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PAWPAWS AND FRUIT

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West Virginia: a joke for people who don’t live there, right? John Denver called it Mountain Momma, almost heaven, and its original second name was the “Little Switzerland of America.” And just to get even with all the people who make the jokes, West Virginia is one of the few states that boasts a rare tree of amazing size that produces a fruit that is beginning to be appreciated and available to consumers: the lowly PAWPAW. You’re sitting there saying “papaya, you mean,” and I’m saying, “No.” If I meant a papaya, I would have said so. It’s paw-paw, just as in grandpa. A multi- sized fruit that is shaped not unlike a figure 8, green speckled skin (when it’s ripe), and a yellow, seed infested, inside with the consistency of a banana. And if you want further proof that such a fruit exists, find a YouTube video that sings “Where O Where Is Dear Little Mary?…. Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!”

My daddy was a man who lived in the wrong era. He was a tool-maker by trade, a Hillbilly by birth, and an un-diagnosed Asperger victim on reflection. He had all the classic symptoms of Asperger’s, but was a creative genius and a tool-maker that defied the odds of not only making the tools, but designing the dies that made the tools. And then he’d make a bunch and give them to his fellow-workers! Yes, they got the patents. Yes, it bothered us. No, it didn’t bother Daddy. He could grind a tool down to less than 1/1000th of an inch, my uncle always told me.

What has this got to do with the Pawpaw, you ask. Well, if you’re raised in West Virginia, early on you learn to eat what is available, and one product was the pawpaw from the huge pawpaw tree. It grows to magnificent size, and has clumps of fruit that is almost impossible to describe: sort of like a banana, mango, and peach rolled into one, with huge black seeds layered through it. You take a bite, spit out the large seed, and keep eating.

When the time came that Daddy’s wanderlust kicked in and forced our family to leave West Virginia for Ohio, we’d make a yearly trip back to Roane County, where tons of pawpaw trees grew. Next it was North Carolina, and he’d still make the annual trip, only now he brought all he could load in the car, and freeze them when he got home. He’d eat them until the next year. No, they don’t freeze well. No, that didn’t bother Daddy. I think Mother was the only thing that bothered Daddy. Eventually the trip wasn’t enough to satisfy him–he wanted his own pawpaws. No one had ever successfully grown them in the heat of NC, as far as he knew, but that didn’t stop him. He kept the seeds and started trying to get little plants to love the NC soil, and tolerate the NC heat. After some time–and long before we knew of anyone else trying the same thing–he became the lone producer of pawpaws in Beaufort County, NC. (This was about fifty years ago, or about fifteen years before someone else decided to try it, and like Daddy, succeeded–and just as with the tools, the man became known as the father of producing pawpaws for farmer’s markets.)

Every year at blooming time, he would load his neighbors and friends down with all the pawpaws he could give away. Most people, not having had them from birth (like West Virginians), weren’t overly fond of them. Occasionally someone would find them delectable, and now, of course, it is becoming known that they are one of the healthiest of fruits. Yea for West Virginia!

The one thing I found surreal (and not able to be explained) is that he had a beautiful grove of pawpaw trees. When he became ill in the early part of 2000, the pawpaws would soon be blooming. He died on March 1, and that year they did not bloom. It was the first year since he had planted his grove that the trees did not bear his pawpaws. Although Mother kept the garden and orchard going, those pawpaw trees never bloomed again.

So what’s the point, you’re thinking. Well, if you read this whenever the mood moves me to write, it’s because God has caused some verse in my daily devotions to blink with brilliant neon lights. And so He did this morning. In Matthew, the 3rd chapter, John is baptizing, and Jesus comes to be baptized. (My daughter, when she was a little squirt, used to say “bathtized,” which I thought was quite appropriate). In verse 7, the Sadducees and Pharisees come to be baptized. John is very politically incorrect and quite intolerant so far as the opinions of today’s millennialists go, and berated them soundly: “You brood of vipers! Who warned YOU to flee from the wrath to come? Go, produce fruit that is in keeping with repentance!” As I read that, I realized that we so often are tiptoeing around the subject of someone’s salvation–and so we most often should be, I suppose–but there comes a time when behavior, if it is a lifestyle that is not causing conviction, shows us the condition of someone’s heart, and it’s okay to recognize that they are not bearing fruit that is in keeping with repentance. They are probably not, in fact, bearing any fruit. Especially fruit that would be what we would term “good.”

In Florida my husband and I tried many times to grow tomatoes. No matter what we did, they would start getting brown spots on the young, green tomatoes, and we would end up losing all the fruit. But the fruit of a person who claims to be a Christian, (meaning “little Christ”), is good, and bears testimony that you are in fact what you claim to be! I had not looked at it like that, although (of course) one has always known that God expects that those of us who are “grafted” into the Branch will produce fruit.

I think of my dad again. He was not someone whom I could say definitely was a Christian. I hoped he was. Mother hoped he was. But there was no fruit. Anyone–saved or unsaved–can do “civil” good (give to neighbors, give to charities, give to humanitarian organizations, etc.) but only Christians can do righteous actions that shows their heart and daily living is striving to please God with the way they conduct themselves. I never saw that in Daddy.

The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering [putting up with someone who bugs you], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You don’t even have to labor to grow these–they are a normal by-product of a healthy relationship with the Father. Can you imagine what it would be like to strain, grunt, squeeze your innards, and groan, trying to produce a fruit that wasn’t going to come?

So what kind of fruit are you producing? Do you have to make yourself work hard to show the qualities above, or are they present in your life daily? Sure, we all have bad days, but underneath all the pain, there still should be the young healthy fruit that is growing. Satan can rob us of many things: our family sometimes, our money, our time, but he should not be able to rob us of our fruit: our joy, peace, gentleness, etc.

The next time you feel like you’re not having a good fruitful day, look up the video and sing along to “Where O where is dear little Mary?” and go back to that pawpaw patch to gather your fruit. Surrender it all to the Lover of your soul, and ask Him to give you some extra Living Water!

 

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Because It’s the Right Thing To Do, That’s Why!

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What a long day! It seemed as though it had lasted for a week, and it felt so good to sit down, take off my shoes, wiggle my toes, and be at home. Some days–whether you want to live like that or not–are just totally out of control from the moment your feet hit the floor. Don’t be smug: if you haven’t gotten there yet, say a quick prayer of thanks, for your day will come. We all have to have days when we give and give and give.

Morning had started with a sick grandchild needing to be picked up at school and taken to the doctor. Glad for my elderberry syrup, which I swear by, I hoped I had built up an immunity to whatever might be stirring in the young one’s body. Later, sitting in the pediatrician’s office was a grandma’s nightmare. At least the room was divided by a “half wall” where well children were kept on one side and those with fevers, viruses, and all sorts of rampant germs who were just waiting for another host were on the other! That was the side we were on. The runny noses, the coughs, the red cheeks… sigh. It wasn’t long before we were taken back, the dreaded swab done, temperature taken, etc. There was no strep (they said. Turned out they were wrong). Back to the little one’s house for bed.

Leaving there, the phone rang again. Could I stop by and pick up the gifts for a friend’s Angel Tree child? Sure, no problem. I would deliver them to the church. And while I was heading in that direction, I needed to stop by a building at the University and drop off some paperwork. Actually, it was a week overdue. Oh well. Better late than never. Better to ask forgiveness, right?

That done, my husband called: could I pick him up at the shop where the work on our cars is always done, so they could keep it overnight? Sure. I’m in town. No problem. Do I want to eat out? No. He eats out three times a day, just to make up for all those years of working, I think.

The phone rings again; my daughter is in town (versus a few miles out), and wondered if we’d like to meet at the pizza restaurant with the grandkids. So much for not eating out. By then it was almost supper anyway, so we ate. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had just eaten anyway, mention pizza and my appetite goes into overdrive.

Afterwards I did the last few errands, and as I got back in the car, a friend texted. Her dad had been taken to the ER. He had ripped out a newly inserted port, not understanding why it had to be there. She could not get it through his mind that it was going to keep him alive. They were on the way to the small ER in her town. Over the next hour we texted back and forth as the ER was unable to re-insert the port, and he would have to be transported by ambulance to the bigger hospital in our town. The day was now late. She was tired, and the last thing she felt like doing was accompanying the ambulance an hour to the larger ER. But–it is what it is. You do what you have to do.

We continued to text, and it was going to be a long night. The ER was so packed that beds were lining the hall, theirs included. On one side a woman was throwing up every few minutes; on the other was a suicidal man who did not want to be there. Not a place you would be want to be, and the evening had just started. People who work ERs should have extra angel wings.

My mind started bugging me. By now I was home, settling in for the evening, praying for my friend, her father, the wait–and all the time my mind was asking questions of itself: wonder if she had supper? I bet she didn’t think to bring a book, a tablet, something to do while she waited. Our ER is notorious for eight to ten hour waits. Seriously. Did she have anything to do? Was she feeling like she had to stay right by her dad, even in dementia? Yes, I was sure she would. Was her husband there yet? No, he wouldn’t be leaving work until late. She was as tired as I was. I was home. She wasn’t. I was sitting in my chair. She was sitting in the hall at the ER.

Recently our pastor preached about a faith that is active; one that acts when it wants to be passive. I knew what I had to do. Was I going to get up and do it? I had to. Not because of guilt, of trying to earn points with God, but because I had a sister in Christ who needed to know someone loves her. I packed some food, got some books, and took out, texting as I drove (at red lights) so that she would not think I was doing anything except resting, since she would feel she had to talk me out of it.

She figured it would be two hours more than it had already been, and best case scenario, they would let her drive him back to the facility where he “lives.” Worst case scenario, they would wait for the ambulance transport, probably most of the night. Miracle of miracles, about the time I was half way there (it is a thirty minute drive for me), she texted and said they were letting her take him back to her town–and soon! I looked at the food, thought about the time, wondered if I should have tried to have gone, but I knew my answer: yes. This was my friend. She needed encouragement. She needed reinforcement that she wasn’t alone. That someone else who had been there with a dementia parent was on the way. It wasn’t the gift, it was the thought. I was glad I had made half the journey. I told her I had been halfway there, but would head back home. She knew she was loved.

Home again, it felt so sweet. Sweet to know I did what I felt I had to do. Not because of a sense of anything except the desire to say yes to the Lord to feed one of His sheep, to love my “neighbor” and to show her that her value was placed above my own.

In other words, I did it because I wanted to serve, to put my faith in action, and to know it’s what God wanted me to do. How much better does our Christianity get than that?

A GIFT: ARE WE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT?

As I sat down at the piano, I struggled with the notes and timing of a Fugue by Bach. My years of learning to play began with a country teacher who had a hymn book, and it was the only form of “teaching” that she knew. After a year my mom found a teacher who could teach scales and theory–not fun at all! It lasted only a few months before we moved. I was 10, and that was the total of my lessons. Still, music was my love, my passion, and my focus.

At thirteen, a little country church we attended needed a pianist, and somehow they decided I could do it well enough to accompany their singing. It never stopped from that point; every church we attended needed a pianist, and then organ was added, and later a flute, then clarinet, then any woodwind instrument. It was a fun time in my life. In early high school I liked a boy who could play extremely well. It motivated me to push myself to learn even more on my own, and yet when I entered the music store, I was embarrassed to buy what I could actually play, so I would ask for Grade 6, 7, or 8 (not as school grades, but difficulty in ability). Then I would take the piece home, and every afternoon sit down after school and learn to play the classics measure by measure.

Last night, as I watched this video from a Facebook post, I was mesmerized by the life of Derek Paravicini. If you google him on YouTube, you will find hours of videos made of his life, his ability that is beyond measure, and his disabilities. I wanted my husband to see this incredible genius (beyond genius–no computer can do what he does), and we both watched, completely absorbed in the miracle that unfolded before our eyes. When it concluded, my husband remarked, “Wouldn’t most people love to be able to play like that?” Sometimes I answer “off the top of my head,” but in this case I thought my answer through, first. (One of the few times I have thought before I answered, by the way.)

“I think most everyone would like to play like that, but I don’t think they would accept the gift with the disabilities that make that gift possible.” Derek, as you saw from the video, is blind, unable to process much connected thought, and can’t really process a trail of information; he can’t count, dress himself, fix his meals, and is completely dependent on the care given to him by others. He repeats most of what he hears in language, without understanding it. He picks random answers to questions. He is autistic, and walks with the ambling gate of a severely handicapped person. As you may have noticed, he also constantly tosses his head from side to side, probably part of the autism.

As I thought more of what I had seen, I realized the absolute analogy between Derek and my husband’s question, and my answer. If ever there has been a perfect parallel to accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and God as the Creator, it is in the life of this young man. His gift and his handicap go hand in hand–they have made each part able to function. Somehow, what he went through at birth, three months early, made him what he is today. His twin sister, by the way, died.

To put it more plainly, the gift of salvation is available to all of us: God says (John 3:16), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but has everlasting life.” We can have the gift if we’ll accept it. But with the acceptance comes other things: things that most people do not want to give up, or “handicaps” they do not want to burden themselves with. They see the glass half-empty, not half-full. They see the negatives (in their mind), and not the wonderful relationship that becomes possible.

To be a Christian, they say, you have to follow all sorts of rules! You have to give up so much! You have to do this, and do that, not do this, and not do that. Actually the rules are only two: 1) Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength, and 2) love the people around you more than you love yourself. Only two. But those are each big.

If I love God and love people, I don’t want to hurt Him or them. I don’t want to do something that will bring shame on the Savior who paid for my sin. I shared with someone Monday, my license plate reflects a large Christian University. As I drive, I’m constantly reminded that if I cut people off in traffic, ride their bumper, or drive defensively, it reflects on the university, and the fact that it is “Christian.”  So I constantly watch how I drive.

That is how we live our lives. If we love God above all things, we want to please Him. If you had a perfect parent (which God is, as He made us in our mother’s womb), would it delight you to please that parent? Of course! And it would wound you if your actions humiliated them, and brought shame to them. Reading the Bible, which is God’s book left to us directly from Him through chosen men, gives us all the knowledge we need in order to grow in faith, love and the desire to know Him better each day. In return, He adopts us as His child, and He promises never to leave us, to carry our burdens, to have a plan and purpose that is much bigger than we can ever know, and to love us unconditionally.

If we love those with whom we come in contact more than we love ourselves, we will do what is best for them at all times, putting their needs before our own. For example, we don’t sleep with someone outside of marriage, because that is not loving God (He said do not do that), and it is not doing what is best for the other person; it is bringing shame on what Christ did for us on the Cross, and can hurt the other person in many ways. We don’t become drunk because we are told not to in the Bible, but God knows that we might say or do something that could hurt someone else, in action, or provide an excuse for them (if they can drink, and they call themselves a Christian, I can drink, too. But what if they can’t handle it?) We must love people so much that our concern is for their good.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (which almost everyone knows), a man is robbed and beaten and left for dead. A “preacher” comes by, and walks on the other side; another religious teacher comes by and also hurries past; then a derelict comes by. He gets the man out of the ditch, cleans his wounds, and takes him to a hotel, where he asks them to take care of the man until he returns. He pays for the man’s room, care, and food, and says he will absorb any other cost when he returns. That is our example of treating those with whom we come in contact. If we can help them in some way, through our words or actions, we do so because we love Jesus.

So yes, we might want to play like Derek. We might want the “fire insurance” of not going to hell when we die. But we don’t want the handicaps: we don’t want the Christian restrictions. It is only those who see that the “handicaps” are what makes the gift so perfect that are willing to accept the gift. Not easy–if anyone tells you that following Christ is easy, they are deceived and don’t know the Scripture. “In this life you will have tribulation,” “If anyone desires to follow Me, he must take up his cross daily,” and many more. But it is so worth it. No one can understand the peace you have as you go through the storms, knowing that if (IF) He wills, He can tell the storm to be still; that you can trust Him in the storms because He is watching that you don’t drown. And if you drown, it’s okay. He is going to bring good out of it, for others. That’s where trust comes in.

How would you explain the world to Derek in a manner he can understand? You can’t. He could never understand the complexities that we live with and grapple with every day. How do we explain God? We can’t. “His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.” You trust Him to take care of you, just as Derek trusts his teacher to take care of him. That’s how we view God: that He will take care of us, and we don’t worry about it. Do you think Derek worries about whether Adam will be there for him or not? No. It probably has never occurred to him.

What a beautiful picture of faith. And a sad picture of why those who want nothing to do with Jesus turn away from the gift.

Video: YouTube

TRIED BY FIRE

lightning-photo-for-free-download Our noses deep in the very popular school Science book, my children and I read “No one has ever seen the end of a rainbow.” We looked at each other and then broke out in laughter. Coming home from church one Sunday, we pulled into the driveway. There, as brilliant as could be, was the end of a gorgeous rainbow! The bad news: there was no pot of gold. No pot of anything–just the rays of the colors. The amazing thing is, about three years later it happened again. This time we were living further north in Florida, and I remember kidding the family that God must be reminding Himself that He was not going to destroy us personally!

That was an extremely unique experience, but the most amazing scene of all was a late afternoon thunderstorm. You can be aware that the sky is turning dark, when all of a sudden a clap of thunder comes, or a streak of lightning and it causes you to run for cover. We ran to the small front porch, probably about 6 x 8′, under part of the roof (thank goodness), when an enormous streak of lightning lit the sky–so tremendous, in fact, that a ball of orange fire, about the size of a basketball, rolled across the lawn, in front of our eyes. We could not believe what we had seen. Prior to sitting here tonight, I googled “lightning balls” and found that not many are recorded in the manner which the one we witnessed with our own eyes had come and gone. It was a moment of God declaring His majesty.

Seeing something so grand, so marvelous, and so unique is an awesome experience. Yet ranking right along with that–to me–is the reading of a portion of Scripture and suddenly seeing it with a whole new meaning: one which broadens the scope of God’s activity in our lives, and the verse bursts with new clarity and a thunderclap.

I have no idea if I had to name my favorite Bible book, which it would be, but James would be one near the top. I can hardly wait to meet him! I love how he takes a verse, and yet one of the words in the sentence flows into the next sentence. But in the first few verses of Chapter 1, he talks about trials or testing that comes into our lives. With this in mind, he says that we should rejoice in tribulation,  knowing this, that the testing of our faith produces endurance. Later on he says that when we have been tested, and passed (approved), we will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

I’ve long realized that our faith is not tested when we’ve earned money which will pay a bill, only to spend that money on (say) clothes, then pray for God to supply the money for the bill. Or having a flat tire–why should we NOT have a flat tire? Or a child that has caught a virus at school, where “bugs” abound? Those are not tests, just ordinary living. So what exactly is a test?

If you read further, James says that God does not tempt us to do evil; that we are led away by our own lust (for new clothes, new things–the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh or the pride of life)–and Satan knows how to tempt us, by using the bait that will get us to turn away or blame God for our problem. Just as we don’t try to catch sharks with minnows, Satan doesn’t try to tempt someone who can’t stand cigarette smoke with smoking. So what is testing? Especially testing that will cause us to quit, as the sermon from Thomas Road was preached this past Sunday (www.plowingfallowground.com, for Oct. 9, 2016)? It has to be so big that we don’t just get a trial, we get a trial that causes us to cry out “GOD! ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING? ARE YOU EVEN AWARE OF WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH? DO YOU CARE??” As Kay Arthur once so eloquently put it, it’s not so much saying “God, Are You Really There?” as “God, Are You Really HERE?” Suddenly God showed me what the testing is that causes us to leave Him–what our “bait” is that Satan can use to make us give up and leave Christianity behind.

It’s whatever we care enough about to pour our souls out to Him in prayer, asking Him to fix. Something that we love above all things. We lift up the life of our child who has a terminal illness, begging Him to spare the child; we promise everything if He will just heal the child.. or the parent, or the spouse. Perhaps it’s our home, maybe a “dream” home that we have wanted for years, and finally got, and suddenly (as my husband and I know well) we see smoke rolling out some of the windows. For a wife or mom, it’s probably her children, her spouse, her parents, her home; for a man it’s probably his children, his wife, his job and his home. For young children, it’s their parents; for older people, it’s their children, grandchildren, and health. The list is different for everyone, but in the end it is what we hold so dear that we can’t bear to think of living without it. And so we pray, and that prayer doesn’t seem to go above the ceiling. We pray harder, and lose the very thing we prayed for: that life, that home, that job, that parent. And because we’re so hurt, and our faith that God really cares is tested, we decide God is not worth trusting, not worth loving, not worth praying to. We don’t see the result from God’s perspective.

And so, we give up on God, and we quit. Totally the wrong thing to do. We’re setting ourselves up as God at that point, saying we know better what the outcome should have been. He should have loved us more. Why, look at the (friend’s)! They’ve had it easy all their lives: money, prestige, ability to buy whatever they need, especially if it’s a health problem and major medicine is involved–it’s not fair! And we pull out.

That is the time when we should draw even nearer to God. When we should say, “I don’t understand, but I trust You that You are working things out so that it will be good.” You think I’m talking about something I haven’t lived? Wrong. If you ever feel that way, sit down and we’ll talk. I’ve been so far down I’ve had to look up to see the bottom. I’ve made a mockery of the love God showed when Jesus died on Calvary. I’ve spurned His grace, His love and His forgiveness. But by the grace of God, He has cleansed me and removed my sins as far as the east is from the west. But the sad part is, the persons I hurt the most walked away from God because they felt He had not loved them enough to answer their prayer.

It’s time we decide we are NOT going to give in, give up, or trade our faith for ashes. We want beauty. God is working the beauty out. Trust Him–He will not always do what you want, but He will always do what is best.

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FALLING, RISING, AND PRESSING ON!

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The school bell rang, hardly coming to a silent hum before the school exploded with children from every door. Lunch time! Some would be staying inside to eat in the cafeteria, some had brought their lunch and were allowed to eat outside, while the ones who lived near the school were allowed to walk home. The bright, warm sunshine just invited one to hurry home and see mom for a few moments.

We lived about a mile away, but I could still half-run, half-walk, long enough to make the trip quickly. Mother would have my sandwich ready, and I could enjoy a slower pace going back. The exercise felt good after sitting most of the morning.

It went just as I had envisioned: reaching home, my sandwich was ready, with milk and a cookie on the side. After a quiet time with Mother, I began the walk back to school. The first part of our “dirt” road after leaving my house was the beginning of an upward hill, then the ground became fairly level with only slight fluctuations until just before the school, where there was another slightly smaller hill. I had to do something to break the monotony, so I decided to walk the center of the road with my eyes shut. Cars came down the country road very seldom, so there were no safety issues, and this was “in the old days,” in any case!

Eyes clinched shut, I hummed a tune as I walked. Each step was sure. It never occurred to me that my “straight line” might not be so straight. Neither did it occur to me to check my path–it felt like it would be cheating if I so much as squinted. Half-way to the top of the hill, my right footstep hit air! The step was followed by my body also hitting air before landing with a thud in wet mud. I had stepped completely off the road and fallen into the fairly large ditch running along the right-hand side of the road. Unaware that I wasn’t staying in a straight line, I had been going at a diagonal as I walked; I had been sure that my steps were staying right on target along the center! The unfortunate thing was the rain we had had the night before: the ditch was not yet dried, and the mud coated my dress, shoes, and socks.

As badly as I hated to go back and face my mother, what choice did I have? Wow, I was really going to have to hurry now! Back at home, I did my best to make my blunder not seem quite so stupid; looking back, I can imagine that Mother spent quite a while that afternoon trying to get the West Virginia red clay out of my clothes. I didn’t get into (too much) trouble, but probably only because Mother knew I had to get back to school as quickly as possible.

How like modern day life that experience seems now! Even though I’ve tried to walk the Christian walk for so many years, yet I still find myself closing my eyes to God’s design, and straying off the path. In the real world, it doesn’t take much to get us off the straight and narrow, and we end up falling into a ditch. Because we cannot see Satan, we assume he isn’t bothering us, when, in fact, one or more of his demons are following us most of the time, waiting to tempt us with the best bait he can use–the one he knows we’ll respond to. What’s your weakness? Someone being nice, when you’ve had a fight at home? Someone buying the ____ (fill in the blank) that you’ve been wanting? Someone who seems to have no problems in their life, and they treat you with condescension? Whatever your button is, he knows, and will push it to get you off the straight path. And it is so very, very easy to get your halo out of the glove compartment in the car on Sunday or Wednesday, and put it on before entering church, while leaving your dirty laundry at home.

When is the last time (especially if you’re a mother or wife) you went to another room for an item, saw the washer in the side room, remembered there was a load of clothes that needed to be thrown into the dryer, then recalled the dryer had a load that needed to be taken out and folded? As you turned around with a load of folded clothes in your arms, there wasn’t much to do with them except take them to the rooms to which they should go. Entering the last room, the vacuum cleaner was sitting in the corner since you had intended to vacuum that rug; stopping to do that, and finishing, you return the machine to the linen closet, only to remember that you had started for something twenty or thirty minutes before; what was it? Now you have to retrace your steps, trying to recall what you had needed. Not that you’re off the path, but just the constant mind game of how hard it is to keep your focus on your original goal!

That’s what the Christian life is all about: keeping our eyes, as Paul says, “pressing on toward the goal, to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 NIV). We get sidetracked so easily even when we’re committed to doing the best for Christ that we can. It may be something so innocent as a busy schedule that leaves no time for devotions, or a bad driver who cuts us off in traffic; someone who criticizes our work ethic when we’re doing our best–so many things can push that button. But we need to remember that it’s very possible we are the only Bible someone else may be reading, so we need to keep our testimony as pleasing to God as possible. Proverbs 14:16 tells us that the righteous man may fall seven times, but he gets up again.

We have His promise that if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us the sin, and the cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). We tend to carry the sin on our back for awhile, (or a long while), yet God sees the white robe of Jesus Christ laid across our shoulders when He looks at us. We don’t have to let Satan use it against us, for if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).

Don’t let getting off the path, falling into a ditch, letting the stains of the world, or sin, cause you to quit. Get up, confess it, and God will cleanse you of it and make your relationship beautiful once again.

 

 

 

STUCK ON A GLUE BOARD?

CLEANINGGLUEOFFACATWHATELSE It all started when my son put “Mittens” outside. Compassion in needed areas is my strength and ill-placed compassion is my weakness. He chose to leave “George” in, so Mittens had to go, and my ill-placed compassion kicked in. One house cat is enough. (His quote). I couldn’t stand the thought that a cat that had been treated like family was now outside. “Bring her down. I’ll take her.” A minute went by, and my common sense kicked in. “Is she litter-box broke? Does she shed?” Yes and No. The right answers.

By 6 o’clock she was getting acclimated to a new house. In real terms, that means she was sniffing everything that she walked by, after rubbing her then-furry body up against everything. Yuk. I had forgotten how fastidious I’ve become. I watched her like a hawk (or like she would watch a mouse) for the slightest excuse to back up on my decision. Did I mention impulsiveness is one of my several hundred besetting sins? This was done with no forethought.

One tall plastic storage box later (so a hole could be cut in the top and she could still kick her litter, without it going over the tall sides. Balderdash. She managed to displace a cupful the first time she used it), one $20 box of non-clumpy (ha) litter, 1/2 giant bag of cat food, a scratching post (which she did not use) (even once), cat toys (which she did not play with) (even once), and a pet bed ($13) (which she did not use) (even once) later, she was still going into places I haven’t cleaned in thirteen years.

Okay, so I forgot about the glue boards, except for a dash between my brain, going at warp speed. Two full days go by, and she decided to take up residence in the bay windows, where she could look longingly at the birds flying nearby, and probably have a heart full of evil desires, and who knows what other thoughts going through her mind? All I know is, the glue boards didn’t go through mine. They are thin, placed underneath pieces of furniture in case a small crawling critter comes along. Who even gives them a thought? A mischievous cat, that’s who.

The first indication something was wrong was late on the 2nd night–or maybe the 3rd, they start to run into each other at our age–when my husband (who had been very good about the whole “we’ve now got a cat” news) heard a loud screech, howl, scream that got louder each second: “MEEEOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!” He looked in the general direction of the mayhem in time to see a glue board stand up, with no face and no arms, only a lower body standing on hind legs. She was stuck. Apparently the tantalizing sight of crickets, spiders, or whatever, was too much temptation, and who would know the nice white, shiny surface would never let her go?

Fortunately, my lifelong habit of early to bed-early to rise syndrome saved me from hearing the wails that went on over the next half hour. However, it was hard to miss the glue board the next morning, coated with fur. I wasn’t sure if I was looking at the cat or a glue board. Do you ever have a moment of guilt, knowing something you COULD have done would have saved some real trouble? That’s how I felt. I had even entertained the notion of picking up the glue boards. For about one second. When she first arrived.

Last night, as I lay in that wonderland between falling asleep and actually being asleep, I realized there had been a deep spiritual lesson there (you knew that, if you read this very often. I know, right?) I saw people–us–you, me, those we love, those we can’t stand to be around, and others, “stuck on our very own glue board.” How can that be? Well–what do you find that controls you? Something you can’t put away from you, no matter how hard you try? An addiction? A job that you hate going to every day, and you’re totally stuck on that particular glue board? Perhaps you’ve moved up the rung, so to speak, and now your salary is such that taking a new job–even one you would enjoy–would mean a big pay cut. Maybe it’s your marriage, your family, your status in life, and nothing you can do will change that.

Did you ever think about walking into a room in a house that is not lived in, and saying “Let there be furniture!” and immediately the room is filled with gorgeous pieces of your favorite decor? Impossible, right? Of course it is. Yet you know the One who stepped out into space and spoke (SPOKE, John 1) the world into being. He is not limited by your circumstances, your past choices, your lifestyle, your marriage. He is willing to say “Come to Me,” and you can run to Him, throw yourself on His mercy, and “behold, old things are passed away, all things become new!” Sounds to good to be true, doesn’t it?

The change from that glue board where Mittens was stuck was not in her ability to free herself. It was in her ability to cry out to someone whom she knew would come and “save” her. And he did. Did it hurt? Definitely! Her fur lining the glue attests to that. But she was free in the end, and had a choice to stay away from any such-looking things again, or put herself right back in the same predicament. You do, as well. Your circumstances won’t change overnight, but if you are willing to put Christ first, to hunger and thirst to be the kind of child He wants you to be, He will take care of your life, and turn it into something beautiful. There’s an old saying, “You take care of the things that matter to God, and He will take care of the things that matter to you.” Great saying.

So–call out to Him to get you off your glue board. He’ll set you free (“and you shall be free indeed”), and turn you into a new being. It won’t always be the way you expect it to be, but if you trust Him with your life, it will be better than anything you ever could have imagined. Even when it goes wrong (and it will), when He seems to turn a deaf ear (but is listening intently), when He says NO (or at least it seems that way)–just wait. The best is yet to come.

Try Him–He’s faithful!

 

God STILL sends Love Notes!

Sillhouette of a couple

The perfect wedding. They were so in love, and it was evident each time they looked into the face of the other. They had taken time to get to know each other, become fast friends, enjoy the same simple pleasures. Life was good. Both were concerned that their marriage be built on the foundation of faith in God, and that He be, not just a figuredhead, but the true Head of their union.

Over the next couple of years they added the traditional pets: two dogs, two cats. No babies yet! Gradually work seemed to be taking more and more of his time, and the paychecks began to be larger–although they really didn’t need the extra money. She, too, worked outside the home, and evenings became their only bonding time. By then she was tired. And he was getting ready to pull an all-night shift.

He was so engrossed in doing a great job at work that he didn’t notice the time passing, and the distance between them becoming wider. Their love was still deep, but her loneliness was growing. I’ve been there myself: you know your spouse is providing for you, but they just don’t “get it” that a relationship has to be continually having investments, in order to grow. Actually, it is the very same way a savings account gets larger, in order to be ready if a tough time comes! If you don’t add to the balance, soon it becomes stagnant, and then, when there’s no activity, fees set in and the balance begins to erode, slowly, month by month. You ask over and over, “can we do something together?” and then the asking slows down… and becomes quiet, rather than cause contention.

And so it has become. This beautiful couple had a love account that was starting to get depleted–not on his side, for he was working almost double normal hours each week in order that she could have everything she wanted. But what she wanted was his presence. He didn’t get that. Eventually, on an innocent shopping trip, an old friend happened to cross her path. They talked over coffee to catch up on “old times.” He showed an interest in her life, in her loneliness, and was compassionate. (Hint: don’t ever discuss your marriage with a former flame. Never. He–being a guy–wanted to “fix it.” It’s a guy thing. It’s what they do.) He, because he wasn’t solid in a relationship with Christ, did not care she was married, just that she was lonely. She, on her side, was so isolated from friends and fun, that she was vulnerable to someone seeming to care. One thing led to another, and another.

After a few short months, it became obvious that her affections were being turned from her husband toward someone else. He, on his part, was clueless. Life had become a routine of work, sleep, a couple of hours with his wife, and work, sleep. The one day he took off had become a day to fight over his schedule, so he avoided that by sleeping extra.

It came as a huge shock when she let him know she was involved with someone else. It was, perhaps not a wake-up moment, but at least the alarm was going off. Could they seek counseling? She agreed. After all, she thought she still loved him, but she wanted her husband back, and was willing to see if they could change. It didn’t work out well. Counseling brought out feelings and resentments that put him on the defensive. What was he doing wrong? Working so she could have so much!! Where was the fault in that? He didn’t consider that women are extremely different from men. For women, it’s usually about the relationship: the harmony, the listening with true attention, the conversations below the surface, the quality time (and watching a movie together is NOT quality time–either can do that alone!), the affirmation that she is attractive and smart. She gets her strokes, usually, from him. For men, it’s about providing. And sex. Not necessarily in that order. Theirs is a life revolving around their profession first, and family second. Or further down (that’s a generalization, not always true, I understand that, so don’t email me.) He generally gets plenty of recognition from the boss, co-workers and clients.

He was torn totally out of his world, which was her! Depression, rejection, his love, his “investment” into a profession to give her everything, all of it was now like a boulder on his shoulders. They tried to work together but the fight was becoming too much. Finally, in desperation, after a few months he decided if she wanted a divorce, he would give it to her. At the next counseling session, he would tell her. He would let the other guy have what he himself prized most in life.

They met in the counselor’s office, and sat down. He had brought a list of what he was going to say, so that he didn’t forget anything important. He was ready.

The strange thing was, the night before, while he was tossing and turning, he felt God saying to his heart, “I DARE you to love her! I DARE you to love her!!” He had no idea what it meant. It did not make any sense.

Me: At the same time, I went to bed, hundreds of miles away. Usually a very-early-to-bed person, this particular night I stayed up hours beyond normal. I was agitated, and this couple was heavy on my mind. When I finally went to bed, I felt God saying “Court her! Court her!” It rang a bell, but at midnight my brain is on flat-line. I just knew the couple was heavy on my heart. I figured perhaps God was telling me to tell him that he should try to woo her the way he had done when they first met, and fell in love. Okay, I could do that. Still, something “niggled” at the back of my mind. I didn’t have many hours before I had to get up. Finally I fell asleep. My first thought on waking was “OH! That was from FIREPROOF, the movie!” Okay, I could tell him that, as well.

During church that Sunday morning I was having a tough “pity party.” I felt as though I was doing nothing for God; yes, I write, and yes, sometimes get “likes,” but was I reaching anyone to tell them God loves them? Would anyone be in heaven because I have lived? Worse, would anyone be in hell because I have lived? I could think of a couple, and prayed God would save them, but the depression had me down. I felt so useless!

The afternoon came, and I remembered the message I needed to give him. Searching for a name on Facebook, I found it, and sent a private IM. All I could do was tell what had happened the night before, add where I remembered hearing it, and beg forgiveness for interfering. I pressed enter, and it was gone. Then I noticed there had been no activity on the account for ages, and figured, “Oh, no! He won’t see this perhaps until it’s too late!” I figured perhaps there was someone I could call to get his cell number, and then I could send a text to say, Look at your FB message.

The Husband: I had my cell in my pocket when it made a funny, several note, beeping. I had never heard that before! What on earth was happening to my phone? I hit the screen light up, and saw there was a message from Facebook! Wow! I had NEVER had that happen before! The whole message that had been sent to my Facebook account–which I hadn’t been on in weeks–appeared, and I read it, astounded!

Me: Before I could even think of who to call for a phone number, probably within 15 seconds, a message popped up on Facebook: CALL ME! and the number. I did.

The Husband: As I read the message and called, I had the incredible bathing of the Holy Spirit washing over me, literally, as Romans says, “being poured out within my heart,” as I realized anew how much God loved me! Here was the confirmation of what HE wanted me to do, and here is what had taken place the week I had just lived through:

The morning of the counseling session, I had gotten to the counselor’s office, ready to offer my wife her divorce. Upon being seated, we began. When a question was asked me, I tried to answer, but my tongue seemed like concrete, and I could not think clearly. It got so bad that, at one point, both the counselor and my wife asked, “Are you okay?” I was worse than a mute–I literally could do hardly anything except grunt and LISTEN. During that session God really opened my ears, AND my understanding, and I learned more about my wife’s feelings for the previous months than I had had any clue about. I saw things from her perspective, not mine. Toward the end, when I should have said what I had come to say, I still couldn’t. And then the counselor ended the session: “I do not want either of you to TALK to each other for the next 30 days!” My wife hesitated, then said, “I don’t think that’s long enough; could we make it 40?” Yes, it was changed to 40 days!

What was I going to do for forty days?? How was I going to make it? I decided to go to a Christian bookstore and look for a devotional to get me through the weeks. As I looked at the shelves, my eyes went to the top row. There, staring back at me, was a book “THE LOVE DARE!” Remember, this was the next day after I had felt God tell me, “I DARE you to love her!” I picked the book off the shelf and thumbed through it. Only if you’ve been there can you imagine the astonishment I felt when I saw this was a workbook for a FORTY DAY assignment on loving your wife and winning her back! God was DARING me to love her! He was providing a book to work through for the 40 DAYS we were not to communicate! I walked out after buying the book, and started reading as soon as I got home.

As soon as I began, I saw the book was based on a movie I had never heard of: Fireproof! I had no idea what it was about, who made it, or what the theme was–I just knew I had to get it! I went out and rented the movie, and sat down and watched it. And wept, and wept. God’s love for me washed over me, and I could feel a tiny twinge of hope begin being fanned into life deep in my spirit. And so I began my forty day journey.

Day seven was finished, and I was working on day 8 when the message came through my phone. As I read it, I could now connect all the dots! Was I losing my mind, or had God really spoken to someone else, saying “Court her,” mentioning Fireproof, and confirming that what I was doing was His perfect will for me? The joy, the peace that passes all understanding, the incredible feeling–no, KNOWING–that God loves me personally was so overwhelming that the subsequent telephone call was a time of worship, praise and rejoicing that somehow, in His time, God would heal my heart, and hopefully heal my marriage.

(Me, now:) No, I haven’t heard yet what the outcome is, and am still praying that God does a miracle with this beautiful couple–as well as the others who are going through similar troubles. But don’t ever think that you are too insignificant that your Heavenly Father has no time to think of you. He is on your side, and if you are committing your life to Him, He will fight your battles. He is working to restore, to give you more than you could ask or think. And in doing so, He may even use someone else who is sinking in their own mud puddle, thinking they are useless to Him! His love notes to us, His messages of life and hope are never ending. Seek for Him, and you will find Him! Knock at the door, and He will open it, and come in! Don’t ever give up on God because someone has hurt you, or life hasn’t gone your way. Perhaps the consequences can’t be fixed, but the peace that will come in the new relationship with Him will last forever. If you’ve made choices that are not able to be fixed, let Him meet you right where you are. You say you have NOTHING to offer Him?

Remember, He made the world out of NOTHING.

An additional post script: I held back on publishing this, hoping to hear that things were turning around. A visit recently coincided with a Sunday, and this faithful husband came to the church. As I listened, across the room, I had chills as, over and over, the pastor exhorted those who were locked in a battle to not give up! It was the theme of the message, and another confirmation that God was still fighting for the marriage. The strength, the pastor said, was not going to be from the husband, but from God. The victory would be from God, and all would know that it was He who had brought it about. I pray He does.

Father, the battle is still raging for this precious couple, as well as thousands of couples within the reach of this blog. Please restore to them the joy of their marriage, the joy of their salvation, and find, in You, fullness of joy. In the priceless, matchless Name of Jesus Christ, the redeemer and kinsman of our souls, Amen!

 

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