The Ultimate Joy Ride

Last night, just as I was closing down my day, something flashed across the screen of my phone.  Huh. That was strange, so I took a second look. Somehow, I inadvertently launched email and this is what greeted me when I looked at the screen once more. Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with Joy.” Then I went on to read some good news about an affirmative answer to prayer. God said ‘Yes!’  Do you have any euphemisms you use to describe acts of prayer? In our family we talke about “dragging out our prayer rugs” and sometimes we don’t roll them up for weeks.  We ‘PUSH’ Pray Until Something Happens until we are road weary from effort. Then when God is ready to answer, sometimes He says yes! We remember all the times in prayer where we reminded him that he promised to be our protection. Psalm 32:7 “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

But what about when God says no? Is our reaction to argue with God and become angry? Or do we accept His sovereign choice for us and use this situation to strengthen our faith. If we love God and genuinely seek his will, we will rise above this circumstance and focus on what can be learned from it. Recently I was reading 1 John where it talks about the true test of loving God.

1 John 3:3-5 “The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome. Every God-begotten person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.”  Let’s finish that thought – the one way to experience joy, is to experience Jesus, the Son of God.

Or how do we feel when silence is all we hear? Then what? It’s so hard to accept the opposite of what we want. It’s difficult to wait when the complications of life present challenges and the answer is indiscernible. We have to wait too. Waiting – that’s like driving down a crowded street, seeing emergency vehicles behind and hearing the scream of sirens all around with no clear direction of where to go. Go straight, turn left, turn right; you can’t just stop. Sound familiar?  The joy in this experience is to finally find a way out and know that we are safe and out of the danger zone.

Or maybe coasting is the more recognizable experience. Coasting can be good when used for reflection, meditation, and conscious decision making. Coasting is not profitable if depression and anxiety seep in. When God is silent, while we wait, remember these words in Matthew 11: 29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” I’m going through a period of silence right now. I have read scripture and asked God to speak up because I can’t hear him. I’ve reminded him that his word is the light on my path – the path I’m trying to follow and he says, “That’s good. The path is there, read a little more of my word, and keep the light shining. I have not forgotten you.” This would be a good time to remember how people in David’s day reacted to God. Psalm 44:17-18  “All this has happened to us, but we have not forgotten You or betrayed Your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back; our steps have not strayed from Your path.” We experience joy when our hearts have not turned from God when trials come; instead we strengthen our faith when tempted to ditch God and run.

Can we have joy and peace whether God says yes, no, or wait? It’s a choice and one that requires unshakable faith. Isaiah 55:12 says “You will indeed go out with joy and be peacefully guided; the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  I’m not expecting to hear mountains and hill sing, but to be peacefully guided is my ultimate joy ride. I’m up for the task.  Are you?

First published here March 26, 2015.

Grace – Laura Story

Strategic placement of worry in acts of faith

Yesterday I mentioned that we would visit with Joshua today. I sort of copped out on the end of the story of Gideon.  You have to know how it all turned out, before I tell you the really cool story about Joshua.  Gideon had gone from an arm of 32,000 men to 300. God told Gideon to get rid of men who were afraid (aka worried). That was one way of weeding out the worriers.  So the leftover men went into battle with trumpets and jars.  I would have been worried – especially if I were the wife or child of a soldier.  I would have been objecting – loudly!  But the soldiers – well the soldiers, soldiered on.  They burst into the warzone broke the jars, sounded the trumpets and shouted, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” The opponents got scared, confused, and fled. Just like that …. Case closed.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that those victorious soldiers were praying through. Seriously, how could they not?

So what about Joshua? There’s lots to tell about Joshua, but for today, let’s talk about an act of faith and how he and his army must have had plenty to worry about, but they literally stepped out on faith and dispelled the worry wart out of themselves.  If you want to read the whole story, it’s in Joshua 6:1-20.  Let me quickly summarize what happened. So in the end the city of Jericho was destructed, but how did it happen? We have a burly army of macho men suited up for battle.  Swords, shields, pepper spray – well, probably not the pepper spray, but they had the armor. So their standing around waiting for the battle cry and Joshua says “Hang tight guys.  God has a plan.  It’s kinda weird so I need to go back and check with him, but God says we aren’t going to need any weapons for this one.” OK – confused looks from the soldiers ready for battle. Huh? That’s not possible. Some of the guys had probably scoured the internet for the best deal on a new sword all sharpened up for the occasion, and now they had to leave it at home.

Joshua went back into conversation with God who confirmed the action plan.  “Look Joshua.  You have to trust me [God} on this.  Give each of your guys a trumpet. Yes, there’s a line item in the budget.  Stop worrying.  Oh! And Joshua, here’s the game plan.”  Can you imagine the looks, the speculation, the shock even when Joshua came back to his men and laid it out? “Guys, you each get a trumpet.  I hope your boots are in good shape because here’s what we’re gonna do. God says to march around Jericho once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day, march around it seven times.  And the walls are just going to fall down. [blank stares from the men] Listen, guys. God told me himself and we have to do as God commands.  And we have to spread this around. Post it on Facebook and Twitter because we want everyone involved in the final round.  We will shout to the Lord and the walls are going to fall flat as a pancake.”

And they did!  Now, I believe there was a lot of worry started there.  But I just as firmly believe that when worry started, it had no chance to germinate and take root because the army and the people prayed it away. And I also believe they thanked God for his provision along the way. God is the same today as he was then.  Hebrew 12:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Joshua had no way of seeing the future.  And Joshua didn’t visibly see God.  But he prayed and had conversations with him.

This scripture doesn’t talk about Gideon or Joshua, but it has direction for our day.  Daniel 2:20-23 “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

So what about this strategic placement of worry in acts of faith. You’re kidding, right? There is no place for worry when you’re acting out of faith.

Patterns, designs, and truth

Last year at this time, I was looking outside and wondering if spring would ever show up. The telltale signs of winter were etched in snow covered trees with accumulations of the now too familiar white stuff clinging to the driveway and blanketing every inch of grass. According to the calendar spring had arrived, but really? Would there be no end to deep freeze temperatures and would the snow every stop? I’m a naturally positive person, but I was getting discouraged until God reminded me of a few things about life. First publshed March, 2014, but still true today.  Ready for spring NOW

Reminder #1: It is God, not man who controls the weather. Politicians have no impact on whether the sun shines or the snow falls. Even the best meteorologist has no control over weather patterns. They can assume, they can forecast, they can present colorful maps in shades of blues and reds their predictions for what to expect, but God has the final say. Look what it says in Psalm 147 as I skip around the chapter in the Living Bible. “How good it is to sing praises to the Lord!  He covers the heavens with clouds, sends down the showers, and makes the green grass grow in mountain pastures. His joy is in those who reverence him, those who expect him to be loving and kind. Praise your God! He sends peace across your nation and sends his orders to the world. He sends the snow in all its lovely whiteness, scatters the frost upon the ground, and hurls the hail upon the earth. Who can stand before his freezing cold? But then he calls for warmer weather, and the spring winds blow and all the river ice is broken.”

I want spring, I long for days when the sun shines down for hours and warms the earth so flowers grow and grass turns green. I couldn’t stop looking at my lilac tree yesterday and wishing to see the delicate purple buds burst into blossoms. Like you, I’m praying for temperatures far above freezing that last more than 24 hours. Reminder #2: Then God whispers in my ear “I made the skies above and the earth below. I commanded everything and they came into being – all creatures on earth and in the ocean depths. Fire and hail, snow, rain, wind, and weather all obey me.” Psalm 148.

Sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake. And God has to send me a good dose of reality. Reminder #3: Psalm 29:10-11” At the Flood the Lord showed his control of all creation. Now he continues to unveil his power. He will give his people strength. He will bless them with peace.” Be patient, God is in control, He will give us all strength to endure this obstinate winter. And look what he promises as a reward. “He will bless them with peace.”

I don’t know about you, but I could use some resolute power and uncompromising peace. Isaiah 26:12 “Lord, grant us peace; for all we have and are has come from you.” Even the weather. It’s tough, but I’m thanking God for the weather because I know that He is controlling it, and that brings peace to my heart.

Truth or Dare

I’m on vacation so I hope you liked your visit with Linus yesterday and enjoy some time with Lucy today.

I learned a life lesson from a cartoon a few days ago. Who would think that attending the production of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ at Cornerstone University would leave an impression, other than a persistent smile? You would have recognized the personalities of all the characters. Happy-go-lucky Sally, Contented Linus with his famous Blue Blanket, Opinionated, Loudmouth Lucy, Philosophical Schroeder, Self-possessed Snoopy, and of course Perplexed but Optimistic Charlie Brown.  The cast members played their parts with such authenticity, Charles M. Schultz would have given his endorsement.

During one scene of the play Lucy was persuaded to examine her crabby attitude and consider changing it to something more mellow in nature. Being confronted with a dose of someone else’s perception, was Lucy convinced of her acerbic behavior? What do you think? Would   over-confident Lucy believe the assessment that she was crabby? I was surprised at her reaction.  She set out to prove the judgment wrong.  Lucy went from colleague to colleague asking for a candid evaluation of her personality. “On a scale of 1 to 100 how would you rate my crabbiness?” Kindly, but constructively each friend told the truth –without sugar coating.  The result? Lucy was able to gauge the consequences of her attitude.  In that moment, Lucy realized the course of her destiny could be altered by changing her attitude.  Did she forever want to be remembered for being crabby;  or for being amiable? She could be perceived as cordial or hostile.

The storyline portrayed through years of the Peanuts cartoon will always need a Lucy because life is full of Lucys. They are loud and argumentative, rarely receptive to ideas of others. On a good day they are unpleasant; on a bad day intimidating.  Loud Lucys!  In the play, Lucy opened her mind to the probability that she had some work to do on her personality.  What I learned from Lucy and what you can learn.

Wisdom – Lucy didn’t pridefully ignore the opinion of her friends when their consensus was obvious. Maybe Lucy prayed for wisdom because it’s difficult to know what to do when it means changing something that is part of who we are.  She could have asked for wisdom like Solomon did 2 Chronicles 1:10 “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” She could have.  Or maybe she prayed for wisdom like we are all invited to do in James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” And reading further in James 3: 13 “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” And there is even greater benefit when we live it like James 3:17 “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

We are not all like Lucy with an audacious, brash personality.  But there are other traits in our behavior we can modify so we can be effective team members, productive employees, understanding parents, patient grandparents, and peacemaking citizens. I love this idea from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

United in mind and thought – I think it would be perfect for Lucy to stop by right now and shout that one out!

The Ultimate Comfort Zone

We are a blanket family. I’m literally mesmerized by stores where walls breathe thick towels, floors are spongy with throw rugs, and blankets spill off shelves. Blankets, though, entice me and even though my family laughs at me over it, they are all blanket people too. Walk into my house, it doesn’t have to be winter; it doesn’t even have to be a cold spring, or cool fall.  In any season we cocoon in plush, wraparound blankets, the ultimate comfort zone.  My whole family might not be quite as enamored with blankets as  I am, but if you ask, they will agree that blankets are cherished gifts – I think blankets are like comfort food for the soul.

I wonder if that’s why I love Linus. You know, the philosophical character in the Peanuts gang whose blue blanket seems to be part of his anatomy. Linus is rarely without the icon of security enveloped in his arms. He is faithfully devoted to it.  Snoopy is often on a quest to persuade Linus to give up his blanket, and sometimes he reaches the line of possession, but Linus, realizes his adoration and dependence on his treasured blanket and pulls back before Snoopy can claim victory.

I can relate to Linus; not just because he is captivated by his blanket, but because of his passionate belief in his need for it.  It’s not the same, but Linus and his unshakable faith in his security blanket paints a picture of the unshakable faith I should have in the God of the universe;  the one who is in control of every detail.  Ephesians 1:20 (the Message)  “All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.”

When I feel perplexed and uncertain, I can be like Linus and grasp onto the Lord for security because he isn’t just powerful, he is power. And God is not of questionable character, nor does he ever make mistakes.  Look at these verses in Job 36:22-25 “Do you have any idea how powerful God is? Have you ever heard of a teacher like him? Has anyone ever had to tell him what to do, or correct him, saying, ‘You did that all wrong!’? Remember, then, to praise his workmanship, which is so often celebrated in song. Everybody sees it; nobody is too far away to see it.”  I don’t know about you, but when things start migrating downward to the pit, I remember job.  His adversity caused his friends and even his wife to blame God. But Job didn’t. Job latched onto his security blanket and made it part of his spiritual anatomy.  Jeremiah recognized God’s power too and wrote about it in Jeremiah 32:16-17 “Dear God, my Master, you created earth and sky by your great power—by merely stretching out your arm! There is nothing you can’t do. You’re loyal in your steadfast love to thousands upon thousands.” God can do more than I could ever ask.

One of my favorite things to do is help others.   I took a class on spiritual gifts a while ago and discovered why my natural tendency is to help, and it doesn’t feel like work to me at all. I have the gift of helping. I’m still working on the strong faith part but I like what Romans 15:1-2 says in the Message translation.  “Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”  When I’m criticized for helping too much, I remember the One I am really doing it for and who I am serving.

Today, what can we do to wrap ourselves in the spiritual security blanket so evident in the character of Linus? Remember what David prayed in Psalms 139.  Go ahead and read the entire chapter, but here is Psalm 138:7-8 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

And now here is a special verse for those of us who are celebrating the first day of spring with a snowstorm.  I couldn’t resist sharing this with you.  Job 37:6-7 “He orders the snow, ‘Blanket the earth!’ and the rain, ‘Soak the whole countryside!’ No one can escape the weather—it’s there. And no one can escape from God.”

This was first published here on March 20, 2015


What’s your product?

What’s your product?

Maybe it’s because I have been a writer by some vague definition for so many years, or maybe it’s because I’m a self-diagnosed information junkie, but no matter the reason – my email inbox is flooded with opportunities. There’s a steady stream of opportunities for me to purchase a product that will bring me instant success or purchase services that promise success if I follow a particular program paid for in advance. There is nothing wrong with selling for success and the more intimately someone identifies with a product, the more likely they are to sell it convincingly.  There is much I could say about the value of marketing, the philosophy behind it, and why it’s a critical component of our economy from the smallest business to the mega enterprise, but I won’t.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this product marketing, on a totally different plane. How many times are we told that we are products of our environment? We are who we are because of our families, the schools we attend, the neighborhoods we live in, and the friends we hang out with. Those are heavy factors, especially when considering the amount of time spent immersed in any one of them. The way we act, and maybe even more importantly, the way we react becomes our product. The more intimate we are with our product, the deeper we settle into our comfort zone. And let’s face it; sometimes that comfort zone is really not all that comforting.

I’ve recently talked with friends who suffer through anxiety and others who are demoralized by depression. Because our friendships have been years in development listening and observing has given me insight into conditions that contribute to these weighty emotions. I’ve heard the analogy used before about our past being like recorded tapes that play over and over in memory, but they affect today. I can understand that analogy and can also see the detriment of allowing those tapes to circulate in endless repeat. Is there hope? Is there a way to turn off those memories of the past so they don’t affect the future? Let’s try for one moment at a time.

I have to use the off switch quite frequently because I have tapes that switch on and play in my head too.  At that moment, I remember that it’s up to me to reach up there and snap that setting to OFF and take captive a new thought about something positive. God does not want me to dwell on what might have been – if only ….  2 Corinthians 10:5 says “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  Jesus Christ does not want my energies to be wasted on negative thoughts of past event.  In fact, remember these words of the Apostle Paul when he encourages us to forget the past. Philippians 3:13-14 “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Does this mean our memories are completely gone? No, but it means for each negative thought that comes from the past, we need to replace it with an actionable thought that will most definitely affect right now.  You see the only thing we can do with the past is learn from it.  The past is gone forever – so that thing that won’t leave you alone?  It’s gone. It’s in the past. It’s history.  Today, in this moment, choose a new thought. And make it a right thought. Every act starts as a thought.  Our minds are powerful tools. Nurture them with right thinking and the will become right doing.

Where can we start? Here are a couple thoughts.  Seek God and make him Lord of your thoughts, your actions, and your life. In this way we rise above our circumstances brought on by negative thoughts from our past. Deuteronomy 4:28 “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Hand over that can opener

Someone asked me to elaborate on armor. With the understanding that I certainly don’t have it mastered, I can share from my heart what it means to dress for success. Wear armor; it comes in many styles and weights.  Armor is protection. In the physical sense it’s made out of materials that are impenetrable to outside forces that damage, mutilate, and take life from a body. In the spiritual sense armor accomplishes the same thing, except our spiritual armor protects – well our spirit, our emotions, our feelings and things that can’t be seen, but are very real.  I copied scripture from Ephesians 6 because the Bible best describes our need for spiritual armor.

I think of armor as a wraparound protection from the enemy of my soul. Sometimes a short cloak of protection is all I need because on that occasion I’m not so vulnerable and prone to negative influences. Other times, I need the full suit of armor from the solid metal around my head to the steel-toed boots.  And even then I pray that there is no can opener in sight.  Why is that? It’s human nature. We are all emotional beings, caught in waves that crest one moment only to crash the next.  Feelings are not a good barometer for life, although they are one way to gauge our need of armor for the day ahead. Do we need the full suit today, or will the lightweight be enough?

Here’s how to dress for the occasion and be protected from enemy attack.  It’s a battlefield out there. Here’s what we need to enter into our day.  Remember we are not struggling against flesh and blood; we struggle with things we can’t see.

The belt of truth: the enemy of our soul will feed us lies all day long.  Don’t believe them!

The breastplate of righteousness: This is NOT self-righteousness. This is our inward desire to believe God and live out our faith for him.

The shield of faith: our absolute defense against the evil one. Faith in God, our defender, our shield.

The helmet of salvation:  Turn our thoughts over to the things we’ve been told to think on. Remember Philippians 4:8  whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

The sword of the spirit: Simply the Bible. I have the Bible on my phone.  It is with me always.

The feet that seek peace: The more we pray, read our Bibles, and seek God, the more peace we have. Peace and animosity cannot co-exist.  Seek peace.

Hand over that can opener and nobody gets hurt. Have you prayed? Have you committed this day to God? I’m suiting up.  How about you?

Ephesians 6: 10-18 (NIV) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.        This blog first published here 3-12-2013