FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Punished or Positioned

This is a very personal post, one born of conversations with a cherished friend that ultimately thrust me into a place of deep introspection.

My friend is facing a season of challenge, a season that I told her a weaker woman could not endure. I suspect God would not even call a weaker woman to navigate such a season. We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that no temptation overtakes us except what is common to mankind, and God is faithful not letting us be tempted beyond what we can bear and when (not if) we are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that we can endure it.  Actually, He will provide a way for us to surthrive!

John Gill’s commentary on the Corinthians pericope gives greater insight, understanding and, I think, comfort and hope! Gill writes:

“Some, indeed, understand these words by way of reproof, that whereas their trials and exercises which had attended them were very light ones, and comparatively trivial; and yet they had given way to these temptations, and had sunk under them, and fallen by them, for which they were greatly to be blamed; or as threatening them with something more severe than anything as yet had befallen them, signifying that though they had as yet stood, and thought they still should; yet they ought not to presume on their own strength, or depend on outward things; since the temptations that as yet had come upon them were such as men might easily bear; there was no great trial or experiment of their grace and strength by them; they had not yet resisted unto blood; there were heavier and severer trials they might expect; and therefore should not be too secure in themselves, but take heed lest when these things should come upon them, in such a time of great temptation, they should fall away.”

Gill continues suggesting that “the words are spoken by way of comfort to the saints; intimating that as no temptation or affliction had befallen them, so none should, but what either came from men, or was common to men, or which men by divine assistance, and under divine influence, might bear; and therefore should not distress themselves with the apprehensions of it, as if it was some strange or unusual thing, and as if they must unavoidably perish and be destroyed by it:

Okay. There are really just two questions the first being, “does God ever give allow us more hardship than we can handle?” (The short answer, of course, is “yes!”) The second question, one which my friend has asked, is “why?” (The only slightly longer but still short answer is “so that we will rely on God and not on our own understanding, strength or power.”

Just as I have when I have encountered seasons of challenge, my friend commented that she felt she was being punished – especially because this season has come about (as so many do) through no fault of hers. Haven’t we all been there? Minding our business, doing right…then BAM! From seemingly nowhere, unexpected and not even deserved (according to us) – a major challenge. A hardship. A struggle. A complication. A setback. Call it what you want, we don’t want it, and we wonder, “why?” Specifically, “why me?”

I will offer you the same question that I offered my friend. Are you being punished or positioned?

I will not attempt to retell but rather will redirect you to the story of Joseph, ask you to read it and consider the question (see Genesis 37). Was Joseph punished or positioned?

If you are at all familiar with the Scriptures, you know there are many others. God positions us for His purposes; every hardship is not about us. Again, look at Joseph. Though he had to endure being sold into slavery, the unwanted advances ad then lies of Potiphar’s wife, imprisonment, being forgotten and more, he was positioned to save his family – including those who authored his hardship.

When (not if) you face a season of struggle, consider you may be being positioned to be used mightily by God. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials (James 1:2-18); your Father is at work! Aren’t you excited to see just what He will do?


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Wet Feet

Just as the Israelites were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, God commanded the priests to step into the water.  Hmm?  Not exactly what you might expect, but no big deal, right?  Wrong!  The Jordan River was at flood stage!  We’re talking wet feet and probably a few other wet things here.

Now surely God knew the Jordan River was there, and He knew that it was at flood stage when He told the Israelites to cross over to their Promised Land. Still He gave the command to Joshua: “. . . Arise, GO OVER THIS JORDAN, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give them. . .” (Joshua 1:2).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like getting my feet wet – especially when I have my shoes on!  Ladies, you know the deal!  Confession – yes, I take certain shoes off in the rain – even if I am wearing hose.  The way I see it, I can buy another pair of Hanes for a WHOLE lot less money than I can a pair of shoes!  I learned the hard way, but it only took one pair of spotty leather pumps for me to learn to save the shoes!

Anyway, back to the Israelites and the Jordan River.

Now, if we didn’t know before, we certainly knew after the Red Sea episode that God could part the waters.  In Exodus 4:21 Moses stretched his hand out over the waters, and the Scriptures tell us that the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.  We know, too, that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:24), so what’s up with the wet feet?  He parted the Sea for Moses.  Why not part the river for the priests?

I think it’s less about the wet feet and more about our desire for God to go first.  That way, we don’t mess up our shoes. We don’t have to work as hard.  We don’t have to wonder how things are going to go.  We don’t get wet feet.

It’s that hesitancy to get wet feet that can keep us camped out on the wrong side of the Jordan River.  It’s that waiting for God to go first that can keep us from our miracle.  Hebrews 11:6 teaches us that without faith it is impossible to please God.  Several examples in the Scriptures – the Red Sea and the Jordan River encounters being two of them – teach us that we are always to exercise faith in God.  Sometimes that faith requires us to be still and wait patiently (think Joseph in Potiphar’s prison), but at other times, it calls us to step up (think Nehemiah), step out (think Naomi and Ruth) and step into the waters (the Israelite priests).

Contrary to our belief, there can be just as much faith involved in taking personal initiative as there is in waiting passively for the Lord to provide.

Pray hard. Listen hard.  Swallow hard.  And go first!  Step out in faith knowing that our God sees, hears and is faithful!

THIS WEEK seek God’s desire for you – patience or a step of faith.  What would the latter look like?  What’s holding you back? Are you being obedient in patience or fearful in waiting?  Seek God’s direction for you and your life.  He will give you peace about what YOU are to do!


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If It Looks Like a Duck

It’s funny – the things we accept at face value and the things we do not.  Get a piece of paper; it can be a scrap, and see how you do on this little Yes or No test:

  1. I have purchased a dress ___ sizes too small promising myself that I would lose enough weight to wear it. (You fill in the blank.)
  2. I have befriended someone (welcomed them into my home, introduced them to family, scheduled special events with them, etc.) when I knew the relationship would be the equivalent of putting a hot coal inside my shirt.
  3. I have said that I liked something (when I secretly thought, “Yuck!) only to receive that something later as a gift.
  4. I have purchased a shoe in a size other than what I know that I wear thinking I could “make them work” for a special occasion (and because they were cute).
  5. I have dated (or married) a man believing that I could, eventually, change him into the man of my dreams.

Each question is worth 20 points.  I trust you to score your own paper.  You do not have to report your score; I’ll let you “sit with” it.

There seems to be two camps – the one that believes you can always turn a situation around and the one that agrees with the old anonymous proverb that says, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck – it must be a duck.”

Here’s my thinking on that proverb…Wrong!

You may think this season of your life is pretty hopeless.  It might be looking like unemployment, feeling like cancer, sounding like a mean boss, smelling like divorce, feeling like loneliness, tasting like failure…  Looks can be deceiving.  So can feelings and all the other senses.

We’ve been following Joseph through several chapters of Genesis, so let’s keep learning from him

Genesis 37:23 (NIV)  “So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing…” Looks like nakedness.

Genesis 37:24 (NIV)  “…they took him and threw him into the cistern.” Tastes like abandonment.

Genesis 37: 28 (NIV)   “…his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels…” Sounds like slavery.

Genesis 39:6b-7 (NIV)     “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” Smells like a set-up.

Genesis 39:20a (NIV)        “Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. Looks like, smells like and feels like the end!

Wrong, again!

Genesis 39:20b-21a (NIV) tells us, “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him…” And two chapters and two years later, we see Joseph not just leaving prison and not just being restored to his former position, but he is positioned second only to Pharaoh. Genesis 41:39 -41 says, “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph…, ‘Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you…I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’” Looks like a test, and looks like Joseph passed with flying colors. Will you?

Max Lucado tells us that God “sees the needs of tomorrow and, accordingly, uses your circumstances to create the tests of today.” He sees your needs, and He sees the needs of others. He uses you and your circumstances to create tests that will bring about His desired results. Sometimes your testing is to bring about a certain result in you. Sometimes it is to bring about a certain result through you, meaning you are the vehicle chosen by God to do a work in someone else’s life. Whichever situation is the case, you want to pass the test. Lucado also reminds us that “some tests end on earth, but all tests will end in heaven.”

So, it might walk like a duck, quack like a duck and even look like a duck, but what it really is is a test! And you want to pass!


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You Just Have to Wait

You ever watch people in a waiting room?  I’m in one now – waiting at the Toyota Dealership while my car is being serviced.  I thought it was going to be brief.  My Dealer has an express lane which requires no appointments if you simply want an oil change which is what I want along with a quick rotation and balancing of my tires.  Wham. Bam. In. Out.  That’s what I planned.

But the Dealership has other ideas.

First, there are about 12 other people ahead of me.  And already I’ve been paged to return to the service desk.  Mike, my service rep, has a list of recommendations, – “Some urgent, some can wait,” he says.  It’s a long list with no prices.  After a bit of chat (and some pricing), I decide that we will take care of about three things on the list.  Then I take a seat.  And wait.

I am in the waiting room with a growing body of fellow Toyota owners, but I came prepared for the wait and so did they.  Cell phones, hand-held games, Nooks, iPods, iPads, Kindles.  One might mistakenly think we are in a Circuit City or Radio Shack were it not for the floor model vehicles, rubber mat displays and tire racks surrounding us.  There are some good old fashioned hard back and paperback books, too.  That’s what I have.

But I am having trouble concentrating on my book.  I am caught up watching my new “friends.”  Even with all the gadgets plus the dealership-provided flat screen television, vending machines, comfortable sofas and magazines, we don’t wait very well.  No one seems to “stick with” their entertainment for very long.  They text a little, flip a few magazine pages, watch a bit of television, text again, make a phone call, get a beverage from vending, take a few selfies, make another call, play an online game, flip a few more pages…

Waiting is hard.  We don’t like to wait.  Ours is the get-it-done-now generation.  In the grocery store line we roll our eyes and look with disdain at the woman with eleven items in the ten-item-or-less lane. (Yes, you do.)  We exhale (loudly) as we stand behind a senior citizen searching pockets for exact change at the post office window.  We ride on drivers’ bumpers and weave through traffic always in search of the fastest lane.  We buy the gadgets that promise to shrink our waists overnight, grow our hair 2-4 inches in one week and make our teeth five shades whiter in two days.

We don’t like to wait.  On mechanics.  On shoppers.  On weight loss. On white teeth.  On God.

Well, we can buy the gadgets, and perhaps lose an “overnight” inch or two (hope you realize it’s water loss) and use the paste that will actually whiten our teeth at least a half shade.  But we cannot hurry God.

Consider Joseph’s story.  You know it well, but let’s look at an excerpt found in Genesis 40:13-14, 23 (NIV):

“Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer.  But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison… The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

That’s the end of Genesis 40. In my Bible you turn the page to begin reading Genesis 41. What one might fail to notice as that page turns is how long Joseph had to wait between the end of chapter 40 and the beginning of chapter 41. Look at Genesis 41:1, 9-14a (NIV)

“When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream… Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.  Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.  Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.” So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon.”

He was quickly brought from the dungeon? Are you kidding me? Two years had passed from the time the cupbearer left the dungeon until he remembered to tell Pharaoh about Joseph!

What was Joseph doing in the meantime? Waiting. Waiting on God.

What was God doing? Working it ALL together for Joseph’s good because we can turn a few more pages to find that Joseph reaps reward seemingly for interpreting dreams for Pharaoh. Read Genesis 41:39-40 (NIV):

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

Joseph waited. God worked.

It wasn’t Pharaoh rewarding Joseph for interpreting dreams. It was God working His plan in His way in His time.

Oh, they’re paging me again. My car is ready. I waited. The mechanic worked.

Max Lucado says, “You can be still because He is active. You can rest because He is busy.”

You can wait because He is at work!

Here’s a bonus for some of you:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQRUrNkuuOE


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Hurry Up; the Red Light is Coming!

My father taught me to drive.

If you knew him, you would find that statement scary.

Let me be clear; I loved my father.  In the words of my paternal grandmother, I loved him better than Peter loved the Lord.  I was probably 30 years old before I thought he could do wrong.  He and I were like two peas in a pod.  We would stay up late at night talking and laughing.  My mother would scream down the hall, “Go to bed you two!”  And he and I would laugh and keep talking.

My sister and I were reminiscing just recently.

Who got up when we were coughing during the night?  Daddy.  He gave you some cough syrup and poured most of it down your pajamas because he was still half asleep.

Who made you rake the leaves with him and then let you jump into the pile?  Daddy.  Then we raked them again and tied them in big white sheets.

Who woke you up in the middle of the night, carried you on his back to the car and took you (still in PJs) to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts because it was time for the “Hot Now” sign?  Daddy!

And who taught me to drive?  Daddy.

Now, I loved him, but he was a horrible driver.  He wrecked his cars and then he wrecked my first car.  He would speed to work every morning because he never left home in time.  He passed 2, 3, 4 cars at a time.  He fell asleep at traffic lights then took off when the lanes next to him moved and crashed into the rear end of those in front of him.  Forgive me for telling this, Daddy – but He passed a stopped school bus or two in his day.  And he told me (true story) that the yellow light meant “hurry up ‘cause the red light’s coming.”  Once I put on brakes as I approached the intersection and the light was changing.  He said, “No, squeeze the lemon!”

Isn’t that what we do when God seems slow to move?  When He doesn’t answer, doesn’t move, doesn’t open the door, we rush ahead of Him to make things happen in our desired timing.  But, in the words of Dr. Phil, “How has that worked for you?”  Impatience and acting independently of God does not work.  He asks for our obedience, and red lights are often part of His strategy and plan. We read in Revelations 3:7 (NIV) that “what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open.”

In Genesis we learn of Joseph who waited years for the fulfillment of a God-given dream. Read the story; the wait was more than worth it. God opened a door wide for him and to the benefit of his family. If He did it for Joseph, He will do it for you.

God’s timing is perfect. Obey His signals – including His red lights and yellow lights. As Joyce Meyer says, “Trusting God brings life; believing brings rest.”

And patience brings green lights!


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God-Help

One of my favorite places to wile away literally hours – a good book store.  When I drive past a Barnes & Nobles or a Books A Million, something inside me stirs.  I even get that same feeling in the book section of an Ollie’s.  Ollie’s slogan is “Good Stuff, Cheap,” and it is.  Especially the books!  While other people love navigating the aisles of kitchen gadgets, flipping through the room-sized carpets and rambling through the clothing section, you can find me in the book corner.

I found myself in a book store this weekend.  Nirvana.  My sweetie is the most patient of men, so I literally had as long as I wanted to bask in the smell of new editions.  While the “Religion” section is my favorite (though I honestly dislike that name – Christianity is about Relationship more than Religion, but that’s another blog post perhaps), I also spend time in Magazines, Cook Books and Children’s Books.  But this weekend, the Self-Help section caught my attention.

Self-Help.  Just the name of the section is interesting.  So, I walked the aisle reading some of the titles aloud.  “The Power of Intention:  Co-Create Your World.”  “Real Magic:  Creating Your Own Miracles.”  “The Mindful Way Through Depression:  Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness.”  Interesting.  Lofty Ideas.  The last title I glanced was the most interesting:  ‘Working on Yourself Doesn’t Work.”  Now, I’ve not read any of these, but the only title I was inclined to agree with was the latter.

Working on yourself doesn’t work.  That’s not what much of society, especially the “self-help” segment would have you believe.  If you just focus, meditate, tap into your true inner self and dig deeper, you will be successful.

Let me suggest you look to the example of Joseph.

Genesis 39 (NIV) opens, “Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.” You know the story – betrayed by his brothers, stripped of his precious coat and sold into slavery.  So he arrives in Egypt – alone, half-naked with only the clothes on his back.

Well, he had one more thing because Genesis 39:2 (NIV) says, “The Lord was with Joseph.”  Continue reading this chapter, and I am confident you will agree with me.  This was all that Joseph needed.  In about five verses Joseph goes from arriving, alone and naked to running the house of Potiphar.

He must have read “How to Attract Wealth, Health, Love and Luck in 10 Easy Steps.”  Or maybe it was “Winning Friends and Influencing People for Your Personal Wealth.”  Probably not.  Rather than meditating, chanting mantras or digging deeper, Joseph looked to God.  He didn’t look within; he looked up.  The Lord was with Joseph.  That means that Joseph was also with the Lord.

And the best news this Monday morning?  The same God that was with Joseph, is with you if you accept Him as your Lord.  The promise He made to Joseph is the promise He makes to you.  “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.”  (Genesis 28:15 NIV)  

He offers you what is needed, God-Help.


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Life, Interrupted

In the late 90s two famous actresses, Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder, starred in Girl, Interrupted, a film about a young girl who ends of in a mental institution and befriends a band of other troubled residents.  The question central to the movie’s plot was whether this girl, Susanna, would “drop anchor” at the institution or pull it together and move forward with her life.

Isn’t that how it happens for us?  Life, as we have imagined it and planned it, gets interrupted.  We may not end up in a mental institution, but sometimes we end up way off track from where we would like to be.  Out of school.  Working a minimum wage job.  Unemployed.  Back at home with our parents.  In an apartment that rivals a college dormitory.  Divorced.  Friendless.  Our lives, interrupted.

Interruptions.  At the very least they annoy and frustrate.  Sometimes they completely derail us to the point that we don’t even recognize ourselves.  We are angry or fearful or argumentative.  Our minds are forever foggy and we struggle to think coherent thoughts or make decisions.  We are depressed and lethargic just wanting to sleep.  We are always teary-eyed, on the verge of a full-blown, unraveling breakdown.

But interruptions can be a good thing.  Most often it is in hindsight that we think this – like when we didn’t marry that love of our lives or didn’t take that job or didn’t move into that house.  After the fact we realize that it was a good thing that we were interrupted, that our interruption actually proved to be an opportunity, a blessing even. Why must it always be “after the fact” that we come to this realization?  Why can we not welcome an interruption?

Consider the Wise Men, Mary and Joseph in the second chapter of Matthew.  The Wise Men had crafted a plan based on their observation of a star.  King Herod summoned them and gave them clear directions to return to him with news of the Christ child.  Their plan was interrupted because the Scriptures tell us in Matthew 2:12b that they departed another way.  In this same chapter we learn that Mary and Joseph’s lives were likewise interrupted.  Shortly after Mary had given birth Joseph was warned in a dream to take mother and child and go to Egypt.

Interruptions. Surely.  But how did the Wise Men, Mary and Joseph respond?  Scripture says of the Wise Men that they “departed to their own country by another way.” (ESV)  In response to the angel’s directive for Joseph to “rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,” Joseph did just that.  Verse 14 says, “And he rose and took the child and mother by night and departed to Egypt.” (ESV)

These weren’t really interruptions you argue; these were divine interventions that saved their lives.  I won’t argue with you on that, but I will argue that your “interruptions” might well be divine interventions, too.  But if we are not readily obedient like the Wise Men and Joseph and Mary, what might we be missing?  Life?  Fully?