Be Prepared

In a Bible study, we were talking about the old cartoons where the character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Someone pointed out that you never have to invite the devil to whisper in your ear, but you have to be more diligent to commune with the Holy Spirit. The more you try to do God’s will, the louder the devil will shout, but the Holy Spirit is a still, small voice.

When the children of Israel first came to the Promised Land, they focused on the giants and refused to move forward. They listened to the enemy shouting in their ear that it was impossible instead of the confident voices of Caleb and Joshua who proclaimed that the land was theirs for the taking. Because of this, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness until that generation had died before they tried again. This time they had Joshua as their leader.

“And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

(Joshua 3:5)

Joshua told the people to prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the battle ahead because God was about to do a miracle. Not only did they cross the Jordan on dry ground when it was at flood stage, but also they saw the walls of Jericho come crashing down a week later. They merely had to step out in faith to see God at work.

Whenever I try to intentionally persevere at writing, I am always bombarded with doubts, fears, and obstacles. In the past, I let those things get in the way, like the children of Israel staring at the giants. Now I am trying to move forward. The obstacles and the doubts are still there, but my perspective has shifted. I am focusing on God instead of the obstacles. I dipped my toe in the Jordan River, but I have to keep walking if I want to see walls of Jericho fall down.

10 And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. 11 Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.”

(2 Corinthians 8:10-11)

Now is the time to perform what I had willed to do before. In a sermon on James, a pastor pointed out that the biblical equation for success is as follows:

humility + hustle + Holy Spirit.

First, we have to realize that success will only come from God not ourselves, so we shouldn’t boast. We have nothing that was not given to us by God, and any success we might have also comes from Him. Second, we still need to do our part and do the work assigned to us. Waiting on the Lord does not mean sitting down. It means following His timing. Third, it is up to the Holy Spirit what the outcome will be. God decides what success means. What seems small to us may change someone else’s life.

So, let’s be prepared for God to do a miracle by doing the work assigned to us. Let God determine the increase. What we think of as success may not be what God has in mind, but what God has in mind is always better in the long run. Time to hustle.

Be Not Deceived

Lately, I find myself being aggravated and irritated at every turn. It usually occurs after I read some post on social media or just the media in general. I start going over and over a comment, replaying it in my mind and getting more annoyed. I was praying for God to help me get past this attitude when I came across verses in my daily reading and was reminded by the Spirit of other verses. You see, I had recently determined to have a more Christ-like attitude. Let’s face it, I had decided to be less grumpy because I had so much for which I should be grateful. The minute I determined to work on that goal, I was hit by every kind of temptation imaginable in direct opposition to that goal. I had gotten the enemy’s attention.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

 (1 Peter 5:8)

The devil is always looking for ways to trip up Christians. He wants to make us ineffective as ambassadors for Christ. The more you try to follow Christ’s example, the more he will attack. However, he is sneaky and tries to use others to do his dirty work.

 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

(Ephesians 6:12)

We spend our time fighting things and people when in reality we should be fighting a spiritual battle. We need to recognize who the true enemy is and how he is at work. Only then can he be defeated.

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

(James 4:1-3)

We need to stop fighting each other, and recognize our true enemy. The devil keeps us so busy fighting one another that we fail to do what we have been commanded: Love one another. The only remedy to eradicate hate is love. We can jump on every bandwagon to fight injustice that there is, but if we do it without love, then we are just a lot of loud noise (I Corinthians 13).

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:21)

So, instead of going on a rampage on social media, let’s try and show a little kindness to our neighbors. Instead of returning hate for hate, and meme for meme, let’s spread the Good News of hope in Christ. Let’s be an agent of good.

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

(I Corinthians 15:33)

To me, this verse sums up the problem these days. We have allowed the enemy to divert us from our purpose. Let’s not be deceived anymore. Let’s take up our only spiritual weapon, the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word), and turn it on our real enemy (Ephesians 6: 17).

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Like a Tree

I have spent most of today watching a parade of utility trucks lined up down the street. It all started last night. I went to bed to the sound of rain starting to fall and a little wind. No weather alerts, no strikes of lightning, just a mild summer storm. The first warning that something was amiss was a cracking sound, followed by the ominous click of the power going out. Then, there was a flash of sparks and all fell silent. I tried to look out my window, but rain had blurred the screens and darkness had settled on the entire neighborhood, no street lights.

I dialed the power company outage number, and they confirmed my power was out, something I was well aware of by then. I submitted the notification of my address and lay down to sleep since there was nothing more to do. The sound of beeping utility trucks and floodlights woke me up. I called the number again for an update to find out a tree had fallen on power lines. They estimated a couple of hours. The last truck left at 3 p.m. the next day. They had underestimated the damage and the time it would take to repair it.

I have pondered on and off all day how such a slight storm could cause so much damage. The answer is that the roots of the tree were not strong enough to withstand the storm. This year we have had a lot of rain and multiple storms. The tree had apparently found the final straw as the old saying goes. It couldn’t take anymore, so it gave way. In the process it took out quite a bit of collateral damage with it.

The incident reminded me of Jesus telling the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13. The seed that fell on stony places reminded me of the tree down the street:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away… 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. (Matthew 13: 5-6, 20-21)

Because the tree did not have good roots, it had no staying power, just like seeds planted in stony ground. After a few storms or a little heat, they give up. They fall down.  However, Psalms 1:3 says:

“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

When you nurture a plant or tree with the right nutrients, it grows strong and can withstand the storms. For Christians to stand strong, we need the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship with other strong believers so that we can be rooted in Christ and abound (Colossians 2:6-7). If you want to withstand the storms, you have to stay rooted in faith. Then, like the song says, you shall not be moved.

Share with Care

The old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not true. As a writer, I know words are powerful. Words have the power to hurt, but they also have the power to heal. I can still remember mean things people have said when I was in elementary school, but I can also remember the encouragement I received from teachers. Words are weapons that should be handled with care, which is why the Bible warns us that the tongue is dangerous:

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:5-10)

The tongue can set fires and spew poison, but it can also heal and bring people together. Proverbs 15:1says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” When we respond with the truth in love, we can defuse a situation, or we can act rashly and throw another log on the fire. When we take a moment to think before we click, maybe we can find a better way to say something, or in some cases say nothing at all. Proverbs 25:11says. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Silence can be golden.

There is a time and a place to speak and stand up for the truth, but it should be led by the Holy Spirit not an angry spirit. The enemy will use anything to create dissension. This is no truer than on social media where fake news, photo shopped pictures, bait ads, and conspiracy theories abound. The enemy wants to distract Christians and get their eyes off the goal of spreading the good news by getting us to chase rabbits. Philippians 4:8 gives us some guidelines to follow to help keep us on track:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

So, before you are tempted to share an article, photo or post ask yourself the following:

  1. Is it true, just, pure, and lovely?
  2. Is it of good report (fact check)?
  3. Is there any virtue in sharing it?
  4. Is this going to give God praise?

If not, one advantage keyboards have over tongues is the delete key.

Joy > Happiness

The catch phrase in writing these days is “do the work,” which is good advice, but I think I like Ray Bradbury’s take on it better. He was giving a speech in 2001 and said write what gives you joy and then it will never be work. While that is true, I must also point out that just because you have joy doesn’t mean you will always be happy or that it will always be easy. It just means there is something greater than the temporary trials and frustrations of everyday work. Joy is greater than happiness.

Psalms 30:1-5 says:

“ I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.

O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.

O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Most people only quote verse five about joy coming in the morning, but they don’t dwell on the four verses before that. Verse one mentions victory over foes, which means there were foes. Verse two says you have healed me, which means there was sickness. Verse three says you kept me alive, which means there was danger. Verse four talks about God’s holiness, but it is in relation to His anger, which means there was sin.

As humans in a fallen world, we deal with hard things on a daily basis. There are enemies, sickness, dangers, and sin. We do have to work, both for a living and at being more Christ-like, but we have a joy that comes from God which is greater than happiness. Happiness is totally dependent on our circumstances, but joy is a gift that comes every morning.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3:22-23)

The book of Lamentations is basically a funeral dirge after the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is crying over the loss of the city and the temple, yet even here he points out that God is faithful because His mercies are being renewed each day. Therefore, we know that regardless of our circumstances God is faithful to give us joy each day. Like any gift, however, we must receive the gift in order to benefit from it. The present will be useless still wrapped in a bow in the hands of the Giver.

Once we receive the gift we can have joy even when times are hard. The best upgrade we can receive in life is to trade in happiness for joy. Then we can be grateful, not for the difficult circumstances, but for the presence of God even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

(Psalm 16:11)

So, take the upgrade and let joy rule your life instead of happiness because with it comes a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). It will fill your spirit even in the worst situations. We can have joy in the morning because these things are temporary and will pass, but the love of God is eternal. That you can count on.

The Next Step

I love maps, especially when I am going on a trip. I love to look at all the possible routes, and then highlight the way I want to go with a highlighter, old school or electronic. I like to decide where I am going to eat along the way or any stops I want to make. I am a planner at heart, and I like to plan way in advance. However, as Hemingway pointed out, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray” (Of Mice and Men).

One year my sister, a friend, and I went on a tour of New England. My sister had plotted out places to eat based on a book of little known restaurants. Every place we had chosen was closed for repairs, closed for the season, or just closed. We then had to scramble for alternatives, which often turned out to be some of the highlights of our trip. Most of them we came upon almost by accident in the course of our journey. We could have missed some great experiences and great food if we had been looking too far ahead.

Currently, the world is in an uproar with the uproar topic changing on an almost hourly basis. People are trying to make long-term plans for the future, but circumstances make that almost impossible. This is unsettling, I admit, but God sees the big picture even when we can’t see a mile ahead. Maybe He has something special to show us that He doesn’t want us to miss.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

(Psalm 119: 105)

Many people have memorized this verse. It was part of our pledge to the Bible that we said every year at Vacation Bible School. But have you thought about what it means? If you have ever used a lamp to walk in the woods at night, or a flashlight for that matter, how far can you see? Basically, you can see a few steps in front of you. The destination is usually shrouded in darkness and the stopping points ahead are in the shadows at best. You have to pay attention to where you are and take it one step at a time.

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.”

(Proverbs 16:9)

God wants us to trust Him to take care of the future and to lead us in the right paths along the journey. They are not always the paths we would have chosen, but they are always the best paths. Sometimes the path is full of ruts and potholes, and we wonder what in the world could be waiting at the end to make the journey worthwhile. Yet, when we look back, we often find that those are the paths to the greatest blessings.

So, what do we do when we can’t plan for the future? We take the next right step. God shines his light onto the path through His Word and the Holy Spirit to show us the next step. Once we move, the light will shine on the next step. While we are praying for God to show us the way to go and lamenting that we aren’t getting an answer, it may be that He has already shown us the next step and is merely waiting for us to move forward. Ask yourself: What is the next right step? Then take it and watch what God will do.

Gift Giving God’s Way

I like to paint. Give me an empty room with clean blank walls, taped off and ready to paint, and I am itching for a roller so that I can get started. I love to see fresh color transforming walls into something fresh and clean until the whole room is new. However, I don’t like the prep work. First, you have to move stuff out of the way. Then, you have to clean the surfaces and wait for them to dry. Finally, you tape off or cover anything you don’t want to get paint on. It’s a bit tedious and time consuming. Painting is the fun part.

Yet each step of the project is necessary if you want the project to be the best it can possibly be. The same is true of our gifts from God. He intends them to be used in service for Him, our gifts back to Him. In her Bible study on Gideon, Priscilla Shirer points out that Judges 6:19-20 sets out four steps in giving gifts:

  1. Prepare it.
  2. Present it.
  3. Put it down.
  4. Pour it out.

#LessonsFromGideon

For example, God expects me to use my gift as a writer. The first step is preparing my gift, which means honing it to the best of my ability. Writers should read good writing, keep in God’s Word, study the craft in classes and through experts, and practice as much as possible. We should work at revision and listening to constructive criticism, especially from fellow writers and experts.

The next step is presenting our gift, which means we have to turn all of those notes and ideas into an actual written document. Brainstorming is fun; writing is hard work. You have to research topics and fact check. You have to organize those thoughts into a clear and logical order. Then, you have to revise, edit, and proofread until your writing is the best that it can be.

The third step can be difficult for some people. Eventually, you have to release your work. You have to submit it in some form or fashion for others to see. Either you share it with a friend or you submit it to be published in some way. No matter how you do it, allowing others to read your work can be scary, leaving you vulnerable. You wonder if it is good enough.

Finally, you have to allow God to do what He wants to with it. The point of the gift is to give it back to Him, but sometimes we aren’t happy with the results. Many times we have no idea whether or not our words actually make a difference, but that is where we have to trust God that it won’t return void if it is done in His Will. After all, it is His gift, and He can do what He wants to with it.

What gifts do you have? God gave us gifts for a purpose, so if you have been hiding a light under a bushel basket, get it out, dust it off, and ask God what He wants you to do with it. Seeing what He has given us, it’s the least we can do. I still don’t like prep work, but He’s worthy of our best work, so it’s time to get out the cleaning rags and painter’s tape and put my best brush forward and pray that I can paint a picture with my words.

While You Wait…

Boat Dock

I was putting the finishing touches on an article about waiting on the Lord when my own words came back to haunt me. I was discussing Psalms 27:13-14, and one of my points was that God often has us wait for an answer to prayer because we need to prepare to receive it. I once read a saying that if you want your ship to come in, then you better build a dock. If you pray for God to do big things, then you should prepare so that you are ready when He does it.

Look at King David, for example. In Psalms 27 he is probably still running from Saul, hiding in caves and rocks. He was chosen at the age of 16 to replace Saul as king, but he didn’t take the throne until he was 30. However, I doubt the 16-year-old David was truly ready to lead Israel as their king. Being out in the wilderness, leading a group of men, gave him practice in leadership, taught him to rely on God’s leadership in his own life, and taught him humility. He became one of the greatest kings in history and a man after God’s own heart, partially due to what he learned in the wilderness.

Another example is Joseph (Genesis 37-41). At 17 years of age, he had a vision that one day his brothers and even his father would bow down to him. Before he saw the vision come to pass, he was sold into slavery by his brothers, thrown into prison by Potiphar, and forgotten by fellow servant for 2 years before Pharaoh promoted him as his second in command. In those chapters, we see that Joseph was busy doing his best at each job he was given. He learned how to run a household under Potiphar and was even given command inside of prison. When he finally came before Pharaoh, he had the skills he would need to lead the people through the coming famine and save his own people in the process.

As I pondered these stories, I wondered what I should be doing while I waited. I looked around and realized there were several projects of varying kinds that needed my attention. Some of the preparation involved studying and writing, which I was already doing, but God pointed out some spiritual muscles as well as physical muscles that needed stretching. Even on a practical level, I saw some projects that needed finishing, tasks I had procrastinated doing, and general cleaning out and de-cluttering.

That all sounds overwhelming, but in the same week that I was contemplating what needed doing, I ran across several different posts that spoke to that very subject:

Rick Barry – Encouragement (click link for full post)

Image may contain: text that says 'No matter how slow you progress, you're still way ahead of everyone who isn't trying.'

Denise George posted this tidbit of wisdom:

But I’ve discovered that writing steadily, bit by bit every day, also produces an abundance of good material. It’s “tortoise writing”—one tiny focused step at a time in the right direction, instead of “hurry-up-hare writing” in all directions. To win the race, the secret is to write steadily, consistently, and orderly, bit by bit by little bit. It also helps to immerse yourself in prayer as you write. One of my favorite people, Desmond Tutu, recommends: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Image may contain: text that says '"know your limits and do a little each and EVERY DAY. before you know it YOUR HOME WILL BE DE-CLUTTERED and you will have your life BACK. ~FLYLADY UNUN flyladynet'

The FlyLady (Check out her page if you need help with clutter.)

So, while I wait, I still have things to do besides whine. I have a dock to build.

 

Stay

Goldie

Probably one of the hardest tricks to teach any animal is “stay.” With cats it is nearly an impossible command to teach because they are independent and stubborn. To stay means to wait for something. When Goldie was young, he finally figured out that if he waited patiently, when I finished with my cereal, I would let him have the remaining milk in the bowl. Meep, on the other hand, has no patience at all. She keeps reaching out and tapping me on the shoulder, pawing at my knee, or even trying to pull the plate or bowl with her paw. It makes mealtimes rather frustrating to say the least.2011-09-26 21.31.06

Psalms 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” Verse six says, “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.” Verse 8 goes on to say “I delight to do they will.” God wants our obedience, and sometimes that means waiting instead of doing. For humans, that’s tougher than being asked to go into battle. We only feel like we are making progress if we are moving forward. Standing still and waiting seems like a waste of time, but God isn’t interested in our works; He is interested in our obedience.

In I Samuel 15:22 we find that King Saul did not fully obey God’s command of destroying the Amalekites, including their animals. Saul used the excuse that the people kept the animals so that they could sacrifice them to God. Samuel replies, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” God told him to destroy the animals not to bring them home because they looked good. They destroyed anything that was weak or sick but took the healthy flocks as spoils of the battle. The excuse that they kept them to use as a sacrifice was just a cover for their greed.

Like cats, we want what we want and we want it now. When the command is to wait, we find it hard to be obedient. Like Meep we try to paw or manipulate circumstances to achieve our desire; however, our desire should be to be obedient. When we finally learn to wait in obedience to His Will, then the Lord hears from us and answers our prayer in His time and His way. In the meantime, we can know that God is at work and is present in our lives. If He tells us to wait, then we can know that He means it for our good (Romans 8:28).

So, while you wait, praise the Lord now for what He is going to do in your life. Listen to to this song and maybe it will minister to you as it did me:

Take Courage by Kristene DiMarco

Letting Go

 

Sometimes more is not better. At one point in time I had four part-time jobs. I had a steady job that I worked 4 days a week, plus another job working in a friend’s shop on Saturdays and some afternoons after my regular job. Then, I also taught English at an online university on a fairly regular basis and occasionally did scoring work for another company online. It seemed like I should have more than enough money, but no matter how much I made, it always seemed to slip through my fingers. I could never get ahead to the point where I could write because I was always too busy. I had too much to do.

One day I got a notice that the online school was closing abruptly due to bankruptcy. Gone was one of my backups. Then, because of the Pandemic, my other online work was cancelled that I was depending on to pay some unexpected bills. How would I cover those now?

Gideon and the 300

Gideon faced an even greater challenge than personal finances. He was called to lead the Israelites into battle against the Philistines, a strong nation with a substantial army. Gideon rallied 32,000 men for the battle, which seemed insufficient in comparison to their enemy. Yet, in Judges 7:2, God says:

“And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me…  And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place” (Judges 7:2,7).

Gideon was probably thinking too many men? What? Aren’t more men in battle better? However, God points out that if Israel went into battle with 32,000 men, then they will think they won the battle on their own merit. He wanted them to trust Him for deliverance, and not themselves. On top of cutting the army down to 300, God told Gideon to send the rest of the men home. While it wasn’t easy to hear that he should take only 300 men into battle, it was probably even harder to send the rest home, knowing he wouldn’t have any backup if things didn’t go well. He had to let go and trust God with the outcome. In the end, Gideon obeyed God and the Israelites were victorious because God went ahead of them, winning the battle using an unorthodox approach (read the rest of chapter 7 for details).

In my own life, I had been depending on the extra jobs as a backup when God wanted me to trust Him to provide for my needs. When I let go of trying to find replacement jobs and focused on writing instead, I began to see some success. I had an article, a devotional, and a Bible study published. While it wasn’t a lot of money, it added to my publication clips and increased my confidence that I was doing what I was called to do. In the meantime, other income came in to cover some of the unexpected bills. In order to move forward, I had to let go of the old so that God could open up new opportunities.

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). If we want God to do a new thing in our lives, we have to be willing to let go of the old. So, open your hands, let go, and see what God will do.