The Gratitude Zone

Enter into a land of mystery and thankfulness, a land where people are content with what they have and stop regularly to count their blessings. Does such a place exist? It does, and it's called "The Gratitude Zone." For more videos, Bible studies, and Christian books, visit my website at DanaRongione.com.

Playing a Part. . .Maybe

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Sunday morning, we had an acting academy at our church presenting their program, “But We See Jesus.” This academy of actors is such a blessing to the community. They invite children from Christian schools all around the country to take part in putting on Christ-themed productions. Some of these productions take place in their theater, but to promote the academy, they also tour churches throughout the summer months and put on plays. I should add that these are not short, thrown-together-at-the-last-moment programs, but they are in-depth with astounding acting, impressive special effects and scenery, original musical scores and much more. Each program is a pure delight.

After the program, as we were helping the group tear down and pack up, Jason and I were talking to the young man who portrayed Judas Iscariot in the play. The first thing I blurted out was that he gave me the creeps during the program. I don’t know if that was a good thing to say, but he took it as a compliment. (He was actually a very nice young man.) Jason asked the question I too was wondering. “Did you audition specifically for the role of Judas, or is it the part you ended up with?” Fair question. I mean, who would WANT to play the part of Judas the betrayer, right? The young man’s answer stunned me. He said, “I auditioned for the part because I felt I could understand him better than any of the other characters.”

My first reaction was that this poor child needed professional help, but as I thought about it all afternoon, I realized he was being honest—much more honest than I was being. Judas was guilty of playing a part. He acted contrary to his inner character. But more than that, I think Judas’ downfall was brought about because Jesus didn’t live up to the disciple’s expectations. Judas had ideas of how this whole thing would play out, and those ideals involved fame, fortune, and power. After all, if Jesus would rule and reign on earth as Judas suspected, wouldn’t He grant favor to His faithful twelve disciples? Surely, they would rule and reign with him. This is what Judas expected. These were his aspirations, and when they fell apart before his eyes, he lost it and acted out of disappointment and frustration.

Um, guilty! I get it. Judas was wrong, and what he did was horrible, but when I break it down to cause and effect, I have to admit that I understand his character as well. I’m guilty of having expectations and falling to pieces when those expectations aren't met. I have ideas of how life should be and question everything when God’s way is different. Maybe it’s horrible to say I understand where Judas was coming from, but terrible or not, it’s the truth.

The fact is, I could just as easily identify with many—if not all—of the other disciples. Like Peter, I tend to let my mouth run away with me, to be careless with my words and too arrogant for my own good. Like Thomas, I’ve had occasions of saying, “Until God proves it to me, I refuse to believe.” Like James and John, I’ve found myself in comparison and competition with a fellow servant wondering which of us was more important and worthy to God. Do you see what I mean? It’s so easy to criticize each of these men for their flaws, but when we explore their characters, we realize we’re more like them than we care to admit.

My point today is two-fold. First off, let’s stop playing a part and be honest with ourselves and others. It’s time to stop pretending and to own up to our faults and failures. Not only will it improve our relationship with Christ and others, but recognizing our issues before they get out of control will probably prevent us from taking drastic action as Judas did.

Second, we need to be careful about judging others and slinging mud at those we feel are not living as spiritually as we are. The truth is we don’t understand the situation because we cannot see the whole picture. We also don’t know that person’s heart, and we are not the judge. Not to mention, if we’ll take the time to examine our own lives, we will realize we’re guilty of the same things of which we’re accusing them.

If we want to “work on” someone and help that person grow spiritually, it’s best if we begin with ourselves. Otherwise, it’s a bit like the blind leading the blind, isn’t it? I challenge you to examine your heart today, see what’s lurking there, and plead with Jesus to take away what’s ugly and replace it with something beautiful.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
— Matthew 7:1-5
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
— Psalm 139:23-24

Set Apart for the Master's Use

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I was recently invited to join a Christian writer’s group on Facebook where indie authors (like myself) can barter tasks like editing, proofreading, cover design, formatting, and the like. It’s an interesting concept, and I was happy to accept the offer. This morning, I spent a few minutes scrolling through the posts to see who was offering and/or needing what. Before I got very far, I saw something that hurt my heart so very much that I closed the page and shook my head muttering, “What in the world?”

An author was seeking an editor for her new book, and in her description, she had this: “Just to let you know, my book contains a few curse words, but I don’t take God’s name in vain. Just a couple of ‘f-bombs’ and the word ______.” (left blank by me because I won’t type it). I should let you know this is not the first time I’ve heard such discussion from Christian authors, and it makes me sick.

Many try to justify it by saying it’s only the villain who uses such profanity, and the cursing makes him more realistic. Without it, the story just wouldn’t ring true. Others, such as the one above, seem to have their priorities askew since she was quick to point out she didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, but in the next phrase she confesses to using the “f-bomb” (I blush even typing that much). What in the world? Am I missing something or are they?

 

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
— I Thessalonians 5:23

The Bible teaches we are to be sanctified, which means “set apart.” We shouldn’t look, speak, dress, think, or act like the world. God called us to be different, a peculiar people. Our lives are no longer our own; we’ve been bought with a price. Because of our acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been set apart for the Master’s use, to honor and glorify Him in all we say and do. For the life of me, I cannot fathom how using profanity (whether in oral communication or a written form) can glorify the Lord. So, how is it that Christian authors condone its use?

 

 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
— Colossians 3:17

Here are my thoughts on it. Take it or leave it. If a story cannot ring true without profanity, then it has no business being in the Christian marketplace. There are plenty of books out there using such language. We need books targeted toward those of us who would like to read a compelling story without having to weed through the filthiness of the world. I would think fellow Christians would recognize that need, but many do not. I realize the Bible is full of many who acted contrary to God’s Word. There are stories of loose morals, sex outside of marriage, child sacrifice and much more. But, we must consider the context of these stories and also the fact that, even with the meanest and ugliest of the villains within God’s Word, the Lord never felt it necessary to inspire the writers to use profanity to “bring the characters to life and make them more realistic.”

I believe these Christian authors are crossing a line. In their work, they are proving they are not set apart for the Master’s use. Instead, it seems, they are catering to the world and what it desires and probably—I should add—making a lot more money than I am while doing so. However, I’d rather sell fewer books and know those books are testimonies of what it means to be set apart than to make millions crossing the line into the world’s territory.

I realize this comes across judgmental, and for that I apologize. Honestly, I’m heartbroken and pray for these Christians that God would convict their hearts about these practices. But, I wanted to mention this today as a warning to each of us. God has called us to be set apart, away from the world and the things labeled acceptable within the world. We should live up to a different standard—a much higher standard. We live in the world, but we don’t have to live like the world. We need to make a difference, but we can’t do that if we’re not different ourselves. Let us be aware of the lure to cross the line in matters concerning things God has said are wrong. The Scriptures urge us to put on the mind of Christ, so it stands to reason we should help others do the same. That is not possible if we’re filling their minds with the filth of this world. Brothers and sisters, beware. Keep yourselves set apart from the world and its ways.

 

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
— I Peter 1:15-16

Come and Go

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Yesterday, I had an “Aha” moment. You know, where you hear, see, or read something, and it’s like a lightbulb goes on in your brain. I love it when that happens, especially when regarding the Scripture. This particular revelation concerns the words “come” and “go.”

Two words. Both verbs. Opposites by nature. The concept of “come” involves drawing in where the idea of “go” is to spread out. And life is full of both. In fact, it seems like that’s all we sometimes do: come and go. Ironically, both are commands of Jesus.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
— Matthew 11:28
 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
— Revelation 22:17
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
— Isaiah 1:18
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
— Matthew 28:19
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
— Mark 16:15
And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.
— Luke 8:48

Come and go. Obviously, if God commands it, we should do it, but how does He expect us to do both? How can we fulfill two opposing commands? In this case, it’s essential to understand the details and follow through each step.

When God bids us to come, He is seeking fellowship and communion with us. He longs for us to approach Him as a sinner needing a Savior, a child coming to his/her Father, a friend seeking a listening ear, one heartbroken in need of a counselor, and even a bride seeking comfort in the arms of her Beloved. He wants to be and can be all things to us, so He bids us come. Come away from the world. Come away from the stresses of life. Come away from the busyness. Come away and rest a while.

Once we’ve accomplished that, then (and only then) can we go. Go into the world and preach the gospel. Go into the dark places and shine the light of God’s love. Go to the hurting and share the comfort with which He has comforted you. Go to the lost, the forgotten, the lonely, the discouraged. Go where you’re needed. Go where God sends you.

In our coming, God rejuvenates and fills us, enabling us to help others when it’s time to go. But, interestingly enough, we can come and go at the same time. Our standing orders are to “go.” Every day, we are on a mission to evangelize the lost and edify the saints. But unless we fulfill the coming and refueling, we won’t have anything to give once we’re out in the world. I think this is the message of Mary and Martha in Luke 10.  

I know I mentioned this passage a few posts back, but it fits in so well right here. Martha was fulfilling the command to go. She was all about service, and that was great, but she didn’t get filled before she poured herself out, and soon, she was empty. Empty of patience. Empty of compassion. Empty of understanding. Empty of kindness. Empty of everything she was trying to express through her service. Man, oh man, do I get that!

Mary, on the other hand, realized that it was important to “come” and be filled before “going” to fill others. I believe that’s why Jesus proclaimed she had chosen the good part. Instead of looking at the world through Martha’s perspective: “There’s so much to do that I can’t spare a moment for myself. I’d love to sit and listen to Jesus for a while too, but there’s no time. I have work to do,” Mary saw things from a different viewpoint: “There’s so much to do that I must take a moment to prepare my heart and mind for the work awaiting me. It’s good to be busy, but I must take the time to be filled if I want to go out and fill others.”

Come and go. Both commands. Both good things. Both needful. But I urge you as you rush through your day and make your plans to remember that there is a time and place for each. And unless you take the time to allow yourself to be filled, you’ll have nothing to give to others. Don’t live your life running on empty. Don’t be so busy going you never take time to come.

Come to Jesus. He’s waiting!

Taking On Burdens We Weren't Intended to Bear

Today’s devotion is a repost from a few years back. I certainly needed this reminder today, so I hope it will be a blessing to you as well.
— Dana Rongione
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I read the story of a man who met with God one day and was given a very special task to complete.

"I need someone to take this wagon with these three stones in it up to the top of the hill," God said to the man. "Are you up to it?"

"Of course," answered the man. "I'd do anything for you, Lord."

And so the man set off, pulling the wagon behind him and whistling a merry tune. His heart was so full of joy at the opportunity to do something for the Lord. Before long, he came upon a village. At the last house, a man stopped him and asked what he was doing. After explaining his mission to the man, the wagon bearer smiled and thanked the Lord for such a beautiful day in which to serve Him. The villager quickly spoke up, "What about that? You're going to the hill, and I was just praying this morning that someone would come along to take this rock of mine to the hill. Would you mind?"

"Of course not," the wagon bearer answered. "I'm sure God wouldn't mind if I help out a neighbor." He took the rock and added it to the three stones in the wagon, which was noticeably heavier, but the man didn't mind. With each village he passed, however, his load became heavier and heavier. Many people had burdens to bear, but they just didn't have the time or the means to take them to the hill themselves.

As the wagon grew heavier and harder to maneuver, the man's attitude grew bitter. He was hot and tired. His shoulders ached. His song had turned to grumbling, and his thanksgiving had turned to an accusation. "This is too hard!" he shouted at God. "How am I suppose to make it up this hill? The burden is too great. I just can't do it!"

Immediately, God was there beside him. "What's the matter, my friend?"

"What's the matter?" the man complained. "You gave me a job that was too hard. I can't possibly make it up this hill. The load is far too heavy."

God walked over to the wagon and held up a small bag of pebbles. "What is this?"

"Oh," said the man, "that's from my friend, John. "He asked me to carry it for him since I was heading this way."

"What about this?" God asked as He pulled a large rock from the pile. "And this, and this, and this?" He continued as He dumped rocks of all shapes and sizes onto the hard ground.

"You said we should bear one another's burdens," the man replied defensively.

"Yes," God replied, "But I never asked you to do what others weren't willing to do for themselves. You've become so weighed down that you can't complete the job I called you to do."

The man was stunned. "You mean I only need to take these three stones?"

God smiled. "Yes, my child. That's what I asked you to do."

Happily, the man picked up his lighter load and headed up the hill, once again singing a happy song. In a short amount of time, he reached the top of the hill where he praised God for the opportunity to serve Him and to complete the task he had started.

God told us to bear one another's burdens, but there are some burdens He never intended for us to bear. It's easy to get weighed down and become an ineffective servant of the Lord. Have you looked at your wagon lately? Is it full of burdens that would be better off left on the roadside? Is your sense of duty and obligation weighing you down? There are needs to be met, but we can't possibly meet them all, and we become of little use to God when we try. We might better examine our lives today and make sure we're not making our work here on earth harder than it's supposed to be.

 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.
— Galatians 6:4-5