Living in the Valley

It has been a few weeks since I wrote a faith post. My husband and I went on a vacation to visit places and people in Wisconsin. It was an enjoyable trip, but I didn't have much time to write. While it is fun and important to get away, the reality is that we live in the ordinary moments of life much more often than in the extraordinary moments. Who doesn't want to live on the mountaintop, but most of us spend the majority of our time trudging through the valley bottom. 

Devil's Lake State Park

Let me say, the valley bottom is not the pristine, green grass, river filled valley. No, it is the valley that runs between two rugged, rocky cliffs and there is no water in sight for miles. Overhead the vultures are constantly circling, waiting for the valley dwellers to stumble and fall so they can begin to feed off their soon to be dead bodies. Not a pretty picture.

When you have no vision from God, no enthusiasm left in your life, and no one watching and encouraging you, it requires the grace of Almighty God to take the next step in your devotion to Him, in the reading and studying of His Word, in your family life, or in your duty to Him. It takes much more of the grace of God, and a much greater awareness of drawing upon Him, to take that next step, than it does to preach the gospel.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - March 6th

I love this thought from Oswald Chambers. He says it takes more grace and a more concentrated effort to draw on Him to take the next step in living the ordinary, mundane life, than to preach the gospel. What do you think? Do you agree? 

I have been finding life more and more challenging lately. My energy level is lower, I have physical issues that I never had to deal with before and I am continually reminded, not only of all the things I need to do, but also of all the things I have absolutely no control over. These factors all become part of life in the valley. Living here in the valley becomes a matter of trudging, not running, or skipping or even walking. Every once in a while, it becomes a crawl, a begging on hands and knees with the Master of this land to come and either let it end or bring about some sort of change. It was from this prostrate place that Oswald realized the thoughts he shared in the quote above. It truly does take the grace of the Almighty to take the next step.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

I know, without a doubt, that some of you are in this place. Just like me, you go to bed so exhausted, that you pray God will take you in your sleep, so that you don't have to get up in the morning. Some of you, don't sleep. He doesn't even give you that. But, you do get up in the morning and you start all over again...the walk, the stumble, the crawl. You feel like you could use time away, a retreat, but there is no retreat. You feel like you could use a good, long cry, but you know the tears won't change anything, besides you are too busy, too tired. You feel like you want to run away, to leave everyone and everything behind, just go somewhere and become someone different, but you know that is not the right thing to do and you are just too tired. Day after day, drudgery after drudgery. This is life in our valley.

BUT GOD!

No enthusiasm?

BUT GOD!

No one noticing?

BUT GOD!

No encouragement?

BUT GOD!

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;
— 2 Corinthians 6:4 (NIV)
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
— Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
— Psalm 121 (NASB)
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
— Galatians 6:9 (NASB)

I know life can be overwhelming, but God is not overwhelmed by it. We've heard it before, but I need to hear it again. Peter walked on water, though the stormy waves raged all around, as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. If you are down and out by life, look up. Jesus will always meet you exactly where you are at. 

Remember, we are all together in this valley. 

 

Pow! Biff! Sock! Crash! Holy Trouble Batman!

I am foregoing my Walking With the Psalmist post for this month in order to bring you another amazing and trouble filled episode of life! If you have been following my blog for a while now, then you know last May, my hubby and I attempted to take a vacation to Maine. We only got as far as Rochester, NY when I gave birth to a kidney stone. Ouch! Not knowing for sure if the kidney stone passed, I ended up spending a night in the hospital and we made our way home, feeling down and discouraged. 

 Pixabay

Pixabay

Fast forward to May of 2018. Here we are again, planning a vacation, this time to my husband's old stomping grounds in various spots around Wisconsin. We were going to camp, hike, and visit with friends and family. Last week, I spent the entire week taking care of my grandson, who came down with whatever the going virus was at the moment for a week long battle with fatigue, fever, runny nose and loss of appetite. Guess who got sick this past Friday? Yup! Me. 

 Pixabay

Pixabay

I did my usual regimen of echinacea tea, Zicam and other supplements to try to quicken the down time and speed up healing. No such luck! Today, I developed a fever, though I think I may have had one earlier. Today, I took my temp and it said, 99.5. Now, as you know that is not a high temp, but it is enough to make one feel pooky and even make my skin hurt. In addition to that I spent the night on the couch, coughing. I have always been a cougher. I had childhood asthma and I still think my bronchial tubes get especially irritated when I am sick. 

We were supposed to leave on vacation Thursday, but I am thinking maybe Friday or Saturday. Ugg! I'm sorry. I feel like I am complaining all the time and I don't mean to. I just feel that real life is happening all around and it is not always pretty or easy. Maybe when you read my stories of woe I will help you realize, you are not alone! We are all struggling through this journey together and I want you to know, I get the hard bits!

So when I started thinking about this post, I couldn't help but think of the old campy Batman and Robin show. Those of you who are my age will remember the silly fight scenes with the cartooned in words, "Pow!" "Biff!" and "Sock!" 

The reality is, my life is more like that colorful show of the the 1960's, than what some people are going through. We know more than one person who is battling cancer, several who already know they aren't going to make it. People struggle with such hurts, illness and pain, that I cannot even begin to imagine, but I understand. Sometimes life just sucks! For reals!

Pixabay - shower

This morning, when I was standing in the shower, feeling like crud, I turned my eyes to Jesus. I went back to the basics. I confessed my discouragement and frustration, I praised His name, and then I thanked Him. I thanked Him that I had a comfy couch, a blanket and a pillow to spend the night on. I wasn't coughing and shivering in a box in some alley. I thanked Him for the hot water that felt comforting to my tired and achy body. I thanked Him that, although this morning I wasn't able to keep my shopping and lunch date with one of my daughters, I was able to lay on the couch and watch Netflix. 

in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you
— I Thessalonians 5:18 (NET)

I can't remind you (and me) of this verse enough! Even when we are getting struck down and beaten on all sides, it is God's will that we give thanks. I would make the distinction that it says, "in everything give thanks," not "give thanks for everything." I have heard people say you should thank God, even for the bad stuff, but I think it is more the case that when we are going through the bad stuff we continue to give thanks. That, my dear sisters, is what will keep us standing and keep us focused on Him. 

I hope that we will still be able to get away in the next few days, but even if we don't, I feel that once again, God is who God is and He is trustworthy. I hope you will find Him trustworthy as well. 

Walking with the Psalmist

Psalm 13 is a song of David, and a prayer for help in trouble. What I love about the psalms of David are the parallels to my own emotional ups and downs. Let's dive in.

1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
— Psalm 13:1-2 (NASB)
 Pixabay

Pixabay

Do you ever feel like David? Do you ever wonder where God is? Does it seem as though He has forgotten you or is hiding His face from you? Have you ever felt like you are the only person you can trust? Do you ever have days where all you can feel is sorrow, or maybe you feel nothing at all, simply numb? Have you felt as though a very real, but unseen enemy is out to get you? Or maybe your enemy is something or someone real, like cancer, a hard nosed boss or a bully. 

I have felt this way. The truth is, I think most of us have felt pretty much alone at some point or other in our lives. Sometimes, we carry burdens that we cannot share, which make us feel very alone and like the psalmist we cry out to God, "Where are you?"

3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
— Psalm 13:3-4 (NASB)
 Pixabay

Pixabay

The psalmist asks God to consider his situation. David spent a good portion of his adult life running and hiding from his enemies. I'm pretty sure this song was born out of the frustration and exhaustion of not being able to live a normal life. 

You are probably familiar with the phrase, the new normal. Most often this phrase is used by someone who has encountered a major life change, either a job loss, loss of a loved one, physical limitation or other difficulty that makes life different than it used to be. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I can't do that anymore. Now life is made up of looking at food labels, cutting my food in half so I don't eat too much and cutting out things I used to enjoy like donuts and ice cream. This is the new normal. 

I do not see anything wrong with asking God to consider us. We are His creation. Consider these verses:

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!
— Luke 12:24 (NASB)
 Pixabay

Pixabay

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
— Luke 12:27 (NASB)
 Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull

The one who has every hair on our heads numbered can most certainly be bothered to consider us, when we cry out to Him. 

I think the psalmist was also praying for wisdom, or maybe he was just asking God to help him stay awake and keep vigilant watch for his enemies, lest they overcome him and he sleep the sleep of death. Either way we can ask God for help, whether it be for wisdom, or for physical strength. 

1 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
— Psalm 121:1-2 (NASB)
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
— Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him
— James 1:5 (NASB)

The last section of Psalm 13 is the upward swing.

5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
— Psalm 13:5-6
 Pixabay

Pixabay

There are four actions the psalmist does at the end of this song.

1. He remembers. He is speaking in the past tense, remembering other times the Lord has been faithful.

2. He trusts. He trusted in the Lord's lovingkindness in the past, and no doubt, will do so again. 

3. He rejoices. His heart rejoices in the Lord's salvation. We can derive from this statement, the psalmist has seen the Lord's salvation before. 

4. He sings. What a beautiful ending to a song that starts out at a rather low point. He can sing, because the Lord has dealt bountifully with him. 

What does this mean for you and I? First, I believe it is okay to ask God the tough questions. Where are you, God? How long will you keep quiet and not answer me? How long am I going to have to suffer? When will your deliverance come? God knows our frame. He also knows we don't see the whole picture, so I truly believe He understands and has compassion when we come to Him with our ceaseless questioning. Think about the many times your children or grandchildren come to you asking, why or when? Do you yell at them and tell them to be quiet? (Well, maybe once in a while, ha, ha). More often we answer with kindness and love. 

Secondly, I believe it is also alright to let God know we are at the end of ourselves. Consider and answer me, Lord, is a cry for help and reassurance, not a fist raised in defiance. God knows we hurt, sometimes in the deepest places of our being. There are people who suffer physically with pain we can't even imagine. There are people who hurt mentally or emotionally because of what others have done to them or to their family members. God knows our innermost hurts and struggles. 

Finally, I think the key is to follow the psalmist's example and not stay in that mindset of discouragement. Like him we need to choose to remember what God has done for us. We need to trust in the God whose lovingkindness is everlasting. We can rejoice in His salvation. Not only has He saved us from sin through His son Jesus Christ, but He has saved us from difficulties we cannot begin to imagine. Lastly, sing! Sing like no one is listening. Sing to bring the house down. If it is an age old hymn sing it with gusto. If it is singing along to your favorite Christian band, turn up the volume. 

Following David in his pattern of questioning, admitting and rejoicing we will be able to overcome. 

What I am Thankful for Today

I am not trying to sound trite or simplistic, but there really is something to the idea of being grateful. I have brought this up before in many of my other faith posts, but as I sit here this evening, I started doing some thinking on what to write about for this week's Faith page. With so much tragedy and difficulty happening all around us, I felt the need for setting my eyes on someone and something much higher than I.

We all know the tragedy that is going on in Texas right now. The devastation is real and visceral. I cannot begin to feel the loss that so many are experiencing. Unfortunately, the difficulties of others often do make us more thankful for what we have and the comforts that we so easily forget and take advantage of. So for today's post, I just want to give you a list of things I am thankful for.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

1. The sun. I am sure many of our comrades down south can't wait for the rain to stop and the sun to shine. We never really appreciate this giant flaming orb that God placed in the center of our solar system, until we haven't see it for a while. Being a sufferer of seasonal affective disorder, I thank God everyday that the sun is shining. Sometimes I will stick my face in a sunny spot and just soak it in for a few seconds, channeling my inner kitty.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

2. A hot shower. There is something about clean, hot water that just seems to wake up the senses and get us going in the morning. 

 Pixabay

Pixabay

3. Trees. This is one thing that I love about living in a city filled with trees. Just recently my husband and I took a walk at one of our many area Metroparks and I was entranced by the beauty of so many variations on trees; tall and lanky, short and stubby, pines, oaks, maples, and our own Ohio Buckeye. Trees provide shade, wood, food and shelter for animals and humans and most importantly oxygen. Our world wouldn't be much of a world without trees.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

4. A bed to sleep in. I don't always wake up well rested, but then I think of how much more difficult life would be without a place to sleep. Even now, I think of so many Texan's that are displaced due to the flooding from Hurricane Harvey. They will be fortunate if they get a cot or a mat on the floor at an area community center or school, let alone will they have their own pillow, blankets or space. What a blessing, even when it is old and lumpy, to have a bed to sleep in.

Drinking fountain

5. Clean drinking water. I don't have to even think about what comes out of my faucet when i turn it on. I know it is treated water and won't be filled with little critters that will make me sick. If our city water takes a turn for the worse, I know I can go to the store and get clean bottled water for just a few dollars. There are many areas of the world where clean water is an unknown. 

 Pixabay

Pixabay

6. Basic human rights. We get off in a lot of directions in the country, but the fact of the matter is we have many rights that other countries do not have. We can come and go as we please. We can wear what we want, eat what we like and hang out with whomever we choose. We can speak our mind and not worry about being thrown in jail or worse. We can shop, go the movies and church, for the most part, without fear. When we are sick we can go to the doctor and we will be taken care of. 

7. Food. I don't know about you, but I love food and I love variety. We have so much food and so much variety that we should never get bored with our eating choices. We also have the blessing of most of our food being clean and properly prepared. Granted things happen...out breaks of salmonella, and other bacteria do happen, but for the most part our food is managed carefully.

Pixabay - books

8. Books. Maybe you don't like books or like to read, in which case you are probably not reading this, but I love books and I am so thankful for the knowledge they bring us and the worlds they transport us to. Books have had such an important impact on my life, so I will always be thankful for them.

Pixabay - walking

9. Health. Often when we are young we don't think about our health and just live life to the fullest. As we get older, we start to realize some of our choices have or will affect our health. I am thankful for what I have today, because tomorrow things might be different. My husband and I have started walking every day, (as often as we can). It has helped to relieve stress, gives us time together and gets our hearts pumping. 

10. Faith. For me, my faith in Jesus Christ is the most important element of my life. It affects everything I do. Unfortunately, I am not always the best example. I make poor choices, get emotional, worry and forget that I am His, more often than I would like to admit, but faith is what gives my life focus and purpose. 

These are just a few of the things I am thankful for today! What are you thankful for? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

Have a great weekend!

 

A Letter to You

Dear One, 

You are my beloved. I know you can't see that right now. Perhaps you are feeling as far from me as you possibly could. Feelings can be deceptive. In fact feelings often become the focal point of a life, when in fact, truth should be the focus. I know you are hurting. Something terrible has happened to you. You are questioning everything you ever learned or believed. Your heart aches to the point that you wish it would stop beating, but I can't allow that. Not yet. 

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Come into the Light!

Next month the live action version of Beauty and the Beast will be coming out in theaters. When my daughters were old enough, the original animated version, which came out in 1991,  became one of my favorite movies to watch with them. What could be more intriguing for a writer like me, than a heroine who liked books. It also helped that she was brave, selfless and caring, all qualities I wished I were (and still do). If you are not familiar with the story, it is a tale of love and sacrifice.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

Belle is a young woman, living in a small French town. She aspires for more than "this provincial life." Her father is a small time inventor and on one of his trips to sell a new contraption, he becomes lost in the dark woods. When he is chased by wolves and it begins to rain, he finds his way to a hidden castle and goes inside. 

When her father does not come home for a few days, Belle becomes worried and goes to look for him. She happens upon the castle with the help of Philippe the horse and bravely enters to search for her father. She finds him in a dungeon cold and shivering. She wants to free him, but is unable to open the door to his cell. 

The Beast, who has heard of a new intruder in his castle, confronts Belle. She pleads for her father's life. The Beast is not interested in letting his prisoner go, at least not until Belle says that she will take her father's place.

The Beast asks with amazement, "You would take his place?"

"If I did, would you let him go?"

"Yes! But you must promise to stay here forever."

"Come into the light."

Obviously, what Belle saw was not promising to her future. She had no idea when the Beast yanked her father out of that cell if he was going to cook her up for dinner or have her stuffed and put on display in one of the many cavernous castle halls. What follows is a beautiful love story that transcends skin color and massive differences. 

The point I want to expand, is the idea of coming into the light. Wasn't it the light that enabled Belle to see the Beast as he truly was? Over time, however, we realize the light didn't just give her the ability to see his physical form, the light eventually revealed his true nature. He was a young prince who had been turned into a beast due to his selfishness and pride.  As the two became friends, they were able to see past the ugly differences that kept them apart. 

He reveals mysteries from the darkness And brings the deep darkness into light.
— Job 12:22 (NASB)

God is light. If we are to understand life and how to live it, we need to step into the light. We need to be pursuing God and who He is, so that we might understand what the darkness is not. Darkness is not warm, inviting or satisfying. Darkness is not pleasurable or life giving. Yes, God created the darkness for rest, but it seems those who love the darkness are doing anything, but resting.

The Beast was living in darkness. When Belle arrived he made a choice to step into the light. This choice led him down a path of love and eventually redemption. We are faced with the same choice. Are we going to step into the light or are we going to remain in the darkness? Remaining in darkness is a choice that will result in confusion, fumbling and eventually death. 

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?
— Psalm 27:1 (NASB)

God's word, the Bible, tells us, the Lord is our light and our salvation. It doesn't say that our own knowledge is our light, or that man's wisdom is the light. Jesus Himself also declared He is the light. 

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
— John 8:12 (NASB)

The key here is that we have to follow Him and pursue Him. Let's face it, life can be overwhelming. In the last five days two dear women I know lost their husbands to heart failure. Both of these women walk in the light. They know to whom to turn during this terrible time of loss and grief. It is the light, His light that will give them the strength to go on when life is so dark.

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.
— Psalm 9:10 (NASB)

Where are you at today? Are you struggling in the darkness? Do you feel that you have been thrown into the dungeon of some beast with fangs? Step into His light. He will guide you out. He will bring life and love out of the darkness.

The song below was written as a Christmas song, but it is worth the listen at any time. Come into the light!

The Trouble with Troubles

Have you ever been in the position where you keep hoping things will get better, easier, less painful, but they don't? In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we just see more of the same barreling towards us like a five ton elephant. Nothing against the pachyderms, in fact, they are one of my favorite animals. However, I wouldn't want to be standing on an open plain in Africa, with a large tusky male charging at me! So why shouldn't I feel troubled that difficulty only stands just far enough away to get a running start? Over and over and over.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

Okay, so maybe I am part of the problem. I keep getting back up! Stupid! Just lay down. Let Jumbo squash me again and again. Somehow that seems less painful than getting up only to be knocked down again. 

Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary
— Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

When I am in that prone position, having gotten run over for what seems like the millionth time, I am in a perfect place to look up. Oh, there are times, the charge comes from behind me and I end up face down in the savannah, but eventually I roll over and I see the sky. God's word says, "those that wait for the Lord will gain new strength." If I am weary, it is most likely the case that I am not waiting for Him. I am probably frantically running, trying to fix things, trying to hide things, trying to take control of a charging elephant. 

 Pixabay

Pixabay

God knew this fragile thing He made called humanity would get weary. We would get fatigued, tired, worn out, done in, call it what you want, but He knew. He said, "They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary." That's why I keep getting back up. I'm supposed to keep moving. I'm supposed to run. I'm supposed to walk and when I can no longer walk I am supposed to mount up on wings.....His wings. The wings of the almighty Jehovah Eagle!

Resting in the Lord is not dependent on your external circumstances at all, but on your relationship with God Himself.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - July 4th
 StockSnap

StockSnap

Life is not going to stop being difficult. That elephant is not going to stop charging, but God! God can give us rest. He can give us peace. He can! He will, but I have to want it. I have to want Him. Sure I can tackle the elephant on my own, but I guarantee, that big old difficulty is going to come out in better shape than I do. Unless....Him.

Pies, Processing and Proclamation

With all of the terrible things happening in our country, around the world, even in our own families, it is difficult to not want to run away and hide. A Gilligan's Island type shack on a sunny tropical beach sounds pretty good about now. No radio, no television, no cell phones and no internet. I want to be blissfully ignorant. Who wouldn't? But that is not reality. Reality is harsh and troubling. Reality screams of violence and injustice. Sometimes, reality just plain acts like a vacuum! It really sucks!

 Photo credit Lisa Jessamy on StockSnap.

Photo credit Lisa Jessamy on StockSnap.

We all have to process life's difficulties and we all have different ways of processing. Some people go to the gym, while others sleep. You might lose yourself in a book, or curl up with a movie. Still, others turn to drugs, alcohol or food. We all have to process. You can't get away from it. Oh, you can ignore it for a while, but eventually it will all come crashing in on you, forcing you to process.

Today, I was very tired. My brain felt fuzzy. I really didn't want to do anything. Thoughts of the families of victims of violence flitted through my mind. I also dwelt on a friend who had a heart attack. There were others that my heart grieved for; my nephew who was supposed to marry next weekend, but whose fiancee called off the wedding, my daughter and her five year old son, who is struggling to find full time work, my mother who is almost 90 and still living on her own. Processing, processing.

One way of processing is to worry. Worry basically plays that same scenario through your mind, over and over and over. That doesn't get you very far. Another way of processing is to blame. It has to be everyone else's fault. Good luck with that. Today, I chose to process, by making a pie.

 Photo credit Christy Lane Campbell on StockSnap.

Photo credit Christy Lane Campbell on StockSnap.

As I wearily got out the ingredients and started mixing them together, I began to process. Flour, salt, shortening, water, they are all simple ingredients. It felt almost therapeutic to mix the dough, pat it and roll it out on the table. It reminded me of what a lovely, simple task it was, but how very necessary to making a good crust. It occurred to me that God uses simple ingredients to bring about change in our lives and in our world. Difficulty is an ingredient. Heartbreak is an ingredient. So is love, forgiveness and repentance. If I want to make a good pie, I have to mix the ingredients together. God is mixing. I am processing. Sometimes, I process by writing. 

Part of processing is asking questions: Why is this happening? Why me? Why so much hate and violence? Why so much pain and heartache? It's okay to ask questions. You can even shout them at God in anger if you want. He loves you and He knows you are hurting. But after you've asked the questions, don't forget to listen for the answers. They may not look exactly like the answers you wanted, but go back to the basics. Flour - He is the bread of life. Salt - He is the salt of the earth. Shortening - like a fattened calf, He was our sacrifice. Water - He is the living water. 

 Photo credit  Markus Spiske  on StockSnap

Photo credit Markus Spiske on StockSnap

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
— Hebrews 13:8 (NASB)

Processing should always lead back to Jesus. Only Jesus can make this chaotic thing called life turn into a good pie. If we allow our thoughts to go the road of worry, hate, bitterness and anger, no problems will ever be solved. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the life. That's what I choose to think on.

crosses
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
— Philippians 4:8

A Salty Memorial

When we read the Old Testament, we may often feel that God was unjust. We may think that a God of compassion would not allow people to die or suffer. But remember suffering came into the world through the choice of two people, not through an act of God. No choice can be made without a ripple effect. The butterfly effect says that small causes can have big effects. 

In another Old Testament story we find a different memorial of sorts that came about through small causes or choices as the case may be. Abraham was a very wealthy man and so was his nephew Lot. They both had flocks and herds and tents. Eventually, strife developed between the men taking care of Abraham's flocks and herds and the men taking care of Lot's flocks and herds. Abraham did the right thing. He didn't want strife between he and his nephew, so he told Lot to pick the area of land to the north, south, east or west and then Abraham would go the opposite direction. There was plenty of land for everyone. 

Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.
— Genesis 13:10 (NASB)

Lot made a choice. To him it was a seemingly good choice. He wanted the land that looked pretty. This land was well watered and green. Like Egypt along the Nile, it was rich and fertile. Abraham settled in the lands of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley along the river Jordan. 

Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.
— Genesis 13:12-13 (NASB)

Please pay attention to the last sentence of verse 13, "Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord." This is where Lot decided to put down roots. He could have settled anywhere along the Jordan in that fertile valley, but for some reason he ended up in Sodom, a city full of wicked men who made a choice regularly to sin against God.

After a time, God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. This became known to Abraham on a different occasion. See that story in Genesis 18. He went to God in prayer and pleaded with him for the life of the one righteous person who lived there, his nephew Lot.

When we finally come in to the story, Lot is sitting in the gate of Sodom as many men used to do. It was a place of business, to converse, exchange news and make sales on merchandise or property. But what caught Lot's attention that night were the two strangers that arrived. He knew immediately they were not from the area. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that Lot recognized these men were "other worldly". The angels, of course, had no fear of spending the night in the square of that wicked city, but Lot urged them to come to his home and when there had a feast prepared. But the men of the city also saw the strangers and wanted them for their own sordid purposes. A crowd of them came to Lot's house:

"Hey! Lot! Send out those men who came into the city tonight! We want to have relations with them."

Now I am not going to get into a discussion on what two consenting adults do, but these men were not looking for consent! They were looking for violence and perversion. Lot was so intent on preserving the honor of the two strangers under his roof that he was willing to sacrifice his own daughters to the mob outside. Hmmmm! Not sure how I feel about that. But there is more on that butterfly effect later. The angels temporarily blinded the men outside of Lot's home and told him to prepare to leave town. Lot even tried to convince his future sons-in-law to come with them, but they thought he was joking.

The next morning the angels grabbed Lot, his wife and their two daughters and fled with them out of the city. They told Lot to flee to the mountains, but Lot refused and asked if they could just go to the neighboring city of Zoar. Again, I question this man's choices. The angels agreed, because the compassion of God was on Lot. They were told to escape for their lives and to not look back. Then God rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. Unfortunately, Lot's wife looked back. I often wonder what caused her to look back. Was she curious? Was she grieving for the life she was losing? Was she sad because they had to leave their future sons-in-law behind? Did she have to leave behind her pearls and mink coat? Whatever the case may be she was changed in an instant into a pillar of salt.

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salt

This whole story is disconcerting to me and it all started with the somewhat selfish choice of Lot. He saw the fertile valley, he wanted the best for himself. Okay, so I can see that, but why then did he settle in the most wicked city of all? The memorial is the pillar of salt. Another reminder of what was, and what could have been. Obviously, that pillar is long gone, but I cannot look at a salt shaker without thinking of Lot's choices and the "butterfly effect" they had on his whole family. And he suffered in every way for his choices. His wife died and his daughters went on to have an incestuous relationship with him while he was drunk to guarantee they have children. You can't tell me that Lot's choice didn't affect his family for generations.

Memorials are about remembering. Maybe today would be a good day to think of a memorial that you could set up in your heart to remind you that your choices do have long term effects. All of our choices do. Let's try to make some good ones.

A Personal Story of Growth

Between my freshman and sophomore years at college, I had an internship with my church's youth pastor. He took three of us college age adults and offered a summer of intensive training as co-leaders of our youth group. I knew I wanted to serve God, but I was not sure what that was going to look like, so I was excited about the opportunity to learn and grow under Pastor Dave. Our tasks involved working directly with the youth, planning and implementing activities, as well as speaking and leading our church's midweek prayer services. Not only that, but Dave met with us weekly as a mentor leading us in prayer and memorization of scripture. This was a time of phenomenal growth and excitement as a young person.

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However, God has His own way of causing growth in our lives and His ways are not always pleasant. About mid way into this summer adventure I began having pain under my left armpit. After a few days large red lumps developed. Not being one to hurry to the doctor, my mother had a two volume set of medical diseases put out by Reader's Digest. In another day or two, when the red lumps painfully erupted, I knew I had a case of boils. An armpit in the heat of summer is not a pleasant place anyway, but throw in some oozing, festering lumps and you can be sure I wasn't a happy camper.

If you have never experienced boils, I can only say, I hope you never do. They are extremely painful. For the most part they can be treated with warm compresses, topical antibiotic ointment and frequent cleaning. If a fever develops see the doctor. For me, there was no fever, just three or four very painful lumps that had to be cleaned and tended several times a day.

In the midst of this difficulty, on one particularly painful day, I cried out to God as I was attempting to clean my wounds.

I asked Him, "Why is this happening? What is it that I need to learn?" 

As if He spoke audibly He said, "Your attitudes are like these boils. You try to pretend things don't bother you, but your spirit is a festering sore waiting to burst. You have a sickness inside of you that you need to let me heal."

Wow! He was right! I had found myself over the course of those weeks becoming increasingly jealous of my co-workers at the church. I was not the dominant, funny, cute personality. I was the work horse. I also found myself frustrated with the youth. They were self absorbed and only ever concerned over having fun, rather than desiring Jesus. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. There I was acting just as immature as some of the 13 year olds and being a hindrance, rather than a help to my fellow ministers. 

Right there in my bathroom at home I fell to my knees and wept. I was letting God down and I was selfish. I confessed my jealousy, my impatience and my lack of love and asked God to help me to grow.

I kid you not, when I say, within a couple days my boils were almost fully healed; the pain, redness and lumps all disappearing as if they had never been there. I realize a skeptic could say, that the boils had run their course and with proper care were at the point healing could happen. I disagree! God knows me so well. He knows my need for pictures. I am a writer. He knows that pictures will stick with me forever and indeed they have. He knew the only way I was going to "get it" was to make me "feel it."

God does not always smack us up side the head to teach us something, but He does what is needed to implement growth in our lives. I grew in three ways that summer. 

First, I grew in a very personal way. It is not easy to be brought low and told that you are really messing up, but God did that to me. It allowed me, not only to see the depth of my sin, but the heights of His love. My mind grew as it realized that God does speak outside of His word. He speaks in very real "words" to our hearts. My emotions grew as I had to let God take the dross that had floated to the surface of my spirit and skim it off. 

 Photo Credit  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo Credit Rebecca Trumbull

I also grew in the area of my relationships. I shared my trial not only with my mom, but went to those I was working with, including Pastor Dave, and apologized for having a bad attitude. The use of "analogy" has become a way God allows me to help and understand others. Through other trials in life, God has brought me to a place where I try to think before I act and where I can have a genuine hurt for others who are in pain, physical or emotional.

And finally, God grew me in the area of ministry and community. I realized this wasn't a "one trick pony" show. We are all part of the body and we are all necessary to the body. It is always hard to watch others getting the praise and credit for their work and good deeds, but I have learned to be content (or at least I try) where God has placed me. Not everyone can be a brain or an eye. Some of us are toes and shins! Ha, ha.

God teaches us in very different ways, but He does it for our growth and benefit and for the growth and benefit of others around us. Don't be afraid of growth, even if it is unpleasant. It is just another way, an Almighty God demonstrates His great love toward us. 

It Hurts!

Suffering? Yeah, I get it. It hurts! Don't give me the platitudes that God won't give me more than I can handle, or that everything will turn out rosy, or that God will right every wrong. I have had more than I can handle. Things are not rosy and there are a lot of wrongs that have been done and thus far nothing has been made right. Don't worry, I'm not bitter. I'm too tired, too sad to be bitter. Sometimes the sadness wells up so fiercely, I feel like I will die crying, so I forbid myself to cry.

So what is the point? Why so much suffering? There are some, that say suffering always has a purpose and there are some who say, suffering doesn't have any purpose, except that we live in a fallen world. I must side with with a third party on this one. God Himself. 

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
— Romans 8:17 (NESV)

When it refers to Christ's suffering it refers to all that He experienced as a man. He understood the limitations of the flesh; the need for food, rest and the need to get away. He touched sorrow, saw disease and death. The culmination of His own experience was humiliation, pain and death on a splintered cross.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
— Philippians 1:29 (NESV)

You see, everything about our lives, about my life, has to be viewed in relation to God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. When I put my trust in Jesus as a twelve year old, I wasn't just trusting Him for life and light and all that is beautiful. I was trusting Him with death and darkness and all that was ugly. I didn't know at twelve, just what sort of ugliness would touch my life. But yes, I signed up for the whole deal, not just the good parts.

If He considers me worthy of suffering with Him, I will suffer. If I should not only believe but also suffer for His sake, I will suffer. This isn't about me. It's about Him. And how very awesome, magnificent and perfect He is. He allows me to suffer with Him. 

I know we live in a fallen world. There is sickness, and pain and death and evil in its purest form, but if I look I can see glimpses of Him, His glory, His goodness, His love. The sun shining after many cloudy days, birds singing, buds carefully pushing their way out of darkness into the light, a meal to eat, a blanket to put on....

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
— I Peter 4:19 (NESV)

Not everyone likes the idea that it is God's will that we suffer. But Peter stated it pretty plainly. That doesn't mean when we make a choice to sin that we are going to suffer according to God's will. Sin has it's own consequences. I believe Peter was talking about the times that we suffer and it just doesn't make any sense. Look at the life of Job. By worldly standards and our own Christian standards we would look at Job and think he was a pretty fine fellow. He was wealthy, had a thriving family, honored God in all he did, but then God allowed Satan to test Job. It didn't make sense.

Suffering often doesn't make sense. We always want to know why. Why is this happening? What did I do wrong? If you read through Job you will begin to see, it wasn't about Job. It was about God. Our lives here on this planet are about Him. No one wants to hear that. We all want to think we are the center of it all; that life is all about us, what we do, who we hang out with, where we go to school, what our careers are, who we marry and what purpose our lives have. But the truth is that we exist to bring glory to Him. He truly is the potter. I am the clay. If He chooses to crush me or whirl me around on the wheel, He can do it. But He doesn't do it vindictively. He does it because He loves us and He wants all to come to repentance.

Have I had more than I can handle? Yes, but He has been with me through it. Is everything rosy? No, but I catch glimpses of Him at every turn. Will He make it all right in the end? Things will turn out as He wants them and that may not look like what I thought it would look like. Suffering is God's hands, taking my face and turning me gently towards Him. 

As with everything, I have a choice. I can pull away from Him like a defiant 5 year old and run. I can become bitter, claiming that God has not been fair. I can turn away from Him and walk in the flesh causing the ripple affect of collateral damage, or I can fall into His waiting arms and let Him wipe my tears, pick me up and carry me through. Forgive me, Lord, when I have tried to do it any other way.