God Will Provide

Knight armor

 

My church family has heard me pray many times, “Thank You, Father, for who You are, and the way You work in our lives.” At the local Super Center, He showed Himself to be my Provider when I took Earl’s car in for an oil change.

After being assured they had the right oil for the change, I left the car to buy groceries during my wait. When I returned, the car wasn’t ready.

“Mrs. Winn, there’s a problem. We don’t have enough of your brand of oil to finish it.”

“And I imagine you’ve already drained all the oil out of my car,” I responded.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said.

“What are my options now?” I asked hoping he would respond by getting it from his supplier.

Instead, he shrugged, tugged at his shirt, and said, “I dunno.”

When his what-do-I-do-now mode kicked in, he called the manager.

I felt like the cavalry had arrived with a knight in shining armor leading the charge when the manager showed up. It was Jeremy, a friend from church, ready to have his metal tested.

Jeremy didn’t know it was my car in question, and he didn’t see me sitting in the waiting area. He walked straight to the oil changer in a problem-solving mode.

When they began double-checking the stock, I joined them because this was not the first time they had drained my oil without having enough to replace it. The same thing happened a year before, and I had not been back. But in an effort to consolidate my do-list, I opted for the convenience of one-stop-shopping. That attempt to save time cost three hours of waiting.

Not finding my brand of oil on the shelves, Jeremy asked me what I wanted to do.

I began by blubbering, “This is Earl’s car and…”

That’s all I said before Jeremy went into action.

“We’ll take care of it; and I promise you this will never happen again. This is NOT good customer service!”

Jeremy went to his supplier, got the right oil, and gave me a free oil change. But more important for me was Jeremy’s sensing my moment of weakness and taking charge in my behalf. He was in the right place at the right time to bring life to the verses that say, “God will supply all your needs;” and, “Whatever you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for Me.”

Situations like this don’t happen by chance. They are arranged. Perhaps to remind me, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Or perhaps to correct a problem in the Super Center’s automotive procedures like, “Check the stock before you drain the oil.”

Or perhaps God was simply testing Jeremy.

I don’t know. But what I do know is that Jeremy was available to be used by God; and in the process, he came through for me in a time of need.

Thank you, Jeremy, for being God’s good and faithful servant.

Knight valor

Ask, Wait, and Watch

Ephesians immeasurably more

Out of all of God’s commands, “ask,” “wait,” and “watch” are the three easiest for me to obey.

I’ve experienced, many times, the blessings and benefits of the One who has the most creative imagination, the ability to sustain all things, and Sovereign power over all that He created. Add His goodness and His desire to give us the desires of our hearts and you might understand how easy it is for me to ask for what I want; wait for His perfect timing; and watch in anticipation of what He’s going to do.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “God’s gifts put man’s dreams to shame.” You’ve probably experienced the truth of that statement in your own life. I have, too.

Recently I had a friend help me open the kitchen window and remove the screen so I could shoot better photos of all the activity in my front garden. My dream was simply to get a clear shot of the flock of rose breasted grosbeaks munching sunflower seeds at my ground feeder. They only come through here each spring so we needed to hurry.

By the time the screen was off, the birds had continued their migration to wherever they go. Little did I know that my disappointment would soon turn to joy.

My new camera with its long zoom lens sat ready for action on the counter by the window when Mama Fox posed on the other side of the street.

Foxes 113

Not knowing what she would do, I followed one of the first rules of outdoor photography: Get the shot! You may not have another chance.

Fox sightings are a regular occurrence around here, but my neighbors had reported seeing a litter of fox pups rolling and romping together in their back yards. I’d seen the mother fox watch us as I walked Jethro several times a day, but I’d not seen the pups. So, in my most pitiful and petulant pre-schooler’s voice, I pouted, “Lord, I want to see the fox pups play!”

Little did I know that God had already ordered immeasurably more for me than I’d asked or imagined.

Look at these untouched photos. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d see Mama Fox drinking out of my bird bath. That photo is posted on my facebook page. Or one of her pups on tiptoes imitating Mama Fox…

Fox pups 020

Or a fox pup with fresh kill…

Foxes 029

Or action shots like these…

Foxes 073Foxes 082

That afternoon, Mama Fox brought all of her pups into my garden to play. They chased each other back and forth across the street till midnight. My street light allowed me to watch as they ganged up on a skunk and drove it out of the culvert they used as a hiding place. Too bad it didn’t provide enough light to get the shot.

Now, days later, the whole fox family continues to run and chase each other from my garden to the culvert across the street. I’ve shot hundreds of photos that I hadn’t dreamed possible. Some, once-in-a-life-time.

All I did was ask, wait, and watch as God showered me with an abundance of photo ops that far outweighed my desire to see a rose breasted grosbeak eat sunflower seeds. Instead I got to see the pups gobbling up the seeds and drinking out of a pan of water I put down for them.

Fox pups in garden 017Fox pups 039

What an awesome God we serve. He even answers pouty, petulant prayers with immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

What is it that you would like to see? Ask, wait, and watch. God is able to make it happen for you.

Resurrection Witness of Spring

Dianthus

I love spring and always look forward to seeing what will come back for another year in my gardens. This year I discovered plants that I forgot I’d moved; plants that I thought I’d moved and didn’t; and even plants coming up from the seeds of parent plants. All remind me of God’s promise to make all things new.

Teresa, my Georgia golf buddy and budding gardener, sent me the above photo of some dianthus she’d left in a pot in the back of one of her gardens. She commented, “These stayed outside over winter. I thought they were dead…but surprise!”

She also told me she had tossed two more out in the woods after they died. Now, with a full understanding of “perennial,” she scurried into the woods to retrieve them. The plants–still alive– are back in their pots and enjoying a lot more attention now.

That’s the beauty of perennials, isn’t it. They come back from the dead and are enduring, constant, and everlasting.

Jesus promised His disciples He would come back from the dead too, but they didn’t believe Him until they saw Him again either. Over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus and talked with Him. His disciples even ate with Him. They enjoyed His presence for 40 days before He ascended into heaven so He could multiply His presence on earth through the outpouring of His Spirit into the hearts of believers everywhere.

His presence in our lives begins with just a small seed of belief; and like our plants that bloom where they are planted in our gardens, Jesus comes alive and blooms in the garden of our hearts when we plant Him there.

The glorious blooms we see in our gardens now bear witness to the resurrection glory that awaits us in God’s eternal garden. Let’s nurture His seed.

Forgiveness: The Fragrance of Life

forgiveness-fragrance

From the beginning when God created a perfect world and sinless people to walk with Him in His garden, sin entered that perfect world through Adam and Eve’s foolish decision and their resulting disobedience. Hence, our nature to sin has been passed down through every generation.

But God cannot look upon sin, so He sent His Son to this earth to pay the price for our sin and win us back into fellowship with Himself.

That journey to forgiveness began over two thousand years ago when God placed His Holy Seed into the womb of a righteous young virgin named Mary and said His Son would be called Jesus, meaning “Jehovah saves.”

As a youth, Jesus astounded the religious leaders of the day with the depth of His knowledge and understanding of the Holy Scriptures. But then again, He should know them. They were inspired by His Father, with whom He’d already spent eternity past.

Finding Himself in human form, Jesus stayed in close personal contact with His Father to follow His will, saying and doing only what His Father told Him to say and do. He was the one and only perfect human being. Without sin. Obedient to death.

Because He was without sin, He paved the way for our sins to be forgiven. His obedient journey on earth led Him to His death on the cross and crying out, “Father forgive them…” and minutes later, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Describing that harrowing moment, Pastor Tony Evans said, “Jesus became sin, severing Himself from the fullness of the intimacy He had always known with His Father. As the sin of the whole world shot through His body, God the Father turned His back on His Son…Jesus endured the distance, the desertion, and the rejection for us.” For us!

Thankfully, our journey to forgiveness isn’t nearly as painful as crucifixion. It only requires a humble heart, a desire to be cleansed of all unrighteousness, and bowing the head or bending the knee. Pretty simple, huh; but mandatory if we want peace in our lives here and on the other side of eternity.

But seeking forgiveness does not come naturally to us. Sinning does. The apostle Paul said, “I do what I don’t want to do, and don’t do what I want to do. What a wretched man am I.”

I know how he feels, don’t you? Thankfully Jesus provided the way to rid ourselves of the burden of sin.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Wow! All we have to do is ask with a sincere heart. When we forgive people who’ve done us wrong, our heavenly Father forgives us of the wrongs we have committed. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. In other words, what goes around comes around. What we send out boomerangs back to us.

During this season of forgiveness, we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus–the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of our sins. So let us also take time to forgive those who have hurt us and to seek forgiveness from those whom we’ve hurt.

That simple act of forgiving will release burdens, rejuvenate friendships, restore our fellowship with God and add the sweet fragrance of peace to our lives.

Change

Change 2

Change has never come easy for me especially when I’m happy and content where I am. So, a couple of weeks ago when my pastor talked to us about change, I was reminded of a change I had to make 10 years ago–a change I was none too happy about at the time, but a change that turned out really well for me.

I was a productive member of an active church in Rome GA, growing spiritually under the preaching and teaching of a self-proclaimed good old boy with a doctorate in theology; singing in a huge choir; and coordinating the prayer ministry. I had retired from 20 years of coaching and teaching tennis, and my days included long walks with God and my dogs through the woods on our property out in the country.

My walking trail ended at what I called my “prayer tree” that stood beside a fenced pasture where I could see sheep on one hill and cattle on another. As I sat beside my prayer tree and looked in the distance, I was always reminded that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and these were just two of them. At that time in my life, I was content and at peace with the world.

But circumstances change, and peace flew out the window when my husband came home from work and announced that he was retiring at the end of the month, and we were moving to Tims Ford Lake. It didn’t matter to me that we had already built our retirement home there or that we had discussed and planned the move for 12 years. I just thought that day would never come. But it came, and he was adamant. And, I was angry.

I’ve heard that all great changes are preceded by chaos, and that’s where my mind was–in chaos. As my situation changed, so did my attitude.

Those peaceful walks in the woods turned into three weeks of stomping through the woods; and the Lord let me stomp until I was worn to a frazzle and confessed my anger.

Knowing that I couldn’t change my fate, my attitude would have to change. So I said, “Lord, if You really want us to make this move, You’ll have to change my heart about it because it is not right with this move.”

I could almost hear Him say, “No kidding.”

Confession changes things, too. So does praying in God’s will.

Immediately, the burden lifted, and I was at peace as I walked out of the woods and back to the house in a much better humor. That Sunday when I went to church I told my Sunday School class we were moving, and I put our house and property on the prayer list for a quick sell. God must have been sitting on ready for that prayer. We had a buyer before I returned to church that night.

My next conversation with God went something like this: “Okay Lord, You know I don’t want to do any church hopping, so where do You want me to go to church when we move?”

Since the Lord had obviously approved our change in residence, I felt sure He had a church in mind, too; and He did. He called me to Marble Plains Baptist Church located inside Tims Ford State Park.

Church 1

Now I’m celebrating, yes celebrating, 10 years at the little white church in the wildwood where the church family is welcoming and loves others the way Christ loves His church; and the pastor always preaches under the influence of the Holy Spirit and pastors his flock much like the Great Shepherd pastors His.

I am blessed with a spirited neighborhood brunch bunch that supports each other all year long.

My peaceful walks in the woods have been replaced with long walks along lake roads and hours on the water with my dogs, my camera, and my Gheenoe. So you can see how God changed my heart about change.

Only He knows the plans He has for us and the path He wants us to walk; and when we walk it with Him, even when it includes change, we discover it’s lined with blessings.

God changed my heart about change. It isn’t all bad. Change is all good, if God is in it.

 

Beyond the Sky

Sam's morning sky
A Sam Stoltzfus photograph.

 

Being a positive and upbeat person, I’m rarely brought low by the weight of depression. But recently I felt a gradual pervasive darkness trying to set up house in my mind. Although the darkness took me by surprise, God wasn’t surprised at all. He knew it was coming and had already laid out a path before me that would lead me back into the light of His Presence.

Several days before, a friend had given me a Fernando Ortega CD called “Home.” I first heard Ortega’s music at an Anne Graham Lotz speaking event several years ago where he opened the evening for her. His music spoke to me, so I bought one of his CD’s.

His music still speaks to me in a haunting, other-worldliness way that often just whisks me away into the heavenlies, and on this particular day that’s where I desperately needed to be. His words in “Beyond the Sky” described exactly how I felt.

“When darkness falls over me,
This promise, it’s like a fire inside
Burning the dark away.”

If your spirit needs a lift, if you need to have the darkness burned away, if you need to be reminded of the tender transforming love and care of the Father and the home that awaits His children, listen to this beautiful beckoning into the light of God’s love and refuge beyond the sky. Perhaps this song will lift your spirits and lead you back into the light of God’s Presence, too.

Click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny0TSPpMd3k&list=RDNy0TSPpMd3k to read the lyrics and hear Fernando Ortega sing Beyond the Sky.

Second Chances

God of 2nd chance 1

People are still talking about the Seahawks’ last play in Super Bowl XLIX. Second-guessers, Monday morning quarterbacks, and even the stylists in my hair salon were of the same opinion: a more effective play might have been to run Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode into the end zone; or call a keeper with Russell Wilson out-foxing and side-stepping his way to a touchdown. But alas, Seahawk fans, the choice was not ours to make.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell opted to throw from the one yard line with 26 seconds remaining in the game, and head coach Pete Carroll agreed. Maybe they didn’t have access to all the stats that told them they converted into first downs or touchdowns a whopping 81 percent of their third or fourth down power runs and goal-to-go situations from two yards out.

In the Super Bowl game alone, they had given the ball to Lynch four out of five times in similar situations resulting in a touchdown and a first down. The only throw in that situation resulted in an incomplete pass, defended by Patriots’ Malcom Butler, who also intercepted the ill-fated pass that ended the Seahawks season on a sour note.

What can we learn from the Seahawks last play?

1. Go with your strengths. For the Patriots, their strength was their running game. For Christians, our strength is Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Apart from Him we can do nothing, because in Him we live and move and have our being.

2. Run your race to win. If the Seahawks’ receiver had run his pass pattern and met the ball with the same intensity as the defender, he would have bumped him out of the way and caught the pass. For Christians, don’t let anyone cut in front of you and highjack God’s truth or keep you from pursuing the path God has for you.

On the football field and in any given situation in life, only one gets the prize. This year’s Super Bowl prize went to the Patriots. Hopefully you also enjoyed a victory in your life this week. But if you didn’t, like the Seahawks, you’ll get another chance.

The result of every choice we make shows up in the win/loss column of our lives. Thankfully we serve a God of second chances. The Seahawks are already looking forward to another chance next season.

We, too, can learn from our mistakes and look forward to a do-over. When we allow the devil to cut in on us and disrupt God’s plan for us, we can get up, dust ourselves off, and get back on the path laid out for us before the beginning of time.

When you go with Christ as your strength, you’ll win the race you’re running.

God of 2nd chance 2

Talk about a Super Bowl!

golden-bowls-of-incense

Are you ready for the Super Bowl?

You’ve already enjoyed–or survived–the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and 31 other college bowls. Yeah. There’ve been that many. Oh, and don’t forget the North-South, East-West bowls, and the pro bowls. The only bowl opportunities not cashed in on at this point are the Campbell’s Soup Bowl and the American Standard Toilet Bowl. I wonder why they haven’t thought of those yet.

But there are a few more bowls that are more important than football bowls. The ones mentioned in Revelation 5 really caught my eye. These super bowls are called Golden Bowls.

Did you know that these golden bowls are “full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people?” They are held at the throne of God by 24 elders and four living creatures.

Will you pray more knowing that your prayers are always held in God’s presence?

Personally, I wonder how those few bowls can hold all of my prayers, much less yours and mine. Maybe the bowls are bigger than I imagine. Or maybe they are in a form that’s beyond my imagination. But this I do know: God listens to our prayers; He answers our prayers; and He knows our hearts while we pray.

God also knows that the frequency and content of our prayers held in those golden bowls reflect…

– Our trust in Him as the One greater than ourselves;

– Our humility in His Sovereign Presence;

– Our need for His forgiveness for all our sins;

– Our thankful hearts for His presence, protection, and provision;

– Our loyalty to His Lordship over our lives;

-The depth of our faith; and

– The closeness of our relationship with Him.

This weekend as you watch the Seahawks and Patriots battle for the Super Bowl, add your prayers to the golden bowls for the safety of all the players, officials, and fans in the stadium. And as you fill the bowls from your kitchen with chips, dips, and veggies, don’t forget to also fill the super bowls in heaven with prayers of praise and thanksgiving for who God is and all He has done for you.

Prayers as Incense

 

The Key to a Peaceful Life

 

Peace 2

Have you ever wondered why people write what they write, or what event prompted their writing about it? The psalms always peak my curiosity like that.

This week as I studied Psalm 91, I discovered it was written in celebration of God’s defeat over the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites which occurred during the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. The story is told in 2 Chronicles 20 and provides the key to living a peaceful life in spite of life’s trials, troubles, and battles. Here’s what happened.

Jehoshaphat, an ancestor of Jesus Christ and king of Judah from 872 – 849 BC, was a king who mostly did what was right in God’s eyes. Mostly. But like us, not always. In his case, he didn’t worship other gods, but on occasion he made alliances that did not garner God’s approval.

As we look at his story, we discover that at this particular time in his reign, he found favor in God eyes. When Jehoshaphat was told that a vast army was on the way to conquer them, he gathered all the men, women, and children of Judah and Jerusalem and proclaimed a fast. The people came together for a “national day of prayer.” All the people sought God’s help while Jehoshaphat recalled God’s faithfulness to them and cried out to the Lord, “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

While they were praying–I love that phrase. It’s found several times in the Bible–the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel, an inspired Levite, with a message from God.

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. The battle is not yours but God’s. March down, take your position, stand firm, and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”

Isn’t it nice to know that the battle is the Lord’s. All we have to do is be still and let God handle it.

When Jehoshaphat heard that the Lord would deal with the approaching army, he bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people fell down and worshiped the Lord. Some of the Levitical priests were so thankful, they stood up and shouted their praises.
Early the next morning, Jehoshaphat told the people of Judah and Jerusalem to “Have faith in the Lord, and you will be upheld.”

As a man of faith himself, Jehoshaphat appointed singers– not warriors suited up and armed for battle–but singers with their vocal cords tuned up to sing to the Lord and praise Him for the splendor of His Holiness before the battle began.

Did you get that? BEFORE the battle, they sang and praised the Lord. Before they knew the outcome, they thanked God because they trusted Him to provide the deliverance He promised them. That kind of trust only comes from being still in God’s Presence and acknowledging His sovereign will.

And while they were praying [there it is again], praising, and singing to the Lord, the Lord set ambushes; and the Moabites and Ammonites destroyed each other.

When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert, they saw only dead bodies. It took three days to collect all the plunder from that vast army. On the fourth day they assembled in the valley of Beracah (means praise) and praised the Lord; then returned joyfully to Jerusalem, and went straight to the temple of the Lord to thank and praise Him.

After that, their enemies all around them feared the Lord; and the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace because God gave them rest on every side.

Would you like to have rest in all areas of your little kingdom? Then place your unwavering faith in God, lean on His promises, and do what He tells you to do.

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged… The battle is not yours but God’s. Take your position [in Him], stand firm [in your faith], and see the deliverance [from the problem] the Lord will give you. Go out to face [your problem], and the Lord will be with you [to do battle for you].”

That’s the key to a peaceful life. When you know that God is ready, willing, and able to answer your prayers–maybe not in the manner you imagine because He isn’t limited by your imagination–and you’ve learned to trust Him, then ask for His help and thank Him ahead of time. He will answer your prayers, too. Even while you are still praying.

Now go read Psalm 91. It will make a whole lot more sense to you now that you know the back story. And, praise the Lord for giving you peace in the midst of your daily battles.

Peace 1

 

Mystery at the 165 Mile Marker

Mile Marker 165

Have you ever seen something that you weren’t sure if it was real or not–something that made you wonder if you were seeing things? I experienced such an occurrence recently and would like to know the truth of the matter. Perhaps you could help solve the mystery for me. Here’s what happened…

A dark overcast sky hung low over town before I left for a week of vacation. I felt as if the dark cloud enveloped me too and found it difficult to look forward to the trip. The thought of traveling the same road that Earl rode on his last motorcycle trip left me with an eerie feeling. Yet I felt compelled to travel that road and face whatever the trip had to offer.

Thankfully, as I left town, I could see where the dark sky ended and blue sky began. I felt as if I were coming out of a pervasive darkness and into the light. My mood lifted immediately.

When I hit the 127 down ramp onto Interstate 24E I decided to document the drive because it was Earl’s last trip. I wondered what he saw and how he might have felt. Somehow, I thought it might help me understand what happened between the time he left that morning until he rode into heaven an hour later.

Traveling east toward Chattanooga, Earl’s path took him over Mt. Eagle, home of Sewanee and the University of the South, and down across the Sequatchie River before heading into the valley. Once past the huge Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks located in the median between the east and westbound lanes, he started a long downhill stretch before heading back up again to the lengthy bridge crossing the Tennessee River and ending at the 161 mile marker. It was the last river Earl saw on this earth, but in four more miles–or minutes–he would meet his Maker and enjoy his first view of the beautiful river that flows from the throne of God.

At the 162 mile marker, the Interstate began a winding, rustic drive typical of the terrain in middle Tennessee—a good motorcycle ride even for the Interstate. I wondered if he enjoyed leaning into the curve and seeing the train trestle high above.

Traffic picked up as I got closer to Chattanooga. At the 164 mile marker there was another overpass, and in one more mile…

I wondered if he felt okay, if he experienced chest pains, or if he just wanted to get where he was going and rest. I wondered if he had any inkling of the massive heart attack that would be his ride home.

Evidence of construction that had slowed traffic that day lined the shoulder of the Interstate. Still thirteen miles from Chattanooga, I saw the 165 mile marker where Earl went down.

Oh my goodness! There’s his name. It’s painted on the shoulder of the road! EARL WINN. Capital letters. White paint. First name stacked on top of the last.

I can’t believe it! I drove by it so fast, I don’t know if it was real or if I just imagined it. Or maybe…was his name there just for me to see? I don’t know.

When I returned home, I called Timer and his wife, Doris, to see if they’d been to Chattanooga since the accident. I wanted to know if they’d seen Earl’s name in the vicinity of the 165 mile marker.

Doris said she’d seen something but wasn’t sure what it was because traffic goes too fast to see it clearly. So it’s still a mystery to me.

Perhaps you can help solve the mystery. The next time you drive I-24 E toward Chattanooga, would you keep an eye out for Earl’s name written in big white block letters on the right shoulder of the Interstate anywhere close to the 165 mile marker?

Even though knowing one way or the other will generate another whole slew of questions, I’m ready to know the truth of the matter. For now I’m just pondering the fact that God works in mysterious ways.