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.

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.

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.

What do you see?

setting tableSometimes I like to make a game of cooking something with just what’s left in the pantry. Sometimes it is for fun, sometimes it is because I’m too lazy to go to the store, and sometimes it is purely from necessity. Trying to find an appetizing meal out of random ingredients can put your creativity and problem solving skills to work. I had been doing this for years when I saw a similar challenge on a cooking competition show. The chefs must create a meal using only the ingredients given to them. There submissions are judged on taste, creativity and use of ingredients. I’ve come up with some very unique and tasty recipes myself that way. Necessity really can be the mother of invention.

In Luke 9:12-17, the disciples come to Jesus with a problem: it’s late and the people haven’t eaten. They tell him to send the people away, but Jesus tells the disciples tBreado feed the multitude. The disciples look around but they only had five loaves and two fish, so they said we need to go buy more food. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and multiplied them so that there was enough to feed everyone with food left over. The disciples were amazed because all they saw was what was in their hands.

Switch scenes to the Old Testament. In I Samuel 17, David hears Goliath defying God and is incensed. He offers to fight Goliath while all the others are shaking in fear. All they see is the giant in front of them. Instead of looking at the giant, David points out how God has always come to his aid. So, he picks up five stones and his slingshot and defeats the giant. On top of that, he only needed one of the five stones to get the job done. Why, you might ask? David knew that God was bigger than any giant. He saw what God could do.

The difference between David and the disciples is their focus. The disciples saw a lack of resources and their inability to remedy the situation, while David saw a situation that needed to be resolved and believed God would help him win the battle. The difference is in how we look at the situation.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We can’t feed the multitude or defeat the giant alone, but when we give the situation to God and offer ourselves to His will, He will make it more than enough. We become conduits for God as He works through us, allowing us to have a part in His ministry. It’s not what you have but what you do with what you have that counts. So, when we are faced with a job that seems too big for our meager resources, whatever they may be, if we give it to God, He will make it more than enough.

5 + 2 = More than enough #LessonsFromGideon

This video takes it a step further:

It Depends on Whose Hands It’s In.

 

 

An Old Song

Sheet Music

I was asked to sing the special music for my church’s Facebook live service this week, which actually makes me more nervous than singing in front of people. So, I was running song titles through my head trying to figure out what to sing. I wanted something that would speak peace to the hearts of those listening. After mentally going through a list of more modern songs, I eventually came to a song whose words spoke directly to the current situation even though it is an old hymn. I debated over whether or not to sing it because it is an old hymn and it’s not a perfect fit for my vocal range. Let’s be honest, I want to sound good on the internet, but the message is more important. While I struggled to make a decision, I came to the conclusion that old has become a negative term in today’s society. It has come to mean useless and outdated, but it can mean priceless and precious.

 “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”

Jeremiah 6:16

Ask or seek the “old” paths sounds like going backwards in the context of modern society. Not all old things are bad just because they are old. Take literature, for example. Something becomes a classic because it is able to stand the test of time because it holds a universal truth. Many of the old hymns were originally poems that were eventually set to music. Even if the tune is not your style, the words still hold powerful truths. They are sermons in song that attest to the character of God.

The scripture verse also tells us it is a good way, and if we walk in it, we will find rest for our souls. Society is in turmoil right now. All their new ways are not holding up under the pressure of the pandemic. They are in a panic, angry, scared, and unstable because they were unwilling to walk in the old ways. Humanism says man can do anything if he puts his mind to it, but, if nothing else, this pandemic shows just how little control humans have in the grand scheme of things. There is peace in walking the old paths because we don’t walk alone. God walks beside us. I think the words of an old song sum it up best:

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow – Gaither  (Click link to hear full song).

Joy in the Morning

Young Man 2

Young Man walked across me slowly and intentionally, making sure each paw poked my ribs or elbow with precise accuracy. He was fulfilling his self-imposed job of waking me up; however, his internal alarm clock was an hour or two off, so I tried to ignore him. He is not one to be ignored and not above using the cute factor to his advantage. This morning he plopped onto the bed where the sheets were folded back, curving onto his back and facing me. He tilted his head and then proceeded to wallow in the sheets on his back in what can only be described as pure joy. Then, he reached out a paw to me, so I reached back and petted him only to be rewarded with a nip. It was meant in love but it was still a nip. I pulled my hand back and rolled out of bed and stumbled to his food bowl, which was slightly empty, and refilled it. I was rewarded with happy munching, so I went back to bed.

When I did get up, I sat down on the couch with my coffee and watched as he strolled into the living room to settle down for a nap on the rug in front of me. I might have been more annoyed that he woke me up so that he could nap except for the fact that while I was watching him I noticed something. I couldn’t see his ribs. You see, for the last 6 months or so he had been sick and lost a lot of weight. He was finally diagnosed with IBS and after changing food twice and then switching to a daily oral medication, he had started to improve. Besides the obvious that he was starting to gain weight again, I could see it in the joyful wallowing in the sheets that morning. He felt good. That was a joy to me.

Besides the current issues we are facing from the Corona Virus, we also recently faced physical storms as well. I am reminded of Psalm 30:5 “For his anger endSunshineureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” The storms on Easter day were replaced by bright and sunny week. While we are still sheltering at home or abiding by social distancing, we know that this too will end and morning will come.

SunriseI am reminded of Good Friday when there was a lot of weeping. Yet, on that Sunday at the resurrection, there was joy. John 16:33 says, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Trials and tribulations are a given, but so is joy. Romans 5:3-4 says, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” We have joy because we have hope for a better day.

Whatever you are struggling with today, you can know that we have hope and joy because we have a God that will go with us each step of the way. So, take a page from Young Man’s book and celebrate the little joys of the moment, whether it’s sheets fresh from the dryer, a cup of hot tea, or a beautiful sunset. It may be Friday, but Sunday is a coming. In the meantime, let’s make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in and look for the joy of His Presence wherever we may be.

 

 

A Time Such as This

A Time Such as This

It was Friday after Goldie, my Maine Coon of 13 years, had to be put down because of a brain tumor. My other cat, Meep, seemed to feel as out of sorts as I did. Our constant companion was gone. What were we supposed to do now? I decided that both of us needed a distraction, so I began looking for a kitten to keep Meep company and as a playmate for her abundance of energy. I was looking at shelters online and was about to schedule an appointment to meet a calico kitten when my sister texted me a photo. It was a calico kitten she had Sassyjust found abandoned in a parking lot, begging for help. She didn’t want another cat, and she knew I was looking for one. I made arrangements to get the kitten the next day. After a little hissing, the two became like sisters, which means when they weren’t being loving they were fighting, but they always made up. Sassy, as I named her, was just what we both needed. What I found most interesting was that my sister’s husband had found Goldie in that same parking lot almost exactly 13 years earlier. It was meant to be.

In the book of Esther, we find a young girl chosen against her will to become part of an elaborate beauty pageant, where the winner becomes queen. When Esther is chosen above all the women to be the King’s favorite, she has no real recourse but to accept. When a plot to wipe out the Jewish people is brought to light, Mordecai tells Esther that she has been made queen in order to save her people from destruction. God orchestrated events so that she would be in a position to make a difference at just the right time. This is a larger than life example of God at work in the universe, but I think God also works in the small things as well.

An article I came across tells the story of a dental group in Montana that accidentally ordered an entire container of masks not realizing just how many masks that would turn out to be. So, they were sitting on an excess of 700,000 masks when the pandemic broke out. They were able to share with local hospitals that were dangerously close to running out. A “mistake” led to a much needed supply at the perfect time.

Some crafty friends of mine were looking for ways to help while they shelter at home and started making masks from fabric to help. Many of them have stashes of material from doing quilting and sewing for years. God brought it to my remembrance that I had a small stash of cotton fabrics leftover from decorations at a birthday party. I had kept them with the idea of making doll quilts but never gotten around to it. I pulled the stash and donated it to the group along with another cutting of muslin and some elastic that I hadn’t used. My stash was there for such a time as this.

We may not be chosen as queen so that we can save an entire ethnic group from being wiped out, but we might just have something, like a stash or a skill, that can be used to help others. Take a look around and see what God has given you for such a time as this.

For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)

 

 

Stand and Face the Storm

Faith & Storm

Retrieved from Link

April 27, 2011 started off with a bang as straight-line winds blew through my area, downing trees and power lines. I thought the worst was over as I gingerly traversed a number of problem areas on my way to work, but it was only the beginning. I was already back home and watching the nightly news for a weather update when I saw a live feed of a tornado touching down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It was shocking, but I figured it would blow out before it reached my side of the state, so I carried on as usual. An hour or so later the storm had not subsided at all and was headed toward me. I grabbed my cats and a blanket and pillow and hunkered down in the bathroom floor just before I lost power. My only communication for weather updates was through texts from a friend. The cats, who were normally jumpy by nature, were unusually calm. Meep, still a kitten at the time, burrowed under the bathroom rug at my side and was quiet. Goldie, my Maine Coon crawled into my lap and lay down in quiet dignity and purred. I felt my own fears subside as I waited for the coming storm. It hit with a fury of wind and lightning. I knew the minute it had passed because the cats got up and went to the door and looked at me expectantly. It was over. You see the cats had the right idea. I had prepared the best that I could by sheltering in place and praying for protection and peace. There was nothing else I could do except wait it out.

Storms are inevitable. Our first instinct is to run away from danger. We begin to imagine all of the possible negative outcomes, but riding the “what if” bus will get you nowhere because its route is an infinity loop. It just keeps taking on more passengers and going in circles. We don’t know what the future holds, and we weren’t meant to. Acts 1:7 says, “And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” Therefore, we can run or we can choose to face the storm. I recently heard a guest on a Dave Ramsey video discussing the different ways animals deal with storms. When cows see a storm coming, they try to run away from the storm, but eventually the storm will catch up with them. Buffaloes, on the other hand, run into the storm. In the end, they spend less time in the storm because it passes over them. When we face our troubles head on, then we spend less time in the situation. We can stand in peace knowing we have done what we can do, and leave the rest to God.

When the storms come, Ephesians 6:13 says, “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.” The verses that follow describe the armor:

  1. Helmet of Salvation – When we have salvation, we know the end of the story (John 3:16).
  2. Belt of Truth – Be cautious where you get your information (John 8:32).
  3. Breastplate of righteousness – It is Christ’s righteousness we are putting on (Philippians 3:9).
  4. Sandals of the gospel of peace – Have the peace that God gives (John 14:27).
  5. Shield of Faith – Have faith that God will work things out (Jeremiah 29:11).
  6. Sword of the Spirit – The sword is the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).

God has given us armor, but we have to put it on in order for it to be effective. Once you put it on, the only thing left to do according to the last part of verse 13 is just stand. In times like these we need spiritual armor even more than we need masks and gloves. The enemy wants to take your peace and turn you into the worst version of yourself through fear. Instead, put on the armor and do what you can do. Wash your hands, follow social distancing, and find a way to serve others. The armor only protects your front because God has your back. So, stand and face the storm secure in the knowledge that God will walk with us until the storm passes by.