Oops!

Posted by admin on January 7, 2013 under Encouraging Words | Be the First to Comment

The number on the digital scale flashed up at me–Oops!  Even though I worked out on the treadmill in the icy atmosphere of the garage, those two fig bars and the extra handful of nuts confronted me. Not to mention the bread sticks and salty soup at the Olive Garden.  Or the extra piece of cheese.  Or . . . .

I wrote down every calorie I consumed, but  I missed my weight loss goal for the New Year.  Alas!  I was too confident, even cocky. 

I have lost 80 lbs., donated my plus-size clothes to charity, and trashed a chocolate cake that tempted me.  But I still ate too much during the holidays. 

That ominous verse reverberated in my head: “Therefore, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!” (I Corinthians 10:12 HCSB)

For the past two weeks, I let go of my support system–the weekly report and phone call with my weight loss counselor.  I can do this on my own, I thought.  As the days progressed, I regressed from taking thought to being thoughtless.  I lost my focus on the Lord, self-discipline, and healthy, balanced living.  Celebration turned to self-indulgence, self-pity, and self-deprecation.  Self, self, self, the prison of self.

Like a toddler who has fallen on her head, I can only crawl back to the Father.  Take my hands, Abba.  Help me up.  I can walk again with Your guidance.  With my eyes on You, I can reach the goal.

Some time in the future, when I lose all my fat, I won’t need to report in every week to a counselor.  My healthy habits will be more habitual.  But I will always need a support system of family, friends, and wise counselors–and I will always need to rely on my Daddy.

Maybe you too are experiencing frustration over goals, resolutions, habits, sins, and failings. 

The Lord is compassionate.  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity.  God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it.” (I Cor. 10:13)

What is that way of escape?  The renewal of our hearts and minds.   

“Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth. . . put on the new self who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator. . . And let the peace of the Messiah control your hearts.  Be thankful.” (Colossians 3:2,10,15)

Ah, that is the key.  Be thankful.  Be content.  The Lord is in control.  God-power, not just will-power.  I am satisfied in Him. 

So be it, Father, so be it.  Amen. 

 

      1. Kids Sing For Every Prison There's a Door
  a song about the way of escape!

Their Worm Dieth Not

Posted by admin on June 6, 2012 under Encouraging Words | Read the First Comment

How Does Your Garden Grow?

As my granddaughters like to say, it was “Icky!”  I washed every vegetable from the garden by hand, sprout by sprout, leaf by leaf.  But now the white pulp of boiled worm floated to the top of the pot.  Disgusting.  

“Their worm dieth not,” I muttered to myself, quoting Jesus in Mark 9:44.   

Worms!  Worms in Scripture  are depicted as destroyers, spoiling manna (Exodus 16:20), bringing  judgment (Deuteronomy 28:39), and consuming the dead (Job 21:26).  King Herod was “eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23).  

Even the tough old prophet Jonah, delivered from the whale’s belly, was defeated by a worm.   

Jonah hated the Ninevites, ruthless Assyrian conquerors who boasted of  cruelty to prisoners of war.  He ran the other way when  God commanded,  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.” (Jonah 1:2)   Jonah didn’t want them to repent.  They deserved to be wiped out.  Why would God give them a second chance?  

But after three days and nights inside a hungry whale, Jonah could only obey.  He walked through town, preaching fire and brimstone.  Revival erupted. “The men of Nineveh believed in God.  They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth–from the greatest of them to the least.”  The king himself repented.   

Jonah was incensed.   What if God fell for this repentance act?  What if He forgave them?  

“Please, Lord,” he prayed, “isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place.  I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster.” (Jonah 4:2)  

But God asked:  “Is it right for you to be angry?”  

Jonah ignored the question.  He had delivered God’s message: “In 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.”  Now he deserved to see it happen.   So he camped out on a hill to watch the fireworks.   

God, however, merely appointed a plant to grow up, a lovely vine to give  Jonah some shade.  The prophet was as pleased as punch with that vine. 

However, the next morning God sent a worm to destroy it.  Scorching desert winds battered it, and it withered.   With no shade to shield him from the relentless sun,  Jonah nearly passed out.  He so angry with God that he wanted to die. 

Then God questioned His prophet:  How could he care more about a plant than people? Should the Lord Himself not care about a whole city, with thousands of  innocent children and animals?   

We do not know Jonah’s answer.  Did he repent?  Or did the worms of prejudice, hatred, unforgiveness, self-righteousness, and jealousy eat him up, destroying his relationship with God and his ministry?   

Jesus said, “If your hand causes your downfall, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell–the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  It is better to cut off your wayward foot and to enter life lame; it is better to gouge out the evil eye than to be thrown into hell with two eyes. (Mark 9:44-46) 

The worm of sin will not die on its own.  Like the lizard of lust in The Great Divorce*, the worm pleads with us to give it time.  It may look like it is sleeping and behaving itself–but, all the while, it is gnawing.  When we try to turn over a new leaf, we find a worm on the other side.  Cut the worm in half, and you have two.   The worm must be crushed, or it will bring us down.

“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity.  All bitterness, anger and wrath, insult and slander must be removed from you, along with all wickedness.  And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, 31-32)

Indeed, one worm per pot is too much.   

Lord, rid me of presumptuous sins–actions, thoughts and attitudes–that continually grieve Your  heart.  You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, and rich in faithful love. You shield me from my  folly. You search my heart.  Pluck out, dear Lord Jesus, the worm of sin.  Let me examine myself and not others.  Bring me to true repentance.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and Your love, so that my life will glorify and please You.  Amen.  

“What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” 
 
      1. Kids Sing Nothing But the Blood
  from the children’s musical Pilgrim’s Progress

* The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

Good Fences

Posted by admin on May 20, 2012 under Encouraging Words | Read the First Comment

“Good fences make good neighbors.”-Frost

Every spring in New England the first objects  squeezed through the frigid earth are rocks.  The muddy fields are dotted with these “outcroppings” which have to be dug up before anything can be planted. 

Farmers once used this bounty to build handsome houses and barns.  They piled rock on rock to create low stone walls dividing field from forest.   Such fences were no protection from predators, but they did mark boundaries.  That was important to landowners who had claimed and tamed the wilderness for their own.

Many of those rock walls and houses still stand today.  That was the  kind of shelter and stability I longed for as a child, moving  from place to place, without parents.  Fear and loneliness drew nightmarish pictures in my head.  Sometimes I dreamed I was living in a three-cornered room–not a triangle but a rectangle with one wall missing.  A barren shanty that hung out over the street.  I cowered in one corner because I couldn’t get out and a monster might come in! 

I still don’t like to leave things open-ended.  Shut the door.  Closure, please.  Bring me inside and let me know what’s happening.  Show me the boundaries, and I will know where I am.  

Ezra and Nehemiah recognized this need for boundaries.  Jerusalem had been conquered, and only a remnant remained to mourn their losses.  The city walls were shattered; the Temple lay in ruins.  Their culture, faith, and God were mocked on every side.  Almost nothing was left to remind them of their hope and heritage.

The last thing their enemies wanted to see was the city walls rise again and the Temple rebuilt.   But “the Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus of Persia” to release the captive Jews from Babylon.  (Ezra 1:1b)  After 70 years in exile, they headed home.  Ezra and Nehemiah rallied them to restore both the walls and the house of worship.  Then they discovered a treasure: the ancient scrolls containing the Word of God. The people stood all day at the dedication ceremony as the entire book of the Law was read aloud.   They wept when they realized how far they had wandered.  They repented and vowed to love and obey the Lord once more. 

This is such a season of rebuilding in my life.  It is time to remove “rocks”–attitudes and behaviors that make me stumble–and, by God’s grace, turn weaknesses into strengths.   It is time to restore boundaries and ask God to repair broken walls.  It is time to restore the temple of praise in my soul.  I cannot do any of this by will-power, but the Spirit intercedes for me.  I have a hope and a heritage to share.

What needs to be rebuilt in your life?  Have boundaries broken down?  Has the enemy invaded?  What rocks have surfaced that need to be dug up?  What walls must be restored, what secret places in the heart need repair?  “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” (Philippians 2: 12b, 13) 

If you belong to Jesus, you have a hope and a heritage to share.  

“For You have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.  To You, my strength, I sing praises, because God is my stronghold–my faithful God.”  (Psalm 59:16b, 17)

Father, You never give up on me.  You are at work in my life and my world.   You made me Your child through the sacrificial death of Your Son Jesus for my sins.  Through His resurrection, I am raised to new and eternal life.   Your eternal Word and faithful love are my foundation.  Build up the boundaries of my life again.  Restore what was lost. Give me courage to say “No!” to distractions and doubt and “Yes!” to Your life-giving Spirit.  Complete Your work in me and through me to the praise of Your glory. 

Amen.

Note:  In 2002 I wrote an exciting kids’ musical Built on the Book, based on the often-neglected stories of Old Testament heroes Ezra and Nehemiah.  Music from the play will soon be available on this website.

Too Too Solid Flesh

Posted by admin on February 28, 2012 under Encouraging Words | 2 Comments to Read

I love to eat.  My childhood memories are sweetened with the fragrance of  fresh sugar doughnuts, sizzling fried chicken, and gravy-laden mashed potatoes.  Christmas brought few gifts but lots of cookies in festive tins.  To a lonely little girl, few things were as exciting as food. 

But at family dinners, when folks should have been celebrating, pie was served with a heaping helping of discord, and guilt on the side.

To ward off depression and boredom I began to sneak treats, but being a bit pudgy increased my sense of isolation. 

Only as a teen did I discover, alas, that calories count!

I can’t claim victory yet after a lifetime of diets and exercise.  However, as a breast cancer survivor since 2008, I have been working earnestly to turn this area of my life over to the Lord.  I don’t want the testimony of God’s work in my life to be overshadowed by my bulk.  I want to be healthy in every way. 

Hallelujah, I no longer have to shop in the plus size department!

I still love food.  But I am learning to refute the illusion that it will satisfy my longings.  So many things are more filling than food–worship and prayer, time with family and friends, ministry, teaching, music, writing, a good walk, a good laugh, the comfort of cats. 

In the movie A Beautiful Mind the schizophrenic genius John Nash nearly loses his family and career to illusions.  He is continually visited by hallucinations, fantasy friends that lure him to destruction.  But over time he accomplishes what many schizophrenics, like my mother in her mental illness, could never achieve:  he distinguishes fact from fiction.  With Herculean exercise of self-control, he chooses to live in reality and ignore these harrassing “friends.”  He will always “see” them, but he walks the other way.

So it is with every thought that would take us captive–something as innocent as a child consoling herself with candy turns into years of  regret.  The more pernicious the pleasure, the greater the bondage.  Still we have a choice.  Temptation will always be there, but we can repent and walk away.  As the apostle Paul said, we can “flee”!  Whatever our besetting sin, whatever failure, God is greater.  His Holy Spirit in us is stronger.  But we must practice the presence of God and secure the help we need from others, so that when temptation calls, we can turn from insanity to the truth. 

Satan tempted our Lord Jesus Himself to “turn these stones into bread,” to serve Himself and misuse His power.  But Jesus rebuked him: “Man must not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  Waiting for the Father to provide His needs, Jesus chose to feast first on the Word of God. 

Father, I confess that I have often run after good things like food, wanting more and more, instead of coming to You, my Creator, with the emotional and spiritual longings of my heart.  Thank You for all the ways You are teaching and healing me.  Help me to be obedient to Your Word, to take care of the life You have given me, to trust You to provide.  Thank You for daily bread and for the Bread of life, Your Son, Jesus Christ, offered up for me.  Holy Spirit, fill my soul.  I choose to feast on Your love today!   I am satisfied in You.  Amen.

The Cross On Jesus’ Back –a song about love and forgiveness, our greatest need.

Letting the Little Toads In

Posted by admin on July 11, 2011 under Encouraging Words | 7 Comments to Read

The postman saw it and got out of his truck.  The boys wheeling past the house saw it and parked their bikes at the curb.  The lady across the street saw it  and hollered for her little boy.  The  little boy saw it too, but she held him back.  His friends came running and gasping.  Then everyone stood respectfully, close together, while the lady across the street bellowed my name.

“Lee-la! Lee-la! LEE-LA!” 

The new screen door and all the windows were open that hot summer day. I could hear the lady next door, as I often did. My husband and I were eating tuna salad sandwiches and drinking iced tea on the patio.  Oh, bother! I peered over the fence, but no one was there.

“Lela! Lela! Come to the front!” she screeched.  

It must be an emergency.  I raced through the house to the screen door.

“Don’t come out! Don’t open the door!” 

I didn’t open the door.

This was the second disruption of peace and quiet  in just twelve hours.

Something had to be done about the heat.  Ever since El Nino, our mild Southern California climate had changed.  We didn’t have air conditioning.  We couldn’t leave our beautiful blue front door open without a screen.   So my husband bought a security door, loaded it in his red pickup, and hung it the same day.  It looked good, even though there was an open space of several inches at the bottom. We felt a little beach breeze coming in and left it open when we went to bed.

In the middle of the night something erupted.  Bumps and banging, barking and bellowing!  What in the world?  We raced into the hall.  Our dogs Magic and Rey were chasing something, something that went BUMP in the night!  When they pounced, it bounced!  They dashed, and it crashed right into my foot.  A bumpy brown toad as big as a saucer popped up! 

Oh, no!  The dogs will kill it!  Open the door, open the door! 

The toad leaped over the sill, bounded across the porch, and disappeared into the night.   My husband promised he would go buy a new door sill right away to keep the toads out.   We went back to bed.

Now this uproar in the street, the neighbor lady demanding, “Come to the front, but don’t open the screen!”

I locked both the screen door and the big blue door and ran to the window where I could see.  A long thick rattlesnake slithered along the base of the garage door, then curved around the corner.  I watched as it progressed to the porch, slid up to the screen, stuck its triangular snout into the space where a sill should have been, and sniffed.  Did it smell the toad that had come that way?

Frustrated by the solid door, the snake poked around under the screen for a while, then withdrew.  It traced the outline of the porch and disappeared into a flower bed.  I waited till the audience in the street yelled it was safe to come out.  My husband called Animal Control.  One of the neighbors ran over with a metal trash can and a hoe.  Somehow he crammed that snake into the can and got the lid on it while all the kids in the street hopped up and down, screaming with excitement.  When officials arrived to take the snake to its new home in the desert, they declared our reptile a real find, a golden rattlesnake, rare in these parts.

While I thanked the lady next door and the postman and the brave neighbor with the hoe, my husband launched himself into the red pickup and roared back down to Home Depot to buy a bigger doorsill.

If I hadn’t shut the main door to the house,  the snake could have come right in. 

Letting the little toad in was bad enough.  We had been warned–a lesson I have never forgotten:  If the little toads get in, watch out for what may follow.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)