Friday, April 26, 2013

Thankless Jobs

Yesterday, my Purpose Driven Life e-devotional by Pastor Rick Warren was on Luke 16:10, which states, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."  Pastor Warren wrote about integrity and how God tests our integrity in the small areas of life to see if we're going to be faithful in the big areas.  His premise in the devotional was that if you are not faithful in the little things in life, you will definitely not be faithful in the big things.  I would agree with this strongly.  

I thought a lot about this on a personal level and felt some strong conviction in a couple of small areas in which my faithfulness isn't always top-notch.  Lately, I have been struggling greatly with my eating and exercising.  It's been a long winter here in Kansas, and being a singer, I am unable to run outdoors when it is less than 60 degrees.  Doing so gives me a horrible sore throat, causes my nose to run profusely, and then brings on a bad cough which is harmful to my singing voice.  Therefore, in cold weather, I am considerably less faithful with my running and training.  Instead of running my typical four to five times a week, I've only been running about one to two times a week (I despise the smelly, crowded gym).  To make matters worse, I have begun another unhealthy habit--I don't really eat all day, but then I want to pig-out all night.  This is a horrendous thing to do as a middle-aged woman and wreaks havoc on not only your digestive system, but also on your metabolism.  I know better.  But do I eat sensibly during the day so as not to, "starve" myself, and then eat an early, light supper?  No, I don't.  I tend to get so busy during the day that I forget to eat.  So then my metabolism plummets right before I stuff my face with an enormous meal.  Then I top it all off with a typical late night snack (and any health advocate will tell you that no middle-aged female should even be eating after 8PM at night).  Faithfulness in the small things...ouch.

But I also thought about areas, big and small, where I have been and am faithful.  I praised God that He has helped me to be a woman of character and integrity on any level in my life.  Truth be known, without God's help, my great love for Him, my humble fear of Him, my great need for His blessing in my life, and my huge desire to please Him, I would be anything but faithful.  I thought about times in my life when I was faithful and God blessed me abundantly for it.  He does this often.  Then I thought about times when I was faithful and God allowed me to be used, abused, and even hurt by that faithfulness.  Sometimes we don't always get what we deserve in this life.  Perhaps we are judged unfairly or overworked by domineering, self-important people who take us for granted.  But I believe that God is a just God.  I believe that He makes all things right eventually.  I also believe that He sees all we do behind the scenes and on the scene.  He knows our hearts.  You may be a weary mom of small children who struggles every day just to find time to get a shower and look remotely decent.  Maybe you've been up half the night with a sick kiddo, or perhaps you have a husband who hasn't changed even one diaper of any of your four children (or rarely does). Maybe you have a boss who tosses sexual innuendos your way, making you feel small and devalued.  Perhaps your boss plays games, manipulates you, plays favorites, and pits people against one another for his/her own satisfaction.  Maybe you worked and killed yourself for months or years towards a job, position, or promotion you thought you were going to be given only to see it be handed easily to someone less deserving, less appreciative, and/or less qualified. Maybe you worked and invested in a friendship you thought was mutual only to discover it was all about them and what they expected from you--and you and your needs were just a fleeting thought for them.  Take heart, friend--God sees all that you have done selflessly or without thanks.  He sees all that you are doing for others in worthy service bearing His good name.  Colossians 3:23 states, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men."  Likewise, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.As believers, we are to do everything, big and small, for the glory of God and as if He is our ultimate boss and authority--because He is.  Even if those in power over us do not recognize or reward us, God will.  He is their boss, too, even if they choose not to recognize it, and even if they are not "believers."  

We know from God's Word that anyone in leadership who possesses a "God-complex," and abuses and uses others beneath them, better take a step-back and watch out.  God despises the proud, warns against provoking others to wrath, and hates those who stir-up strife with haughtiness and abuse of power.  In fact, if we are in a leadership role over anyone we are in some ways more responsible for our behavior than our subordinates are for theirs.  This is even truer in the body of Christ where we are all supposed to think of others as better than ourselves and where we are called to work toward peace and unity.  Philippians 2:3 states, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves."  Ephesians 4:3-6 states, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all."  No where in God's Word will you find an exemption on this given to bosses or those in power.  We are ONE, period.  Those in charge are as much in subordination to God as those beneath them.

I have recently made a vow with myself that whenever I feel used or "taken for granted" by anyone for any purpose, I will think about all the poverty stricken women in the world who spend hours in the heat toiling in fields just to feed their starving children.  I will think of the women who walk hundreds of miles every week just to carry water to their villages.  These ladies aren't being paid to do this and sure aren't getting any national recognition or praise for serving their families.  I'm guessing they aren't having much fun, either. So most of us really don't have it that badly, and we can trust that God will right all wrongs anyway.  Rest assured--God will judge the hearts, minds, and attitudes of those who work with His purposes, His name, and His glory in mind, as well as those who do not, regardless of the position.  He always blesses our service to others when it's done with a righteous spirit and motive.  Likewise, He will chastise those with impure motives and actions.  Regardless of your job and whether it is a paid position or not, God sees your honest, humble work.  God is watching us as Luke 16:10 states, and He sees our faithfulness even in the small things. The world may view your tasks and service as pointless or lacking in value.  God often thinks otherwise.  In fact, I happen to think that many of those ladies toiling in fields and carrying water will one day be rock stars in heaven (if they know the Lord, that is).  God's Word says in Matthew 19 and 20 that in the Kingdom of God, "many who are first shall be last, and many who are last will be first."  So I believe wholeheartedly that even if we aren't rewarded by God in this life for what we have done here faithfully, He will make it right in heaven--and the rewards we will get there far surpass any material possessions or wealth we are offered here.  His Word says it and I believe it.  This knowledge should motivate and encourage us to work toward better faithfulness in both the small, unseen areas of life as well as, the big, visible ones.  God bless, and keep on keepin' on!

Related Scripture:

Hebrews 6:10, "God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them."

James 4:10, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up."

Matthew 6:19-20, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."

Thursday, April 18, 2013


A few weeks ago on Good Friday, the pastor of my church, Jim Congdon, preached a great message entitled, "Shame."  In his sermon, Pastor Jim spoke in detail of the different shames and pains Christ endured when He suffered on the cross for all of us.  I'll never forget one of his comments.  He said that on Good Friday we have one eye on Christ's suffering and death in our grief and remembrance of His great love for us.  But we also have the other eye fixed on Easter Sunday on the celebration of Jesus' resurrection and victory over that pain and death.  So true--there would be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, and vice versa.

This got me thinking.  There are many situations in life where we need to have that same metaphorical, "double-vision."  When cooking a meal, I typically have more than one item on the stove or in the oven at a time.  It requires me to keep an eye on one thing and the other eye on another item.  I don't always do this well (ah husband, Matt, would argue that as an empty-nester, I now don't do this often, either)!  But when I don't watch both items successfully, it is always because I am distracted (and since I only have two eyes, maybe there's a correlation?)!  We need double-vision in our work and ministries, as well.  When I rehearse music with my bands, I focus on the present in learning and preparing, but I also ponder and envision the actual moment we play and the people to whom we will be ministering, serving, and/or entertaining.  This helps me stay mindful of the reason I am doing what I do--I call it the, "who" factor.  God and others must be the reason for my ministries and work, or it is all in vain.

Another specific instance where double-vision is necessary is in raising our kids.  We not only see our kids for the youngsters they are, but we look ahead to the people they will become--and we parent accordingly.  We relish the seasons they go through at each stage (hopefully, and with much prayer).  But we also look forward to the rites of passage and changes we will observe as they grow and develop.  We seek to protect and teach them various life-skills at age-appropriate times when it will benefit them most.  Double-vision comes in handy here, to say the least.

There really aren't any areas of life where having, "double-vision," isn't required or helpful.  I could further extrapolate the metaphor to my marriage.  Matt and I try to make the right choices in our decisions and dealings in our life together as a couple so as to maintain a healthy, honest relationship and not hurt the blessing God has given us in each other.  We operate in the present, but we reflect on the past in thinking of all God has brought us through together.  We look to the future and strive to make choices that will shield, preserve, and nourish our life as one unit.  Though we are two units by the world's standards and definition, God says that we are technically one in Him.  So I keep one eye on my own life and the other on the life I have with Matt--they aren't actually separate.  Matt is my friend above all other friends.  He is "in the loop" on all levels with me--even the uncomfortable, unpleasant ones.  That's what marriage is all about--you're there for each other through thick and thin.  At times, you have one eye on the, "thick," and one eye on the, "thin."  If you don't, your focus is off pretty quickly.  Praise God for His grace, mercy, and love.  When we turn to Him, He helps us in our weakness to realign things when imbalance occurs.  But it demands this same double-vision--we have one eye on our spouse and one eye on God.

Not only do we need this same, "now and later" double-vision in the specific areas of our lives, but also in our lives as a whole.   God has given us much to manage on earth--our spouses, kids, families, homes, ministries, jobs, friends, money, and health all require our focus now for better living later.  We deal more effectively with the business of the lives God has given us by living in the present, not the past.  But we do need to look to the future so we can invest wisely in the legacy we desire to leave behind for Christ's glory and to those we love.  To deal best with the tough stuff we face, we not only focus on our battles, but we also fix an eye on our real home in heaven.  Doing this helps us better handle the problems and struggles we face in life because it remind us where our real motivation, true life's purpose, real identity, and eternal home are found.  But I cannot focus only on heaven and accomplish the work and purposes God has for me here.  Likewise, I cannot live only in the present here on earth, or I will lose sight of my mission and the source of my strength--my God.  The Bible tells us in many various passages that we as Christians are to be, "IN but not OF this world."  Since earth is evil and is not our real home or final destiny, we need to view ourselves in this binary way.  We are presently here working and striving, but we do so with an eternal mission and future in mind.  Things may not be perfect here, but they will be one day.  We're just passing through this life. 

Please don't misunderstand me--having double-vision is not the same thing as being, "double-minded."  When you are double-minded, you do not have a streamlined mission or purpose in your life.  Perhaps you don't even have one at all.  Maybe you want to have your vision focused on God, but you are more fixated on the world and what others say or influence you to do.  This is, "double-mindedness."  I am suggesting that we need double-vision with single-mindedness.  I would urge you to make sure that God has ultimate relevance in your single-minded living.  Otherwise your double-vision will become blurred--you won't see anything in life clearly or correctly.  With God, your vision will be clear and your life will become more balanced.  Give Him your heart, and He'll help you keep a sharp eye on your life and a fixed eye on Him.

Relevant Scriptures:

Hebrews 12:1-2, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Isaiah 44:18, "They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand."

Psalm 119:18, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law."

Ephesians 1:18, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people."

Psalm 19:8, "The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.  The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes."

Colossians 3:2, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."

Romans 8:5, "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit."

Proverbs 4:25, "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you."

Proverbs 16:3, "Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established."

Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you." 

Matthew 6:33, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Don't Worry, Be Happy

We've all heard the quote (or some version of it) by Abraham Lincoln,

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” 

When I think about that quote, I realize how very true it is.  We all have things in our lives that could give us reason to be unhappy, discontent, or anxious.  No one has a perfect life, even if it appears to be true on the surface.  When I think about the people I know who are truly happy, I realize that they understand from where true joy derives.  I also know their joy doesn't stem from being handed a perfect life, and from having all their needs and desires met.  It sure isn't because they have perfect friend and family relationships. Quite the contrary.  Most of the happiest people I know have had or do have some pretty large struggles in their lives.  So why do some people seem to be able to stroll through life with a smile regardless of personal circumstances, and others can't seem to be happy even when their load isn't really that heavy?  It boils down to one thing--choice.

The definition of the word, "choice," taken from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary is: An act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.  So when we choose to be happy, it is a literal action.  Action requires doing something.  It demands a purposeful, thoughtful decision to select "happiness" over unhappiness, worry, or some other less-than-joyful trait.  It is interesting that the end of this definition says, "when faced with two or more possibilities."  We can certainly pick a lot of other things to rule our attitudes and lives in lieu of happiness and joy.  We can choose bitterness, guilt, resentment, anger, doubt, hatred, jealousy, sadness, shame, fear, worry, anxiety, pride, selfishness, apathy, addictions, and the list goes on.  But if we want to be truly happy, we have to mindfully select it. If our joy and happiness are derivative of the stuff in our lives or the way others treat us, we'll never be joyful.  Those things only bring temporary happiness, not true joy.  People and life are not constants.  Just when we think things are going our way, it shifts. So real joy is a daily decision and mindset, and it is up to us and us alone to choose it regardless of the circumstances we face.

Do I believe choosing joy or happiness is easy?  Absolutely not.  I think it is one of the hardest things we are ever challenged by God's Word to do.  Why is it so difficult?  There are too many reasons to list them all.  One simple reason is that life is tough.  God's Word tells us it will be tough (John 16:33).  But I also believe one reason it is hard to choose joyfulness is that we live in a spoiled, entitled society. As selfless as we may try to be, it is just our nature to be selfish and expect only the best in our lives.  We all have this predisposition and tendency to think we deserve only good things.  I don't know anyone who loves and enjoys trials and hardships. So when tribulations come, we don't like it and we don't always deal with it well.  

Another reason I believe that choosing joy or happiness is so hard for us is that we don't trust God.  I have no idea how those who don't know God are even getting out of bed in the morning, let alone smiling at all.  Many of them aren't.  I happen to believe that anyone who doesn't know God, yet professes to be "happy," actually possesses the temporary, superficial kind of happiness--the kind of happiness founded in living a good life or being fortunate enough to have mostly good things in your life.  But we know from God's Word that this isn't real joy.  Real joy is deep-seated happiness founded in Christ and it is not determined by circumstance.  It is based on the unwavering freedom and peace found only in knowing Christ and the power of His salvation and resurrection.  It is selfless, unfaltering, and ever-present even in times of great difficulty.  But even those of us who do know Christ falter at times in possessing real joy.  We struggle to give God full control of our lives and to live by faith through the power of His Word and His Spirit.  We war with ourselves in trusting that He means what He says in Matthew 6:25-34, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But 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.This passage tells us that it does us no good to worry and that God will provide for us.  We all know this but we still worry.  Why?  It's simple--we don't always believe God.  We don't always cling to the truth of His Words to us.  We just don't trust that He will take care of all our burdens in due time, and that He will give us the grace and strength to endure them until He does.  I believe this is the foundational issue with worry.  Essentially, we are calling God a liar when we worry and doubt His promises to us.  Or perhaps, we just don't have the strength at the time to be willing to go through a season of hardship, and so instead we fret and stew with no profit.  Either way, we aren't trusting God.

Let me tell you, friends, I can sure speak to the topic of worry.  I confess to you that it is probably my greatest sin.  I could be a professional worrier.  If you could make money at it, I'd be a rich woman--very rich.  If I wrote a blog just listing out all the things about which I have worried, do worry, and am tempted to worry, we would have a record lengthy blog-post on our hands (and you know how prolific that could be)!  I will spare you every grimy detail, but I have fretted about things as small as, "will I have time for my run today," and, "how the heck did I gain four pounds over the weekend," to things as large as, "will I be alone in my old age," and, "I pray I never have to bury my only child." The list of what we could worry about is just ridiculous.  When I realize how little control I truly have over my life, it becomes very easy to relinquish all control and give it over to God.  We all have to do this daily or choosing happiness will be pretty tough.  We might as well do it because worrying gets us nowhere.  Plus, it is only a matter of time before reality hits and we realize that we aren't really in control of the big things or the little things in this life.  We are only stewards or managers of our lives.  God is King.

One of the Associate Pastors of my church, Pastor Hunter Ruch, recently preached a sermon on anxiety and worry.  He said, "When we are anxious, we are advertising that God is not good, loving, and trustworthy."  This hit me like a ton of bricks because I'd never heard this before, and...well, he's right.  If we believe that God is Who He says He is, we have no choice but to trust Him and be happy in our lives knowing He has our best interests in mind, regardless of where we are today.  God knows our needs, He hears us when we cry out to Him, and He is the reason any of us are living and breathing.  If I believe and trust that God is love, that He is good, and that He is trustworthy, my life should reflect that.  When I'm bound up in worry it does not reflect it. 

As Americans, most of us really have no excuse for being unhappy.  If children living on the streets in India without parents, shelter, and food can smile at missionaries who snap their photos for charitable organization ads, then what are we frowning about?  More than that, as Christians we have no excuse for being unhappy or joyless.  Studies show that Christians by and large live happier, healthier lives.  This should speak volumes to the outside world that the reason for our health and happiness is Christ.  He is the One from Whom we are named ("Christ"-ian), and He is the reason for our joy and peace.  Christians should be better able to handle stresses and trials in life.  If we aren't, there's a serious problem and disconnect between our theology and our belief in it.  If our mission is to be a light to the world, we sure can't do that when we are frowning, complaining, and doubting God.  Another believer once said to me, "If you'd stop smiling every five seconds you wouldn't have so many wrinkles."  Well, this is true--and thanks for noticing.  But I'm not on this planet to be wrinkle-free.  I'm here to spread joy and light to others for the cause of Christ.  So in my view, let the laugh-lines keep on comin'!  As believers, we better have more laugh lines than frown lines.

This notion of Christians being better suited for life's trials is exceptionally convicting to a well-groomed worrier such as me.  It beckons me to my knees to say to God how ashamed and sorry I am for doubting Him, and in so doing, being a horrible witness to His character, provision, and faithfulness.  My lack of faith at times is flat inexcusable.  I have read God's Word enough to know better than to slip into this mentality of doubt.  And when I think about all God has done for me and all He has brought me through, I have no excuse to live a life of disbelief.  But I praise Him for His love and mercy to me in this weakness of mine.  He knows my control-freak tendency, which is essentially one of the underlying traits of a worrier.  We are most tempted to worry when we aren't in control.  Another trait of worriers is fear.  When we lack faith and trust in God, it doesn't take long for fear, anxiety, doubt, and self-absorption to creep into our lives, among other ugly traits.  But we know that all sins are a slippery-slopeWhen we battle any particular sin, chances are we battle several with it simultaneously.  This is why we have to choose daily to avoid the slippery slope. 

That said, in my quest for choosing happiness, I have to first choose to trust God.  If you have never met God and don't know Him, I would urge you to do this first.  God is there waiting for you.  He is one prayer away.  He desires to know you as His child.  He wants your belief and trust in Him for the salvation He gives freely for your sins through His Son's death on the cross.  But God not only wants your trust in Him for your eternal salvation--He wants your trust in Him for this life.  I became a believer at age nine, and I still have to choose daily to live by faith in the beliefs I claim to have about Him.

How exactly do we do this?  If choosing happiness requires action, here are the daily actions I must take:

1.  SEEK:  I need to seek God and be in His Word daily.  I then have to believe and trust what I read about Him.  If I say I believe in God and that the Bible is His inspired, God-breathed Word, written by more than 40 authors who all agreed, then I better believe it and live by it.  If I don't, my faith is a lie.
2.  PRAY and CAST:  I need to pray to Him constantly, giving my worries over to Him and laying them at His feet (not pick them right back up and try to carry them myself afterward).  I need to trust and believe that He will provide for me and handle whatever it is that is troubling me in due season--even if it isn't on my timing.
3.  BE THANKFUL:  I need to have a heart of thankfulness and gratitude, focusing on the good things in my life versus the bad.  Counting our blessings is always a good thing. 

Pastor Ruch listed all of those for us in his sermon on worry.  In his discussion of the last item, he said, "Show me a heart full of anxiety, and I'll show you a heart bereft of gratitude."  I loved this-- I could so relate.  When my heart is stifled in fear, worry, and anxiety, I am never thankful.  All I can focus on is my worry (and MYself).  But when we fill our minds and hearts with good things, the bad stuff seeps off the top.  You cannot be full of worry and anxiety when you are choosing to focus on good and on God.  It is nearly impossible to be filled with worry when you are seriously pouring yourself into His Word, praying to Him, praising Him, and loving others as higher than yourself.  One of the best cures for worry is to focus on helping someone else in need.  Your problems will look pretty small in comparison.  There just isn't room for sadness and doubt when we fill our lives with the right things.  I liken it to my birdbath in the backyard.  When the water in it is stagnant, smelly, and slimy, I run water from the garden hose into it.  This forces all the yucky water to flow out over the top and new, fresh water to fill it.  Our lives are the same.  We have to fill our hearts and lives with good in order to flush out the bad.  When I did prison ministry, I recall a gal who had repeatedly struggled with drug addiction and had been in prison numerous times due to it. She shared that the only way she ever battles her addiction successfully is to immediately replace her desire to get high (the bad habit) with reading God's Word (a good habit).  This is true for all of us, "sin-junkies."  We have to replace the bad with the good, regardless of our particular sin(s).  It is an action and it is a daily choice.

Related Scriptures:

Philippians 4:6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

1 Peter 5:6-7, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you."

John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Burning the Fields

Being a Kansas girl I have always loved the distinct change of seasons we enjoy, though I must admit the approach of winter is my least favorite.  With spring upon us, we begin to see the burning of the prairies and fields.  Ranchers and land-owners begin to carefully select days or evenings of calm winds in order to light the fires that will bring newness of life and fresh grass to their property.  My husband, Matt, and I enjoy taking country road drives at night in the springtime to watch the flames sweep gracefully and beautifully across the fields.  We especially love the smell, though it makes me want to be a kid at a bonfire again eating toasted S'mores and charred weenies!  I recently captured a photo and posted it on Instagram of a neighbor's hill engulfed in springtime flames.  It is an exciting thing to witness the dead, lifeless vegetation being caught-up and removed by the fires.  Then, once it rains a couple of times, to next see the new, lush, green growth spring forth in its place. 

This is a great metaphor for our lives as believers.  When God brings hardship and trials to our lives, He always has a purpose in mind.  Tough times hurt us--they are like the fire on the fields of our lives.  At first glance, it appears the fields (our lives) are being ravaged.  The smoke from the fires blurs our vision.  We question and doubt God and His purpose in the pain.  We don't understand why He would use such harsh tactics.  We watch things go up in smoke that we thought we needed or that we wanted to hold onto or control.  But hopefully through the hardship we learn to trust God more.  We look up.  We seek Him harder.  We need Him more.  We talk to Him much more.  We learn patience.  If we approach the fires in our lives with the proper perspective, we also learn endurance, perseverance, hope, and the meaning of true joy.  We become more empathetic toward others and better understand the pain and struggles they face.  We hopefully learn what is really important.  We get our priorities in check and we get rid of things in our lives that are unnecessary, binding, or perhaps even sinful.  This is the dead stuff that God is trying to remove by putting us through the flames--the flames of living life on a sinful earth.  But once we come through the fire, we are hopefully changed.  The stuff that was masking and preventing new growth is gone, and after all the pain has subsided, we don't even miss it.  The stuff that remains is the good stuff--it survived the fire because God protected it and it was strong enough.  We are renewed and much more open to the new things in the life that God has in store for us.  It may not look like we thought it would or how we initially wanted it to look, but the outcome is worth it and even better when God is involved.

As I've watched some nearby fields being burned recently, I have thought about loved ones and friends who are struggling through the fires of life.  All their fires are vastly different, but they are fires and they are painful.  I have thought about my own fires--those through which I've walked and those through which I am walking now.  I am tempted to fret about those I will face in the future.  The fires God uses in our lives can be small, seemingly controllable at times or blazing in other instances.  Fortunately, God is a merciful God and He promises to never give us anything we cannot handle.  My mother used to say this to me and I would respond, "But I'm NOT handling it!"  And she would loving reply, "You're standing here, aren't you?"  Moms...why do they always have the best come-backs?! 

Thinking about all this brought tears to my eyes because when you are being burned, you really don't think about much else.  You can't.  It is a pretty big deal and it demands (or commands) your attention.  At times, it is utterly draining--emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. So I prayed recently that God would tend to the fires in the lives of my family and friends--in all our lives.  I asked Him to bring healing and renewal to us so that we can focus more fully on Him, His Kingdom, and doing His work.  Not that He needed the reminder--it was just a simple prayer from a heart weary of fire.  We all get weary of it.  We hurt for those we love who are battling things for which we have prayed for years perhaps.  But we know as the fires die down Who is really in charge.  He is manning the fires and He is tending to our hearts and lives carefully, effectively, and purposefully.  Our job is to not let the pain and smoke hinder our vision--of Him, His will, His mercy, His love, and His faithfulness to us.  He is a trustworthy fire-keeper.  "Bring the rains, Lord.  Quench the fire and renew us. Amen."

2 Chronicles 7:14, "If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Revelation 21:5, "And He Who sits on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' And He said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true.'''

Zechariah 13:9, "This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My Name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'"

James 1:3, "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience."

Romans 5:3-5, "... but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us."

*Note:  Please check out one of my fave Christian singers/songwriters, Mitch McVicker's song, "Burning the Fields," on My Space or YouTube for a great Kansas, spring-time worship song.  (I am attaching it to this blog post).  Mitch is a former Topekan and was dear friends with the beloved Rich Mullins, another great Christian singer/songwriter.  Rich was killed in a severe automobile accident several years ago.  Mitch was in the accident with him and survived.  He has many amazing testimonies from his life and if you ever get the chance to see him, GO.  He is a genuine seeker of God.  He comes to Topeka pretty faithfully.  God bless and Happy Spring!