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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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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!

 

RUNNING WITH THE HORSES…

dreamstimefree_65987Barney. If you’re not around horses, the word probably does not mean much. Maybe you think it means an idiot. Wrong (at least here). BUT… if you’re on a horse farm, if you ride the huge animals, or interact with them, it has (or did have, at one time!) a whole different meaning: it means a horse that senses his rider is a novice, is fearful, and decides, on the spur of the moment, he’s had enough of this greenhorn and is going back to the barn–with or without the rider. That was me.

Riding for the first time, this “sweet-spirited, gentle” (quote, my sister) horse would be just the one that I could ride without falling off the saddle from shaking with fear. We got in a line, about six riders, ambling down a path through woods near the farm. The rural countryside in Wake County, NC, was (at that time) beautiful, sparsely populated, and serene.

The horse probably knew the instant I was helped onto his back (believe me, I did not mount correctly) that he had a total newbie on him. It is said that an animal can smell fear. I’m certain his large nostrils were filled with it, and if he could have, he would have asked for a breathing mask.

Halfway through the ride he decided he had had enough walking, decided running might be more fun, and if he were going to run, he might as well head back to the barn. His speed rivaled any horse in the Preakness, Kentucky Derby or on any race track. At least it felt that way to me. I had enough awareness of my situation to know that if I let one of the hairs of his mane slip through my fingers, I would fall, probably to my death. It’s a wonder his mane did not come out. I have no memory of the halter, or anything leather in my hands. Just hair.

I’m sure the screaming in his ears didn’t help any, but after miles and weeks of running at the speed of light, he rounded the corner into the barn. I laid on his back and bawled until several hours later when my sister, family and friends arrived back at the farm. Okay, maybe it wasn’t weeks and hours. Life should not be measured in hours, days and weeks, but in experience. This was one of the “thousand year” times.

All that to say, this morning when I staggered into the kitchen for my first two cups of coffee, which are in one mug (when news came out several years ago that more than two cups of coffee weren’t good for you, I increased my cup to one that holds 20 ounces. So I still drink two “cups,” it just happens to be 40 ounces), I saw an unusual sight: two box fans, on the floor, blowing on high speed, the mop standing there, a shiny, clean floor, and the frig (by the standards of a housewife) not straight. About that time my husband came up from the lower level–a shock, since he sleeps a full two hours longer than I do. The ice maker had poured water out of the ice section (not the gadget side for water), somehow missing the connection of flowing in to refill the ice tray. For who knows how long? Long enough to flood the kitchen. Great. At least he had risen to get a drink of water and found the situation before it leaked through the floor to the lower level. The maintenance agreement ran out in March. Is that predetermined or not? By the time I got around to chugging down my coffee, if I remember correctly two hours (or ages) ago, we were having a “negative fellowship,” since I wasn’t moving the frig correctly, wiping the floor right, and all those other things that might be said when two people are under duress, and one doesn’t even want to be spoken to until coffee has gone from mouth to stomach, stomach to brain.

As I calmed down, I could not help but reflect that nearly every day brings a crisis of one type or another. Some days it might be a small one, other days it’s a big one. I start my day with quiet, coffee and my Bible. Today didn’t start like that. I was frustrated, irritated that the frig wasn’t doing its job, and antagonistic because I was having to “hit the ground running,” rather than having a peaceful quiet time. The Scripture hit me between the eyes, “If you can’t run with the horsemen, how are you going to make it when you have to run with the horses?” (That’s a very loose paraphrase of Jeremiah 12:5).  In other words, if I can’t wake up to a flooded kitchen, how am I going to react when I wake up and something has happened to one of my children or grandchildren? Or news of a terminal illness comes our way? I was not running well with the “horsemen” this morning, so how am I to keep up when I have to run with horses?

Sunday’s sermon came to mind. (You knew it would come to this, right??) Matt Willmington, at Thomas Road, preached on what a Christian really is. That means in the midst of trials, persecutions, hardships, etc., we don’t forget Who we’re following.  We act like a Christian, talk like a Christian (no profanity, sorry folks, but that’s what the Bible says), no saying “Oh, my god” and taking His name in vain (sorry, folks, but that’s what the commandments say), but we realize this trial is momentary, a “light affliction,” and developing patience in us (James, chapter one. Read it, he’s terrific).

Matt laid out some facts that were humbling: if you made more than $5o,000 last year, you’re in the 1% bracket for the world’s wealthiest people. So all those “rich” folks you’ve been frustrated with now includes you; if you made $25,000, you’re in the top 2% wealthiest people in the world. At just $12,500, you’re in the top 13%. That’s $6 per hour, if that helps. Does that put things in perspective for you? It did for me. I was complaining and whining about my frig (“do all things without grumbling and complaining.” Sorry, folks, it’s in the Bible), when really, I have a refrigerator and most of the world does not. I want days without crises (plural), but it’s not going to happen. I need to exercise my spiritual life so that I can keep up with the horses, even when they’re barney.

I need to take the crises of life, turn them into reasons to be grateful, and thank my heavenly Father for His daily care, His daily love, (He gives me daily bread–and since HE is the Bread of Life, He feeds me with Himself daily), and remember to be grateful that I have a frig. Car. Gasoline in it. Breath. Fresh air. Good health. “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”

Thank you, Father, for life!

Sunday sermon from Thomas Road Baptist Church: http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive

© Raoul Nijst | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

Serving Two Masters….

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Attitude is everything.

The child climbed into the car’s back door, but refused to get in his car seat. Usually this wasn’t a problem, but this particular day he decided he wanted to stand right behind Dad, holding on to the head rest. “Sit down!” Dad raised his voice at this second warning. The look of rebellion on the child’s face told the father that it was not going to happen today. Is there anything that exerts more will power than a 3-year-old who doesn’t want to do something? His chin jutted out, and he stayed standing.

Dad put the car into park, got out, took hold of his son, and with necessary movements put him in the car seat, snapped the buckles and got back into the driver’s seat. As he pulled out of the parking space his son yelled, “I may be sittin’ down on the outside, but I’m still standin’ up on the inside!!”

It seems to meet that I’ve been standing up on the inside a lot lately. Christmas has come and gone (but will be here again soon, for sure), and I morph into Scrooge during that time. I fight the materialism with everything I am, but it does no good against all those sweet faces turned toward me. My attitude needs a major overhaul after the holidays. I probably wrote the same thing last year.

But in the midst of all the bad attitudes, the chaos, the trials (already!), the crises (already, note the plural!), and the hurt feelings, God spoke to my heart. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the Creator Who “spoke” the world into being (John 1). As I turned to my Bible this morning, I began reading and verses I’ve read hundreds of times “lit up.” That’s God, speaking.

These were the verses that were prepared for me to be reading , the next set of verses on a morning “ritual”—not one of those “put your finger in a passage and read it” type thing. But as I read the verses “You cannot serve two masters; for either you will … love the one and hate the other…You cannot serve God and [the world]. Matt. 6:24).” Years of teaching came across my mind, God and the world… God and money… and then suddenly God shone His light directly upon those verses into my heart, and I knew He was telling me these verses can go much deeper than what I have heard all my life, and how much I needed to hear Him alone.

You see, it’s been a struggling week, one of those Stress Level Ten weeks, one where I felt caught in a conflict between an adult child and my husband. Nothing–nothing!–comes between a momma and her child (or should) no matter how old they get. A momma bear and her cub is a great analogy. Another–which I experienced a lot of years ago–is a cow and her newborn calf. I have been torn, taking up the offense of my child, and mad (as only a wife can be) that my husband would have allowed this situation. But then, God spoke to my heart.

He turned the light bulb in my mind onto the passage, and I saw, a Mother cannot serve her adult child and her husband if there is conflict. It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. The truth is, the situation is out of my control and I can’t make them both happy. I can’t change anything, can’t go back and re-do the offense, can’t “fix it.” But if I keep on with my warring attitude, I will end up “hating” one and “serving” the other. But that isn’t God’s best. He made us one in marriage, and to split that unity and go against my husband is wrong, and becomes sin, and He made my child “leave the parent” when they became one with their spouse. Yuk. Yikes. Double yikes.

I also saw that “two masters” could easily be me–with all my desires to control the situation, to control what had happened, to make everything okay again (because I hate confrontation, and disunity)–and my husband, who had done what he thought to be best in a situation where, he felt, there would be no winning. He knew ahead of time it was going to cause friction, and he wisely chose to do what was best for me, rather than for our child. I needed to CHOOSE to love him. Lesson Two.

Two masters, He spoke to my heart, is always a potential in a marriage: if you and your spouse are not dedicated to seeing that you are in agreement with discipline (one of the areas where the most combat is initiated), you are causing your child/children to choose which of you to “love/serve” and which to hate. Lesson Three.

This dredged up a long-ago illustration when we four–dad, mom, son, daughter–got in the car to leave church. Our son turned to me, asking if we could stop by the local ice cream shop and get cones. I said “No.” He got a tragic look on his face and said, “Mom! I didn’t mean to ask you, I meant to ask Dad!” We went. They had learned which questions to ask which parent. To food, I usually said no; Dad said yes. After this we also made (and stuck to) rule #783: if they asked one of us, the answer was set in stone (unless extenuating circumstances dictated otherwise), and they could not ask the other parent. Good rule, even for today.

Be sure you are not serving two masters: yourself and your spouse. Or, your child and your spouse. Or… anyone but God.  Even then, you have to be vigilant that you do not present a second master to yourself. God only is the First and Last in our lives, and He only holds the keys to family unity, love and working out stressful problems when we look to Him to watch our backs. He alone is holy, praise His Name.

Has the situation gone away? No, but my attitude is adjusting, and I see both sides. I also have confessed, and am sorry for the “tantrum” I threw when I first found out. God is in control, I have no doubt at all about that, and my repentant heart can now be worked on. It will be okay. This hasn’t come to stay, but has “come–to pass.” I’ll be grateful when it’s passed!

 © Andrew Taylor | Dreamstime Stock Photos

WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING?

THECRYINGBOYBYDRAGO

The child could not have been more than seven or eight: an adorable looking boy, happy and having fun at the football game. He was obviously among family who loved him. I saw him take a big drink of a soda, and something made him laugh. It happens to all of us–young and old! We laugh, and the soda (or crackers, or food) explodes from our mouth with an intensity we can’t control! Which of us can say we’ve never done that? His family instantly laughed hysterically, and, observing the fiasco, I had to smile.

In the flash of a second, however, the man sitting in the next row in front of him–and a little bit lower, as football seats go–got some drink on the back of his head, and down his neck. With the speed of a striking snake he turned, jumped up, grabbed the drink out of the little boy’s hand, and stalked out of the seats, looking for all the world like he wanted to take revenge. It was so very humiliating for the family to be caught in such a situation in public, and so distressing for on-lookers to witness such a spectacle of rage. I wanted to grab the little guy, who instantly rolled himself into a ball and tried to hold big drops of tears back, and hug him until his little spirit was calmed.  It couldn’t have been more than a teaspoon or tablesp00n of soda, but you would have thought the man got soaked. And the man had not even waited to see if it had been an accident.

Scripture poured into my mind as I watched: “Who can bear a broken spirit?” (Prov. 18:14), “A [seasoned Christian] is [should be] above reproach, self-controlled” (1 Tim. 3:2), and “The anger of man does NOT achieve the righteousness of God,” (James 1:20). From the interaction when the man returned after throwing out the drink, I realized he was the boy’s grandfather. My heart was literally breaking, for many reasons: the man had not asked what happened, and whether it was an accident, he didn’t give the little boy time to re-act, and he was providing an example of what a hair-trigger temper is all about, and what it means to display it. Worse, the child was the victim of an adult who should have–by the grandfather’s age–learned self-control. Somehow I got the impression that the child saw anger like this more times than he should have.

The man’s wife tried to talk to him; I could tell she was indicating that his attitude had hurt the child terribly, and that he needed to heal that “wounded” spirit. Okay, so I sound like any problem with a child is the child’s fault, and amends should be made immediately. Not so. But let’s face it, we all laugh at “slap-stick” humor–witness I Love Lucy! Had the grandfather laughed and wiped his neck, it would have created a tighter bond and a happy ending.

I watched the older man turn around and could not believe the words out of his mouth, which I could overhear: “YOU didn’t even say ‘I’m SORRY!'” Good grief, who had had time? The trigger was pulled before the child had his mouth closed! I felt sorry for the man’s wife. But even more, I was appalled at the “Blame Game” the man used. What?! He was blaming the child for HIS own lack of being a godly role model? Again, sometimes it’s a curse (but always a blessing) to know Scripture: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt 6:14), or “How many times do I forgive my brother…” (Matt. 18:21) and more. Did I see anything Jesus said about them having to immediately–with the next breath–say “I’m sorry!”? No. You forgive immediately because it’s the right thing to do. And this wasn’t even a sin! Imagine that? Wonder how the man treats his enemies.

I reflected the next few hours on the scene I had witnessed. The child was having fun. He did something accidentally that, yes, should have had a “Grandpa, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that!” but there had been no time. But he learned that it’s okay for a person who says he loves Jesus to instantly have a rage attack against a child; he learned it’s okay to do it in public; that it’s okay to blame the other person–because, after all, for goodness sake, they caused your rage. So the Bible must be wrong–anger is okay, because it was his grandpa; anger is okay but what if I make God mad? What will He do?

What a lesson in love. Is it any wonder the world calls us hypocrites? We talk the talk, but the instant our body or feelings get tramped on, we walk a walk Satan is proud of. I pray for this little boy, that he comes to realize anger is a choice that people make when they have no self-control, when they set themselves up with pride as if they themselves never make mistakes, so it’s okay to throw a stone. Especially at a little child. “Whoever offends one of these is [in danger of hell-fire]” (Matt. 18:6). I pray this little boy does not think God is like his grandfather, and think that God re-acts in anger when he has not meant to offend.

There’s not enough fun in life on the good days, let alone on the bad days. A child laughing in fun is a beautiful thing–and a merry heart does good like medicine (Prov. 17:22). Maybe that’s why so many of our children are on medicines in this age, you think?

 

 

The painting is by Drago Ivanisevic, copyrighted, and not able to be re-copied or painted. If you have questions, please contact me.