?
How do you spend the biggest portion of your "spare" time?

Is it with God?
Is it when you feel that gentle tug...
that tender reminder...
that "you haven't talked to Me today"
or "I miss you, child"
or "I have something to share with you...come aside with Me".
Do you yield to that...
to Him?

Or do you shove Him to the back burner...
so you can make time and room for something else?
All of these other things...
these thieves of precious, irreplaceable, quickly-passing time?

It seems to me that we are crowding God out of our everyday lives.
We are so committed to staying socially-connected to everyone else, that there is no time or energy left to stay connected to Him.

I have never seen so many time-robbers.
Honestly, have you?
Thieves...subtle...tempting....devious...guised as innocent.

God is a jealous God.
He deserves our love....our best.
He merits first-place in each one of our lives.
He wants our time.
He gave...
and gives....
His best to us every single day.
There is never a time that we turn to Him
that He is too absorbed....too disengaged....too distracted....
to give us His undivided attention.

We have become obsessed.
Completely overtaken.
Dangerously addicted.

Extremely self-glorifying,
and self-promoting.

It is frightening, really.
Our minds are never still.

We are entirely consumed...
with knowing everyone else's business....
and promoting our own.

We have turned everything into a popularity contest.
Who has the most friends?
Who is the most well-liked?
At the end of the day,
does it really matter?

All the while God waits...
in the background.

I wonder what it would do for our relationship with Him
if every day we implemented a one-hour-social-media-blackout
and went somewhere private...alone with Him instead?
What kinds of things would He tell us?
What are we missing out on when we are so otherwise absorbed?

Some things are personal.

There are things we will not hear in Sunday's sermon.
We can't rely on a one-hour-a-week church service encounter with God
to keep spiritually-charged, connected, and up to speed.
God doesn't relay all of our personal messages second-hand, anyway.
There are things He needs to say to us....directly....
not through other lips.
He wants to talk to you...
not on your way out the door....
or 30 seconds before you fall asleep.

How much time do we really allow for Him...
on any given day?
How connected are we?
Are the other "plugged-in" time-thieves causing interference?
Is He slighted?
Due to us not wanting to slight anyone else?

What truths remain unrevealed?
All because we are too "busy" to nurture the most
important relationship of our lives.

How will we ever know what His dreams are for us,
if we never take the time to get quiet and still enough to hear Him out?

It is worth whatever it takes to remain close to God, my friend.
Is it really even a sacrifice?
Is being popular with the masses more important to us
 than being favored by the King of Kings?
It all boils down to what is most you....and me.
We all make those choices every day.

Time is precious.
Watching my parents leave this world
drove home that truth to me more than anything else ever has.
It made me realize the stark reality of my own mortality.
We will all leave this world one day.
We only have a certain amount of minutes left...
only a specified number of hours remaining...
on the ticking clock of our lives.
What will it matter then?
At the last?
At the end?

I have stood by dying bedsides enough to know
that the single thing that matters most at the end of this life
has nothing at all to do with anything on this side.

One of Mom's favorite sayings was,
"Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last."

Let's make the moments count.
Let's take time to be holy...
to listen to God....
to put Him first....
and everything else second.
To get personal with Him every, single day,
and hear what He has to say.

One day, it is the only thing that will matter....
at all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

More Lessons With The Potter

"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
John 8:36

"Selfishness can motivate unselfish acts."
It seemed a conflict of words.
From my yielded spot,
on the wheel,
I listened as He spoke....
cringing inside...
as He exposed the most cleverly-hidden parts of me.
Laid me open.
His words cut straight through to the inner core of my heart.
I had no excuse.

Who is the clay to argue with the Potter?

"Really, Lord?
Do you mean all of the selfless sacrifice in the world
doesn't please you,
if it isn't driven by the right motives?"

The impact of the meaning of His words
was hitting a bit too close to home.
I squirmed....just slightly...
between the wheel and the pressure of His hands.

That is exactly what I mean.
You can do all kinds of things, in My name,
for My cause,
to build up My church...on the earth.
But, the motive behind why you are doing them
is what really matters to me."

It is amazing how small and undone you feel
when it is just you...and God...
having a one-on-one conversation.

My mind immediately went to I Corinthians 13.
The love chapter.
I memorized it in school.
All these years later, it still rings in my mind, 
almost as precisely as the day it was deposited into my memory bank.

I have taken the liberty to substitute the word "love"
each time the word "charity" is found
since the meaning is exactly one and the same
in this passage of Scripture.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, 
and have not love, 
I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy,
and understand all mysteries, 
and all knowledge; 
and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, 
 and have not love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor
and though I give my body to be burned, 
and have not love, it profiteth me nothing."
(verses 1-3)

"So, have I been selfish, Lord?
Have I done what I have done
without loving YOU...more than me?
Is that what You are telling me?"
I already knew the answer....
deep in my heart.

In some ways.
Watch closely, and I will show you."

He then began to play certain events over in my mind.
It was like watching a full-length movie,
with a special "Behind the scenes" feature...
unedited and uncut.
It was brutally honest.
Unsoftened, harsh reality.
Stone-cold truth.

It was playing on a split-screen.
The top part was called "Outer Appearances".
Every scene looked really good...on the surface.
There were a few pats on the and there.
Applause, on occasion.
The bottom half of the screen was called "Reasons and Motives".

I tried to block out the bottom part...
of the split-screen.
Tried to put my hand in front of my face....
so I could only see the top part.
The part that was pretty.
The part that made me look good.
There I go again...
self is so prevalent.
So alive.
I thought it was dead...
or at least dying.

The Potter wouldn't allow me to block out the bottom part.
He kept my eyes peeled....
wide open.
He wanted me to see the ugliness...
of the truth.

I reluctantly watched as scene after scene flashed before my cowering eyes.
Would it ever end?
Would the scenes ever stop?
I got the picture.
More than I wanted to, I'll admit.
Saw more and more why the Potter led me here.
Realized with even more clarity why it was necessary to be remade.
Into a vessel He could more effectively use.

It was almost dizzying...
remembering all of those conflicting emotions.
My head almost spun...there on the spinning wheel.

Each one of my reasons and motives was spelled out in words
flashing continually across the bottom half of each scene.

The only way to get help is to acknowledge we have a problem.
To look it square in the face, and tackle it head-on.

I was really ready to listen.
To hear it all.

The Potter began to speak.
"Caring so much about what others think
is one of the most blatant, clear indications of the selfish pride
to which you so tightly cling.
It doesn't matter how much you impress others.
This isn't about you.
None of this is about you.
What matters is how I am presented through you.
What kind of reflection are you of Me?
How are you making Me look?
You profess to be My child.
And that you are.
Your focus has been on you,
how things are affecting you,
how people feel about you,
what they say about you,
how pleased or displeased they are...with you.
I am God.
It is I Who created you.
I am the Master Carpenter.
You are a tool...
in My hands.
How you are perceived by others is completely irrelevant.
Their praise or criticism has nothing to do with what I am doing in and through your life.
Whether people understand or whether they don't
makes no difference to Me at all.
It shouldn't make a difference to you, either.
I am not concerned about how things make you look.
You shouldn't be either.
This is pride.
Completely self-motivated.
It hinders Me from using you in a greater capacity.
It stands in My way.
It has to go.
Do you see, child?"

"Lord, I do now.
I never equated this before.
I never saw this as pride.
I never identified it as self....
clinging on for dear life.
But, You are right.
Who am I to argue?
What else could be motivating this?
Why else would it matter?"
The full impact of His words sank into my
hungry-for-answers soul...
like water being lapped into a thirsty sponge.

"When you become so anxiety-ridden,
lose sleep,
become physically ill...
over something I am asking you to do,
you are not trusting Me.
You fear you will fail.
You worry that the words won't come.
That you will be embarrassed.
Don't you see?
You are self-reliant.
I have told you time and time again
as long as you have My Word in front of you,
and My Spirit within you...
you have all you need.
The Two Witnesses.
They are always enough.
Have I ever failed to fill your mouth...
when you have opened it wide?
Has there ever been a time when the words were not there?
When you needed them?
Have I ever left you alone?"
The pure truth of His words hit nerve after raw-bleeding nerve.

"No, Lord.
Not once.
I should know that by now.
So, why do I do this?
How can I stop?
I don't want to focus on me anymore."
I heard the last shreds of resolve I held on to
crumble into a heap behind me.

Just the acknowledgement of what He was telling me
gave a sense of great relief.
Confession is good for the soul.
Honesty, no matter how painful,
is very liberating.
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32)
has never been more real to me.
I have never before experienced this like I am now.

Coming face-to-face with the Potter,
hearing His voice so clearly,
watching Him point out my problem areas,
realizing He is 100% right,
admitting to my own guilt,
acknowledging how selfish...self-driven...self-preserving I really am,
confessing everything to Him,
not holding anything back,
just facing the truth...
is setting me completely free.

It is a wonderfully liberating blessing
impossible to be put into words.

"Now we can make progress, child.
You are in a place that allows Me to work with you.
At last, your desires and Mine are one.
We both want the same thing.
There is a perfect, precise alignment of My will and yours.
We are finally on the same page...
in complete unity...
in perfect harmony.
At last, your motives are God-elevating,
not self-promoting."

I began to think of our car.
It developed a very annoying wobble because the front tires were out of alignment.
We took it in and the mechanic aligned the front end.
As we drove away, the wobble was completely gone.
Things were balanced.
It was a smooth ride.

I can see how out of balance things become
when my will is not in alignment with the Potter's.
It makes for a very bumpy spiritual ride.
But, oh the peace, when I allow Him to align my ways with His ways...
my will with His!

The Potter looked pleased that I had grasped today's lesson.
That I remained yielded...on the wheel.
That I didn't take His words.
That I am so eager...
so earnest....
so desperately yearning...
for the help I need.

While life is happening,
while ministry is in progress,
it has never before occurred to me to stop and examine...
why I am doing what I am doing.
What is driving me?
What is the compelling force?
Who am I trying most to please?
Is it the Potter...
or is it everyone else around me?
Worse yet, is it me?
Whose understanding do I lean on most?
someone else's,
or my own.
Whose leadership am I following?

The other day I read about the name Esther.
She is one of my favorite Bible characters
and also the one who inspired my parents
to choose my middle name.
The Hebrew name for the word Esther is Hadassah,
which means "myrtle".
The myrtle tree requires a long, hot summer in order to produce its flowers.
I also read how the leaves of certain types of myrtle trees
must be crushed in order to release their fragrance.

The crushing blows,
the deep wounds,
the intensity of the heat...
all of it is serving its purpose.
All are necessary.
The Potter is busy at work.
Smoothing the rough edges.
Sanding off the clingers...of self.
Applying the needed pressure.

Removing the signs that say, "Reserved for Cheryl".
I'm glad to see them go.
It feels really good.

He is taking the marred vessel and creating an emptied out, brand-new one...
to be filled with Him, not me.

He taught me today that...
True happiness comes when God's will 
and our deepest desires are one and the same.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Conversation With The Potter

"For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole."
Job 5:18

I stood in the kitchen,
mixing bowl in hand,
after pouring cake batter into the two 9 inch cake pans
I had greased and ready for Kevin's birthday cake.
Reaching for a rubber spatula from the round, wooden bucket
I keep next to the stove,

I paid careful attention to make sure 
I grabbed the Pampered Chef one.
Not one of the cheaper-made ones.

I don't know why I even keep the other ones.
They never get used.
Because if I accidentally pick one up when I'm not paying attention,
I always put it right back...
and reach for the one that says "Pampered Chef" on the handle.

I just love Pampered Chef brand rubber spatulas.
I doesn't take much to amuse me!
But, they are the best I've found.
When mixing up a cake batter,
nothing works better, 
in my opinion.
Other spatulas seem to leave residue behind.
These little wonders are a baker's friend...
they scrape as close to the bowl as possible,
and they leave very little, if anything, behind.
They scrape the bowl clean.
Even the residue is gone.
You hardly have to wash the bowl!

Today, the Potter and I had this conversation....
as He turned the wheel

"Sometimes, you think all of self is eradicated.
You wrongly assume that you are entirely emptied out.
But, there is still residue....
clinging to the sides....
of the inside of your vessel.
Refusing to let go.
Holding on for dear life."

"I didn't realize that, Lord.
I didn't see.
Now I do.
It is so clear."

"On the inside of the marred vessel...
 that was called "you"...
you didn't realize,
but, there was residue.
When I looked inside,
from my viewpoint...
I saw it.
It took up space.
I couldn't fill you...
to the capacity you desired and craved.
You asked me to.
Many times.
I always had to refrain.
It broke my heart to tell you no...
to have to deny you more of Me.
I wanted so badly...
to pour out a greater blessing,
to grant you the deeper infilling of My Spirit
for which you so often begged.
There wasn't enough room.
Too much Cheryl....
crowding out the opportunity
to fill you like you wanted to be filled.
So, I had to break the vessel.
I had no choice.
I love you that much.
Can't you see, child?"
His voice was tender...kind...gentle.
He didn't scold.
He simply explained.
The reason for my brokenness.
The reason for the wounds.

The words of Eliphaz, 
as he spoke to Job in the midst of his broken plight 
rang loudly in my ears...
"For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: 
he woundeth, and his hands make whole."

The same hands that had no choice but to inflict wounds,
were the same hands that are now tenderly, lovingly making me whole.
Making me over.
Making me new.

Tears welled up from someplace deep,
came to the surface,
and spilled over.
All those prayers.
All those times.
Spent on my knees.
With no results.
Now I knew why.
How could He increase,
if I didn't decrease?
How could He fill the extent I longed to be filled...
when there was no room?
When the residue...of me....clung so fiercely to the sides...
of my vessel?

In my mind, 
I can see it....
the old vessel...
the one He has ground to powder.
The outside appeared acceptable.
The I's were dotted.
The T's were crossed.
Appearances can be so deceiving, can't they?
From first gaze, 
I thought the inside was cleaned out.
I thought the vessel was empty...of Cheryl.
Isn't that what I had asked for?
So many times?
But, if you took a closer look,
from the view of the Potter,
you could see that there were clingers....
all along the sides.
Sticking out like sore thumbs.
Taking up space.
Preventing my own desire...
for more of Him.
Hindering what He wanted to do...
in me.

I don't know why it took me so long.
I feel like I have gone through a lifetime of learning this week.
A crash course.
Jam-packed into a few days.
Such depth of the lessons....
here in the Potter's house!

My Pampered Chef spatula came to mind.

I don't want to drag the clingers...
into this new vessel.
I am sick of the struggle.
I am tired of the fight...with self.
Completely spent.

I looked up, into His kind eyes
that were overflowing with more love....
than I have ever seen.

"Lord, I just want you to clean me out.
Like the Pampered Chef spatula cleans the bowl.
Scrape close, Lord.
Make sure even the residue is gone.
All of it.
Even the parts I cannot see.
Your all-seeing eye sees it all.
I trust You, Lord.
To do what I cannot do.
I don't know how to change.
I have no power.
I have tried so hard, Lord.
You know my heart.
My history.
Everything about me is, to You, an open book.
I hide nothing.
Please do what I cannot do.

Compassion flowed,
as He answered softly...
in His still, small voice,
"My child, I am."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Potter's Work Begins

"But now, O LORD, thou art our father;
we are the clay, and thou our potter;
and we all are the work of thy hand."
Isaiah 64:8

The journey here...
to the Potter's house wasn't an easy one.
I admit...
some of it...
was spent kicking and screaming.
After all,
why did I need to be made again?
Why a trip to the Potter's house?
Wasn't I doing okay?

I reached the Potter's door,
weak and tired,
battered and bruised,
sick of trying to figure it all out on my own.
My most feeble attempt was enough...
to connect with the door knob,
and turn the handle.

The door was easy to open.
Almost effortless.
Because He was there....on the other side.
Arms outstretched.
Wheel ready.
It was as if He had been waiting for me...
for a very long time.
Why am I so slow to understand?
Joy and gladness sprang into His love-filled eyes.
I've never felt so welcome...
in my whole life.
The door softly clicked shut behind me,
and I crumbled to the floor.
Exhausted from self-efforts.
More like shattered.
Ground into powder.
At His feet.

"And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken:
but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
Matthew 21:44

What composes clay, I wondered?
Is it not fine-grained earth?
Produced by the decomposition of rocks?
Soil composed of mineral particles of very small size?
Kind of like a powder...
of sorts?

All at once, my purpose for being here became clear.
The pieces of mystery fell into place
as if every road I've traveled propelled me here.
The Potter was in need of clay.
Broken down, decomposed, crushed to very small size.
Completely worthless, apart from the touch of His nail-scarred hands.

Soon, I felt them,
gently scooping what was left of me,
off the floor.
His hands are warm.
I feel safe...
with a deep-seated understanding
that I am right where I am supposed to be.
That my journey here has been by Divine appointment.
He designed it so.
He needs a vessel.
In order to make one,
He needs clay.
This is where I come in.

As He tenderly placed me on the wheel,
to make me new...
our conversation went something like this....

"Lord, what do I do?
I don't know what to do!
Help me know what to do.
What is my this process?"

"What does the clay do?
In the potter's hand?"

"Nothing, Lord.
It doesn't do anything."


"But, I want to change.
I don't want to be the old, marred "me" anymore, Lord.
I didn't like what I saw...
in the mirror...
the day I made the long-overdue surrender
(see blog entitled, "My Trip To The Potter's House")
and made up my mind to come here.
I want to change.
I want to be the person you want me to be...
a vessel you can fill...
and use.
What do you need from me?"


"You mean, you just want me to be pliable?
That's all, Lord?"

I have broken you.
All that has happened has served My divine purpose.
You are reduced...
to mere clay...
in My hands.
The Stone has fallen...
and ground to powder...
the stoniness of your character.
This is the exact result I intended...
when you thought I didn't see or hear....
when you thought I didn't care....
when you didn't understand.
I had to reduce you to powder,
so I could make you again."

I listened, intently...
to the power of His words.
The wisdom.
It was all beginning to make sense.
The purpose of it all was coming into focus.

During the heartaches,
in the midst of fiery furnaces and deep trials through which I have passed,
a divine purpose was at work.
The unfamiliar, rocky paths He has required me to walk
were all a part of His plan.

On days I couldn't make sense of suffering,
the stone was grinding.
Crushing self.
To such a degree of fineness that it was no longer recognizable...
as self.
Until the particles were reduced...
to tiny, fine grains of dust.
Dust God can work with.
Dust He can mold.
Dust He can form...
into whatever He chooses.
Bringing me to this place...
of complete, unreserved, thorough resignation.
Resistance gone.
Excuses silent.
Full acceptance.
Total surrender.
Tension released.
Enveloping, all-consuming peace.
No struggle.
Just calm.

"I will fight you no more.
Do as you wish.
You know best..."
I softly muttered...
words hardly audible over the sound of the turning wheel
as the Potter tenderly, gently started His work..

He heard,
looked down at me,
 and smiled.

I am right where I need to be.
How long will this take?
I do not know.
Nor do I care.
I am so grateful to be here.
To have this sense of purpose.
To feel this sense of security.
To know that I am not spinning my wheels....
as He is turning His.

Daily, He is talking to me...
revealing His mind.
I feel like He has opened so much to me...
just this week.
I am in no hurry to leave this spot.
I look forward to each new day...
here in the Potter's house.
Because as it unfolds,
I learn.
More about myself.
More about Him.
More about what He is doing...
as I stay out of His way.

It is amazing how much we can absorb
when we really listen.

He is in complete control.
Can I tell you how good that feels?
I am on the wheel...
being remade...
It is exciting, really.
I have no idea what, as a finished product,
I will be.
What new purpose will I serve?
What new adventures await?
No one can say...except Him.
Somehow, I think this process will take a while...
but I don't mind waiting.
Not one little bit.