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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

“Never stop dating!”

That advice is given to those who want to know how to keep their relationship strong, perhaps from those who have realized just in time that their love had cooled and had to be rekindled.

We often struggle in various types of relationships to hold on to the sweet, close times. Life so strongly comes along and wedges its way between people who were once perfectly attuned to one another. How can we keep this from happening? What can be done?

Never stop dating. 

Be intentional about finding what brings a smile to that person’s face, and go out of your way to make it happen. 

The couple who graciously agreed to let me use this picture from a few years back has certainly been a shining example of this advice. Through cancer, strokes, unspeakable family losses, and health declines that most would find hard to comprehend, the light of love still shines so brightly between them. As this picture captured, they are beautifully intentional in showing their love and fierce devotion for each other. When God referred to the marriage relationship as demonstrating His commitment to us, I’m sure this is what He pictured.

As I was preparing breakfast the other morning, something caught my attention: I recognized a “little thing” as being something my Jesus had provided for me. In that moment I thought about what had happened over the past 30 years. The beginning of this beautiful walk with God was often marked by moments of becoming keenly aware of some small thing, and acknowledging how sweet it was that Jesus noticed that and addressed it; of how touching it was to feel His presence in the otherwise mundane occurrences of life; of how different that awareness and closeness were from what I thought was an equivalent walk with God in my denominational upbringing and the years before the Holy Ghost came.

I was still amazed for years at the depth of His presence I had been allowed to know, when in the past, I had only read about and imagined such a true closeness. I knew this change had come because of the Gospel of the Apostles (Acts 2:38) which I was allowed to see as being still  relevant today, and which would bring this power when literally obeyed. I knew that my doing so, by His grace and mercy, had brought all the difference.

When one person in a relationship who reaches out for a close, even intimate, moment is rebuffed or ignored, they often withdraw and become unreachable to the other party. We are formed in the image of God — not only our physical being, but our emotional make-up as well. God penned, through the hand of Solomon, the story of the maiden’s Beloved knocking at her door at a time she found it inconvenient to answer. By the time she decided to arise and open the door, her Beloved had withdrawn himself and gone. 

I remember wet tears rolling down my face once to read that story, and to understand the implications for the treasured walk with God I had been given: if the Spirit of God moved on me for prayer, for closeness, and my heart was “busy” and uninterested at the time, He could very easily move away and be unavailable when I found a “convenient season”. (Felix, who trembled at the preaching of Paul in Acts 24, and chose not to yield to what God was doing until a “convenient season”, never was recorded to have had God deal with him again.)

When God described, through the prophet Amos, Israel’s disdain for the feasts and solemn days He had commanded them to observe — times He had ordained for them to draw closer to Him — He said in that context that he would send a famine unto them, not for meat and drink, but for the hearing of the Word of the Lord. Please know that we don’t come to God when we decide to: we come when He draws us (John 6:44), or not at all.

Over time what changed for me was the recognizing what sweet things were being done, and the remembering that it hadn’t always been that way in my life. Taking the ones we love for granted is something we struggle with in every type relationship. We can even begin to believe we are the reason for our own success in situations where we would look pretty silly propped up by ourselves to make our own way in the world.

Remember. Recognize. Acknowledge. Look for God’s hand in the little things, and take time to thank Him. Talk sweet praises and loving phrases to the God who came to make everything new, and who walks in things both good and bad — for you. If you’ve never seen the truth of Acts 2:38 as it applies to your life, then seek to know God that way — don’t shy away because it represents something different than what you have known. For me, that seeking represented the beginning of something more beautiful than even I could have pictured at the start.

“Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, for thou has left thy first love.” (Rev. 2:4) 

It need not be that way: Start dating again. . . 

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Photo courtesy of Lynn Kelly Author via WANA Commons

The first week of our sixth year with Alpha Omega Christian Academy has just about come and gone. It’s been a full one, with numerous challenges and rewards, but as a day or two off before the next week draws near, it seems like a good time to revisit this post from July 3, 2012.

Let’s have another look, shall we?

JUST DON’T PLAN ON DOING ANYTHING TOMORROW

With tomorrow being a national holiday, that surely sounds tempting: just a day to do whatever comes to mind, or nothing in particular.  I feel having a day with a plan like that once in a while is beneficial.

There’s another way of looking at whether or not we’re planning on doing anything tomorrow:  it’s the “I’m going to get to that…Tomorrow!” list. At this point in my life, I’ve seen several things die of old age on my “Tomorrow!”  list.  But a few crumbling remnants did make it over to “Oh, why not go ahead and try?”, and those that did made lasting impressions.

Like the time I decided for real that credit cards were crazy, and that I was about to be.  Mind you, that was no heroic thing.  It came after I totaled my less-than-one-year-old car, and began to look at my budget, spending plan, frantically scrawled figures, to see what I could afford.  Answer:  “NOTHING”.  Very disappointing.  A single mom, I’d been digging a hole deeper and deeper in credit card debt, thinking I’d get straight “Tomorrow!” I really couldn’t afford much of anything with real money.

I was directed toward the solid financial teaching/debt-lambasting of Dave Ramsey, who had gone bankrupt before learning financial principles.  Of all the good programs on getting out of debt, his communicated to desperate, debt-strapped people (already feeling like idiots), “You’re no dumber than I was, just don’t stay that way!”  The courage to try was imparted. So, with much prayer, and a plan for trimming a few non-essentials from our new budget, the cards were cut up, and I humbly went shopping for something closer to my reality-range. The progress hasn’t been perfect, but having greater balance has been golden. As long as that decision to stop and turn around was on the “Tomorrow!” list, though, I got no benefit from it — only mounting anxiety.

Another thing off the “Tomorrow!” list, is what I’m doing now:  Writing.  In my social work career, the opportunities to compose and collaborate on documents seemed among the most rewarding tasks I had. I grew to see it as more than an interesting sideline and more of a worthy pursuit.  How did I discover that?  By starting.

So you may be processing that last idea: “You found out by starting, and you started by finding out?  Huh?”  Let me explain.  I read someone’s blog I wanted to comment on, and to do so, had to sign up for the blog-hosting site (wordpress.com). When I did, I realized that writing a blog was in my power to do (and was free). That was exciting — and scary.  But the overriding sense was that I felt I had something to say.

The chance to read others’ blogs through Word Press showed me there were writers out there actually encouraging the writing of people they’d never met.  Who knew? Kristen Lamb‘s blog was of this sort, and by looking at the blogs of others who’d commented on her posts, I found several more with solid advice, and the ability to help growing writers learn.  They actually seemed to care whether I wrote that book that’s been on my “Tomorrow!” list so long.

So, my point? One of my favorite sayings is: “It’s easier to guide a vehicle in motion.” Duh, of course it is.  Yet how often have we looked at things we’ve dreamed of and thought, “I just don’t know if I could.  Maybe I’ll look into it…Tomorrow!” The way to know if it’s time to begin is: to begin — just take steps.  Baby steps are great.  With so much of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips (through internet on computer and smartphones, or even your good old neighborhood library), you have the ability to learn about your interest freely. Just begin to inquire: try, and see what can happen.

One more story.  When I retired a year ago, after 27 years as a social worker, I had some misgivings of “What next?”. I prayerfully asked that, and by the time retirement was official, I was deeply immersed in opening our church’s Christian School — our pastor’s vision, but an area I’d felt a connection to many years before.  Learning as we went, all involved were all amazed at the resources and support we found.

Looking back on this first year reminds me of this phrase from God’s word: “…the Lord working with them…” (Mark 16:20). It describes men who didn’t sit back and wonder if they should start, but began, and knew they weren’t working alone. The Lord worked with these apostles who were following his command to preach the gospel (detailed in the book of Acts), and he confirmed their word “with signs following”.

Obviously there are seasons for things in our lives, but when there’s a tug to pursue a passion, even if your ability seems fragile, the doing something — moving it from the “Tomorrow!” list — is the only way to know what can happen. So, just don’t plan on doing anything “Tomorrow!”  See what you can start “Today!”

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File Aug 03, 6 45 21 PM

For me it marks the end of an era.  The passing didn’t make the news, but it certainly affected me.

You see, my earlier single years were impacted by a touch much gentler, more personable, and certainly more genteel than my own. That touch was embodied in three special ladies — two sisters and their first cousin. They and their families took me in, in a manner of speaking, and quietly changed me. While time and circumstances were to push us all in different directions eventually, there was a few years’ interlude that marked my life to this day.

I had never been a “girlie girl”. Just wasn’t. I remember thinking from a young age about what I would “be”, and I hate to say it, but I don’t recall the vision of becoming a wife and mommy competing well with “scientist” or later “psychologist” or the one that eventually  stuck, “social worker”. I went straight from high school to senior college to graduate school to a career, and though I dated some along the way, I wasn’t particularly in a hurry to “find someone”.

Not long after moving back to Mississippi from my year-long attempt to follow my dreams in North Carolina, I had begun to seek God more seriously than ever before, and had been filled with the Holy Ghost at age 26, which began another phase of life, serving the Lord with all my heart. When a few years later I moved to a community nearer my church, I was brought into contact with this group of ladies from an older time. Their desire to exercise biblical hospitality simply bowled me over. It was Sister Grace, Sister Hosey, and Sister Montgomery. (They weren’t nuns, we just use the term “Sister” as one of endearment and respect within our Pentecostal church family.) I’m not sure why two of the ladies were addressed by their last names and the other by her first, except that “Sister Turnbough” might have been a mouthful — few were even sure how to spell it — but most of all, “Grace” just seemed to describe her best.

The events that would draw this reclusive young woman into a family I didn’t know began not long after I moved into the tiny rental house. A knock on my door one Saturday morning brought me face to face with one of the ministers of our church. He had just come from Sister Grace’s house, almost directly across the road from mine. He had prayed for her, he said, but was concerned that she was in pretty bad shape and needed someone with her. My immediate thought (not at all seeking to be the hero in this story) was, “Doesn’t she have family around here? Why me? Besides, it sounds like she needs an ambulance more than companionship.” But, having been “raised”, spiritually speaking, to be in obedience to the ministry, I just said I would go, and went on over. That morning literally changed my life.

The fact is, the woman did need an ambulance, and anyone else probably would have already called for one long before. But Sister Grace truly had the faith of a child, and it had already brought (and would continue to bring) great miracles in her life. She was probably having a stroke. Her face was so distorted it was grotesque to look at, and whatever was happening had affected all her limbs. Seeing the look on my face, she assured me she’d been prayed for and knew God was going to work. The ambulance idea seemed a little difficult to bring up just then, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to pray with her just a bit. Perhaps I could explain my delay to her family.  After a few minutes of prayer, she announced, “Susan, I believe He’s touched my feet! I feel it! Let’s praise Him for touching my feet!” Through my anxiety about possibly letting this woman die on my watch, I began to join her in praising God for touching her feet. In my way of describing it, the Holy Ghost fell in that living room! In a moment’s time, we were worshiping and praising God like it was a high church service. As we praised Him, she announced, “He’s touched my legs! Let’s praise Him for touching my legs!” and here we went again. This continued and progressed until I saw her face go back to normal, and she was as whole as anyone who’d never been affected by anything unusual. I was not only greatly strengthened in my own faith, but my spirit was melded together with the spirit of this woman in a way that nothing else could have done. It would sustain me in years to come, and in ways I could not have imagined at the time. She would later skip down the hall of a hospital as doctors whispered behind her about tumors that had been on her liver on previous MRI’s, but not on the ones they’d repeatedly run that day.

Sister Grace was a package deal. Her own sister was a couple of states away, so her cousins who lived nearby had to fill in the gap, and Sister Hosey and Sister Montgomery, the two with whom she most closely shared her faith, were the dearest it seemed. They all three lived on land their grandfather had owned, as I recall, and had a quite a history in common growing up. They’d just about fall out with each other at times, but at the core, they’d have done or given anything for each other.

In those days, people “set” with each other. I know, that’s not the right word to use (and I still have trouble remembering where to use “sit” and “set” in writing), but the terminology was, “Come and set with me sometime.” These three ladies, and others in their family, would take turns visiting in each others’ homes, just to talk and enjoy one another’s company. We do that on Facebook and other social media now. What would happen if any of us  knocked on the door of a friend and said, “I just came by to set awhile”?

I began to find myself drawn into the “setting”, and over the years some of my rough edges were knocked off. Not gossip sessions, the predominant topic of conversation was the goodness of the Lord and encouragement from His Word. For readers who haven’t known me for a long time, this was major. Being shy and retiring is a rather substantial trait in my birth family of Thigpen’s. (Perhaps that’s why our family reunion has continued for 83 years: our fore-bearers knew they had to create an annual exception just to stay in touch with their kin.)

There were some interesting moments, many of which went against the grain of my plain ways and preferences. Conversations like these. . .

“I want to come see your ‘tiques sometime…” Sister Montgomery was a confirmed ‘tique (antique) collector, as were the others, and going “tiqueing” with her girls or sisters was a highlight. My quick response was, “Sister, you’re welcome to come walk all through my house, and if you see a ‘tique there, you let me know.” It had never crossed my mind that I should consider collecting anything old. To this day, though, if I see an interesting piece of glassware or pottery, it immediately gets turned over to look for a date or an imprint of any kind to show its value and age. And, yes, she’d find a few if she could come today. I even have one or two that Sister Hosey’s delicate hands were able to glue back together after my clumsiness damaged them, as though nothing had ever happened to them.

“One day you’ll have a little girl with long dark hair. And you’ll go shopping together…” If there was one thing Sister Montgomery liked more than ‘tiquing, it was out-and-out shopping. The only thing I was less likely to do than collecting antiques was shopping for enjoyment. Going to a store was a necessity in my book: what you did when you needed a specific item, and you should surely get it over with as quickly as possible. The thought of going to a mall made me wince. It was absolutely not something you did when you wanted to kill a few hours, and certainly not with a child in tow. My daughter is now twenty years old (with long dark hair), and somehow over these years she has shown me that shopping — with someone you love — can bring a great deal of enjoyment. In fact, earlier this week, I shopped til she dropped.

Sometimes, there were gentle rebukes. . .

We were all to prepare food for our church’s anniversary service. This was a big deal. Ministers from everywhere would be there to celebrate with our church and pastor, and the meal we provided afterwards was always something to behold. I was assigned a dish completely foreign to my culinary talents at the time: punch-bowl cake. Mercifully, Sister Montgomery offered for me to join her and her daughters for a group cooking effort in her kitchen, and she walked me through every phase of the dish. One of the layers of cake and pudding and strawberries and whipped cream wasn’t being applied into the punch bowl to her satisfaction, and I had to be directed on how to get it just right. “When I make something for the church,” she admonished, “I want it to taste as good as it can taste, and to look as good as it can look.” To this day, when I’m arranging my brownies on the nicest platter I can find (sorry, but the punch-bowl cake thing just didn’t stick) I remember that my true assignment is to make sure they taste as good as they can taste, and look as good as they can look. I’m trying, Sister.

Beyond the things that had to be done to tune up my gnarly person, there were other moments that made a serious impression on me, just by watching:

The peculiar way Sister Montgomery’s face and voice changed when holding or talking to, or even speaking about, little babies and children — pure delight, devotion, and focus on that little one, as if the greatest gift God ever gave humanity had been placed within her grasp. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone so devoted. The particular way of burping my own baby when she came along was taught by her as well: “stirring” as she called it, worked a whole lot better than the traditional up-on-the-shoulder-back-pat technique. “You have to stir babies,” she’d told me, which was demonstrated as placing the baby upright on your lap, with a hand on the chest and a hand on the back, then ever-so-gently easing her around in a circular motion from the waist. Worked every time, as I recall.

There came a time when Sister Montgomery said she felt we should begin to have some home prayer meetings. I was all for taking more time to pray together. We started meeting every afternoon, with Sister Hosey, and Sister Grace, and several daughters, granddaughters, and others — up to eight or so ladies. I can honestly say that some of the most powerful prayer meetings I ever experienced were there front of that chair where I knelt in Sister Montgomery’s living room. After a few months, though, a day came that would change her life forever. Her beloved husband, Buster, became very ill and was soon diagnosed with cancer. Though the prayer meetings were somewhat disrupted as she focused her sole attention on caring for him, she recognized God’s preparation: “How could I ever have faced this if we hadn’t already been praying beforehand?” Her faith never wavered, even though there came a day she had to let him go. One night as she prayed alone by his sleeping form in a hospital room, a vision of the Lord Himself appeared at the foot of the bed, assuring her of His love and care during that time. It affected all of us, and strengthened her greatly.

Time and readers’ attention spans would fail for me to tell of the warmth added to my life by accounts of how the family came to God one at a time: first Sister Hosey’s daughter, Kathy, who prayed for the rest of the family until God had His way in many of their lives; Sister Hosey and her son, Jackie; Sister Hosey’s and Sister Montgomery’s mother; another son, Kenny; Sister Montgomery’s daughters, Betsy and Janie, followed by Sister Montgomery and her husband; and eventually Sister Grace (hopefully they’ll forgive me if I recorded that out-of-order or left out someone).

They loved to talk about the goodness of the Lord, and when they got the chance in person or on the telephone, that is what they’d do, for as long as both parties could spare to do it. Years ago, Sister Montgomery and I literally talked all night long about Scripture and God’s goodness, and things we’d seen Him do in our lives and the lives of others. I remember the precious craft items Sister Hosey would make by hand, bringing them to sell to raise money for the church.  I felt a bit condemned that I wasn’t more “crafty”. I treasure memories of Sister Montgomery quoting their mother during church testimony services.  Sister Dykes, who I was not privileged to meet, was well advanced in years when she received the Holy Ghost, but fully understood the essence of living a godly life: “Ninety-nine and a half percent won’t do,” she’d said. “It’s got to be all the way in living for God.”

I vividly recall images of shelling peas as a community, an event the three would gather for as faithfully as prayer meeting. It took lots of hands to get those peas shelled right away, most important because “vegetables start to lose their natural sugar the minute they’re picked, and you have to put them up as quickly as possible”, Sister Montgomery had explained.  It was intended to let me know that I wasn’t just being included; my fingers were sorely needed (pun intended).  I hear the echos of her young grandsons as they strolled through her kitchen: “Fix us something we can drag through some syrup”, they said, which she immediately knew meant sausage was to be fried up, and she gladly complied.

We began to lose them a ways back: seven years ago, Sister Hosey slipped away on Easter Sunday, precious and faithful to the end, though cancer had brought her many, many miserable days. Three years ago, Granny Grace, confined to a nursing home for years due to major health issues, prayed her way on over to the other side. Just last week Sister Montgomery left on a Sunday night to join them for an eternal visit in the presence of the One they most adored. To me, it represented the closing of a chapter I’d never even expected to have written in my life, but am so much richer because of.

It really does make going to see them a more precious thought than ever.

 

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I have no doubt that many people familiar with the biblical story of David — “The Poor Shepherd Boy Makes it to the Throne of Israel” heartwarming saga — would like to identify with the elevated king. After all, God promised him that he would bless his house, as in the sons God would raise to sit on his throne, forever. That’s a long time. Who wouldn’t want to be blessed like that? God also promised to subdue David’s enemies and make his name great in the earth. Generations following spoke of “the sure mercies of David”. Not a bad Old Testament hero to be aligned with, right? Most would be thankful to find themselves and their families under the fountain of God’s favor, “blessed like David”.

But how many are willing to be “just like David”, a man after God’s own heart? We rightly consider this phrase from Acts 13:22, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart” to be declaring David’s heart to like or in the fashion of God’s heart. But what if an equally valid perception is that David was in pursuit of God’s heart, as in following after Him closely to have that very heart in himself? A case could certainly be made for that perspective as one looks back over the direction of David’s life: seeking God, praying, praising, wanting to please Him, fighting with all his might against the enemies of the LORD, yet walking away from his own enemy, Saul, when it was within his power to kill him, preferring to wait for God to fight his personal battles for him. These are all actions, the results of strong desire coupled with hard work.

Once there came a time in my life that I was stirred up to hunger for whatever God had for me beyond the faith I had known growing up as a child. I could say at that point I began to be after God’s heart. Answering that hunger, He sent people into my world who had tasted something of God that I had only imagined before that time. I could see it in the way they lived, hear it in their speech, feel it when I was around them — in church or out. I  began to draw closer to them to see what this was about. At every step of that walk, I had a choice to make. I could be comfortable dabbling in their experience from time to time, enjoying what I felt when I was around them, or I could work toward getting that for myself. God had to confront me at one point, in ways that left me no doubt it was His work, to make me realize I had lingered around the edges long enough, and the opportunity wouldn’t last forever. I had to choose to follow, or He would move on and leave me comfortable with where I was before.

You see, it was not just about experiencing the more powerful prayer, the deeper understanding of the Word, the livelier worship, the more authoritative preaching: rather it was the doctrine — the truth in the Word of God — that had to be obeyed before I could enjoy that power and closeness to God I saw in them. Action was required — obedience to the Apostles’ doctrine summarized in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Before that point in life, I thought I knew all I needed to about living for God. I had been a rank sinner for awhile, but had come back to the roots of the belief system I was part of growing up, and was doing all I knew to do: teaching a class, singing in the choir, being faithful for every service. In the lives of people who are sincere in what they believe, and practicing that with all their hearts, there often comes a time when, as with Cornelius in Acts chapter 10, God will take note. “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God,” the angel told Cornelius. But when God took note of him, He didn’t just pat him on the back and tell him he was doing a great job,and “Carry on!” No, he told him where to find a man of God to tell him what he needed to do.

How many, many people have had this same visitation in various forms, yet responded, “What? I’m doing what I’ve already been taught to do, what my family is doing, what my friends are doing. What do you mean someone is coming to ‘tell me what I ought to do’?” I tell you it happens just this way over and over again, to people who confess that they are just like David, after God’s own heart. I understand it because I know the struggle I faced in considering “jumping off the deep end” as my family and friends considered my choice at the time.

I am very logical and methodical, and the last thing I wanted to do was something irrational or foolish that would be a major, public choice. But my prayer, over and over, during the time of consideration was “God, I don’t understand this, and I’m not even sure all of it is right. But if I’m wrong, You show me, because I don’t want to miss You.” I assure you God went to great lengths to answer that prayer. My heart’s cry was to follow Him. In ways I won’t go into for the sake of your time, He met me where I was and did little things, minor miracles in my book, to show me this was, in fact, Him. I knew in my heart of hearts that if it was God who was leading me, I would follow Him anywhere, no matter what it looked like or what it required, because I was ready to abandon anything to have all He wanted for me. I had become, in that sense, just like David. I took the leap of faith so to speak, and when I obeyed what the Apostles preached, I got what the Apostles got: the Holy Ghost and fire.

One day, after I’d had the Holy Ghost only a short time, I remember standing at the mirror in the bathroom of my little apartment, getting ready for work. All of a sudden I was overcome by an indescribable sense of sadness and pain, and in a moment’s time was in a heap on the floor weeping and sobbing, though I knew not why. I cried out to God in agony. As plainly as I could ever feel Him impressing anything on my spirit, the words came, “Do you want this part, too?” Through tear-filled eyes and a with raspy voice, my response was a resounding “Yes!”, for I understood then that this was the burden of prayer that could move mountains in hearts and lives, both my own and those of others. This was the immediacy of being able to be moved by God for whatever His purpose was, not merely the things I knew and thought to approach Him with. This was the walk I had seen in the others that drew me to this way in the beginning. It was my professing to be His servant, to acknowledge that I was “not my own”, but at His beck and call. That was the deeper part of what I had hungered for, without even understanding what it was.

It’s been thirty years. I can tell you that wasn’t a phase or a fad. When I obeyed what I was shown in His word to obey (it sounds simple, but I assure you the steps of Acts 2:38 matter), He changed me forever, and this is still the best life I could ever imagine. Ups and downs? Sure, but always deep calling unto deep, to find more of Him.

So, what about you? Are you only willing to be blessed like David? Or are you sincerely desiring to be just like David? I’d love to hear you thoughts and comments.

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So there you are, snoozing away.  All is calm, quiet, peaceful. Then you hear it:  the whine.  Not one of the kids this time — no, this is the whine of flight, the high-pitched sound of tiny wings. Near your head. You feel the brush of six little feet against your face, and “whack!”, you’ve slapped yourself right out of a good nap.

With advanced education and efforts for mosquito control, there are fewer incidents of this nature at my house these days. I am thankful.  Besides ruining naps, the nasty things carry serious diseases in their minuscule frames.

Have you ever wondered how they find you even in the dark?  I recently read the answer.

You smell.

I know, that’s an offensive thought, but really, you do.

Mosquitoes are genetically wired to detect the carbon dioxide you exhale, along with subtle scents given off by your skin.  So all that is required for you to attract a mosquito is to be. . . alive. They fly around in the dark — hungry, wondering where their next meal is coming from — until they feel the clouds of CO2 pushed from your lungs closing in around them.  They’ve found the smell that is so sweet to them: the signs of life, which of course is accompanied by the blood they crave. I know, that’s disgusting.

So after I read this awhile back, something began to come together in my mind. If our breath attracts insects that are almost unseen, is there a parallel in the spiritual realm?  There is for most things. God is a Spirit. He makes His angels “ministering spirits”.  Satan and his fallen angels (devils) operate as spirits also.

I assure you I don’t walk around wondering if everything occurring is set in motion by some spirit or another, but it cannot be ruled out that there are influences from that side of reality. If there are spirits obeying a master who, as the Bible says, walks about seeking whom he may devour, wouldn’t it be realistic to think there is a way to signal to them that we are vulnerable?

These spirits are not omnipresent, nor can they read our thoughts — but they can hear our words and watch our reactions in various situations. There’s a smell they’re drawn to.

The Bible doesn’t record Satan having to walk Eve over to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to tempt her.  Not to put words in where they don’t belong, but was he watching her and perhaps noticed her gazing at it one day? Had something begun to work in her heart — a curiosity, a comparison of that fruit to the wonderful things she could have, a sense of ownership of that garden she’d helped tend for all those years and should be able to handle every part of by now (1 John 2:16 records the elements of this and every sin: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life)? Did Satan see something that alerted him to the time being right to present his ploy?

Notwithstanding spiritual attacks when we are living right — just because we are a threat — it stands to reason that we can become more or less vulnerable to some things by our actions. God Himself warned Cain: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. . .” (Genesis 4:7).  Cain was angry over God’s acceptance of Abel’s blood sacrifice as opposed to his harvest of his field — God’s preference for one over the other was obvious to Abel because of God having to slay an animal to make coats of skin for Adam and Even when they’d sinned at that tree.  This story unfolded with Cain maintaining his anger until he was standing over the bloodied body of his brother.  Not the outcome you’d expect from the second generation of God’s Creation, right? Yet Cain’s clinging to anger had opened him up to the influence of the darker side of his own nature, and undoubtedly that side of spirit world eager to wreak havoc as well.

I’ve heard it preached that drug use and feeding one’s heart on music of a darkened nature open us up to spirits that would oppress or possess us.  Are there other things that give off an aroma in the spirit world that would make us attractive to them? Does the stream of breath from our bodies — speaking blessing or cursing, bitterness or praise — determine what we are attracting from the other side?

There are incredibly horrible thing happening in the world today.  Those who weren’t raised to be terrorists no doubt had no aspirations to bring murder and mayhem to the world as they grew up. Somewhere, somehow, something changed. We prefer to think there was some factor in the lives of those who do carry out attacks or kill their kids or do other horrible things that could not be a factor in our own lives.  But is that always a given?

Less newsworthy, but more pervasive, are the families that crumble due to long-standing anger and infidelity. Where did that start?

Somewhere there was an attraction or even a wound to the spirit that wasn’t dealt with, and a thought, a seed, began to grow and be watered.

What’s the remedy?

God loves worship, praise, and speaking right things concerning Him. His Word records that He is drawn to it:  “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord harkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name.”  (Malachi 3:16)  But God desires more than to simply hear the voices of those who care to praise Him.  He is looking for the signs from you that they are open to:  repenting of the sins and attitudes that invite His Enemy to have a field day with them, to take the step of washing those sins away in His blood by being baptized in Jesus’ name, and having Him fill them with the power of His Spirit, the Holy Ghost.  He’s attentive to the words from our mouths that draw Him near.

God notices what we say.  The Enemy or his minions, when passing by, hear our words as well.

So what are you attracting?

When my daughter opens the window of her shaved ice stand to take an order or serve up a cup of sweet, colorful shaved ice, waiting flies tend to seize the opportunity to dart in past her.  She works to exterminate them, of course, but the scent of sugar seems to give them courage to brave any pest control. Never one to let a problem linger without investigating a solution, I bought her one of those fly traps with the liquid attractant to hang out back.  You know, the stinky stuff.   Coming to open the shop on the 4th of July, it seemed every fly in the county had been invited to the party. Even more than the smell of sugar, they were drawn to the smell something dying.  The trap had to be quickly disposed of, because it tripled the problem rather that solving it (now there were more and bigger flies trying to come in). The experience made me think.

What do we smell like when we’re holding on to anger, guilt, and refusal to forgive?

King David, who wrote so many psalms, said this, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.”  (Psalm 19:14) If we were to make that the cry of our hearts, wouldn’t our attractant cause the dark side to at least see us as less than an easy target?

That verse is the last in a psalm that praises God for His works and Creation, uplifts His Word as the only thing that can change us on the inside by converting our souls, and asks for God’s help to be kept from sin, that it would not have dominion over us.

We have choices.  Fight back. Pray. Praise. Read God’s Word and ask His help to obey it.  Then follow where He leads.

Smell good.

 

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This isn’t a post about being without earthly possessions, though it wouldn’t be a bad thing to call attention to — there are certainly people in that situation.

Instead it’s a reference to a message Bro. Aaron Dutton preached recently, and its after-affects in my heart. I’ll try not to ruin the message for any who might have the chance to hear him preach it elsewhere, but its effect was profound.

Jacob, the son of Isaac and father of the twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel, had spent many years in the certainty that the coat he had been given one terrible day was evidence that he would never see his beloved son Joseph alive again. Joseph was Jacob’s obvious favorite, the first son of the wife he most loved, and the jealous older brothers had chosen to finally remedy themselves of this thorn in their sides by selling him to a band of traders — making him a slave — when Joseph had been sent by Jacob to see how they were doing with the sheep they were tending. For a cover once they’d done the deed, Joseph’s beautiful coat, the very symbol of his father’s favor, was dipped in animal blood and taken home for whatever conclusions his father would draw from seeing it. The evidence was strong enough to convince the heartbroken jury of one that it was over. Joseph was never coming back.

We spend a lot of time sure of some “never’s” in our lives, as well.
But there would come a day when Jacob was told that the “dead” son was in fact very much alive and was sending for Jacob to come to where he was. He looked up and saw the evidence with his own eyes: a stream of wagons Joseph had sent for him, loaded with provisions for the journey to Egypt, where Joseph was now second ruler over all the kingdom, with enough corn for their starving family to survive the rest of the famine.

O, joyous day when that “evidence” he’d clung to in sorrow was proven to have been a lie! He would never have to wonder again, never have to listen to the false testimony of that coat again! His eyes had seen the proof.

There have been times in a period of prolonged difficulty that I’ve felt joy, I’ve seen my faith rise, and known God was telling me that He would in fact have His way in the end of my difficult situation. He would answer. He would work. I’ve even seen times where there were results, breakthroughs, that seemed as though the end of the long dark period was at hand. But I’ve seen things appear to slip through my fingers, again. A new layer at times added to complicate the situation.

And when I looked down, it appeared what I had left … was still that coat.

You see, the only thing Jacob had for years and years was the coat. Joseph was out there somewhere. But Jacob had no idea; he only had Joseph’s bloody coat. What could Jacob have done? We only read about his decision to grieve until he died, refusing all comfort. The sons who had so cleverly ridded themselves of a troublesome brother had also lost their father in the process. He was never the same again, and they were no more in his favor than when Joseph was among them.

Great loss, and great trouble, can bring great burdens. Jacob had those things to deal with. But would he have had a choice in his response? Consider the situation that came upon Job. Could Job have also said, “I will go to my grave grieving for my sons and daughters?” Of course he could have, and all the world would have said that was appropriate. But we are forever inspired by Job’s responses: “The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

I know that I serve the God who made Heaven and Earth, who robed Himself in flesh so that He could come and shed His own blood for my sinful soul, the God who found a way to reach fallen man, and fill us with His Spirit, and walk with us daily, to shed His love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Is anything too hard for God?

Does it matter if I’m looking at the wagons or the coat today? Can I be like the widow before the unjust judge who just kept showing up at the place where her help was coming from? Can I be like the Syrophonecian woman who turned the refusal of Jesus to heal her daughter into her miracle, by simply saying “Yes, Lord…”, and that hour received what she was so desperate to have?

I know that my Redeemer liveth. If things are to be fixed, they will be fixed by His power, His hand, His Spirit, His Word, and in His way and His time. His question was, “When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the the Earth?”

From Jacob’s story, I can conclude that when all I have is a coat, I can know that my God is still working on my behalf. I don’t know when the wagons are going to come. But I believe there’re dust and rattling wheels in the distance. As Job also said, “Though He slay me, I will trust in Him.” God loves me, and He will not fail, and I can choose to worship and praise Him when I cannot see. The coat does not have to steal my joy.

There may be more days with no good news, days that continue to come for weeks or months or even years after the message we’ve heard preached that inspired us to high hopes.

Yes, there will be days when all we have in our hands is a coat. How do we walk through those days? As though in our hearts, we can see the wagons that are on the way.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

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Maybe I should have packed faster. Then I could have pleaded with Joseph to leave sooner. We should have had a room…

 

Maybe I should have asked those kings why myrrh was brought to my baby. People are buried, wrapped in myrrh. Maybe I should have sent that back home with them. It always made me wonder…

 

Maybe I should have pressed the man Simeon to tell me what he meant about that sword piercing my heart. If I had understood then, maybe I could have changed something, somewhere, somehow…

 

Maybe I should have spoken to those doctors of the Law my son was out-talking in the Temple. Three days it had taken us to find him once we’d discovered he wasn’t with our family on the way home from the feast. I could have told them that up til then he’d just been a good obedient boy; he was just a boy. But that strange reply when we rebuked him,that he had to be about his Father’s business… Still, maybe I should have explained more. Maybe I could have kept them from later growing so angry when the grown-up Jesus told them what they didn’t want to hear in front of those they’d been trying to impress. Maybe they wouldn’t have wanted him dead so badly…

 

Maybe I should have just let that wedding feast go down in dishonor. I knew what he could do, and I was anxious for others to know. He told me his hour wasn’t yet come. Maybe if I hadn’t pushed him…

 

Maybe I should have elbowed my way into that home the day he refused to come out and talk with me and his brothers. We’d heard the Pharisees were working on a plan to kill him. They were calling him a devil. I needed to talk to him, and I just wanted him to step outside. Just a private moment with his mother, to warn him, to talk with him about his teachings that were upsetting so many. If something wasn’t done, this wasn’t going to end well. But his words, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” Then, pointing to those disciples in the room, he’d even gone on to say, “Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” I was so embarrassed and stunned. I just quietly left. But if I could have gotten over myself, persisted as some of those women who needed something from him had done, maybe it could have all changed right there …

 

Maybe I should have been willing to go and try again after John was imprisoned and killed. I should have understood these people would stop at nothing…

 

Maybe I should have died trying to tear him off that cross. They would have speared me and kept on with their mocking, never missing a beat. But wouldn’t that have been better that watching him die? There was nothing left for me to do, but to wonder over all the things that maybe I should have done before. The pitiful form with no resemblance to who he was; the groaning, the agony. From the glorious beginning with the angel in my room, how could so many things have gone so horribly wrong? The gift I was trusted to give life to, to nourish and to nurture, for God Almighty to be born in flesh: I must have been the worst failure God could have chosen for the mother of the man Christ Jesus. Somehow that day, through bloodied eyes, he had seen me there. He had given me to John, who took me home from that day. I had sons left. But John believed. Maybe I should have understood what he was trying to tell us all sooner…

 

Maybe I should have been the first one at the tomb on the third day. Mary Magdalene was there. She was with him at every opportunity while he lived. From the time her sinful wretched life was changed by his word, when seven devils had left her by his mercy and power, nothing could turn her away. I kept hearing he’d been seen by the disciples. I should have made sure I was with them at least once. I would love to have seen him more, before…

 

Now it’s been ten days since we saw him go up into the Heavens in a cloud. He told us to tarry for the promise of the Father, and I came with the eleven disciples and the other faithful women. I watched Peter and the others of the eleven choose a disciple to replace Judas who betrayed Jesus to the murderous crowd. We have prayed earnestly and fervently day after day, but most of the five hundred who were there on the hillside have already gone away. Maybe I should have done more to make them stay. There are only one hundred and twenty of us here now. Is there some reason we haven’t seen anything happen yet? What else I should have done…?

 

But now, what is this? Something is changing. I feel something inside that I’ve never known — or have I? It’s like what I felt whenever He was near me! What I felt when he spoke! When he healed! When he touched me! Tongues of fire are on each of our heads, and there’s a sound of a rushing mighty wind! Languages we’ve never learned to speak are pouring from all our lips! I don’t understand what I’m saying, but some in the crowd are beginning to understand — I’m speaking in their language about the wonderful works of God!

 

Oh, glory to God! This has to be what he promised, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you… He that believeth on me as the scriptures have said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water…” This is the Comforter he spoke of when he said,”…ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you…” He is here! He is in me and speaking forth! Oh joy and wonder!

 

This is why he came! I see it now — all of it! It was as it had to be. I was not failing him, I just didn’t understand why he came the way he did, lived the way he did, and why it all changed so when he began to preach. He died the only way he could die to take my sin and the sins of the world, and it was all for this!

 

Peter is beginning to preach, “…this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, …In the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” He is showing them through the history of our people that Jesus answers all the prophesies about the Messiah!

 

The crowd is convicted; they see who it is they have killed, as Peter says, “God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. They ask what they must do. Peter is replying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call…” Even his killers are being baptized in Jesus name and this Holy Ghost is filling them just like it has us!

 

This is what he came to do. This is what it all was for. This is why I brought forth my firstborn son and laid him in a manger…

 

And I can see the real story is just beginning…

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