God’s Perfect Design

In the third chapter of Judges there is a story that demonstrates how God designs each of us with specific characteristics that He intends to use for His purposes.

Judges 3:15-21 “But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him. Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly.”

I have one left-handed son and we had quite a time teaching him to write. He often questioned why he wasn’t right-handed like his six brothers. After we read the passage about how Ehud was able to deliver Israel from the King of Moab because he was left handed, we had a great discussion. My son was encouraged after learning that God has given each of us specific talents and characteristics that He will use for His glory if we will yield to Him. Sometimes the very thing that the world sees as a weakness or disadvantage is what God will use in an amazing way.

Today, offer God all your talents and all your unique features that you may think are nothing special. Wait and see what amazing things God will do!

“Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength,” –       Ecclesiastes 9:10(HCSB)

God Invented Zip Lock Bags

When was the last time you used a zip lock bag? Okay, maybe you didn’t use the ZipLoc brand but you probably have a zipper-type plastic storage bag somewhere in your house. The purpose of these bags is to keep things contained. They keep things nice and tidy. When we moved we used some huge 20-gallon size bags that could hold clothes and bedding. Zippered plastic bags are also used by criminal investigators to preserve evidence.

The invention of zip lock bags happened in the 1960s but God actually had the idea way back in the time of Job. Job says in chapter 14:16-17: For now You number my steps, You do not observe my sin.  My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and You wrap up my iniquity.

Job was complaining to God that his sins were being overlooked for now but God was storing them up in bag and could bring them out to use against Job at any time. It was as though God was the investigator gathering evidence to use later.

But we know differently. Picture this: God saves all our sins, the big ones and the tiny ones, He makes no distinction. He collects them in His zip lock bag – he may need a pretty big one – and he sets the collection aside to use as evidence at the day of judgment.

Then Jesus enters the picture. He approaches God the Father and says, “See that bag over there? The one for Sheryl? That bag belongs to me now; I paid the price for her sin.”

God looks at that zip lock bag and says to Jesus, “You take it. The evidence is no longer valid.” Jesus takes the bag containing all my sin and disposes of it. It’s gone forever

I pray that from this day on, every time you see a zip lock bag, you remember that God was keeping your sin to use against you and Jesus stepped in and rescued you from judgment. Hallelujah!

He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!  – Psalm 111:9 (ESV)

Open My Eyes That I May See

Have you ever looked at any of the artwork of M.C. Escher?  He has some amazing optical illusions. Some of his impossible constructions truly mess with your mind. The reason optical illusions are so intriguing is that they contradict what you expect to see.

Most of the time we see what we expect to see. We see what we want to see.  How many times have you passed by something and totally missed it? Or perhaps you’ve seen something a million times and then you walk by the spot where it should be and don’t even see that it’s gone.  It takes a minute for your brain to register that something is missing because you have been trained to see it.

Spiritually we do the same thing. We’ve heard the phrase “don’t put God in a box,” so many times we have become accustomed to what we think it means.  Of course, it means that God works and acts in ways that don’t fit our limited mental capacity to understand. We tend to limit His ablilities because we can’t “think outside the box.”

But where did the box come from? And is it God who’s in the box or us?  I think we have turned it around. I think it is we who are in the box and not God.  I think we know what God is capable of, even though it is more than we can imagine.

The real issue is that we have put ourselves in the box. A box with high sides all the way around us. We are trapped by our own illusions.  The fact is, the box sides have been blown down like the walls of Jericho but we are still imagining that they are there. They still limit our ability to move and act in the ways God designed us too.

We see what we expect to see. What we want to see. We see the walls there, holding us back, limiting our effectiveness. Time to look past this mental illusion and move beyond the walls that Jesus removed when he rose from the grave. Time to ask God to give us eyes to see what we have been blinded to for too long.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints – Ephesians 1:18 (NASB)

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. – Psalm 119:18 (ESV)

Conformed or Transformed 

Have you ever watched a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? You’ve seen the before and after but you can’t actually see change take place. It’s a mystery how God takes a slimy, fat, little worm and transforms it into a beautiful, delicate butterfly.  To be transformed means to be made into something completely different. 

It’s also a mystery how He can take a lost soul and transform it into something that begins to resemble His son. He makes us more Christ-like the longer we follow Him.  It’s a process, not an instant occurrence. While God says we are changed as soon as we accept Christ as Savior, the outward appearance takes a little while. It’s kind of like the butterfly. When he’s crawling around on the ground you can’t tell that the makings of a butterfly are already inside him. All you see is the caterpillar. No wings. No long legs. No beautiful colors.  It takes time before the butterfly emerges.  The change takes place inside the chrysalis where no eye can see what’s happening. 

It’s the same for us. God hears our cry for salvation. He declares that we are His and then He begins the process of change.  This is also what happens when we hear a word from God about the direction of our lives. We hear what he wants for us and then don’t understand why it isn’t happening. But we can’t see inside the chrysalis. We can’t always see all the work God is doing. We just have to trust Him to do it His way. 

Also, there is a strong temptation to just stay a caterpillar. We blend in with the rest of them and feel safe. We conform to those around us because to do otherwise would be risky.  But God doesn’t want us to be like all the others. He has said we are to be set apart. I would think a butterfly in the middle of a crowd of caterpillars is definitely set apart. Definitely conspicuous.   

Choose today to let your colors show. Unlike the caterpillar, we can choose to be transformed. We have a part to play in the final outcome. We can make the decision to allow God to renew our minds so that we may be transformed. Let God work in your life and transform you into a beautiful butterfly that can show off God’s handiwork and bring Him the glory. 

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  – Romans 12:2 (NASB)

Taste and See That the Lord is Good

Several years ago I was attending a women’s retreat at a camp with a group of ladies from my church. I had been struggling with some very difficult challenges in that particular season of life. I had been asking God to help me settle a few things in my heart.

One thing I asked Him was if what was happening in my life was a result of my own actions and choices or just part of life.  I had read the story about the blind man that Jesus healed and how the people had asked whose sin had caused the man’s blindness, his own or his parents.  Jesus had responded by saying that neither of those reasons was the cause but  the man had been born blind so that God’s glory would be revealed. God has His own reasons for allowing things to happen in our lives.

When we consider all of God’s attributes we should know that He will never fail us and will take care of us. But sometimes the challenges of life seem to overpower what we know to be true.

On that first day of the retreat, when we were registering and receiving our study materials for the sessions, one of the items we were told to take was a small journal. All of the journals were displayed on a table and each cover had a picture. We were told to prayerfully consider which cover spoke to us.  As I stood there looking at all the covers, one suddenly drew me like none of the others.  As I looked at the picture of a partially eaten apple, I heard the Lord speak gently to my heart. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  It was exactly what I needed. To know that God was good. To know that no matter what, that was a sure thing. God was challenging me to take Him at His word.  I chose to do so.

Today, I still have that journal and Psalm 34, which contains the verse God spoke to my heart, has become my favorite Psalm.  If you are struggling with something in your life and just need a little encouragement, ask God to give you what you need. He never disappoints.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

Chosen

The children gather on the playground for a rousing game of kickball. Team captains are selected and the group of players stands in anticipation of being picked for a team. As the selection progresses and the players move to stand by their captain the anxiety rises with each pick. Who will be the last? Will the captains fight over who has to “take” the last man standing? Perhaps it’s the heavy boy or the girl who’s a little klutzy.  Will that child be shamed and embarrassed by being the unwanted player?

Maybe you were that child. Maybe you were never actually the last one picked in such a public way. Maybe you just feel like you never measure up. Like you have nothing to contribute. Maybe you think you have been passed over because you never really figured out how to have what it takes.

Be encouraged today, my friend. You have indeed been chosen. You are wanted and have a place and a purpose. Be brave enough to step forward and stand by your Captain. He will lead you to victory.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”  –      John 15:16 (ESV)

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, ” – Ephesians 1:4-5 (ESV)

 

Changes

Changes are part of life. We can’t ignore them. Why is it that whether the changes are good or not so good the transition is often difficult?

Sometimes the changes are gradual like the simple process of aging. It may bring difficulties but the actual process isn’t a struggle. It often just happens while we aren’t looking.

I think the changes that are the most difficult are the abrupt ones. Sending a child off to college, retiring at the end of a fulfilling career, watching a grandbaby move away. Those kinds of changes are ones you think you are preparing yourself for but when “the day” finally arrives it still might feel like the ground beneath you is unstable. And then there are the tragic changes that occur with the death of a loved one, the termination slip from your job or an accident or illness that leaves permanent physical changes. Those changes feel more like major earthquakes than tremors.

When things happen in our lives that are not what we had hoped for or planned we have a choice to make. We can stay in the past and spend all our time mourning what we’ve lost or we can move forward into the new season that the change has created. We can’t always arrange our circumstances but we can embrace the opportunities that change brings. We can allow God to do a new work in our lives because of the changes that come our way.

Maybe it’s time to let go and move on with the Lord. He promises that you won’t be disappointed!

“Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:18-19

Navigating the Journey

We have all heard that life is a journey, not a destination. We sing the songs in church about this earth not being our home, we are only passing through. But if we are on a journey, how do we know if we are headed in the right direction?

Do we just believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept our salvation and then just start walking? Shouldn’t there be some sort of map or navigation system for such an important journey, one that lasts a lifetime?

We do have a map, it’s our Bible. We also have general instructions about what the journey will look like. We have warnings about pitfalls to avoid and we are told to stay on the narrow path, not veering to the right or the left. But do we just set our course and take the first steps and that’s it?

I believe the journey of life is a constantly shifting path. We are told when we come to faith that we need to repent of our sin and receive the Lord’s forgiveness. But if we truly repent, that means we are setting a new course. We are now navigating in a completely new direction from the one we followed before we became believers. We need a new navigating system too.

In centuries past, sailors used the sun and the stars to navigate the oceans. They would set out on a well-chosen course, but each day they would have to adjust their course as they encountered shifting winds, waves and storms. They couldn’t just “stay the course” without paying any attention to how the elements were effecting them. They constantly realigned themselves with their destination.

Now, in modern times we have technologies such as the GPS. A Global Positioning System can tell you exactly where you are on the planet. It can give you the coordinates of anywhere on earth. That might sound like a perfect system. How could you possibly get lost? You are never really lost if you can figure out exactly where you are, are you?   Well, if you’ve ever taken a trip using a GPS and have made a wrong turn you are familiar with that artificially calm voice saying “recalculating” or something similar, until you get back on course.  Even with a GPS you can still get off course.  You may know exactly where you are, but is it where you are supposed to be?

God says that we need something more reliable than our own sense of direction. Some of us know that we are sorely lacking in that area! Better to trust the one who knows exactly what our course should be. Better to allow the Lord to adjust our course, to redirect us when we get off the path. We can only benefit from this adjustment if we seek Him and listen to His voice. He will get us back on course. He wants us to finish the journey and when we do, He will be waiting with open arms. Do you need to have your course adjusted today? I know I do.

 “For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones.  Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course” – Proverbs 2:6-9

How Did You Sleep?

It’s a question Randy and I ask each other most mornings. For a number of reasons, we often have difficulty sleeping well the whole night through.  It’s a wonderful thing mornings when we both wake up able to say we slept well.

Last week we survived Hurricane Irma.  It was a challenging week leading up to her arrival and another challenging week after she did her worst and moved on. There were some nights we didn’t sleep well.  Mostly because without power it was pushing 90 degrees in the house day and night. Too hot to sleep.

The days leading up to the arrival of Irma were filled with hard work. The workers were hot and tired but kept on with the task, knowing we were running out of time to prepare. We were all grateful to fall into bed each night.

It was a sobering sight for us relatively new northern transplants to witness the preparations happening around us.  When we went out to get our final supplies we saw things we’d never seen before.  Many boarded up homes and businesses that had taken necessary measures to protect their belongings.

As the wind began to pick up we could feel the seriousness of the decision we’d made to stay. We were completely leaning on God’s mercy now.  There was nothing else we could do but wait.

The clouds rolled in and the winds blew and the rains beat against the house but we couldn’t see any of it as darkness settled in and we sat behind boarded up windows. We prayed for our safety as well as our neighbors and many others all over the state. Around midnight the power went out and the noises outside became loud and unrelenting. After about an hour of this we did the unthinkable.

We went to bed. Most of us slept through the storm. We woke to an eerie quiet. Our first glimpse of the aftermath was in the early morning just after dawn. Debris everywhere, downed trees, and then the sound of generators starting up all around us and sirens that were continuous for hours.

The days after the storm we still had much to do but the nights were not as restoring as they had been the previous week. While we were thankful to be alive and that we experienced very little damage, we were growing weary of the challenges we dealt with daily.  In a word, we really are…spoiled.  It was a struggle to figure out how to feed all of us without power. We ate a lot of cold sandwiches and even some cold Chef Boyardee. We grilled hot dogs and even made a pot of chili on the grill.  It was not what we were used to but we made it work.

We pulled together as a family and I was so proud of my boys who have become men and their wives who worked for hours to prepare this home and the supplies we needed to make it through.  We took cold showers and washed laundry in 5-gallon buckets. We spent a lot of time outside where we could at least catch a little bit of a breeze. And at night we stood on the patio and marveled at the beauty of the heavens with no electric lights to interfere.

 

When the power finally came back on Friday night, almost 5 full days after it went out, we heard a cheerful cry go up from all over the house. Loud “hallelujahs” were shouted without reserve. We had made it through. Praise be to God!

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:8 (ESV)

Is It Over Yet?

A few months ago, when things were so difficult with Randy’s illness, I remember saying to God, “Can we be done now?”  I imagine about the time you are reading this I will be saying the same thing. I’m writing on Saturday for a Monday morning post because I simply don’t know what the next 48 hours holds.

We would certainly appreciate your prayers. You may have more information about  what has transpired than I do at this point. But be assured, we are in God’s hands, no matter what the reports are.  I would love to believe that this hurricane will do as Charley did a decade ago and decide to turn at the last minute.  Only God knows.

A few things have come to mind as we have been counting the minutes toward this storm’s arrival.  So many times we let the unimportant things take precedence over the truly valuable things.  Even if we lose every material thing we own, will it matter if we have all survived? Yet we still try to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with. We have not been irresponsible. We have done our homework and learned as much as we could about what to do but it’s still not a perfect science. We still have to face the bottom line that all we have done could be for naught.

But none of that will matter in the end if we are all safe when it’s over.  I am so thankful for family. I was so proud to see my husband, sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren all working together to prepare.  We are so blessed to have this family.  They were out there sweating in the hot sun hanging heavy plywood for hours without complaining.  And on Saturday they worked outside to secure everything that could move.  We were as prepared as we could possible get. We trusted that God would take care of us.

As we watched the rain bands begin to arrive we had moments when we would just spontaneously pray. Randy and I stood in the kitchen before dawn, before anyone else was up, embracing each other and calling out to God to be our shield and our shelter in the storm.  It’s never a good thing to have to face such major threats, but it does do something to your life perspective. It makes you come to terms with what matters.  It makes you draw closer to God than perhaps you’ve been in a while. Those are good things.

Sometimes I think it’s actually easier to throw yourself at the mercy of God when things are so overwhelming than when problems are smaller. We KNOW there is nothing more we can do. We are desperate for God’s help.  He truly is our only hope.

I will update you as soon as I am able. Perhaps we will all be surprised by a miracle! If not, rest assured, our God is still bigger than Irma.

Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? – Jeremiah 32:27