LIVING BY FAITH

I have been married 43 years. A majority of that time my husband and I have lived by faith. What do I mean by that statement? Simply, that we have never had the income that would provide for us to live the way we do. I hear many Christians talk about how they trust God to take care of them. Yet, it seems to me that they are truly trusting in themselves and their ability to make a living. If, God forbid, they would suddenly lose their job; panic would set in. Please understand that I am not saying that other Christians have less faith then I do. I have often sat at my desk with bills in front of me whining to God that we just couldn’t pay these bills and wanting to know what He was going to do about it.

Living by faith is so much more than trusting God to pay the bills it also includes our circumstances.  I have been guilty of thinking that as long as I trusted God to take care of the bills and provide for our physical needs that I was living by faith.  But how do I react when the plans I have are completely blown apart?  When God brings something or someone into my life unexpectedly do I trust that He has a plan that is far better than mine?  As Christians we often brag that we have faith in God.  We sing about our faith in hymns like “Only Trust Him” and “My Faith has found a Resting place”.  We quote scripture about trusting the Lord and His plans for our lives. Yet when life throws us a curve how do we react?

What kind of curves am I talking about?  Losing a job, death of a loved one–especially someone that is “too young to die”, breakdown of our vehicle which we need to go to work, an unplanned pregnancy, betrayal of a good friend, daily roadblocks that mess up our schedule.  There are many more but these came to mind.  God often brings things like this into our lives to remind us that we are NOT in control.  Little things like a simple cold or virus that makes us feel awful and frustrates our ability to accomplish our daily tasks can drive us crazy and send us running to our Heavenly Father demanding that He make us better or “fix” the situation because we have things to do!  True, most of us have some kind of schedule in our head and being sick wasn’t on the list.  Yet, shouldn’t we be asking God what was your plan for me today?  The Bible tells us that we are to give thanks in everything.  Doesn’t that include things that we do not like or understand? Of course it does!  God doesn’t give us an exception clause.  He just simply tells us to do it all the time in good times and bad whether we understand it or not.

So my question is: Are we willing to say “Heavenly Father, I know you and trust you.  I know you love me and have a perfect plan for my life therefore I will thank you for every circumstance, change of schedule, lack of funds or abundance of funds, obvious blessings and trials that could be a blessing.”?  My challenge for myself and you, my reader, is to learn to be thankful in every circumstance trusting that our loving Heavenly Father has a perfect plan for every minute of every day.

 

THE SIMPLE LIFE

Recently, I have talked to several people who are frustrated because they are so busy and their house is a disaster area. They know they need to organize but that takes time that they do not seem to have. Years ago I read The Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund. The theme of the book was organizing our lives so that we had time to serve God and others.

Our purpose in life is to glorify God and to serve others. But, we cannot do that well if our lives and our homes are a wreck and we waste precious time looking for things that are in the wrong place.  Quite frankly, we have become a society that moves so fast and takes on so many activities that we often aren’t home long enough to clean, organize and enjoy it!  The Bible tells us that everything should be done decently and in order and that we are to glorify God in whatever we do.  As Christians we may be decent; but, can we honestly say that our home is orderly and it glorifies our Heavenly Father in the peace and beauty that it projects?  In a world that seems to be spinning out of control our homes should be a sanctuary for anyone who enters the door.  How can we accomplish this and still fulfill our commitments outside of the home?

SCHEDULE YOUR TIME:

First we must recognize that we cannot fix in one day what has accumulated over years.  I have often put off a cleaning or organizing job simply because “I didn’t have time.”  We must quit making excuses and make a plan.  Grab a pad of paper and walk through the house.  Make a list of every area that needs to be organized.  Such as, Master Bedroom, office area, family room.  Now subdivide the bigger areas.  Under Master Bedroom you might put: 1.  his closet, 2. my closet, 3. dressers, 4. nightstand.  What you are trying to do is break the tasks down to where you can accomplish them in 30 mins, 15 mins., or less.

Put this list in a notebook, on a bulletin board or somewhere that you can access it easily and not lose it.  Now create a plan for tackling these projects.  This depends on your activities and family.  Once you have a plan enlist the troops.  Unless you live alone, this should not be done only by you.  It is a fact that people will support what they had a hand in creating.  So find a time to talk with the family and share your vision for a house that is organized well enough that things do not get lost and leaving the house every morning is not a battle.

Now schedule at least 1 day a week that you will work on this plan.  There is no right or wrong way to do this.  Some people might do it every Saturday morning.  Others might choose to spend 30 minutes after supper 3 nights a week to tackle these projects.  Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you are able to do this on a regular basis until the entire house is organized.  In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew!  Doing a little bit at a time will reap results in just a few sessions.  Start with something like cleaning out a junk drawer.  You can probably accomplish this in 15 minutes or less.  The end result of an organized drawer will encourage you to move on to other projects.

It may help to make columns for jobs that will take different lengths of time.  15 mins., 30 mins., and 1 hr.  Some projects like cleaning out and organizing a walk in closet may take at least an hour but a night stand could be cleaned out in less than 15 mins.  If you have these jobs listed in columns and posted in a public place, anyone in the family with a few minutes could pick a job that fits their schedule and mark it off the list.  This way cleaning and organizing can be done whenever someone has a few minutes free or while you are waiting for something to cook or someone to come.

TOOLS:

As you are cleaning areas out you should have 3 boxes, buckets or baskets.  Label 1 “Keep”, 2 “Throw, 3 “Donate”.  As you pull things out of closets, drawers and nooks ask yourself these questions:  Do I LOVE this?  Have I used or worn this in the last year?  Is it a special family memory?  Be honest with yourself.  Quit saving things that you could wear if only you lost 10 pounds!  By the time that happens it will be out of style. 🙂  You can reward yourself with a new outfit if you do lose those 10 pounds. 🙂

I read a good tip for saving memories.  Take pictures of things like your children’s special papers and pictures and save them on a disk then you can look at them for the memories and not have all the paper clutter that will accumulate for the first 18 -22 years of your children’s lives.

MAINTAIN:

Once you and your family have the house in order,  find a way to maintain this level of organization.  Do you and your family need a place to put things when you come home?  Install hooks to hang coats, backpacks, and totes on.  Have a basket and a trash can by the family entry.  Use the basket for mail and important papers that need to be read or filed.  Throw the junk mail away immediately.  Go through this basket at least once a week to file, pay bills etc. You  might even want to keep a jar or cup with pens, pencils, and highlighters near this station so that you can highlight important info as you read it and sign papers to go out immediately.

Make sure that your children have baskets, drawers, cubby holes or shelves where they can put their clothes, toys and books.  If necessary label each area or glue pictures on for those that cannot read yet.  Once this is done make sure that you inspect what you expect.  Insist that they put things away before bed until it becomes a habit.  Just a note here, you must set the example.  Do NOT expect your children to keep their rooms clean if yours is a wreck!  Train yourself to hang your clothes up, throw the dirty things in the hamper, put your jewelry and shoes away and make your bed.  Often the hardest part of training your children is training yourself. 🙂

ENJOY!

Organizing your entire house may sound like an impossible dream; but, it can be done.  It simply takes setting goals and working at it one small step at a time.  Remember, you are doing this to glorify the Lord.  God tells us in His word that we are to do ALL things decently and in order.  I promise you life will be much simpler and your family time more enjoyable when you are not constantly frustrated because you or another family member cannot find something like the keys to the car. 🙂

Now that you have gained the extra time that you used to spend looking for things, ask the Lord how you can use that time to serve Him and others.  Enjoy your peaceful home and the blessings that God will bring when you are serving Him.

HAVE A BLESSED NEW YEAR

I have been reading through the posts on facebook wishing everyone a Happy New Year.  There is nothing wrong with hoping that our friends will have happy times in the new year.  We all want to have peace, joy and good times.  Yet, if we claim to know Christ as our Savior and are desiring to serve him, we must understand that the ultimate goal is NOT MERE HAPPINESS.  Our goal should be that we would desire to know Christ in such a way that we would be willing to share His suffering as the apostle Paul states in Philippians 3:10-14.

This thought process is so foreign to most Americans.  We tend to focus on the “pursuit of happiness” and ignore the fact that true happiness comes from serving God , enduring trials with a trust in God’s perfect plan, and emerging victorious. 

Most of us do not pray for God to bring us trials.  Instead we beg Him to solve the problem and do it quickly!  If we were allowed to go through life with God solving all our problems immediately, we would be no better than a 3 year old who pitches a fit every time he doesn’t get his way!  A spoiled brat is not appreciated when they are small and NO ONE wants to associate with an adult that thinks the world revolves around him!  Yet we set goals for the new year hoping that somehow God will put His stamp of approval on them and make it easy to reach the end result saving us all that bother of working and maturing to be like Him.

May I make a suggestion?  Take the time to look over the past year.  Ask God to show you where you failed, what you could have done differently.  Evaluate what happened over the year.  Where did your plans get changed by your Heavenly Father?  How did God’s divine plan work better than what you thought should happen?  How did God provide for the details?  What did you learn in both the good and the bad times?  Most of the time we don’t learn much in good times.  Yes, we need those fun relaxing times to take our minds off of the stress and give us the good memories to cling to.  Even Jesus took times of rest when He walked the earth.  Yet, it is the trying times that truly shape us and draw us closer to God molding us into a mature Christian that is able to encourage other saints and draw the world to Him.

My prayer for this year is that God will help me to reach the goals He has for me.  That I will learn to trust Him when my schedule changes, when roadblocks are thrown in my path, when life is not a sunny day at the beach.  May I desire to be continually growing to become a mature individual, pleasing God and encouraging others instead of selfishly begging God for a life of ease.

HE WAS A GREAT MAN

My father died November 30, 2016. My husband, Pastor Larry Wagner, preached the funeral service and wrote a very touching obituary for him. The title of his sermon was “He Was a Great Man”. Following is he Eulogy that I wrote and read to honor my father and hopefully encourage others to make sure that they are setting an example for others to follow.

WILLIAM KENNETH BRYANT

Few people knew my Daddy by his given name. Only his mother and older sister called him Kenneth. To his friends and business associates he was Buck. His nieces and their husbands called him Uncle Buck. As he aged and had grandchildren he was affectionately called Papa by them as well as many others that knew and loved him.

Daddy led an amazing life. He was the youngest son of a civil war veteran. Raised on a poor hog farm in southern Missouri he was determined to get off the farm and get a job in town just as soon as he was old enough. He had many stories to tell about growing up on a farm in the 1920’s & 30’s. He was a veteran of both WWII and the Korean War. There were more stories from those years. There were experiences in NY City as he trained to design and make fur coats then from Florida where he moved after the Korean War to go into business with his brother-in-law, Charles Keslake. They had an orthopedic brace business. Buck was supposed to be the bookkeeper; but, he ended up learning how to make casts that would be the molds for the braces that he would create. He ended his working career as a postmaster in Longwood FL. There were plenty of stories from those 18 years! The post office was just as crazy back then as it is now. He started as the postmaster of a small post office with one rural route and, because of Disney World causing unprecedented growth, he retired from the same post office with 32 rural routes.

Yes, there are many stories I could relate to you about his fascinating life and all the places he was privileged to see. But, Daddy is in Heaven now and I am sure he would want me to share his spiritual journey. He gave his testimony many times hoping to impress on church going people how important it was to be faithful and set a good example because others, particularly children, are watching you. Daddy was brought up in a church in southern Missouri. At that time, this church taught that you had to be baptized in running water (the river) to complete your salvation. He remembered many Sundays that they walked down to the river to baptize a new convert even if it was the middle of winter and they had to make a hole in the ice. Personally, I would have waited till July to walk that aisle rather than braved that ice! 🙂  The pastor would always say, “He is going into the water an old man in sin and rising from the water a new creation. Behold old things are passed away…” Daddy said that he would watch those people in the coming weeks and months, some of them became leaders in the church but most of them were not truly transformed. In fact, he went seining the river with some of the deacons of the church. This was illegal because it would strip the river of all the fish in one swoop. Because my father could not see any visible changes in the Christians from his church he believed that he did not need salvation because he was as good as any of them. Daddy often said that it took 40 years for God to beat it into his head that he was a sinner in need of salvation.

After I grew up, I realized that he and I had been saved the same year. He was 40 and I was 8. True, he was already a “good” man so, as a child, I did not notice a drastic change in our lifestyle because my father accepted the Lord. Yet, when I look back I realize that it was at that time that we started attending every service of our church instead of just going to Sunday School and then out for breakfast. Not only did we attend every time the doors were open we were always the first ones there! We even beat the pastor! Little did I know that I was being trained to be a Pastor’s wife!:-)

Because of his childhood experiences it was very important to my father that he set a good example. I was taught by both my mother and father that you did not just go to church and church activities for what you would get out of it, you went to encourage others and be a good example. If you happened to receive a blessing or have a good time then that was a bonus. The church I grew up in had elders and my father was one. Many times I heard how we must set a good example for others because Daddy was an elder and Mama ran the Sunday School and Bible School. Others were watching and it was up to us to be there so that others would be encouraged to do what is right.

Daddy had a servant’s heart. Before he and Mama were ready to retire they told Larry and I that as soon as they were retired they would move to wherever we were to take care of our children to free me for the ministry. Right after Ryan was born, they moved to Winston-Salem, NC. Larry was the youth pastor at Marshall Baptist Church. They enjoyed living in NC and the people in the church. When we took the youth to camp or on Mission trips, Nana and Papa would move into our house to take care of Ryan and Tiffany. Two years later we had to tell them that God was moving us to Iowa to build a Christian Camp. We thought they would tell us to have a nice trip but they would go back to Florida. You see, when I was growing up, I heard that from his boyhood on a poor hog farm my father had decided that farming was a miserable life that he intended to avoid at all costs and they never wanted to live in Iowa again! Mama and Daddy had lived in Iowa for one year. He told me when he drove across the Mississippi River he declared that he was never going back there! But they had made a promise so they sold their trailer in NC, bought one in Iowa and joined the caravan of moving van, cars and motor home to move to Iowa in January. For 25 years Papa lived in Bonaparte, Iowa. He would drive to town to pick up supplies that we needed. Larry could call him and he would come out to camp to hold the other end of a board or something else to facilitate a building project. My husband talked him into helping with some VERY CREATIVE building projects! The biggest thing that he and Mama did was take care of the kids whenever we travelled to churches to present the camping ministry. During the camping season Larry and I would live in their motor home at camp and Ryan and Tiffany would move in with them. Nana & Papa would bring the children out to camp for lunch and supper, run errands for us, and generally made our life much easier as we served the Lord. In fact, my father often threatened to go back to work to get some rest. He said he worked harder in retirement than he had as a postmaster. 🙂

My dad firmly believed that cleanliness was next to Godliness, particularly in cars. Many evangelists who came to our camp talked about looking out the window of their fifth wheeler early in the morning to find my father washing their truck. He loved to serve others by cleaning and polishing. When he lived with Tiffany, her friends would bring him their silver and brass to polish. That kept him busy and happy and those nurses had not had such shiny silver and brass in years! I used to love to have my mother and father move into our house to baby sit while we took teens on mission trips. By the time we returned everything that needed polishing shone, there was not a window that stuck and the carpet was spotless. The man was not into sports or outdoor activities; but if he stayed in your house it definitely would be clean!

In his later years he had a burden for his former navy buddies. He made several trips and phone calls to contact them and make sure that they knew the plan of salvation. Many assured him that they had accepted the Lord. For those that would not, he knew he had tried and that was all the Lord asked of him.

I couldn’t have asked for a better father. I said at my parent’s 40th Anniversary celebration that because my Daddy played with me as a child I was willing to listen to him as a teen. In fact, he was my confidante. I told him many things that I would never tell my mother or anyone else. Daddy had a way of listening without judgment and then advising me in creative ways. He could inspire me to do almost anything because he would end it with, “I know you can do it if you put your mind to it.” I can remember calling him crying that I might as well come home from Bob Jones because I was going to flunk anyway. My mother simply told me that I was not working hard enough, which was probably true, but Daddy told me that he was confident that I could bring those grades up. He was praying for me and he knew that I could accomplish anything if I just put my mind to it. After each one of those talks I would hang up the phone knowing that I could and I must do it because my daddy was praying for me and he told me I could do it. When I was seriously in trouble or had a stupid idea, I would receive a letter from my father. I still have the letter he wrote me during my senior year at Bob Jones Academy. I had the brilliant idea that I would take a year off from school. A friend and I were going to get an apartment, live off campus, and work. After all, we needed a break. 🙂  I wish I could find it to read; but, basically he told me that this was NOT happening in the kind, encouraging yet firm way that was my Daddy.

Because of my loving earthly father, I never had a problem understanding a loving heavenly father. He had the patience of Job yet he knew how to discipline when it was needed. Oh how I hated it when Mama told him I had done something that required his attention! He would sit down with me and ask me what I thought about my sin. Then he would tell me how disappointed he was and how much I had disappointed Jesus. All the time I would sit there thinking in my mind, “please just spank me and get it over with!”

Daddy never ran for political office. He was not rich and famous. But those he met as he moved to different parts of our country will remember a man who was faithful to church and God. He was a man who loved to encourage others by his words and his helpful deeds. My father’s legacy will always be those lives that he touched by his faithfulness in church and example of serving others in whatever way he could.

POOR ME

I was talking to someone the other day and they asked why I had these red patches on the back of my neck.  I told them that it was psoriasis and that it tended to flare up when I was stressed.  In a shocked voice she asked, “What are you stressed about?!”  I tried to explain that we are working every spare minute on the house that we bought in January in an attempt to get it ready so we can move from our temporary housing to our permanent home.  We also have one of the biggest events that our church has coming up in 1 1/2 weeks with a special speaker arriving that I need to prepare a guest room for.  And let’s not forget the pies to bake for the Sunday of Father’s day, the potato salad I am supposed to make the next weekend and 2 other desserts.  Oh yes, and I am supposed to work 3 days a week.  You get the picture.  I’m tired and overwhelmed. 🙂

This morning I was thinking about that scenario and the Lord reminded me that most of us don’t understand another person’s stressors.  What drives me crazy would be a piece of cake to another person.  Yet, that same person could be bent completely out of shape over something that I would just take in stride.  The fact that even our closest friends can’t always understand why we are upset does not keep us from going to them to give us sympathy. If we knew what many of our friends and acquaintances are going through we would be embarrassed that we even THOUGHT we were stressed or overworked.  Just look at the news this last week.  No one has shot me or someone I love and I did not just lose a child to a gator attack at Disney World.  Those are stressful situations that I hope I will never have to experience!

When I am tempted to say “poor me, I just can’t take the pressures of my life”, it’s time to look around and get some perspective of what real problems are.  Then I need to have a talk to the only one who truly understands me–my Heavenly Father who created me just the way I am.  Because my creator is all knowing and all powerful, He also knows exactly how my schedule should work out and what I am capable of doing.  God is just waiting for me to come to Him so that He can give me wisdom and strength to do all that He has called me to do.  Yet I too often forget that fact while working myself up into a dither over something I can’t control. 🙂

 

A LIFE WORTH SHARING

The other day I was talking to someone, no I can’t remember who…senior moment 🙂 , about the advantages of experience. When I was young, just graduated from college and in my first decorating job I would get irritated that people were not impressed with my credentials because I looked too young to know anything. Then I became a youth pastor’s wife and again my advice to parents was not generally accepted because I did not have kids and could not possibly understand their situation. Now that I am officially a senior citizen and a grandparent I understand what a difference experience makes. 

I have often said that I am not impressed with a speaker that wants us to believe that they were born perfect and never had to learn anything.  If that is true, and we all know that it is not, then how can they possibly teach me?  After all, I know I was NOT  born perfect; therefore, I could not possibly attain to their level of perfection!  🙂 So why try?

II Corinthians 1:3-4 has repeatedly been used in my life to remind me that both my good and “bad” experiences are part of God’s plan.  Our creator knows that we need to have experience in many things so that we can be a comfort to others as we share with them how God helped us through similar situations.  But, we cannot help others if we have not emerged victorious from life’s trials.  It is no help to a hurting soul to simply tell them that you know how bad they are feeling.  It is good to empathize with their pain; but, the blessing comes when you can encourage them by sharing how God helped you and what you learned through your hard times. 

So what is the point in life’s trials and disappointments?  Sometimes it is simply God trying to turn us away from a sin that would ruin us or result in a life of pain and regrets.  But many times our loving Heavenly Father is simply giving us an opportunity to grow and learn so that someday we can help others who are experiencing similar difficulties.  When the difficulties and frustrations arise, let me encourage you to get into God’s Word and ask Him what He wants you to learn or how you can gain victory in this situation.  Learn to praise God because He loves you enough to allow you to grow through hard times and He has a plan that is for your good.  When you come out on the other side victorious, take the time to share it with others who are experiencing similar problems.  You will find that many times they will say to you “Thank you for sharing. I can tell that you understand because you have been there and you are not just repeating scripture with no understanding.”  That is what makes a life worth sharing.

INDEPENDENT CAT

We have a cat that adopted us. I imagine that someone threw him out along the highway that is just in front of our temporary home here in SC.  My husband named him “Ralph”.  Personally I don’t like the name but could not think of an alternative so he is officially Ralph.  I inherited a love for cats from my mother.  I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have at least one cat when I was growing up.  All of them just showed up at our house and we adopted them.

Both my husband and I had been talking about getting a dog when we were settled in our permanent home.  Ralph had been coming around to eat for several weeks when we decided to let him come in the trailer to eat and spend some time with us.  I was hoping that we could move him to our new home.  I bought him a small bed and put a flea collar on him.  I brought his food dishes inside to protect them from other wild cats.  My goal was to tame him and give him a safe, secure home where he would be loved and protected from the elements and wild animals.  But, he had other ideas.

The last few days he has shown up faithfully morning, noon and night to eat and sleep in “his” rocking chair.  But other times we will not see Ralph for several days.  He always comes back thinner and seems happy to be indoors once more.  Unfortunately, this behavior has proved to us that we cannot move him to town.  He is too old to be retrained as a house cat.  This past week, after disappearing for several days, Ralph showed up.  His eye was matted shut with blood, half of his tail had been torn off.  It looked like he was the loser in a major battle.  Now he is very interested in staying close to home and showing up for all meals.

This scenario reminds me of humans.  We are so often sure that we can handle our life just fine without God’s help so we go our own way blithely assuming that we know more than our creator about how to run our lives.  For a while this scenario works until our life hits a snag.  We lose a job, someone we love dies, our dreams are destroyed.  We may still muddle along trying to fix things on our own until we finally realize that we could ask our Heavenly Father for help.  Unfortunately, while trying to run our own lives we completely miss the multitude of blessings that God is waiting to pour on us.  Often we end up just like Ralph, covered with scars from the battles of life.

Ralph could have saved himself a lot of pain if he had stayed close to home and allowed us to feed and care for him.  How much pain could we avoid if we would learn to walk daily with our Heavenly Father trusting Him to guide and care for us?  Wouldn’t it make sense that God, who created us and knows everything about our lives, would only want the best for us?

I will always take Ralph back in and feed him and love him.  But, I cannot make his eye to see again or regrow his tail.  God is always waiting for us to come to Him.  He will forgive us and love us.  But the  scars that we created from our sin will not go away.  We need to learn to wait on the Lord’s perfect timing and trust Him that He knows what is best for us even when that big world looks like so much fun.  After all, shouldn’t we have more intelligence and sense than a simple house cat?

Happy New Year

 

Another year has come and gone. For my husband and me 2015 was a wonderful year filled with amazing blessings. In fact I ended my Christmas letter like this, “God is good all the time; but, some years He seems to pour blessings from Heaven our way. This has been one of those years.”  I have no idea what my Heavenly Father has planned for me this year; but, I know that whether it is more blessings or heartache it will be for my good.

Last June we moved back to the south after being in Iowa for 32 years.  God taught me so many lessons during those years.  I believe one of the biggest was to be content no matter what the circumstances.  Often things did not work out the way I wanted them to.  I couldn’t see what God was doing.  Where was the blessing in this trial?!  At times God and I had some very distressing talks!  I explained to Him that we were serving Him and things were NOT supposed to work out this way! 🙂  After all, He promised to protect and bless us if we served Him faithfully.  Of course, my very patient Heavenly Father would remind me that I could not see the whole picture and I must trust Him. 

Now I can look back and see how each disappointment and each trial taught me something.  I know I would not appreciate all that God has blessed us with here in SC if it were not for the lessons He taught me in the past. 

God told the children of Israel to make markers as they went through the wilderness that they might remind their children of all that God did for them.  Even in wilderness experiences, God has promised to be there with us if we will be faithful and trust Him to give us strength and teach us one step at a time.  No matter what 2016 holds, we can emerge victorious if we will walk with God by daily reading His Word and communicating with Him through prayer.   

As we start a new year, let me encourage each of you to review the lessons and blessings of the past so that we will be prepared to deal with whatever God sends our way this year.  May our New Year’s resolution be that we will be faithful no matter what our Heavenly Father has planned for us.

 

THANKFUL FOR THE THORNS

I found this story on the internet and read it for our Thanksgiving service at church.

THANKFUL FOR THE THORNS

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then, in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease. During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. Had she lost a child? No – she has no idea what I’m feeling. Sandra shuddered. Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, can I help you?” The flower shop clerk’s approach startled her. “Sorry,” said Jenny, “I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you.”

“I….I need an arrangement.”

“For Thanksgiving?” Sandra nodded

“Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the ‘Thanksgiving Special’?” Jenny saw Sandra’s curiosity and continued. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories, that each arrangement insinuates a particular feeling. Are you looking for something that conveys gratitude this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted. “Sorry, but in the last five months, everything that could go wrong has.”

Sandra regretted her outburst but was surprised when Jenny said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

The door’s small bell rang. “Barbara, hi!” Jenny said. She politely excused herself from Sandra and walked toward a small workroom. She quickly reappeared carrying a massive arrangement of green bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses. Only, the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped, no flowers!”

“Want this in a box?” Jenny asked. Sandra watched for Barbara’s response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems and no flowers! She waited for laughter, for someone to notice the absence of flowers atop the thorny stems, but neither woman did.

“Yes, please. It’s exquisite.” Said Barbara. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I’d not be moved by its significance, but it’s happening again. My family will love this one. Thanks.”

Sandra stared. “Why so normal a conversation about so strange an arrangement?” she wondered. “Uh,” said Sandra pointing. “That lady just left with, uh . . . .”

“Yes”

“Well, she had no flowers!”

“Yep. That’s the Special. I call it the ‘Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”

“But, why do people pay for that?”

In spite of herself Jenny chuckled. “Do you really want to know?”

“I couldn’t leave this shop without knowing. I’d think about nothing else!”

“That might be good.” Said Jenny. “Well,” she continued, “Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling very much like you feel today. She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she faced major surgery.”

“Ouch!” said Sandra.

“That same year, I lost my husband, I assumed complete responsibility for the shop and for the first time, spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”

“What did you do?”

“I learned to be thankful for thorns.”

Sandra’s eyebrows lifted. “Thorns?”

“I’m a Christian, Sandra. I’ve always thanked God for good things in life and I never thought to ask Him why good things happened to me. But, when bad stuff hit did I ever ask! It took time to learn that bad times are important. I always enjoyed the flowers of life but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”

Sandra gasped. “A friend read that passage to me and I was furious! I guess the truth is, I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.” She started to ask Jenny to “go on” when the door’s bell diverted their attention.

“Hey, Phil!” shouted Jenny as a balding rotund man entered the shop. She softly touched Sandra’s arm and moved to welcome him.

He tucked her under his side for a warm hug. “I’m here for twelve thorny long-stemmed stems!” Phil laughed heartily.

“I figured as much,” said Jenny. “I’ve got them ready.” She lifted a tissue wrapped arrangement from the refrigerated cabinet.

“Beautiful,” said Phil. “My wife will love them.”

Sandra could not resist asking, “These are for your wife?”

Phil saw that Sandra’s curiosity matched his when he first heard of a Thorn Bouquet.

“Do you mind my asking, Why thorns?”

“In fact, I’m glad you asked.” He said. “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but we slogged through, problem by rotten problem. We rescued our marriage – our love, really. Last year, at Thanksgiving, I stopped in here for flowers. I must have mentioned surviving a tough process because Jenny told me that for a long time she kept a vase of rose stems—stems!—as a reminder of what she learned from ‘thorny times’. That was good enough for me. I took home stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific thorny situation and give thanks for what the problem taught us. I’m pretty sure this stem review is becoming a tradition.”

Phil paid Jenny, thanked her again and as he left, said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”

“I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said to Jenny.

“Well my experience says that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, Sandra, Jesus wore a crown of thorns so that we might know His love. Do not resents thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident she loosened her grip on resentment. “I’ll take twelve long stemmed thorns, please.”

“I hoped you would,” Jenny said, “I’ll have them ready in a minute. Then, every time you see them, remember to appreciate both good and hard times. We grow through both.”

“Thank you. What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Nothing but a pledge to work toward healing your heart. The first year’s arrangement is on me.”

Jenny handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach a card like this to your arrangement but maybe you’d like to read it first. Go ahead, read it.”

“My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorns! I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear, teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.”

Author unknown

 

CHOOSE THE HILL YOU WISH TO DIE ON

 

As a pastor’s wife I have done a lot of counseling over the years. One character trait that can cause a multitude of problems in homes, churches, friendships, and businesses is stubborness. The funny thing about stubbornness is that if you call it determination, persistence, or endurance it doesn’t sound so bad. I have found that it is all a matter of perspective. When someone doesn’t want to change and do something my way, then they are being stubborn. But if I stick to my guns and insist that that person go along with me then I am just persistent and right!

I have also found that sometimes I have a hard time determining when God is setting up roadblocks because He wants me to change directions.   Am I just being too stubborn to see it or am I being tested to see if I will throw up my hands and quit.

Many of my struggles throughout life have been caused because I was too stubborn to do it God’s way. I was convinced that I was right and God or whoever the Lord had placed as my authority at the time did not understand the situation. Therefore, I would figuratively stomp my foot and hang in there trying to do it my way until I couldn’t stand the conviction and would go ask for forgiveness. Does this sound like a 2 year old? Yes! Sad to say, just being over 21 does not always mean that we are mature.

So what does God have to say about stubbornness? In I Samuel 15:22-23a Samuel is confronting Saul about his disobedience to God’s directions. And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.   For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

This was a great verse to quote to my children when they were being stubborn and rebellious. But does it apply to adults also? Of course it does! In fact it’s hard to tell your children that they should submit and cooperate if they do not see you having that kind of spirit with the authorities in your life.

Stubbornness doesn’t just affect us personally. It can wreck marriages, split churches, cause us to lose a job and ruin friendships.

So how do we determine the difference between stubbornness and endurance?

1. Ask yourself, “Will this matter in 10 years or in the light of eternity?”. When you are in the middle of an argument or disagreement you should check your attitude. Why do you want to win this discussion? There are so many things that we can argue about that we won’t even remember in ten years. Unfortunately, in some cases, the results of that argument will still be evident. A good example of that is the family that one half is still not speaking to the other half but they don’t know why. When you ask them why they are mad at “Aunt Susie”, they don’t know why. In fact, they may not have even been a part of the original fight. How sad! All those years missed because two people were too stubborn and full of pride to give in and say, “I’m sorry.”

2.When in the midst of a battle, choose the hill you wish to die on. A few years ago a friend of mine used this saying to describe a decision that she made about not continuing an argument with her husband. Ladies, some battles just are not worth winning! When you have a difference of opinion at home, church or on the job, you must decide is this important enough that I am willing to fight to the death to win this argument.

There are battles you have to win.   It doesn’t matter who you alienate…you must win! There are times when winning is not worth the cost. Remember that a wise general understands that he must keep his eyes on the goal–winning the war.  He may lose a few battles in the process of getting to the hill that his troops will die, if necessary, to conquer and win.

So what “hills” should we be willing to die on? We cannot sin to please someone else. For instance, if our boss expects us to lie or cheat as part of our job then it is not stubbornness to tell him that you will not do that. If he doesn’t like it and won’t change, then it is time for you to look for a new job.

3. Submit to the authority over you. The concept of submission to authority is considered almost archaic today. But, like it or not, it is Biblical. God tells us over and over in His Word that we are to submit to authority. He promises to bless us if we obey and to punish us if we refuse to submit.

Now for some people submitting seems easy. For others of us, it is a constant struggle. I have never taken commands easily! My natural tendency is to argue and question every side of an issue assuming that I know the best way to do something. I even tend to have this attitude with God. Naturally, this plan has never worked well for me; but, I still sometimes have to try it just to see if something has changed!! 🙂 Guess what? Nothing has changed. God’s plan is still best and will work every time.

Even our Lord and Savior submitted himself unto the will of His Father when he prayed in the garden …O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. Matthew 26:39.  If Jesus could submit to God’s authority, we should also be willing to submit to our Heavenly Father.

Besides God’s authority, the Lord has put other people in places of authority over us and He expects us to obey them. Colossians 3:22 says Servants obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. In today’s language that would mean employees obey your employer. You may think that there is a better way to do it. There is nothing wrong with suggesting a new method to your boss, but, if he or she says no, then it is your responsibility to obey.

God doesn’t say, “you may disobey if your boss is an idiot.” He simply tells us to obey. I have told my children that someday they may be in authority and they will want others to follow them. Right now it is up to them to follow their leaders. Good followers make good leaders.

We must remember that sometimes those in authority know more than we do about the situation or they have had “this” happen before. They may be making their decisions based on information that we do not have and do not need to know. All we need to do is quit being stubborn and give in to the authority over us.

We also need to remember that whoever that authority is, must answer to God someday for his or her actions. It is not up to us to make them do right, it is up to us to obey God by humbling ourselves, giving in, and submitting.

If you simply cannot do this because it is sin or you just can’t swallow their reasoning, then it is time to move on. Start praying and asking God to direct you.

In most of the cases that I have seen, this is not the problem. It is merely a matter of sinful pride and rebellion. The toddler mentality of “I want it my way”!

Let me insert one note here. When I say move on if you cannot submit, I am NOT suggesting that a wife leave her husband because she doesn’t like some of his plans or methods. God’s word is very clear that wives are to submit to their husband’s authority (Eph. 5:22). If the husband is asking the wife to sin she should refuse. But, in most of the situations that I have counseled, it was simply a matter of she wanted to do it her way. This is not a time for separation it is a time for prayer and maybe counseling.

A wise pastor’s wife once told me that she learned after years of marriage that she could accomplish much more change in her husband by nagging God about her husband’s problems then by nagging her husband. The end result was a peaceful and happy marriage. This plan of attack can work just as well with your children, on the job, or in a church situation.

4.  God calls us to be peacemakers. I am not suggesting that we work for world peace. What I am saying is that God tells us that our goal in any given situation should be a peaceful resolution. The Lord tells us in Romans 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

Notice that God knew that some people simply would not cooperate with others. He did not make us responsible for their sinful attitudes. The Lord simply told us to do everything within our power to bea peacemaker. That means that sometimes we must be the one to give in and let the other person have their way. We don’t have to agree with them, we just swallow our stubborn pride and let them do it the way they want to so that there can be a spirit of peace. Remember, not all hills are worth dying on!

I understand that there are times we just can’t stand to let someone else think that they are right. I remember one time when I was a teenager, my mother and I were having an argument about what I would wear to a church picnic. When Mama went outside, I called my father at the office and informed him of my problems. Daddy, in his mature wisdom, said calmly, “Marcia what difference does it make? Just wear what Mama tells you to.” I being a very wise 16 year old said, “That’s not the point! If I do that, she will think she won!”

Isn’t that the way we are as adults sometimes? It’s not that we have to do it our way as much as that we don’t want the other person to think they won! 🙂

What does God call that kind of attitude? The term is foolish pride. Proverbs 16:18 says Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. When we allow stubbornness and the desire to always win to rule our lives, we can be sure that disaster will follow. God will not bless that kind of attitude.

On the flip side, God tells us in Matthew chapter 5 that He will bless those that work at keeping the peace. I used the word “work” because sometimes it takes work and humility to keep the peace in families, churches, and in the work place. We may be the one that has to give in or apologize even when we don’t see that we did anything wrong.

5. We must remember what our goal is—to be a good testimony and effect people for eternity. That sometimes requires us to keep our mouth shut, back down, and even let the other person think they won. So what! God knows the whole story and He is in control.

Remember, God will not hold you responsible for the other person’s actions. He only holds you responsible for your reactions.

6. One last thought—How do we discern the difference between stubbornness and endurance? If this has not happened to you already, it will at some time in your life. All of us go through times when everything just seems to be hard. Nothing we do seems to go right. So you question. “Lord are you just testing me to see if I will quit or are you telling me that I need to change direction?” How do you find the answer?

First, get into the Word of God and ask the Lord to direct you. Look up and study verses pertaining to the situation in question.

Secondly, ask yourself is there any sin involved in what I am doing? Is the Lord trying to tell me that this is wrong? Sometimes the Lord is causing everything we do to fail because he is trying to get our attention to help us see that we need to change. Hebrews 12:6-11

Third, seek help in wise counselors. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in a multitude of counselors there is safety. By this I do not mean that we go to our peers for advice. A wise counselor is someone that is mature in the Lord and maybe has been through a similar experience and been victorious.

Finally, if you determine that you are not sinning and the Lord is not directing you to move on, then you must accept that he is just testing you to help you grow. Read and study the book of Job and James chapter 1. Also remember that everything that we learn, and the Lord gives us victory in, we can use to help others (II Corinthians 1:4).

May each of us learn to serve the Lord with humility and the discernment to know which “hill” is worth dying on. May the Lord give us the grace to be peacemakers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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