Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Tough Stuff

Loss. I just finished an article about this sobering topic. It is definitely not a respecter of persons. The past few weeks have reminded me of this fact. Once again I realized that at some point, all of us will experience loss.

Recently, some dear friends buried their Dad. A young husband buried his wife. A relative lost his job. And an acquaintance was diagnosed with cancer. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the loss of a job, we can all relate.

Still pondering this topic as I sat down to read this morning, I was encouraged by the reminder that in spite of all the difficult changes that occur, God hasn’t changed. One of my favorite verses serves as a testimony of this truth: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8, KJV). We can rejoice in the fact that He provides help, hope and ultimately healing when we’re overwhelmed by the difficult circumstances life throws at us.

The Psalms of David are rich with emotion. Praise, doubt, fear, faith. You’ll find all of them echoed in this fantastic book of the Bible. Psalms 61:1-3 shares a desperate, yet somehow confident prayer of King David in a distressing time of loss in his life, “1 Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. 2 From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 3 For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.” David knew his God would provide help and hope.

I remember back to the unnerving time when my husband was laid off. How would we make ends meet? Would he find another job quickly? Would we have to sell our house? In the midst of our crisis, God offered us help and hope in His Word. He walked with us every step of the way. We were not in control of the situation, but He was! Nine, long months went by before my husband was employed again, but God was faithful to meet each of our needs.

When you stop to consider it, our times of greatest spiritual growth are, more often than not, brought about by difficulty and hardship. I can’t say that I’m first in line to sign up for suffering, but I know that I have grown as a result of difficulty and loss.

I’m reminded of the miscarriages my husband and I have experienced. How amazing it is to look back at the pain that we suffered, yet see God’s sovereign hand as He brought healing. Psalms 147:3 offers a beautiful promise from God to anyone who accepts it, “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” God is also faithful to give us opportunities to bring comfort to others during their time of need. Our losses and struggles need never be wasted.

God’s desire is for us to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Oftentimes it takes the tough stuff of life to get us to the place where we can be molded and shaped, and experience growth in our faith. While living on this earth, I constantly remind myself, that my sanctification won’t be complete until I reach heaven. Growing in faith is a journey, not a destination. How sweet to meditate on Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” He walks with us every step of the way.

Have you recently experienced a loss? Are you willing to allow the Lord to use it to draw you closer to Him and be a blessing to others?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the challenges life brings. I know it's through times of testing that I draw closer to You. I'm so thankful that You walk right beside me every day. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*A re-post from March 2010.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Clever Trick

I was excited. There, in the back of my freezer was an apple pie I had forgotten all about. The perfect complement to the chicken and dumplings, and fruit salad I had prepared for dinner. The pie would be even better with a scoop of ice cream, I reasoned. I pulled on my coat and dashed to the car in the pouring rain. I left the store with not one, but two containers of ice cream. A logical decision since there was a special - two for five dollars. Good deal, right?

After dinner, I thought about my day. Not as productive as I would have liked it to be. I was stressed knowing I'd added more work to the remainder of the week. Frustration set in about mid-afternoon, and I recognized a familiar pattern. I began grazing - you know, a few chips here, a handful of trail mix there, and the piece de resistance, a peanut butter snack bar. All to be followed by dinner and apple pie al a mode - with two flavors of ice cream. I was more than full, and still just as stressed.

Funny to think that Satan tempted Eve with food. What a clever trick used by the enemy. Distracting Eve, so she would not focus on the truth. Look at the serpent's deceptive scheme, "Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3:1; KJV). Casting doubt, was followed by a lie, "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," (Genesis 3:5).

A familiar story. Eve thought about what the serpent said. It sounded like the truth - God probably WAS trying to prevent them from enjoying this fruit. It sure looked good! What would be the harm of just taking a bite? Eve made her choice. And Adam followed close behind.

The enemy has tripped me up using this same pattern. The reality of the other day serves as a good reminder. Because I had scheduled my day loosely, I got distracted by news and websites that became counterproductive. I lost track of time and realized there was no way I could catch up without taking away from family time. I could feel the tension mounting as I looked at the rest of the week, realizing I'd most likely have to table some things till the next week. Stress kicked the door open a crack. The enemy saw his opportunity, and made his move.

Feeling disappointed and frustrated, I reached for what I thought would make me feel better - food. Unfortunately, after grazing and then eating dinner, the truth was that I felt worse. I still had all the same things to accomplish, and now I had to work out harder because of my poor choices. I had never thought of myself as an emotional eater. The truth stung.

Refreshing myself with the truth goes a long way toward keeping me on track. The Apostle Paul shares wise counsel, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God," (Romans 12:2).

Can you imagine Jesus being tempted with food? Remember when He was in the wilderness and the devil tempted Him there? Jesus had just come off a forty day fast and was hungry. The enemy was there to greet Him. "And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread," (Matthew 4:3).  Jesus shares a wonderful truth, "But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, " (Matthew 4:4).

A revolutionary truth to set me free from emotional eating! Identify why I feel compelled to eat, and take that emotion to the Lord. Realize food only offers a distraction and doesn't solve the problem. Discover what His Word has to say about it and begin living victoriously.

Are you an emotional eater? Can you identify the emotion that turns you to food most often (anger, stress, boredom, guilt, etc.)? Will you allow God and His Word to minister true healing to you today?

Prayer - Heavenly Father, Thank You for the truth of Your Word. It's quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. When emotions get the better of me, help me to be quick to turn to You and Your Word for lasting answers - rather than turning to food. Thank You for Your victorious example. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*A re-post from 2/3/2011

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love Letters

February. A month devoted to love.

When I was in grade school, I remember clutching the wrapped shoebox under my arm as I rode the bus to school. It was carefully decorated and would serve as a mailbox during the class Valentine's party. I secretly hoped I would receive a card from a special someone. Among the many cards I got that day, I saved that one, and read it over and over again.

To this day, I still save cards. The ones from my husband are especially precious. His love for me is evident in the sweet words he pens. The same is true of the love letter written to me by my Heavenly Father. The Bible contains countless verses testifying to the unconditional love of my Savior. Among my favorites, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," (John 3:16; KJV). A familiar verse, no doubt. But read it carefully. Because God loved, what did He do? He gave.

True love is about giving. Not a very popular concept in today's world, where love is easily confused with lust.  Two four-letter words with very different meanings. Lust involves getting. Love involves giving. Giving without expecting anything in return. It is characterized as patient, kind, and trusting. Love is absent of jealousy, pride, and resentment (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Consider the love of a King. The King of the universe who loved His creation so much that He left His throne in heaven to become a lowly man. He lived a sinless life, then willingly died on a cross, shedding His blood to pay the sin debt of all mankind. What an amazing love!

God continues to offer His gift of love to anyone who will receive it. Simply realize you are a sinner, understand that Christ paid your sin debt, and accept Him as your Savior. Are you willing to receive His gift of love? Once you have, spend time getting to know Him. The Bible is one love letter you'll never tire of reading!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your unconditional love. Help me to love without expecting anything in return. Thank You for the Bible, Your love letter to me. As I read and study Your Word, help me to become more like You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Watering Holes & Living Water

We saw them. They were huge, majestic. We came around a bend in the road, and there they were. Elephants. A large herd coming to a watering hole for some refreshment. A mother warthog with babies in tow, cautiously joined them. A bat eared fox wasn't far behind.

The watering hole served different purposes. Some animals came for a drink, while others bathed in its cloudy depths. Although their needs may have been varied, one thing was clear, the animals were drawn to the water.

As I marveled at the amazing creatures a stones' throw from our vehicle, I was reminded of the water that's necessary in my life - Living Water. Thoughts of a well in Samaria came to mind. A well where townspeople came to draw water necessary for their everyday lives. A well where Jesus sat one day.

A Samaritan woman came to the well, as she'd done every day that week. Only today was different. A man was sitting at the well. A Jewish man. Unusual, but the woman went about her task of collecting water in her pot, knowing that local custom would prevent the man from speaking to her anyway.

When his voice reached her ears, she all but dropped her water pot. What had he said? Her mind processed his words carefully, "Give me to drink, " (John 4:7b; KJV). She was so shocked, she blurted out a response without thinking, "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans," (John 4:9).

The man's answer was puzzling. According to the statement he made, he must be someone important, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water," (John 4:10).

How could he dip water out of the well without a tool? Did he think he was greater than the patriarch Jacob who dug the well in the first place? Once again, his answer seemed like a riddle, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up in to everlasting life," (John 4:13-14).

Now that sounded like a good deal! Never having to draw water again. Never being thirsty. She was ready to accept this man's offer...until he told her to go get her husband and come back. The truth tumbled out of her mouth, "I have no husband," (John 4:17a). The man's next words made her breath catch in her throat. "Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly," (John 4:17b-18).

He had to be a prophet. How else could he know the sordid truth about her past and her present? He seemed to know everything about her. Who was this man? Maybe he could tell her what she could do to please God. She shared her thoughts, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things," (John 4:25).

She wasn't prepared for his response. "I that speak unto thee am he," (John 4:26). Jesus. The man who had been talking to her was Jesus, the Messiah! The One who knew all about her sins, and loved her anyway.
She was ready to repent. She now understood what he meant by 'living water.' When she put her faith in him, he satisfied the needs of her soul for a Savior.

What about you? Are you still looking for something to satisfy your soul's 'thirst'? Look no further than Jesus Christ, the Messiah - the Living Water.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)     

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Expanded View

My view is limited. It's easy to get focused on the things in my own little world. I take things for granted. And don't give much thought to the fact that things are done differently in other parts of the world.

A missions trip to the other side of the globe, however, gave me a new perspective. South Africa. A beautiful country with some similarities to the United States, but vast differences. A country still adjusting to the abolition of apartheid. A country of stark contrasts.

As my husband, Steve, and I got ready for our trip, we planned for some of the things we'd encounter. Adapters for electrical outlets were purchased and we prepared ourselves for driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. Little things I don't pay any attention to when I'm in the states. But during our stay, there were some bigger things that caught my attention. Things brought to my attention by a big God!

We were privileged to be part of a team working with the Xhosa people. Our hosts described the people as,  historically, "A tradition-keeping, culture-clinging people, who don't really appreciate the 'white man' interfering with their ways." But God is bigger than tradition, and has used this dedicated couple to begin Bible-believing churches in a number of the Xhosa townships.

The townships exist outside most of the larger cities. The poverty within these settlements is heartbreaking. Poverty and wealth often exist within a stone's throw of each other. The people living in the townships need hope. The hope of the gospel.

The family currently ministering there, shared some sobering information, "We are the only white people we know of ministering (establishing Independent Baptist churches, and training pastors) in the townships of Port Elizabeth and probably most of the country," (words in parentheses mine for clarification). In spite of the odds against them, no obstacle is too great for the Lord. The prophet Isaiah penned these encouraging words, "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it," (Isaiah 55:11; KJV).

In the townships of Port Elizabeth, this has translated into the salvation of many Xhosa men and women, the establishment of many Bible preaching churches, and the training of Xhosa men to take over the works that have begun. Yes, things may be done a bit differently in South Africa than they are here in the states, but the same God who is mighty to save here, is offering salvation to the precious Xhosa people of South Africa. And one by one, they are accepting His offer!

*On Sunday, 7 people accepted Christ in one of the township churches.

Do you have a tendency to get stuck in your own little world? What step will you take today to re-discover the all-powerful God you serve and share Him with others?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for opening my eyes to Your greatness. Forgive me for minimizing You. Help me to live out Your great commission, to go and tell others about You. In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Special Guest: Karen Lange

There are plenty of challenges in a friendship, but co-authoring a book with a friend takes this relationship to an entirely different level. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Karen Lange, who is co-authoring a historical fiction novel with her friend, Susan J. Reinhardt.

Maria: Thanks for joining me, Karen! Before we talk about your novel, tell us a bit about yourself.

Karen: I am a follower of Christ, wife, and mother. My husband and I are blessed with two sons, a daughter, a daughter in law, and a very cute 4-year-old grandson. In addition to writing with Susan, I blog, do freelance work, and teach online writing classes.

Maria: You stay busy! How did you and Susan decide to co-author a book?

Karen: We were discussing a particular genre one day. I jokingly suggested that we should write a book about it together. Shortly after, Susan asked me if I wanted to give it a try. And the rest, as they say, is history! This is not something I would consider doing with just anyone. Susan and I have a good relationship and work well together. We 'get' each other's sense of humor, encourage one another, and compromise well.

Maria: Sounds like the perfect combination. Tell us about the writing process. How did you decide who would write each scene?

Karen: Susan has more experience than I do, having several novels under her belt already. She started things by writing the first chapter, and handed it off to me. I wrote chapter two, then sent it to her, and so on. We discuss and agree on basic plot and character information, and then let the ideas flow. For instance, a scene in one of Susan's chapters had me laughing out loud; it was a clever twist and a way to handle a prickly character. It's an exciting process, you never know what one of us will toss the other's way. I enjoy giving Susan mini cliffhangers. I think she likes doing the same thing to me.

Maria: As you continue writing your book and plan for publication, what would you say is the most important thing you've learned from this experience?

Karen: It is important to trust the Lord and persevere, always moving forward. It also helps if you play well with others.

Maria: Well put! Any future writing goals?

Karen: I'd like to see this book through to publication. I also have several nonfiction books I'd like to write.

Maria: Share some lessons you've learned on your journey as a writer.

Karen: The writer's life is not all sunshine and roses, but it is very rewarding. Rejection is part of the process. It stings, but ultimately it takes us where we are destined to go. I believe that God has called me to write, and I continue to trust Him to order my steps.

Maria: Important things to remember. What final words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Karen: Keep writing! If you feel called to write, commit yourself to writing consistently, whether it is every day, once a week, or whatever. Polish your skills and continue to learn. Always. Be open to feedback; input from others is an important part of the writing process. Thank you for hosting us here at Life Lessons, Maria. It's been a pleasure!

Maria: You're absolutely welcome, Karen! And the pleasure has been all mine! I wish you and Susan the best as you complete your novel, and I look forward to reading it when it's published!

*Karen Lange is a writer, blogger, and online writing instructor at the Coffeehouse for Writers. Her work has appeared in print and online in business, parenting, educational, and writing publications. Visit her blog @ karenelange.blogspot.com or contact her at karenelange@gmail.com