Monday, November 28, 2011

Life's Ups & Downs

The irony was unmistakable. We had spent an enjoyable Thanksgiving day with my sister-in-law and her family. As we caught up on family news, she asked how our sixteen year old cat, Courtney, was getting along. I remember smiling when I answered that she was doing well. Imagine my shock when we got home later that evening, and Courtney's eye was almost swollen shut. She was fine when we left - what could have possibly happened in the few hours we had been away?

A trip to our local vet escalated our concern. Not only did she have elevated blood pressure, but the pressure in her right eye was almost three times higher than normal. The doctor suspected glaucoma. I had heard of the condition, but wasn't aware that it could affect animals.

Glaucoma is an eye disorder marked by unusually high pressure in the eyeball that leads to damage of the optic disk (Encarta Dictionary). In humans, the condition is extremely painful. The vet referred us to an ophthalmologist, who could examine Courtney further and give us our options. Armed with medication to control her blood pressure, we left the vet's office ready to contact the specialist on Monday.

We received good news over the weekend. Courtney's blood work came back within the normal range for a senior cat. I heaved a sigh of relief, imagining the swollen eye was due to her high blood pressure, and now that she was on medication, everything would return to normal. But my sense of relief was short lived.

The ophthalmologist visit eased some concerns, but raised new questions. The pressure in Courtney's eye had come down significantly, but the doctor's specialized equipment uncovered another problem - a mass on her iris. We had a big decision to make. Ultimately, removing the eye would give her the best prognosis.

Life is full of ups and downs. King Solomon understood this truth when he penned these words, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance," (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; KJV).

Knowing that God is in control even in the midst of life's valleys, is comforting. Christ himself experienced times of joy and grief while on this earth, so I know He can identify with the ups and downs I go through.

Job, a God-fearing man in the Old Testament, experienced one of life's extreme valleys. He lost his children and all of his wealth in one day. Instead of cursing God, consider his response, "...What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10b).

Even when life gets difficult, I'm determined to adopt the attitude of Job - to praise the Lord no matter the outcome! "...the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord," (Job 1:21b).

What about you? Are you currently in a valley? How will you respond?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your comfort in the middle of life's difficulties. Help me embrace the truth that You are good, no matter what I may be going through. Today I choose to praise You because You are "great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone," (Psalm 86:10). In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

True Satisfaction

Who can deny that food and holidays go together? Thanksgiving is no exception. Spending time with dear family members can only be made sweeter by a table laden with food. My mouth is already watering in anticipation of all the delectable things that will make up the Thanksgiving Day feast.
I imagine myself loading my plate with all kinds of goodies - pumpkin pie topped with real whipped cream, just a sliver of the pecan pie, and oh, I can't pass by the apple bread without having just a little. A dessert connoisseur's dream. But in this dream of mine, something is missing. Food that will truly nourish my body. If my plate is loaded solely with sweets, it'll only be a matter of time before my body craves what it really needs - proper nutrients. You know, the ones found in the turkey, green beans, squash, and cranberry relish, also on the table.
When fueled with the appropriate balance of food, my body is able to function properly. The problem: sometimes I fall prey to eating the things that sound good to me, rather than those that are good for me.
Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without taking time to reflect on the past year's blessings. However, in a rush to finish cleaning the house, prepare the mid-day meal, and welcome family, I sometimes leave out what I really need - time spent with my Savior; praising Him for His goodness. Time allowing Him to orchestrate my days in such a way that balance is restored during a time that tends to get chaotic.
Consider the beautiful metaphor spoken by Jesus himself, "I am the the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst," (John 6:35). Sweets cannot satisfy my body's hunger, neither can my soul be satisfied in living a life apart from Christ.
As you get together with friends and family this year, and put the finishing touches on your Thanksgiving Day feast, remember to make plenty of room for what will truly satisfy - the Lord, Jesus Christ!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for who You are! Thank You for the blessings you pour out in my life. Help me to enjoy a time of worshiping and praising You this Thanksgiving - remembering that it IS all about You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brushing Out the Tangles

Her soft snores punctuated the stillness. At first, I couldn't make sense of the sound. But a quick glance in the direction of the living room confirmed my suspicions. My cat, Courtney, lay curled up on one of the chairs, fast asleep, gray fur sticking up in all directions.

Most cats enjoy being groomed. Not Courtney. She's quick to jump up on the couch to share some family time, and just as quick to jump down if I try to get in a few strokes with her brush. Oddly enough, when I attempt to hold her still and do a more thorough job, she actually purrs. Done regularly, the frequent brushings keep the mats in her fur to a minimum, and I can groom Courtney quickly. It seems that although she's not crazy about the process, she feels better once she's brushed.

Reminds me of the often painful, refining process the Lord applies in my life. I long to be the type of vessel the Lord can use, yet I'm not quite as eager to sign up for the furnace experiences that help me become that useful, highly polished tool. Much like Courtney, I'm not keen on things that cause discomfort or pain - although I recognize the value of the experiences once I'm on the other side.

Case in point. The flight where I was given the opportunity to share Christ with a fellow passenger. I had a list of things to keep me busy for quite some time. In fact, I was actually looking forward to the down time to get some things done. But then the gentleman across from me started a conversation. It would have been easy to give a brief answer and turn back to my work.

The truth was, I had prayed that very morning to be used as a witness. Did I really mean what I said? Or had it just been a routine prayer? It wasn't comfortable to give up my free time, but I knew the Lord had orchestrated the opportunity. As I spoke with the man, I could almost feel the Lord scouring the selfishness from me.

God's Word is full of truths that, when applied, act as cleansing agents. Powerful purifiers that remove the things from my life that make me rough around the edges. The Apostle Paul describes it accurately, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," (Hebrews 4:12; KJV).

But one trip to the Master Refiner is not enough. Just like Courtney needs a daily brushing, I need daily refining. I know that the process is difficult, but the end result will be a clear reflection of my Master.

Is the Lord refining you? How will you cooperate with Him in this process today?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for loving me enough to scour the rough edges from me. Help me to 'hold still' and let You accomplish Your work in my life. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wind Blown

It's raining leaves. The weather report promises wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Evidence of the accuracy of that report is visible outside my living room window. As the wind blows and the leaves fall, the tree branches are slowly stripped of their colorful foliage. Soon the trees will be bare, until spring once again clothes them with new life.

Life is often punctuated by strong 'wind gusts.' I'm sure you've experienced them - unexpected bills, sudden illnesses, difficulties that rock you to your core. As the 'gusts' strip us of the comforts we hold onto, do we stay standing? Does our faith allow us to cling to the One who can see us through every tempest?

Consider David, Israel's second king. Imagine his wonder and excitement when he was anointed by the prophet, Samuel. David was little more than a youth at the time. I think he knew it would be awhile before he would rule the kingdom, but I'm not sure he could have imagined that it would be many long years before he would actually wear the crown. Years fraught with extreme difficulty. Running for his life from the very one whom he would succeed.

David was in a tricky position. Shortly after he discovered he would someday be king, David found himself working for the man he'd replace, King Saul. He was hired to play the harp when Saul battled an evil spirit. David had to be wondering how God would promote him from head musician to king!

Things got even more complicated. After defeating Goliath, King Saul awarded David the privilege of marrying his daughter, Michal. Now David was related to the king by marriage - Saul's son-in-law. But there were definitely times when King Saul could barely contain his jealousy and rage around David. It wasn't mere coincidence that the king's javelin had narrowly missed him! What was going on? The 'wind gusts' had to be blowing mighty strong in David's mind!

The truth became obvious. King Saul hated David, and would stop at nothing to kill him. Much as the wind strips the leaves from the trees, difficult circumstances forced David to shed all comfort, and run for his life. Yet in the face of extreme persecution, he didn't give in to the powerful 'gusts' of life, he remained standing.

King Saul pursued David relentlessly over the course of several years. David had to be tired. Worn out by the constant pressure to stay one step ahead of the king and his men. When would the madness end? Twice it appeared that the Lord had delivered King Saul into his hands. Each time David's men counseled him to take Saul's life. Each time David resisted revenge and spared the life of the king.

Ponder David's resolve, "And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless? David said furthermore, As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord's anointed:" (1 Samuel 26:9-11a; KJV). Amazing!

Thirteen to fifteen years after he was anointed by Samuel, David became King of Israel. Did David battle the 'wind gusts' of life? Absolutely! Was he able to stand in spite of the intense storm? No doubt! Through faith, he clung to the One who gave him strength through it all!

Are you battling 'gusts of wind' in your life today? What will you do to remain standing?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the trials of life that cause me to cling to You. Help me to pray with the Apostle Paul, "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand, " (Ephesians 6:13). Help me follow the example of David, who chose Your will above his own. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guest Blogging

Happy Thursday! Today I'm posting over at Robin Prater's blog, cleverly entitled, Robin's Nest. Stop by and peruse her lovely site!

Psalm 62:7-8 In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Be Yourself

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to be someone I’m not. Writing like an author I admire. Or presenting like a Bible teacher I’ve studied under. There’s nothing wrong with admiring great character qualities of other people, but God made me unique – and that’s reason enough to shine for Him with the gifts and abilities He’s given me.

The story of David and Goliath is very familiar. Remember the details? David was the young shepherd boy, who had seven older brothers. Goliath was the Philistine giant who challenged the Israelites to a fight. David found himself in the midst of the Israelites’ camp, when his father sent him to check on his brothers who were part of the army.

The entire Israelite army cowered in fear of Goliath’s threats. His words were brash and bold, punctuated with blasphemy against the God of Israel. David couldn’t believe his ears. As he looked around, he couldn’t believe his eyes. One by one, the men in the army were retreating – taking shelter behind boulders and anything that would give them protection from this formidable enemy.

David knew the God of Israel could prevail. How dare this Philistine defy his God! David presented his case before King Saul: “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” (1 Samuel 17:32; KJV). King Saul warned David of the enemy’s ability - pointing out the fact that Goliath was a skilled warrior, having fought in battles since he was young.

David’s confidence didn’t waiver, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee,” (1 Samuel 17:32, 37; KJV).

Saul offered David his armor. David put on the helmet of brass and the coat of mail, girded his sword on his armor, and attempted to go. But something wasn’t right. The armor felt heavy and awkward. David had never worn armor before. Although it might be what the warriors wore, he knew it wasn’t right for him. He took off the protective gear, and exchanged it for what he was skilled at using: his shepherd’s staff, sling and pouch for stones.

Carefully selecting five smooth stones, David made his way toward Goliath. The giant thought this was some sort of Israelite joke, but David’s voice was strong and clear, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied…And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands,” (1 Samuel 17:45, 47).

With one, well-aimed stone, Goliath was killed, and the Philistine army was scattered. David chose to use the abilities God had honed in him, rather than the armor of the warriors. And God used David to win a mighty victory in Israel.

Although I may not have the same skills and abilities other great men and women of God possess, He has equipped me to magnify Him with the talents He’s given me. What an opportunity to develop those talents for His glory!

Do you wish you had someone else’s talents? Take time to praise the Lord for the way He’s equipped you to serve Him, and work on honing your skills today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for allowing me to serve You. Help me to see that each person You’ve created has different talents and abilities. My job is to use what You’ve given me to bring You honor and glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Numbering My Days

Life is fragile. I was reminded of this stark reality when I received the message. One of my husband's co-workers had been given two weeks to live. The cancer that had been in remission, had returned with a vengeance. My thoughts and prayers turned to the man and his family.

Death isn't a pleasant topic. But as a result of Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden, it's an age-old reality (Genesis 3). The Apostle Paul spoke about it plainly, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" (Romans 5:12; KJV).

With my birthday looming only a handful of days away, I can attest to the fact that life passes by quickly. Moses was wise in his advice, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." (Psalms 90:12). But how can I apply my heart to wisdom in the days I have left on this earth? Thankfully the Lord spells it out clearly for me, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever." (Psalm 111:10). It's all about reverencing Him. Giving Him his rightful place - first place. Worshipping and obeying Him. And giving Him the praise He is due.

It begins with a relationship. Or should I say, a broken relationship. Years ago I realized that I couldn't bridge the gap between me and God. I couldn't do enough good things to bring myself into fellowship with a holy God. I realized the truth of His Word, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Romans 3:23). I thought about all the times I had disobeyed and chosen to do the wrong things. I had to admit I was a sinner.

Sin demanded a payment. Debt isn't a good thing. Especially if I'm the one who owes the payment. But the only payment that would completely satisfy my sin debt was the one made by Christ on the cross. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6:23).

In His love and mercy, God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay my sin debt. Christ completed the work necessary to secure my salvation, "But God commendeth (showed) his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," (Romans 5:8; parentheses mine).

Christ had done the work, I had a decision to make. Did I believe His death on the cross paid for my sins? Or not? I believed. "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved," (Romans 10:9). It's a matter of faith, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast, " (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Having a restored relationship with my Creator made all the difference. Now it's possible to live out the rest of my days on earth applying my heart to wisdom - making much of the Lord and pointing others to the One who makes life worth living!

Have you placed your faith in the One who is able to erase your sin debt? If so, are you applying your heart to wisdom each day?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life. Thank You most of all, for the gift of eternal life available through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help me to live wisely, realizing that life is short. In Jesus' name, Amen.