The Great Problem Solver

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that our problems seem that much more highlighted during the holiday season. Insufficient finances, broken relationships, self-esteem and depression issues all intensify in the weeks that lead up to and encompass the “season of joy and mirth.” They are often matters over which individuals have no control. Many put on a happy face and muddle through this time of year; others turn to a panacea of their own making, actually adding to their difficulties. Christians should know where to turn, but even with sincere prayers, they hang on to the trouble as if it were a cherished gift opened by a child on Christmas morning. Even possibly having memorized the verses that tell us to “not be anxious about anything,” they are aware of the futility of their actions, but they are unable to cross the divide to full faith and trust in the Lord who truly does care and who has their best interest at heart.
I’m not immune to this dilemma. We are experiencing some serious trials this year within our family circle. I’m the mom of grown children, but a mom is forever a problem solver. We put band-aids on boo-boos, put food on the table for our hungry charges, and wipe away tears caused by our children’s stress and anguish. I was thinking about some of the situations we are facing as a family and verbalizing to the Lord that I, as the mom, want to bring solutions to my children’s problems. I considered the Scripture from Philippians 4:6 that I referenced above: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Verse seven continues: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (1984 NIV). It appears that the verses leave us hanging, wondering as to how the issues about which we are anxious will be addressed by our merciful God. As I continued to ponder the verse, I felt that I heard God’s still, small voice say, “I am The Great Problem Solver.” In that moment, the answer became very clear to me.
When we realize that God is the problem solver, we rest in that truth, and we thank Him for answers that we cannot yet perceive, and His peace will inevitably be ours. I may put band-aids on boo-boos, which is a quick fix at best, but God deals with the deep wounds in a fashion that brings healing from within. I may put food on the table, but God produces and provides the sustenance that I set there. I may wipe away tears from the eyes of my loved ones, but God who sees through to the very heart of their hurts and fears will bring peace and comfort to them as we lead them to surrender all unto His capable hands. I felt relief and peace because a burden really was lifted from my shoulders. I no longer need to carry problems; they are the Lord’s to bear and fix in His time and by His will for our lives.
As many of you, I am still not good at giving up the problem solving title. However, my gift to myself for this Christmas and New Year is to continue to trust in God’s problem solving abilities and thus procure His peace that passes all understanding. May that be a precious gift to you as well this holiday season.
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It’s Time… To Praise

The media is saturated with news that is disconcerting: People in positions of authority or in high visibility careers are committing immoral, if not illegal acts. Previously unknown individuals are solidifying infamous reputations by committing random acts of violence that show no respecter of persons. Unusual weather patterns are wreaking havoc across the world. Identities are stolen, throwing victims into financial crisis. As of late, millions of people are finding that their medical insurance will not pass muster in this new age of government health care.
As we make an attempt to digest the information and deal with disturbing life events, we will choose a personal response. Here are some possibilities: We can panic. Much like Chicken Little we can proclaim, “The sky is falling!” maybe bury our heads in the sand or hole up in a bunker to shield ourselves and our families from the terrible tide. We can be apathetic. We can quote Solomon and say, “there’s nothing new under the sun” and plod on day to day, because, after all, nothing’s changed and nothing ever will. We can pour ourselves into the latest cause, believing that we can effect change. This is a viable option and may bring improvements to our own or other people’s situations, but we need to couple that with an even greater response: We can praise God who is sovereign in every circumstance and desires to give us “a future and a hope.”
We understand from Scripture that God inhabits the praises of His people. When we worship and praise Him, most especially in adverse times, we assure His presence in our midst. What better time could there be for His protection and power?
Intertwined amongst the passages of Isaiah are many verses that foretell adversity for God’s people, but promise His help and safety when they praise Him and Him alone. Here is a sample from Isaiah 43:
“Fear not for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
And through the rivers,
They shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
You shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
This people I have formed for Myself.
They shall declare My praise.”
No doubt we are living in perilous times. On the traditional church calendar we are presently in the season of advent, celebrating the arrival of the Christ child. It is possible that on the eternal calendar we are close to the advent of Christ the King, coming for His church. So, while life can be difficult, and we may face more trials in the near future, we are eagerly awaiting our sure hope. Let’s praise the Lord, “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in [our] hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Surely the Lord’s presence will sustain and revive us. And who knows that it won’t be our final rehearsal for an eternity of worship and praise:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul.
And all that is within me bless His holy name!” Psalm 103:1
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True Celebration

The ground was white and the air felt cool and clean. It was the eve of the holiday, and we pulled into our hotel parking lot, just missing the storm that brought the frosty blanket and some rather large glittering heaps to this little municipality. What a sight! We navigated through with a hotel cart to bring our suitcases from the truck to our room. We were able to get to a nice restaurant for dinner, and when we returned to the hotel I was thrilled to find that a cable channel was playing one of my favorite holiday movies, “The Preacher’s Wife.” Ah, such a festive setting…
That is, if it were Christmas. I neglected to say that this was July 3rd; the next day we would be celebrating Independence Day in the western part of Texas. If I remember correctly, that’s the holiday with hot dogs, waving red, white and blue flags, and fireworks, not white ground cover and a Yuletide classic. We were spending the night in a small city in New Mexico so we could get to our destination on the fourth in a timely manner. There had been quite a storm that brought hail from the size of peas to the size of golf balls, which was definitely distinguished from snow upon closer examination. It was so bad in one nearby city they actually had to bring out their plows! The trees had taken quite a beating; tattered leaves were everywhere. Because this was, after all, southwestern USA in July, some of the hail was melting fairly rapidly, and the parking lot started to look like a pond with the leaves filling in as lily pads. I’m not sure how or why someone decided to air Christmas entertainment for the July 4th holiday (Christmas in July?), but with the untimely weather, it completed what will undoubtedly be for us a very funny and memorable moment.
It is only knowledge and truth that can spare people from deception. In my case, I was fully aware that we were traveling in early July, not late December; therefore it wasn’t Christmas Eve, an easy call. But, can circumstances fool individuals? Of course they can. We watch the stock market rise and are led to believe that all is fine because we feel financially stable. We see shows on television and movies at the theater that portray everything but a man and wife in a committed marriage as normal and healthy, and we buy into the political correctness of the day. We hear about the latest, greatest beauty secret and take advantage of the proposed deal just to feel younger, prettier, more feminine, more masculine or more popular. This may not always be the case, but we can be duped into believing something that at its best is a lie, and at its worst can be destructive if we don’t carefully consider the truth and validity of a matter.
How can we possess such truth and knowledge? The Word of God contains everything we need to discern the situations around us. It is “a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Psalm 119:105). As we look at each circumstance we encounter through the illumination of the Word, we can and will be able to separate fact from fiction, God’s truth from the enemy’s deception. It doesn’t mean that we will never struggle with a decision or automatically be aware of dishonesty. But, as we continue to read and study the Bible and pray for wisdom, God will lead us to evaluate situations correctly, and it will become easier to see things from His point of view. Deception will give way to clarity, clarity to conviction and conviction to correct action.
Now, that’s something to celebrate, no matter the holiday. Bring out the sparklers and pass the eggnog… Happy 4th and Feliz Navidad!
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Get It Right

I had a routine medical appointment, and because it was scheduled in the morning, I decided to eat breakfast at a fast food restaurant afterward and make out my shopping list for my eventual grocery trip. I’m thankful that many such places now serve oatmeal, and I was enjoying a maple-nut variety with a nice cup of tea, reviewing my coupons and expected purchases. Within minutes, behind me and to my right sat two military officers. I began to hear them converse; at first just the mumble of voices was perceptible, but then I was actually hearing the words of one reading off to the other from something that in my furtive glance I could not detect. “It must be text messages from his cell phone,” I gathered. He was sharing rather seriously, “Are you wearing a white shirt?” Do you have anywhere important to be?” “Are you in [McFoodle’s] right now?” At this point I was thinking, “Doesn’t he know that I can hear what he’s saying?” I actually had the thought that he might be sharing communications from some sort of covert emissary who he was soon to meet or who might be secretly watching him at the moment.
It was then that I glanced down. Under my oatmeal, tea bag and napkin was a tray liner that posed an array of questions in a maze-like pattern leading one to contemplate whether he should be enjoying the sandwich offering of the month. Yes, it asked what color tee I was wearing, if I had anywhere important to be, and if I presently happened to be in [McFoodle’s]. I chuckled. I tend to have an uncomplicated mind, and I don’t always get advertising that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the promoted product. But, I was really laughing at myself for having misinterpreted someone’s reading of a fast food paper mat.
This amusing incident led me to wonder how often I misunderstand something I see, hear, read or experience. Though this particular mistake was innocuous, do I misinterpret words or actions that cause harm to someone, including myself? If I’m being honest, I know I have made such mistakes, things for which I’ve asked the Lord for forgiveness. What about God’s Word? Have I read a verse or passage and made an interpretation that God did not intend? Have I used God’s Word for my own benefit or to the detriment of others? What are the consequences of careless handling of God’s precious message to us?
God speaks to these things. 2 Timothy 2:15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of truth.” Proverbs 30:5-6 and 8 says, ”Every Word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar… Keep falsehood and lies far from me.” Galatians 1:6-8, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”
Obviously, God views the handling of His Word as a serious matter. We need to do the same. When we read and study its words and passages, it behooves us to ask God to help us to understand it well and apply it correctly to our lives. An appropriate verse to pray to God when engaged in reading the Bible is Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” We need to remember that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16) so that we do not just pick and choose what suits our lifestyle or whim. We must be willing to read the Bible with the utmost care and truly seek God to reveal His truth to us and use it in our lives for our ultimate good and His glory.
From now on, I think I’ll try to fully assess a situation (including checking the fast food tray liner) before I let faulty interpretation and my imagination take my mind in an errant direction. Even more importantly, I pray that I will always handle God’s Word correctly and use it to bring truth and light to the people and situations I encounter. May I be able to say, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-2
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Dangling Carrot

You have likely had an experience that could be labeled “a dangling carrot.” You’ve been looking for a new job in a new place when from out of nowhere comes an opportunity. You do well in the interview and feel really good about your prospects, when you receive an email revealing that the position has been filled by someone else – a dangling carrot. You have been desperately trying to sell your house for far too long. Finally, a prospective buyer has enough interest go beyond a showing and inquiries to make a bid. You respond with a reasonable counter, and the buyer walks away – a dangling carrot. Someone promises to provide support for your beloved charity project. You make plans based on their interest, and for whatever reason, they do not follow through – a dangling carrot.
A dangling carrot is a circumstance that develops when one is led to believe that a certain result is likely, which leads to increased expectations and even presumptive actions based on the anticipated outcome. It is born out of the proverbial carrot dangling before the horse to get it to move because it continually thinks the carrot is within reach. Frustration, bitterness, terrible disappointment and a prevalent lack of trust can grow in a person who sees too many carrots and not much fulfillment down the paths they attempt to take. Those who trust in the Lord know that their hope is not in the new job, the house sale, or the benevolent prospect, but in God alone to meet their needs and walk them through what may be a difficult time, believing that He is doing the best for them in their lives.
That said, I was recently reading in the book of Matthew the passage known as “The Beatitudes.” The word comes from the Latin for blessing, and Matthew 5:3-11 lists those who will be blessed and the blessings they will receive. Each verse begins with the words, “Blessed are…” This is God’s promise. When He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, (those who recognize their own inadequacy and dependence upon God) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:3, He is making a guarantee that will not fall short of completion. It is fully realized by those who depend on God. All that the Kingdom offers is theirs, and the promise will be completely fulfilled when we are face to face with Jesus. One can go through each of the blessings and know that: those who mourn will be comforted; those who are meek, will inherit the earth; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, will be filled; those who are merciful, will be shown mercy; those who are pure in heart, will see God, those who are the peacemakers will be called sons of God; those who are persecuted because of righteousness do have the kingdom of heaven. These are their assured blessings because when God guarantees something, it is irrefutable.
In God’s Word, there are no dangling carrots. God’s presentation to us is the most heavenly recipe served on a silver platter for our consumption. We can be sure that the promises in the Bible will come to pass in the time that He has chosen for us. His Word will not frustrate us, cause bitterness, or be disappointing because we can trust the One who is the Word, Jesus.
I know I will still follow “dangling carrots” occasionally. But, pass me the silver platter so I can partake of that heavenly dish and taste the goodness of the Lord. There’s plenty for all; don’t let it pass you by. “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” Psalm 34:8
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