August 26, 2009

Dead Man Talking?

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

Ouija boards. Fortune tellers. Tarot cards. Psychics. Mediums.

They can seem harmless, and even helpful. Something to do at a sleepover party. A way to peek into the future. A dare done with girlfriends. A guiding light during confusing t

imes. A way to comfort those who grieve.

And who among us has never read a horoscope, pulled out a Ouija board with our pre-teen girlfriends, or even visited a fortune teller or psychic?

If you’re reading this and saying, “No, I never have and never will!” Good for you. But there are many of you who have—and do.

But really, are these things wrong? Modern spiritualism offers a lot of appealing tenets like wisdom, healing, reverence, continuous life and mystery. Psychics can be kind people who truly want to help. If the information they provide through one-on-one encounters, books and TV shows offers direction, provides comfort or gives closure, is it really such a bad thing?

Certainly the world around us doesn’t think it is.

This very topic came up on the Today show this morning. The two female hosts, who themselves appear to be intelligent, caring women, casually chatted about the pros and cons of seeing a psychic. The one who had visited a psychic explained her choice for doing so. She sounded logical and I’m sure left many viewers thinking, “Hmm, maybe I’ll try that.”

As I wrote earlier, my daughter has a casual friend who’s a wiccan. (Wicca is a neo-pagan, nature-based religion, aka witchcraft.) I know this girl and she comes from a nice family. She’s smart, charismatic and personable. I would venture to say she’s a leader among her peers. Certainly some of the friends with whom she talks about her religion, even the ones who go to church, are left thinking, “Yea, that sounds okay.”

I have friends, Christian friends, who read horoscopes, do numerology and have even visited with psychics. Some mention these things casually. Others do so apologetically. A few are proud. I know a woman who quotes a famous psychic on one hand and Jesus on the other—giving each top billing. How easy it is for those around these women to say, “Hmm, if she’s doing this, it must be okay.”

I use these illustrations not to bash, but to point out how fuzzy our thinking has become in this area. How easy it is to look at the evidence all around and wonder, “Is toying with the spirit world really that bad?”

In a word, yes!

God made His feelings on this topic crystal clear: “Let no one be found among you… who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)

Detestable! An abomination! A disgusting thing if you turn to any supernatural means other than Him. God leaves us no room for any of our “Yea, but…” rationalizations.

In her book, Really Bad Girls of the Bible, Liz Curtis Higgs talks about spiritualists and one in particular, mentioned in Samuel:

“The medium of En Dor was the worst kind of Bad Girl because she directly opposed God and his Word, yet clothed herself in the guise of a helpful soul. It’s easy to be taken in by her caring, generous ways and her servant attitude. Visit a medium today and you’ll no doubt find the same warm welcome and desire to please.

I studied various books on the occult and found safe-sounding, familiar practices: Prayer and meditation. Ceremonies and sacred days. Music and worship. Sharing of food. Storytelling. Rituals for birth, marriage, and death.

Many similarities. But oh, sisters, one big difference!

Our relationship is not with a dead spirit but with a LIVING CHRIST.

Our God does not come from within ourselves but from ON HIGH.”

We are all looking for something. For answers. For purpose. For hope and healing. For revelation and redemption. For help and holiness.

But we must test everything, even if it makes sense to our sinful minds! Does the message align with God’s Word? Is it from God? Does it glorify Him?

There is one place and one place only to find that for which our souls craves. It is not in the spirits of the dead—but in the Spirit of the living God.

Turn to Jesus. He is enough.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

August 22, 2009

Where the Air is Thin

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if we look hard enough we can witness splendor in ALL of God's creation. However, in some places it seems the Almighty took extra care to get it just right. You know, those places that enliven our spirits, excite our senses and convict us of the sacred. Lots of places come to mind, but in the United States I think the four corners states — Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico top the list. Just thinking about the mountains, mesas and majesty stir my soul. And when looking at pictures from there—well, I'm downright giddy.

It's too bad I grew up in New Jersey.

But as you faithful readers know, these are the very places Dan's been working these last two weeks. On his day off today, he's off on another adventure. His challenge: hike to the top of Pike's Peak (elevation 14, 110). (I've spent my entire life near sea level. Is there even any oxygen that high?!)

All day I've been worried he might perish on the trails or flat out run out of air to breathe. Thanks to his nifty iPhone, I have proof he's not only alive and but quite well, albeit extremely tired. Since the scenery is so awesome, I thought you might enjoy taking the journey with me. So, strap on your boots, fill up your canteen and grab your walking stick. Let's go!

Trail head. 6:08 am. Lots of people here, perfect day should be fun.


1 hour in...first sight of the summit — way far away!

2 hours in...I hear the mountain taunting me.

4.5 hours in...approaching treeline...11,500 ft. 3 miles to go according to the guy we just passed. Running an hour ahead of schedule. Not sure if that means I'm a stud or need to slow down. Forget it, I know the answer...definitely beginning to feel the climb and the altitude. Quick rest, some fig newtons and Gatorade and then back on the trail. And what a beautiful day!

5.5 hours in. The sign says it all...a little low on water but otherwise all systems go!

The view the other way at 13,300. See the trail?

Victory is mine!!!

No matter where you encounter God's creation this weekend, be blessed.

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)

August 20, 2009

Thankful Thursday

After Monday's post on teeth pulling, I thought I'd lighten things up a bit around here. Plus my stomach is still queasy every time I think about it.

So. . . here are five (OK, seven) things I'm thankful for this week:

  1. Good dental care, and gentle treatment options when our teeth need fixing. (See Monday's post.)

  2. An air-conditioned house. After an extremely pleasant summer, the dog days have hit these parts and it's hot, hot, hot!

  3. Finding a great used drum set on Craig's List for my son (and not getting abducted by the Craig's List killer). My son already plays in the school band, but with a drum set (and practice), he can be in the youth band at church. All I need is a good set of earplugs!

  4. That school is starting soon. Many of you moms may disagree, but I think 12 weeks of summer is too long. My kids are bored and on each other's nerves. . . and mine.

  5. For a husband that patiently listens to me rant, complain and carry on for who knows how long. (See #4).

  6. That God's mercies are new every morning. I need a refilling today, for sure. (See # 4 & 5)

  7. That my parents, who were BOTH unexpectedly laid off in the spring, have discovered a whole new life as retired people. Traveling in their RV, they have barely been home an entire week this summer. I have never seen them more relaxed or having so much fun.

For more thoughts on Thankful Thursday, visit Sonya's blog at Truth 4 the Journey.

Thought you all would enjoy this cartoon, done by a local artist. It's just too good not to share. :-)

Note from the artist: Please forward my cartoons to anyone that you think needs a laugh on a Monday. Just let them know they too can sign up for a FREE cartoon each week by going to

Pat Achilles
Funny Greeting Cards, Illustrations, Caricatures |

August 16, 2009

This Might Hurt a Little

I wrote today's post for Exemplify Online. It's a tough one . . . I'd love to hear your thoughts.

During our recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic, our group ran a medical clinic. Hundreds of families waited in line for perhaps their only doctor visit all year. For much of the morning I helped in the dental clinic, ushering patients to the waiting area and running to the pharmacy to get medications. But, most of the time I stood waiting—and watching.

A sweltering classroom served as waiting room, exam room and prep area. School chairs, the kind with the desks attached, became examination chairs. Cardboard boxes collected spit, trash and medical waste. There was no privacy. No running water. No discussion of treatment options.

The three dentists worked tirelessly as they saw an endless stream of patients, who apparently came for one reason. In every case the dentists offered one solution—extract the offending tooth.

The patients had two choices: live with the pain of a rotting tooth—which left untreated could lead to serious infection and, in severe cases, death—or remove the source of decay.

My stomach clenched as person after person, child after child settled into the chair-desk, tipped back their heads, received a shot of novacaine and had a tooth pulled. The waiting patients knew their fate as they watched the dentists work. When their turn came, most bravely endured the procedure, although a few children writhed and screamed. One young man fainted several times.

We gave them antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers, but I can only imagine their pain when the novacaine wore off.

I knew they’d be better off in the end. It just seemed so drastic.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus described such a drastic scene. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29-30)

Before witnessing the dental clinic these verses left me confused and seemed unnecessarily harsh, but now they make more sense.

Jesus doesn’t want us to literally mutilate ourselves, but He does want us to recognize and take drastic corrective action to remove the things in our lives that cause us to stumble. Because just as untreated cavities rot our teeth, unaddressed sin rots our spirits.

How often do I think I skirt the issue when it comes to my sin? I try to ignore it, Who me? I don’t have a problem with that! Cover it up, I’m not hurting anyone, besides no one will ever know. And rationalize it away. It’s no big deal. Everybody does it.

To me sin often seems grey, but to God it’s black and white. And like the dental patients, we must deal with the decay in our lives decisively—or suffer the consequences. Period. “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)

Jesus’ graphic language doesn’t lead me to believe this process is easy or painless. In fact, looking at our lives with such brutal honesty and having the courage to extract parts we’re still intricately attached to may be the most difficult—and important—thing we’ll ever do.

What decay attacks your spirit? What behavior or attitude leads you into sin? What relationships do you need to sever? How are you causing others to stumble? Get real with yourself. Trust God that what He offers is infinitely better than what you’ll give up. Go to the great Healer for He alone offers redemption and restoration.

For now sin is a reality, but we live in hope that one day we’ll free from the decay in this world. And when we receive glorious new bodies in heaven, I bet we’ll get dazzling smiles to match.

Postscript: Thanks for your comments on my last post. I knew I could count on you for some emotional support! My darling husband continues to be enthralled with his surroundings. Over the weekend he visited Aspen, watched the country's premier mountain bike race and was three feet from Lance Armstrong and hiked Rocky Mountain National Park. He swears today it's back to business. In the breathtaking scenery that surrounds him I can see from his pictures, read in his words and hear in his voice, he's experiencing our Creator in a majestic, yet deeply personal way. And that makes me happy.

2 miles into my hike - total silence other than the wind. God is here.

Mile 5. Just hiked through 20 minutes of snow. Now sitting lakeside completely alone watching the cutthroat trout. Wow!...That's all he could say is, wow.

August 14, 2009

Wish You Were Here. . .

I think I’m a pretty good wife, but I draw the line right here!

Although he's self-employed, my husband's work requires him to travel a good bit. As the spouse that stays home, I know what it’s like to be alone and juggle all the balls needed to keep a family clicking along for extended periods of time. (I have tons of respect for single moms and military families for whom this is the norm.)

When my husband first started his business about six years ago I knew it might involve a lot of travel. And I was NOT happy. One of his first big projects involved him being away for nine weeks. I dreaded it. If throwing a full-blown temper tantrum would have changed his mind about going, I would have thrown one. A big one.

For the first year or so, I had a hard time with his travel schedule. Plus, one might say I had a wee little problem with selfishness. During and after his travels often anger, resentment and feelings of being put-upon reared their ugly heads. Then, before Dan left on a seven-week trip, I pleaded with God to help me through his absence. Lord, guard my heart. Give me understanding and patience. Help me to persevere as both mother and father. Let me support my husband in the way he deserves to be supported. And use this experience to strengthen our marriage...and our family.

Do you know what? God answered that prayer. Almost to the letter. (I know because I wrote the prayer down.) Since then, while I don’t always enjoy my husband traveling, I thank God He's replaced my anger with pride and allowed me to step up as a team player.

That is . . . until today.

Dan’s away for a few weeks, out west on business. So while I toil away, wilting in the hot, humid weather here, he’s in "God's country"—Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Although, according to his first email update I felt a little bad for him.

“Sorry I didn’t call tonight – didn’t get to my room until about 11:30 your time. Will call during my LOOONNGG drive tomorrow.”

As Dan traveled through Utah yesterday, he assaulted my inbox with pictorial updates. It was like my own real-time travelogue. At first, the notes endeared and intrigued.

"Just getting started...WOW!"

"Beautiful country!"

Arches National Park... And I'm only in the parking lot! More to come..."

Then they made me jealous.
He’s supposed to be driving like a fool, not doing a tour of national parks. National parks I want to see!

"It's like a freaking roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon!”

“Delicate Arch. You guys HAVE to see this!!"

Then he got cocky and just started to rub it in! This is a business trip. Not a vacation!

“Driving from Moab along the Colorado river...and the hits just keep on comin'!”

“Ho hum...another amazing this crappy car they make me drive.”


By the sixteenth update, I had lost my joy.

And then this morning (where he's working at a Land Rover Center) I received this one:

It gets'll never guess who showed up this morning to have a flat tire fixed. This lovely Range Rover-owning couple from Aspen...Greg Norman and Chris Evert.”

Chris Evert and Greg Norman?! Are you kidding me? That’s it. That’s the final straw! I typed my reply: “OK, now I REALLY hate you!”

Of course I’m kidding. Sort of.

I want to be out there having fun, too. But, I'm so thankful Dan loves doing what he does. . . and that he has a job at all. Plus I see how hard he works most of the time, I'm glad to see him kicking back, having fun and being amazed by creation. (Plus, I know his being there will accelerate our family traveling out to see these sights.)

As I sit here, in my visually ordinary, suburban life, I thank God He’s changed my heart so I really can rejoice with my husband without any hidden agenda or simmering emotions. Marriage isn’t always easy, but it’s God’s gift to us as we walk through this life. As it says in Ecclesiastes, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (4:13)

Thanks to Dan (and an iPhone) in my mind’s eye I marvel at the splendor of creation and in my heart I cherish the beauty of marriage.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

August 11, 2009

A Great Conference

First of all…I noticed I have some new subscribers. Thank you and welcome! I’m not sure how you found my blog, but I’m glad you did. Also, thank you to my friends who faithfully read my blog, but never comment. It blesses me to know you're there.

What a whirlwind few days. I attended the Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference and thoroughly enjoyed the classes and camaraderie. I had a great time seeing some friends from last year and making new ones. It fed my soul being in the presence of fellow writers who love Jesus and want to share His story.

I branched out during the conference and took a workshop on how to write a novel—taught by Susan May Warren. I never even considered writing fiction before, but after taking Susan’s class I might try! She demystified the process of storytelling and gave practical tools that will make my current writing much better (if I apply what I learned!). Plus, it was worth taking the class just to meet Susan—I just love her! She’s incredibly talented, enthusiastic and just adorable. Even though she’s written 26 books, she’s so down-to-earth and accessible.

Everything I learned in her workshop is detailed in her just-released, hands-on book From the Inside Out: Discover, Create and Publish the Novel in You. Check it out!

Stay tuned, I may take a stab at fiction in the near future.

I got to spend time with my writing group friends Denise, Connie and Cathy. I joined the group as a result of befriending the group's leader, Fran, at last year’s Phila. conference and have loved gathering together for face-to-face critique. Our meetings are always so focused that it was nice to spend more leisurely time over meals at the conference.

Another conference highlight was meeting e-friends in the flesh and seeing that they actually exist! What fun I had hanging out with my new blogging friends Kelly (Chatty Kelly), Sonya (Truth 4 the journey) and Laurie (Supernatural Living). On Friday evening I met Susan (Eternity Café) and Shelley. The six of us got to talking after dinner about writing and blogging and balancing life as a writer/mom/wife. We talked so long the cafeteria staff kicked us out so they could lock up!

Laurie, Kelly, Sonya and me (I feel like a giant!)

And so last week I took one more step in this crazy, frustrating, scary, emotional, thrilling, challenging, exhilarating journey I call writing. If nothing else, the conference confirmed that as a writer I need to keep on keeping on.

August 10, 2009

Book Review: Crisis in Christianity: 21st Century

Crisis in Christianity: 21st Century presents a broad look at the popular, but heretical preaching occurring throughout the Christian world. Through well-researched chapters, Hank Hanegraaff digs deep into the teachings of popular preachers whose messages draw crowds, sell books and fill the airwaves...but are scripturally untrue. Reading his book brought to mind the verse in 2 Timothy: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Our ears are itching to hear a gospel of comfort and wealth and personal power. Many preachers are stepping in to give us just that. As Hanegraaff points out, as Christians, we MUST test everything against the WHOLE of scripture, not just a few passages taken out of context.

Ever since Jesus' day, false teachers abound to draw the crowds and give them what they want to hear. I find it hard to believe anyone with a fairly decent knowledge of the Bible would believe the prosperity preachers since their message is so contrary to the heart of Jesus' teachings. Just because something is labeled "Christian" doesn't make it of God.

This book is definitely not an easy read, but I found it highly informative. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn the history of prosperity preachers and dig deep into the present situation within the Christian church.

August 6, 2009

Life in the Valley

We've been back from the Dominican Republic for six days—it's been a tough week. My fellow D.R. missionaries and I have been exchanging emails recalling precious memories and lamenting the jarring landing into our "real" lives. We all want to freeze time to hold captive our experiences. We want to stay on the mountaintop.

When Peter, James and John went onto the mountaintop with Jesus and witnessed the glory of God at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17), they, too, wanted to stay in that experience. But Jesus had other plans and the next morning He led them back down to the valley. The moment they returned, they faced chaos, conflict and crisis. So much for savoring the moment.

It seems that God gives us our mountaintop experiences not so we can remain in them forever, but so we can return to the valley and share God's glory with others. So we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to the hurting, broken, conflicted and lost.

It's been an especially emotional week. My heart if full of joy and sadness. Contentment and longing. Assurance and anticipation.

When my family and I returned home from the DR, the first message we received when we walked in the door was that our dear friend and sister in Christ who's battling cancer had taken a turn for the worse. The sad news dragged us down from the mountaintop, back to reality. OK, Lord, we've seen your glory in the DR. Help us to bring your power and hope to our friend and our church family. In our sadness let us pray with the same assurance of your goodness as we prayed in our joy.

Please pray for our dear friend Kirsten as we storm the gates of heaven with prayers for healing.

After a long time away, I had the chance to go to the prison this week. It felt good to re-connect with the inmates. Imagine my joy when I learned they'd been praying for our trip to the Dominican Republic! Graciously they allowed me to share a bit about our experiences there and I once again was overwhelmed by their enthusiastic support. It's always a question how worship will unfold and this week God blessed us with one of the most powerful services I've experienced.

It seems like divine timing that this week I'm also attending a writers' conference. Last year this conference confirmed my calling as a writer. This year my heart is soft and ready to receive. As a "veteran," I'm branching out in the classes I'm taking, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones, but most of all I'm seeing the wonderfully important job we writers have for the Kingdom. (My friends from last year's conference who aren't there...I miss you!)

Right now I feel God's presence in a big way, but it's diffuse and undefined. I pray God clarifies my next steps... and that I have the wisdom (and courage) to follow.

Where is God leading you?

"I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:21)

August 2, 2009

From Claustrophobia to Community

I've much to share about our trip to the DR. Today I'm writing for Exemplify Online. You can read this entire story there.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household. . .” (Ephesians 2:19)

I lead a fairly solitary life. Once I get my kids out the door for school, my house is quiet until they return. Much of my day is spent working at my computer writing, completing paying projects and doing volunteer work. I like what I do, but it hardly engenders togetherness. But, since I get my energy from within, not having people around is generally OK with me. Honestly, sometimes being around a crowd can be more tiring than energizing.

My family and I just returned from a ten-day mission trip to the Dominican Republic. When preparing for the trip, one of my biggest concerns wasn’t the work or our safety or the unknown, it was being in close contact with so many others—and having little, if any, “alone” time. Just picturing the constant presence of a large group made me feel claustrophobic.

Now that we’re home, I praise God that my fears were completely misplaced. In fact, while on the trip instead of craving time alone, I thrived on our experiences together. Our group of 30 Americans representing three churches joined our in-country Dominican team including our trip organizers, a security guard, bus driver and various children whose mothers cooked for us in the house in which we stayed.

Our group did everything together in "the DR." We ate meals together. We worked together. We dug holes, carried away debris, passed buckets, wielded machetes and filled wheelbarrows together. We rode the bus together—tired and sweaty after each hard day’s work. We laughed and cried together. We ministered to the sick together. We slept on the roof under the stars together. On our one free afternoon at the beach, we played in the waves together. We prayed, sang and worshiped together.

In Haina where we’re building a church, the church members joined our group as did the children living near the work site. They joined us as we labored, mano a mano (hand in hand). Their children and ours played together in the streets. We played baseball in the park. Their loving hands prepared our lunch. On the final night of our trip, the Haina church held a worship service in the street, right in front of their future home. Together we praised God for the glorious structure starting to rise from the ground. The Spirit of God—His joy, peace and love—transcended any language barriers. Never have I so fully experienced the glory, breadth, depth and beauty of God’s Church. One body united by the blood of Jesus.

When it came time to say our final goodbyes many tears were shed. Most of us wanted to stay. It didn’t matter that we had few of the luxuries or comforts of home. We had experienced the truth of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:19-22, and that was more than enough.

On this trip I expected one “C”— claustrophobia, and received quite another—community.
I saw what God’s community looks like. I saw fellow believers—people who for the most part started as strangers—drawn together by the Spirit to become a family—members of God’s household.

The book of Acts describes such a community: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (2:44-47)

In America we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient, pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps kind of people. But, I don't think this is as God intends. I think He wants us to rely on one another. To enter into each others' pain and suffering. To carry another's burdens. To share our joy. To praise Him. To reach out without fear. To love with abandon. To admit weakness. To set aside our busyness. To focus on the Kingdom of God and not the kingdoms of our own making. And, to do all of these things--as the preceding verse mentions three times—together.

Our society, and sometimes even our churches, don’t do much to support or encourage this type of living. As a result, we often attend Sunday services, then scurry straight home where we close the garage door immediately behind us and withdraw from our neighbors..then split yet again to our individual computers, iPods, chores and hobbies. I'm not saying that individual pursuits and interests are bad. They're not. But, I do believe that maintaining our "community of believers" is one of the greatest challenges for us a Christians in the United States.

In the DR, our group saw that this type of living isn't only possible for Americans (including fundamental introverts such as myself)—it's desirable. It fills our souls as they were intended to be filled.
Now that I’m home, the challenge is to spend more time venturing out and plugging in. Will you join me?