Flavor

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
(Psalms 34:8a)

For a few months, I tried a ketogenic diet hoping the high fat content would prove useful in treating migraines. Sadly, it did not work for me.

However, I must say it was the most fun diet I have ever followed to date; particularly for the mischievous part of me which just had to say to at least one waiter, “I’m on a diet, so I’d like a double bacon cheeseburger with no bun but extra cheese and broccoli with extra butter for my side dish. Oh and coffee with heavy cream. Thanks!”

But after the first two weeks, the migraine frequency ramped up and I began to suspect all the cheese. As a result, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I cut dairy out completely <sniff> and began slowly adding higher-carb veggies like sweet potatoes <smile> back in while still avoiding sweeteners, legumes, and grain.

With a very few slight deviations in the sweetener department during the holidays, my plan is to switch back to Whole 30-style paleo after Christmas – but this time for more than 30 days.

And I’m feeling pretty good, I’m happy to say. But that isn’t the point of this post.

By Thanksgiving, I had been a faithful paleo girl for almost 2 weeks and a devoted keto girl for 10-12 weeks before that, so I thought I would treat myself on the holiday and have coffee the way I love it – with honey and coconut milk.

Or rather, as it turned out, this was coffee the way I used to love it.

After three months sans sweeteners, my much-anticipated treat turned out to be unpalatable. It would seem my tastes have changed.

I still love coffee and tea but now take both either bare and unadorned or (for coffee) with a splash of full-fat coconut milk. Now I find that any added sweetness only dulls the tasty goodness of the beverage.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the change, particularly since sugar is pretty horrible for me anyway.

And it got me thinking…

Back in the days before my soul was redeemed and still on auction to the highest bidder, there were several less wholesome entertainments I relished. In fact, if I had been an honest atheist (which I certainly was not), I would have admitted part of my problem with “religion” was the belief I would be required to give up too much of what brought me pleasure and enjoyment.

Oddly enough, the more I indulged in those very diversions, the less satisfaction they delivered. It was the Law of Diminishing Returns played out in dive bars and shallow relationships, and the more time and energy I spent in pursuing them, the more elusive pleasure became.

As it turned out, all God asked me to give up were the very things which masked the rich and complex flavor of life.

The truth is, God has never asked His people to abstain from pleasure; He asks us to experience it for the first time without interference. The exchange is not pleasure for dullness, but trash for treasure.

All the world can offer is cheap imitations and those at an ever-increasing cost: temporary, chemically-induced high spirits instead of a limitless well of joy; instant gratification instead of absolute satisfaction; greed instead of contentment.

Pain without purpose.

Today, if the obstacle preventing you from seeking the Lord is your lifestyle, may I share something with you? If you seek Him with all your heart, I assure you your tastes will change. And with or without Him, all the sweetness this world has to offer will become bitter over time.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
(Psalms 34:8)

The crazy thing is – we have nothing to offer God. Yet out of His love and mercy, He desires what is best for us anyway. And not just right this moment, but forever. Kind of like giving up sugar, but with eternally far-reaching consequences.

When we reject the Lord, we are not choosing to side with the spirit of fun as we may think, but merely joining our greatest adversary in eternal misery.

For misery is a being, and he does love company. But never forget, he is also a liar and would have you question the motives of God. And he exults when our indulgences become addictions.

Why?

I believe it is from pure spite. No angelic being has rebelled and then been redeemed by the very Creator Himself. So if this once magnificent being has made an irrevocable choice to abandon eternal bliss, he now delights in convincing mankind, the creatures who bear God’s favor, that the bitterness of his malice is actually oh, so delectable…

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
(Romans 6:20-21)

And yet, we have been given this choice: the choice to pile increasing heaps of sweetener into a progressively caustic brew or to embrace the true flavor of life as God meant it to be, finding joy in His presence and pleasures forevermore. Truly. In short, we can choose to live for cheap thrills now or to be patient and savor the delightful richness of the presence of God forever.

All this because He gave His only Son as the blood sacrifice to pay the debt for our sin. That, my friends, is the real gift of Christmas.

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2)

 

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Obedient

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

To me, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Nativity story. The more I reflect on the Biblical passages describing those events, the more I find my thoughts turning to this man who is mentioned in the Scriptures only a handful of times.

But I do think those references deserve our attention.

Joseph’s obedience to God was nothing short of incredible. Think about this: if not for his total compliance with God, many of the events surrounding the birth of Christ would have taken a much different direction, although doubtlessly God would have accomplished His plans anyway.

After all, it was Joseph who complied with the Lord’s command to wed Mary despite  indisputable evidence indicating she was not the chaste young woman he had expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in, caring for her and for the Child. If ever there was a couple well matched in faith that God can do the impossible, it was these two!

Still, I often wonder what the personal ramifications of his decision were… Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Scorned? Whatever his lot, he trusted God enough to accept the consequences willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was visited once more in a dream by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was no small feat with an infant in the days before electric lighting and minivans, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family immediately and left by night.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

(Matthew 2:13-14)

Imagine waking an infant and nursing mother, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by–if even that!

Once again, the command to Joseph seemed preposterous in light of the circumstances, but his unhesitating obedience spared his family the horror of witnessing the paranoid Herod’s ruthlessly executed infanticide (I am presuming, of course, God would have spared His Anointed in some other way had Joseph been a little lax in his obedience, but thankfully we will never know).

Beyond that, the Bible records two other dream messages to Joseph: one telling him it was safe to go back to Israel and another serving as a warning which caused him to settle his family in Nazareth. For each heavenly message, Joseph was simply and quietly obedient.

The ramifications of Joseph’s cooperation with God were tremendous, as each act of obedience served to provide for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in His childhood – yet it is rare that Joseph’s name is mentioned at this time of year except as the husband of Mary.

Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by his adherence to the will of God despite compelling reasons to do otherwise.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began one year as I reflected on my own heart. The Spirit of God made me painfully aware of areas in which my obedience was somewhat lacking. I spent far too much time feeling discouraged, often allowing my attention to drift away from contemplation of my King.

In contrast to Joseph (who I am sure would have vastly preferred an uncomplicated betrothal or to even stay in bed that night in Bethlehem rather than beginning a nighttime trek toward Egypt) I found myself at times delaying obedience. At other times, I would choose a path that seemed (to me) more logical.

As this year draws to a close, once again I find myself humbled and repentant.  It is my prayer that the new year will see a far more obedient – and less discourageable – me. I pray to become in all ways, completely submissive to the will of God – even when it does not make sense.

Once I am gone from this world, I would love it to be said of me as it could be said of Joseph: “We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord.” 

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

You Keep Using That Word…

Among my (admittedly many) favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride, the sword-wielding Spaniard’s response to the rotund little Sicilian’s exclamation, “Inconceivable!” ranks pretty near the top:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Which reminds me…

This coming Sunday marks the official beginning of Advent, which is probably my second favorite season in all of Christendom; surpassed only by the culmination of Lent on Resurrection Sunday. In many ways, the two seasons are inseparable to me.

Almost annually, I find myself saying something to the effect that I cannot gaze upon the Babe in the manger and fail to see the shadow of the Cross. Nor can I separate my thoughts from the helpless child of the First Advent without eagerly anticipating with fierce joy and dread reverence the future return of the King of kings.

One of my personal traditions during Advent is to reflect on the many Messianic prophesies of the Savior and upon the events and people recounted in the story of His birth.

Which brings me back to Inigo Montoya… sort of.

When I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I often wonder if she might respond similarly to our fictional fencing friend if she heard the ways we tend to use the word blessed in the Christian community.

What do I mean? In answer, let’s take a peek at an early portion of the Nativity from Scripture:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
(Luke 1:41-42)

When Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, heard Mary, she exclaimed to her young relative, “Blessed are you among women…!”

And so Mary was, without a doubt, eternally blessed to be the mother of the Son of Man. And yet…

Take a moment and mull over the temporal implications of her blessing.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
(Matthew 1:18)

From a social standpoint, Mary’s obedience to God in this matter of motherhood was nothing short of annihilation for the reputations of both herself and her family.

An unmarried woman showing up pregnant was simply not acceptable in her culture. If no one believed her story about an angelic messenger and the Holy Spirit and the miraculous virginal conception (and honestly, would you believe your daughter or friend?), well then she was in serious danger of a grisly and uncomfortable death by stoning.

From a socially acceptable standpoint, her best bet was to appeal to her betrothed and ask him to claim the child as his own. Of course, she would be asking him to discredit himself as a Torah-observant Jew and a citizen in good standing, not to mention critically injuring both his reputation and his business… and his ability to care for her and the Child.

This scenario leaves only the ticklish business of convincing her future husband that the pregnancy is an actual miracle; a pregnancy without promiscuity, if you will.

Evidently, however, Joseph did not initially embrace the joyous news:

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
(Matthew 1:19)

Once Joseph received his own angelic visitor and was convinced that his bride-to-be was honest in her claims to virginity, the social stigma would have still remained and made life in their community less pleasant. I have to wonder if they were not somewhat relieved to take the journey to Bethlehem and so escape being the prime source of juicy gossip around the town well…

At any rate, we’ve only touched on the social ramifications of this blessing. There were many others.

Besides the likely scenario of being ostracized by her community, Mary, who was blessed among women, relaxed in the comfort of a well-stocked minivan as her husband drove the couple-hour trip to Bethlehem where they promptly checked into the region’s most renowned birthing center.

No, wait… actually, she endured a long and likely strenuous trek of approximately 150 km (96 miles) during the awkward third trimester of her pregnancy. Fun. Then she gave birth surrounded by the aroma of manure and livestock, laying her newborn Son in the animals’ feeding trough so she could recover from her labor. Many years later, she was blessed by watching her firstborn tortured, maimed, and crucified for crimes that He did not commit.

Nonetheless, she was blessed.

When we use the word, “blessed,” it bears reminding that not all blessings are comfortable or convenient in the short-term. In Christ, we are truly, eternally blessed, and because of this some of our blessings may temporarily seem more like curses.

Nonetheless, every blessing is a blessing because it is preparing us for eternity with the Lord we love.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… ”
(Matthew 5:10-12a)

And so, in light of Monday’s public proclamation of my intention to honestly give thanks to God in all circumstances, I want to share one of my blessings with you.

I am blessed with chronic pain from both migraine and arthritis in various joints, though I am still in my 40s.

Naturally, I am not precisely excited and thrilled with this blessing, but I do know my God will use it for His glory… as long as I cooperate with Him. And I will.

I trust Him, even in pain. If nothing else, it certainly makes the “friendship with the world” James warns us against less appealing!

And besides, my Father really does know what is best.

 

 

Raffle Winner Announcement and Other Things

First order of business: Congratulations are in order to the winner of the drawing for the book, Talking to Jesus by Jeannie Blackmer – M. Moltz!  I have already contacted you by email and will get your prize in the mail this week. Congrats!!

And now, on to some thoughts I had hoped to share before the US holiday of Thanksgiving last Thursday before a killer migraine disrupted my week…

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
(Psalms 100:4)

Here in the United States, it is officially that time of the year known collectively as “The Holidays.”

Although some shops begin small displays of Christmastime merchandise right alongside the pumpkin-spiced products and Halloween masks in early autumn (or even late summer), the biggest retail assault on the American wallet kicks into high gear almost as soon as the Thanksgiving turkeys are carved and before the gravy congeals.

Despite the commercialism, I still love this time of year.

I adore Thanksgiving – a day set aside to focus specifically on gratitude to the Lord,  and for me, a day to play in the kitchen with no deadlines. I even enjoy the irony that a nationally celebrated day dedicated to giving thanks for the bounty of the year is immediately followed by one of the most frenzied shopping days of the entire year…

Perhaps because of the national holiday or perhaps just because, Psalm 100 has been on my mind lately.  With those words as the backdrop, my heart has been convicted that for me, Thanksgiving should not be observed only once a year. Instead, Thanksgiving is the obedient posture of the Redeemed in Christ every single day.

For the Christian, every day is Thanksgiving. Every day is Christmas. Every day is Easter.

 

During the course of last week, I was deeply convicted about my prayer life. For years now, I have faithfully lifted up all my requests to the Lord – prayers for the salvation of loved ones who do not follow Him, prayers for daily needs, intercessory prayer on behalf of others.

Yet too often, I have entirely failed to enter His gates with thanksgiving; choosing instead to rush in and fling my “to-do” list at the foot of the Throne of Grace without taking a moment to simply adore the One who sits on the Throne.

No more.

Starting today, I am making a conscious effort to not only to make my requests known to God, but to do so with thanksgiving. I want to praise Him more. I want to love Him more.

Whether this is an official holiday season for you or not, will you join me? Together, let’s humble our hearts and focus on gratitude. Let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.

Let’s give thanks in all circumstances – even the unpleasant ones – because we know that He is good and has already given us far more than we deserve. The opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” to establish saving faith in Jesus Christ, to even approach the Throne of Grace at all… even just the opportunity is more than I deserve.

And yet, He has given me eternal life in Christ Jesus my Lord. Why would I not praise Him?

Today, even with an oncoming migraine scattering my thoughts and some persistent hip pain, I give thanks to You, Lord, for You are good! Your steadfast love endures forever, and Your faithfulness to all generations. Thank You for taking this rebel under Your care, for cleansing me of my horrible choices and adopting me as Your child!

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
(Philippians 4:6)

Review and Giveaway – Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer by Jeannie Blackmer

Today will be a little bit different from my average post. The Blythe Daniels Agency has graciously provided me with 2 copies of Jeannie Blackmer’s new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer, which I have agreed to review.

In addition, you will find the link to a raffle below the review (near the bottom of this page) which you are welcome to enter. One randomly selected winner will be drawn from the entries to receive the other copy of the book!

So without further ado, I bring you:

Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer 

By Jeannie Blackmer

Jeannie says, “I’ve always looked at these dialogues with Jesus in scripture as interactions showing us the power he has and the miracles he did when he walked the earth. Suddenly, however, my perspective shifted. I began to see the conversations as prayers. After all, these people were just talking to Jesus. This realization changed my prayer life. These dialogues – authentic and desperate – became my prayers.”

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Some days, I wonder what it would be like to wake up and find that nothing hurts.

And yet, in the hands of the Almighty, no suffering is wasted.

If the struggle with chronic migraine (and other assorted aches and pains) were not a part of my life, it is doubtful I would enjoy the rare privilege which is currently mine. Because of my experience with pain, I am able to share hope in God despite it with a certain blonde young lady who is one of my part-time daughters.

You see, I can relate to her pain because I share it myself, and in the sharing, I can point her to a God who can also relate to both physical and emotional suffering. Together, we can help one another pick out His voice above the cacaphony of pain, seeking the light rather than cowering in the dark.

In her book, Talking to Jesus, Jeannie relates a similar message in the stories of two pairs of blind men. Like my young friend and I, they  work together, pushing through physical impediments to find Jesus rather than remaining lost in the dark.

As I read through Talking to Jesus, I truly did find a refreshing perspective on prayer. Although I have always thought of prayer as a conversation between myself and the Lord, I have not thought of Scripture’s recorded face-to-face encouters with Jesus as prayers.

Jeannie Blackmer does just this by artfully weaving imaginative storytelling into selected Biblical narratives without changing any of the Lord’s words. In each recorded experience with Jesus, she imagines what may have gone on in each person’s heart and mind leading up to the divine encounter.

I thoroughly enjoyed viewing these well-known tales through a new lens as well as Jeannie’s personal responses to each one. I also appreciated the honest and grace-filled approach to some of humanity’s thornier habits. For me, the additional Scriptures provided for reflection and the space for journaling my personal observations is a thought-provoking and enjoyable tool to enrich my own prayer life.

If you or someone you know could use a little inspiration in your prayer life, pick up a copy of Talking to Jesus – or enter below for the chance to win a free copy!

You can find out more about Jeannie, including where to buy her book, on her webpage, Talking to Jesus. 

Follow the link below to enter the drawing:

Talking to Jesus Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This drawing will begin at midnight on Monday November 20, 2017 and will close at midnight on Monday November 27, 2017.

 

Signs of the Times

Well.

This has been a very heavy week for me in many ways. I wrote last about conflict in my family which has weighed heavily on my heart. Besides the emotional strain, I have also struggled with a hip problem which finally became noisy enough for me to visit my doctor. Hopefully, it is merely a strain or sprain, but x-rays have been ordered to rule out a possible problem with the joint itself.

Hurrah. As if it isn’t hard enough to stay in shape in your forties… <sigh>

So today I want to share some signs of the times we live in… signs that are worthy of a second look mainly because laughter is truly good for the soul!

FunnyPics

When visiting Tennessee state parks, it is wise to proceed with caution along the trails. Hungry packs of feral children may lurk nearby…

 

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Whew! I, for one, am greatly relieved to know that no one will be able to see out of my envelopes. It’s been such a serious problem in the past.

 

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Nothing says, “Welcome,” like a twisted, lichen-encrusted sign advocating speeds of up to 45 mph as you approach a blind curve at the top of a hill. If you could only see the rest of the road… hairpin turns and buckled and crumbling bits of pavement. I’m not so sure visitors are really wanted here…

 

And finally…

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I guess I am thankful for experts in any field, but I confess I have no wish to know what this car is hauling…

Happy Friday, everyone!!

Intentions

Love…  is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Satan seems to be on a rampage, at least in my family.

My adolescent children go to battle daily against one another – these alien beings who once were the closest of friends. Just this morning, there were names and accusations flung without the slightest regard for sanity or the feelings of others.

Words flung like darts, drawing blood, stirring up wrath, and making me question the enormous cost of private school when I could at least be physically present to mediate arguments if they were still home schooled.

Either way, this afternoon I must attend to one of the more unpleasant parental duties. Lord, be my guide…

On a wider scale, there is ongoing conflict in my extended family. Once again, people who love one another now wound and are wounded with brutal words and fiery  perspectives.

And all around me, it seems I hear murmurs of anger seething in the undercurrent of society. Social media is engaged for antisocial purposes. Marriages crumble and children are ruined by the shrapnel. Wives mock their husbands. Husbands disparage their wives. Christians do not wait for the adversary’s fiery arrows but inflame one another with an unceasing barrage of “friendly fire” kindled in our hearts.

It is heartbreaking; truly, truly heartbreaking.

Yet through it all, my God speaks to me, reminding me that while I can grieve for the sins of my children or others, I can only repent of my own.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
(1 Corinthians 10:12)

In the midst of the wreckage, I must not fall  into the perilous rut of my own sinful tendencies, responding to anger with more anger.

Now more than ever, love is needed to quench the not only the fires of fury, but also the smoldering coals which lie beneath ready to burst into full flame at the slightest spark.

This morning as I spoke with my Lord about these things, He reminded me of Paul’s letter. I was struck by the very depths of our depravity.

We so rarely act in love.

I so rarely act in love.

I can be irritable. I have been resentful. In the midst of conflict, my tendency is to assume the worst possible motives of the other party.

And my friends, that assumption is nearly always a monstrous lie.

Why is it that we tend to paint our own actions and attitudes in glowing colors, justifying our every wrong by some fault of another, and yet we presume the most diabolical and vicious motives of those around us?

We take everything personally but do not mean anything personal when we are the speaker or doer. We expect mercy  for ourselves but are quick to lash out before questioning if our grievance is real or merely perceived.

We carefully store up every offense against us, keeping not only a record of wrong but preserving each complaint as diligently as we would a marvelous treasure, bringing it out from time to time as some twisted talisman of justification.

Church! Today is not the day to stand against our brothers and sisters! Today is the day to stand against evil; to rejoice with the truth; to refrain from bitterness or resentment; to bear all offenses; to believe the best in others; to hope for reconciliation in the Spirit of God; to endure all things – including the exquisite prick of conviction reminding us to purge our own hearts of the ghost of grievances past.

In love, let us assume the best of one another when we speak. Let us embrace forgiveness, remembering the Gracious Redeemer who has forgiven the massive accumulation of wrongs we have each committed against Him.

Where we are wronged, let us search for ways we have wronged others – and repent. Where there are past hurts, let us pray for the power to release them, asking God to heal the poisonous blight of bitterness in our hearts.

And above all else, let us love each other well, striving daily to fill our hearts with the love of the Most High God so our mouths will speak His goodness and praise.  Whether husband, wife, child, parent, sibling, or any other relationship, let those of us who are in Christ earnestly seek humble hearts, reserving our most critical judgement for ourselves and choosing to believe in the best intentions of others.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
(Philippians 2:3)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
(Psalms 133:1)

120503_1423Lord, forgive us and guide us. How we need Your redeeming power in our relationships today! Help us to walk in the only perfect Love the world has ever known and reconcile us with our brothers. May Your grace shine in us and unify us in Christ, amen. 

 

 

 

 

**Before I go, I do want to jot a note that I will soon be offering my first ever book review and giveaway! Today, however, the need to cry out for Love to intervene in some ugly situations eclipsed my heart… Stay tuned!