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TURNING THE TRAPS INTO TREASURES

August 17th, 2015

This summer has seemed to be a time of preparation for the new season we are about to enter. We are nearing the year of Jubilee, which comes only once every fifty years, when God ‘resets’ many things. I don’t know about you, but I am excited about the future and determined to be ready for whatever God has planned. For sure, I desire to be the best me I can be for such a time as this.

While sitting on a balcony overlooking the lake and the golf course and gazing out on God’s magnificence, I marveled at its incredible beauty in spite of the fallen state of our existence. I found my attention drawn to the interesting placement of the sand bunkers on the golf course below. Although I am not a golfer, I do understand the basics of the game and how the sand traps are strategically located in order to further challenge the golfer on the course. As I gazed over the landscape below, the Lord began to show me how the experiences in my life journey could be compared to a round of golf and in particular, how the sand traps are like the challenges and trials I encounter.

After a really long stretch of not writing, I was delighted that Holy Spirit seemed to be drawing me back to my blog. So, I said yes to the Lord and asked Him to give me a new parable. I must admit, the tasked seemed somewhat daunting because I have seemed to have no new words to write and post for a very long time. I was beginning to believe my blogging season had come to an end. However, my statics report proved that people are still finding and reading my blog.

As I watched the golfer tee off below me, intending to send the golf ball directly toward the flag on the next green, I could see that what appeared to be a simple swing in the correct direction was no easy feat. Somehow that ball seemed to have a way of finding the tall grass or the trees or that sand trap located in a most inconvenient spot. How sweet it would be if the flight of the ball simply headed directly toward its intended target, but that rarely seemed to happen. And so it is with life, it seems. How I would love to head directly toward whatever target is in my sights, but rarely do I accomplish that without some diversion rising up to distract me. Like the golfer I am watching below, rather than enjoying an easy ‘walk in the park,’ instead I find myself battling against frustration and failure while I cup my chin in my hand and try to come up with a strategy to get myself out of one more mess. Eventually the golfer gets that ball out of the sand and back into the fairway, headed back toward its intended target, but in the process, the experience has cost him time and strokes that cannot be recovered. He can only hope he has learned another lesson in the battle of man over golf course. And so it is with life, it seems.

For example, I desperately desire to speak only words of life, words that encourage and uplift others, words that reveal the love I have for the person with whom I am speaking. I ask the Lord to guide my heart, my mind, and the words that come out of my mouth. However, I could not count how many times the opposite occurs and I find myself in the sand trap of misunderstanding, or worse, anger or hurt feelings. Once again I am scrambling to come up with a strategy to get myself out of one more mess. Eventually I get myself back on track, but not without a penalty. I can only hope that I have learned another valuable lesson, and have gotten a better understanding of another precious soul.

Most of our sand trap experiences actually come out of good intentions gone sideways. Just as it is my desire to only speak uplifting words, it is also my desire to allow my actions to be a blessing to others. Unfortunately, sometimes I forget that we do not all think alike. Consequently, I can be prone to act on what I think is the best plan, when the other person sees the situation much differently, and my plan lands me in the sand trap. Once again I am scrambling to come up with a strategy to get myself out of one more mess. Then, like the golfer who has had more than his share of opportunities to learn how to fly the ball out of the sand and back into the fairway, I must once again reassess the situation and determine a Godly method of damage control. Is the sand wet and heavy so it will need a stronger swing of the club, or is it light and fluffy so a softer swing will send the ball upward and out of the bunker. Do I try to explain, or just quietly step away? Is there a way I can correct the situation, or does the other person think I have already done enough? How I back out of the mess I just got myself into could determine the cost of the lesson.

Why, I ask myself, can’t life and human interactions be simpler? I know my heart’s desire is to always walk and talk in holiness and righteousness. However, sometimes the best intentions are not enough to mend a damaged relationship. I suppose the golfer asks why that pesky sand trap needed to be placed in that particular spot. Some golf course designer must have had a good laugh as he laid out the plans to provide golfers a memorable challenge. I know the enemy does his best to distract me from walking out God’s plan for my life, and as part of the devil’s evil plan, he works hard to cause strife and division between me and those I love. I also know that God is able to thwart any and all of the enemy’s schemes, but He does allow some of those sand traps to remain on our path. (I suppose I would be totally shocked to know how many of those evil plans God actually does block!) Because the Word and my personal experiences tell me of God’s great love for me, I can be assured that there is a positive purpose for every sand trap He actually does allow to remain. Just thinking – could the sand traps have a similar result as sand paper?

So what can I do but praise Him and thank Him for His grace and mercy, and also for the sand traps. He shows mercy for my shortcomings and He gives me grace to rise up and accomplish all He has called me to do. I am comforted to know that He will finish what He started in me. He is more than capable of leading me out of the sand traps, of teaching me to overcome any obstacles that stand in the way of my destination – the plan He has set for me.

At the end of the day, I am not able to navigate the sand traps in my own strength. Only as I walk with Jesus, choosing to apply Kingdom concepts to my life, can I overcome and thrive. On a daily basis, I am desperately in need of a Savior at every turn and in every circumstance. But why would I ever want to live any other way? So, if I have ever offended you in word or deed, if you have ever rolled your eyes because of something I just said, or if I have ever frustrated you or messed up your plans, please forgive me and know that I am still a work in progress, leaning on my Lord to lead me out of the sand traps and toward the treasures that await me. Is anybody up for a round of golf on a beautiful day?

 

 

A HEART IN NEED OF REPAIR

June 23rd, 2014

After a really long dry spell, I sense God is nudging me to memorialize my most recent venture into the recesses of my soul.  On one hand, I am excited to feel the creative juices flowing again; on the other hand, opening the door to personal exposure makes me shrink back just a little.

For the past number of months, I have been experiencing nights when my body just does not want to settle in to sleep.  After tossing and turning for a while, I will get up and sit in the prayer room until I feel sleepy enough to go back to bed.  Such was the case a few nights ago.

Unexpectedly, this night brought an entirely different experience.  After crawling back into bed, a heaviness engulfed me and I buried my face in my pillow.   I laid there for hours in the largest pool of shame and brokenness I had experienced in a while.  As my sin nature was being exposed in what felt like a bright and cruel light, I mourned over the condition of my heart.  I sought the Lord for insight and answers, having no immediate solutions of my own, but desperate for an overhaul.

During my awake time in the prayer room, I had settled into my favorite chair, grabbed my laptop, and proceeded to play solitaire.  For nearly an hour, I fell prey to a mind-numbing activity that bore absolutely no fruit.  This had become pretty much a habit lately, and although there is nothing wrong or sinful about the game of solitaire, I was painfully aware that something was terribly wrong.  My choosing to regularly spend my time on this dead-end activity was a hint that I needed to delve deeper into my soul.

As I began to dig, I did not like what I found.  Just a few hours earlier, I had lain prostrate on the floor to receive the gift of travail, offering up my prayer and intercession for the church, our country, and the world.  Shortly thereafter, I had apparently forgotten all about that high calling.  With so much turmoil these days, there is much to pray about, but I had proceeded to fill my head with mindless card shuffling.  So, why was I not using that time to pray?  That was a hard question, and it opened the door to even more painful questions.  Am I really not all that concerned about the needs of others?  Do I not believe that prayer is effective and well worth the effort?  Am I not interested in being a part of what God is doing?  Am I content to simply numb my mind and waste away precious time?  Are these missed opportunities an indictment of my spiritual laziness, the exposure of the true condition of my heart?  Was the solitaire becoming an idol?  Those questions haunted me as I waited to escape in sleep.

It’s no wonder I was in a state of overwhelming grief, too numb to even cry.  Sadly, every question could be answered in the affirmative.  No, not always, but far more often than I wanted to admit.  No doubt my heart was in need of more renewing.  Wow, this was humiliating, and sad, and almost frightening.  I did not even know where to start.  I knew that repentance was in order, but I was not sure I even had what it would take to turn this around.  After all, repentance includes change.  Sure, I could will myself to discontinue playing solitaire, but would that end up being nothing more than behavior modification?  No thanks!  I desperately needed heart change.

When morning finally came, I had a lot to share with my husband as we went for our walk.  With heavy heart, pushing back the blanket of shame, I laid out the whole picture to him.  As I poured out my pain, I continued to ask Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to know about this revelation, and what actions were mine to take.  I knew with certainty that He would complete the work in me, as I invited Him in, but I surely did not know where to begin.  Until some of my questions were resolved and some changes made, I knew that shame had a legal right and a legitimate purpose in my soul.

As we walked, Holy Spirit brought to my mind the story of Todd Bentley.  He is an outspoken evangelist/prophet/conference speaker that we have followed and loved for many years.  Right in the middle of a huge revival with international attention, he took a spectacular fall into sin, and his entire ministry imploded.  For several years he went through ‘the dark night of the soul’ before he was restored and his ministry resurrected.  While people were aghast over his exposure, the Lord showed us His redemptive mode of operation.  When a person is born again, his entire life begins to change as he sheds off his old life, layer by layer by layer.  The deeper the layer, the more hidden the sin.  In Todd’s case, God was in the process of exposing a very deeply hidden sin, one that needed to be brought out in the open and removed.  In order for Todd to move into the next level of his Kingdom walk, this place in his heart needed to be healed and purified.  His adventure was long and painful, but I am certain that the reward far outweighed the horror of the experience.

As I examined that story in light of my own recent exposure, I could see a glimmer of light for me.  Because it was obvious that the Lord had put Todd in my mind at that moment, I knew He wanted me to identify with his story.  As we discussed the correlation, I found my spirit rising as I thought about what it all might mean.  Perhaps God is preparing me to move into a new level, in my ministry and in my Kingdom walk.  Suddenly I was grateful that God had held His microscope up to my soul and had illuminated that root of my sin.

My next concern was for the actual condition of my heart.  I know I can pray and ask my Father to heal me, and then I can stand in faith, believing He will do just that.  But how will I know when that is happening?  Sure enough, Holy Spirit brought my mind to another memory.  A few years ago I went on a forty day fast, and following that fast, I was anxious to know what spiritual victory I had won.  I could not put my finger on anything specific, so periodically I would revisit that place.  Some time later, the Lord revealed the mystery to me in a most unlikely manner.  Waiting for my turn to see my doctor, I was thumbing through a health magazine and I ran across an article about fasting.  The writer said that after his most recent fast, he realized that his faith had become noticeably stronger.  As I pondered the thought of that being a worthwhile reward, I felt an intense stirring in my spirit.  So, I began to test the level of my own faith and, much to my delight, I could see that a strong increase had taken place in me.  That was a red letter day, and I thanked the Lord for the sweet way He revealed my victory to me.  Remembering this incident, I was so encouraged; it was as if God was reminding me to not be concerned.  As I do my part, He will do His part, and He will allow me to see the progress as I go from glory to glory.

Tonight as I ponder over God’s urging for me to step up my prayer life and make it more of a priority, I can look back over the past few years and see how He has brought me along, teaching me His ways, step by step.  I can see a pattern of how He has taught me how to hear His voice and how to pray effectively.  Initially, I had no clue how to pray or what to say, but He has gradually brought me to a place in my Kingdom walk where I have become an effective prayer warrior.  The journey has been slow – until right now.  Suddenly I am sensing a prompting to accelerate, which makes me wonder what’s up.  Is it simply time to sharpen one of the spiritual tools on my tool belt?  Is there a change coming quickly and I need to be ready?  Am I being prepared to step up into a new season?  Is this the result of my receiving a new anointing for travail?  Is God in the process of peeling off one more layer of my flesh?  Did He just lift me out of a downward spiral that hints of addiction and leads to idolatry?  Or did I just need a little prodding to keep me from getting lazy?

Whatever the reason and whatever God’s plan may be, I am ready to step into it.  I am emerging from the woodshed with a new resolve.  As I write this paragraph I am up again in the middle of the night.  A big part of me wants to turn on the solitaire, and I just might do that before I drag myself back to bed.  But before I settle in for some mindless entertainment, first I am going to finish this piece.  Then I am going to curl up in my chair and offer up my prayers for the church, our country, the world, and for those I love.  I know God will teach me the balance, but I need to take the first step and show Him that He is first and foremost in my life.  Shame is beginning to slink away and humiliation has given way to humility.  I have fixed my eyes on the Cross and have received the free gift of forgiveness that Jesus paid such a high price to provide for me.  And I am envisioning myself in the lap of my Daddy God, thanking Him for always looking out for me, and for allowing me the privilege of communicating with Him through the gift of prayer.  Life is sweet again – until the next trip to the woodshed. 

Would you join me in the watch, rejoicing with me as His overshadowing draws me closer to Him?  Who knows, others may notice the transformation in me before I notice it myself.  Will you pray with me?  Will you pray for me?  Will you piggy-back off my lesson and examine your own heart?  If Holy Spirit has been speaking to you as you read about my adventure, I urge you to be swift to respond, allowing God to bless you and guide you in you own new level.

 

 

A CONVERSATION WITH GOD

January 4th, 2014

Settling in to begin the first day of reading in my 365 Day Bible, I declared that I was going to proceed slowly in order to actually read every word.  Too often I am in a hurry and when I speed-read a verse, I miss much of the blessing.  I also decided to stop each time I read something I do not understand, and ask Holy Spirit to bring clarity to that particular message.

I got all the way to Genesis 1:2 before I had a question.  As I read the second verse, I found myself musing over a particular teaching I have heard.  Many preachers are talking about the possibility of there being a large period of time between verses one and two.  I re-read the two verses and tried to comprehend the meaning of each word, looking for a clue I could grab hold of.  Then I reminded myself that because I am not reading the original manuscript, I cannot trust that each word has been perfectly translated.  Oops, I had already forgotten my plan.  So, I quit trying to figure it out, and I asked the Lord if He would give me the answer.  As you probably guessed, He did not give me a definite yes or no; however, He did give me a download of quite valuable information.

Here is my understanding of what I received:  Scripture consists of printed words on a contrasting page.  What it says is what it means.  (God does not have trouble adequately expressing Himself.)  Everything I really need to know can be found in the Word.  Sometimes the complete message needs to be put together like a puzzle, so I might need to search the Scriptures to understand the complete message.  That’s the idea!  This is a task that is never supposed to be completed.  The entire gospel is contained in Scripture, in readable form, for anyone who will invest the time to study.  Oh, indeed, the Word contains many mysteries, but I should not be troubled.  Those mysteries are revealed in their proper time.  Often, finding a searched-for answer will lead to more questions, so I must keep searching.  (If I pursue Him, He will make Himself known to me.)  And when I ask, Holy Spirit will give me wisdom and understanding of what I am reading.  I am embarking on an adventure of a lifetime, one that brings eternal rewards and everlasting joy.

So, I suppose my original question will remain a mystery for today.  I trust that He will lead me to where I need to go, in the event this question is meant to be answered.  In the meanwhile, I will get back to my daily reading, looking forward to getting through the entire Bible this year.

I feel a pull on my spirit to remind myself, and you, that God does indeed speak to my spirit today, in addition to speaking through Scripture.  The written word is not always the last word; however, God will never contradict Himself.  That means if I hear something that does not line up with Scripture, then I have either mis-heard or else I have not correctly understood the written Word.  In addition, if I read a passage that seems to contradict another passage in the Bible, then I need to go back and read everything I can find until the two messages line up in my brain.  God does not change.  He does not contradict Himself.  He is not the master of confusion.  And I especially need to always remember that because of His incredibly deep and intense love for me, and because of His great desire for me to know Him intimately, He will never abandon me in my search for truth.  On the contrary, He will encourage me and draw me closer and lead me to that place where the Word transforms my life and prepares me for eternity.