What Counts

 

It was a sunny day–chilly and clear.  I stepped onto the mini bus destined for a women’s conference in a nearby city. The theme was to be, "A New Year–A New You."  Since the possibility of positive change usually sparks my interest, I was looking forward to attending.

The speaker was both amusing and thought provoking. She asked the participants many questions intended to aid us in self reflection as we sought to define ourselves with a sharper mental focus.

Most of the questions were not difficult for me to answer. I might describe it this way: Imagine being in a room with dozens of different  boxes.  You listen to a set of questions. The answers are found only in the selection of a box. "What was your favorite childhood game?" " Okay," you think. " That would be the purple boxes. Those are all the games I remember. Yes, here’s the box for Monopoly." You select the mental box and bring it to the front of the room and place it the proper area for responses. Now, you’re ready for the next question.

That worked fine for awhile, as long as I could go and mentally choose a "box" to offer myself during introspection. The trouble was, the questions were not about childhood games. Probing words meant for earnest thought were shaped into questions like, "If you had only one week to live, what would you regret about your life?"  "Name three things that matter to you."  "Complete the sentence: I am very uncomfortable________."

Those mental boxes were a little harder to locate. I actually had a moment where my search for an appropriate box startled me. It seemed that as I rummaged through the available memories, there were no boxes to bring to the front. Finally, one surfaced from deep within the pile. It had not been acknowledged in many, many years.

Sometimes change is difficult. A "NEW you" might have to begin with a greater understanding of the "OLD you." That may not be an easy task to engage in. That was where I found myself today.

The possibility of positive change. With God’s help, I believe the possiblities will become realities in His time.

 

 

Lies

I’m not much of a movie watcher. Today, however, I saw a very tender and sweet movie. Just in case that component of a film does not appeal to you, I will say that it was also laden with examples of deceit, greed, disregard for others and out and out hatred. Perhaps that makes it sound more exciting… But, wait! I did say it was tender and sweet. Permit me to clarify.

The crux of the story revolves around a couple’s visit to an orphanage and their final decision to adopt. Much love is formed through the adoption process. Because of the incidious jealousy of one of the characters, the new family unit is broken. As the young orphan comes to the realization that he truly wants to be with his adopted family, he becomes the captive of complete lies—lies spoken to him from the heart of one who is both jealous and insecure. It is this character’s intention to convince the young heart that he is indeed not loved and certainly not wanted by his adoptive parents. The deception is carefully woven around partial truths and misconceptions of reality. It is almost sickening to witness the emotional wounds being delivered to someone so innocent and naive.

As I listened intently to the twisted words being spoken ever so smoothly on the screen, there was a connection in my heart as I realized once again how this ploy of Satan works in our lives. How realistic lies from the devil appear to be at times! We cannot afford to accept what "looks" genuine without first analyzing its authenticity in the light of God’s truth in the matter.

Thankfully, the producers of the film felt it necessary to provide the audience with a happy ending. The family is heroically restored and feelings of hatred are replaced with mutual respect and consideration.

Look closely at the picture below. There are subtle scratches and lines apart from the bright array of colors. What is it a photo of, anyway? The hues are bright and vibrant, yet what is producing them? It was not painted. It had no light of itself.

I simply took a picture of a music CD with sunlight reflecting from it while inside my car. The scratches were real and quite permanent. The colors were NOT really there, apart from the sun’s rays. They only appeared to be so. If I had moved the disc to another location, it would have looked entirely different. Life can be like that.

We must choose who and what to believe on a daily basis. The ever present conflict between the truth of God’s word and the deception of the world is ongoing and active.

With His guidance, we can identify what is genuine and reject what is false.

Have you heard any lies lately?

 

 

 

 

Secrets

My husband and I are reading a book on communication skills. One section seemed particularly interesting. It also struck home in a way that, as I think of it, makes me a little sad.

The idea is that we greet each other in passing with statements like, " How are you?"  Of course, the universally accepted reply is, "I’m fine."  I do not consider myself a habitual liar, yet those words have escaped my mouth at moments in my life that were far from being described in any form as "fine."

Here is a small example in the style related in the book:

Susan sees her old friend, Debbie, at the grocery store. "It’s so great to see you, Debbie! How are you?"  Debbie says, "I’m just fine.  How’s your husband and kids?"
Susan answers: "Great! We’re keeping busy!" (Here’s the real, behind the scenes story—Susan’s husband was just laid off from his job and three weeks ago they found out that their teenaged daughter was pregnant.  Debbie has been feeling "down" for several weeks and she was diagnosed with mild depression. Now, she’s trying to adjust to the medication.)

Why does this seem sad? Because the reality of this scenario points to the fact that we do not feel an unconditional acceptance by others that would enable us to be transparent about our circumstances. Do we feel that way about God, as well?

He already knows our struggles. He knows the concerns of our hearts. Nothing is kept secret from Him. The emotional walls that are built around our hidden fears and misgivings are ineffective in keeping the watchful and all knowing God from entering.

When God says, "Tell me how you are,"  why not open up the rusty gate of truthfulness and say what really comes to mind.

He will always, always listen.

 

 

 

As the Deer

Many years ago, I was introduced to a song based on Psalm 42:1. The lyrics begin this way:

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after you
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship you

You alone are my strength, my shield
To you alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship you

I can remember being twelve years old and becoming a member of the marching band at one of the junior high schools in the town. After school band practice in the heat of late August proved to push me to physical limits I had not known before. Step after step in the grassy field, coupled with playing an instrument, drove my thirst level to its maximum. I have a very distinct memory of the water fountain inside the school. It was not enough to just get a sip; I required much, much more.

There is a place deep within my conscience that I suppose I could describe as being "unsettled."  Perhaps it could even be thought of as unfinished. Always before me is a beckoning toward something–a future moment, just in the distance; a place not yet attained.  Could this be a longing for God as the psalmist spoke of?

Embracing God’s love is a continual action. Growing closer in the relationship He offers us is a moving process—its desire is placed within our hearts, within our souls. We long to worship Him.

 

 

Gracious

Today I learned a new word. It is the Greek word SOPHIA, which means wisdom. At the church service I was attending this morning, the speaker was discussing God’s spiritual gifts of wisdom and knowledge.

Many times I have prayed for my children to be wise. I have asked God to grant me wisdom, as well. Often, I have felt the importance of certain decisions and realized the great need for God’s guidance and direction.

The pastor noted that, "Someone with the gift of ‘a word of wisdom’ will get the sense that God is giving them the ability to understand and apply His revealed truth to a definite situation."

At this point in my life, I am looking for truth and for wisdom.  How about you?

 

 

 

 

Defenseless

 

He was just standing there.

The ground had been recently plowed to accept the grass seed we had purchased. Like a lawn ornament, the rather rotund looking bird stood in the broken soil, perusing his surroundings. He was all alone.

Being alone has its good side and its bad.  If he had seen a sizeable worm for dinner, he wouldn’t have had any competition. If a neighborhood cat had been on the lawn, well….he was the only bird.

Do you ever feel alone in your circumstances? God has not left you. We must keep looking to God for guidance and for protection against discouragement. We must keep our mental "eyes" fixed on Him. He is our refuge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whiter Than Snow

It’s not actually cold cold here, like it seems to be in the rest of the world right now.  It is, however, cold enough to freeze water on the trees and plants and transform dew drops into miniscule ice cubes, clinging to every tiny clover leaf and shoot of grass. The green lawns take on a frosted look as the early morning sun first begins to gleam on the velvety white grass. It appears to be as "white as snow."

Deep down inside, we long to be pure. When we know that we’ve displeased God and we ask Him to forgive us, He transforms our heavy hearts.  In Psalm 51 we read, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." 

The writer longed for restoration to the place of purity—to be likened to the spotless color of snow. He believed that it was possible, through God’s power.

Do you?

 

 

 

If You Hear

Do you ever put things off? I do. About a year ago, I borrowed a book from a friend that dealt with the subject of house cleaning and organization. One of the suggestions has remained forefront in my mind:

                 "Right away is the best way."

Often I have remembered these words and proceeded to do whatever it was that I was contemplating putting off until a later time. It’s actually quite freeing to take care of matters quickly, without delay. When a task is done, it does not sit naggingly on a to-do list, demanding attention from some arbitrary point in the future.

When we hear God speaking to us, do we hesitate to listen and to heed His instruction? Do we put off obedience until a more convenient time presents itself? Doing so may actually serve to make our hearts less tender toward His leading in the future.  When we hear His voice, we should listen—right away.

It’s the best way.

 

 

 

 

 

Fix Your Thoughts

Nightmares can seem so real.

Have you ever had a bad dream that was so realistic that you were still afraid even after you were awakened? I have. Although it’s been awhile, I still remember the feeling. What’s the best thing to do as you lay there in the darkness?

Pray.

When we concentrate on Jesus and allow our focus to rest on Him, we find comfort as we realize our protection. But what if we’re afraid or anxious and we’re not having any dreams? What if it’s real life that has us in a battle with stress and fear?  The answer is still the same.

As we fix our minds on Jesus, we put our trust once more in His sovereign love for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surely, This Nation

There were some very emotional moments for me today. Watching the presidential inauguration on television brought many thoughts to mind. The music, the speakers, the prayer….seeing past presidents and their wives as they arrived on this cold, crisp morning to witness the changing of power and responsibility from the shoulders of one man to another. And so it is that God has allowed us this freedom; the immense blessing of existing as the United States of America.

What kind of nation are we? Moses spoke to the children of Israel as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy saying, " See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.  Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’" (Deuteronomy 4:5,6)  If Israel chose to observe the decrees and laws of God that had been taught to them, other nations would consider their wisdom.

Could this be said of our country today? Do the nations of the world see us as a people following the commands of God?

As we pray for our nation during this time of peaceful transition, may it be said of us in truth throughout the world: 

"Surely, this nation……."

 

 

 

 

Radiance

As I was driving home, the sunset was ablaze with brilliance. I drove past my home to a field where I could get a better look at the passing scene before it was faded and gone. How beautiful and radiant it was! The clouds were meandering their way across the vibrant sky.

The Bible tells us in Hebrews that, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs."

Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory.

 

 

The Needs of His Animal

Do you ever wonder why God made animals? They can be hungry, thirsty, angry or sad; they can be fiercely loyal or wild and dangerous. They can love—or be filled with distrust, yet they are not quite like humans. God made us different for a reason.

Although I don’t know exactly why God made animals, since they are here, I am responsible for how I treat them. I especially think God notices how we treat the animals that are under our care. Usually, we are caring for an animal because we chose it. Be it from the pet store or the dog pound, we selected it to care for and love. It cannot communicate on our level, yet it demonstrates its emotions to us in other ways. Will I gently seek to meet the needs of my pet? Food, visits to the veterinarian, a warm place to sleep?

God meets our needs continually and He does so with love. He selected us before we acknowleded Him. We cannot communicate on His level, yet we demonstrate our love to Him in the ways we are capable of.

Proverbs 12:10a says, "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal…"

 

 

 

Summer and Winter

Routine.

We were born into it. Feeding time, bed time, feeding time again. Later, play time was added, then school time, then work time. Life seems to be on a schedule, one day and then another.

God has set order into place. He tells us in Genesis 8:22 that, "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." He has fixed the routine by which we live, reminding us that our very existance is in His control.

 

 

 

Rashly

Quickly, now—how many birds do you see in the photo below?

Surely you see the two birds who are neck to neck in flight as though they were pretending to be horses contending for the grand prize in the Kentucky Derby. Did you happen to notice the striving bird in last place, hook bill outstretched? Okay, so you noticed.

What if I were to say that you were wrong? Here’s the next question: Look at the shuttered windows in the lower right corner. Do they appear level? What if I disagreed with your answer? Would you be angry?

Proverbs 13:3 says, "He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin." It’s easy to answer rashly or come to a conclusion before every avenue is explored in any given situation. Even so, is it likely that we’ll defend our first opinion, perhaps with hurtful words and a poor attitude?

There are FOUR birds in the picture and the top of the shuttered windows are almost perfectly level.

The birds I saw flying today serve to remind me that things are not always what they appear to be initially; I need to "guard my lips" and consider the words that I am tempted to speak before they are released into reality by the sound of my own voice.

 

 

Sing Praises

Do birds sing praise to God? I can imagine it. What if every tweet and chirp uttered in the branches above was laced with an element of praise?

It was a clear, chilly afternoon. As the sun was drawing nearer to the horizon today,  the birds were enjoying their last escapades of flight before dusk. They were everywhere!  Covering areas of the neighborhood lawns, darting from this tree to the next, all with excitement in their voices. Sitting on a branch near our driveway was a solitary bird. The sunset was casting a glow behind him that I wasn’t aware of until viewing his early evening portrait. The yellow leaves remaining on the limbs hung delicately around him.

Do birds sing praise to God? I really don’t know. Of one thing, I am certain: I may choose to use the voice God has given me to exalt His name. May the words I utter be laced with the joy of knowing there is a God in Heaven and I am His child.

 

 

 

If Anyone Would Come

 

 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels."  Mark 8:34-38

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grain and New Wine

 

 

Years ago, I was a member of a large congregation in the town where I had graduated from college. The pastor was a very compassionate man, full of the desire to please God in teaching and shepherding those of his "flock." Thinking back, I learned a lot through the many experiences I had there.

One memory comes to mind this evening—-the blessing. I don’t remember them exactly, yet I know this was the pastor’s custom.  At the end of a service, he would speak a blessing over those in the sanctuary. It was special, every time. I believe God heard each word spoken over us.

What blessing might we give to someone else today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have Faith

Faith. How could we describe faith? With a little research, I found some other words that mean about the same thing. Take a look—

acceptance        

assent

assurance

belief

certainty

certitude

confidence

constancy

conviction

credence

credit

credulity

dependence

faithfulness

fidelity

hope

loyalty

reliance

stock

store

sureness

surety

truth

 

What if we inserted each of these words into the verse, one at a time?

Have assurance in the Lord, have confidence in the Lord, have reliance in the Lord?

 

Being reminded that He will hold us up in times of doubt gives us strength to persevere.

 

 

Kind

Proverbs 14:21b says, "Blessed is he who is kind to the needy."  So, who are the needy, anyway?

Well, you might say that it is someone who is poor or doesn’t own much. That may be one definition, yet I feel there is more.

If I consider the "needy" as those who simply need something, I have clarified it in a broader sense. Think of it this way: If I encounter someone who is crying—-are they in need? Do they feel lonely or rejected? What kindness might I show?  What if I encounter someone who is physically ill—-are they in need? Do they feel great pain? What kindness would benefit them?  What about others that we see who are struggling financially? Confused about their faith? What kindness should we show?

As we offer specific acts of kindness to the "needy" in our world, we show the love of Christ, ministering to each heart, one at a time.

 

 

 

 

A Record of Sins

Have you ever felt that you couldn’t "stand" before someone, because they kept a record of your "sins"—your faults or failures? I have.

Even after genuinely asking for forgiveness, the lack of warmth in the relationship was still there. Situations like this one can weigh heavily on a repentant heart.

What about God? What happens when we genuinely ask for forgiveness? He does forgive, and the record of wrongs is not validated. The warmth in the relationship is restored. The repentant heart is renewed once more.

If God kept a record of our wrongs, who could stand? Through the sacrifice of Jesus, our debt has been paid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleanse Me

 

Psalm 51:1-3

 

 1 Have mercy on me, O God,
       according to your unfailing love;
       according to your great compassion
       blot out my transgressions.

 2 Wash away all my iniquity
       and cleanse me from my sin.

 3 For I know my transgressions,
       and my sin is always before me.

 

 

Citizenship

 

Do you see them? The tiny, dark forms amidst the gray and white swirls? Thirteen beating hearts fueling twenty six flapping wings taking them….somewhere.  Somewhere beautiful, no doubt, from the looks of the clouds surrounding them.

The sky looked almost like a painting, with upward strokes here and there. When I think of Heaven and what we might experience, I can imagine the colors—the sensations that await us. What joys might I know, walking—perhaps flying—through heaven, with every tear wiped away and all sin purged from my being?

 

 

 

He Waited

Consider the faith of Noah.

It must have been an immense faith; a trust so tremendous that it guided his heart to obey God entirely. Noah looked to God for guidance, before the flood, during the flood, and after the flood:

 6 After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

 13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.      Genesis 8:6-13

During the waiting period, when the waters filled the earth and the ark bobbed up and down in its fury, Noah had to trust God for the ultimate outcome. As conditions changed, Noah sought to know what his next instruction would be. Was it time to leave the safety of the ark? Was it time to move on? Was that time only just beginning to start? He enlisted the help of a dove. He considered the situation and evaluated the results. When the dove did not return, Noah opened the door of the ship containing all life that existed out of the sea. He saw that the ground was dry. Then, it happened—

 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 "Come out of the ark…..

God spoke to Noah, telling him to come out of the shelter that had been their haven for so long. It was time. Noah did as God commanded, exactly when he was told to do so.

What about us? Does God provide us the shelter we need, giving us safety from the storms of life? We may bob up and down in the tumultuous waves, but He has us securely in His care. Does He ever ask us to trust Him with the future? To check to see if there’s some newly dried ground we need to walk on in faith? Noah didn’t leave the ark until God spoke the word. Surely, he was listening.

Consider the faith of Noah…..

  


 

 

 

 

When the Sun Was Setting

Some of my plants take a break from blooming and just go for the "green foliage look" for a time. It’s always a good thing to notice that first colorful burst of petals after they’ve been absent for awhile. The sun was setting and the shadows were closing in. I decided to photograph the solitary flower that had emerged in one of the containers near the fountain. In the dusky light, it seemed to have a soft glow about it.

Have you ever noticed how the surroundings take on a different feel depending on the light? We perceive them according to the hues we see. We also connect with another’s experience when they desribe the amount of light.  "Dawn was just approaching when we saw the deer in the meadow."  "The sun was blazing on the snow when the avalanche began." We get a mental picture as we tune in to what is being said.

Luke desribes a time when the sun was setting and those who were ill were brought to Jesus for healing. Can you just picture it? The dusky orange, pink and purple of the coming night sky forming a backdrop for deliverance from the hand of the Savior?

When the sun begins to set this evening, why not pause for a moment and ponder that gathering of long ago. Jesus remains the Healer today—in your life and in mine.

 

 

 

They Sing

It is one of my favorite places to drive past. Horse farms with black fencing cradling the grass and framing the beautiful scenery. This time of year the white birds come. They fly in small groups, descending on their choice of feeding ground. Peaceful, unhurried.

It was yesterday, New Year’s Day. As my car came closer to the little flock, they scattered just a little further away and settled once more on the field just beyond me.

Peaceful. Unhurried. A good example of what my attitude should be in the months to come.