Flourishing in Barrenness

During a powerful windstorm I was watching leaves fiercely being plucked from the tree in my front yard. The afternoon wind relentlessly yanked the amber leaves until at dusk; all that remained was the skeleton of the tree.

How beautiful that tree was at sunrise and by night fall it was vastly changed.

It made me think of Job. Job woke up one day on the top of the world and in a short period of time he was stripped of his wealth, his family, and friends.

How many times have I been stripped of something and temporarily my faith goes with it? As a writer, rejection is a huge part of my life. Sometimes I allow rejection to strip me of my confidence and belief that I am doing what God has called me to do.

I watched a documentary on Yellowstone. They were discussing forest fires. Looking at the the barrenness left behind by devastating forest fires, I was heartbroken at all the glorious green that was turned to rubble and stripped by the raging flames. The charred blackened earth looked desolate and barren, similar to the way my spirit feels sometimes.

I learned about a certain tree whose seeds can only regenerate after a fire. Yellowstone geologists showed tiny shoots that emerge amidst the black barrenness within days of the fire. They even mentioned that the burned out area is like a firewall of sorts that will protect the area from another fire for up to 100 years.

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house.” Job 42:10-11

Interesting that growth happened in the midst of what seemed to be desolation. Growth with roots! Job was restored, the forest regenerated. So the trial yields something beneficial?

“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire test and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So that when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:7.

Point to Ponder: Are you in a season of barrenness or testing? Do you feel God allowing things to be stripped away? Look deep perhaps you will see the tiniest shoot of growth, it may be small but it has the potential to grow into a flourishing forest of faith. Enduring the stripping seems worth it when you know the outcome will be positive – that is His Promise!

Exploding Ants, Toxic Body Fluids, and a Clean Heart

Did you know that there is a frog that breaks its own legs and grows claws when threatened and a fish that engulfs its enemy in a thick casing of slime, as well as an ant that explodes?

Malaysian ants internally combust under threat, causing their bodies to explode. They wait until their enemies are close enough to die before detonating. A sea cucumber can literally take on different body states – from hard to liquid – in order to defend itself because of a type of collagen that enables the skin to absorb or excrete water which effectively enables its body to change from a liquid to a solid.

The bombardier beetle sprays boiling hot and chemically toxic bodily fluids in the direction of any would-be predator. Opossums playing dead actually slip into a semi-comatose state, thus removing any excitement of the kill for a predator.

Amazing, the different ways God equipped his creations to defend themselves. What about humans? How do we defend ourselves aside from weapons of course? Did God create us with defense mechanisms? Sure we have teeth and nails but those were created for other purposes like eating and scratching.

According to Sigmund Freud, defense mechanisms are thought to safeguard the mind against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with. In some instances, defense mechanisms are thought to keep inappropriate or unwanted thoughts and impulses from entering the conscious mind.

Emotional defense mechanisms like denial, withdraw, and avoidance are exhibited frequently in the lives of people around us. But what does the Bible say about our defense mechanisms or our conscious mind?

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!” Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)
“My defense is of God, which saveth the upright in heart.” Psalms 7:10 (KJV)

It would appear that the state of our heart and thoughts are somewhat connected to God’s protection. Speaking of protection, what does the Bible say about it?

 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
Psalm 46:1 (NIV)
“God, my strength, I am looking to you, because God is my defender. My God loves me,and he goes in front of me. He will help me defeat my enemies.” Psalm 59:9-10 (NIV)

So perhaps the reason we aren’t equipped with claws, musk sacks, or poison glands is because God created us to Trust HIM to be our defender and our protector*.

Many creatures display their defense mechanisms when threatened, before any physical contact is even made. Aren’t we kind of like that to? We withdraw, avoid or slip into denial the instance we are threatened emotionally.

If we believe the Bible is true and the word and heart of our Creator, then it would seem turning the offender over to Him would be the easiest way to achieve protection. Turning our thoughts over to the One who goes in front of us and keeping both He and His Commandments in our hearts can only give us more leverage in the battle.

Point to Ponder: Is there a battle you keep fighting over and over? Do you feel like you are losing? What about trying to ‘allow’ your Creator to defend you? What steps can you take now to shift the balance of the battle onto God our Protector?

* (disclaimer: I am in no way saying forms of physical or emotional abuse should be endured silently. If you or someone you know is in physical or emotional danger, tell a pastor or counselor immediately.)

Who Hijacked my Jesus? Or Nature vs. Nurture

The other day I watched an amazing video of one of God’s best creations. It was a lovely black lab who “adopted” a litter of abandoned kittens and literally nursed them back to health. Remarkable feline and canine connected. I’ve pondered that change in species; the DNA differences, it’s a paradigm shift to see a dog nursing kittens and plucking them lovingly from danger.

That same day I watched a group of people in the name of my Jesus; taunt, mock and judge a grieving family at a military funeral in Washington D.C.

That is not what Jesus taught. If Jesus was still in human form would he link arms with that bashing, insulting “preacher” most definitely not. Did Jesus ever go to a funeral and taunt the grieving? Where is this example in scripture? It basically isn’t so how can they claim this action in the name of Jesus.

Last week I listened to someone extolling the virtues of an extra marital affair. She claimed the Lord brought this person into her life to make her happy; despite being married to her husband. Basically saying this “home wrecker” was an answer to prayer. Really? I looked for justification in the scriptures for extramarital relations and I couldn’t find it there either. Why was she giving Jesus the credit for this introduction? Can you picture it? Jesus saying to the Woman at the Well, “Oh yeah and here’s a number for another guy for you to check out despite your being married?

That is not what Jesus taught. Basically Jesus is being hijacked.

” For I am the Lord, I do not change’ Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” In like manner Hebrews 13:8 says: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

It would seem in order to lend credibility to our beliefs, passions and desires we hijack the Jesus from the scriptures and morph him into something that justifies behavior, attitudes or actions. We use Jesus as an endorsement for our thinking no matter how unscriptural it is.

While a dog can change its nurturing habits it can’t change its nature it is still a dog.

God often changes his nurturing habits. Sometimes he loves us with tough love, sometimes he blesses us beyond belief. His nature doesn’t ever change “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He is a changeless God.

I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6)

The Bible speaks to his character and his nature. The Bible is also called the Living Word of God. God is changeless. So is his Word.

We run a huge risk at morphing Jesus to justify us. When we change the nature of God, we change his character which in turn pulls us from the TRUTH of the scriptures that govern our lives. We then are governing our lives by a truth that is only our own truth, not the Truth of the Bible. This path leads us to sin. Because not obeying God is basically disobedience which can only be described as sin.

Point to Ponder: Are you morphing Jesus to justify something in your life? Would that be something Jesus would join you in doing or thinking?

Loved to Death

Have you ever really loved something or someone so much that it hurt? The other day I heard someone say excitedly, “Oh I just love that show to death”! It caused me to wonder where that expression came from. I love words, and as a writer, realize the power they have. Where did that phrase originate? Have you ever said it?

Photo by Linda Jackman Photography

Have you loved something or someone that you would die for? It prompted me to ponder what has that kind of value in my life? My spouse and my children, “some” of my family members, but that is about it. I’d love to have a house at the beach but I wouldn’t kill for it, nor would I die for it.

What would it be like to be loved to death – imagine it. Loved so well and so much that you couldn’t stand it, you couldn’t speak or breathe you just felt nothing but love 24-7?

We don’t have to imagine, because we all have been. Jesus loved us to death. Literally.

Jesus Loved us to Death. Can you feel the power in those words? He didn’t give up on us. He knew we were going to try and fail and some of us not try at all. He knew we would lie, cheat and steal. He didn’t give up on us. He gave it all up for us.

Sometimes I feel like quitting, giving in and throwing in the towel – on myself, and on my projects. Nurturing, growing, improving, maturing me; it seems like so much effort. Sometimes I feel worthless and undervalued mostly in my own eyes because of my shortcomings and my failures.

But Jesus loved me to death.

In light of those words, quitting or giving up seems like squandering or wasteful. If Jesus thought we were worth dying for, and he is all knowing and never wrong. Why is it so hard for us to see ourselves as worth that? Worth dying for.

Perhaps it is the lenses we use to view ourselves. The world’s lens tells us one story, while the spousal or kid lens gives us another image. Then there is the parent or work lens which can give us a totally different perspective. The view changes based on the lens we are looking through.

Since no one ever gave up more for us than Jesus, we need to look at ourselves through His lens. It isn’t easy and it isn’t natural. I have a dear friend who struggles to do this ever and she is miserable. I have other friends who are confident women and it seems easy for them to use the “JESUS” lens. Personally, I struggle with it and it hinders me.

I am going to try harder to see myself through the Lenses of the ONE that loved me to death. Join me!

Point to Ponder:

What lenses are you using to view yourself? How would your life be different if you saw yourself as Jesus sees you – worth dying for?

Can You Hear Me Now? PART TWO

Last week we explored asking God the question, “Can you hear me now?” when we feel our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. This week let’s take a look at it from God’s perspective.

Hey! You down there – beating your head against the wall… ”can you hear Me now?”

Sometimes I can picture God with a megaphone trying to get my attention. My life is loud. I’ve got the stuff most people have plus junk that is my own stuff. Junk and stuff they can clutter our lives when there is no outlet. Think Hoarding…insert mental visual here.

Recently I was reading about Devil’s Lake in North Dakota. An Associated Press story reported:

It’s been called a slow-growing monster: a huge lake that has steadily expanded over the last 20 years, swallowing up thousands of acres, hundreds of buildings and at least two towns in its rising waters. Devils Lake keeps getting larger because it has no natural river or stream to carry away excess rain and snowmelt. Now it has climbed within 6 feet of overflowing, raising fears that some downstream communities could be washed away if the water level isn’t reduced.

Towns, homes, and acres of land have been consumed by this lake. I think about my sanity and my quiet time being consumed by my junk and my stuff. With a life so loud, it can be hard for God’s answers or his directions to get through. Perhaps prompting him to wonder “Can you hear Me now?”.

When my stuff builds up and my junk begins to overtake my life because it has no outlet, the noise level rises and that “still small voice” is reduced to negative decibels.

It seems that my trials come in the wake of such noise. I often wonder if it is a lack of spiritual discipline on my part that allows the negative stuff to assail me because I’ve been wrong. But sometimes I wonder if God just misses me. He knows at the first hint of trouble I come a runnin’ and praying to him, so perhaps these issues are “allowed into my life” because God misses my conversations, my praise, my worship, and simply my NEEDING him. See, he is a jealous God and my junk, stuff and noise, take my time and focus from Him.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength…”    Isaiah 30:15

He created us with a desire for Him. We are created in His image. He desires and longs for a relationship with us. When our stuff gets in the way, we are weaker. God himself rested on the seventh day. Give your spirit a rest.

Can you hear Him now?

Point to Ponder: What can you tune down in your life so that you can hear Him now?

Can you hear me now?

Do you remember the Verizon Commercials where a guy went all over the place to test that his network was working and his message getting through? How often does our prayer life seem that way?

Have you asked this of God? Can you hear me now? How often have we come to the end of ourselves and felt our prayers were bouncing off of the ceiling? One pastor said that God answers all prayers in His time. He said when we get a NO. It is still an answer. So is a NOT YET. But the answer we are looking for is usually a YES!

Talking to someone this morning reminded me of walking in those shoes. Praying fervently and feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Remembering and having those feelings well back up reminded me that GOD did answer… eventually in my situation. But it was after I had come to the end of myself.

How can we have unshakeable faith. I’ve known people who’ve had it. Horatio G. Spafford penned the hymn “It is well with my soul” near the very spot where his four daughters drowned in a shipwreck in 1871.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When Sorrows like sea-billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say.
It is well, it is well with my soul.”

How does a man have that kind of peace amidst the indescribable pain of losing his family?

Romans 5: 3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”

My journal reads: But God, I want to be a sprinter. I don’t want to be an endurance athlete.

Perhaps when I lose that mind set, my endurance training will be over. Maybe it won’t end, it just won’t seem like training anymore. It will be part of my character like it was Horatio’s. Horatio didn’t ask if God could hear him. He knew God was listening. He was reassuring God when he said, “It is well with my soul”. I pray today for that kind of faith for me and for the person on the other end of my conversation this morning.

Is it well with your soul? Is there a race that you are tired of running? Are you wondering if God is hearing you? Start believing regardless of the outcome, “It is well with my soul” and perhaps your victory will be in a most unexpected place.  (Watch for Can You Hear Me Now Part II next week)

Point to Ponder: How would your life be different if you declared victory today?

Image is Everything

Images. For my friend Linda images are everything. She is a professional photographer with Linda Jackman Photography (http://lindajackmanphotography.com/), images are her livelihood. She can tell a story with a photo. She has a gift for not only capturing the right emotion as it happens, but also creating that emotion through visual manipulation. The right light, a filter here or there and a conveniently staged prop and a simple flower can become a gift being given by a petulant child, or an ethereal shot of an infant appears to be a heavenly angel.

Images can evoke emotion. Recently I watched the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and was taken right back to five years ago with a heavy heart watching the devastation of property and people. The other day I was sent a photo that made me laugh hysterically. When I see images of child trafficking or animal cruelty I get angry. Looking at photos of my father can make me wistful and photos of chocolate, well they make me hungry!

While images can provoke us, they can also deceive us. Advertising is full of deceptive images that tell us to drink this, take that so you can look like this. I recently viewed a video that showed how an average gal with ordinary features was transformed into a billboard beauty. Did you ever see the commercial for the square Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger years ago? My son talked about it for days. I saw the disappointment on his face when he unwrapped the burger and uttered the words, “This wasn’t what it looked like on TV”, while it was a good lesson it came at his expense.

One of the coolest verses of the Bible about creation is Genesis 1:26

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” and then verse 27 “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Seriously? We are created in God’s Image ponder this a moment. That same GOD that created the heavens and the earth AND created you…actually created you in HIS image – His likeness. Basically – Image is everything.

A pastor once said, “You might be the only Jesus that people see.” We sang a song in church yesterday the chorus went like this:

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a Crimson Stain
He washed it white as snow

As established above, images are powerful and these words reminded me that if we’ve accepted Christ and believe that he paid it all…our image is white as snow. We can’t live in the past, because God put an end to it when he allowed Jesus to pay our debt.

Point to Ponder: What image do we project and what does our image evoke? Are we the real deal? Or are we morphing what others see on the outside? Are we living in the past or walking in spirit and in truth? What is hindering us from being authentic?

Oxygen, Hydrogen, Carbon…Priceless!

“Who holds the wind in his fists? Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak? Who created the whole wide world? What is his name – and his son’s name?
Tell me if you know.”
Proverbs 30:4 NLT

Okay so I am pondering this. My daily devotions include reading through the book of Proverbs every month. There are 31 chapters in this book of the Bible, so all I need to know is the date and I am equipped. I have been doing this for several years. Last month I came across this verse as if seeing it for the first time and yes…TODAY is the 30th so… I came across it again. All I can say is WOW.

A Chris Tomlin song talks about “Heavenly storehouses laden with Snow” and then there are all the verses trust me, I have researched, that talk about God’s Creations and how magnificent they are. “He drew the boundary for the sea”, “He calls and the stars appear in order”… Does it get more awesome than that? I mean really! God really has it under control.

The postcards he paints via nature are like love letters to us. It is through nature that we not only see His awesome power but also gentleness and compassion. Showing others how to connect to HIM through creation is what Kissed By the Creator is all about.

How beautiful is the sunset? How glorious is the dew on a budding rose? How intricate is the web of an orb spider or the patterns of the wind on the sand dunes in the desert? With sweeping artistic strokes God has created a masterpiece that we get to live in. Drinking it in can be mesmerizing.

Guess what? The creator of all this beauty, this master of much also created you and me. Yes and not only did he create us, but HE loves us more than any of his other creations. We are the desire of his heart. He views us more special and worthy than anything else he created. So worthy in fact he was willing to die for us. We are his most priceless work of art!

I think of the music I have from musicians I admire, and artists whose work I collect and the books by favorite authors that line my shelves, things I consider treasures and priceless, but would I die for them? Nope. Then I think of God’s priceless treasures. We are HIS collection. We are HIS treasure. The Creator of the Universe and all its splendor and beauty tossed together some hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and a 6 foot strand of DNA and here we are…priceless.

Remember, your maker knows your value, even if others don’t. So today make it a point to respect yourself by making choices that reflect your worth. Don’t permit someone’s view of you to overshadow your importance to God.

Point to Ponder: How can you encourage someone today of their worth or their value?

Writer Possessed or Enthusiastic?

I love Greek food. Hummus, tabouli, stuffed grape leaves, olive oil anything yummo! And I think the language is pretty cool too. I know the alphabet because I had to learn it while pledging in college. Yeah Sigma Delta Phi!

I just came across the definition of ENTHUSIASM according to the Greek…

The word enthusiasm comes from the ancient Greek word eufousiasmz EN +THEOS meaning “inspired by or possessed by God”.

The word comes from the ancient Orphic (Orpheus) religious belief system as well as the writings of Plato. The two key meanings in English of the word are:

1. Possession by a god, supernatural inspiration, prophetic or poetic ecstasy; and

2. Rapturous intensity of feeling on behalf of a person, cause, etc: passionate eagerness in any pursuit.

One word that people use to describe me other than loud is “enthusiastic” about whatever I am doing. They usually say it while shaking their heads and rolling their eyes like its negative, now I know better! I tend to have a sort of zest that folks notice. If you are going to do anything, especially mundane and boring tasks, I am all about making them fun.

Recently we sat in traffic. My three kids 16,14 and 9 on a hot black stretch of road called Interstate 80W which we dubbed the “slow road to nowhere” during our recent trip across PA. We sang, we shouted, we waved, we rocked the truck, we did Chinese fire drills – we had a blast! No gloominess, just hilarious! We made a fun memory out of a yucky situation. We relieved stress and arrived home with stories!

When I think of getting “Beside the Sea with Thee” published. I work with enthusiasm. Not only to get it out and on to the next one, but because I enthusiastically want people to experience God through his creation. Sometimes I picture God creating stuff like actually breathing things into existence. He is the author of enthusiasm. He could have stopped at one kind of fish, or one kind of crab…but NO! He created a plethora of species of everything. What was he thinking when he created the penguin? Really can you look at one and not smile? What about that nasty evil looking angler fish..yikes!

When I put words together without praying first, it is all drab and uninspired but after seeking the Creator, it seems I can tackle CREATING with enthusiasm. Now thanks to the Greek dictionary…I know why…EN THEOS…

Now it is your turn! Point to Ponder:

What are you enthusiastic about and why. And how long has it been since you enjoyed it? Why?

Creating something out of Nothing…literally

The week after being tremendously blessed at a Writer’s Conference I am tool-LESS. Is this a word? Nope. It is my reality however. Shortly after being inspired, energized and equipped to pursue my craft and the progress of publishing my book, it happened.

The first “it” was a power surge that fried the surge protector in my office. No Modem, No Router, No Cordless Phone for awhile. I felt adrift. Full of words but no way to share them. But, I did have my cell phone as a link to the outside world. I had it that is until Saturday Morning. The next “it” was when a ride on the Phantom’s Revenge Roller Coaster went horribly wrong according to my cell phone which at some point during the 92 MPH twisty and turny ride was liberated from my pocket. Daughter Hannah made a valiant attempt at retrieval, but alas in the blink of an eye it bounced off the car behind us and fell into that great abyss under the coaster.

So, my contacts, calendar, texts, photos and yes my lifeline remain at Kennywood.

Determined to think positively of being reunited with my phone, I filled out the proper paperwork to have it sent to my house when found. In the meantime, it is quiet. I am undisturbed. No buzzing or ringing.

The lesson? I think I am being forced to spend more time Communicating with my CREATOR than actually Creating. I am not complaining. During this time of cyber solitude and being UNnetworked, I am reading more and searching more. I am enjoying the change. I actually enjoy being unwired and unteathered.

My new office is Panera, where I have been able to enjoy a cup of coffee and a REAL conversation or two with people I bump into daily. Face to Face Chatting has its benefits especially when they are buying .

I am getting out of the house more regularly but am MORE productive house wise when I am there.

This is forcing me to be organized about what is a priority and what is not when I do get my computer time.

So life has seemingly handed me lemons. I choose to make Lemonade from them. The pondering point for the day?

What negative situation have you been in that you turned around to make it a positive experience?

Now it is your turn to write if you have time. I promise I’ll read it. Better yet, meet me at Panera for coffee and oh, bring your wallet!