Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Finding Joy



My first child, Aaron, was born just after Christmas. The night
before his scheduled induced labor, I felt an almost euphoria, I had so much joy in my heart. I was going to get a baby the next day―a baby that I could take home with me. What an incredible Christmas gift.

It seemed almost too good to be true.

After a long labor, it was actually two days later, but I carried that little fellow home and had a birthday party for him every Tuesday for a yearat least a birthday party in my heart.

This Sunday at our church, we will light the candle of joy on our Advent wreath.

One night to a village of what some think may have been less than 300 people, God sent the Savior of the world wrapped in the fragile trappings of humanity. That tiny bundle came bearing a gift for all mankindHis work on earth making a way for us through faith in Him to know joy eternal.

The angels’ said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Though I experienced an incredible level of joy on the arrival of my son, how much greater is the joy Jesus came to give us. In fact, that word used by the angels, great,  in the Greek means exceedingly, greatest, and mighty. Exceeding joy. Greatest joy. Mighty joy.

Some of you may have recently lost someone close to you or maybe you're giving care to an aging parent. Perhaps your financial situation is looking dire, or you are dealing with serious health issues. This time of year can be especially difficult when you're already dealing with hard things, but dear friends, no matter what is happening in your life today, may you not miss what God has for you as we celebrate the birth of our Messiah. Forget the Norman Rockwell picture and embrace the joy in this moment no matter how frayed your life may seem. You are loved with an exquisite love, and He came to give you GREAT joy.
 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Sanctuary


My face had been in front of a computer screen for hours doing book edits, then I scrambled trying to pull together what I needed for a children’s play practice. I wanted to get to church early to turn on the heat and lights in the sanctuary.

I arrive feeling brain weary and frazzled. When I push open the sanctuary door, I expect a blast of cold air. Instead, warmth envelops my chilled body. Some wonderful soul had come early to turn up the heat. I had not been able to participate in the hanging of the greens this year, so when I flip the lights, the Chrismon tree seems especially lovely (These are my all time favorite kind of Chrismons, which are ornaments with Christian symbols).
 


 

I take a moment and sit in the quiet peace.

Sanctuary.

I breathe deeply and let rest come over my scattered life.

I close my eyes and relish this place apart.

The Merriam-Webster definition of sanctuary is “a place of refuge and protection.” It originally comes from the Latin, sanctus, which means holy.

A holy place, that’s what I found that evening.

But more than a place, sanctuary is a Person.

God refers to himself metaphorically as the sanctuary.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says . . . I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone” (Ezekiel 11:16).

God reminds me that I may find that Holy quiet place in Him. Any time. Any day. Anywhere I go.

During this busy time of year, what a comfort to know sanctuary is available to us 24/7.

In an Advent guide I use, the designated meaning of the candle we light this week is peace.

Friends,  let us together find sanctuary, that place of peace and comfort in His presence remembering that the one whose birthday we celebrate was himself called the Prince of Peace.



If you're looking for a Christmas gift, Grace Publishing has just released an anthology called Merry
Christmas Moments. I have an article in it entitled, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." Authors receive no royalties from this collection. Instead, proceeds go to Samaritan's Purse. HERE if you'd like to order.
In my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell.  HERE to order from Beverly Varnado Art.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Someone to watch over you


 
“Watch for me,” my then ten-year-old sister, Tammy, said as she headed out to the basement of our childhood home to retrieve some now forgotten item.

Our basement access was from the outside, and after the sun set, the walk to it seemed especially dark.

I would move to my bedroom window, tracing her trek, waiting for her to make the trip back safely inside. She would do the same for me when I had to make the journey. Just knowing someone else saw comforted us.

“Watch for me.” Those words echo in my mind. We all have a need for someone to watch over us. That need goes to the very core of who we are.
 
The Psalmist wrote, "He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand . . . " (Psalm 121:3-5).

Even one of the names of God, El Roi, means “The God who sees” (Genesis 16:13).

It’s so good to know God doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel, is so close we may sense his shadow upon us and that watcher is even an element of His identity—who He is.
 
We will light the first candle on our Advent wreath this Sunday―the candle of hope. Over 2000 years ago in a crude stable, a baby’s cry pierced the night and split history, because God wanted to provide a way for us to escape our darkness―watching over us to give us hope and life eternal.

Since our childhood days, my sister and I have watched over each other during many other kinds of dark times like losing our parents and illness.

But more importantly, we both know God watches over us.

And friends, He watches over you, too. This year, may the celebration of His coming be especially meaningful to you.



If you're looking for a Christmas gift, Grace Publishing has just released an anthology called Merry Christmas Moments. I have an article in it entitled, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." Authors receive no royalties from this collection. Instead, proceeds go to Samaritan's Purse. HERE if you'd like to order.
In my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell.  HERE to order from Beverly Varnado Art.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dog Tribute, Dog Tags, and Gratitude


During the halftime show at the University of Georgia/Kentucky game, as the Redcoat band paid tribute to our veterans and stood in a formation that spelled USA, tears began to well in my eyes.



Notice that row of military vets standing in front of them.



When extraordinary tenor Timothy Miller sang Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” the tears spilled.
 
 

As the UGA Bulldogs paid tribute to vets everywhere, I thought of my dad’s dog tags in a crystal bowl beside my bed and gave thanks for a dad who served his country. When Veterans were asked to stand while their service song played, I clapped extra loud for the Air Force vetsmy dad’s branch of service.

In a couple of days, we will come together as a family and once more experience that empty seat at the table. Perhaps, in your family gathering, you are facing a similar situation. But instead of focusing on that empty seat, we’ll try to remember and be grateful for the legacy left to us, not only by family members but so many others who sacrificed and gave.

A hymn of Dutch origin that we often sing around this time of year , “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing,” was written in an oppressive time when Protestants were forbidden to gather. So, being able to assemble to give thanks is in itself a great privilege.

So, dear readers, as you gather together to ask the Lord's blessing with your family, here’s praying your Thanksgiving is blessed. Please know I especially give thanks for all of you.

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Some more good news, and what a key, grief, and a random meeting have to do with it


It’s what many might call a coincidence. However, I know better.

One evening as I walked back to my hotel room after a meeting at the Blue Ridge Mountain Conference in May, I struck up a conversation with another writer.

“What do you write?” I asked. It was the first question usually asked at writers’ conferences.

She had just had a historical fiction novel accepted for publication by a small press in Florida.

“Tell me more.”

She seemed pleased with the process with this publisher and when I returned home from the conference, I kept thinking about that conversation. I also kept thinking about a novel I had writtenone I had felt some urgency to finish, and typed the last words of the last chapter on a June afternoon two years ago. My dad had a stroke hours later, went into a sharp decline, and died that July. In the months that followed grief at times seemed almost to overwhelm me. It felt as if I would never write another book, that creatively the well had run dry. But I could edit and rewrite, so I worked on that novel manuscript.

Then, because of inspiration from other writers, I had a new idea for a nonfiction book, so I put the novel aside.

After the Blue Ridge conference, I submitted the nonfiction manuscript for consideration and as I’ve already written HERE, was offered a contract two months ago for Faith in the Fashion District.

Because of that conversation with the historical fiction author at the conference, I also submitted the fiction manuscript to the press my fellow writer had mentioned.

After a couple of months of waiting, a week ago, they offered me a contract.

The working title for the book is called, The Key to Everything.


 
Now, I have two books releasing in 2018. Two contracts in sixty days. Crazy. At least for me.

I am grateful, because I know plenty of writers who have worked just as hard and who are good at what they do, but are still waiting. I am humbled by what seems this almost incomprehensible grace God has extended to me.

God has also brought to mind those verses in Psalm 126:5-6, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

That year after my dad’s death was one of weeping, but somehow, God has brought joy from it, and hopefully more joy to come.

Writing can be like running a very long race in which you cannot see the finish line. Sometimes I’ve wondered if there even was a finish line. Now, I am so thankful I didn’t give in to discouragement that often hounded me.

If God has led you to writing or something else, be encouraged. I’m here to tell you, that even out of times of sorrow, God is spinning His good plans.

 


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Getting through the Night

I pulled Eugenia Price’s book, Getting Through the Night, from my book shelf and opened its coverpage after dog-eared page of this book is covered with ink underlines. Well loved and well used. I reflected on the timing of this book being brought to mind given current events.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, where four writers were inducted into the prestigious group, one of them posthumouslya favorite of mineEugenia Price.

On one of two shelves in my bookcase dedicated to those writers who have especially inspired me, her books occupy almost a third of a shelf.
 

 
Many in Georgia know her for her historical fiction, the St. Simons Trilogy, the Georgia Trilogy, and the Savannah Quartet.
But I have always loved her nonfiction, excited to find vintage signed copies. Yesterday, I was honored to meet her niece.

As I opened Getting Through the Night, my heart was heavy thinking about the tragedy in Texas where folks gathered in a small country church on Sunday morning to worship. As they perhaps leafed through a hymnal, read their Bible, or were in prayer, the heart of evil entered their sacred space.

Price begins her book on grief with that familiar scripture from Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

When we see these horrific images from Texas and see even veteran newscasters struggle to keep their composure, we wonder how anyone could ever get to joy. How would all these grieving people, a whole town of them, a whole state of them, and well, maybe even a whole country of them get through the nighta night that might seem to have no end?

Price writes, “God does promise that your night of weeping can end. He does not promise that you will be unscarred as though you had never loved; he does not promise that you will ever stop missing or even hurting.”

But, she challenges us with this thought, “Because of his dreams and plans for us, we can be whole again.”

Whole seems elusive in a situation like this, but we take comfort that it is God’s longing for us. He has not given up on our healing and consolation. He has not abandoned us to the evil.

Of course, the ever present why it all happened is with us.

Price, too, loved the writings of C.S. Lewis and wrote, ”We, in our agony, struggle to pull God down to where we are and force Him to explain that which cannot be explained. C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? . . . All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we askhalf our theological and metaphysical problemsare like that.’”

The why of it all probably falls into categories like these, unanswerable this side of heaven.

It is true the night may drag on, but one distant day, there will be joy because God has promised it. In the mean time, we stand with our friends in Texas. Grieving, praying, and crying with you.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My neighbor, Betty


When my neighbor Betty invited us to go swimming in her pool for the first time, we were a little unprepared for our experience. We opened the gate and were greeted by a swarm of kids also enjoying her invitation. My then eight-year-old son said, “I thought you said this was a private pool.” From his perspective, it didn’t look any different from the pool at the YMCA.

That’s Betty.

The absolute definition of hospitality.

She doesn’t just tolerate all those kids high on popsicles―she finds them blessings

As far as entertaining angels unaware, she has probably done it. I imagine if Betty had an angel or two slip into her backyard, she wouldn’t have noticed them in the crowd.

All Betty does is her way of serving Jesus. Eightyish now, she hasn’t bought into the conventional wisdom that says, hey, I’ve done my part, now let somebody else step in. She has no sense of entitlement because of her age. Instead, she still serves and teaches children in her church every Sunday. They love her as much as ever.

My granddaughter observed that Betty is always thinking of what she can do for other people. If you’re around her for any length of time, you see that.

She continues to decorate her home at Christmas in such a way that it seems like a wonderland making you want to linger in the wonderful sights and smells. She blesses others by making and giving away her lovely gingerbread houses or some other handcrafted item.

Betty inspires me in so many ways.

In a few situations in my life, I have been tempted to think I’m finished. But I think about Betty’s perseverance―how she doesn’t waver from what she sees as her calling, how she lives out the truth that we’re never done until we see Jesus. Because no matter what age we are, God wants to use us for His purposes.
 
She inspires me with how she takes on projects and sees them through exemplifying Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might."

I love that woman. She is a rare person in this world. I’m mighty glad and thankful she’s my neighbor.

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 ).

“ . . . God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable: (Romans 11:29).

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

An explosion and the joy that comes from it


We’re going to have a big explosion around here this week. I’m opening the door to my front bedroom closet, which is so full, items are likely to shoot into the air. My sister, Tammy, and I are getting together  to put together our Operation Christmas Child boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. We’re hoping to prepare twenty-five boxes again this year. From that closet, I’m dragging bag after bag of school supplies, toys, and hygiene items to my dining room so we can assemble the boxes. It’s going to be a mess in there for several days.



In a wonderful turn of events, when I attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference earlier this year, I was asked to write a piece about the boxes we do for a new Christmas Moments anthology Grace Publishing is producing called Merry Christmas Moments. I will receive no royalties for this book, as all proceeds are donated to Samaritan’s Purse. This book is one in a series of Christmas Moments collections Grace Publishing has produced in the last few years.

My article in Merry Christmas Moments is called, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." You can guess why. According to the Operation Christmas Child Website, “After receiving a shoebox gift, children have opportunity to enroll in The Greatest Journey Bible student course guiding them to what it means to faithfully follow Christ.” These boxes will bring joy to children in more than 100 countries around the world as they learn about God's love for them.

The boxes are quite an undertaking, but I love doing them. As I’ve written before, the way we are able to pack so many boxes is we shop all year at seasonal sales. My friend Dolly inspired me to do this. I don’t know how many boxes she packs, I’m sure in the hundreds, but she has turned her garage into Operation Christmas Child central and works on the boxes all year.
 
So, get out there and pack your Operation Christmas Child boxes. You may not have shopped all year, but you can still do a few. Samaritan’s Purse has drop off locations all over the country. HERE is a link for them  and HERE is a link to the items needed for the boxes.
 
If you were wondering what to get your friends and family for Christmas, Merry Christmas Moments would make a great gift. The book releases in November, and I’ll keep you posted when it’s available. It’s always great when you can give a great gift and help others at the same time.
 
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:18-20).

If you're looking for a Christmas gift, Grace Publishing has just released an anthology called Merry Christmas Moments. I have an article in it entitled, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." Authors receive no royalties from this collection. Instead, proceeds go to Samaritan's Purse. HERE if you'd like to order.

 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

People doing impossible things . . . and maybe you’re one of them


I stared at the television trying to process what an announcer had said about the contestant on a television talent showtwo things that didn’t compute.

Mandy Harvey was going to sing, and she was deaf.

She stood on stage with bare feet and delivered her song in perfect pitch. She sang barefooted so she could feel the drumbeat.

It seemed impossible but there it was. She went all the way to fourth place in the competition.

Wayne Connell, the founder of Invisible Disabilities, said in an NPR interview, “We’ve created an idea of how people are supposed to look when they’re broken, and so when you don’t fit that imaginary mold, then it’s a trick, or you’re a liaror you’re not really broken, so you shouldn’t be doing certain things.”

Mandy Harvey ignored conventional wisdom and went for it.

Then there’s Victoria Arlen who came back from a four-year vegetative state to become a Paralympics athlete, sports commentator, and celebrity dancer on “Dancing with the Stars” this fall.

She can’t feel her legs.

I’m not sure she even knows how she’s doing what she does. In an E! News interview she said, “I’m feeling good. It’s definitely a shocker to the body, but I can’t feel my legs. I can say that they’re sore, but I don’t really know if they’re sore.”

Again, hard to process.

In Discerning the Voice of God, Priscilla Shirer writes, “. . . God’s plans are frequently different from our own. His plans do not placate our low standards or personal expectations. His agenda far exceeds our tiny, myopic, narrow perspectives, requiring things of us that His Spirit must strengthen us to accomplish. Carrying the cross He gives us requires a grit and tenacity we may not have intended to exercise.”

This means that the usual excuses, which we have tried to appease ourselves with in the past are not going to flytoo afraid, not enough money, not enough talent, don’t have the time, too hard, takes too long.

Enough already. If one young woman can sing without hearing and another one dance without feeling her legs, with God’s spirit empowering us, we can do whatever He asks us to do. I’m sounding all-bold right now, but the truth is, that first excuse about being afraid is the one that haunts me. I feel as if I live constantly challenged with my own version of impossible with the blank page or blank canvas almost seeming mocking at times. In fact, before I started oil painting, I had a blank canvas that actually became mildewed before I ever attempted to put anything on it. What may seem easy to others is actually so very hard to me and something I can only do with God’s empowerment. I remind myself, “For  with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke1:37).

After I finished writing today’s post, I came across this quote from Richard and Henry Blackaby in our Discerning the Voice of God study, “Human reasoning instructs you to know your limitations and live within them. God says he will do the impossible through you.”

And there you have it.

So, if you need inspiration to face your version of impossible, watch the videos below.

You’re going to need tissues.

Mandy Harvey (click on blog title to go to site if video will not load).

 

And HERE you see the reason behind her overcoming life as she sings "It Is Well."

Victoria Arlen HERE in Dancing with the Stars debut.

And HERE is an interview with Victoria on James Robison. She, too, is a woman of faith.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Out of a mildewy mess, looking for a new thing


I moved a table in my office while prepping to paint the walls and pulled out a portfolio behind it. In it, I stored watercolor paintings and drawings, some large, which I had done since college. When I opened the flap, the scent of mildew wafted out. 

My heart sank. We had leaks in our roof, and I thought the damage was only in the ceiling—until now.

The portfolio was waterproof. Well, I thought it was waterproof, but unfortunately not waterproof enough.

I found dozens of paintings and drawings watermarked and mildewed, some ruined beyond repair.


 

 
 

I don’t even know how to explain my feelings, maybe shock. I showed Jerry and managed to tell my sister a few days later, but that was it for days. I didn’t want to talk about it.

I had given away many paintings over the years and sold a few, so the ones that remained had a personal connection.

A beaver dam in Colorado where Jerry and I once spent a week.
 
 

A birdhouse at my mother’s (she died in 2001).
 
 

The church where my father attended and my ancestors are buried back to a generation of the revolutionary war. The church burned down not long after I did this painting.
 
 

The bridge where Jerry surrendered his life fully to the Lord.
 
 

The painting I identify with my surrender to the Lord, done just days after the event and especially hard hit.

 

A cradle my daughter played with as a child.

 

On and on. The backs of some of these paintings look even worse. Expensive restoration is out of the question. I've been identifying with what it might be to suffer a flood, all those folks coming through Irma and Harvey who saw everything they owned swept away. It's not that I need anything else to hang on my walls, no problems there, but these were precious because of what they represented.

I didn’t even know how to start processing this, but I’ve continued to take it to the Lord in prayer. A message in Isaiah which is repeated in Revelation keeps coming to mind.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

The Message puts it this way, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out. Don’t you see it?”

In John’s account of the New Heaven and the New Earth in Revelation 21:5, we read, “Behold, I am making everything new.”

In some ways, God has already done a new thing creatively, as I have mostly been painting in oil for the last couple of years.

Sometimes, we can cling too much to even good things, and God wants to revolutionize our lives. I don’t know what that could mean for me, but I’m trying to be alert and present.

A few days ago, I took the paintings, about forty of them, and began doing the previously unthinkable. I started carving away the damaged parts to see if I could still have a composition that made sense. For a few of them this worked, others I’m going to have to live with the damage. Still, others were unsalvageable, so I cut out the small-undamaged parts and will maybe make a collage of them.

The larger application here is a truth I was reminded of at vacation Bible school a few months ago― “When sin messes everything up. God is still in control.”

Nothing else in my office was damaged but these paintings. I don’t understand fully, but I realize I’ve got to let this go and not keep going over it. Though the mildew got a shot in (I'm sure mildew was one of the results of the fall of man), God is still in control.

There are other things in my life that also seem irreparable, but again, God is still in control.

And He is doing something new.

He has my attention
 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

After Las Vegas and what we do now


All too often these days, a blog post I intended to write is scratched because something happens in the world that pushes it to the side. Sadly, it happened again, yesterday.

Much of C.S. Lewis’s book on apologetics, Mere Christianity, was taken from talks he gave on the radio over the BBC during World War II. According to Christianity Today, “Adolf Hitler’s influence on Lewis’s apologetics is an irrefutable fact. The Fuhrer’s evil campaign paved the way for the clear-speaking Lewis to engage listeners of the British Broadcast Service. Even as bombs fell over London, Lewis’s baritone voice boomed on radios across Europe.”
 
After learning of the events in Las Vegas, I turned again to Mere Christianity. Reading that book provided a line of demarcation in my life and moved me to full surrender to the Lord. Lewis says, “Enemy-occupied territory―that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

The horrible events in Las Vegas make us want to point our fingers at someone or something. It’s guns, or a madman, or terrorism or any number of other things we could mention. But the truth is we live in “enemy-occupied” territory. Above anything else, what we can point our finger at is evil itself, because this old world is broken, but thanks be to God, “the rightful King has landed” in a manger in Bethlehem and his name is Jesus.

At our church, we recently sang the hymn, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus,” a line of which goes, “let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.” This hymn was written by George Duffield, Jr., an abolitionist, and the son of the second congressional chaplain during the time of the Continental Congress. Both of these men knew what it was like to have courage rising with danger.

My son has been a big country music fan for years ever since the University of Georgia where he was a student hosted  a music concert for the first time in their football stadium. He attended that night, and ironically, Jason Aldean was performing, the same artist who was performing in Las Vegas when the shots rang out.

Who knew that in order for my son to continue pursuing the music he loves, he’d need such a great amount of courage just to attend the venues where the music is performed.

When I first saw the pictures from Las Vegas this morning, I knew it could have easily been my own son at that venue.

In many ways, those killed or injured are all our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our mothers and fathers. According to CNN, among them-- a nurse, a police department employee, a special education teacher, a recently graduated high school cheerleader, a kindergarten teacher, a Mom of three, an office manager with two adult children, a young woman who helped run a family business, an attorney, a school district secretary, a woman championed as the glue that kept the family together, and a Disney employee. That’s twelve. There are forty-seven more.
 
Friends, we are indeed in “enemy occupied territory,” so what we do now is we get going with what Lewis calls “our great campaign of sabotage.” The way we do that, is follow God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and spirits. We don’t cower in the corner or let the fear win, we press into God.

That may seem a strange counterattack, but consider the absurdity of sending a baby to be born in a cattle stall to deal with the sin of the whole world. Strange works.

Remembering today in prayer those that were injured and the families of those who died in the Las Vegas attack.  Our hearts go out to you. We are giving thanks for first responders in law enforcement who put themselves in harms way as well as medical personnel who saved many lives.

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon . . . prayer is essential . . . pray hard and long” (Ephesians 6: 13-17 The Message).

                Is there no balm in Gilead or in Newtown

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Listening for the sound of a heavy rain


Regarding my post last week about my new book contract, my friend, Rhonda wrote this (used by permission), “I feel as though I’ve seen this coming, almost like a motor you hear on the next street over approaching nearer. Or like . . . (hearing) the rain falling through the trees before it ever arrives in your yard. . . “

When I read that phrase about the rain falling, I could only think of a story in 1 Kings, which contains verses beside which in my Bible I've written, “Long been praying.”
 
 
 
 
In 1 Kings 16, we read of an evil king, Ahab, who rose up to rule Israel. It is said this king did more to anger the Lord than “all the kings of Israel before him.” Because of this, the prophet, Elijah, declared to Ahab  “. . . there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

Then the Lord told Elijah to get out of Dodge and hide in the Kerith Ravine (well, not exactly), where ravens would provide food for him. After the brook he had been drinking from dried up, God directed him to Zarephath. A widow there would provide his needs.

Elijah met the widow who was gathering sticks and asked her for bread and water.

She replied, “As surely as the Lord your God lives. . . I don’t have any bread―only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it ―and die” (I Kings 17:12).

Elijah’s response to her is underlined and starred with dates beside it in my Bible. “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. First, make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says; ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land” (1 Kings 17:13-14).

Scarcity can come in many ways―financially, creatively, relationally, even spiritually, we can feel we, too, are living in the Kerith Ravine and the stream has dried to dust.

The stars beside I Kings 17:14 in my Bible mark times when in some way, life seemed a desert, and God challenged me to believe him that in whatever way I felt a lack, as long as I served Him first, He would provide.

It’s hard to believe when metaphorically you fear your lips will be parched and your stomach will be growling, but sometimes God allows us to get in that place.

And sometimes it can last awhile.

For Elijah and the widow, it was three long years of trusting God for their daily provision.

There’s so much more to this story, but in Chapter 18, God made such a serious demonstration of his presence and power, the people of Israel at last cried out, “The Lord―He is God.”

Elijah could then deal with the evil that had been in the land. That’s when he heard it, “. . . there is the sound of a heavy rain.” He repeatedly sent a servant up on Carmel to check for clouds, and on the seventh time, he saw a “. . . cloud as a small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.”

The next part of the story reads like this in The Message, “Things happened fast. The sky grew black with wind-driven clouds, and then a huge cloudburst of rain, with Ahab hightailing it in his chariot for Jezreel. And God strengthened Elijah mightily . . . (Elijah) ran in front of Ahab’s chariot until they reached Jezreel.” (I Kings 18:45-46).

The rain didn’t come in drips and drops, and it didn't come slow. It came fast and in torrents, and even after that time of what seemed meager provision, God strengthened Elijah so much that he outran Ahab’s chariot.

Last week seemed a time of blessed downpour here at our house after a long drought, but the rain is coming and continues to come. That time of waiting and watching has hopefully made us stronger than we were before.

So my friends, if you too, find yourself in a place of seeming drought, remember these verses and like Elijah and my friend Rhonda, listen up for that “sound of heavy rain.” I close with this quote from C.H. Spurgeon, “Knowest thou not that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Hope thou then! Hope thou ever! For God fails thee not.”

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