20. Burnt Sacrifices

 “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God
  burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
— David, Son of Jesse

 

I sat in my home office and looked around me. It was fully equipped with what I needed to realize the dreams and goals I had set for myself as a writer. I had approval from many significant folks in the Christian publishing industry – the “go ahead” to complete a fiction novel that I’d been working on for over ten years. But with the onset of symptoms related to fibromyalgia syndrome, I had fallen behind and was wallowing in self-pity.

My eyes searched the binders on my bookshelves. They held years of research and journaling of sensory and tactile observations that were intended to help me describe the world where my make-believe characters came alive. They represented hours and days and months and years of breathing life into a story that had become second nature in my thought processing. An avatar for my innermost thoughts. An outlet for my creative muse.

Every muscle in my body ached. Every nerve felt seared and on edge. My legs were weak, my hands were shaky, and my heart cried out, “Why have you brought me so far, through so many trials, only to allow this unfathomable weakening of my strength and my spirit?”

The unfinished manuscript lay open on my lap, and as I flipped through the pages I reminded God, “I dedicated all of this to you! I trusted that you, who began a good work in me, would be faithful to complete it. So what’s the deal? Explain it to me … I’m listening! Just help me understand, why?

You dedicated it to me?

Yes! I dedicated it to me … I mean you. I prayed about it and puzzled over it and devoted hours and hours of time.

You consecrated it to Me?

I went to critique groups and writers conferences and some very important people have faith in me.

Do you have faith in Me?

Yes, but what about these carefully crafted sentences and precise punctuation marks? I could barely type when I started. My fingers are just beginning to effortlessly find the right keys. Now look at my trembling hands.

Put it all in My hands. A sacrifice of praise. Trust Me.

I could feel the disappointment and sadness flowing out of my aching body through my tears. Cleansing tears. It occurred to me that I could use a good washing, so I went into the bathroom, removed my clothes and stepped into the shower. All the tears that I’d been storing up merged with the water that sprinkled my face. It felt good to cry and cry and cry.

Then I knew what must come next. I got dressed, collected everything related to my novel, and carried it all into the living room. I ripped out a few pages at a time and set them ablaze in the fireplace. Until my sacrifice of praise was complete.

I dedicate this to you, my Lord.

But you already did … consecrate it … to Me.

That was then. This is now, and I’m thinking you might have a different project in mind.

It’s going to take some time and effort – a LOT of effort.

But I know, Lord, that you will be alongside me throughout the journey.

You can bet your eternal life on it.

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy,

because I am the Lord your God .”

(Leviticus 20:7)

 

 

A RUST REMOVER …

 Do you need a good cry? Do it in the shower at a time when no one but The One can hear you. Then take a deep breath, and think about whatever is next on your To Do List.

 

19. Powerful Priorities

Faith is an inner conviction
 of being overwhelmed by God.”
— Gustaf Aulen

 

Back in 1994, as I chatted over the phone with Tom Thompson, one of the leaders directing the course of the church I attended at the time, he confessed, “I was a jerk! I was controlling, money-oriented, selfish, and lustful. I was going through the motions of being a Christian; I was even a group leader at the time. But, I sensed something was missing from my life.”

So, after his personal Bible study time one Saturday morning, Tom went to the park and began praising. That’s all. Just praising his heavenly Father – Almighty God, Creator of the earth and heavens, Redeemer and Lord. And, in the quietness and solitude of that place, God’s Spirit confirmed what he had suspected. The Holy One of Israel wanted to be Number One on Tom’s daily list of priorities.

“I realized,” Tom told me, “that God deserves the best of my time, energy and resources. He’s entitled to first place in my life. So, I continued spending time with God daily and worshiping Him on Saturday mornings. On Saturdays I don’t pray about any requests. I concentrate on how great God is and on His worthiness to be praised. This praise time soon became an indispensable source of excitement as I got to know God better.”

As Tom faithfully praised and meditated on Scripture, his concept of heaven and hell deepened, and his commitment to Christ-like obedience increased. Then, as an act of worship, Tom began asking God to reveal ways in which he could reach people with the gospel message of salvation through Jesus. Naturally, his heavenly Father was eager to comply with his request, and as Tom began asking, “Who?” and “How?” the Holy Spirit specifically directed him toward individuals who were employed by the company where he worked. As a result of his obedience to the call, one hundred-fifty of Tom’s fellow workers came to Christ over a two-year time period.

Then the company downsized and Tom lost that ministry along with his employment. He secured a position with another company in another field, but the job imposed a totally different atmosphere. Within two months, he realized that this field for ministry wasn’t as fertile as the previous one. So during one of his Saturday morning praise and worship times, Tom asked, “What now, Lord?”

Go to the mall, came the divine answer.

“I figured there had to be some mistake,” Tom recalled. “I hate the mall, and that sounded scary.” But the Holy Spirit reminded him of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 – “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

So Tom went to the mall. Once again, God’s Spirit began directing and empowering him to speak with individuals who prayed to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. Tom recalled, “There was a homeless man, a convicted drug dealer, a man who planned to commit suicide, many Hispanics, a Hindu man from India, a number of Marines, and many others who confessed that they had been searching for God.”

Forty-eight men asked Jesus Christ to come into their lives. Tom admits, “Not everyone responded to the Gospel, but it was presented once a week for two years.”

Tom considers it a privilege to talk with people on behalf of his Lord, and he confidently embraces John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If any man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

I try to remember Tom’s testimony when an opportunity comes my way to share God’s love and message.

 

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions
with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind,
be alert, and always keep on praying
for all the saints.

(Ephesians 6:18)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

Have you ever wondered what Paul meant when he talked about praying “continually” and “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)? That may seem impossible, especially when our minds are filled with so much other “stuff.” Today set an alarm on your cell phone, PC, microwave, whatever – anything that will remind you in the midst of your day to stop for a moment and shoot up an arrow prayer. Keep it swift and simple, and let your heavenly Father know that you’re trusting Him with your life and loved ones…. Not for His benefit, but for yours.

 

18. Staying Focused

“God give me a deep humility
  a well-guided zeal,
  a burning love,
 and a single eye,
 and then let men or devils
 do their worst.”
— George Whitefield

 

When my kids were in school, I looked forward to autumn. Summer weather normally doesn’t reach southern California until the end of August, and our hottest temperatures often hit during the month of October. But mornings are cool and refreshing, and they’re especially advantageous for what I call “prayer walking.”

In 1990, I became actively involved with youth ministry. For a while I taught Jr. High on Sunday mornings and Sr. High on Wednesday nights. The struggles and triumphs of men and women in the Bible seemed exceptionally real to me at that time, and sharing my insight with inquisitive students filled me with a sense of joy I had not felt for a very long time.

As I grew closer to individual tweens and teens, becoming aware of their needs and desires, I felt burdened to pray for each one. And praying during refreshing walks through my neighborhood became a vital part of my ministry.

I remember one morning in particular. Winds from the northeast had filtered the sky into a clear Santa Ana blue. Every leaf was cleanly outlined and the temperature suited me perfectly. Bougainvillea vines painted tree trunks and fences with vivid lavender, flawless white, and brilliant pink. There were no clouds to help measure the height and breadth of the atmosphere, so the azure ceiling that spanned over my head seemed fathomless. I felt I had God’s undivided attention.

As I walked over the hills of my neighborhood enjoying the magnificent start to the day, I strolled through a mental list of young friends and acquaintances. I thanked Jesus for the memorable week I’d had with the high school kids at Hume Lake summer camp. I praised Him for the life-changes I had witnessed and for providing the unusual stamina that had enabled me to survive the adventure.

I thought about how Tim and Julie’s sibling relationship had been nurtured, and how Richard had worked through the emotional devastation of a close friend’s death. I prayed for healing on behalf of Melody’s injured knee and Mark’s wounded self-esteem. And I listened for the Holy Spirit’s subtle guidance as other concerns filtered into my mind.

Ahead of me, I saw a lemon alongside the road. When I reached the bright yellow fruit, I kicked it. I continued walking and tried to concentrate on praying, but my eyes followed the lemon as it rolled several yards and then stopped. When I caught up with it, I gave it another kick – this time a little harder and a bit more vindictive.

The game progressed around a corner … past a weeping willow tree … across the street. It wasn’t until I found myself at the bottom of the steep driveway leading to my house that I realized my sunny thoughts had turned gray and dismal. Rather than feeling full of purpose, I suddenly felt discouraged. Instead of dwelling on my Savior, I found myself focusing on the sour circumstances of life.

I stood for a moment and contemplated my change in demeanor. Then I kicked the lemon into a patch of weeds, smiled, and prayer walked up the hill.

 

“Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith …”

(Hebrews 12:2)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

Go out, find a lemon (or a rock will do nicely), and kick it hard into a patch of weeds. It truly will help you release cares and frustrations … and remember this analogy. Note: Do not kick a cat!

 

 

17. Shifting The Blame

“It’s a great feeling
 To say
 I’m sorry —
 And we still
 Love each other.”
— William L. Coleman

 

I thought it was impossible to drive over a bird, until I ran over one. I thought it was impossible to hurt my husband’s feelings – he didn’t seem to have many – until I callously snapped at him one evening and saw the look that appeared on his face.

It wasn’t a big deal, really. He was intruding into my space – discouraging me from going where I wanted to go, trying to prevent me from doing what I wanted to do. I’m very sure I didn’t say anything to him that he had not heard before. But at that particular moment, his eyes told me that he’d dropped his guard – that invisible, scathe-resistant armor that he usually wore (the façade I was used to dealing with) – and my callous words had pierced his heart. In all of our life together, I’d never felt compelled to learn how to mend it. So I panicked and asked myself, “What should I do now?”

Remember. (Apparently the Spirit had seen the whole thing!)

Remember?

Yes. Remember:

… his look of eagerness as you planned your wedding day.

 … his look of adoration as you walked hand-in-hand as husband and wife.

 … his look of concern when you were told that a Caesarean birth was necessary.

 … his look of joy when he held his babies for the first time.

 … his look of accomplishment each time he finishes a project.

 … his look of glee when he teases a nephew or niece.

 … his look of pride when Lisa sang her first solo.

 … his look of encouragement as Jonathan was learning to water ski.

 … his look of sorrow when his grandfather died.

 … his look of fulfillment when he returned from mission trips to Mexico.

 … his look of mischief when he finally agreed to buy a puppy.

 … his look of surprise when he was honored as a school volunteer.

 … his look of sincerity when he says, “You’re beautiful. I love you.”

 … his look of aggravation when he offered his protection and you refused it.

Is that what I did?

Yes, that’s what you did.

But it’s hard to say, “I’m sorry,” when you’re not practiced at it…. That is, since I didn’t make use of the many opportunities that have presented themselves over the years…. I mean, it’s really challenging to tell someone I love – but who I’m extremely irritated with … okay, my bad.

I really was sorry. And I told him so.

 

“I acknowledged my sin to you,
and my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

(Psalm 32:5)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

Are you practiced at saying, “I’m sorry”? Is there someone in your life who needs your forgiveness … maybe an apology as well? Think about it – and follow through. Then God will forgive the iniquity of your sin. But He won’t if you don’t! (Find it in Matthew 6:15.)

 

 

 

16. Happy Feet!

 “In those holy fields 
 Over whose acres walked those blessed feet.
 Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail’d
 For our advantage, on the bitter cross.”
— William Shakespeare, Henry IV

 

I met Jim Brunotte on a Sunday morning in the early 1990s. It was hard to miss the Vietnam veteran traversing the church parking lot in his motorized wheelchair with his lovely wife by his side. Then in 1995, when I heard that he’d made a return journey to that war-ravaged country, I had to hear more about the experience.

Jim and I met to chat, and he told me about his pilgrimage to An Xuan — the village where a land mine explosion had taken both legs below his knees, his left arm below the elbow, and his right eye. But even more devastating, he had lost a treasured friend.

As a team member of Point Man International Ministries (aided by the Red Cross), Jim’s primary reason for the return visit was to take medical supplies and Bibles into the country. However, he quickly discovered that God had personal blessings planned for him as well.

Accompanied by his team members, Jim visited a leper colony where there were only 210 beds for 540 patients. Ten men without feet shared one wheelchair. In the psychiatric ward, each of sixteen poorly ventilated rooms was furnished with one cot.

The first mysterious blessing manifested in the form of a brand new money belt, which Jim purchased in San Francisco at the start of the mission. When he had unzipped the hidden pocket for the first time, he discovered fourteen brand new $100 bills! He had no idea how the money had gotten there, but the windfall helped provide the leper colony with 30 Vietnamese Bibles, 500 gospel tracts, and fans for all sixteen rooms in the hospital’s psychiatric ward. 

That wasn’t the only miracle that Jim experienced. Because he was unable to recall the last 48 hours preceding the bomb blast, he had been forced to rely on the officially documented account for details of the incident. For years he had pleaded with God to restore that missing window of memory so he could find peace.

Then, about six months before the return trip, a sudden flashback helped Jim realize that the military documentation was incorrect.  But he had no way to prove it. So when a man approached him in An Xuan Village and said, “My brother Muon served with you,” Jim knew that his suspicions could be confirmed.

Muon had been on site at the moment when the bomb blast had completely changed Jim’s life, and Muon’s brother was able to arrange for the two men to meet. Jim learned that for eleven years Muon had run for his life, managing to escape the communist regime, which had taken over after U.S. troops were removed. Then he’d spent two years in a re-education camp. At the time of his reunion with Jim, Muon was married and worked in a rice field for $15.00 a month.

For 27 years, Muon had carried with him five war photos and about 80 negatives. He gave them all to Jim. And as he recognized people and buildings, memories of the lost 48 hours were restored. Jim realized that after the explosion, Muon was instrumental in getting him airlifted to a medical facility! 

Through Point Man International Ministries, God has used American war veterans to touch the lives of suffering Vietnamese men, women and children. And through that process, He touched Jim Brunotte’s mind and servant heart with divine healing.

 

“Stand firm then,
with … your feet fitted with the readiness
that comes from the gospel of peace.”

(Ephesians 6:15, NIV)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

We often say “God bless America!” But sometimes we fail to realize that God has blessed America. And as the most blessed nation, alongside Israel, we are duty bound to recognize those blessings and seek the face – not just the hand – of the One from whom they come. Have you blessed God recently?

15. O, Those Double-Edged Swords!

“Good things happen
 when you get your priorities straight.”
— Scott Caan

 

I seriously doubt that  there is a couple anywhere in the world that has not struggled with financial priorities. Especially when they were first married, and even if they have separate bank accounts.

I generously dole out those words of wisdom from the perspective of one who has had personal experience with a marriage on the rocks over money. Our marriage was rocky for decades for a variety of reasons. However, because I had relied completely on my spouse for my keep from Day One, I’d never taken the initiative to establish any alternative source of income or personal credit.

So, around our thirtieth anniversary — soon after we had the good fortune of selling our home of twenty-five years, not long before the housing bubble burst in 2008 — I made the precarious decision to write myself a hefty check and deposit it into a bank account in my name only. (To be clear, this is not an action that I recommend — especially if you’re not completely prepared for a full-fledged volcanic eruption to spew ash, debris, and quite possibly hot magma all over the relationship you’ve been building for decades with your “better half.”)

And so … shortly thereafter, I found myself seated in the office of a highly esteemed marriage counselor – not on the same couch as my husband. I will skip over the details so that I will not end up in that office once again. Suffice it to say, after only two sessions, it became evident to each of us where our individual priorities needed to be adjusted.

Our daughter later asked me, “Would you really divorce Dad?” To which I responded, “Just look at those blue eyes, and don’t ask me that again.”

In the aftermath of all that, Chuck and I began to see eye to eye – shocking but true – on many disputed areas of life, but particularly on financial priorities. And as a result, we’ve seen some really good things happen.

One of those good things came in the form of a Facebook message from a young man in Kenya named Paul. I was careful to vet the “facts” he presented to me over the next many months because I was aware that African men have been known to prey on American women, hoping for gifts of money or help with immigration to the United States.

After communicating with Paul for nearly a year, I became convinced that his heart for God was sincere. So when he began sharing with me his desire to carry the gospel to people in neighboring Uganda and Rwanda who had never heard about Jesus, I wanted to help financially to make the trip possible.

However, I didn’t want to invite conflict into my newly remodeled marriage. I needed to consult with Chuck about supporting Paul’s evangelical ambitions. So I prayed that the Spirit would go ahead of me and prepare the way. And after an anticipated lecture on the foolishness of trusting someone I’d met on the Internet, my husband calmed down enough for me to explain what I knew about my Kenyan acquaintance. With our assistance, Paul experienced a productive mission adventure to Rwanda in the spring of 2012.

Since then, I notice that my thinking has evolved, and my conscience plays in to an even greater degree when I’m shopping. I’m more aware of what’s actually necessary in life, as opposed to what I simply desire. When I’m buying food or clothing or gifts, I find myself factoring in Paul’s needs and his “impossible dreams” to spread the Good News in service to our Lord.

As Chuck and I get better at partnering to establish balanced financial priorities, we can be sure that if we act according to His will, our God will throw open the floodgates of heaven to enable us to bless others in His Name.

 

“Take … the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.”

(Ephesians 6:17)

 

A RUST REMOVER …

 “’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” (Malachi 3:10)

 

 

14. Frightened By Flaming Arrows!

“The adventurous life is not one exempt from fear,
 but on the contrary one that is 
 In full knowledge of fears of all kinds,
 one in which we go forward in spite of our fears.”
— Paul Tournier 

 

It’s hard to face the world on a daily basis when you are timid. My mother knew that from first-hand experience.  As a teenager, despite her fearful nature, she managed to carve out a place for herself in the small town where she was raised.  As a majorette, she strutted ahead of the high school band and was accepted by the popular crowd.  And at the tender age of 17, she became engaged to her own Prince Charming.

But in 1952, all of that suddenly changed in a dramatic way.  My grandmother called an end to the engagement, cut my mother’s prom photo in half — effectively cutting the young man of her dream’s out of the equation — and moved their family of three from the Midwest to California, leaving behind most of my mother’s memorabilia in the closet of an aunt, who eventually got rid of it all.

Into her new home, my mother brought her fearful nature, along with buried anger, bitterness, and grief. She finished her senior year among strangers.  Shortly after that she met and married a young Marine, who also carried with him significant mental and emotional baggage. He had joined the military at age 17 and was deployed to Korea to fight in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir — a decisive engagement against the Chinese where only 385 survived out of 2500 men. My dad had endured the assault and carnage for nearly three weeks in freezing weather and would become one of the band of brothers who would go down in history as “The Frozen Chosin.”

I was born into a culture that did not allow a father to witness the birth of his child. My mother suffered alone through a very difficult labor and delivery, attended only by a cranky Navy nurse, who tied Mom’s hands to the bed rails with rags. There were no anesthetics at the time to ease the pain that exploded within her as I entered the world — unaware of the forces in play, which would over time shape my personality and character.

“Back in the day,” things like that weren’t talked about. So whenever I was dismissed by grown-ups for asking questions concerning such things as reproduction, their rebuffs left me struggling with embarrassment, unresolved curiosity, and eventually … depression.

Now I understand why adults behaved in the ways that they did. I’ve also figured out why so many of them turned out — for better or worse — the way they did. Now I can laugh when my granddaughter respectfully tells me, “Nana, I don’t think you get it.” Because I do get it. 

American culture of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s did not allow “big people” to say, “I don’t know,” when “little people” caught them off-guard with uncomfortable questions. They considered our queries on par with flaming arrows that threatened to undermine the sandy foundations on which they had built their lives. I thank God for the 80’s and 90’s, because that’s when I began learning how to defend myself with the shield of faith against unforeseen enemies.

I just wish I’d known all of this much earlier in my journey.

 

“Take up the shield of faith,
with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows
of the evil one.”

(Ephesians 6:16)

A RUST REMOVER …

Is there someone in your past, present, or possibly your future whom you need to better understand and forgive? Spend time opening your mind to the One who created you. Tell Him about the people who have hurt you. Ask Him to give you perspective into each situation. Then move forward in the assurance that He has heard you and will respond to your prayer. (Consider the wisdom of David in Psalm 15.)