Spiritual Growth

Looking out for “number one”

I’m beginning a study of Philippians — although written over 1900 years ago, Paul was so spot on for our contemporary, narcissistic culture when he said, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others” (2:3-4).

With this scripture in mind, I am sincerely praying for some that I hold dear this morning, and I have to wonder — what would marriage relationships look like if husband and wife applied Paul’s instruction? How would sibling relations change? Would businesses operate differently if looking out for “number one” was placed behind looking out for the good of others? What about relationships in the church? Would we be reconciled with each other rather than demanding to be right (even when we are wronged)? I don’t see anywhere in scripture where Jesus told us, “be right”; however, scripture does give a clear directive to “be reconciled” (Matt. 5:24).

How would it look this week if I made personal application of Paul’s instruction in all my relationships? I believe my husband would be the first to reap the benefit of my looking out for his needs over my own. Simple gestures are too numerous to count in the area of putting his needs first; however, I know he has a full week, so my first opportunity could be to see what “tasks” I could take off of his to-do list to help him stay more focused on the needs of the church. My children and grands would know that my heart is set on extending grace to them instead of having a judgmental attitude and giving “my advise” about some of their decisions. My church family and extended family would see more selfless acts and hear more encouragement from me. My agenda may seem pressing, but when I see a need, surely, I could set my agenda aside for just a moment and stand in the gap for someone else. I believe God has already showed me a couple of dear sweet friends who are struggling this week — a phone call and an afternoon visit could be in order. Following Paul’s directives would mean that I would be purposeful in looking for opportunities to “be second” — I’m certain I can find many ways to practice this in places like WalMart or Lowes. 🙂

The Bible is not simply another beautiful literary writing; however, it can be viewed as such if application is not exercised from its direction. So, here’s Paul’s challenge of application to me this week — examine everything I do to see if I am putting others’ needs ahead of my own — if not, I’m in direct disobedience to the Word of God. That’s pretty plain. I don’t need a theology major or Bible scholar to interpret this Word for me. If I want to be in obedience to God’s Word, I must put other’s needs ahead of my own. Period.

I will be in prayerful thought this week, looking for opportunities and listening to the Spirit speak to my open and willing heart — “…Carolyn…do nothing from selfishness…regarding others as more important than yourself.” Does this look different than our narcissistic culture? Who am I kidding? Narcissistic culture!? That’s way too broad and nonthreatening! I might as well admit it — my narcissistic SELF! Paul may have written this to a society, a church, a fellowship, but God spoke this directly to me! Does this look different than my narcissistic self? I nod my reluctant head, sadly and definitely yes, my narcissistic self. The Spirit of Truth has pinpointed an area in my life He wants to reclaim, so now, what am I going to do about it?

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). This is another directive from God’s truth — a directive for my good as well as those around me. As a believer, I am to be in stark contrast to the world. Am I willing to give an honest answer to the question, “Do I look and act differently than the world?” Will I allow the mirror of God’s truth to reflect on my image and meditate on Paul’s words? Not only meditate, will I make application of this truth?

The fruit of obedience can be very beneficial to those around me.  Oh, and the benefit for “number one?”  Well, I better get ready because it could completely knock my “kingdom of self” off its narcissistic velvet throne.

Spiritual Growth

Praying on the Mountain

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles” (Luke 6:12-13, NASB).

This year, the TBC’s men’s retreat is entitled, Men on the Mountain. It is designed for not only a time of fellowship between men, but also a time of fellowship and experiencing God. TBC men will be seeking God’s heart and leadership in their personal lives, their family, as well as their church.

Last week, my husband and I traveled to the retreat area on Lake Greeson to pray over the place where the Trinity Baptist Church men will meet. As Gary walked and prayed around the cabins in one direction, I walked and prayed in the other. It was our desire to not only ask God to come and meet the men there, we desired that God would speak to our hearts that day as well. God never disappoints a willing heart.

As I stood on the cabin deck, high on that mountain overlooking the lake, I asked the Father what my place was in this men’s endeavor. As I was quiet and still, anticipating an answer, the only audible sound I heard was the wind blowing through the pines, and the distant hammering of a woodpecker. But in the stillness and quiet of that moment, I also heard God breathe across my heart these simple, yet distinct words — “fast and pray.”

Gary and I seriously believe God is up to something in the body of TBC. It seems as if He is getting us prepared for a great and mighty move — perhaps a move of power like we’ve never encountered before. His Spirit is blowing through this body — we see it, we hear it, do you?  He’s here.  Do you recognize Him?  Do you see where He’s actively working?  We desire to be active wherever God is working; this desire drives us more and more to our knees seeking the face of the One who holds tomorrow in His hand.

In the midst of God’s activity in TBC, the body is currently seeking to add another full-time staff member. What a blessing that God has sent many young men with impeccable integrity and holy drive to yield their complete life serving in full-time ministry. Trinity is now faced with making the decision on which candidate God desires for this body.  God has already chosen the man for Trinity, it’s our job to actively seek God to hear His voice and follow in obedience.

I believe, praying for our men as they are seeking God on the mountain and praying for our leadership team as they interview full-time staff member applicants is an invitation from God to fast and pray in seeking His face. The Luke 6:12-13 scripture gives confirmation to fast and pray by following Jesus’ example. If Jesus, Himself, thought the decision of choosing the disciples was important enough to pull away from the crowd and pray all night — how much more do I/we need to pray and seek God?

I am extending this challenge and invitation to the women of Trinity. Do you desire to hear from God? Do you desire for your spouse and/or our men of TBC to hear from God this week? Do you desire to see TBC empowered by the Holy Spirit and receive clear direction for His body of believers? How deep is your desire? How bad do you want to hear from God? Are we desperate for Him?  I invite you to fast and pray.

Seek the Lord and ask how He wants you to become involved this week in this charge of fasting and prayer. The TBC Prayer Room will be open from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 18th), Thursday, and Friday for the purpose of TBC coming together to pray. We will be fervently imploring God to move among our men while they are seeking Him on the mountain and for those men in the body who are not able to attend this year. We will also beseech the God of the Universe to direct our leadership to TBC’s next staff member.

Seek the Lord of the Harvest. He wants to meet with you. He desires to speak to you. The same Jesus who sought God on the mountain is the same Jesus who desires to have intimacy with you. Pray, my sisters. Fast and pray. He will never disappoint a seeking heart.

Spiritual Growth

Put Asunder

In search for an old file, I ran across this poem I wrote as a writing assignment several years ago. I recall, at the time, there were several of my friends and loved-ones who were struggling in their marriages and my heart was breaking for many around me. Praying prayers full of questions concerning how? why? what? and dealing with emotions of anger and confusion, I wrote the words which follow as if I were the actual one dealing with the agony of an attack.

The Lord spoke to me by the end of penning this free-verse poem and helped me to see the filthy, unrelenting scheme of Satan in the midst of shredded families. Even today, I must constantly remind myself (and others) the truth in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

I had forgotten the words of this poem; yet, as I read through them again today, my heart was broken fresh and anew for friends and family who are currently experiencing or have experienced and bear the scars of being… “Put Asunder.”

May we recognize the waging war Satan has declared on relationships and how he continues to be successful in ripping families apart. May we cling to God, the Healer and Sustainer of life, marriage, and family.

 

Put Asunder

Once joined together — now
I’m alone
I’m scared
Abandoned – thrown aside
I see no ceasefire
No reconciliation.

I can’t find the strength to pray.
Anxiety,
Depression,
Fear and Shame.
Defeat,
Desperation,
Guilt and Blame.

This is not of God
Not holy
Not edifying
Not righteous.
This is an attack of the evil one.

This is not Jesus –
SATAN –
How does he do it?
How does he convince?
What was once vibrancy and life,
Is now nothing but despair
Hopelessness.
It makes no sense.

He says he doesn’t love me
And hasn’t cared for a long while.
He says he’s leaving –
He wants a divorce
My soul screams out –
Violently and wild.
What about us? What about me?
What about our children?

Is it all so easily tossed aside?
With no regard? No remorse?
No desire to work it out? No regrets?

What happened to the deep love —
the commitment we would never forsake?
What happened along the way —
that made our hearts grow cold and opaque?
Was it the busyness of life —
too many days apart?
Was it losing sight of God in our holy union —
that severed our hearts?

When was the last time we prayed together?
When have we sought Him as one?
We’ve been torn apart – ripped to shreds.
It’s as if we don’t know each other
Strangers
My heart is breaking – and numb.

How will we tell our family?
What will our friends say and do?
How will the kids ever understand when we tell them —
Our family is now longer one – but two.

What once was commitment and devotion
Has become hurt,
Hate,
Selfishness.
I give up.
No more.
I don’t understand. I’m too tired to fight.
Separation?
Divorce?
Forget it all.

Whatever it takes to finish it.
Just get it over with and done.

The evil one grins as blood drips from his filthy fangs –
One more union destroyed –
Family shattered
Ripped to shreds
Put asunder.

Spiritual Growth

“That Voice”

For Paul, it was a blinding light and an audible sound from heaven.  For Moses, it was a burning bush.  For Elijah, it was not the thunder, earthquake, or fire– it was a still, small voice.  For Joseph, it was a vision in a dream.  For many generations, God has spoken in dynamic and diverse ways.  Personally, His voice typically comes through scripture, prayer, or in the quietness of solitude — typically.

But God is not typical.  God is God – sovereign Creator of the universe, Sustainer of life, and Plumb Line of truth. God is Father — infinite wisdom of the ages, timeless truth and unwavering love.  God is Son – immeasurable sacrifice and abundant grace.  Holiness and Righteousness bankrupting heaven to walk among men in flesh such as I.  God is Spirit – omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  Holy Guide and Counselor – lover of my soul and quick to whisper in this servant girl’s ear – “this way, child.” God is Trinity – Godhead — Three in One – inseparable, indescribable, irresistible. Hard to wrap my thoughts and finite rationale around, yet so much higher are His ways, thoughts, and plans that I gently rest in His abundant, amazing grace and provision.

This same God — this same voice — still speaks today in dynamic and diverse ways – to hearts that truly listen.  My God spoke to me recently through a gracious, compassionate, and discerning friend.  It was as if when this friend spoke, I was temporarily blinded.  A crushing heaviness, as though a fist had been forced into my chest constricted my breathing and my heart began to wildly palpitate.  I could feel my temples pulsating with the heavily increase of my heart and my eyes welled with uncontrollable tears. I could actually feel heat in my chest surrounding my heart and I had to think, “Is this the ‘burning within us’ the disciples spoke of as they walked on the Emmaus Road with Jesus?”  As the saltiness flowed down my cheeks, did the room go temporarily silent or was my heart drumming so loudly in my ears that I could not hear anything but “That Voice?” That voice.

I knew that voice. That voice was no stranger to this heart of mine – I had heard it many times before – and continue to hear today. It’s the same voice that speaks to me through scripture and pierces the very depths of my being with truth.  It’s that same voice that whispers peace over my anxiousness and assures me of His ever-watchful care.  Yes, it’s that same voice that calls me out of the comfort of my familiarity and beckons me to walk on the water of the unknown into places where I must rely on the direction and guidance of the One I call Faithful and True. That voice – it’s like none other I’ve ever known.

In a study by Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God; Knowing and Doing the Will of God, the author states that God speaks by the Holy Spirit through 1) The Bible; 2) Prayer; 3) Circumstances; 4) and the Church (body of believers) to reveal 1) Himself; 2) His purposes; 3) and His ways. Blackaby also points out in this study, “When God speaks, one knows it is God.  When God speaks, one knows what God says.  When God speaks, one knows what must be done in order to be obedient” (Blackaby).  I have found this statement true time and time again in my walk with the Lord.  I know when that voice speaks, it is God – I know what He says; there is no questioning – and I know what I must do to be obedient.  On that day, the voice I knew to be the God of truth came through a friend like a perfectly aimed arrow, sinking deep into my heart and pulsating floodgates of righteousness through parched and dry veins restoring my soul.

As my friend innocently talked with me, he had no idea that, yes, I was attentive to his words, but I was actually hearing straight from the throne room of heaven.  The very breath of the living, sovereign God flowed through human lips and confirmed to me a direction that I knew I must follow; for, God had spoken to me in days past concerning this very subject and I had been awaiting further, spiritual direction — confirmation. When God is speaking to my heart concerning something He wants to refine in my life, I hear the same voice in a sermon; I turn on the radio and there it is; in my Bible study the same words jump off the page; in a song lyric — it’s that voice that strickens me to the point of lifting my eyes in wonder and dancing to the heartbeat of a Savior that sets free the captive; and yes, even through a friend – that voice — that same voice — it is ever before me — beckoning me — Come. Follow. Trust. Obey. Listen. Be still.  No, my friend did not know what was wildly happening in my soul that day, and I didn’t tell him at the time for the flood of emotion struck me literally speechless. The very voice of God left me dumb – to fall at His feet like John — as if a dead man. When the voice of God speaks, I need to simply keep silent and listen.  My words need not be heard.

I continue to be awestruck and humbled to hear from heaven and know that the very God who has the power to put a stop to everything of this world as we know it, cares so deeply about me that He speaks to the intimate, quiet place of my heart.  He gently opens the secret chamber door and enters the room where only He and I commune as one.  It is here I become as Mary, anxious of nothing, lingering at pierced feet, drinking in and breathing deep —  “that voice.”

*Blackaby, Henry      http://www.blackaby.net/expgod/

Spiritual Growth

A Painted Door

I painted a door today. One door. Yes, that’s about all I accomplished in 6 to 8 hours – painting one, single door. I did manage to sneak in a few loads of laundry in between coats, but otherwise, I babysat a door. I was quickly reminded why I don’t care for painting; it takes too dog-gone long! With all the prep work, meticulous taping, drying time between coats, and then the dreaded pulling off the tape – man, I hate that part. I never seem to get it quite right! I have a friend who absolutely loves to paint and she’s really great at it. Good for her. I’m a lousy painter. And quite frankly, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t ever do it. Never. Where is my friend when I need her?

I tried to focus my mind on the Lord and meditate on scripture while I painted (hoping it would help my “I-don’t-want-to-do-this” attitude). I have some heavy things on my heart these days and I tried to pray and lift those things and people to the capable hands of God to seek His wisdom and
guidance. He reminded me while I was taping, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6) Just as I have to be patient during the process of painting, I must be patient as God works out the details surrounding those people and events in my life. And through that process, He is refining me more into His image as I learn to wait and watch Him work things according to His plan and purpose. (Romans 8:28) To get the best result, this process cannot be rushed. Just as the details of my life cannot be rushed if they are to be played out according to God’s perfect design.

There were maTaped Doorny moments throughout the day that I didn’t want to do what it took to paint this door. Again, the prep work tested me. Grrrr…. The door has 15 small window panes – 15!!! It took me almost an hour just to tape, but I learned some valuable lessons before I got to the end. I learned if I would use a pair of scissors and cut the tape straight across instead of tearing the ends by hand, I could cover the corners of the glass more easily and have less frustration with the “pointy” uneven ends that seem to do nothing but get in the way of my paint brush. I thought of this scripture, “All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Psalm 25:10) I need to understand there is a better pathway to follow than my own. I think I know what’s best for me, but God has a divine plan. His Word and guidance are the right tools I need to accomplish the very best, not only in this life, but the life to come. My “pointy” ends may seem good to me, but the Lord’s straight cut path is much better. Taking shortcuts to get to the end will not accomplish the best outcome. I need to remember this not only for me, but for those I’m praying for as well. I don’t need to try and “fix” something God has under control.  This life is preparation for the life still yet to come.

Three coats and 6 hours later it’s time for the moment of truth. Pull. Off. The. Tape.  How’d I do? Well… the paint bled through in a couple places and it pulled up with the tape in a few others. I have some minor touch ups to do, but all in all, I did alright — looks good. My husband will be relieved when he gets home to know he can mark this one off of his to-do list. I’m glad I could help.

I painted a door todaCompleted doory, but that’s not all that was accomplished. God and I have had some good, quiet teaching moments in the past few hours.  I know from the time of my birth to the time of my last breath, God is meticulously “painting” me into His own image; transforming me and using me as a vessel unto His honor. Many of the trials, hurts, pains, and joys I experience are mere tools in the hands of the Master Painter as He fashions me into one covered in the righteousness of Himself – fit for the Kingdom. I’m humbled by His patience with me and am forever grateful that He chooses no shortcuts when it comes to circumstances in my life or in the life of those I love. I’m also encouraged to know that what He began in me, He is faithful to complete – and unlike my door, in the end when the protective tape is removed, no touch-ups will be needed. Perfection at its finest will be accomplished.

Spiritual Growth

Unexpected Interruption

It wasn’t going to be a rushed day, but I did have plans for the morning.  I was to lead a Bible study group for an hour and then head down the road for a doctor’s visit. I would probably meet my husband for lunch and then go back home to get caught up on household things — not a pressing day, but I did have an agenda.  I arrived at the doctor’s office and it was a rescheduled visit that I soon found out was “not entered into the computer database,” which meant I would need to wait to be worked in. Okay… it wasn’t a big deal, my day was not pressing and, after all, I was there for blood work and hadn’t eaten so why waste this time, right?  So, I agreed to wait.

Finding my place in the waiting room, I thought about what I had brought with me.  I NEVER leave home without a book, my Bible, or my Kindle, but guess what?  I had nothing to read.  Red-faced, I had to borrow a Bible that morning at Bible study because I forgot mine at home!  Who forgets their Bible when they’re leading a Bible study? I’ve never done that before! Crazy.  I left home that morning knowing I would be right back and no reason to grab a book and my Kindle was charging…still charging (at home) unfortunately.  No help there.  So, I dug my phone out of my purse and thought I would mess around on the internet; just checking up on Facebook friends should quickly pass the time; weird, no phone signal — really?  I casually struck up a conversation with a woman sitting a couple of chairs down from me, but when she was called back to see the doctor there I was once again left to stare at the pictures on the wall.  How about a magazine?  The selection wasn’t the greatest, an outdated American Quarter Horse and a tattered medical “something” for assisted living — I chose the AQH.

Flipping mindlessly through the pages, reading only the headlines, I glanced at my watch — two hours, really?  I had been waiting two hours?  Several patients had come and gone and now it was only me and one other woman who had quietly slipped in and sat across the room from me.  Our eyes casually met, I smiled at her, and returned to my “all important” American Quarter Horse.  Within a few minutes, I heard the woman say, “Your purse is beautiful.”

Looking her way and then back to the purse by my side I replied, “Oh, thanks! It’s a Vera Bradley*.”

“I know, I have one of her purses that my mom gave me years ago, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like yours, I really like it.”

Don’t ask me why, but I was drawn to this woman.  I laid the magazine aside, picked up my belongings, walked across the room, sat directly next to her and proceeded to talk to her about my purse. Something came over me and I began this entire spill about this fantastic purse!  To a complete stranger, I opened it up, told her the style, showed her all the pockets, zippers, explained the convenience of the design and size, and babbled on like an infatuated purse fanatic, sounding like an over-zealous Vera Bradley sales representative. I even went so far as to tell her how to wash the silly thing in the washing machine… what cycle to use, temperature of water, and brand of detergent! Good grief! Enough! What was I doing anyway? I didn’t know this woman!  This was the first time I had ever laid eyes on her and I was talking to her like she was my long lost twin. What I didn’t realize, was that this act (as crazy as it sounds) broke down a wall that allowed this woman to open up and talk to me for the next thirty or so minutes.

It was almost as if a dam burst in that very moment.  I was a total stranger, (actually “stranger” than she probably first realized) but she shared with me that she had been in an abusive and neglected marriage relationship for 30+ years.  She was once a nurse and had been hurt on her job, suffering years of back pain and disability, had to sell most of her belongings and move into government housing in order to buy transportation.  The marriage was now just a painful scar and she was currently taking care of a premature grandbaby. Her daughter’s house recently burned and she was trying to help her financially and physically with a medically needy newborn.  If that wasn’t enough — she was doubting her “religion” (her words, not mine).

It only took about a minute into our conversation for the Holy Spirit to whisper in my ear, “Carolyn, this is not a casual conversation about a purse, this woman is hurting…listen closely.” She was thrilled to find out that my husband was a pastor and where our church was located because “it just so happens” that she is moving to that area this year — how about that? She said she needed a church family and her faith has been tested these past years.  She was searching for a God who is real.  Her “religion” as she put it, just wasn’t working. Wow.

When the nurse called her name to come back and see the doctor, our conversation ended as abruptly as it started.  But she did not leave without us exchanging names and I was able to give her a card with our church information and my personal contact numbers. We lightly touched each others’ hands and she tenderly said, “God bless you sweet lady.” Oh my.  I expect to see or hear from this dear lady again.  I began to pray for her in the midst of our conversation and I continue to pray even now as God breathes her across my mind.  I’m reminded by this encounter, God is in control of my life.  I may have an “all important” agenda, but His agenda is greater.  I need to keep my ears, eyes, and heart open to those unexpected delays and interruptions because, it might just be, He is about to do something miraculous in my presence.  

Coincidence or divine appointment?  Some would say it was just dumb luck, or grumble because of the time “wasted” in the doctor’s office. Others might view it as simply two women drawn together over a purse (for cryin’ out loud) and the conversation just naturally evolved. If I chose, I could look at it from any of those angles.  But, when the nurse called my name within the next five minutes and apologized for the wait, I simply had to smile and say, “Oh, it’s okay — really, it’s all good.”  In my heart I knew, my time had not been my own, and certainly not wasted; it had been divinely interrupted and annointed by the Great Physician.

*©2014 Vera Bradley Sales, LLC All Rights Reserved http://www.verabradley.com/

Spiritual Growth

Where there is Life…there is Hope

“It is time to call in Hospice.”  These were the doctor’s words as he walked into the hallway and spoke to anxiously awaiting family members.  The family, especially that precious husband, stood in silence as he began to describe the declining state of the patient’s organs and bodily functions.  As compassionately as possible he told the family, “we’ve done everything we can possibly do and she is simply not getting any better.”

 

Sitting in the waiting area next to that dear family as they tried to soak in the gut-wrenching news they had just received, one part of me didn’t want to eavesdrop, but the other part of me wanted to take in every word and run with arms open wide to embrace each one.  As the doctor walked away, the family sat in heavy silence – in shock.  As I silently prayed, I realized what this family desperately needed — hope.  It was exactly what they lost and needed in one simultaneous moment. Hope. 

 

As he was thirsting after God in the wilderness of Judah, David knew his hope was in God alone.  He had been David’s help in times past and he knew God alone would be the one to uphold him in times of trouble.  Hope was in God alone. 

Psalm 63

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
         My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
         In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
    Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
         To see Your power and Your glory.
    Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
         My lips will praise You.
    So I will bless You as long as I live;
         I will lift up my hands in Your name.
    My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
         And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
    When I remember You on my bed,
         I meditate on You in the night watches,
    For You have been my help,
         And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
    My soul clings to You;
         Your right hand upholds me.   (NASB)

 

 

In all of life, whether in the prime of perfect health or in the last breath of severe illness, it all comes down to just one thing – where is hope?  If hope is placed in anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ, hope will vanish with the last heartbeat.  But if hope is in God alone and the abundance of His mercy, grace, and redemptive power, circumstances of this life will not diminish the hope embedded deeply within the walls of a heart. 

 

Hope rises above circumstances.

Hope brings joy in the midst of sorrow.

Hope brings calm in the midst of the storm.

Hope shines light in the midst of darkness.

Hope showers living water in a dry and thirsty land.

Hope breathes peace in the face of death.

Hope is upheld by a mighty and righteous right hand.

Hope is sustenance in the despondency of death.

Hope is Jesus Christ — the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Where there is life – there is hope. 

Spiritual Growth

Trouble

troubleLaunched in the United States in 1965, Trouble continues to be a popular, classic board game which brings hours of fun to children and families alike.  In a fast-paced frenzy, players “pop” the die and on the luck of the roll move four pawns around the board striving to race to the finish line looking for a win and ultimate safety in their home position.  The strategically placed die in the center popping bubble makes cheating or manipulating moves virtually impossible as the bubble pop determines the roll of the die.  I’ve never understood why this game was called Trouble.  Maybe it’s because throughout the game, the four game pieces are open and vulnerable to opponent capture until they reach their final destination.  Upon arrival, the opponent is finally no threat and the player can breathe easy knowing he has reached his goal.

Our lives are full of trouble.  Not fun trouble like the board game, but very hard, very real, very devastating trouble.  No family is exempt.  Ours is certainly no different.  Over the years, within our immediate family alone, we find ourselves riddled with sickness and disease, escalating expenses, unexpected deaths, heartbreaking divorce, suicide, financial difficulties, miscarriages, and strained relationships.  This list is not exhaustive as it seems the harder we try to avoid trouble the more it creeps in.  We are hard pressed on all sides, and at times we wonder how much more we can endure. Is my family alone in our trouble?  Certainly not.  No one escapes.  No family is immune.  We all encounter it.

In times of trouble, people often ask the question, “What in the world have I done to deserve this?  Why is this happening?” There are so many references in God’s Word which speak of trouble, trial, and tribulation.  Many, like John 14:1, come with encouragement from the lips of Jesus: “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”  Or John 16:33 when Jesus told the disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  God’s Word includes many references concerning trouble simply because God, in all His sovereignty, knew we would need to hear His wisdom, guidance, and encouragement as we walk this road of earthly life.  When sin entered through the Garden, the world has, from that point on, been filled with trouble.  Inevitably, we will encounter trouble somewhere in this life.

A search of the scripture finds that Job struggled through great trouble, as did Noah, and Moses, David, Hannah, Ruth, Daniel, Paul, and yes, even Jesus.  What did Jesus do to deserve the trouble he endured?  Absolutely nothing.  In fact, Pilate stated before the people that he could find no fault in Him, and the scripture tells us in John 15:25 that Jesus was hated without a cause.  Blameless.  Still, He was in the world in the midst of trouble.  We would be hard-pressed to find anyone in scripture who did not encounter trouble to some degree.  Yet, in our human nature, we somehow fabricate in our minds that others will have trouble and we will be slip through life unscathed.  Nothing could be further from reality.  For reality proves that in the world, we have trouble.

So if trouble is inevitable, it would seem the only choice we have is how we will actually respond to trouble when it comes.  With each “pop of the die” life throws us a curve and we can either respond with an attitude of “Why is this happening to me?” or an attitude of “God, what can I learn from this?”  Years ago, when our family was experiencing a very hard time of trouble, God placed a book of Dr. Charles Stanley’s in our hands entitled, How to Handle Adversity.  It came at a time that we desperately thought we needed answers to “What did we do to deserve this? and “God, why is this happening?”  What we learned was that sometimes we will never know the answer to our why and at other times, nothing we have done has actually caused the adversity — life just happens and we find ourselves in the center of trouble.  We learned to stop asking so many whys and start asking more whats.  We learned to trust more and question less.  We learned to fast and pray with more sincerely than we’d ever had before.  We learned to let go and turn things over to God and stop trying to do it on in our own power.  We learned to let God be who He says He is — God.

When we are overwhelmed by circumstances out of our control and it seems each time the dice is thrown, life deals us another hand of trouble, the best choice we can make is to turn to scripture for guidance and peace.  We may not understand, nor do we know answers, but what we do know is that God’s Word is truth and God our creator is in control of all circumstances.  Nothing we encounter takes Him by surprise and nothing makes Him wring His hands in anxiety.  He sees all and knows all.  He tells us to train our mind to dwell on the truth of scripture; “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things… and the God of peace will be with you.” Phil. 4:8-9b

Perhaps then, ours is not one to always ask questions in the midst of trouble and try to figure what, why, or who is to blame; but rather, focus our minds on the things we do know.  Those things that God’s Word tells us will bring peace to our souls.  Sometimes that is not an easy thing to do, but God is faithful and His Word promises that He will never leave us, He will never forsake us; He is mighty to provide, He is mighty to save.  In fact, Psalm 46 is an excellent truth and solid foundation in which to stand up and address trouble with confidence:

  • “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.  The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted.  The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.  Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth.  He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the  earth.  The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.”

Though trouble in life and Trouble the board game may have many similarities, trouble in real life needs real help.  As we race around the game board trying to conquer whatever obstacles are thrown in our way, may we keep in mind the only real help in time of real trouble is a real God.  The same God of Jacob is still our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

More scriptures for help in time of trouble:

Proverbs 3:5-6 / Psalm 121 / Psalm 146 / Psalm 20:7 / Psalm 55:22 / Isaiah 40: 28-31 / Isaiah 41:10,13

Image of trouble game retrieved via web 6/4/13: http://www.darting.com/Board-Games/Games-for-Kids/Hasbro_TRAVEL_TROUBLE_GAME-more-c1121-p61957.htm?gclid=CM7LsZGXy7cCFVRo7Aod5h8Acw

Scripture quotes: The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (NASB) Version

Spiritual Growth

I Saw God Today

I saw God today.  I think that’s a George Strait song, isn’t it?  I’m not for certain George wrote it, or if he really believes he saw God — but I saw Him — no doubt.  He didn’t show up as I might have expected.  No brilliant white robe; no gleaming sword; not one fleck of gold from the heavenly paths in sight — yet I knew it was Him.  I saw no mist in the room; felt no mighty rushing wind; heard no trumpet sound — yet He was there.  My heart beat a little quicker and my awareness was heightened as I encountered His presence and I trembled just a bit because I knew it was Him.

He was in the face of one who told me of a desire to have a confidence about a salvation experience and was tired of being tormented with a life of doubt and uncertainty.   He was in the sincerity of another’s voice who asked, “How does one know for certain God really speaks? How can I experience His voice?” I chuckled to myself when I saw Him in the peaceful smile of contentment from the one who told me, “He is real!  I do have purpose like never before and I want to grow to love Him more!” I recognized Him immediately in the intense, brown eyes of the one who shared a past life of childhood molestation/abuse and the anguish of seeking someone, something, anything to take away the deep-rooted, torturing fear.

Yes, I saw God today.  Confidentiality and privacy purposes will not allow to reveal where or in whom — but I can say in confidence, God is everywhere.  He’s lingering around every corner if we will but take the time to expose ourselves and step out of our comfort zone to encounter Him.   I agree with George… it’s a miracle — I saw God today. Hands

Spiritual Growth

New Year / Same Old Stuff

It is a brand new year.  Not even a full week has past and it seems people are already fretful, burdened, and weary.  Why is it when we face a new year full of potential and positive opportunity we tend to lose momentum so quickly, become burdened down and stressed out?  Could it be that we are living in such a “gotta-have-it-now” culture that we have forgotten how to be still and wait?

I have taught children for years.  One particular lesson I remember teaching concerns the real Christmas present of Jesus’ birth; it never gets old and never goes away — we benefit from it all year long.  But, I can almost bet a dollar-to-a-donut when some children are asked what they got for Christmas this past year, they will not remember.  Less than a month has gone by and that ultimate “I-gotta-have-it-or-I’ll-die” new gadget or toy will be old news, thrown in the corner or perhaps even broken and discarded.

I say this very nonchalantly about children, but the same can be said of those of us who are adults as well.  Perhaps we remember our new Christmas gadgets simply because they cost more, but what about remembering the wonder and majesty of celebrating Jesus?  During the Christmas season it is easy to celebrate the birth of Jesus, get lost in the worship and honor of the newborn King, and give all our burdens to Him — knowing He is the promised and fulfilled Messiah.  But within the first two weeks of the new year, what happens to the wonder?  Where is the trust?  Why are we fretful, burdened, and exhausted?

Perhaps the answer is the same as it was for Martha.  We are so busy “doing” that we forget to simply “be” with Jesus.  I know I do.  Life gets me so tangled up in deadlines, appointments, errands, family activities, and “stuff” that I quickly forget that Jesus told Martha to come and enjoy His companionship for just a little while.  (Luke 10:38-42)  Jesus’ words shoot straight to the heart… “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things….”  Same old stuff, Martha…. same old stuff. Jesus’ solution for Martha is the same solution He offers to me.  “Come, choose the good part.”

If I do not stop and relax with the Lord (the good part) on a regular basis,  I begin to show signs of spiritual starvation.  These signs show up in my character as fretful, tired, weary, sharp-tongued, unsatisfied, frustrated, worried, fearful, self-pitied, and depressed.  Granted, not all of these symptoms will hit me in one fell swoop, but given time, if I don’t hand them over to the Lord, they ALL creep in.  They quietly sneak up and start to nibble away my peace and if not confronted they become like ravaged wolves devouring every godly reserve in sight.   Pretty soon, I am pitifully famished in desperate need of spiritual replenishing.

Surely, I am not the only one who suffers from the “same old stuff.”  As I visited with a friend this morning who is dealing with some heavy decisions, I reminded her of a passage God always brings me back to in times that I cannot seem to shake off the struggle of worry and concern.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Cease striving and know that I am God…”  One translation says, “Be Still and know…”, yet another says, “Let go, relax and know…”   Hmm… cease striving.  That gives the picture of a tug-of-war.  Me pulling on one end, while the Lord is pulling on the other.  Now seriously, do I really believe I will win a tug-of-war with the King of the Ages?  Get real.  When I cease striving, it is as if I relax and let the rope go limp in my hands.  All the tension is released from my arms, my hands and fingers begin to feel the strength of blood pump through them again and surprisingly, my back, shoulders, knees, and yes even the bottom of my feet are at ease and in comfort again.  The tension is gone.  Amazing.  I have to ask myself, “Why didn’t I let go and relax a long time ago?”  Silly girl. When will I ever learn to let go of the same old stuff?

When I am in a relaxed state, I can enjoy the company and companionship of the Lord — in a way I believe He desires.  Does He leave me when I’m fretful?  Certainly not.  But I am not able to drink in the deep richness of His goodness and enjoy Him to the fullest if I am fearful, worried, concerned, or striving.  Why?  Because I am focused on myself and my own circumstances.  My focus is not on Him and the simple enjoyment of His companionship.  My heart is certainly not focused on pouring myself into others.

There is a beautiful example of focus given by Jesus  in John 13. I am amazed by it.  In this setting, Jesus is with the disciples for the Last Supper, but only He knows it is the last, the disciples don’t have a clue.  He is fully aware He is about to die an unbelievably cruel death, yet amazingly, His focus is on service and passing on truth to the disciples.  He washes their feet for cryin’ out loud!  This is mind-blowing to me.  On the forefront of persecution, scourging, crucifixion, and ultimate death, Jesus is pouring Himself into others and serving them in the most culturally humbling way possible.  His focus was not fretful, fearful, worried, or striving.  From all indications, it seems He was exercising Psalm 46:10 — no tug-of-war here.  He knew Who was in control of His circumstances and was content to let God be God.

New Year…. same old stuff.  As long as we are on this earth we will have trouble.  The Scripture promises us this truth in the next chapter of John (14).  But with this trouble there is a great promise.  Jesus tells us not to let our heart become troubled.  If we believe in God, we should believe also in Him.  He has gone to prepare a place for us.  A place void of trouble — yes, even the same old stuff — physical, emotional, spiritual trouble — all gone.

In the meantime, glory to God, while on earth we are given a choice on how to handle the trouble we face.  In 2013, wouldn’t it be great if we, the people of God, started acting more like trusting children of God and ceased striving and let God be God?  Honestly, in a game of tug-0-war, who is really going to win?  New year?  Same old stuff?  Martha, Martha (I’ll insert my name here)… let not your heart be troubled… cease striving.