Two Dreams


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Two Dreams

The “alarm cat” went off a little early this morning. Our cat, Flower, wakes me just about every morning requesting breakfast, usually shortly before the alarm clock goes off. He was about an hour early this morning. I told him so, scratched his head a little, and went back to sleep. Flower left me alone for about an hour before returning for his second effort to get breakfast. During that time, I had a couple of dreams.

In the first, I was preaching about giving thanks. I said, “The first word out of your mouth when you wake up in the morning should be, ‘Thank You.'” I contrasted that with some other options like: “I want to sleep,” “I ache [from yesterday’s yard work],” “Bleah.” Then I reiterated, “‘Thank You, Lord,’ should be the first words out of our mouths each morning.”

DreamShower

In the second dream, we had company. It was early morning and some of the kids were sitting on the day bed in the sewing room, visiting. I was going to take a shower. Still in my robe and pajamas, I reached in and turned on the water, and realized there were some paper bags of fabric on the floor of the shower stall. My wife had apparently put them there to get them out of the way. I tried to grab them quickly and toss them out before they could get too wet. As I did, I realized they were really getting soaked, and there were more there than I first noticed. I shut off the water, and angrily tossed the bundles on the floor. As I did, there just seemed to always be more. There were bags and random craft project pieces all around me. Then I realized I was standing in about an inch of water. I tried to brush it back into the shower stall, but the drain was clogged. I frantically searched the clutter for a plunger, finally finding it in a corner. It didn’t really fit the drain, but it worked and the water began going down. I was sure some had seeped under the door into our bedroom. I opened the door to see about a four foot wide swath of drenched carpet across our bedroom. I closed the door to shut out the scene, and stood there disheartened and frustrated.

About then, Flower returned and woke me up. It was one minute before the alarm was to go off. It is amazing how often he wakes me up within a couple of minutes before the clock does. How does he do that?

Anyway, as I got his breakfast I reflected on the dreams. The first was pretty cool, I thought. I would love more opportunities to preach and share the message of extreme thankfulness. And, it was a good reminder to start my own days with a thankful heart, and not grumbling. Then, I wondered about the second dream. As I thought it through, it struck me. In the dream, the more irritated and frustrated I got with the situation, the worse it got.

Isn’t that the truth? When we let our situations get us agitated and irritated, they usually get worse. The more upset we get, the more complex and messed up the situation gets.

The more I really grasp the value of being thankful for all things, the more often my first response to a frustrating situation is to say, “Thank You, Lord.” Sometimes, that is all it is, just saying it. That’s okay. Just saying it can start the process toward being it. However, the more often I do it, the more I see the power of it. My spirit is encouraged. My faith is strengthened. The more often I see the power of it, the more quickly I can say, “Thank You,” and truly be thankful.

As I see the power of expressing faith thru thankfulness, the more quickly I say 'Thank You, Lord'… Click To Tweet

When we respond with aggravation, situations usually get worse. When we respond with thankfulness, we get better even if the situation does not improve immediately.

What Is Your Battle?


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What Is Your Battle?

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. People from all over the earth have found that God cares. From the east and the west; from the north and the south – from the four “corners,” or hemispheres of the earth – those who have found healing and deliverance are urged to proclaim their redemption with thanksgiving.

Where does it hurt? What is your struggle? What is your battle? Even more:  What is the solution? Does anyone care?

Psalm 107 addresses those questions. It is a great place to go to find out how much God cares for you. It is likely as you read it you will see yourself or someone you love in one or more of the sections of the chapter. What follows is sort of a paraphrase of Psalm 107.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

I’ve always wondered why spell check doesn’t like the compound word “lovingkindness.” Maybe it is because it is archaic; appearing mostly just in the Old Testament. Maybe it is because few people really believe that God is loving and kind. The word it translates is the Hebrew word chesed (חסד). It means mercy or compassion. However, it is not just feeling sorry for. It is love that acts with kindness to relieve the suffering it sees.

Give thanks to Him. He satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry soul with what is good. When you feel like you are in a wilderness, with no place of comfort, no place to call home; when you feel you are fainting spiritually or emotionally from an inner starvation – cry out to Him, and you will find His deliverance. It is wonderful to see His lovingkindness at work.

Give thanks to Him. He slices through iron bars of bondage and shatters the gates that keep you imprisoned. When all around is the doom and gloom of death row; when sin has you bound in chains because you have rejected Him; when life is a struggle and you feel weighed down and weary – cry out to Him, and you will find His deliverance. He forgives and liberates. It is wonderful to see His lovingkindness at work.

Give thanks to Him. Thank Him as though you are offering your thanks on an altar. Sing for joy because of His mercy. He sends His word and heals, and delivers from the destruction we have made of our lives. When your own foolishness and sin have resulted in turmoil; when even food loses its appeal; when death seems like your only possible release from the mess you have made – cry out to Him, and you will find His deliverance. It is wonderful to see His lovingkindness at work.

Calm

Give thanks to Him. Do not be afraid to do it in public. Lift Him up before others. He calms the storms of life and brings us into a safe harbor. When you are miserable, and tossed around by life to the point of staggering ; when you are at your wits’ end; when the roller coaster waves of life have you sea-sick, nauseous and you feel your soul is melting away – cry out to Him, and you will find His deliverance. It is wonderful to see His lovingkindness at work.

Think about His lovingkindness like this:
Sin can take us from a place of plenty and  turn life into a wilderness. God takes a wilderness and turns it into fertile land, providing food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty and a place to belong – an “inhabited city.” He takes it a huge step further. Not only does He provide for us, but He gives an abundance – fields, vineyards, a fruitful harvest.

He does not say there will not be times when the enemy comes to oppress. I love the passage in Daniel 10, where Daniel had been praying for three weeks. An angel appeared and said he was sent out when Daniel began praying, but was detained by the “prince of Persia.” Has Satan assigned demons to specific countries (perhaps even cities, maybe even businesses) to serve as “princes” in his efforts to rule over men? God pours contempt on princes and makes them wander a pathless waste! He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction.

Thank you, Lord, for taking me out of my wilderness and bringing me to a place of plenty, for satisfying my soul. O the bliss of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied. Thank you that when the enemy would come against me and try to send me back to the barren past, he is the one who winds up in the wilderness. It truly is wonderful to see Your lovingkindness at work.

What are you thankful for today?

I Choose Thanks

I guess this could be one of those “Well, duh!” moments.

I have a blog that’s about giving thanks always for all things. What I post here, ultimately, is about giving thanks. Not every post may seem so, but those that do not are building the case for those that do.

Today, really for the last couple of weeks, I have been wrestling with direction. I could just pick up with the next page from my book/manuscript and post what follows my previous post – “Work That Doesn’t Work.” For some reason, I just have not been able to feel at peace with going there. Or maybe I’m not feeling confident with going there.

So, I guess the best thing for me to do is to just give thanks.

Thank You, Lord, that I am unsure what direction to go. Thank You for knowing in my heart the value of what You have taught me in my own life. Thank You for teaching me these lessons through, and using them to see me through, the various experiences of life. Thank You for career changes, a failed marriage, a failed business, financial struggles, cancer. Thank You for a wonderful wife, four amazing children, and eleven grandchildren. Thank You for using all these things, and more, to teach me about Your incredible faithfulness and relentless tenderness. Thank You for my uncertainty as to where to go with this blog, my uncertainty as to whether anyone else really wants to hear or read the truths I have come to hold so dear.

Here’s a little something extra:
A Christian music classic by Ron Salsbury – “I Choose to Follow You”

How about you? Have you ever been stumped for direction? How do you respond when you aren’t sure which way to go? Have you ever felt like you had something that needed to be said, but you were not sure anyone would listen? Feel free to comment.

Things That Matter

I posted on Facebook a few days ago:

Some things only matter because they don’t matter. When we learn to not let things that don’t matter matter so much to us, we find more time to focus on the things that matter.

What does that mean?

I was getting on the interstate earlier that day. I was accelerating on the entrance ramp to get into an open space, but the driver coming from behind apparently sped up to close the gap and cut me off. I had to slow down and get in behind him. Often when I get frustrated with traffic, I eventually realize it really is not that important. This time it was almost immediate. As I felt my anger rising at this rude driver, it occurred to me – it doesn’t matter. When it is all said and done, getting cut off in traffic is not going to make my life any worse or any better. It’s a very short-lived moment in a long life, which in itself is only a short-lived moment in eternity. I started laughing, and thanked the Lord for the opportunity to be reminded of what really does matter.

Then it occurred to me – that brief irritation was a learning opportunity. It helped me remember to be thankful for all things. That makes me a better person, a more at peace person. So that little event that did not matter, did matter just in so much as it helped make me a better.

God really does use all things for our good – to mold us into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).

Some things only matter because they don’t matter.

How about you? How do you deal with things that irritate you? Do you let temporal problems and frustrations get to you? Or do you let them point you to a more eternal focus?

Just Almost the Best Christmas Ever


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Just Almost the Best Christmas Ever

Large white flakes swirled and spun and painted the landscape a beautiful winter white. It started falling early on Saturday. The snow was supposed to be light – probably just flurries – maybe a little accumulation on grassy areas. Instead, it soon turned into a winter wonderland. Or, as I posted with a photo on Facebook – “Narnia, OK.” What made it even better was, our family had chosen Saturday to get together and celebrate Christmas. It was a beautiful snowfall. The weather had been warm for December the previous few days, so the roads were drivable. We had a beautiful white Christmas, and we were still able to get together with family.

NarniaOK_sm

Family dynamics do change when your children grow up. Our daughter, Sarah, with her family, in El Paso, would not be able to make the trip to Oklahoma at all this holiday season. Neither would our oldest grandson, Joshua. Our son, Tim, in Missouri, with his family, would not be here until Saturday. So we told our other two, Adam and Elise, to enjoy Christmas Day with their own families however they wanted. They all have small children, and we remember the delight of watching our children on Christmas morning in our own home. Besides, there is enough pressure around the holiday season without the added pressure of feeling like you have to load up food, presents, and children to be somewhere to please someone else. Christmas day, on Thursday, was a quiet day at home for Trish and me. But it was the weekend with family that made this one of the best Christmases ever.

Tim and most of his family, drove in Friday evening. Some of them stayed at my Mom’s house, where we would gather on Saturday. Granddaughter, Alisha, and her new husband stayed at Elise’s house. Grandson, Daniel, has fond memories of waking at Nana’s house to the smells of breakfast cooking and the sounds of music. We have two spare bedrooms now, he and his girlfriend each had a room at our house.

Saturday’s Christmas gathering was mostly typical for us. We started a little later by not all trying to make it to Grandma’s for breakfast. Instead each household did breakfast on our own. We got together at Grandma’s after breakfast, shared gifts, then ate lunch, and just hung out together. The older grandchildren went out for a snowball fight and built a snowman. Then we shifted from Christmas mode, and went to Adam’s house for his three-year-old’s birthday party. All-in-all, it was just a nice day.

Whenever your family asks what you would like for birthday or Christmas, there’s always “stuff” you could use. There are probably some things you might like to have, but wouldn’t necessarily just go out and buy. I’m like that. Problem is, stuff just doesn’t mean that much to me. What I really enjoy about Christmas is watching my family enjoy being with and interacting with each other. I enjoy seeing their joy. However, there is one thing I have longed for but never wanted to impose on my family. We used to sing together mainly as part of getting together with other Christians for home church. I would love to just sit and worship the Lord together. I just wanted the idea to come from them, to be something they wanted.

Sunday, Tim’s family was planning to head back to Missouri around noon. They planned to come to our house for breakfast. Tim had given me new guitar strings for Christmas. I got up early Sunday and restrung my guitar, and sang for awhile. Trish and I had breakfast with Daniel and Kaitlyn, and had just finished when the rest of Tim’s family arrived. Adam and his crew came to visit, too. I was back in the den tweaking the tuning on the new strings.

As the family finished eating and filtered into the den, we began talking about what God’s been showing us, and about songs. We sang a few together, and it was truly sweet. To me, that’s what made this one of the best Christmases ever. Having the whole clan here would have made it even better.

But there was one more thing. One of the songs we sang, written by our friend, Dennis Jernigan, says:

I will run to the arms of my Father
Like a lost child gladly found!
Run with joy to the arms of my Father
As He lifts me from the ground!
And He throws me high and He catches me
Like He can’t get enough!
And He laughs with me!
And the look in His eye!
The look in His eye!
He just loves me!

Sunday night I had a dream. I was standing in front of God.. It wasn’t a clear image of Him, but it was God, and we were happy together. He picked me up and tossed me in the air like a father and child. I remember thinking, I’m a grown man, and here I am in the air, looking down, and free-falling. Then what vague physical image I had of God faded away altogether as I was falling toward the ground. There was an brief flash of “that’s not good.” That was immediately followed by, “It’s okay. It’s God. I don’t have to worry. He’ll still catch me. I can trust Him.” Then I felt His hands catch me, and we laughed together. And I thought, “That’s what faith is.”

Now that’s a nice ending to Christmas.

 

When It’s Time for a Change


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When It’s Time for a Change

The phone rings. It gradually pulls me from a sound sleep. I roll over and raise my eyes enough to see the clock. 2:52 a.m. Family? Something wrong with Mom or Dad?

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A week earlier. A different phone call. Henry called and said he really needed to talk. He asked if he and his wife could come over. I made it a policy to not have clients from the drug treatment center in my home. There were very few exceptions. That night, I made one for Henry.

Henry had been doing well on the program, I thought, but was in a car accident and wound up in the hospital for a few days. When the doctors found out he was on methadone, as treatment for heroin addiction, they would not give him any morphine based pain killers. In fact, the pain killer they gave him was known to be an antagonist to morphine and should have thrown him into withdrawals. It didn’t happen, and it got his attention. Henry knew in his heart that something unusual was happening. He wasn’t sure what, or whether it was good or bad. Frankly, it scared him.

One of the nurses at the hospital was “different.” He asked her, and found out she was a Christian. He shared his fears with her and began crying as he did. He wasn’t sure why he cried, but he did. She talked with him awhile and comforted and encouraged him.  All of this was very strange to Henry.

Right after he got out of the hospital is when he called and asked if he could talk with me. When he and his wife came over, he opened up. He shared his story about the accident and how he wound up in the hospital. He revealed, too, that he had been beating the system at the treatment center. Although we thought he had been staying “clean,” he was using about $200 of “street dope” a day on top of his 50 mg of methadone. He really should have gone into withdrawals in the hospital, with or without the antagonistic drug.

He wanted to know about Jesus. He asked questions. He shared his past hurts – an abusive father who deserted his family when Henry was a young child. His mother turned lesbian as a result. She kicked him out as a young teen. He shared some other relationships gone bad. “Everyone whom I’ve ever trusted in my life has let me down or deserted me. How do I know that Jesus won’t, too?” He asked. I told him there was no way I could convince him with words that God was trustworthy, but I would pray that somehow, God would get through to his heart and show him that He would never fail him. With tears in his eyes and sincerity and fervency in his voice, Henry replied, “You do that, because I really do want to trust Him.”

A few days later. The phone call. 2:52 a.m. me (sleepy and a little unsure I wanted to answer): “Hello?
Henry (voice full of enthusiasm): “Hello, Rick, this is Henry. I just wanted to tell you I just got saved!
That got my attention. Now wide awake: “Wow, Henry! That’s great!
Henry: “Yeh. I couldn’t sleep. So about 1 o’clock I came downstairs and started reading my Bible and after about an hour, I just got down on my knees and asked Jesus into my heart!

Change can be scary. Perhaps the biggest challenge to change is fear. We settle deep into our present misery and become comfortable there. No matter how promising the hope of future good, we’re afraid to let go of the only thing we’ve ever known. To venture out, even for the relief and peace and joy for which we’ve always longed, is just too risky. What if someone let’s me down again? What if I fail again? I just couldn’t handle another disappointment.

That’s kind of what I was referring to in an earlier post when I talked about feeling beat up by life. After getting slapped down a few times, you just are afraid to get up anymore.

The past few days, I’ve been trying to set the stage for this blog. Life is full of both good and bad. Most of us know that. Eventually we even come to accept it. Victory comes when we not only accept it, but embrace it. This blog is about embracing it. It’s about why we should embrace both the good and the bad. It’s about how to. It deals with matters of faith. It deals with learning to be thankful. However, what I hope really makes it unique is not just saying, “thanks.” I am on a journey to embrace Extreme Gratitude. Come along. Join the conversation. Join the journey.

Life is full of both good and bad. Victory comes when we not only accept both, but embrace both.… Click To Tweet

Are you at a place where you know you need to make some changes? What needs to be different? Would you share a time when you knew you needed to change and hesitated taking that first step. What happened?