The Thorn Given to Me - Part 3

Part 3 – God Answers

ANSWERS… we all want answers about today and our future. Will this storm ever pass? Will the dark clouds blow away? Is God ever going to answer my prayers? Why has He left me here battle broken and beaten? Our devotional in Part 2 of this series closed with God gives answers to the storms in our life in one of three ways. These answers are: Yes, No or Not Yet! We all want the “Yes” answers, but how we respond to the “No” answers and the “Not Yet” answers says a lot about our relationship with God. If God always answered with “yes” then why would Jesus say “…People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. It is like that with our own children, if you keep giving them everything they want, they soon expect to receive it all and their thankfulness fades away. We too can develop an impatient attitude, an intolerance for waiting, a numbness to God’s word and potentially a harden heart. God calls us to “Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18. Being thankful in all circumstances…now that is hard to do. However, I’ve come to understand that God may be using my circumstances for a greater purpose, a purpose that I cannot understand or even see from earthly eyes. I need to be asking God, what is it you want me to see, what is it I’m supposed to be learning through this circumstance. God I trust you and I pray for patience. If you believe God is sovereign and in control of all things, than you must believe that God allows us to get into storms. He doesn’t want to lead us around the storms. He wants to lead us through them. 

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
— Jeremiah 29:11

The Thorn Given to Me - Part 2

Part 2 – The Calm Before the Storm

The devotional in Part One of this series closed with “my thorn has put me in a place to pursue Him”. My life for a long time was what I like to call The Calm Before the Storm. Most people have heard this statement and it basically refers to those seemingly perfect weather conditions that are pleasant, sunny and generally show no signs of a storm coming. My life for 37 years was as good as anyone could ask for. I grew up in a Christian home and had a great family. I graduated from high school, went off the college, graduated in 4 years, married the prettiest girl in school and it goes on and on, even finding jobs, buying a house and having children. My cup had always been running over with blessings. However, deep inside my heart something was not right and I knew it. Even though I had grown up in the church my whole life, been baptized and lived a seemingly Christian life, God was not my primary focus. I had ignored the subtle hints that He gave me for a number of years, but in the summer of 2010 the perfect conditions began to form and when the time was right the storm had come. God let me know that I had been deceiving myself and He did not know me. The feeling of being separated from Christ was a sick and fearful time. How could this be? How could I be so far away and not even realize it for so long? From that point forward my journey with Christ had begun, but it has not come without a price. The journey is not easy and even though a lot of great things have happened, God has allowed a very hindering thorn to torment me to the point where it leaves me exhausted nearly everyday. Being a perfectionist and an analyzer, my mind has become a ground for spiritual warfare. It has become so tiring that I had to seek help. The main thing I’ve learned through this time is that God uses these times for us to seek Him for knowledge, strength and for us to allow Him to work in and through us during times of weakness. The flesh in me just wants Him to take away the storm but He wants to guide me through it. One of the hardest things to do in a storm is wait. Let’s be honest, waiting stinks! We want everything our way, on our time. When we pray for thorns to be removed from our lives, God answers in one of three ways. Those answers will be discussed in Part 3, the final chapter of this devotional series.

…a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat.
— Matthew 8:23-27

The Thorn Given to Me - Part 1

Thorns, splinters and paper cuts… We have all had them at some point in our lives, there is no avoiding them. These things are small in size but can be huge irritants. They are bothersome at least, and at times they can even be painful. Relief only comes when the splinter is removed or the prick has been healed. In life “thorns” come in many ways. They take the form of frustrations and stresses in our daily lives that never seem to end. In 2 Corinthians 12, we find Paul dealing with a thorn in his flesh that would not go away. He prayed to God asking Him to remove it and it did not happen. Why? Many of us may have believed that thorns were sins that were not resolved, completely acknowledged or repented for. However, verse 7 says that the thorn was a messenger from satan to torment Paul and to keep him from becoming proud. I do believe some thorns can be sins in our lives, but I also have come to understand thorns can be circumstances that are out of our control and are things that God has allowed to happen. I have to admit that I didn’t come to this understanding on my own. I received a copy of a sermon by Tony Evans and believe it or not, it came at a time in my life when I could not understand a problem I had been carrying for nearly three years. The title of his sermon was “How to Understand a Thorn”. In the sermon, Tony broke down the scripture and reminded me that all things are in God’s control. He allows things to come into our lives or circumstances to arise in certain areas to realign our focus on Him. This can be an illness (mental, emotional or physical), loss of a loved one, a dead end job, a difficult boss, financial problems, marital problems, divorce, anxiety issues, being single, infertility, the list can go on and on. These circumstances and situations, like splinters and paper cuts, can be frustrating, irritating and sometimes make us angry. We pray continually but it doesn’t go away. The thorn remains day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Why? You may have asked yourself - Why me? The question should be… Why not me? My thorn has put me in a place to “Pursue Him”. I will expand on my thorn next month with Part 2 of this devotional series.

…For when I’m weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:10

Keep Your Hands Off The Clay

Do you remember growing up as a young child and getting a playdough set? For me my mom would make homemade playdough and it put store bought stuff to shame. It was softer, lasted longer and it didn’t dry out as fast. This tradition has carried over by my wife making batches of this great mass of stuff for our kids, church and birthday party gifts. It is awesome! You can make just about anything with this stuff. I have made plenty of blue hamburgers, green hotdogs and my personal favorite…the python. Sometimes we’ve had the chance to play with clay. It usually came in these long rectangle blocks and it comes in the basic colors, red, blue, green and yellow. It is a little harder to work with but you can make figures and objects that will stand up and stay to its form until you break it down and start over again. Sometimes what we created would be permanently displayed in our room or somewhere in the house for everyone to see. It was a masterpiece in our own eyes. 

I have been learning over the past three years and counting, my hands always like being in the clay when it comes to shaping and molding my life. I like trying to shape and mold my life into the things I want and in the time in which I want them. I want to choose the colors and if I want to make it bigger I just add more clay. If I want to share, I decide how much. If I want it all, I just hide my supply of clay. I’ve been taught recently that if I want to be a Follower of Christ and not a fan, my hands must get off the clay. Jesus said in Luke 9:23 “If any of you wants to be a follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily and follow me.” What….. and give up “my clay”! Yep. He wants to transform me (heart and mind) and to that I’ve got to give it up. I cannot do enough good things even Christian-like things to shape myself. I cannot say enough good things to make myself look better. Don’t get me wrong this is hard to do and I keep trying to find ways to make it easier, because I like being comfortable. Being uncomfortable, anxious and even scared is no fun. This is where my trust and faith in Him becomes the most important thing with my walk. For me My Journey with Christ has just begun. 

“We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hands.”
— Isaiah 64:8

Preppers

Preparations…We all prepare for something everyday. We prepare to go to work, our kids prepare to go to school, we prepare our food, we prepare our schedules for the week, you get the picture. Everyday is a day of preparing, usually it is all we do sometimes. However, as this 2013 year has started I have become more aware that some people are preparing for catastrophic events that may or may not ever occur. The massive earthquake making California fall into the ocean, the massive tsunami that has a 500-foot tall tidal wave, economic collapse where death, destruction and panic are all over the world. They use terms like “Doomsday” and “The Apocalypse”. There are shows that follow the lives of families preparing for such days. Before I continue, let me say that preparing for natural disasters and having emergency plans and storm shelters is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is wise and necessary in our area with hurricanes and tornados. Hey, our family is looking into buying and underground storm shelter. However, I’ve been more interested in looking at the preparations being made where people are buying $50,000 underground bunkers and stocking up on zombie bullets. Really… Zombies!?!?

I know that these people are in the minority, however, it is interesting that people have a sense that if the world does come to an end that they will be ready on man’s terms and by their own knowledge and abilities. Countless hours and money are spent in preparing for a day in which they believe that all their preparations will save them and their families. I’m not a weekly prepper television show viewer but the few episodes I have watched, I’ve noticed one thing missing in all their comments, no one mentions their faith or trust in God. It makes me wonder, where do they place their faith? It looks like God is a non-factor. If you don’t believe that God is in control of all events on this earth, one can see the urgency in these individuals. For me God is the creator of this universe and is in control of all events. Yes it is very hard for me to understand everything, and yes I can’t comprehend it all. However, I’m reminded by His Word that it is faith alone! I hate to tell the family that spends $50,000 for an underground bunker with the nice TV and above ground cameras to hide from the enemy/zombies…this won’t keep the world from ending, if the Lord chooses. I read something written one time that said, “The future is a phantom seeking to spook you.” The future can be spooky sometimes, the unknown is always there, as we live in a sinful world. Ray Lewis, the long time middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens mentioned Psalm 91 to the media in the recent NFL playoffs. Even though I have read Psalm 91 before, I couldn’t remember what it was about. I was intrigued to see what this book and chapter meant to this man, who has had a troubled past. I’ve only written one verse with this devotional but I encourage you to read the entire chapter. You can do it, it is not that long! Psalm 91:9 “If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.

Poison Envy

We have all heard the phrase “green with envy”. It is a well known phrase for everyone who is taking a breath right now. Unfortunately it is easily seen in the outdoors arena with fellow hunters, fishermen and friends. Yes… I am guilty on what I’m about to discuss. Every outdoorsmen dreams about the big hunt or the awesome fishing trip where the excitement of success is always on the front of our minds. As we sit in our stands in the middle of a white oak bottom where the trees are raining acorns or cast our spinner bait next to the cattails our human minds can dream up some fantastic pictures on the “what if’s”. What if today is the day. Most of us like sharing our stories and sometimes those stories become tall tales, that’s fun amongst friends. However, I have been that person that many outdoorsmen would share their story with only find myself putting on a smile, and saying things like nice buck or good fish, but deep down I’d be feeling something else. If we’re honest, envy is a dangerous sin that we all possess and it can grow just like poison ivy. For all you hunters out there you know what I mean. You find what you think will be the best location for a hunting stand and you try to get things just right during late summer. We find ourselves climbing trees like monkeys, hugging on branches and tree trunks getting things set up. Before we know it, we realize that we have been kissing poison ivy growing around that tree for the past 30 minutes. Sometimes we don’t even realize it until we get home or even the next morning. The evidence now appears with a hindering itch, a red rash and sometimes blisters.

The envy that I’m talking about is not limited to the outdoors platform. It can also be directed towards our family, co-workers, people’s possessions, money, vacations and homes. It may even be comparing our children or spouses and do I dare say it, envy can also carry over into the church with what others are trying to do for God’s Kingdom. What better way, than have a poison like envy creep its way into the Body of Christ where the vines can grow and mix itself in so slightly that we don’t even notice it or we choose to ignore it. The rash that envy causes can break up long time relationships, and completely goes against who God wants us to be. So what can we do? First we need to be able to recognize it and understand how it grows. If you don’t know what poison ivy looks like, sooner or later you will get into it. Once you find it and it’s in your path, you’ve got to remove it by cutting the vine, spray it with herbicide, or you may want to remove yourself and find a different tree or path to take. Like any sin, God wants us to remove ourselves from those things that may led us into a trap, self-deception or even into the poison ivy. God has shown me areas of this sin in my own life that has gone unchecked for many years. It’s time for me to cut the vine.

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.
— 1 Peter 2:1

Growth Until Harvest Time

Patience…Why is this hard? Why is waiting such a difficult thing to endure sometimes? I have found myself asking these questions over and over again. In comparing our spiritual growth with that of deer management, I look no further than my parent’s property located just a few miles north of Greenville, Alabama. The name of this little patch of heaven is called “Paradise”. It is 208 acres of rolling hardwoods, small areas of planted pines, open valleys with two creeks running through and 10 acres in planted green fields. It has two fish ponds along with an array of wildlife. Along the east side of the property sits a cypress lodge built by the hands of my father and uncle
over a span of five years. We have had this property since 1989 when a dream became a reality for my dad. Since that time we implemented our own deer management ideas, which consisted of doe harvest records and limited bucks taken each year. During the past 23 deer seasons we have seen so many deer that I can’t even begin to count. We also kept a pretty good count of bucks seen and passed up as we waited for an opportunity to see a mature whitetail. We have harvested some nice deer over the years but we have struggled to see bucks over the age of 3½ years old. This has become very frustrating for all of us. Don’t get me wrong we all enjoy the hunts and are glad we have a place to go to enjoy God’s creation, but it sure would be nice to see some big rack bucks. I can remember season after season after season coming and going and ending with no bucks taken or maybe just one by one of us to feel better about the season. My father spends a lot of time preparing the fields, seeding, fertilizing and praying for rain which will hopefully yield a good crop for all his labor. Some years a great crop would grow and sometimes all the blood, sweat, tears and money seem to have been exhausted for nothing. The big boys are still out there somewhere!

Patience? For some of us our spiritual walks with Christ may be the same way. We feel like we spend season after season trying to do the right things and walk a path that may be good in our own eyes but we become frustrated. We think we’ve prepared our fields, seeded, fertilized and prayed yet always seem to yield such small crops with nothing big to show for it. Over the past several years I have come to realize that my efforts should not be exhausted with the anticipation of always receiving something in return. In Mark 4:26-29, Jesus tells the parable of the growing seed. “Jesus also said, The kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” For me, I feel like my walk is just now breaking the surface from the ground I live in. I must have patience for the harvest time will come.

Largest Buck Harvested on Paradise – January 2012 12 point - 185 lbs Gross Score 139 ½” The Harvest Time Had Come!

Largest Buck Harvested on Paradise – January 2012
12 point - 185 lbs
Gross Score 139 ½”
The Harvest Time Had Come!