Friday, May 30, 2014

Don't Let the Words of Others Have Power Over You

How do you react when someone says hurtful things to you? Do you become offended? Angry? Defensive? Do you yell and scream, or passively take it and wait until you're alone and then cry? 

I've done all those things. 

The other day someone close to me said some very hurtful things to me. The words cut deep, and were mocking and devaluing. I responded in a kind tone, but felt as if I was defending myself and justifying my position. I hung up the phone and went on a verbal rampage. I was offended and angry as well as hurt. Then I cried. Then all these other things from the past were dredged up. 

And then I put on "The Last Comic Standing" so that I could laugh (bet you didn't see that one coming, huh?). And I heard a still, small voice in my head that was neither mocking, hurtful or devaluing say, "You are a new creation in Christ. Your Father in Heaven cares deeply for you."

Because I was reminded that am a new creation in Christ, I chose to put off that old way of thinking and chose not to be offended, not to be angry. More important, I chose not to let that person's words have power over me. Feeling devalued suggests unworthiness and shame. I'm beyond all that. I've already conquered that through Christ.

It was hard. I still want to replay it in my head. But I had to let it go. I had to move on. I had to (ugh) forgive. 

You see, I really don't think this person knew that his words caused me to feel devalued. That doesn't make it right; it doesn't excuse the words, but it takes the sting out of them. Sometimes we need to realize that people don't necessarily mean harm in the things they say to us that may cause pain. 

When we allow caustic words to fester, we give power to that person and to the enemy of our souls, satan. Once that power is given, so is permission. Satan causes those wounds to fester, blister and stink. We become hardened to the world and eventually to God. That still, small voice becomes more difficult to hear. All we hear are the angry words of satan...words of bitterness, pride and arrogance...words that keep our defenses up so that person can't hurt us. But guess what? By doing that, the person still has power over us.

When we allow the forgiving and loving words of Jesus to seep into the deepest part of us, when we submit to the power of God, we give the Holy Spirit permission to work on us. When we allow our hearts to be softened toward that person...even though it goes against everything that is within us...we keep our peace. We aren't easily offended. We walk in love. We hear the still, small voice of God leading us toward instead of away from the person. It makes no sense and it looks all wrong to the world. But guess what? By doing that, the person no longer has power over us. 

There is a fine line between being a welcome mat and being a doormat. There are some people in our lives that are unhealthy and from whom we need to distance ourselves. To spend a lot of time with a person who constantly devalues us is just not a good idea. It can be exhausting. But when we put on the cloak of grace and the shoes of peace, nothing can separate us from our God, and no weapon against us will prosper (Is 54:17).

The God of Israel gives power and strength to His people (Ps 68:35). Don't let the power of someone's words influence you to anger, pride and pain. Look to the God of Israel for your strength and He will give you the power to resist the enemy and his ways. 

Who will you allow to have power over you today?
              Choose this day who you will serve...(Jos 24:15)

Remember, you are a new creation in Christ and your Father in Heaven cares deeply for you.

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day
You Are Beautiful (Christina Aguilera)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Releasing the "Talk" Button to Hear God

One of the things that really gets on my nerves is when people interrupt me while I'm talking. One person told me that if he didn't say what came into his head when it came in, then it was liable to go right back out. I suppose that's why a lot of people interrupt. I truly believe that some people don't even realize what they're doing, or if they do, they don't realize that it's rude. We're living in such a fast-paced society (and some of us are in New Jersey--that's fast-paced X 100) and we all seem to need to talk at once. I find myself doing it more often then I'd like. I try to catch myself and apologize and let the person finish.

I use a two-way radio at work, and it's impossible to understand the conversation if you try to talk over the other person. The way a two-way radio is designed is that when one person talks, the other person must listen. If we both push the talk button at the same time, we will only hear ourselves. I can't hear the other person unless I release the talk button. There is literally no way to interrupt the other person.

The funny thing that I find myself doing is saying something like, "Oh yeah...", or, "okay," while the other person is explaining something to me. He can't hear me! 

How often do we do that with God? We think we are "conversing" or "communing" with God, but mostly, we are holding down that "Talk" button and not listening to what He has to say. When we are confused, maybe it's because we've been trying to talk over God...holding down that "Talk" button at the same time He's holding down His "Talk" button. We only hear ourselves.

Or maybe we sit for 30 seconds and don't hear anything, so we try again. "Mary to God. Come in God. Do you copy?" 

Worse, maybe He's talking to us, and we're not really listening to Him, so we interrupt to add something. Interrupting a person is rude. Interrupting God is disrespectful. When we interrupt a person, we're really saying, "What I have to say is more important than what you are currently saying." Imagine if God was standing in front of you and He was talking to you. Would you still interrupt Him? Hmmm...
All through scripture, it seems like when Jesus spoke people listened. We're not told if anyone interrupted Him, but my guess is that they were so captivated by what He had to say, they didn't dare interrupt the flow. 

I personally want to learn to listen more and talk less. I want to hear the voice of God and not ask questions. I want to obey and not make excuses. When I hear that beep on my two-way radio that signals that He wants to speak, may I listen and not interrupt. May I not be holding down my "Talk" button and miss what He has to say. And when He's done, may I say, "Copy that!"

Blessings Along the Path,

Video clip-from Airplane (see how confusing it can get?)
What's our Vector, Victor?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gimme Shelter/Satisfaction-Part 2

See yesterday's blog for Part 1: Gimme Shelter

We may not always be satisfied with what God provides for us. It may not be as shiny and pretty and showy. At times, we all can act like a two-year old, pouting, throwing a tantrum, crying, stubbornly sitting down in the middle of the floor. "But I don't want that (what YOU provided for me). I want THAT! But God never gets embarrassed by our behavior, He never gets frustrated with us, and He never threatens us with empty threats (i.e. "If you don't stop, 'the man' is going to come yell at you.'").

What God provides He also blesses. It may not be what we want. It may be a simple structure. It may be "just enough." But when the storms come, and the rain pelts down, we are satisfied because we have shelter...Jesus Christ. He is our shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat (Is 25:4). 

Remember Jonah? We all know the part about the "big fish" but when Jonah finally listened to God, went to Ninevah and preached repentance, he didn't like the fact that the Ninevites actually listened and repented! He didn't think they deserved God's redemption! He sulked on the hill and made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city (Jonah 4:5). Seems quite smug to me, what with his man-made shelter and all, sitting back to watch the destruction, as if he were watching the Fourth of July fireworks!
Then God provided a leafy plant that grew over Jonah's head, which provided shade and relief for him, and Jonah was very happy (v7). But alas, the next morning, he woke up to discover that some sneaky worm ate the plant! Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed! If that wasn't enough, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He went from happy to being so angry I want to die (v9). AND ALL OF IT WAS GOD'S PROVISION. Jonah never took care of the plant; he sure was happy about the provision when it served him, but as soon as God's provision made him uncomfortable, he got angry, as if he was entitled by his title. But happy or angry, I don't think he was ever quite satisfied.

When we learn to be satisfied with what God provides, we will not want for anything. We will stop asking for more. When we get our eyes off the provision, and focus on the Provider, we will be satisfied. God is always enough. Oh, Lord, help me to be satisfied with what You provide.

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day
Only You Can Satisfy (Casting Crowns)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gimme Shelter/Satisfaction-Part 1

No, this isn't a tribute blog to the Rolling Stones. Unless you count the ones on the hills in the woods. 

Gimme Shelter
Shelter. We all need it. Sometimes we even need it out in the woods. I've never had the need, but it could happen. And if it did, I'm not really sure what I'd do. I don't have a plan...

While hiking in our favorite place, Jockey Hollow National Park, Brian and I came across these two shelters, almost across the path from each other. The first one we encountered was the one on the left. It definitely looks man-made, and actually looks like it took quite awhile to build. Whoever built it had to have taken the time to find just the right sized branches. Of course, it is the woods, but still...

We encountered the next shelter only moments later on the other side of the trail. That's the one on the right. It looks quite natural, as if just fell that way. It's probably not much of a shelter, and there could be critters inside that tree trunk, but in a pinch, I guess it would work.

These two pictures actually make me wonder and ponder the shelter we humans both desire and need on earth. I wondered if someone saw the rudimentary make-shift shelter and decided to build the other one. Did the natural one inspire someone's creativity? Or did it perhaps cause the person to think, "I can build bigger and better than that. I'll just show everyone what I can do!"

The natural one is right there. It's a provision for someone in need; even if it's just critters. Just like God provides. He provides for our needs. He's never failed me. And sometimes, by His grace, He provides for our wants. But not always. Sometimes we just want. We just want to build bigger and better than what God has provided for us, thinking He will bless it. And when we get into debt because of what we thought we had to have (that God didn't bless) we wonder why.

We're often just not satisfied with what God has provided for us. Or maybe we recognized the provision at first, but pride, arrogance, greed and selfish ambition crept in and blinded us to the simplicity of God's provision. We want more, we want bigger, we want updated. We find ourselves saying, "I can build bigger and better than that. I'll just show everyone what I can do!"

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain (Ps 127:1) 

Tune in tomorrow as our saga continues with Satisfaction

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day
No, I will not be providing a link to Gimme Shelter or Satisfaction. They are not appropriate for this holy blog
Hiding Place (Starfield)

Monday, May 26, 2014

It Was For Freedom

Today is the unofficial start of summer. Americans celebrate with picnics, parades and parties. 

Moreover, today is the day that we remember the many brave men and women went before us to fight for our freedom, the freedom that we so often take for granted. The freedom that this country was founded on.

It's not really a happy occasion, especially for those who've lost loved ones in the battle. But we say "Happy Memorial Day," because it's a celebration.

I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize those who served or who are currently serving in our nation's military. I am forever grateful to those soldiers who fought for my freedom, and for their bravery, to the point of losing limbs or even losing their lives. Thank you.

There is one particular soldier who fought bravely for my freedom. He went to the battleground, suffered a bloody and brutal death, and gave his life for me. His name is Jesus Christ. He went to his death fighting for my freedom---freedom from the bondage of sin and death. Freedom from fear, guilt, condemnation, doubt, shame and so much more! And He did it for me. And for you. And if I was the only one on the earth, He would have done it for just me.

So today, when I remember the brave men and women who went to battle for my freedom, I will also remember my Warrior Friend, my Savior, the bravest soldier I Hero. Jesus Christ. Thank you doesn't even come close to expressing my gratitude.

Happy (??) Memorial Day!

Blessings Along the Path

Song of the Day
Forever (Kari Jobe & Brian Johnson)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Trending Authenticity

When my daughter, Amy was about 10 years old, she asked me where trends come from. I thought that was a very good question. It is kind of strange how trends just start somewhere and take off.

I told her that they start in California. Everything starts in California. I didn't really know why when I told her that; it just seemed like they do.

Recently, she reminded me of that conversation. She's now 26. For some reason, that left a lasting impression on her. We discussed it and reasoned that things start in California because of the influence that Hollywood has on the rest of the world. Why is that? Maybe it's because the people are famous and get a lot of press? Maybe it's because we're enamored with famous people and want to emulate them? Whatever the reason, it does seem to be the sad truth. Come on, if you or I tried to start a trend, like wearing plaids and stripes together, we would get strange looks and not much else. But the woman who names her child Apple can do it and start a trend (I don't know if she did in fact do's merely an example...but she did in fact name her child Apple...not a trend that took off. I don't know too many Apples).

Have you ever noticed that the church follows trends? I guess they are "church" trends, but they seem awfully close to the world's trends. We model our church administration, our music, and even the church atmosphere after the ways of the world. Since this is my blog, I can have my opinion. That's all it is. An opinion. But I think that we're wrong there. We should not be influenced by the world. The way we "do church" should be an example to the world, not the other way around. 

In an effort to be more "seeker friendly" we've become more tolerant, even adopting some
politically correct expressions.
In an effort to make church more attractive to "non-believers," we've become more laid back, more casual. Some churches even have a coffeehouse approach.
In an effort to reach the younger generation, we've raised the volume. 
In an effort not to offend anyone, we've watered down the gospel.

It's not my intention to point fingers. Not all churches do these things and not all of what we do is "wrong". I think that we need to find what works, what attracts people to our particular church. And when we discover why our numbers are growing, keep doing it. But when did we start trying to make people comfortable? When we become too laid back, I think that we lose our fear and reverence of God. It's discomfort that changes people, not comfort. Again, we've got it backwards. 

Ultimately, what will attract people to church is their need to fill a void that nothing else will satisfy. That's why they're seeking! And in our efforts to keep up with worldly trends, let us never forget that. The need for a Savior. And the need to be accepted, loved and cared for.

What attracts people is authenticity. Too many people, especially the younger generation have been turned off by the phoniness of church. They see us as hypocrites. Saying one thing and doing another. Acting one way at church and another way in the world. I've had more than a handful of young people tell me that (and I've had my share of people tell me that I'm a hypocrite).

I certainly hope that when I meet new people at church, I'm authentic. I hope that when I say I'll pray for someone, I will not only pray but remember to ask them the next time I see them how things are going. And beyond that, ask what specifically I can physically do to help. Or offer to do something.

It's faith in action. That's the trend I want to set. Not just faith. Not just works. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26). I don't want to trend dead stuff. 

It's time to do church outside of church. It's time to start trending authenticity. Instead of trying to emulate the trends of the rich and famous, let's try emulating the trends of the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:10) and shows the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us through Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7). 

He is the Rich and the Famous, the One we should desire to follow. Trends will come and go, but the love of the Lord Jesus Christ will last forever.

Blessings Along the Path,


Song of the Day
Famous One (Chris Tomlin)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

If...Then Logic Questions

I love tests. Especially the ones from God. 

I'm not even really kidding. I always sort of did like tests in school. I just didn't like getting graded on them. Still today, I love when I buy a book and there's a test in a personality test or something. Because I no longer am being graded, they are actually fun. But they have to be taken honestly. I've done personality tests and spiritual gifts tests, and lied about my traits because I didn't like certain traits, or I wanted certain other ones. When I was finally honest about who I was, I was able to work on those things I didn't like, celebrate the positive traits, and realize that I just didn't have certain ones. I was only lying to myself, which makes no sense. I can't fool me.

So, those tests from God...I'm in the middle of one right now...I think. 

See, these tests from God are sometimes hard to recognize. Because it's not a formal test for which we'll need a number 2 pencil and receive a grade, we don't always know that we're in the middle of a test until making a decision becomes difficult, and we're reminded of that commitment we made, or that vow we took or that statement we made in public. 

I believe that when we make a commitment to God, He will sometimes test our faith. How will we stand up in the face of adversity? How will we fare when we are disappointed? What will we do when faced with a decision that will affect our future?

This test I'm taking right now would be much easier if I had the answer key. But it's like one of those horrendous logic questions of the SAT tests: If blank is to blank then blank is to: (choose the best answer...and all or none work). I know that if I choose A, then C will result, and if I choose B then a different C will result. Neither makes sense to me, but both do. That's why they are called "Logic" questions. Except that they're not logical. And neither is a test of faith. It doesn't make sense. Relying on God?

Here's why I love tests, especially tests from God: Because I grow in faith when I'm tested.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4 ESV)

I'm really not sure what to do right now. The only solution I have is to mother always told me, "When in doubt, wait." 

And pray. 

But instead of praying ABOUT the problem, I keep reminding myself that I need to pray THROUGH Jesus about the problem. The problem shouldn't even factor in. I need to just focus on Jesus instead of the problem, and the answer will become clear. No, it doesn't make sense. It's not logical. But...if I put my trust in Jesus, then I will lack for nothing.

Jesus said to her, "Did I not say that if you believe (then) you would see the glory of God? (John 11:40)

But my God shall supply all your needs, according to his riches in glory by Jesus Christ (Phil 4:19)

Oh, and remember...these tests from God? If you don't pass, you just get to take it over again...and again...and again...until you pass. You never fail the test...that's important to remember...because God doesn't see our not passing as failing, just learning.

Blessings Along the Path,

For further reading:
The Unsurpassed Intimacy of Tested Faith (Oswald Chambers)
Your Faith is Being Tested (Rick Warren)

Song of the Day
Look Upon the Lord (Paul Baloche & Kari Jobe)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Never Ending Supply of Water

Every hiker knows that one of the most essential things to have on the trail is water. I find it very easy to go without food, even on a long hike, because I'm moving, I'm exerting myself. And often, I don't really want food, even if I feel slightly hungry. I prefer to eat once I get back to the car.

But water? I need water. I won't go on a trail without it, especially if I have Lucy with me. 

This past weekend, we tackled a very strenuous and steep trail with Lucy. We stopped often to hydrate, and each time we did, Lucy stood there panting. She had her own water bottle and may have drunk more water than I did. But some of the water was lost due to negligence. Once, she stepped on the bowl and turned it upside down. Later, I dropped the bottle as I was pouring the water into her bowl.

I watched that water pour out onto the ground, and realized that both Brian's and my containers were also nearly empty. Luckily, we knew we were near the end of the trail. I made a comment after I dropped the bottle, "You know, you never realize how much you need your water until you lose it."

In John 4, when Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink, she reminded him that Jews (Jesus) did not associate with Samaritans (her) and he replied, If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water (v10). 

What's this about living water and where can I get it? She basically asked him.

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (v13). 

Sir, give me this water so that I won't keep getting thirsty and coming back to this well and drawing up the water. I want this living water!

We get thirsty along the trail, especially after something strenuous. We only have so much water. And when we run out, that's it. We hope that we won't get really thirsty and have nothing to sustain us. 

But when we have the Living Water with us on the trail, the "well never runs dry" so to speak. He always sustains us. Just like a spring, it's a never-ending supply of fresh water. When the Holy Spirit lives in us, we never thirst.

Sometimes we get sloppy, careless or negligent with our water and lose some in the process. Worse, we may not appreciate the water we have until we're in danger of losing it...or sadly, when it's too late and it's all gone. 

We don't always appreciate the wonderful gift of eternal life that we've been given. The wonderful gift of knowing Jesus as our Living Water...Hope Eternal. 

Jesus always offers us Living Water. The water that He gives us satisfies our thirst. It wells up inside of us. Never-ending, ever flowing. Fresh spring water that is only accessed through the Holy Spirit-the spring of eternal life.

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink (John 7:37).

This Living Water is offered to all, even those "Samaritans" who think they are not worthy, who think that God would not want to associate with them. God doesn't want to see anyone lose their water on the trail. 
You DO know that "dog" is God spelled backwards, right?

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day
Streams of Living Water (The Needham Family)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Retiring from Desiring to Acquire

One of my many jobs is to watch over the homes of a few different folks who live, for most of the year, in Florida. They have a home here in New Jersey, but spend the majority of their time in Florida. It gives them peace of mind to know that someone is watching their other home. 

Soon, they will be returning to New Jersey for the summer because Florida, I suppose is too hot, and I won't be needed until the fall, when they return, once again to their other home.

I sometimes wonder what these people do about certain belongings, clothes, etc. Obviously, their homes are fully furnished and they have two sets of dishes, silverware, towels, sheets, and so on. But does Mrs. Smith (obviously not her real name and that picture is not her real house-either of them) ever wake up one morning in her New Jersey bed, and say, "Oooh, I want to wear that cute sundress with those adorable sandals that match...and, oh, I have those earrings to pull it all together!" ...and then realize that she left those things in Florida? Does she buy two of something she really likes and have one set of clothes in Florida and the same set of clothes in New Jersey? Or does she pack everything up, like she's going off to college?

I don't know that I could handle that; this is why I don't have another home in Florida. 

But it does make me think about Heaven. We've all heard the saying, "You can't take it with you." We all know that you go out the same way you came in to this world-owning nothing. To some people, that thought might be scary, especially if they don't know for sure which state they'll end up in once they leave this state. Will it be one like New Jersey, or that place that's much hotter---you know, Florida? (My comedic apologies to my Florida friends) Hopefully, Heaven is much nicer than New Jersey. I love the Garden State, but well, I'm hoping for something more like one of those huts on the water in Tahiti, since I'll most likely never get there in this world.

For those of us who call Jesus "Lord" and accept His shed blood and finished work on the cross, those of us who know that we are definitely going to Heaven, and not...Florida, it's comforting to know that we don't need to stock up on matching clothes for our second home....which is really our first home. This one (the one in New Jersey, Florida or wherever) is really our temporary housing until our closing date, when we go to our true home and receive our mansion, or hut on the water in Tahiti/Heaven. 

The older I get, the less I desire to "have" things. We spend our early adult years acquiring and our later adult years retiring those same things. We upsize in our early years, seeming to need more room for the kids and whatever else, and when the kids move out, we downsize, not needing those same things anymore. I'm content now with my little bungalow and 9 year old car. It's very freeing to not desire to acquire. I've retired from desiring to acquire (although I still wouldn't mind a hut on the water in Tahiti).

Now, I'm not waiting to just die, mind you. I have a long life still to live (I hope!). I certainly don't fault anyone with two homes---if the Lord has blessed you with financial abundance, I'm happy for you. But remember, don't hold on too tightly--to anything that is material. It can be taken from you at any moment. And of course, when your closing date finally arrives, you will be going to a fully furnished hut on the water in Tahiti. And Jesus will have already picked out your clothes---robes of white. I hope you're not attached to all that black---unless you're planning to go to...ahem...Florida.

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day
Mansion Over the Hilltop (Ricky van Shelton) (or hut on the water)

Monday, May 19, 2014

0 to 60 in One Mile

I know...the title doesn't make sense. I've got it backwards, right? Wrong. We tackled what we thought would be a part of the Appalachian Trail this weekend near the Delaware Water Gap. The problem began in the parking lot, where, according to a detailed description in a trail book, we should take the blue dot trail. There was no blue dot trail. Only an unmarked trail and a red dot trail, so we followed the crowd going toward the red dot trail. It was all uphill. Straight up. All rocks. I quickly discovered why no one else had their dogs with them. It took us an hour to excuse climb one mile. At first, I had Lucy and Brian had the pack. But Lucy pulls, and I was having enough trouble navigating over the rocks without her pulling. So, we switched. I took the pack and Brian took the dog. 

Now, I don't usually carry a pack. Our hikes aren't usually that long or strenuous, and typically, if we do take a pack, Brian carries it. Hiking with a pack is a very different experience. It totally shifts your sense of balance. And of course, it slows you down somewhat, until you get used to it. 

But hiking with a dog that pulls is a lot worse. Honestly, I don't know how Brian did it without falling. There were times that I needed two hands to hoist myself up some of those rocks, but then again, I am on the other side of 50 and my legs just don't lift as easily as they used to.

One of the things I noticed about the people on this trail was that everyone was super friendly, and very encouraging. Mostly everyone greeted one another, but some even ventured to say things like, "You're almost there." (at the summit). Being the outgoing and curious person that I am, I asked people, "Are you familiar with this trail?" and  "How far is it to the top?" I almost felt like I knew these people because this trail was very difficult and everyone experienced the climb. At one point, we met three young women, maybe in their teens, who stopped to greet us and pet Lucy. One of them said, "Wow, I don't know if you'll make it with the dog. It's pretty rocky and steep up ahead." They weren't kidding! But Lucy fared far better than we did! She had no problem, even with a missing toe!

Climbing uphill, especially when it's unexpected or when you don't know how long it will take is difficult. Sometimes the way is rocky and we need to be careful where we place our feet. One shaky rock is all it takes to send us crashing down. Sometimes the uphill climb seems to take forever, but if we keep looking up, we'll see the top, we'll see the summit, we'll know that if we look up, we'll see our Savior coaxing us, awaiting us with open arms. But other times, the uphill climb is a battle. It seems never-ending, like this trail. Just when I thought we were reaching the summit, another incline appeared. I never knew when we'd make it to the top. When those times come, and the way is rocky, we need to pace ourselves and look down at where we're walking, where we are placing our feet. We need a strategy for the best way to get around or over the obstacles. Knowing what's ahead helps us plan our strategy, but when we don't know what's ahead, it can be discouraging to keep coming up against another incline.

Walking with a pack slows us down and throws us off-balance. Sometimes we don't even know that we've brought along a pack until we start feeling our companions-fear, doubt, insecurity and discouragement jumping out onto our shoulder, one by one, chattering in our ear. We need to be sure that our pack is full of nourishment--we need to know who we are in Christ. And surround ourselves with people who have walked the trail before-people who've reached the summit and can offer encouragement to us. "You're almost there. Keep going. Only another half hour." Don't listen to those well-meaning folks who say, "Wow, I don't know if you'll make it with your (dog...or other hinderance). Make sure your pack has positive and nourishing things in it to sustain you; leave those pesky companions in the parking lot.

The steep uphill climb is always difficult, but the view from the summit is always worth it. One hour after we started, we reached the summit (which was only one mile!) and rejoiced along with all the other strangers who had become our friends along the trail. What a glorious view, what a glorious day, what a glorious Lord! Nothing can describe the feeling you get when you realize your accomplishment! 

That's the view from 1500 feet-the view from the top of Mount Tammany---the beautiful (and dirty) Delaware River. We never reached the Appalachian Trail. We figured out what we did wrong-we parked in the wrong parking lot. Maybe next time, we'll go back to Plan A. But Plan B worked out pretty well. It was tough, but so worth it! Not having any idea what awaited us at the summit, it was a beautiful surprise. And a Beautiful Surprise awaits all of us at the Summit of our Uphill Climb-Jesus. 

Blessings Along the Path,

If you're a hiker and interested in tackling this great trail, read this link. It gives great instructions, which I wish I'd known about first. My two cents: Wear hiking boots or shoes rather than sneakers, as it is very wet in spots, and navigating the rocks is easier with proper footwear. And DO NOT bring your dog.
Mt. Tammany Red Dot Trail

Song of the Day---beautiful videos/photos of God's creation
Creation Calls (Brian Doerkson)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Today is the Day

I woke up this morning relishing in the fact that it was Friday. I thought about how I have to go to an early meeting tomorrow, but could sleep in on Sunday. I was really looking forward to that! I wondered if the weather would be nice for a hike this weekend. As I got ready for my day, I thought of the "Friday things" I had to do at work. I let the dog out and thought, wow, that grass got really high in a week.

Now, if you're reading this the day it was posted, it is indeed Friday. But I wrote it on Thursday. Yes, it was Thursday, not Friday! It took me a good half hour to realize that!

Imagine my disappointment! But, I thought, it could be a lot worse. It could be Monday. Or I could have a life where it doesn't matter what day it is, it's another day without a job or food or waking up and remembering you have cancer. many more things. You get the idea. 

It gave me something to both be thankful for and to chuckle about. I'm still chuckling. And every time I chuckle, I also thank God that I have a job. That I have a beautiful home and grass to mow every week. That I have only one nicely-behaved dog (aka Normal Dog) to let out and that Jamie (the trainer) is giving Foxy (aka Psycho Dog) a second chance. That God gives me the ability to get out of bed each day and forget what day it is. Because no matter what day it is, it's a good day!

This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps 118:24-NASB).

Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS! I will say it again--rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil 4:4-6).

I know it sounds trite, but today is all we have. Yesterday is in the past, and as Joyce Meyer says, it's called the past because it has passed. You can't go back and relive yesterday. Tomorrow hasn't come yet, and it never will, because once it does, it will be today. So, you see, today really is all we have. Don't live in the "what happened?" of yesterday and the "what if" of tomorrow. Live for today. Forgive. Encourage. Trust. Help. Create. Inspire. Discover. Celebrate. Do. And above all, LAUGH!!!

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt 6:33-34)

Blessings Along the Path,

Today is the Day (Lincoln Brewster)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Marrying Jesus

The other day my family and I were discussing a situation in which an illegal immigrant wanted to marry someone we know in order to become a citizen of the United States. I'll call the immigrant Cornelius, Corny for short and the citizen Norma. 

The reason we were discussing this is because someone mentioned something about Corny's wife. "Wait," I said. "Corny has a wife? You mean in his country, right?"

"No, here." one of the kids said. 
"Well then why did he want to marry Norma?" I asked. 
"To become a citizen!"
"But he can't marry Norma if he's already married."
"Yes, he can. They're not legally married in the U.S. if they're not legal."

Say what??? 

"Wait. So, you're saying that if Brian and I went to say, France, we wouldn't be legally married?" (Probably a bad choice; you can do anything in France)
"I guess."
"But still...I don't think Corny's wife would be too happy if he married Norma."
"Yes, she would."
"Because once they were married long enough for him to stay a citizen, they'd get divorced and then he could marry his wife."

No matter how hard they tried to explain this to me, I just couldn't understand it. Some things just don't make sense to me.

Similarly, we cannot become a citizen of Heaven without "marrying" Jesus. He told Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of heaven unless they are born again (John 3:3). Nicodemus questioned this by asking how can you enter your mother's womb and be born a second time? Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (v5-6)... For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (v16)

Essentially, we must believe in Jesus in order to enter heaven. But is it enough to "just believe?" Romans 10:9 says, If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Well, there it is. It's not enough to just believe in Jesus; we must declare with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus rose from the dead and is Lord. Joyce Meyer likes to say, "Do you want to just go on a date with Jesus, or do you want to marry him?" Marrying Him will give us His name. Just believing in Him won't. Lots of people believe that He existed. Not everyone wants to "marry" Him.

We will become a citizen of Heaven if we marry Jesus. But what about our loved ones? What about our unbelieving spouse? Well, they can't just come into heaven on our coat tails. Since there is no sin in heaven, no illegal marriage is permitted. Similarly, we can't marry a citizen of heaven and automatically become a citizen. And then get divorced and re-marry our spouse we married in another country. It doesn't work like that. A "marriage" with Jesus is an individual one. Everyone has to individually declare him with their own mouth and believe in their own heart that Jesus was raised from the dead and is Lord.

Are you a bride of Christ? If not, are you ready to "marry" Jesus and become a citizen of Heaven? Or are you content to just go out on a date now and then and not commit? It's your choice.

By the way, Corny did not marry Norma. She wasn't interested.

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Walking "Off-Leash" With God

This weekend's hike took us to a little gem not far from our house. Tiger Brook Park seems to be a relatively unknown park in Chester, NJ. I couldn't figure out why. After looking at the trail map, we decided on the red trail, since it was a simple loop. We quickly figured out why it wasn't too popular. The trail was well-marked; it seemed like every other tree had a red trail blaze on it. But the trail itself was hard to find. It was rudimentary at best. We were tempted to turn around, because there didn't seem to be any clearly defined path. But we pressed on. There was, apparently, a beautiful pond somewhere along the "trail."
At one point, the trail completely disappeared and we had to go out to the nearby dirt road and cut back in. I wasn't having fun, but I kept going.

Suddenly, I saw water. It was, indeed, a beautiful pond, where Lucy enjoyed a swim. We encountered one person and a dog, but it was otherwise deserted. We were able to keep Lucy off-leash, a treat for all of us. We'd actually never done that before, because we either had Psycho Dog with us or there have always been people around, and Lucy gets very excited when she encounters other people or dogs. 

Sometimes we walk a path that we've never traveled down before. It may be a path that not a lot of others we know have walked---a difficult path. It may be a change, a step out in ministry, a new job. It may even be the path of Christianity--taking a stand for Christ and what we believe, which may be unpopular. It may seem like we're the only ones who have ever walked this path. We may be tempted to turn back to what's familiar and comfortable. Taking a more well-defined trail is definitely an easier way, and requires little thought. Just stay on the path, "go with the flow." 

Following the trail blazes without a path keeps us attentive and alert-keeps us looking up. 
And look at what we'd miss if we turned back---the beautiful pond in the middle of the woods. If we stay where we're comfortable, if we never seek change, we stay the same. Life becomes rote and boring. We miss out on the adventure, the thrill of finding something new and beautiful.

We enjoyed the pond for awhile but encountered a new problem. No more red trail blazes. We knew this path was a loop, so it had to be somewhere, but we never saw one marker. So, we just decided to walk along the water...and there it was, up ahead. We turned the corner and the trail opened up. Not only did it open up, but there were different colored blazes. We had more choices. But we chose to stick with our original plan-the red trail. 

If we press in, press on---persist and persevere, eventually we will get past the difficulty and reap the benefits of our future opening up. And when we keep our eyes on God, He will bless our obedience and our faithfulness, and we will end up with more choices than we asked for! Yes, there will be obstacles along the way, just like we encountered farther along the trail, but those obstacles don't seem so big anymore when we're walking with God, when we've already walked the most difficult part. They're not insurmountable. They're just obstacles. Annoyances.

And like Lucy, as we are given more freedom to walk "off-leash" with God, we know that it's because He trusts us. We turn around every so often just to make sure our Master is still with us, even though we always know He is. I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut 31:8)

If you want true freedom, if you want to walk "off-leash" with God, stay on the path. Obedience leads to righteousness. The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness (1 Sam 26:23).Be strong and do not give up for your work will be rewarded (2 Chron 15:7)

Blessings Along the Path

Songs of the Day
The Great Adventure-(Stephen Curtis Chapman)
Press On (Selah)

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Pure Love

You know what I think is really cool about loving Jesus? That we don't get jealous when someone else falls in love with Him. And we don't get jealous that He loves others as much as He loves us. 

I wouldn't be very happy if my husband went around loving every woman he encountered the way he loves me. That's why I think the love Jesus has for us and the love we have for Him is so cool. So unique. There is no other love quite like it. 

Remember in high school when you found out that someone else liked the person you were interested in? And you fought hard to keep that person attracted to you so he or she wouldn't decide to date the other person? Perhaps it wasn't in high school, but, sadly, in your marriage. Maybe your spouse was unfaithful to you. That profound loss of love is something that cuts so deep that it cannot be explained. The abandonment, the broken trust, the broken certainly don't get married with the expectation of sharing that special love with another.

Maybe it wasn't a marriage but a lifelong friendship or a committed love relationship that you'd hoped would lead to marriage. Something happened that caused that relationship to end. We've all felt it. We've all been hurt. We've all felt used. We've all felt that loss.

But the love of Jesus is so unique that it cannot be explained. It must be experienced. And when we experience it, we long to share it with others. It is a love that extends beyond what our own human love can fathom. It is a love that cannot be measured. It is a love that not only cuts through the pain of abandonment and brokenness, but is a balm to those wounds. It heals. No human love can come close to that. And that's why we long to share it. 

Only God can offer us a love so pure it cannot be stained with jealousy. There is no jealousy or envy in God, so the love He offers us through His Son, Jesus must be a pure love, free from the sins of this world. And how could we not love Someone whose love extends higher, wider, deeper and longer than we could ever imagine? Someone who loves us enough to die for us? Who of us can say that we love anyone enough to die for them? Especially the painful death that our Lord Jesus suffered?
If you don't know this love of Jesus, you don't know what you're missing out on. It's the coolest, most unique, unconditional love you'll ever know. It never ends. It never runs out. It never dies. Don't waste another moment. He longs to share His love with you. Will you accept his love?

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day
Healing is in Your Hands (Christy Nockels)
I pray that you may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (Eph 3;17-18)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sly Like a Fox

Red Fox...yes, it is really a red fox
(Lakota Wolf Preserve, Columbia, NJ)
Outfoxed. Sly like a fox. Most sayings about foxes have to do with their slyness, their sneakiness, their cunning ways. 

We recently visited a wolf sanctuary (yesterday's blog) where there were also bobcats and foxes (fyi-a bobcat looks like a very fat housecat). 

I found these facts about foxes quite interesting, so I thought I'd share them:

Foxes love to tease--they'll watch a dog on a chain in a backyard to see how far the chain reaches. Then they'll go into the yard just out of reach, which drives the dog crazy. They even do it with invisible fences. Somehow they know.
They steal toys out of yards. A golf course that was losing golf balls found 96 golf balls in a nearby fox den.
  • Foxes like to have fun. Check out this short video of two foxes jumping on a trampoline!Foxes Jumping on Trampoline
  • They are not nocturnal animals. They come out during the day to find food.
  • They are very resourceful. A fox has an interesting way of getting rid of fleas: He holds a long stick in his mouth and then finds water. He walks into the water and gradually goes deeper so that the fleas climb toward his drier parts. Pointing his nose toward the sky, he immerses himself until all that's above water is his nose and the stick. The fleas move onto the stick and he lets go and backs out of the water. Ingenious!
  • A fox can mimic many sounds. A baby crying, the chatter of a monkey, a woman screaming (this is the sound I hear the most at night). When a fox chases a rabbit, and the rabbit is getting away, the fox will scream, which startles the rabbit and causes it to freeze. You know what happens next.
As cute as they are, these facts made me think of our enemy, the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). Okay, so maybe a fox is not so much like a lion, but consider these things: 
  • He loves to tease. He knows our boundaries because he's spent a lifetime watching us. He knows just how far within our spiritual boundaries we'll go and he'll taunt us. The only thing that keeps us from chasing after him is the chain, or an invisible fence...our ties to Jesus Christ. 
  • He steals. The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. (1 John 10:10). He will make every attempt to keep us from a full, peaceful and complete life by trying to steal our peace, innocence, trust, joy and more. But I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full (1 John 10:10)
  • He loves to have fun. Especially after he steals our innocence. Come on, isn't that what life's all about...having fun? (I guess if foxes could talk, they'd also lie).
  • He is not nocturnal. That's just the time when it's the darkest, the hardest. In the night, when it's lonely, and we're tempted the most. But satan is active all day, in an effort to find food for his dark and creepy soul.
  • He is resourceful. If he can't get us to fall or fail one way, he'll try another, sneakier way. He knows our weaknesses and our triggers. Remember, he's been watching us all our lives. He is crafty.
  • He mimics. Most often, the voice he mimics is our own, so that we become confused. He will also mimic God's voice, and if we don't know our scripture, we will become further confused. Did God really say...(Gen 3:1). The voices of discouragement, despair, shame, guilt, enticement, unworthiness...all those voices that speak to us in our heads in our own's him feeding us lies...the sly fox. The worst voice is the one that stops us in our tracks, like a scared rabbit, because that's when he pounces.
The other part of 1 Peter 5:8 (&9) says this: Be alert and of sober mind...resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Foxes are cute. We may forget that they are wild animals who can attack. Satan likes to put a glossy cover on sin, so that it will look attractive. We may forget who is really behind that which entices us. 

But God never leaves us on our own to figure things out. He gives us instructions on how to outfox that sly fox, our enemy, the devil. It's up to us to use them! Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee (James 4:7). 

Blessings Along the Path,

Song of the Day--she is singing about a man, but listen to it as if that man is satan.