Mud Walking or Avoiding God’s Call

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Have you ever tried to run in a pool or walk through thick mud? It’s like you’re in slow motion. No matter how much effort you put into it, you can’t speed up the process. There have been times in both my personal life and my ministry where I’ve felt like a pool runner or a mud walker.

You know the feeling. You work and work and work to make things happen but everything you do is a dead end or needs to be redone or never gets completed. And it leaves you feeling exhausted and discouraged.

Today, I was reading a passage in Haggai (yes, Haggai) that really spoke to this situation. Let me fill you in on the back-story of this passage.

The Israelites had been in captivity many years but had finally returned to their homeland. During their capture and exile, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This was Solomon’s beautiful temple – the one covered in gold and jewels. When the people returned, they started to rebuild the temple but experienced some opposition from the foreigners living with them in the land so they stopped and just started doing life.

God wanted to know why they had built themselves fine houses, while His house was in ruins.

“And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.” Haggai 1:9 NLT

Let me give you the life application part of this story: Ever worked to make your home or family life great by either cleaning, organizing, decorating, buying new fun toys, etc. while your spiritual life or God’s calling on your life is abandoned?

Let me be clear. I’m not saying you should abandon your family for a calling on your life. That is not from God. Your family is a ministry, as well. But. I am saying God comes first! Time spent with Him and cleaning your heart should not take second place to all the “stuff” with which we become consumed. Clean your heart before your house. Sometimes we tend to busy ourselves with things that aren’t really important because we are too afraid to face what God has really asked us to do.

When God blows away all the stuff you are working on, that’s a giant hint to re-evaluate what it is you are doing. In this story, Haggai gave the people the message from God to rebuild the temple.

The Bible says, “When they heard the words of the prophet Haggai, whom the Lord their God had sent, the people feared the Lord.” (v. 12) In other words, they praised or revered God.

Haggai then gave them this message: “I am with you, says the Lord.” (v. 13)
And this is my favorite part.

“So the Lord sparked the enthusiasm of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the enthusiasm of Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the enthusiasm of the whole remnant of God’s people. They began to work on the house of their God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (v. 14)

I love the words “sparked the enthusiasm.” God got them excited about what He called them to do. Do you remember how He sparked the enthusiasm? Through His message – God’s Word.

What is your calling from God? Are you spinning your wheels trying to do everything else? Perhaps you feel like God is blowing away all you’ve done. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because you aren’t doing what He called you to do.

Go to His Word and let it spark enthusiasm in you today. It has certainly sparked some in me and challenged me to take a closer look at my life. In what areas do I feel frustration? Are those the ones where I’m not being faithful to my calling?

Can I pray with you today?

Lord, thank you for your Word. Thank you for speaking to us through it. God, may your words spark enthusiasm in each of us for the task you’ve set before us. Renew in each of us what it is you’ve called us to do, so we don’t feel like we are walking in mud. Use each of us to bring you glory. Amen.

*photo credit

Carol

Hope When You Want to Give Up

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Lately, I’ve had some kind of pinched nerve in my back. It hurts! Any movement of my arms or twisting from my waist send pains through my body that make me light headed.

When I lie down, the pain is worse. If I’ve been lying down and try to get up, I must force myself to keep moving because everything in me wants to freeze in my spot. I’ve found I do better during the day when I’m active. Sounds counterintuitive but it’s true.

Movement makes it better.

I’ve been spending my time alone with God reading in Jeremiah. I’m going to be honest and tell you, sometimes reading it leaves me exhausted. Throughout the book, God has Jeremiah telling the kingdom of Judah over and over again to repent. Instead, they threaten Jeremiah and ignore his warnings. In this section of the Bible, some of the Israelites have already been led away from Jerusalem to Babylon.

They have been taken as captives from the land God promised them. God’s chosen people. In captivity.

But while they’re in Babylon, God asked Jeremiah to write and send them a letter. And there is such hope in the letter for all of us. Here is what it says:

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem:

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away!

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:4-7 NLT

This passage surprised me, and it made me smile. God didn’t tell the people to go into captivity and withdraw. He didn’t tell them to lock their doors and close the windows on life. He encouraged them to live!

He wanted them to set up houses, plant gardens, marry and have kids. I love the New Living Translation’s wording of verse 6. “Multiply! Do not dwindle away!” He even tells them to pray for Babylon. Pray for the people who took them from their homes and took them into exile.

Why?

Why would God want them to live full lives? Be healthy and raise more children?

The answer is a few verses away:

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen.

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:10-14 NLT

God had a plan. A plan to prosper His people. A plan to bring them home again.

While I’m tempted to stop all movement when my back hurts, the best thing for me is to keep moving – keep doing those everyday things to live my life. Keep playing dress up. Keep doing the dishes. Keep kissing boo-boos. Keep cooking dinner.

Perhaps you feel captive to a situation in your life. You, too, may be in a place of pain – a place you never thought you’d be. God’s words for the Israelites are still true for you today. Keep living! Don’t dwindle away, because He has a plan for your future. A plan to prosper you. A plan to bring you home.

Can I pray for you today?

God, I know there are some people reading these words who are dealing with some very serious situations in their lives. There are those wondering how they are going to make ends meet. Some marriages are hanging by threads. Others are dealing with very scary health conditions. Would you place your hand on each of them today, Lord, and let them know you are with them? God you never promised to keep us from the bad stuff, but you did promise to be there with us when we walked through it. Thank you.

Lord, I pray you breathe hope into each of the people who read these words. Let them know they are chosen and favored. Give them strength to not only endure their current situation but to flourish. I ask this in the name of your precious Son Jesus. Amen.

 

*photo credit

Carol

Don’t Trust the President

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I’m sure I’ll take some flak for this post. And that’s okay; I have to share anyway. Now before you go all “conspiracy theory” on me, may I remind you of THIS post? I’m not talking smack about President Obama. This article could be about any president, past or future.

I could’ve even named this post “Don’t Trust Your Mama.” Let me explain.

Today I was reading this passage in Jeremiah:

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.

6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.

8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8 NIV

People are worried about the future of this country. They are concerned with the way things are going in the White House. They worry about gas prices, unemployment, “entitlement” issues of the up and coming generation. Honestly, they are also worried about zombies and Armageddon. Don’t believe me? Watch an episode of National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers” or even better, start a conversation about it on Facebook. You might be surprised how many of your friends are “prepping.”

Now, before you go slamming me, I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. I believe it’s your civic duty to keep abreast of such issues. But there is a fine line between keeping up with them and becoming consumed with them. Very fine.

Go back to the passage in Jeremiah and read the first verse. Jeremiah tells us that whoever trusts in man and draws strength from him is cursed. I don’t think God is cursing those people (just my opinion and I’m not a theologian); I believe they curse themselves. Imagine two apples – one good, one rotten. God doesn’t make you choose the rotten apple. He let you choose, and when you chose the rotten one, you cursed yourself.

This is not a dark back alley. Don’t picture me whispering in your ear, “Trust no one.”
This post isn’t a political thriller. It’s biblical truth.

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Humans are just that – human. We are flawed, imperfect individuals. Jeremiah warns not to hinge everything on a person. Don’t expect the next or current president to be the savior of this nation. Don’t expect salvation from your parents, your spouse or even your pastor. Salvation comes from God alone. Period.

The reason we are struggling as a nation is “we” are putting our faith in people. Humans. And because of that, America is thirsty. We are parched as a country and are looking for more. Some search in bottles, in drugs, in brothels, on computer chat rooms and even in work itself. There is another movement of people who are searching for meaning in doing good works.

Part of me wants to applaud and say, “Great job! Way to go!” I’m glad there’s a movement in Hollywood to get involved in saving the world. But hear me, friends. Good works will not provide salvation. Good works are just that. They are good. But those looking for fulfillment in them will, in the end, will still “be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”

Salvation comes from grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) If you want to know how to plug into an eternal source of water, of Living Water, look for God. You’ll find Him in His Word. Place your confidence in Him alone, and you will be blessed.

The last part of that passage says, “It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.” It could say, “it does not fear when Armageddon and zombies come.” When you put your faith in God, fear for the future of our nation, of our world, doesn’t consume you.

If you are worried about the future of America, and I hope you are, then it’s time for a shift of focus. Don’t put your trust in the president. Don’t put it in the 30 pounds of sugar and the generator you’ve stored in the basement for the end of the world. Put it in God. Seek Him alone. Let Him change you in such a way that your life has an effect on all those around you.

The change in America starts with you. The question is: whom do you trust?

*photo credit

Carol

When God Speaks in Unexpected Places

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I cried at the end of my spin class.

My eyes closed, tears leaked from the cracks and joined the sweat in a race towards my chin and neck.

I didn’t cry in defeat. Nope, I’m too many months in to do that. But I will admit an hour of cycling three times a week isn’t easy. I didn’t cry in pain, but oh, how my legs were on fire.

The class was almost over. We were to the best part – the cool down and stretch. Our instructor, Betty, played a relaxing song for us to “shake out our legs” and “ride easy.”

“Close your eyes and let your bike take you wherever you want.” Betty encouraged us from the front. She was on the beach headed towards a bonfire, she told us. Now usually when she plays this particular song and tells us to go somewhere great, I choose Greece.

I’ve never been but I’ve seen pictures and movies. I imagine Alan and I riding bikes down the spiraling roads beside the crystal blue sea. I’m not sure why I chose a different place or how my train of thought laid new tracks, but when Betty stressed, “You can go anywhere!” I went to Heaven.

Don’t ask me what made me want to ride bikes down the streets of gold. It’s not on my “Things to Do When I Get to Heaven” list. Nevertheless, I was riding my bicycle through the pearly gates.

The streets were lined with people. They were cheering and yelling. Some were waving their hands back and forth and jumping up and down. I smiled at the encouragement and pushed myself to keep riding. By this time, actual chills were running down my arms and legs in the spin room. I know I must have looked silly, riding with my eyes shut and the biggest grin on my face ever.

The music was so beautiful it didn’t take much to close my eyes and be there. I pressed on, soaking in the cheers of all those faces, and then I saw them. Through the faces of people cheering me, I saw my Grandmother and Papaw, side by side. It didn’t take too much to spot my Papaw with his height. They waved wildly and grinned as I passed. Next I saw my Memaw and Pop clapping and clapping. They looked me in the eyes as I rode past.

I kept riding, tears welling until I saw my aunt Gail, who died earlier this year. She was yelling my name. “Go Carol! We are so proud of you!” I bit my lip to keep myself from the ugly cry, and I smiled harder through my tears. I saw my childhood friend Stacey, who died while we were in college. I saw my friend and former Sunday School teacher, Shawn.

Can I tell you I never wanted the song to stop? In my head, I spoke to God. Wow! Thank you, Lord for letting me see this. And suddenly this verse came to mind. I believe God placed it there.

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. Hebrews 12:1 NIV

And right there in the Bodyplex spin room on a stationary bike with a gel foam seat, God confirmed the work He is doing in me and through me. I understood the “cloud of witnesses” were those people who are my encouragers. I knew in my writing and speaking, in serving and loving, in being the Everyday Missionary, I had to press on.

It was as if God stood before me Himself and said, “Good job, Carol. Now keep going.” And so I cried. So now when I feel discouraged, I close my eyes and remember my “cloud of witnesses” and keep going.

Have you ever had a God moment in an unexpected place?

Here is the song Betty played for cool down that day. It’s beautiful.

If you are reading this through email, click HERE to listen to the song.

Carol

In His Presence

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I’ve been promising to write about my mission trip to the Dominican Republic for a while. Forgive me for putting it off. Honestly, I could sit and talk about the experience all day. But strangely, when I sit to write about it, I still find it hard to put into words. Does that even make sense? Anyway, One Vision asked me to write an article for their newsletter about the trip and this is what I wrote. I thought I’d share it here with you. IMG_7941

We bumped down a dirt road, and I squinted out the window of the bus, trying to take in everything on this my first international mission trip.

A friendly face smiled and waved at our pink bus as a rooster scooted behind her. Claudia, the local One Vision missionary, called to us in English.

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“We’re here!”

Nine of us filed off the bus and down a mud path towards the children’s center. We rounded the corner of a concrete block building surrounded by Palm trees and lush vegetation and immediately heard the sing-song “Hola” – the voices of the children greeting us.

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I’m a mom.

It’s who I am. So my first reaction to seeing the children was an emotional one. I wanted to scoop them up and squeeze them.

The sweetest faces smiled at us as the team set up for a Bible story and craft. One group headed out for a prayer walk through the community. Another told the story of Jesus and made a Popsicle stick cross with markers, stickers and glitter. While they did their craft, I took pictures of the kids who needed sponsors.

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Through the lens of my camera, I tried to frame up the children so people back home could see who they were. But how do you capture such personality and sparkle through a tiny glass square? My viewfinder didn’t do them justice. With each click I prayed, “Lord, provide a sponsor.”

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Much to my amazement, this small cinderblock children’s center services 150 children. They provide snacks, help with homework, lead them in crafts, but most importantly, they show God’s unconditional love. Sponsorships from people like you and I help provide that. Being there helped me see how important that support really is.

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An hour later, covered in glitter, sweat and love we left and prepared to begin the women’s conference. Each of us worked in the gift God gave us to minister to these women whose language we didn’t even speak. I was the speaker and shared with them about how when we don’t think anyone notices all the things we do, God sees. God chose each of us for our specific tasks, and He can use those ordinary things to do something extraordinary.

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The women communicated time and again how God spoke through the messages. Each of the ladies on our team led incredible workshops about relevant topics like forgiveness, grief and prayer.

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Our team member Roberta led a prayer corner for them, and they lined up for their turn to pray. Tears were shed – both theirs and ours. It’s amazing to watch as God uses each of His children for His glory.

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On one of our last nights, we sat around a table at the hotel and sang worship, while one of our interpreters played his guitar. Another hotel guest heard the music and told us through translation that he was drawn because he could feel the presence of the Lord.

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I could say the same of this trip. The Lord drew me to the Dominican. He drew each of the team to the children and the women there. While ministering, we felt His presence. And in His presence, we all have been changed.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV

Would you be willing to partner with One Vision to sponsor one of the children there? Or perhaps you want to experience a trip for yourself. Contact One Vision and find out how you can get involved.

Carol