Praise First!

What is your number one prayer request today?  You know the one you pray about more than anything else, the one thing that is constantly on your mind day and night.  You really want God to do something about it—preferably today—like right now would be nice.

This week I was reading in Genesis, and the Lord caused a sentence to leap off the page and into my heart.  I love it when He does that!  It was Genesis 46:28.  “Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen.”  You’re probably asking, “Whhhhaaaat?”  This is when Jacob learns that his son Joseph is alive after many years believing he was dead.  There is famine in the land, and Jacob and all his descendants are moving to Egypt where there is food and Joseph is ruler over all of Egypt.  Jacob sends Judah first.

Judah is the fourth son born to Jacob, and his name means “praise” (Gen. 29:35).  The patriarch Jacob doesn’t know everything that awaits him down in Egypt, but he sends “praise” first.  Centuries later, King Jehoshaphat’s parade of musical soldiers (the nation of Judah) march into battle, and the Lord set an ambush against the enemy (2 Chron. 20:20-23).  Job has no clue why his life suddenly turns so painful, yet he chooses to praise God (Job 1:21).

We praise God because He is worthy of our praise at all times, even when we don’t know what the future holds, or we’re in the fight of our lives.  What percentage of your “God time” is spent thanking Him and praising Him?  Praise Him first—before the answer or when the answer is “no” or “wait” or something else totally unexpected.  Praise and trust go together, and there is something very liberating that happens inside us when we do.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Heb. 13:15).

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:12).

My Jamie Candle

This is my Jamie candle.  I light it in her memory whenever our family gets together for a holiday or a birthday or a special occasion.  It is a cheap pink candle, one she would have picked out herself.  If she could see it today, I know she would give me a thumb’s up and say, “It’s just right, Mom!”  It reminds me so much of her.

Jamie was the seven year old who found loose change on the ground at Disney World and then spent the rest of the week looking down for more money.  “Jamie, look up!  Disney World is out here!” I said as I extended my arms all around.  “You’re missing it!”

To say Jamie was economical with her money is an understatement.  She was the teenager who was given money to go shopping, and she would bring most of it back to save for another day.

When it involved money, Jamie was practical.  She was also thrifty, frugal, a tightwad, prudent, cautious, careful, sensible, pennywise, penny-pinching, and cheap.  She could always live on less, which was a good thing, considering God called her to live among some of the poorest people on earth.  However, with the things that mattered most in life such as love, time, friendship, and encouragement, she was overly generous.

Jamie’s favorite color all her life was pink.  She chose light pink for her bridesmaids’ dresses much to the dismay of her sister, Janet, who has never liked the color pink.  To make matters worse, Janet was six months pregnant at the time.  “Mom, I look like an overgrown bottle of Pepto-Bismol!”  She proved to the world that day her great love for her sister!

Jamie lives in heaven now, but her light still burns brightly in my heart.  I take her with me every day as I move forward in life.  Memories and the ability to choose are two of God’s gifts to us, and I choose to remember the beautiful memories I have of Jamie—her smile and laughter; the fun, crazy, and proud moments, her hugs, and so much more.

Jesus said of himself in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”  When I look at my Jamie candle, I am reminded that the Lord is my light in this dark world.  “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).  The first memory verse Jamie learned as a four year old was Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (KJV).

Perhaps you are missing someone this Christmas.  Do you have a candle that reminds you of your loved one as well as the One for whom we celebrate Christmas?  On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve (Jamie’s birthday), this cheap pink candle will burn brightly and remind us of Jesus and Jamie, and I will smile.  Merry Christmas everyone!

From Hell

I write this from hell, but you will never see it or hear what I have to say.  Perhaps if the pastor of my church had preached more fire and brimstone, I would not be here.  If I had been born into a different family, or if my best friend had only told me the truth about Jesus, maybe just maybe I would have believed.  But in all reality, I can’t blame anyone but myself.  I rejected Jesus Christ every time He reached out to me.  I ignored Him and did my own thing, always confident I had more time.

Here I am, dying a thousand deaths yet still alive without a shred of hope.  If I had hope of one second of reprieve from this torture one million years from now, I would have something to look forward to, but that will never happen in this place.  This indescribable pain and misery will never end.

One thing I have learned the hard way is that the Bible is true down to the last detail.  I saw Jesus Christ and my knees did bow in His presence (Isaiah 45:23) before I was cast into this unquenchable fire.  I gnash my teeth in unbelievable agony and torment with never a moment’s rest.  A wild fire on earth with all its destruction will eventually end, but not here.  My fate is sealed forever.

God’s Word says in 1 Cor. 2:9 “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him.”  Just as heaven is far better in every way than human words can describe, hell is equally horrible and terrifying for those who reject God’s gift of His Son.  Think of a moment in your earthly life when suffering was almost unbearable.  Now multiply that pain a billion times, and then just maybe you can begin to understand this everlasting hell.

Oh, that I had my last five minutes on earth to do over!  I would not be in this place of burning torment and eternal pain.  I would repent of my sins and confess Jesus Christ, the Living Son of the Living Almighty God, as my Savior and Lord.  I would get my life right with Him, because He is a God of mercy and love, but He is also a just and holy God as hell typifies so well.

You will never hear what I have to say because of the great chasm between us (Luke 16:19-31).  I will never get those last five minutes back, and I will forever regret thinking I had more time.  The truth is no one knows when their last five minutes begin to count down.  Don’t waste your “now.”

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

A Steeper, Not a Dipper

I have never met a hot tea I didn’t like.  Black, green, white, leaf, herbal—I love them all, especially in the early morning next to my Bible.  I’ve learned something about hot tea.  It tastes better steeped, not dipped.  Until that tea bag hits the hot water and allowed to sit there quietly (I prefer to cover my cup while steeping for richer flavor), it benefits me zero.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a dipper is not a serious hot tea connoisseur.  He or she is trying to hurry the process and is possibly distracted.  To steep is to dwell.

Steeping allows the water to take on the flavor, aroma, and color of the tea.  I steep tea longer, and sometimes even squeeze the tea bag, when I desire a stronger, bolder, richer flavor.  Add a little local honey, and it’s pure sweet deliciousness.

Until I immerse the tea bag into a cup of hot water and allow steeping time, I will never know how good it tastes or reap its delightful benefits.  Likewise, until I pick up my Bible from its home on my end-table and proceed to open, read, and imbibe, it serves no purpose other than decorating my end-table and collecting dust.  “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Psalm 131:2).

I savor the flavor of a good cup of hot tea while feasting on God’s Word.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). “They [His Words] are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

I breathe in its tantalizing aroma, and Jesus Christ breathes on me.  “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).  He is my holy Comforter.

The tea bag permeates the hot water, transforming it.  God’s Word changes me, and I begin to look more like Jesus.  “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

So each morning I drink my hot tea as I drink from the well of living water until I am totally infused (I did not say confused!).  Good to the last drop!  Oooops!  That’s from an old coffee commercial.

Be a steeper, not a dipper.  Take time to dwell in His presence today and experience Jesus Christ in all His fullness.  “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (Col. 3:16).

The Little One-Eye Red-Hair Boy

He started out as the perfect bow decoration (all body parts intact) on a present many Christmases ago.  With little blue overalls and a red and white checkered shirt (sounds like Raggedy Andy now that I think about it), he was about five inches in length.  Two pre-school sisters, Jamie and Janet, thought he was the cutest thing ever, and he ended up in the tree ornament box after the holidays.  Every year since his debut, the little red-hair boy has graced our holiday tree.

For the first few years, he could easily be found front and center.  Gradually over the years, he became worn with time and faded.  We never knew when or where he lost that eye!  By the way, one shirt sleeve is flat so there’s an arm missing as well.  His conspicuous place on our tree slowly evolved to the side and lower inside the branches, barely visible.

One year as we all decorated the tree, I could not find our favorite ornament.  I noticed two middle-school sisters weren’t saying much.  Finally, the truth came out with laughter and pleading, “Momma, don’t put that little one-eye red-hair boy on the tree this year.  He looks awful!”  After some searching, I rescued him from behind the piano and he regained his prestigious position, front and center, on our Christmas tree.

Now many years later, I still have my little one-eye red-hair-boy.  Every year I hold him and smile and remember.  Such good memories fill my heart!  I have to tell you though, if you want to see him on our Christmas tree, you will have to look behind the tree and next to the wall, somewhere in the middle.  That’s his home now every December.  Janet knows where to find him. Our grandchildren, Sage and Graham, know where to find him.  And when they do, we can’t help but laugh and remember.  A temporary Christmas bow decoration that wasn’t meant to last past that first Christmas in our home has forever lodged itself in our hearts.  He may not be easily visible when you look at our tree, but he’s there.

The same can be said about our family tree.  Jamie is no longer with us, but she still occupies a prominent place in our hearts and always will.  Life on this earth is so temporary and fleeting.  However, memories are God’s gift to us, and I choose to remember those happy times—and smile.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).  “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” (Luke 2:10).  Merry Christmas!

Caleb’s Kite

This is a children’s story about a child’s grief.  Dedicated to grandchildren everywhere.  “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).

Hi.  My name is Caleb, and I am five years old.  I went outside to play today and the wind blew my hair all over the place.  I decided it was a good day to fly my bright blue and red super-heroes kite.

Memaw found it in the hall closet.  We added extra string so it would fly very high.  We went to our favorite place to fly kites, a big open field with lots of room to run.  Little sister came too.

It wasn’t long before the wind lifted my beautiful kite high into the sky.  It was so much fun running and watching my kite go higher and higher.  Before long, I was all out of string and my kite looked like a very small dot in the clouds.

Then it happened.  A big gust of wind jerked the holder out of my hands and away it went.  My kite disappeared behind a big white puffy cloud.  I was sad.  Little sister came and stood beside me.  My kite was gone.

Then I smiled.  I knew what really happened.  My kite flew all the way to heaven, and God caught it.  He recognized my kite and gave it to my mommy who lives there.

“Here.  This is from Caleb,” He told her.  I know she smiled big and softly chuckled like I remember.  I miss my mommy and her cuddles, but I know she is happy as she runs and plays with Jesus.

As Memaw tucked me and little sister in bed for the night, she sat on the side of the bed and we talked about Mommy.

“Caleb, do you remember the last time you talked to your mommy?  She told you that she would soon go live in heaven with Jesus, and she would be well again.  She said if you always keep Jesus in your heart, one day you will go live in heaven too and you will see her again?”

I remember.  I may not have Mommy to kiss me good night, but I still have her little turned up nose.  I still have little sister and lots of people who love me and take care of me.  I still remember Mommy’s warm cuddles and funny chuckles.  And I will always have Jesus living inside of me.

I’m happy.  I know Mommy is happy right now too because she is flying my kite in heaven!

Five Years Ago

This morning I’m thankful as I remember five years ago today when one of earth’s angels joined the heavenly angels.  Our Jamie stepped into paradise early that morning as Leonid showered meteors spectacularly over East Texas.  Jamie had accomplished the purpose for which God created her, and He called her home.  “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep” (Acts 13:36).

“And he marked out their appointed times in history” (Acts 17:26).  There is a reason you and I are alive today.  Are we fulfilling God’s plan for our lives?  Will what we’re doing today live beyond us?  Will we, like Jamie, make an eternal difference in other lives, or will everything we spend our lives doing today die with us and soon be forgotten?  “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone” (Romans 14:7).

Jamie’s life continues to make a difference.  Many seeds she planted in the lives of her students and everyone who knew her are still producing fruit today.  People are being impacted and challenged to follow God more closely as a result of reading Jamie’s life story, “Mom, God’s Got This.”  If you have not read it in its entirety, you must do so.  Her story is one of God’s amazing and all-sufficient grace.  It is only by God’s grace we are saved and are able to walk through life’s valleys victoriously.  Jamie did.  Yes, I am very thankful today.

The “Hold That Thought” Giveaway

I do have those times—occasionally—when I’m in deep concentration, reading or writing something, and Gene comes along and begins talking to me.  I want to hear what my adorable husband has to say, but I know if I don’t finish my thought, I risk losing it forever.  “Hold that thought, please!”  I finish what I’m doing and then I’m ready to listen.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8 NKJV).

In this verse, God tells us eight things we should think about.  In all actuality, each of these attributes perfectly describes Jesus Christ and God’s Word, the Holy Bible.  In the preface of my book, “Mom, God’s Got This,” I explain my endeavor to follow this verse in the writing of Jamie’s story.  Each of these “thoughts” is captured in “Mom, God’s Got This.”  In other words, they are hidden in plain view.

Can you find them?  Do you enjoy a challenge?  During the month of November, 2017, I will give away a copy of “Mom, God’s Got This,” to one lucky person per day and one per family.  All you have to do for your chance to get a free copy is list each “thought” and the page number on which it is found and send it to me by email.  Please go to https://karennorton.com/contact/ to send your email.

Use your free book as a Christmas present to a special friend.  There’s no time to waste!  Get started today in the “Hold That Thought” Giveaway!

Outsmarted by a Donkey

His donkey showed him!  Balaam discovered he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was.  His loyal donkey saw the angel of the Lord three times (Numbers 22), saved Balaam from certain death, and then God opened the donkey’s mouth and he spoke to Balaam in words Balaam understood.  And what’s even more startling, Balaam talked back to him!

Yes, God created man in His own image, but do you ever wonder if the plant and animal kingdoms have an inside scoop on connection with God?   “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).

Have you ever watched a baby smile and coo as their gaze seems fixed on something you and I can’t see?  “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.  “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:16).

Due to a surgical mishap at the age of three, my brother is a forever non-verbal three-year-old trapped in what is now a sixty-five-year-old body.  As I watch Billy stare at an elevation beyond me, smile, laugh, and clap his hands, I often question, “What does he see that I cannot see?  Is it something or someone in the spiritual realm?”  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

All four gospels give the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly’” (Mark 11:3).  Upon arrival, as Jesus slides off the back of the little donkey, He gives it a pat on the rump and whispers, “Thanks, you may go back home now.”  The donkey ambles through the noisy crowd, his heart smiling, and finds his way home, knowing all the while that he has just given the King of all kings a humble ride.

We can learn a lot from children, nature, and yes, even a donkey—things like trust, innocence, dependency, simple faith, unconditional love, obedience, and a clear path to God, our Creator.  “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).

The “Or Nots” of Life

We are surrounded by them every single day.  They confront us, stare us down, and demand immediate attention and a decision.  At times, we are completely oblivious to their questioning presence.  And no, I’m not talking about your two year old.

I’m referring to the “or nots” of daily life.  Will I talk to God and read my Bible today or not?  Will I eat healthy today or not?  Will I exercise today or not?  Will I go out of my way to encourage someone or not?  Will I put the phone down and close the laptop to spend more time with those who matter most to me or not?  Will I control my tongue today or not?  Will I forgive or not?  Will I obey the Lord today or not?  Will I love like Jesus or not?  Will I step out in faith today or not?

The “or nots” have been around since day one.  Jesus confronted the “or nots.”  “Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’” (Luke 14:3).  “[Teacher] Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:22).

We are products of our choices.  “Then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).  Have you made some poor choices lately?  Are the “or nots” winning?  Today with the Lord’s help, you can choose to throw down the “or nots” and do the right thing, one choice at a time.