Guest Post FAITH: The Greatest Artist

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David and his lovely wife.

David and his lovely wife.

The following post is by my dear friend David Cox. Enjoy! – Cheryl

 “LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens.

 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”—Psalm 8:1, 3-4

Being an outdoorsy kind of guy, I’ve long appreciated the beauty of this earth—sunrises over the ocean, dappled light through the trees, the hush of a gentle winter snowfall, the amazing reds & browns of the U.S. Southwest. Having taken up stargazing several  years ago, I’ve also come to admire God’s handiwork there—the splash of stars in the Pleiades, the mystery of the Orion Nebula, the overwhelming magnitude of our own Milky Way galaxy on a clear summer’s night. I’m sure it’s occurred to you also—our Lord is the most amazing artist imaginable! His palette runs the gamut from the simple elements of the earth to the far-flung galaxies of the heavens. And yet there are no two snowflakes that are the same, no two sunsets exactly alike, no stellar constellation a carbon copy of another.

As amazingly impressive as all of that is, our Lord yet makes time for an active interest in the lives of the people He has created. Has it ever occurred to you that every circumstance in your life, every person who crosses your path, every situation you encounter—are all engineered and tailor-made for you? Sometimes for your benefit—“He leads me in the paths of righteousness…” (Psalm 23:3)—and sometimes for the blessings of another. Either way, the ultimate goal is the same: the active hand of the Master artfully arranges our circumstances “for His name’s sake.” 

It’s like when you hear from a friend about the sermon you both heard last Sunday, and she tells you that “I think God has been reading my correspondence, because that sermon seemed to be just for me!”  And you’re thinking, “No, that’s not possible, it was MY email He was reading, because I heard from God just the word I needed that day.” That’s not humanly possible, but with God, of course, all things are possible!  Only the Almighty Lord of all could weave all those circumstances together and bring out of it just the blessing that both of you needed. And He does it again and again, in your life, in mine, and in the lives of all the saints who have been here, are here now, and will be here in the future. And, as we are matured in our faith and gratefully serve in His name, we get to share in the joy of His creation.  All this and heaven too…now THAT’S what I call artistic!

David Cox successfully survived the turbulent ’60s, and then the searching (if somewhat self-centered) ’70s. Having been shipwrecked in Northeast Florida, he made a habitation out of the wreckage and is now happy to take each decade, and each day, as  it comes. He is a happily married family man, a recovering loner who has learned to enjoy the company of others. He helps people toward wellness, both physically as an RN and spiritually as an elder and mentor. He enjoys the outdoors, especially activities involving balance and movement. In his spare time he occasionally writes devotional essays.

 

 

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FAITH: Dare to Dance

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William W. Purkey“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”  ―    William W. Purkey

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dancing. Not any particular type specifically but just what dance can do. Dance can tell stories. Dance can provide exercise. It can be silly – or vulgar – or a community effort like the Macarena or line dancing. I’ve seen videos of servicemen doing the Cha-Cha slide. I am old enough to have seen the world premiere of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video –  and most of the time I think I don’t have time to dance.

To be honest, for the last 20 months – since my sister graduated to glory –  I haven’t felt like dancing about anything. But today, the sun is pointing me in a new direction and two scriptures I’ve read for years are now grabbing my hands and pulling me out into the open to dance in celebration of life.

You might even be familiar with the “A Time for Everything” writing in the book of Ecclesiastes 3 from the Old Testament (or first section) in the Bible.

It begins like this:

Verse 1: There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:

Verse 2: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

Verse 3:  a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

Verse 4: a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a TIME TO DANCE….

I’m stopping here but the next four verses finish the poetic passage. It’s last line is a time for war and a time for peace. Has your spirit been at war for a while? Maybe it’s time for peace – or do I dare say it – dancing?

In Psalms Chapter 30, verse 11, the Bible says:

You [God] turned my mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth [clothing to show mourning] and clothed me with joy;

Verse 12: that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks forever.

I’m thinking it’s time for peace and dance to reign supreme – and for me to thank God forever for who He is! That’s one reason I chose to include this video link. It made me think, “Hey. That guy should be ME dancing through ALL the seasons of life.” Life has provided my lessons for dancing. Join me!

So. Are you in?

I found the video link below this week while researching. Aside from the amazing photography and the matching music, I marveled at the four-minute-long visual vacation. It made me want to dance on top of my weed covered garden, to run down my street pumping my fists in the air like Rocky and well, maybe even mow my grass AGAIN this week!

The type of dance I’m discussing is celebratory in nature. It creates a desire to have others join in to express their joyfulness. It’s not immodest. It’s freeing and it seems to speak a language that no words can adequately describe.

http://blog.bookmarket.com/2011/06/dance-like-no-one-is-watching-next.html

Faith: The First Day of My Spiritual Spring

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Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m 28 today.

I know it’s confusing since I made such a big deal about turning Hawaii 5-0 in January. I’m not crazy. Let me explain.

I was “all good” with the first day of Spring, 1984 making its annual rounds but I have to admit that it was also a day that startled me by surprise.

I had just returned from a college retreat sponsored by the church I attended.  I was a retreat professional – if there is such a thing. Retreats weren’t new to me; what was new was how God used my arrogance to reveal that I was nothing but externally religious.

The retreat’s theme – they all have them – was “Knowing God”. Sheesh, I thought, don’t really think there’s anything new in that territory for me but what the heck. The retreat even came at a time when I was involved in a structured program designed to teach me how to share my faith.

But something odd began to happen. As I dutifully “wrote my testimony” for an assignment in the program, I became increasingly frustrated. C’mon, I scolded myself. You’re a journalism major. You can write ANYTHING!

Imagine my surprise to learn I had no real faith to share – only the faith I had in myself.

So the weekend – the Knowing God retreat – came and went. I returned on Saturday and house sat for the rest of the weekend for a dear family I knew. They really KNEW God and lived out their faith void of spiritual checklists to measure their holiness.

I placed my Bible on their couch and walked past it continually – unable to bring myself to even pick it up. Suddenly, the Bible and anything I knew about it seemed foreign to me. It was a scary disconnect for all spiritual things familiar in my life.

It frustrated me each time I tried having a conversation with God; I seemed to have justifications for every aspect of my life. Surely I’d say something that would convince HIM to accept ME!

  • I had grown up in a home where God was loved, spoken of and taught;
  • I knew the order of the books in the Bible;
  • I even arose at 4:30 a.m. many mornings during my senior year in college to “get my Bible reading in” before going to class;
  • And probably most “importantly,” (think humor, here)  I didn’t “smoke or chew or go with guys who do.”

I was in an exhausting place. Then came church on Sunday, a regular staple in my spiritual schedule. But this was no usual worship service. It kept going until mid-afternoon as person after person explained the retreat’s impact on them. And then, the minister to college aged kids wept as he told his story – one of realizing that he, too, had the exterior veneer that said, “Of course, I’m a Christian.” He talked about realizing that he had known ABOUT God, but not actually known Him.

Bingo! Something inside me agreed without hesitation. I could relate because that’s what I had experienced as well. I soon found myself praying and asking God to forgive me for thinking I had sufficiently known Him.

I left the service around 2 p.m. feeling free of the strangling spiritual entanglements I had hidden in my whole life. No longer was I coasting on the faith of my parents or the morality code I lived to uphold. Jesus had made it clear to me that all the “doing” was very, very far from the unfailing love and forgiveness He provides.

My story – my testimony, if you will – was now genuine. It was not created with examples of my efforts, the judgment I had lavishly lathered onto others who didn’t “act like Christians.”

But on the first day of Spring 28 years ago, Jesus freed me from a a superficial spirituality and He became my freedom provider. Spirituality had strangled me but Jesus rescued me so I could really live – now and forever.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – From The Bible, Book of  Second Corinthians, Chapter 3, verse 17

A site I love: utmost.org

(Photo link: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=659)

Faith: Salt and Sugar

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A year. An entire year. That’s how long my friend and I had been trying to coordinate calendars. Seeing as we’re both goal-oriented women we weren’t about to let the passage of time keep us from time to sit around and talk. You can conclude what you wish about our schedules, etc., but suffice it to say we wanted to not just have an appointment squeezed between others, obligations and obstacles.

So, with the highly anticipated visit upon me, my nest now empty, I now find myself reprogramming what used to be automatic “Not Now” replies. Now when someone wants to “get together” I’m more likely to ask for a time and place.

So there I was the morning of the meeting. I retrieved my trusty little Mr. Coffee Jr. and got to brewing. I’m not exactly a Starbucks barista so I was hoping my friend’s coffee fixing would not require “shots” of anything. I don’t know how to do those! So inebriated with the exhilaration of domesticity, I grabbed a cookbook to make a simple coffee cake before her arrival. The only thing missing was whistling while I worked. Hate to admit it, but that’s not in my talent repertoire.

I laid out the ingredients on my counter making sure that I put each to the side after using it. During one of my ultra-super organizational phases several years back, I tired of the visual clutter from original product packaging and went to clear containers on which I marked the contents. The only problem with that system was that I grabbed a dry erase marker instead of the ole’ dependable Sharpie. Not a shrewd move. And that’s how the story begins.

As I progressed through the recipe, I was pleased to find how much fun it was to cook again. I grabbed each item, salt, sugar, flour, eggs, cinnamon, baking powder, etc and began my kitchen symphony. Did I ever mention how alike sugar and salt look?

And then, I poured the batter into the pan. Beaming with pride at my efforts, I spread the soon-to-be-miracle – or tried to. I’m not Martha Stewart, Paula Deen or any of their remotely distant relatives but I have cooked enough to know something was awry. My visual inspection of the batter-to-pan process confirmed an anomaly. Gloppy, yes. Smooth and flowing, no.

The raw batter should not go untested, I thought. Any psuedobaker knows the thrill of eating dough that contains raw eggs. I swiped my index finger across it anxiously awaiting what I knew would have to be the world’s best homemade coffee cake.

And then I choked. Seriously.

I couldn’t spit the dough out soon enough. I ran for water. I sounded like a cat hissing at a piece of prey on the other side of the glass divide. In teenspeak, it was an epic fail.

Horror of horrors! Time for a do-over and I began the process again. This time I doublechecked to make sure I added sugar in the correct amount instead of adding salt in its place. It was an unintended mistake but I’ve found in my life that confusing “look-alikes” can create unintended consequences. In this case, the result was a culinary disaster. I’m glad it was not a more earth-shattering situation.

The new coffee cake made me proud. My friend was impressed with my coffee making ability and the visit was worth the wait.

From now on, the Sharpie marker STAYS in the kitchen junk drawer! And I’m keeping the salt and sugar far away from each other.

FAITH: Looking for Loopholes

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It was time for me to decide whom I really believe.

He nudged my spirit this week. I was still in bed thinking through the day’s anticipated events. A personnel changeover in my department, another way lengthy and time consuming online class project, coordinating ticket and candygram sellers for a middle school dance (can you say loud but fun?).

 

I almost wanted to go back to sleep after making my mental checklist and then….

He nudged my spirit.

For many, the Bible verse in Romans chapter 8 verse 28 is a very familiar one. It states, “All things work together for the good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”

And then I heard it.

“Well, Cheryl,” the still-small voice said. “Is it true or not?”

I was shocked. Between waves of grief from my sister’s passing late last year, to more professional changes and demands I could ever have imagined, I thought, “Why are God and I having this conversation? Of course, it’s true….except….”

And that’s when I realized I wanted a loophole. A “fill in the blank” for the scripture. One that might go something like, “I can do all things through Christ – except EDE 4302 Instructional Management – which gives me strength…. “ or “I can do all things through Christ – except take on administrative departmental responsibility – …” You get the picture.

And then I heard it again. No, not an audible voice, but one I knew was meant only and specifically for me.

“Is it?”

It’s NOT an open ended question!

And then I realized I was at a crossroad of intellectual agreement and faith. If I simply agreed intellectually – I could go on my merry way, work as hard as I possibly could and pay the consequences (in weight gain, in stress, in the “watch how busy I am envy me look”, etc.) OR, I could see down that road, see that what my wonderful work ethic was great but not enough. I could take comfort in what natural affinities I have for teaching kids to write and realize that with an upcoming show and other major events in the next months, I could easily crash and burn. I could be so busy that my about-to-graduate youngest son might forget what I look like.

To be honest, I didn’t like that view.

So, I’m on a spiritual and very practical precipice … and I decided to make a declaration. Of course the whole world is interested in my Facebook status updates, so naturally I posted it there.

I decided that Romans 8:28 did not have a fill in the blank for exceptions, that God’s word was enough whether or not I could see the outcome of future events, like or dislike the outcome of said future events, etc.

“Yes, Lord,” I said after realizing what He was asking. “It’s right. You’re right. And I’m glad.”

Just wondering: Have a story you’d like to share? Feel free.

FAITH: A Face-to-Face Reminder

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No, this isn't me! It's good to be able to breathe uninterruptedly at night, though, even if I do have to go to the pulmonologist.

I don’t mean to be a problem child but I am.

It’s been two years since I’ve seen my pulmonologist and the only reason I went on my day off was because I was having technical difficulties with one of my supplies. I walk into the DME office – that’s medical lingo for durable medical equipment. Yes, I am a user.

 Sleep apnea has its own set of supplies and well, I needed some new ones. Here’s the kicker, though. I’ve been a frequent flyer in the office long enough to know a friendly face when I see one. There she was – Keitha. Her eyes always gleam with what seems like an internal happiness. She’s a good listener and she was going to help me get a few replacement items.

“What’s your last name?” she asked.

“Lemine,” I responded.

“Cheryl?” she said to my surprise.

“Yes and can I have a few of your memory cells?” I said jokingly.

Man, I was amazed. She hadn’t seen me in two years and she knew who I was.

Aside from Keitha’s extraordinary eyes, which were beautiful, I almost dropped my chops when she pulled my first name out from nowhere. Either I had made a REALLY bad impression on the staff in years past and had a rep OR she has a REALLY impressive ability to remember. No matter the reason. My little brain said, “It’s about time you got back to the office and got what you needed and see – someone there really knows who you are.”

Now pardon me if you think I draw too many spiritual conclusions from not-so-random encounters but after my business was complete with Keitha, I left thinking, “She reminds me of Jesus. He NEVER forgets a name.” I’ve been especially glad the last few months that Jesus really does remember my name and that I’m important to Him. No, I don’t have the corner on closeness, but I do know that YOU are equally as important to Him.

Scripture says He numbers the hairs on our head (that’s taking less time as years go by if you know what I mean!); He knows our comings and goings; He is close to the brokenhearted. I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. It’s just like Jesus to use an ordinary interaction to put a physical expression of His love straight in my face!

I’m glad Keitha was at work that day. She taught me an important lesson probably without even realizing it!

Just wondering:
What are your thoughts? Tell me how Jesus has inspired you through an average interaction.

FAITH: Life and Lessons

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Life can throw tough punches, but it doesn't mean we're down for the count.

Life’s been throwing lots of one-two punches lately.

Just the time I miss a hit another heads my way.

Here’s what I’m doing about it. Maybe it will help you. I hope so!

One of the best things I do  is to remind myself who God is by looking in the Bible. God is not a good luck charm. He wants to know us personally. He doesn’t want our relationship with Him to be one of mindless rituals and momentary satisfaction. Scripture tells us He has loved us before we were born, knows the number of  hairs on our heads and cares about us so much that He was willing to die.

That’s pretty intense if you ask me. So what good does believing in a dead guy do? Nothing. But that’s where the story changes because the dead guy – Jesus – didn’t stay that way. He’s alive and that’s why the believing – what or who we believe in – matters.

Recently, I spoke with one of my mentors. A phrase he said stuck in my mind. He talked about “training ourselves” to continually give things/circumstances/life/fears to God. Since then, I literally do that each morning. After I wake  I say, “Lord, here is my day.” And then I imagine putting it in his hands. Then I say, “Lord, here is ________.” And then I imagine putting whatever fills the blank that day in his hands.

He wants us to trust Him because He is trustworthy – for this moment, for this hour.

I also have a couple different devotional books scattered throughout my home – in the bathroom, on my dresser, etc. A favorite I use continuously is Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. Others are quicker reads. In the driver’s side door of my car is a New Testament and a book about peace for women featuring Psalms. I picked the book up at my grocery store.

Some of the best scriptures for stressful times are in Psalms. It’s amazing when you think about how God recorded real live examples so we could see what others did when they struggled with their challenges. He let them ask where he was, if he cared about them, what should they do. And you know what? After thousands of years, we still ask those same questions and it hasn’t changed God or his nature one iota. Another truth in Scripture tells us He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The intersection of my decision took place during this head-on collision with life. It doesn’t matter what you call it though it comes dressed as a struggle, problem or crisis. It is during those next moments or days I understand what I can, learn what I can and prepare as best I can. And then, it’s time. I face two choices which affect my “moving forward” – the options:  faith or fear.

From experience, I know my energy, ability to reason and plan, protect and otherwise take control are limited. Why should I psychologically “strip my gears” when one of my options is REST, PEACE, and HOPE –  in God? It’s hard work to will myself to make this decision when my human nature says, “DO SOMETHING…or DO SOMETHING MORE!”

Maybe I’ve done everything I know. Maybe I haven’t done anything, but when it’s time to choose, I think about an old hymn I used to sing growing up: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. One of its phrases repeats the title and then goes on to say, “no turning back, no turning back.”

So, I chose to believe God rather than going it alone. I can’t do it alone.  I don’t want to. Since FAITH does not make human sense I think we mentally chastise ourselves for picking it instead of fear.  Our thought processes may go something like this: “Faith relieves me of having to figure out the next step. It’s the easy way out.”

In reality, maybe that next step should be to trust God.

Just saying.

Just wondering: What do you do when life threatens to throw you to the mat?