Life in Abundance

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Open Mouth, Insert Foot

by Cynthia Ward
foot in mouth

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Are you kidding me? Did that guy really just say that out loud? That’s what I thought during my Bible study at church. We were studying Luke 1:7—“But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.”

The discussion turned towards how childless couples were considered cursed; how children were considered a blessing; and how those without children had obviously done something wrong in the eyes of God. Then, out of nowhere, this guy pipes up, “Well you know who’s to blame—Elizabeth. It says she was barren.”

The room was quickly flooded by an angry wave of intense murmuring. How dare he say such a thing! As if any woman, desperate to have a child and yet unable to have one, would be to blame. A thousand rude comments clogged my throat as I clamped my mouth shut—which is very unusual for me. I spent the rest of the study time stewing over this Neanderthal’s comment.

But then I started to really think about the fact that Elizabeth had no children. What could have been the reason? I know that medical issues could easily explain this, but just follow my train of thought: In verse 6, Luke says Zachariah and Elizabeth were “righteous in the sight of God.” Maybe Elizabeth’s barrenness was part of God’s plan all along. I mean, let’s be honest. Parents with many children parent differently from those with just one or two.

God chose Elizabeth and Zachariah to be the parents of a very special person, the one who was to pave the way for His Son. This person was to begin softening the hearts of God’s children. To be aptly prepared for the job, he would require a solid foundation in his early, formative years. He would need the undivided attention of parents who had the time to bring him up to fulfill the job description of his career. Just think about the man that John the Baptist became. He was a true believer, a dynamic preacher, and a great leader of his time.

Elizabeth—having been barren for so long, having matured along the way, having watched the errors of young mothers—had a huge advantage. She didn’t have other children or responsibilities to distract her. Both Zachariah and she were at a point in their lives where they could fully embrace God’s plan and focus all their time, resources and energy on bringing up John to fulfill the prophecy of a messenger.

And this may not have been the case without Elizabeth’s barrenness. Think about this the next time you find yourself praying for that one thing you need to fulfill your greatest desires. Never put your limits on God. He has amazing plans for you in His time.

You can find more devotions like this in the Alabaster Jars series. The first book has 53 readings and the second 99. Consider the books as a gift for yourself or someone else. Whether you buy the paperback or the Kindle version, you’ll be making a difference in a woman’s life–100% of the proceeds go towards teaching women how to read.

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The Pig on the Road

by Cynthia Ward

I am number four of five children who didn’t often get to visit extended family in California. So any opportunity for a road trip to see Grandma was wonderful.

When I was 12, a family friend was getting married in California near where my grandmother lived. I begged my mom to let me go with Violet, the groom’s mother, who didn’t want to travel alone anyway. My mom said yes; I was thrilled; and Violet was glad for the company.

That morning I piled into the car with great excitement. After the required prayer for safe travel, we backed out of our driveway and headed towards California. It should have been a five-hour journey from our small town to Grandma’s home, except that Violet was a good Christian woman who abided by all highway rules and regulations. In other words, we never broke the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit.

Finally, as we were nearing our destination in the San Francisco Bay Area, we merged with hundreds of other cars driving on a five-lane highway. With Violet resolutely stuck in the slowest lane, I had plenty of opportunity to see everything. Soon a flatbed pickup truck was alongside us. Around the truck bed was a wooden slat fence. Within the fenced area of the flatbed were a dog, a calf and a pig—and plenty of hay. Just as the truck began to pass us, the back fence guard fell off and splintered all over the highway. Naturally this caught our attention. And we watched what happened next in horror.

The pig apparently decided this was his stop. He walked up to the edge of the flatbed and leapt out onto the highway right in front of our car. The pig landed on its side. But because it was so fat, it bounced back up on its feet. Instinctively Violet slammed on her brakes. But there was no way we were going to stop before we hit that pig head on. I can still hear her shout out, “Stop us, Jesus!” And we stopped. Just like that. There was no skidding of tires, no swerving into the other lane. We just stopped. Right on that spot.

The pig walked around our car and poked his head through our window. He was huge! And after poking his nose at us, he proceeded to the side of the road. We could hear car tires squealing all around us, but we were safe; and so was the pig. Neither the pig nor our car was hit by another vehicle.

I think about the big fat pig every once in a while and remember that I’m safe in the hands of God.


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The Call and The Cookie

by Fylvia Fowler Kline

Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you. Genesis 12:1, The Message.

When our family received a call to go to Nepal as missionaries, I said no. It was the worst possible time–My career that was perched for great possibilities would die; my son’s intensive piano lessons that were preparing him for a future in composition would be jeopardized; my daughter’s academic goals would be crushed; and my husband’s break from the for-profit business sector would make him less marketable when we returned. It simply did not make sense. But God knew better. His persistence grew stronger with my every objection. The signs I got would have put Gideon, Moses and Joseph to shame; yet I refused.

Then, one Sabbath, away from home, Roy and I opened the Yellow Pages to find a church to attend. There were many; so, we randomly picked one and began our drive. Less than three minutes on the road, I spotted a church and suggested we attend that one instead of the one we had picked. Roy refused (his Germanic genes do not allow changes in plans). Five minutes later, I saw another; Roy refused. Another ten minutes went by and there was another church; Roy refused. We were now late for the service.

By the time we got to the church, the sermon had begun. And I was furious with Roy. Just as we sat down, the minister said, “Faith is about setting out on a journey without all the answers to your questions.” Roy nudged me. My response was silence, but I could not help scribbling the quote in my Bible.

The trip back to the hotel was long and silent. I took a nap that afternoon to blot out the irony of attending that particular church and hearing that particular message. I woke up late, hungry and miserable. We ordered Chinese takeout and ate in silence. The meal ended and I broke open my fortune cookie. It said: “You will go to a strange and far away land.”

In that moment I imagined God smile and say, “Checkmate.” After six years of our mission service, life was just as I had predicted—my career took a dive. My son’s music career never happened. My daughter didn’t end up in an Ivy League school. My husband did not find a job comparable to his strengths and experience. Yet we gained more than we lost. Our journey of faith that began with a fortune cookie took us into an experience of complete trust in God. We survived political strife, physical hardships, poor health, emotional trials and dangerous conditions. Every day was an adrenaline rush of miracles, a continual supply of blessings.

When I was able to give up my vision for myself and obey God’s call instead, God’s plans became my plans, His desires my desires. And in Him, I found abundant joy even in the worst of times.

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Dinner With Jesus

How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom. Luke 14:15, The Message.

I’m a homebody, relieved rather than offended when left off a guest list. But when the invitation is from the boss or from Al and Tipper Gore, I’m smart enough to accept with graciousness, show up on time and have a good time (The Gore invitation really happened, and I’ve been waiting years to weave it into a conversation. It was a wonderful evening even if we didn’t shake hands with them or if the only thing I ate that evening was the asparagus.)

The point is, everyone knows you’re supposed to show up when the invitation is from someone important, someone high up. So, it’s obvious the story Jesus tells in Luke 14 about the dinner fiasco is fictional. Yet the ridiculousness of the story drives home several points—the host is super ticked off when the guests don’t show; strangers off the street are treated to the gourmet meal of their lives; and the original guests never get invited again. At the end of the story, the obvious moral is: Don’t be a fool and blow your chance at something fabulous.

But I think there’s more to the story than foolishly losing what should have been yours. It’s not so much about missing out on the dinner as it is about why you chose to miss it in first place. I believe the crux of the story lies in the reasons the guests gave for not attending the dinner party: One guy was so involved in his real estate holdings that he simply could not get away. The next one was in the middle of a financial transaction that involved cow trading. And the third was on his honeymoon.

Out of our possessions, professions and relationships, emerge legitimate obligations and urgent needs that we serve up as excuses for not doing the important stuff. Fools, we dish out these excuses to God, naively hoping He doesn’t see through us. And later, when the same things that kept us from chilling with God collapse–when we lose our job, home or family–we knock on His door, hoping His grace will blind Him of times when we tossed that dinner invitation into the trash. That’s a pretty disgusting, yet truthful, picture of who we really are.

There are a million options out there for the New Year’s festivities. But do it right. Grab a chair at the Table of God’s Goodness. Revel in His presence. Give praise for everything–the joys, the pains. And acknowledge that God has been with you every step of the way.

Bring it on, 2012! I’ll be having dinner with Jesus. Every day.

(This is a reading from the book Alabaster Jars, Vol 1. Buy a copy of the book here. It’s also available as a Kindle ebook. Find out how you can write for the next volume here.)