Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Taming the Tigers

Did you know that Texas has the second largest population of tigers in the world? Plus, it is estimated that there are more tigers in captivity in the United States than there are in the wild! Many of these tigers are being kept in people's backyards as pets.

Image Credit: Nigel Swales via Flickr

      Image Credit: www.heroviral.com
    (Facebook/Erin Poole)


I tend to keep my pet tigers even closer to me. Now, before you get all concerned that I really have pet tigers roaming around my living room, let me clarify that - although one of our real-life cats is named Tiger - I am not talking about real animals here.

I'm talking about temptations. Temptations can prowl around in our lives. They seek to devour that which is good. A couple of my temptation tigers are sugary treats and time lost to technology usage (mostly Facebook and e-mail). Sometimes I'm fooled into thinking that they are just a current, temporary struggle that has popped up. Recently, however, I looked through an old notebook and saw notes about my struggling with these same tigers four years ago! It was discouraging to consider that I am still trying to tame the same tigers! I have not done well with self-control on these two issues.

We don't have to try to tame the tigers on our own. We can enlist a team to help us. Get some accountability with others who will support you and ask you the hard questions that you don't want to answer (i.e., Did you avoid eating sweets today? How long did you spend on Facebook this week?). They need to be tough - tough on you to spur you onward and motivate you, and tough on the temptation tigers, to push them back so they no longer threaten you. If I am completely honest with you, I have avoided accountability because I don't want to be told 'no' when I selfishly decide that I want to eat those sweet treats, or I want to get on Facebook and read "just a few more." Well, maybe this is a very good reason why I have not been successful for over four years!

We also would benefit from the skills of a trainer. A trainer has experience. They have worked with the tigers before and know how to deal with them. I'd like to work with a trainer who has been successful at overcoming the tigers, too. You know that's what Jesus did, right?

Hebrews 4:15 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.

Hebrews 2:18 - Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

So, how do you contact your trainer and get him to help you tame your tigers? You need to spend time with him and develop a relationship with him. It's not that he doesn't know you or know how to work with you and your tigers; it's that you need to get on the same page with him and trust him to help you. You need to learn how to follow his lead and go along with his plan, even if it doesn't make sense to you at the time. Talk to him and be honest with him in your prayers. Tell him how you feel about your tigers and how hard you think the taming process will be. Sit still in his presence and let him communicate to you - he is with you and will help you; have peace and trust in him; there is nothing that he cannot handle - nothing is impossible for him. As you develop your relationship with your trainer, you will learn how to tame you tigers and develop the confidence to put the plan into action, even if the plan is revealed to you only one step at a time.

One resource you might consider is Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst. I am at the end of a 21-day online devotional on this subject by her and it has made me want to buy the book (or devotional, or Bible study...). The main topic has been about food issues, but it is definitely applicable for other issues.

Even better than just trying to "tame" our temptation tigers would be to cage them up and send them away from us! "You cannot take the wild from a tiger. You can put 'em in your living room, you can put 'em in your bathroom, you can put 'em in your backyard, but a tiger is a tiger is a tiger. They are wild animals, and they could kill you," (Monique Woodard, founder of Exotic Cat Refuge and Wildlife Orphanage).

Our temptations don't just need to be tamed to be kept around and coddled or petted! They need to be cast away from us! There is no way they can turn against us if we have removed them from our lives! Now, I know some temptation tigers cannot be removed and we need to know how to have self-control to resist their dangerous advances.

So, what tigers are you needing to tame? Is it time to talk to the Trainer and listen to what He wants to tell you? Is it time to take that first step - or, like me, take a step again? Maybe your tigers don't need just tamed - maybe they need to be caged and removed completely from your life. Either way, let's get control of some tigers!

- Gibson, London. "Tigers are endangered in Asia, but in Texas they're backyard pets." Austin American Statesman. Cox Media Group, 30 April 2018. Web. 03 May 2018. 
- HeroViral Team. "Tiger Cub on a Leash Found Wandering the Streets of Texas." HeroViral. HeroViral/Correlate Pte Ltd, Undated. Web. 04 May 2018.
Holy Bible, New International Version. East Brunswick: International Bible Society, 1978. Print.
- Macatee, Rebecca. "Why a Pet Tiger is Never, Ever, Ever a Good Idea." Across America Patch. Patch Media, 13 January 2017. Web. 15 May 2018. https://patch.com/new-jersey/bernardsville-bedminster/why-pet-tiger-never-ever-ever-good-idea.
- Wise, Lindsay. "Dangerous exotic animals make home in Texas." Houston Chronicle. Hearst Corporation, 19 March 2012. Web. 4 May 2018.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Force with You

I'm not a huge Star Wars fan. Sure, it's okay, but I don't watch it incessantly; I don't know all the details of its creation; I don't quote any of its lines. I see Star Wars as a trend (albeit a longstanding one) and I tend to veer away from trends. If it is the hip and happening thing, I'm not interested. The "it" toy of the year each Christmas? You will not find me hunting it down.

On May 4 ("May the Fourth/Force Be With You" Day), my mind tends in another direction. Here are just the few verses that came to me in the last few minutes. So, as we come to the end of May 4th, my question for you is: Which force is with you?

And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. - Ezekiel 36:27

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. - Deuteronomy 31:8

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. - Joshua 1:9

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:31

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sweet Failures and Broken I-Love-Yous

This morning, I baked some cookies as a special treat for the seven first- and second-graders in the sign language class I've been leading this school year. They were sugar cookies in the "I love you" hand-shape. They were all looking so good, and I was making plenty so I was excited about getting to share them with others, too. Oh, they were going to be so good!

And then, they weren't.

The cookies stuck to the pans! I was cracking hands and breaking off fingers! Oh, I was so disappointed! These were not fit to be served to my students! The significance of the "I love you" hand-shape was gone!

This was a failure.

I tried really hard to keep a rein on my disappointment - to stay calm and not get teary about three dozen ruined cookies. My son kept telling me how beautiful and delicious they looked. (Thanks for trying to make me feel better, but I know they don't look beautiful with fingers falling off.)

I started thinking, because I really wanted to find the positive in the situation. I wanted to see if there was a lesson that could be learned. That's when I started thinking about "sweet failures."

Sweet failures.

Good can come out of our failures. Starting with a basic view, even though many of the cookies were in crumbles, my children would enjoy them. Also, I could share them with some others who would appreciate them regardless of their appearance. Plus, the students weren't expecting me to bring a special treat, so they wouldn't be disappointed. Taking it up a notch, my children can learn how to handle disappointments (if I'm handling them appropriately). How we handle larger, more visible life disappointments (i.e., loss of a job or relationship) can show others outside our immediate family how disappointment can be handled, too.

Our failures can be sweet if we look for what God is doing and what He can do in them, through them, in spite of them. They can be sweet if we open ourselves up and allow Him to do His work. It's still not always easy, but there can be a sweetness as we find ourselves able to trust Him and hope for what's to come.

So what about this sweet failure? I checked the recipe again. No, it did not say to oil the baking sheets, but I decided to do so for the last dozen, and ten out of twelve turned out well. Thankfully, I have enough for my class tomorrow. Unfortunately, I faced more disappointments throughout the day and had an inner battle for contentment and peace. Sadly, this led to the broken I-Love-Yous.

Broken I-Love-Yous?

Yes. My inward focus and inability to shake the disappointment and sadness over today's circumstances had a negative impact on my ability to lovingly engage with my family. My sweet children said "I love you" so many times to me and gave caring hugs that just felt like they were getting in the way and slowing me down this evening. Their sweet smiles were a good attempt to cheer me, but my barrier was pretty strong tonight. I wanted to knock it down, but didn't. It was hard to return the hugs, smiles, and I-love-yous. They were broken. I felt broken. I felt like Paul, as recorded in the Bible book of Romans: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do...For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" (Romans 8:15, 18b).

How many times do we give God broken I-love-yous, too? How often do we allow circumstances to break our relationship with Him? How many blessings has He tried to lavish upon us that we have snubbed?

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? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Here is a link to a song that came to mind: "Beautiful Things" by Gungor. God can make everything new, if we will allow Him.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Seventh Dunk

Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed." But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana an Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage. Naaman's servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!" So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel..."
2 Kings 5:10-15a

This story gets me every time. Our kids and I read it together yesterday morning during our Bible time and we discussed some of the very things I want to share with you.

After reading the passage above, do you think Naaman believed he would be healed by dipping himself seven times in the Jordan River? I doubt it. He went off in a rage and mentioned that the rivers in Damascus were better than the Jordan. I have heard that the Jordan River was not necessarily a pretty river and was actually pretty gross. Did his servants believe? We don't know, but they seemed to care about Naaman. They called him "father." He must have treated them kindly. I think they were at least more hopeful. They convinced Naaman to give the Jordan River a try. How far do you think he stormed down the road before they convinced him to turn back?

The thing that gets me every time in this story is that God chose to reveal His power and heal Naaman in spite of his unbelief! God cares about everyone, not just those who go to church and call themselves Christians! I have heard that from a worldly perspective seeing is believing, but from a Christian perspective, believing is seeing. Did you catch that? Christianity is based on faith. Faith is required. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). For we live by faith, not be sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Once you believe, then you start to see how God is working in you and around you.

But that was not the case here. Maybe Naaman had an inkling of hope. He was definitely desirous of a cure, so maybe once his anger subsided, he was more hopeful and believed it might work. I don't know, though. I still lean toward the idea that he was more like, "Fine, I'll try it. It won't work, but I'll go in the Jordan just to prove it to you." I've always wondered if the healing came little by little, or not until the seventh dunk...Similar to the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. They were all healed but only one came back thanking Jesus and praising God. Were they healed somewhere along the road as they walked to the temple, or not until they took the last step into the temple? I could imagine faith would increase in increments if the healing began early in the process and came in portions, but that's not how God always works - sometimes it's not until the seventh dunk.

Here are a couple verses that came to mind:
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29).

Sometimes God lets the seeing come before the believing. Like Naaman. Like Paul, who used to be known as Saul of Tarsus. Like Muslims who dream about Isa (Jesus) calling them away from Islam before they have much, if any, thought of the sort - even if they are leaders in their religion. Like the disciple John when he went to Jesus' empty tomb: "Finally the other disciple [John], who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed" (John 20:8).

God's ways don't always make sense to us. God doesn't always answer the way we want Him to answer us. Does that sway your belief in Him? 

I know there are times I pray, knowing the He is completely capable to answer my prayer the way I want, but not sure that He will - not sure that He wants the same thing I do. I wonder if my will really matches His will, so sometimes I have doubts about whether He will act in a certain situation. I see the trees; He sees the forest. Seriously, He sees the whole universe, not just the forest! He sees all of space and time, so He knows how His answer will affect not only the people here and now, in the local vicinity, but the further reaches across this current generation and future generations. Anyhow, back to the point, do I have faith enough that He will answer? I believe that yes, I do, but sometimes I'm with the father above, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" My faith grows after the seeing. 

That's not unusual, though. Yes, believing leads to seeing...and then seeing leads to believing more...which leads to seeing more...which -- you get the point. Our faith grows. We "...continue to work out [our] salvation..." (Philippians 2:12). 

"...as your faith continues to grow..." (2 Corinthians 10:15)
"...your faith is growing more and more..." (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
"...so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good," (1 Peter 2:2b-3)

Naaman's servants convinced him to follow Elisha's directions, to go into the Jordan and dip seven times. How many were with him? How many witnessed his miraculous healing and his new faith in the God of Israel? How many of his servants also began to believe at that moment? How many faith journeys began after the seventh dunk?

Sometimes believing is seeing...but occasionally, God allows us to see, and then believe.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

How's the Lighting?

Houses! I enjoy looking at houses. I like to see the color and material choices inside and out, the landscaping, the different elements chosen (arches, beams, flooring, etc.), the floorplans, the yard - it's interesting to me. Old houses and new houses - they all hold their own intrigue. Yesterday, while driving, I was admiring some of the houses I passed. I noticed one with four or five small, square windows way up high and I thought it would be interesting to see what the lighting was like in that house.

God hit me immediately with the thought that that was what is important in people, too! Yes, the outside might look nice. I might wonder about what a person likes to eat, how they like to dress, what kind of shampoo or toothpaste they use, or any sort of thing like that...

...but what I really want to know is "How's the lighting?"

Have they opened the windows of their soul to allow God to pour His life-giving gifts into their lives? Or have they pulled down the blinds and shut the black-out curtains? Do they open up their Bibles daily to allow Him to speak to them and direct their lives day-by-day and decision-by-decision? Do they have lots of windows, so the light that is inside can also be seen on the outside? Do they walk in the light that He provides or stumble in artificial light? You know, artificial light can be dim, like a candle or single lamp, or blindingly bright, but it simply doesn't compare to His light. It can come from other religious thoughts, the beliefs of one's culture, intellectual media, anything from a perspective other than God's. 

I want to know what is inside a person. Have they decorated the walls of their minds with Scripture? Are there pictures hanging in their heart of people for whom they pray, people for whom they get on their knees, either literally or figuratively, and weep for their salvation, healing, or other needs? Are they allowing God to prepare the meals with which they feed their family, friends, and those with whom they come into contact each day? Do they have a quiet sitting room in which they wait on the Lord, listening for Him to speak? Oh, that still, small voice that can shake the foundations of the house by it's amazing power and yet has the strength to restrain itself when He speaks to the heart of one of His beloved children!

I want to know if they know, love, and follow after Jesus with everything that is in them. That is what is important.

How is the lighting in your life? Is it time to throw open some curtains and raise some blinds, to turn off the lamps and let the true light flow in? Is it time to scoot the piles out of the way so you can sit in quietly in God's presence, so you can hear Him speak? I'm praying for you.

"...The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart," (1 Samuel 16:7).

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight (1 Peter 3:3-4).

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven," (Matthew 5:14-16).

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Changing Goal Focus

As we approach the end of the year, I think about new year resolutions. I used to write these each year. My mom taught classes on goal-setting. She taught me, and I, in turn, taught others in college and later. I made goals in different life categories, that were SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and timely). Check out Goal-Setting and you can get an idea of what I mean. This link includes many Bible verses related to setting goals, too. (If you are really interested, here is a copy of my 2013 resolutions.)

I find value in goal-setting. I think it is important to have goals, so you have an idea of where you are going. But life has changed and has gotten busier. I found a few years ago that I was not doing well on meeting the goals I set any more. I would stumble across my list after months of not even remembering I had one, which means I was not working effectively toward my goals.

Oh sure, I have a lot of dreams or wishes about what I'd like to write down as my resolutions for 2018. I'd love to sew (hand and machine sewing), play the piano and oboe more, do more personal reading, do arts and crafts, play board and card games more often with the kids, learn how to knit and crochet better, exercise more regularly, declutter the house, get chores done more consistently...

But over the years, I've learned that I have not realistically worked on any of those well. The last couple years, I even changed the sewing one to "complete at least one sewing project this year." (I still have not accomplished even that one.) Yesterday, I started to contemplate about why this is the way things are going.

I started to think about my priorities and my life goals, not just my yearly ones. What is it that I want to accomplish in the long run? Here are the ones I've come up with so far:

  1. I want to raise my children to know, love, and follow hard after Jesus.
  2. I want to raise my children to be respectful, kind, generous individuals who care for the needs of others.
  3. I want to educate my children well - academically and in other life skills (cooking, etc.)
  4. I want to grow ever closer to God and live my life more fully for Him.
  5. I want to grow closer to my husband, being a good helper for him and showing him more love and affection.
  6. I want to show love to others and serve them in their times of need.
  7. I want to see people grow in their relationships with Christ - for those who don't know Him to turn to Him and be saved, for those who do know Him to love and obey Him more - for everyone to know, love, and follow hard after Jesus.
So, at my stage in life, I'm going to find ways to work on these. Forgive the roughness of these, but I'm formulating them as I type this morning, and they don't follow the SMART design. I have another couple days to work on them, right?
  1. I will continue morning devotionals with the children - at least five days a week, most weeks.
  2. I will continue to encourage personal devotions for all family members and support them in their efforts.
  3. I will be intentional about praying aloud with the kids throughout the day, and letting them see/hear me pray on my own as well.
  4. I will continue to seek and provide opportunities for the children to serve beside my husband and me. I know they love the Caleb Luncheon, Fill-a-Backpack, Operation Christmas Child, handing out Mother's Day roses at church, etc. so we will plan to be involved in those kinds of activities in 2018.
  5. I will continue to help the children learn respect and kindness through their interactions with each other, other family members, and those outside our family.
  6. I will continue to educate them however the Lord leads us, being focused and diligent, showing interest in the learning and not just a check-list mentality.
  7. I want to further develop spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, fasting, etc.) to deeper my relationship with my heavenly Father, my Savior Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
  8. I want to be able to push aside my busyness so that I may spend better time with my husband in the evenings and on weekends, giving him more of my attention and affection. I want him to know without a doubt how much I truly do adore him!
  9. I want to continue taking meals to people, caring for babies, visiting church members who are home-bound, and serving in other ways to show the love of Christ to people.
  10. I want to pray more consistently for specific people to turn to the Lord.
  11. I want to help others deepen their relationship with God, increasing their spiritual disciplines and obedience to Him - living their lives more fully for Him as well.
  12. I want to encourage my children to be creative and try new things - sew, build, sell/trade, etc.
  13. I want to go to bed by 11:00 p.m. at least five nights a week.
How do I plan to accomplish all these? What are the specifics? Well, maybe I'll get more specific with them in the next couple days - but maybe I won't. As much as I value goal-setting, I also remember that I am not in control, God is, and I'm not going to allow myself to get upset or frazzled because everything doesn't go according to my plans.

Proverbs 19:21 - Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.

Matthew 6:34 - Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

James 4:13-15 - Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

Mark 13:32 - "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (This refers to the second coming of Jesus, but I think it is a good reminder that we do not know the time limits set on our earthly futures.)

2 Corinthians 9:7 - Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (Whatever goals you set, work at them cheerfully.)

Colossians 3:17 - And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Make goals that will honor God.)

Galatians 6:8 - The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Again, make goals that will honor God.)

Galatians 6:9 - Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Make goals you won't give up on. Keep going!)

James 1:4 - Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (Persevere!)

As much as this post has been about backing off some of my dream goals and resolutions, I want to issue a challenge that I made in the Goal-Setting post. If you are making goals/resolutions, consider making a goal you can't do on your own, without God revealing His power. What a testimony that would be, right?

Would you share some of your goals with me? I'd love to know what you are aiming for in this new year, and how I might be able to pray for you. Are you willing to make an only-with-God goal? If so, I want to know!

Blessings prayed for you in the new year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Poems

Occasionally I write some poetry. I wanted to share a couple Christmas poems with you. If you read the last post, you know that I've been wanting to share these for a few weeks, but didn't sense God giving me the 'green light' yet. This week, He did.

Where is the Christ Child?
by Christa Shuman
December 2016

Where is the Christ child?
Is he under the tree?
Is he hiding among
All the presents I see?

Is he over there
Sitting upon the hearth,
Nestled amid the stockings
Full of treats that bring mirth?

Is he in the kitchen
Nibbling a turkey thigh,
Sneaking bites of stuffing,
Smelling all the pies?

Is he at the parties,
In the songs and games?
Does he really care
If we know the reindeers’ names?

Is he in our quiet times,
In Bible-reading and prayer,
The pageants and services?
We should find him there.

Where is the Christ child,
In which Christmas part?
No matter where I look
He’s always in my heart.

He is a babe no longer;
He grew to be a man.
He did amazing things
And fulfilled his Father’s plan.

And not only did he grow –
He died and lives again!

He died and paid the price
For my wrongs – I could not pay
And that is wh+y I live for Him
Every single day.

So where is the Christ child?
Why, He’s in heaven above
Wanting you to join Him
Waiting patiently, with love.

(If you didn't get a chance to read "Where Was Jesus" from September, I invite you to read it now. It contains a similar theme.)

Here is a couple more short poems.

A cookie, a carol,
A card from a friend
These are all nice, it's true.
But the best Christmas treat
Has all of these beat
It's God's son, sent to earth - for you!
(Christa Shuman, Dec. 2017)

May we remember
That O holy night
When joy came to the world
And the star was shining bright

When angels sang triumphantly
And beckoned shepherds come
To a stable in Bethlehem
To see a babe - God’s Son.
(Christa Shuman, Dec. 2013)

I like this Christmas version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah song. Check it out!

Merry Christmas!!