comments Comments Off on Visionland
By , December 31, 2012 9:21 pm

Where there is no vision the people perish.

Proverbs 29:18 KJV

The new Director of Children’s Ministries at church was very persuasive. She asked me to be in charge of Bonus Days. It was tempting because it was a cool new activity for middle schoolers and my son Jackson would be participating for the first time that summer.
Bonus Days was an ambitious undertaking. I knew immediately that I didn’t have that kind of time in light of my other commitments. As the parent of young children, my opportunities for volunteering seemed almost endless. I had left my corporate career to take on several new job titles including team mom, assistant Cub Scout leader, room mother, and director of Vacation Bible School. I was stretched thin and my family got a steady diet of leftovers (both figuratively and literally).
I needed divine guidance to keep my life from getting out of control. I was feeling pressure from the Director to make a decision. After praying about it, I sensed God leading me to take on just a portion of Bonus Days. I agreed to organize the fast food lunches for the week and to recruit parent drivers for the five field trips. I didn’t volunteer as a driver myself because Merrill Lee was too young to participate. She would be in the nursery in the mornings and I felt led to spend the afternoons with her.
I went into the week with a great lineup of lunches that included Chic-Fil-A and Taco Bell. Fun moms had signed on as chaperones for all the afternoon activities. Except Visionland. Few parents were eager to spend a Friday afternoon at a water theme park in the middle of July. Even though I hung around the parking lot every morning and afternoon attempting to coerce other moms into filling their cars with wet children, glaring blank spots remained on my roster as the days passed.
My resolve to maintain my boundary began to weaken. I finally caved in and agreed to drive on Friday. This was not a Spirit-led decision on any level. I was fully aware that I was being a people-pleaser and choosing to override the guidance I’d received from the Lord. I’ll never forget that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach telling me that I had ignored God. I had chosen to disobey the instruction He so graciously had offered when I asked.
I was loading kids into my Volvo wagon for the trip to Visionland when I saw my friend Regina on the sidewalk. After explaining the reason for my unease, I asked her to pray for our afternoon. She said she would pray and then spoke a nugget of wisdom that resounds in my heart to this day: “Fear of man brings a snare.” (Proverbs 29:25) No truer words have ever been spoken. I knew that I had fallen into that trap.
As I made my way to the theme park, I prayed silently, “Lord, I ignored your instructions. I feared disapproval more than fearing You. Please forgive me for my disobedience and foolishness.” My heart calmed a bit knowing that God is faithful to forgive when we own up to our sin.
Though the day was extremely humid, I never noticed the bank of cumulonimbus clouds building in the sky above. The kids didn’t seem to mind the heat as they went from the water slide to the roller coaster. I was focused on keeping my group and their belongings together as the sky grew dark. All of a sudden there was a deafening crack of lightning. Within seconds we were in a full-fledged thunderstorm, rain pouring down in torrents.
I grabbed my little charges and pulled them to the driest place I could find. We huddled under the awning of a snack stand as a lake formed around our feet. French fries and swimming goggles floated by unattended. Above us, as lightening crisscrossed the sky, I realized that every structure in the park seemed to be made of metal. Nearby flagpoles and kiosks were veritable lightning rods.
I was terrified that someone would come to harm in this terrible storm. I was also very aware that God sent a storm when Jonah deliberately disobeyed Him. Like Jonah, I was willing to face my fate—whatever version of being thrown overboard and swallowed in the deluge is something I knew I deserved. But the overriding message for Jonah and for me, is that our God pardons iniquity and passes over the sins of His people. “Because He delights in mercy.” (Micah 7:18)
As we waited out the storm, drenched and shivering, I poured out my heart to God, “Father, I have learned my lesson! By Your grace, I will remember that where there is no vision, the people perish. I will not be so quick to mistake the needs I see before me as my job to fill. Please remind me to seek Your guidance before I give an answer next time.” As I opened my eyes, I realized that the rumbling in the sky had moved into the distance and the sun was breaking through the rain. God was giving me a second chance!
Over the years, I’ve told this story many times. People find it funny; I think they identify with the way I wandered from God’s path when the pressure was on. While some may have mistaken the furious storm I encountered that day to be God’s punishment, I don’t see it that way at all. Rather, I marvel that God could teach me to live by vision in a place named Visionland! God’s love and humor never cease to amaze me. Nor do I take lightly the mercy that He extends, even when I have gotten off track.

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.

Proverbs 29:18 NLT


comments Comments Off on Bittersweet
By , December 17, 2012 8:04 pm

Holidays have a way of highlighting the difficulties, pain, and losses in our individual lives and in the world at large. For each of you, including those affected by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I offer my heartfelt prayers. May you experience healing and renewed hope by knowing Jesus as your Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

Being a Bible study teacher and a lifetime churchgoer, I am a likely target for purveyors of Christian merchandise. So it’s not surprising that I made it to the mailing list of a Christian jewelry manufacturer. Scanning their Christmas edition several years ago, I noticed how each two-page spread focused on a particular theme such as crosses or stars. The layout included an explanation of the spiritual significance of each object. A page featuring cardinals caught my attention. I was anxious to discover what they would say about my dear red bird. Though I lost that particular page long ago, the basic message will be with me forever. It said that the cardinal is one of nature’s most beloved creatures because it sings not only in the springtime, but also in the dreary and cold months of winter.
To have a heart that sings in the bitter cold is a rare thing indeed. Therein is the cardinal’s glory. The Bible tells us that Job possessed that trait as well. Job had four catastrophic losses in close succession. Messengers came bringing reports of the destruction of his livestock, servants, house, and children. This is how he responded to the news:
Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground before God. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:20-21 NLT)
Job acknowledged God as the source of everything he had and lost. As Lord of all, He is the One who governs what blessings are given and for how long. In the furnace of our trials, we discover how deeply we believe that God is good and just and right. Job didn’t blame God. Instead, he sought Him first when tragedy struck.
Many believers imagine that they have a bargain with God–a godly, faithful life in exchange for exemption from heartbreak. That was the case with me for the longest time. Because my earthly father shielded me from anything painful and unpleasant, I expected the same thing from my heavenly Father. It was confusing when hardship came my way. That deception was burned away in the light of God’s Word, for nowhere does it promise that God’s children will live trouble-free lives. It tells us just the opposite: “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)
Job found a song when circumstances were anything but praiseworthy. He gave glory to God by pouring out a sacrifice of worship. To do this with integrity requires emptying the soul of any toxic contents. Pain has a way of forcing that stuff out into the open. It must be addressed before worship can happen. “No spring of water pours out sweet water and bitter water from the same opening.” (James 3:11 GNT) But when faced with a hard situation that we can’t change, our hearts contain both bitter and sweet.
By expressing his emotions appropriately, Job dissipated any bitterness. Certainly he experienced the anger and sadness that comes with loss. He was in so much emotional anguish that he tore his robe. That was a normal response in his culture. Today, whether we cry it out, talk it out, or write it out, God invites us to be honest about the way life’s events impact us. As we pour our hearts out like water before Him, we feel heard and more able to receive His comfort.
Job surrendered his pain to God, and so can we. By bowing low, we elevate God above all that hurts us and threatens to make us bitter people. As we sing, the cold and loneliness is replaced by the sweet presence of God. Our sacrifice of praise becomes a pleasing aroma as our fleshly desires give way to the character of Christ being formed in us.
Job chose to sing on the darkest and loneliest day of his life. And that is why I always think of Job whenever I spot a cardinal. They conquer the cold in the same way that Job prevailed over his pain. By their song, they bring glory to our God who is worthy to be praised at all times. Whenever I see my stunning red-winged friends, I view it as God’s reminder to sing my song until a new season of blessing breaks through.

I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak His praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are discouraged take heart…The righteous face many troubles, but the Lord rescues them from each and every one. Psalm 34:1-2, 19 NLT

Perfect Peace

By , December 4, 2012 2:58 pm

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on You!

Isaiah 26:3 NLT

My friend Donna is a threat to the kingdom of darkness. The light of Christ shines so brightly from her big blue eyes that it’s sometimes hard to pull your gaze away.
I met her 7 years ago when she began attending Divine Design’s Tuesday morning study. I couldn’t help but notice the way she leaned forward in her chair as she listened, brows furrowed in concentration. Donna Nathan was paying attention. This observation was confirmed as fact when, several weeks into the class, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She began employing the spiritual tools we were studying and God began showing up in miraculous ways. It was amazing to see the guidance and healing that was Donna’s experience during that time.
On a Tuesday morning just this October, Donna received a phone call from her oncologist. After 7 years of being cancer-free, tests showed that cancer had returned. What is a natural response when you get news like that? I’m not sure what most folks would do, but this woman made a beeline to the church to attend her regular prayer group meeting. Her actions demonstrate what she believes – God is still God and prayer changes things.
In the weeks since the diagnosis, Donna keeps living out her beliefs by drawing near to God to receive grace for each new day. And each day brings new demonstrations of how God is working all things for Donna’s good. She wrote me an email recently, sharing a powerful testimony of how God used one of my blog entries. “Just Desserts” is a story demonstrating how our emotions follow our thinking. My understanding of that principle has been greatly expanded from what Donna shared with me. I know her example of tracing feelings back to thoughts will be an amazing blessing to you as well:


Yesterday before I started really laying out before the Lord my stuff from the past few days, I read my personalized scripture card: “In the morning the Lord will hear you, Donna. Lay your requests before Him and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3).
I began journaling to Jesus about some negative feelings I’ve been having – went through the process of forgiving and giving thanks and bagging up my worries in a Spartan green bag and placing it at the foot of the cross.
So then he leads me to your “Just Desserts” blog and I’m telling you, I haven’t been the same since. It’s like that feeling you get in your spirit where you see new light shining in an old place—one that’s received glimmers in the past, but still lives in the shadows—and you almost want to say—“Stop! I can’t handle any more light right now in that place Lord!”  It’s almost too much to handle!!
My vision all last year was to experience Isaiah 26:3 – “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” And I’ve experienced some degree of victory there. I’ve prayed for years to take my thoughts captive unto obedience to God. I thought I understood the danger of living a life ruled by my mind.
Somehow in this new season, I’m seeing it in a whole new way.  All these negative emotions I’ve experienced this past week just opened up a new way to understand how letting my thoughts lead me around will tie me up in chains of bondage—and rob me of my joy!
God revealed some of the triggers from this past week: my fatigue; being surrounded by so much sickness at my radiation treatments; spirit of oppression and death… From those trigger points, I started the steep mind-twisting descent you described—rationalizing, reasoning, speculating, assuming, predicting—and immediately came all these negative emotions—discouragement, sadness, heaviness, anger, resentment, irritation, worry, fear, and of course the familiar shame that I could be feeling like this in light of all God’s blessings…At the time, all I was conscious of were the unwelcome FEELINGS—totally unaware of the preceding THOUGHTS. Until yesterday…
And then this morning, God reminded me: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free, Donna. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).  I believe He wants me to live in the freedom that is already mine—freedom from the control of my thoughts/mind. That in doing that, I’ll also be freeing my emotions to fall into agreement with my spirit.  I’ve been renouncing spirits of sickness, death, oppression and man’s approval; announcing my birthright and spirits of life, freedom, and acceptance all through the blood of Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but this smells like a Breakthrough to me!!


The Lord has broken through my enemies before me, like the bursting out of great waters. So he called the name of that place Baal-perazim [Lord of breaking through].

2 Samuel 5:20 Amplified


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