The Road Home

I was trying to work on my Bible study plan and feeling like I didn’t even know where to start. Beside me was my open notebook. Blank pages just waiting for God to speak. On the other side was my Bible also open to nothing in particular.

I knew I was distracted by things in my head. I couldn’t seem to stop the steady stream of thoughts that flowed from one to the next without end. So many responsibilities, so many concerns, so many unanswered questions.

Then I looked up at the TV where I was playing restful music on Pandora.  The title of the album was “The Road Home.” At the time, I didn’t catch the artist’s name because I was immediately drawn to the photo. It was a picture of a country gravel road disappearing over a gentle hill. In the foreground was an old worn suitcase. The Lord spoke clearly to my spirit at that moment.

“Leave the heavy weight behind. Walk the road home without the burdens you have been carrying. They are heavy, unnecessary and not your concern. Sit the baggage down and move forward without it. Leave concerns over finances, health issues, relationships, feelings of rejection and inadequacy as well as concerns for your role in this new season of life. You don’t need to carry any of it. I’m more than strong enough to bear the load for you.”

How many times have I heard God ask this of me? How many times have I set that suitcase down only to go back and pick it up again?  And then cram even more stuff into it!

Maybe you can join me in this prayer.

“Lord, help me to leave it all and not look back. The road ahead, toward home, toward you, is so much to look forward to. Help me leave this beat-up suitcase behind and begin to walk. Help me not look back.”

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

A Watered Garden

Here in Florida,  it’s been unusually dry the past 3 months so a lot of the plants had started to show significant stress.

The change happened gradually. First the leaves lost their shine. Then they started to curl ever so slightly. Next the curl became more pronounced and the plants began to droop. They needed water.

Plants can stand  short droughts well enough, but eventually, if they don’t get water, they will shrivel up and die. No fruit, no flowers, no beautiful greenery. Just ugly brown. Then finally, crispy dead leaves. Useless garden waste.

However, last week we began our rainy season and the changes are already becoming evident. With regular, soaking rains, my flowerbeds are beginning to perk up and things are looking much greener. 

We can become the same way spiritually. If we don’t allow God to water us through His word, and through other believers, we can become as dead spiritually as those plants in my garden.

God promises that He will care for us. He promises that He will give us just what we require to thrive and bear fruit. He is the Master Gardener and knows exactly what is needed.

Take some time today to allow God to water your soul. The fragrance of the blossoms and the abundant fruit that will be produced will bless you and others around you.

And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”Isaiah 58:11

He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”Jeremiah 17:8

But God…

Most of us have been on the receiving end of the word “but.” What I mean is, we have all had the experience where someone says something very nice and then undoes all the good intentions by following the statement with the word “but.” Usually what follows is a criticism or a qualifying statement of some kind that makes the original statement of very little value.

“You did a great job… but…”
“I appreciate your help… but…”
“I love you… but…”

Humans tend to use the word “but” in a negative sense most of the time. Probably the most frequent use is during an argument. I think sometimes people feel it’s necessary to keep things grounded in reality. After all, we can experience good in life but the overall consensus is that life is hard and we’d better just get used to it. No use candy-coating it.

God has a different idea about the word “but.” Just looking at one chapter of scripture, Romans 6, we will find that God’s “but” is something to shout about. I would invite you to read it for yourself.

These examples are from the NASB version.

Verse 11 – “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, BUT alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Verse 13 – “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; BUT present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Verse 21- 22 – “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. BUT now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

Verse 23 – “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yes, I will admit that life is sometimes hard… BUT GOD! He turns things around and makes something good out of all the negatives that we can come up with. And that is cause for rejoicing!

God Doesn’t Play Jenga

Have you ever played the game called Jenga? It consists of a set of 54 small boards or sticks of wood. The pieces are stacked in rows of 3 with each layer placed at a right angle to the previous layer. The stack of sticks is quite stable when you are finished.

The name Jenga comes from a Swahili word meaning “to build.” The object of the game is to remove sticks from lower levels and place them carefully on top to create a new layer without collapsing the entire tower. Each time a player removes a stick it compromises the stability of the original structure. Eventually the tower can’t stand anymore stress and comes tumbling down in a heap of rubble. Game over.

I was thinking about that game and comparing it to how God builds our lives. He starts with each layer and carefully puts each new stick in exactly the right order and position. He is building something that will last for eternity.

Unfortunately, sometimes we are not content to let God do the building. We see the sticks and they each have labels. One says “finances”, another says “marriage.” Others say “relationships,” “health,” and “career.” We think we know what our own needs are better than anyone else.

We may look at that tower that God is making with the priorities in our lives and we can be tempted to start making decisions about where He has placed each one. We start taking out sticks and placing them on top. We start deciding for ourselves which things go where and what importance they hold. And all the while, we are weakening the structure that God has designed.

“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.” – Psalm 127:1  (NASB)

Best to let the Father do the building and not try to play Jenga with Him. He knows exactly where to place each piece and His creation will never collapse. Trust Him with your life and you will be amazed at what He will do!

Striving for Perfection

When was the last time you felt like you were getting it right? When did you last feel like you were on track, accomplishing what you needed to, making the right decisions, making no mistakes?

It’s could be that it’s been a while. And when you aren’t getting it right, the critics are unrelenting.  But I’ll bet your worst critic isn’t your spouse or your best friend or your neighbor or even your mother. I suspect that the person who is hardest on you when you mess up… is you.

God isn’t critical of you. He knows you are going to make mistakes. He knows you are not perfect. So why do you expect it of yourself? He extends grace to us in all circumstances. He doesn’t expect us to earn it because He knows we can do nothing of ourselves to be worthy of His grace.

So why do we keep expecting ourselves to be perfect when there is only One who is perfect? We can strive to become more Christ-like, but it’s the greatest of arrogance to imagine that we will ever arrive at perfection this side of heaven.

So maybe the better goal is to give all we have and be content with the outcome. After all, Christ came to complete us and if we did it all by ourselves we wouldn’t need Him. I don’t know about you , but I need Him desperately. Every day. Every moment.

I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be willing to be changed. And to rest in His grace in the process.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  1 John 3:2 

Dump Truck or Wheelbarrow?

When I was a little girl, I remember watching a television show where housewives would win a chance to enter a store with an empty grocery cart and have a certain amount of time to put whatever they wanted in the cart. I remember watching them run up and down the aisles throwing things in the cart as fast as they could. I imagined how much fun it would be to fill my cart with anything I wanted and as much as the cart would hold.

Of course, you were limited by the size of the cart. But imagine if you could bring your own container and fill it as full as you wanted with things from whatever store you chose. Or maybe you could fill it with money. Now wouldn’t that be nice!

What size container would you bring? A grocery sack? A wheelbarrow?  A dump truck?  You’d be crazy to choose a small container when there was no limit. Maybe you could bring a double-trailer semi truck. Now that would hold a lot!

The thing is—in the end, you would just have stuff. I think there would be a sort of letdown after it was all over. Sure, you now have a ton of stuff but when it’s gone, it’s still gone. When you’ve used it up, when you’ve spent the money, when you’ve exhausted your supply, it’s all over.

Now think about a different kind of opportunity.

God says that he has all that we need, all we have to do is ask. Now I’m not talking about tangible “stuff”, I’m talking about all the things God has promised to give us if we ask. There is a bounty of things God will give us if we will only allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. He promises to meet our physical needs but he also promises things like love, joy, and peace.

He waits for us to come to him and when we do, he fills our lives to overflowing with wonderful blessings. When you think about it, if the blessings of God are limitless we should bring the largest container we can find! When we go to God, why just bring a wheelbarrow?

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.”Psalm 65:11

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”Romans 15:13

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22-23 

It’s Okay to Take Baby Steps

She toddles and wobbles. She takes tentative steps and falls on her bottom. She strains and stretches and stands again. All the time he is watching from his position right in front of her, arms outstretched. He says, “You can do it! Look at my big girl! Come on, walk to Daddy.”  It doesn’t matter how many times she falls, or how wobbly her gait. He only sees her progress. He cheers her on no matter what. He knows she will find victory if she doesn’t give up. Finally she takes a couple more steps and lunges into his waiting arms. He smiles, hugs her to him, and says, “You did it! I knew you could!”

I’m sure that’s how I learned to walk. It’s how I am learning still. He still waits for me with open arms; He still cheers me on when I fall. He knows I will find victory if I don’t give up. He is my greatest encourager, my coach, my Heavenly Father.  Even when my progress seems insignificant, He still waits expectantly.

And He waits for you too.  Do you see His outstretched arms? Do you see the expectant smile on His face? Do you hear those words of encouragement when you have fallen for what seems like the thousandth time? He’s there. He knows you can do it. Keep walking; he’s waiting for you. He’s waiting to wrap you in His arms and say, “Well done my child, well done.”

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:14

Does Not Play Well With Others

When my boys were young there was a family we got together with on a regular basis. This family had young boys too and when our families were together they enjoyed playing with each other. All except one boy. It seemed strange, but when I would see this mother with just this particular boy, he would be well behaved and a pleasure to talk to. However, when he was together with his brother and several of my boys there was a transformation. He could not get along with any of them. He was constantly tattling and arguing and just being contrary. He was a perfect candidate for the label “does not play well with others.”

It’s sad, but I see this all the time in the adult world as well, and Christians are not exempt.  One of my boys works for a car dealership and he made a statement the other day that has made me think. He said it was disappointing to see how many of the rude, demanding and grouchy customers were the ones with Christian bumper stickers on their cars and their radios set to Christian radio stations.

We have no excuse to ever be contrary to anyone. If you check the scriptures there are four groups of people mentioned.

Our enemiesLuke 6:27 says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

Other believers. John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Neighbors. Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Strangers. Matthew 25:35 says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

We would have a difficult time finding a person who is not in one of these groups. In every case, we are to show love and kindness. We should never be in a situation where we’re the one wearing the tee shirt that says, “doesn’t play well with others.”

Be like Jesus to the people you encounter today.

What Could You Endure for Five Seconds?

Years ago I had a pastor ask me this question. “Will all this matter in eternity?” It was in response to an issue I was sharing with him that had me very frustrated at the time.  I must confess, his response sort of made me mad.

Of course it wouldn’t matter in eternity, but it mattered NOW. And since I was living NOW, it was NOW that I was concerned with.

Fast forward about 20 years and I find myself asking the same question of myself and my children at times. Today I can’t even remember what that conversation with my pastor was about, but his question stuck with me.

Jesus said that today has enough troubles of its own so we shouldn’t worry about the future. And sometimes anything beyond the next hour is too much to think about. We can get bogged down in the cares of life and forget that this life isn’t all there is.

If I ask you to submit to excruciating pain for five seconds with the understanding that you would NEVER experience pain again for the rest of your life would you do it? Most people would because they immediately understand that they are being offered an incredible gift.  No pain forever?  I would absolutely do that!

The reason we can see the benefit of this trade is that we project our vision out beyond the five seconds to see what we gain in the long run.  The bigger picture of being pain-free would be worth five seconds.

Maybe the reason I’ve learned this lesson as well as I have, (and I’m still learning it in some areas), is that I have seven sons and had to choose each time to look past the difficulty of the process, to the joy of holding that precious little bundle in my arms. If I hadn’t figured out how to project my vision to a place beyond the pain, I would have only had one child!

Now think about your life. Even if you live to be 100 your life is only a blip on eternity’s radar. You can’t even measure 100 years against forever and ever and ever…

What you may be dealing with today could be the most challenging thing you’ve faced in your life.  But could you ask yourself that question, “Will this matter in eternity?”  Yes, it matters now. Yes, you still have to deal with it. But you can choose to face it with the knowledge that it is temporary. It doesn’t have to defeat you.

I love the song that Hillsong United does called “Oceans.”  One part of the lyrics says,

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.”

God calls us to keep our eyes above the waves.  Some waves are bigger than others but if we keep our eyes above them we will see God and not fear being overwhelmed by a tidal wave.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 (ESV)

Believing is Seeing

Evidence. It’s what every fact, every decision, every conclusion is based on. Attorneys collect evidence to make their case before the judge and jury.  Doctors collect evidence before they make a diagnosis.

In many instances a photograph can be the proof that something happened. Maybe a picture of you shaking hands with a famous person is something you can pull out to prove that you actually met that person. It provides evidence.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what faith really is. Is it just blindly believing something because someone  told you it was true?  I don’t think so. I think its more than that. I think it requires you to trust the person telling you. I also think it requires a decision on your part to believe the evidence.

There are instances in our lives where we have the evidence right in front of us and still choose to deny what we are seeing. There are other times when the evidence is something we can’t see, but have to choose to believe anyway.

Remember the old polaroid cameras? You stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and someone took your picture.  Then you all stood huddled together waiting for the photo to appear.  What picture were you expecting? Would you have believed that the picture was one of you standing in front of Niagara Falls? Of course not. You KNEW where you were when the picture was taken and you absolutely knew what would soon develop right before your eyes.

Perhaps that’s how we should think about faith. Imagine for a moment, that issue you’ve been praying about. Imagine posing and having someone take a picture of what you believe God is going to do. Perhaps it’s of you reconciled with a loved one. Or maybe it’s you in the job you’ve been asking God for. It could be a family member who has been very ill looking the picture of health.

Hebrews 1:11 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Isn’t that what you were doing while you waited for that polaroid picture to develop? You were confident that the fully developed picture would be exactly what you expected it to be. Well, maybe not exactly. You might have hoped that your hair wouldn’t look THAT bad!

I believe God wants us to look with anticipation toward the things we have hoped for, just like we do with a photograph.  Perhaps it won’t develop in seconds as you watch. Maybe you remember when you had to send off your film and wait a week to find out if the pictures even developed.  God may make you wait. But He is as trustworthy at the end of the waiting whether it’s sixty seconds or twenty years, as He was at the beginning.

Today I challenge you to look in a fresh way at that issue you’ve been praying for. Take a spiritual snap shot of what you are believing God to do and then trust Him as that answered prayer develops.

Remember, seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing.