A Stubborn Streak

Sheba circleStubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen.  For many years you were patient with them.  By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets.  Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples.  But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.  Nehemiah 9:30-31

Pugs are notorious for being stubborn.  So, how is that any different from most of us?  Not much.

If we’re out for a walk and Sheba decides she’s gone far enough, she sits down, digs in with her hind legs, and refuses to go even one more step; but turn around toward home and all of a sudden she’s ready to go.  Just don’t try to trick her and go on past the front gate because there will once again be a pug planted on the sidewalk!  She doesn’t realize her stubbornness often causes her to miss out on a lot of loving because we invariably run into neighbors who want to pamper her with attention as soon as they see her.

How often do I choose to go my own way instead of following God’s plan?  As long as He cooperates everything is fine, but if it’s uncomfortable, or if I just don’t want to do it, or if I think I have a better way; I may dig in and refuse to move.  And, like Sheba, I may miss the treat that’s just around the next corner.

So, I ask myself, how many blessings have I missed by being stubborn and wanting things to either happen my way or no way at all?  How often have I settled for less than the best?

On Alert

coverpagecolorTherefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Matthew 24:42,44

When Sheba is left at home alone, I arrive back to find her doing one of two things. She’ll either be curled up on a pillow somewhere in the house, sound asleep; or she’ll be sitting by the door watching for my return, and as soon as she sees me she goes absolutely wild with joy.  When she’s sleeping she doesn’t even know I’m passing through, and she misses out on the happy reunion—the fun, the treats, the love.

I also have two options as I wait upon the Lord.  I can turn my back and essentially shut my eyes to God’s mercy and his desire to spend time with me; or I can remain on alert, expectantly waiting and watching for the next encounter with Him.  If I’m sleeping I’ll never even know what I missed—I will have sacrificed all that was planned for me just so I could remain in my own comfort spot.

Royalty

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Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should not only look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3-4

Kevin has a poster—perhaps you’ve seen one like it—a cute little pug wearing a crown, quite obviously a queen.  In fact, we often refer to our pug as the ‘Queen of Sheba’ because it sure seems as if she’d like to rule our home!  She even gets away with it occasionally because she’s so cute that it’s sometimes hard to say no.  But in reality, though she may think she’s in charge, it’s an inflated perception of who she is.  While her apparent desire is to do whatever she wants, regardless of time or place, as if she were royalty; the truth is that when she misbehaves or does something unwise, we stop her.

How often do I act this way?  Wanting to be the queen of my life, insisting on what I think is best, trying to rule over others, perhaps even expecting them to treat me special.  How often do I try to manipulate things in order to get my way, attempting to manage my own life without anyone else’s assistance?

The more I focus on myself and on what I may get out of a given situation, the more likely I am to make a big mess of things.  Oh, there may be some successes, but they’re likely to be outweighed by the failures: the poor decisions, the hurt feelings (my own or others), the feelings of rejection when I don’t receive the attention or respect I think I’m due, the disappointments when something I’ve planned doesn’t turn out to be as perfect or meaningful as I’d thought it would be.

What a difference when I climb down off of my throne and recognize God as the true ruler of my life; when I abdicate to him; when I surrender all.  Then I receive all of the things I’ve tried so hard to make happen: joy and peace, acceptance, answered prayers, results far better than anything I could design. Just as Sheba receives more from us when she is being sweet and submissive, so I receive more when I submit to God: more love, more power, more of Him in my life.  And the neat thing is, I really am royalty, for I’m a child of the King of Kings!

Phony Fear

Kev & Sheba

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.  Proverbs 29:25

Funny thing about Sheba; she’s always been afraid of other pugs.  Either that, or else she just doesn’t want anything to do with them.  But put her up against a Doberman or a Rottweiler and she’ll most likely wag her tail and want to play.

The first time we noticed this we had taken her to a large gathering of pugs in a local park—a pug convention.  It was funny to watch as she pulled on her leash, desperately trying to get away from every other pug that we encountered.

Later we noticed that she would even shy away from her own reflection in a mirror, apparently thinking it was another pug.

On another occasion, we were camping and a couple came by with a pug puppy, only 6 weeks old and cuter than cute!  Sheba was not a happy camper; all she wanted to do was get away from that puppy who, held securely in its master’s arms, didn’t even resemble a threat.  She barked and whined and pulled on her leash, trying to get us to walk away.  But maybe she wasn’t afraid; maybe she was just jealous; maybe she thought we’d like some other pug better than her; maybe she wasn’t secure in the love we had for her.  Perhaps she didn’t know that she is priceless and that no other pug could ever replace her in our hearts—that we could never trade her for another.

Am I ever like that?  So insecure in my relationship with God that I’m threatened by others who are similar to me?  Am I afraid a co-worker is going to do a better job, or jealous of another Christian who has a bigger ministry?  Am I threatened because I think another person is better looking, or smarter, or more talented?  Do I try to escape the presence of those who make me uncomfortable?  Am I plagued by phony fears?

Perhaps what I really need to do is learn to accept who I am, the person God made me to be.  Perhaps I need to accept his love and the assurances in his word that I am special and unique.  Perhaps…just perhaps.

A Good Listener

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust…But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him.  Psalm 103:13-14 & 17a

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It’s so easy to complain about things—other people, the way I look, the way I feel, the weather, my job—whatever. But you know what? Sheba doesn’t care. For one thing, she’s now deaf; but even when she could hear clearly it never mattered. She’s always loved me unconditionally, even when she was the one I complained about.

I think God listens much like Sheba used to listen—she’d sit and stare into my eyes while I talked to her—for that matter, she still does even though she can’t hear a word I say. God sits and stares into my heart and soul as I pour out my complaints—he compassionately cares for me anyway. Even if he’s the target of my grumbling and complaining heart, his love never wavers, and there’s nothing I can say that will sway his love and attention away from me. But perhaps sometimes he simply allows some of my complaints to fall on “deaf ears” simply because they’re so empty and meaningless—always hearing me certainly, but ignoring my pettiness because he knows my weaknesses and continuing to love me unconditionally.

Belonging

Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need…He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  Hebrews 4:16 & Psalm 91:1

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Sheba is completely at home in my presence; comfortable and trusting, unafraid of approaching me at any time of the day or night because she knows that she is loved and she will not be turned away. She also knows that she belongs here and that certain rights and privileges are hers. With her own pillow in just about every room of our home, she follows me from room to room so she can rest wherever I am; content, as long as she has me in sight.

Oh that I would be as comfortable in God’s presence—following his lead from one place in life to another, unafraid as long as I’m in his presence. Oh that I would come boldly before him at any time, knowing that I’m loved and that I’m an heir to his kingdom. Oh that I would be content just to rest in him, watching and waiting patiently for his next move.

On A Leash

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.  Psalm 119: 10-11

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Sheba loves her collar and her leash.  After a bath, she gets very excited about having her collar replaced.  Why?  I don’t know.  But the leash I do understand—that means she gets to go out for a walk, and there’s nothing she loves more.  When she was younger she’d run away if she escaped without a leash, carelessly darting out in the street or playing hide and seek in a neighbor’s yard, daring us to chase her.  But maybe somewhere along the line she’s learned that it’s for her protection, because now—even without the leash—she stays close by, not wanting to stray too far from her master.

What a lesson for me! How I cherish my “leash”—the never changing Word of God. The more time I spend with it, the more I never want to be away from it, for God’s Word is where I go for comfort and direction when I’m tired or frustrated, alone or afraid.  Full of promises of God’s love that will forever amaze me; its truths pull me away from harmful temptations and give me strength to stand in the face of illness or loss, disappointment or persecution.

I love the description of “my leash” in The Message version of Hebrews 4:12-13,:

God means what he says. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey.

Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what. It draws me ever closer to my Master—and like Sheba, I never want to stray too far.

Hungry

I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. Luke 11:8

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When Sheba is hungry she will not leave me alone.  She follows on my heels, rubs her little body up against my feet or legs over and over (like a cat), and becomes such a pest that I finally give in and feed her, whether it’s time for dinner or not.

Shouldn’t I be like that with God?  Such a pest—so hungry for his truth and his love that I just won’t leave him alone—constantly pursuing him in prayer for more of his truth to be revealed to me—to be always hungry and thirsty for his righteousness.

Just as I’m committed to feeding Sheba, God has promised to satisfy my desire for him; I will not go hungry. Jesus himself promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6

Is This a Test?

I know, my God, that you test the heart, and are pleased with integrity.

1 Chronicles 29:17a

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Summer was coming and we’d just purchased some new patio furniture.  Putting it together was a real chore so we were very preoccupied with our task, but Sheba was underfoot, as if wanting to help.  It didn’t matter how many times we tried to distract or relocate her, there she was again—right in our way.  Trying once again to get her out of the way, we put her in the big cardboard box that the furniture had been packaged in.  To be honest, we did it partly just to see what she would do, and it sure didn’t take very long to find out!  She started scratching away at that cardboard and before we could even run and grab the camera, her head poked through, and then her whole body wriggled right out to freedom.  A circus clown couldn’t have managed a funnier escape act.

Does God ever take pleasure in watching how resourceful I am in overcoming the obstacles in my life?  When I manage to break out of a confining attitude, belief, or action does he laugh like we did when Sheba escaped her box?  I like to imagine him pointing me out to the angels, proud Father that he is, saying, “Look at her—that’s my girl.  Did you notice how well she did that?”

In or Out of the Box?

scan13colorIt is for freedom that Christ has set us free…So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Galatians 5:1a & John 8:36

 Sheba has a dog-crate in which she’s often lived for extended periods of time—it’s a place where she is safe, but it’s also a place where her movement is limited. She’s in a box and she reacts in two different ways. Usually she’s content—in fact, she seems to love it, either sleeping peacefully or lazily watching the world go by in front of her. At other times she rebels and wants out; and she makes sure everyone knows it by her continual barking, as well as pawing at the sides of the crate; but regardless of how much she whines, she can only get out if we open the door. Once she’s out, the better-behaved she is, the more freedom she generally has. As an older lady with much better manners than she had as a puppy, Sheba spends very little time in her box—she is usually free to roam around the house as she pleases.

Perhaps we’re very much the same—but the boxes we live in are of our own making—they’re places where we think we’re safe—places with emotional or attitudinal walls that we’ve erected to keep other people out. Like Sheba we may be very content most of the time—sitting back, relaxing and just watching the world go by. But while our boxes may be quite comfortable, they’re also limiting for there’s no challenge; no potential for growth. So there comes a time when we get restless because our needs seem to be unmet, or our hopes and dreams don’t seem to be coming true. But we feel trapped—we can’t get out of our boxes—and there seems to be no way to open the door to freedom.

But our Master can unlock the doors to our self-imposed limitations. God can break down those walls—the barriers that prevent us from being all that we can be, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17b)

If we allow him to open the doors and we step out in faith, we can explore, grow, learn and mature. Pretty soon our boxes are no longer necessary. In fact, we may find that they’ve become too small and we no longer fit inside!