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Archive for February, 2013

I have to admit, I’m not looking forward to getting old. It’s not even a real goal of mine, though I haven’t picked out a time to “stop” getting older. I don’t aspire to be 100, now that I’m over half-way there.

Perhaps it’s from watching at close range as my dear friend declined, gave up her home and moved into a nursing home, at the mercy of others’ goodness or not-so-goodness to care for her needs. Yet I’ve seen what God has done for her over and over during this nearly ten-year period, meeting needs and using her to bless others with her prayers and sharing of God’s goodness.

Many say today that there is no point in continuing to live when the ability to give and do and contribute is gone. This beautiful piece I’m sharing today gives another perspective. I hope you enjoy:

What Is Your Quality Of Life?.

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15. True ____ False ____  An inch is a large unit of measure.

The answer’s obvious, isn’t it?

This was an actual question on a Physical Science test during my freshman year in college — possibly a final exam, since I remember so well my agitated state of mind upon reading it. After all, it cost me what could have been a perfect score, and only my second “B” at the school (the first was in Volleyball, but that’s enough said about that).

The class seemed downright hokey to me after the more rigorous courses I’d had up to that point.  I didn’t like the instructor. He taught at a level of challenge designed to keep football players playing.

With such a positive mindset, the exam question of whether or not an inch was a large unit of measure set my brain to screaming, “COMPARED TO WHAT???!!!  MILES OR MICRONS???!!!”  Needless to say, with a fifty percent chance of getting that one right, I didn’t (I can’t remember which I chose, but probably checked “True”, just to make my point. Great choice).

It’s all about perspective

Time and distance are two quantities that can be measured accurately, but are experienced according to our perspective.  Does Christmas take a long time to get here each year? Depends on whether you’re paying the bills or riding the new tricycle.  How much farther is it to Grandma’s house? Could be one more tank of gas or three thousand license plates.

When it comes to time, some things come down to simply what we’re used to, and what we’ve conditioned ourselves (or have been conditioned by someone else, for any conspiracy theorists out there) to accept.

I’ve recently returned to some of my roots, wondering why I ever left. I’ve been enriched by the return, and raked myself over the coals for having bought into the lure away. I’m amazed at my staying so long that I really can’t remember when I first drifted from what was best to go for what was simply good. In what area was this Eureka! moment?

Oatmeal.  Oh, yeah.  It was the big one. I’d heard all the blather about the “original rolled oats” being healthier than the more trendy oatmeal varieties I always bought, but I had resisted buying the original until I’d visited a relative’s home where the original style was the only option. Forced to delve into this texture and taste or avoid eating oatmeal altogether, I gave in and tried it.  It was good. Really good. The texture was more hearty, and the taste more real. I was hooked.

Why should you care about my oatmeal?

Being a writer, I naturally was unable to withstand the urge to think more largely about the phenomenon of really good oatmeal. If it’s more heart-healthy and more digestion-healthy and just down-right better all around, why was it virtually abandoned by society to the degree that health professionals now have to counsel people to select it as opposed to what they’re used to?

Why aren’t we already eating that kind? Is it more expensive? My recent run to the grocery store revealed that it is approximately, if not exactly, the same price, at least where I shop. So what is the problem?

I’ve identified it. Are you ready?

It’s the FOUR MINUTES.

Got it?

No?

Look at the labels. It takes an incredible five whole minutes to prepare the old-fashioned, original kind of oatmeal. How can even health professionals expect people to put that kind of time into readying themselves and their families for the day? I don’t think mothers should be expected to abandon the daily routine that stabilizes their lives, which obviously turns on the ability to only spare ONE MINUTE for cooking oatmeal.

OK. I confess to hyperbole. But in reality, in my writer brain, there’s a connection. We are willing to abandon the good for the quick. Our increasingly attention-shortened society glosses over quality for convenience, without really thinking of what we’re choosing.

There are some things that don’t work as well when done in a hurry

Family relationships.  Listening takes time. Trying to really listen on a cell phone while driving is not only less than safe, it’s less than effective.  Build time into your life to sit down eyeball to eyeball with your mother, grandmother, teenager or child of any age. The pay-off is worth it.
Education.   Our Christian school opted for a print-based curriculum after using a couple of online varieties that seemed to offer a faster-paced way to get things done. Good old pencil, paper, reading, memorizing, and practicing have proven invaluable methods, encouraging the students to interact with human beings before they interact with technology (they get plenty of that both at school and elsewhere!). It takes time, but it works.
 A walk with God. No rushing that one.  A quick blessing over your food, if you take time for that, is no substitute for separating yourself from your to-do list to just seek God, preferably early in the day, with time spent in prayer and reading his word. Looking into the word of God to find the path he gave to begin to know him, and then to respond to what the word says, will be time well invested. Maintaining that walk with him is a beautiful thing, but it takes….time.

So, here’s your question.

____True ____ False: Four minutes can change your world.

The answer? Probably not so much by itself (unless you live a lot longer on real oatmeal). String a few sets together, and apply them to things that matter and you’re getting somewhere.

So what about you? What  time investments are paying off for you? Anywhere you’ve cut corners and found it cost you in the end?  I’d love to hear from you.

Once I Heard the Sweet Song, my debut novel presently in the self-editing phase,  is the story of a family a few decades ago, when all oatmeal was real and took five whole minutes to cook. Do you remember those days?

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We’ve had enough rain in the past few weeks in Mississippi until it’s hard to picture anywhere on the face of the earth being short of water. Even on higher elevations, the ground squishes when you walk. But I know that’s not the case everywhere.

In fact, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows high-level drought conditions (D4 – exceptional, which is a step above D3 – extreme) for a large area of the Plains states, surrounded by descending degrees of drought farther away. Even Hawaii is experiencing drought in some areas, which staggers my imagination for a state surrounded by water.

As much as we like to think we’re in control of our own destinies, how much control do we actually get over the amount of water we have access to? We conserve when there’s a drought, call for a rescue when there’s a flood, and hope for the best in between.

Water through the ages

Moses painted a word picture for the Israelites, near the end of their journey in the wilderness, of the contrast between Egypt, where they had been in bondage, and the Promised Land — Canaan — that they were about to enter:

“For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt from whence ye came out, where thou sowed thy seed and watered it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs.” (Deuteronomy 11:10 KJV)

Meanings of “watered it with thy foot” could include digging a small trench around a plant with one’s foot, allowing water to collect at its base, or operating some sort of foot pump-powered irrigation device. Either way, they seemed to only be able to get water to support a small garden producing a few herbs. The picture is clear, especially when compared with the next verse, that water was not easily available in the land of Egypt.

“But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven:A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.” Deuteronomy 11:11-12 KJV

The land of Canaan was a special place God had prepared beforehand for them, and that he himself watered with rain from heaven and cared for, watching over it all throughout the year.

In fact, God referred to himself in later admonitions to his people as the “fountain of living waters”. Through the words of the prophet Jeremiah, God rebuked the people for having forsaken that fountain of living waters and chosen instead to carve out cisterns, even broken cisterns, that could hold no water. (See Jeremiah 2:13)

Was God condemning the practice of digging a covered reservoir for collecting rainwater? Most likely not, because other references indicate the practice was common for literal water usage. But he made a point they would understand: Why would someone leave a free-flowing, clean, refreshing fountain of water and go a little distance away to dig a cistern, even a leaky one, that was vulnerable to contamination from the ground, from insects or animals or anything that washed into it?

Why, indeed? Obviously he was using the physical practice of getting water via a fountain vs. digging a cistern, to draw attention to more spiritual matters than their source of drinking water. Why choose what isn’t working that well, when all you would ever need, and more than you could ever hope for is so close and available?

Drink up

I know this blog is potentially read by people from all walks of life and backgrounds. But one thing that seems universal is the appreciation for something refreshing and satisfying to the heart. We’re just made that way.

I recently learned that I reside in what a Gallup Poll has determined to be the “most religious state in the U.S.”, earning that distinction for the second year in a row, in fact. But even here, I wonder how people divide out across the fountain-cistern choice index. How many are getting their thirst met with a free-flowing fountain that washes things away and cleanses and heals and restores? How many cautiously protect a little water pooled in the family cistern that they’re too hesitant to leave, either for fear of losing something they’re not ready to part with in the rushing water, or simply fear of trading what they’ve always known for what they are not sure of?

Good enough?

Author Kristen Lamb, an encourager of writers and other artists, warned recently of staying in the Land of Good Enough. The blog is not intended to be about spiritual matters, but about the things in life that can be allowed to hinder writers and other artists from reaching for the greatness that is in them: not by just being lazy or giving up or deciding against writing altogether. No, the danger is in starting to pursue the dream, but being lulled by the security of a day job, or a little return on the writing investment, or other actually good things that make struggling to get the best out of ourselves simply feel like too much to fight for.

The principle surely applies to other areas of life, as well. “Good enough” gets stale, rancid and tasteless. Like the water in a cistern.

So where do you get your water?

Jesus said, in John 7:38, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Believing according to the scriptures — a cut above what’s often thought to be the confession of simply saying we believe — produces a true river of living water.

So what does your Drought Monitor show?

If you’re thirsty, there’s a fountain flowing.

Why do I bother to blog about these kinds of things among people, including many professionals, who have their own ideas about life, which in many cases they are so ably sharing through their writing? Why venture out of a safe zone of topics mutually comfortable to everyone?

Because in a time when I appeared to have all I wanted from the outside, nothing was further from the truth on the inside. One person who was open about a different approach to these matters quietly allowed me the opportunity to decide if I wanted to ask more questions, and I’m forever thankful that I did.

Once I Heard the Sweet Song, my upcoming debut novel, portrays a young girl’s desire to have the best above the good.

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In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter 4, Moses recounts the acts of God in bringing the Jewish people forth out of the nation of Egypt, where they were in bondage, and creating them as a nation unto himself. In verse 19, in the context of warning them not to forget what he had done, and some day look at the sun, moon and stars and begin to worship them, he makes the statement about those heavenly orbs as being what God has “divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.”

In other words, everyone who is born gets to share equally in the benefits of the sun, moon and stars. In the next verse, though, he talks about the special nature of God’s people, saying, “But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.” He had brought them out of the fire to be his own. Not only did he bring them out of the fire, but he led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire. The sunshine was for all men, but the fire was for the relative few he chose from all nations of the earth to be his own (4:7). That way of relating to the people he chooses to be his own continues today.

Sunshine’s general – fire’s specific

In other words, God’s goodness appears to all, but all are not his people. Just because he has smiled on their world and given good things to them to enjoy, does not automatically qualify them as his special possession in the earth. He still calls a people out of the world unto himself, to be his particular inheritance. He loves mankind, and came in flesh to die for all mankind. But that is not enough for all men to be saved. It made a path for them to do so, but didn’t walk the path for them. The calling out doesn’t depend on physical inheritance (the first birth), as in being a direct descendant of Abraham, but on repentance and obedience to the word of God that brings salvation (being born again). Anyone, blood descendant of Abraham or not, can walk the path, but they have to do it the way that was laid out in scripture.

 

Why so exclusive?

Does God intend for only a few to be saved? His word says, “The Lord is… not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. Again he said, “…I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” Ezekiel 33:11. In neither of these scriptures was there an indication that God, who wants all to be saved, was willing to lower his standards to allow anyone into his kingdom without obeying his word. He clearly stated that repentance and turning from wickedness were required.

 

Does he know that only a few will be saved? When the disciples asked him that direct question in Luke chapter 13, he advised them to “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (v. 24). Why not? Because they’re not willing to do what it takes to enter.

 

Ever heard this slogan: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”? Doesn’t that sound exclusive? Couldn’t an argument be made that they’d be more effective if they had more people signing up? And wouldn’t they get more people if they cut back on some of their requirements? All that rugged training and discipline and being so selective of who they allow in? Of course they’d get more people, but they would cease to be The Marine Corps, because the exceptional nature of the Corps defines them as The Marines. If it was easy to do, it would cease to be worth doing in the minds of those who seek the challenge. I’ve observed men who have completed their commitment to the Corps and no longer wear the uniform. They continue to have the bearing of someone who was willing to pay the price to be one of the few.

Sunshine is part-time, fire is forever

Sunshine probably feels best on winter days (if you can call what we have in Mississippi “winter” – the daffodils start blooming here right after Christmas!). When it’s a little cool, I love to find a spot where the sun’s shining and the wind is blocked, and just soak up the sun’s warmth.

 

The same air temperature, as measured by the thermometer, feels a lot different on a cloudy day than on a sunny day. Sunshine makes the difference. But have you noticed what happens late in the evening? That wonderful sunshine, no matter how warm it’s been, cannot hold on against the advancing night. It has to fade, and the air grows cooler, and the pretty, but colder, moon and stars come out. This lasts for hours and hours until the sun begins to rise again. There’s no remedy for it.

 

But what about the fire? With the right fuel, it can be kindled any time. Since time immemorial, men have kindled fires for warmth, for cooking, for light and for protection. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “I baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire;” Matthew 3:11. The role of fire in the word of God is pervasive. It goes all the way back to Genesis, with sacrifices made to God by fire, and into Exodus, with the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, and on into the New Testament. God’s plan of salvation was designed to give us fire that did not have to leave: Fire we could experience when the sun was warming the other half of the world, when things in our lives were not all sunny and wonderful. This fire will burn in the darkest night and warm the coldest heart.

How can you tell?

Jesus said to Nicodemus when he came to him by night: “Verily, verily I say unto you, unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3:5. Something is required to obtain this fire that Jesus came to baptize with. But what does it mean to be born again of water and of the Spirit? The men who were convicted that they were hopeless sinners when the first message after Jesus ascended was being preached on the the Day of Pentecost by the Apostle Peter, the men asked Peter and the rest of the Apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter answered and said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:37-38). They obeyed what was preached to them, and three thousand were baptized and added to the church that day. Repentance (turning from sins) is the first step in coming toward the light of God. Can you see how the other two elements of water baptism in Jesus’ name, and the in-filling (baptism) of the Holy Ghost fulfill the requirements for the birth of water and Spirit that Jesus himself said were essential for entering into the Kingdom of God?

That’s where the fire is: in the Holy Ghost,the fire Jesus came to baptize with.The fire that warms when the world is cold and getting colder.

Do you have it? It’s worth the price to step out of the norm and obey the original gospel to have it. In the Book of Acts, everyone who received the Holy Ghost had a sound that accompanied that experience (as Jesus had also told Nicodemus would happen in John 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth): they spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance (Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6). This included the original Jewish disciples, along with Mary the mother of Jesus and 107 other people (120 altogether in the Upper Room), Gentiles in Acts 10, and disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19. It still comes that way today.

What do you think? Have you received the Holy Ghost and fire since you believed? Do you carry that fire burning day and night? Or are you content to just enjoy the sunshine…? I’d love to hear what you think…

 

 

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