Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Timing isn't everything...but it sure does matter!"

       The Children's lesson this week is about Joseph, the dreamer.  I was thinking about how much trouble he got himself into by revealing too soon all the things that God told him would someday happen. His dreams were definitely sent by God, and yet because he shared them with those who weren't willing or ready to hear, & he didn't wait on God's timing, he caused family division that led to much heartache. Eventually, the brothers saw Joseph's dreams turn to reality but the road getting there was filled with major detours, and although Joseph ended up where God wanted him to be, perhaps he would have gotten there sooner & with less pain if he had chosen to handle things differently.
       Sometimes God will give us a glimpse of something to come, for ourselves or for someone else, and He means for us to ponder it in our own hearts. As we watch Him work, it strengthens our faith and encourages us.
       Sometimes He speaks words to our hearts that we alone need to hear - words of wisdom or clarification or even direction for the future. He may show us a ministry that He eventually wants us to start, build or help with. He may give us a calling or confirm one that we know we have been given. However, timing is  critical and wisdom demands that until the time is right we should be very careful about who we share with. A good prayer partner or two is one thing; sharing it with those lacking your vision or faith is another.
       Many Christians have run off unprepared & unsupported because they "heard a word from God" and didn't wait for His release. "Preparation preceeds priesthood", Pastor Evans used to say.  Receiving a word from the Lord often means there is a season of training, education, and preparation that needs to take place for that word to be accomplished.
       Several times people have come to us as pastors declaring that God has told them they are to have some leadership position in our church & expect immediate placement, while refusing to put in the time and effort to build relationships or wait for confirmation first. Still others have come to us with ministries that God has placed on their hearts that they are sure WE as the pastors are supposed to start.  Dan's counsel is so wise in this area:  He always says that first God will confirm it with other witnesses. Then the 3 f's will be in place:  we'll have the facility to do it, the faculty to lead it, and the finances to make it work.
       There are times, truly, when God says for us to do it and do it now...but we better be sure that it's His voice and not our own ambition before we launch out into something we think He said! The fallout from presumptuousness might be more than we can handle and may lead to serious stumbling blocks for those who are watching from the sidelines!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Lessons of a "Four-Letter Word"

       The phrase "four-letter word" has a seriously negative connotation but I always smile when I think of it!  At a Women of Faith conference, I heard the funniest sermonette about DIET as a four letter word.  I still remember the crowd laughing and relating as the speaker went on and on about her "trials by mouth!" Hatred of dieting is an almost universal bond among women!
       While "Diet" is not a favorite of mine, there is one four letter word that I hate even more...WAIT.  My Bible reading this morning was out of Psalms 37. Twice in this precious Psalm, David encourages us to Wait on the Lord.  In verse 7 he tells us to wait and trust. In verse 34 he says to wait for the Lord's help and follow Him. The consequences of this waiting will be inheritance, honor, seeing the wicked defeated, peace, and a number of other things. While I know that waiting is an essential part of our Christian walk, I still don't like it! If you're honest, you probably don't either.
       Our society has not trained us to wait. Instant is expected and waiting has the connotation of inadequacy or inferiority. Fast food, fast service, instant pictures, fast internet speeds...our time has become so "precious" that any waiting is seen as waste. However, our God who created time has a different perspective. He knows that waiting is good for us. It gives us time to evaluate our circumstances and allows us to contemplate where we might need to make changes. It slows us down and helps us prioritize correctly. It is essential in building our faith and deepening our trust.  When everything is laid out for us and life is rushing by, we don't usually spend the time necessary to really stop, pray, quiet our hearts, & give God the opportunty to speak to us. Sometimes it takes a doctor's waiting room or some other potentially disastrous situation  to loom ahead of us before we are willing to Wait.  (commonly known as a "spiritual 2x4")
       Waiting can show us the true depth of our relationship with God. Our waiting rooms should be times of reflection.  The more superficial our faith is, the greater the chance that waiting will turn into anxiousness, fear, worry, and the dreaded "what ifs". Instead, we need to use His waiting room to think on His greatness, His power, His miracles. We need to remember all the good things He has done, and imagine those great things He has yet planned for us. We need to let go of doubt and replace it with calm assurances. We know His plans are good. We know He has our best in mind. We know He won't ever leave us or forsake us. We can count on His power, presence, and protection. We are loved by Him!
       All of us will experience the Waiting room. It is part of living and part of growing. It's your choice as to how you use your time there. You can experience peace through whatever situation you are in or you can fret & fume.  The waiting time won't change, but the resulting change in your heart & outlook sure will.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Our Good Shepherd

My Bible reading this morning included the 23rd Psalm. As I was reading, I remembered a quote from Max Lucado that said, "I'm sure glad our God calls Himself the Good Shepherd and not the good cowboy." And yet I know some people that see God as having the rough and tough persona of a ranch hand. Cowboys get the job done by driving the herd forward and forcing their direction. They are anything but gentle.

Our Good Shepherd, however, is the exact opposite. The Bible says He walks among the sheep and they know His voice. They trust Him completely, following Him wherever He goes. He lovingly leads and guides, making sure to use His staff to correct their errant ways, so that they don't wander or get lost. He protects them with His own life, keeping watch over them constantly. He prepares the way ahead, ridding their grazing grounds of harmful things. He makes sure there is adequate pasture and quiet waters for them to drink from. He is vigilant in caring for each sheep, checking to be sure they are free of pests and disease, and that their wool is not to heavy for them to manage. He is concerned about each individual, and according to Jesus' own words, He will leave the flock to go find the one that is missing. He truly is invested in the thriving & health of each sheep within His flock, unlike a hired hand that has no concern other than keeping them alive for their owner.

The picture God provided of the Good Shepherd is an awesome one. If you are ever in doubt about God's love and care for you, and don't have the benefit of being a sheep owner, get a copy of Phillip Keller's book, "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23". It gives amazing insights into each and every phrase of the beloved psalm from someone who understands the symbolism. As a city girl, I gleaned so much from his comments and the psalm took on even more intense meaning. David, the writer of the Psalm, had raised sheep and knew the depth of the comparisons. Once you understand each analogy, you will be amazed at how much more you will love David's simple words and John 10's references.

God, in Jesus, truly is our Good Shepherd...the only question is whether you will submit to His care or not!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don't waste another day...

Dan and I were at our favorite Mexican restaurant when we noticed that our usual waitress, the manager's sister, wasn't there. At the end of our meal, Sergio came up to us and tearfully told us that his sister had passed away - suddenly, without illness. She had a major heart attack and was gone. We were stunned because she was younger than either of us and had been laughing and talking with us just the week before.
As I was telling a friend about it, she told me that a friend of hers had just lost her husband. They are both in their 30s and were seemingly in good health. He went to bed and in the morning was gone.
My girlfriend and I were discussing the brevity and uncertainty of life, and it led us into the discussion of wasted days. So many people we know have spent too many days in self-righteous anger, bitterness or unforgiveness. We've adopted the presumptuous attitute that we have lots of time. We simply procrastinate, waiting for the other person to make the first move toward reconciliation. Unfortunately, that's not the Biblical way. God says we shouldn't wait and won't even accept our worship of Him unless our hearts are right. Even if the other person is at fault God demands that we leave our gifts at the altar & make peace with our "brother" (doing all that we can to "fix it") before coming to Him. He doesn't care about our innocence or guilt, or about whether the other person accepts our attempts or not. He says to go make peace.
Nancy Messler started her ministry with the quote "Why do I have to be the first one to change?" The answer simply is that she wasn't, and neither are we! God was the one who initiated forgiveness, though He was not the guilty party & though He knew many would reject His offer. He loved us and gave His best while our hearts were still far away. He didn't stand on His righteousness, innocence, or "rightness". He stood on the principles of love, mercy, & grace. His love gave it all, His mercy paid it all, and His grace covers it all. Our job is just to receive it all! And once we have, then we pass it all to those around us, whether we think they're deserving or not. In that way we fulfill God's command that freely we have been given, so freely now we must give...
Don't waste another minute, another day! Lay aside all self-righteousness or pride and go to those whose relationship with you is strained, broken, or scarred. Do everything within your power to heal that breach, and do it now. They might not have tomorrow, & you might not either!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Little Goes A Long Way

        I arrived for my final day of subbing for the year and found both chocolate and a thank you note on top of the lesson plans for the day!  It was a simple note that expressed appreciation for the days I had spent in her class and a wish for a restful summer break - with the added hope that I'd be available to sub for her again in the Fall.  While anyone who knows me knows that the chocolate was a super treat, the note meant even more.  It's rare that someone who is "just a sub" gets acknowledged, unless there's a problem!
       This teacher's thoughtfulness reminded me of how little time it takes to express gratitude and how much it means to the receiver.  Thank you notes take just a few minutes to write and only a few cents to mail, and yet their impact is huge. In this day of email, texting, cell phones, Facebook,....a hand-written note to thank someone for a job well done or for a gift given is almost a lost activity - life is just so instant and rushed!  And yet to know that someone took the time to think of and write a note adds a whole different perspective.  It's Personal, in an increasingly impersonal world.  It's wrapping paper on a gift rather than giving the gift hurriedly in its store bag! And while I do believe that it's the thought that counts, I think it is even more appreciated when there's more thought put into it.
       Jesus healed 10 lepers and yet only one, a Samaritan, came back to thank Him. Jesus asked where the other 9 were...and honored the one for his show of gratitude. (Luke 17:12-19)
       The Apostle Paul frequently thanked God for those who helped him, contributed to his support, or stood by him. (2 Thess. 1:3, as an example)
       We are told to give honor, credit, or thanks to those to whom it is due. We are also told to show appreciation to those who work for us or with us. (1 Thess. 5:11-13)
       Take the time to think of those people who have impacted your life, ministry, or work and write a note to let them know. Life is so short that we often don't show our gratitude until it's too late. A eulogy is nice, but expressing appreciation to the person while they can receive it is so much nicer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hugging porcupines!

         I have never been abused, thankfully, so as I sat watching Jaycee Dugard's interview last night I was stuck with her poise and calmness as she talked about her ordeal. I can't imagine the horror of an 11 year old being taken, chained, and manipulated as she was. From Ken and Barbie to childbirth at age 14, Jaycee has every right to be bitter, angry, & vengeful. He took so much from her - her childhood, teen years, innocence, a host of activities that she would have enjoyed, education, ...but instead of ranting and raving in indignation, I heard her say something that struck a chord. She said, "I'm not going to give him one more day of my thoughts or emotions!" While she disavowed any belief in a "higher power", she understands something powerful. Holding on to anger and bitterness is like hugging a porcupine. We're the ones that end up getting the worst of it! When we allow ourselves to live in unforgiveness and anger, the object of our hatred still has a kind of control over us. It certainly wouldn't hurt her abuser if she lived the rest of her life in a victim mentality,...and as she said, "He would continue to win!" But because she refuses to let that happen, she has begun to break the psychological chains that he held her in. She's looking forward, not back. She's speaking out to give encouragement and hope to other victims. She's going through the process of healing, painful as it is, and facing her fears as they come. She's using her experience to broaden the help available to victims by including the families that have also been traumatized. What happened to her was not fair, just, right, or even imaginable but it happened and she's using it to make positive things happen, both for herself and others.
         So it is with life. Some of the things that happen are not fair - illness, abuse, major financial upheaval, ...but we can choose how we respond to them. We can take them to heart and become slaves to their influence or we can realize that the things that happen to us are not US and they don't determine how the rest of our lives will go; they're just circumstances. They can become unbreakable chains that forever hold us in bitter anguish or stepping stones to new opportunities.
         Jesus endured unspeakable circumstances and could have executed swift fact, others scoffed at the fact that He didn't. But His ultimate sacrifice was to offer forgiveness. He knew there was a greater plan, a higher calling, than to take revenge on His abusers. The final goal outweighed the immediate desire for payback. He knew that the devil's defeat, and our salvation, rested in His completion of the plan. The knowledge of that allowed Him the grace to finish what had been planned before time, His willing sacrifice.
         I don't know why God allowed Jaycee to go through the trauma that she did - certainly not because He didn't love her. He did, and does. I do know that He will use it for good in her life if she will let Him, and His plan for her goes far beyond anything she can see. (Romans 8:28; Jer. 29:11)
       And I do know that whatever you have gone through, or are currently going through, He is allowing for your benefit, your ultimate good. Trust Him and eventually you will see something greater, something amazing, that has come out of it. After all, He is the master of turning mourning into Gladness & sorrow into Comfort and Joy! (Jer. 31:13)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What's the Rush??

       I was shocked and amazed to go looking for party supplies for "A Day At The Beach", my July Women's Bible Study, only to find that they've already begun replacing their summer patterns with Back To School. Hey, people, it's only July 8th!  Couldn't ya wait a bit before reminding us that the next school year is coming? 
       I don't know why we rush our seasons and days.  How many times do we forget to live today in order to "look forward" to our next event?  I have been guilty many times of counting the days until...While it's a natural desire to want to anticipate something wonderful that is coming, too often we ignore the blessings of today. As kids, we rushed to grow up. As teens, we rushed to be adults. As adults, we rushed to get established in careers or with marriage and family or both!  We rushed to make our mark on the world, only to realize that we've often sidetracked the ones that we were most anxious to build for! We have forgotten to take time for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our friends, for our God! Stresses and anxieties have pushed us to go faster, do more; never slow down, never stop. Studies have recently shown that few of us even allow ourselves the 2 week vacation we're owed.  Do we actually think the "world will end" if we're not there to be in charge?  Stop and smell the coffee burning!
       This is not the way God intended us to live. He didn't give us abundant life so we could rush through it with our heads down and eyes closed.  He wants us to experience the joy of living, even if we're doing the mundane tasks associated with home-making or a job.  He wants us to Live, rather than exist!
       Every day should start by thanking God for another chance to live for Him. Every day we should remind ourselves that it's a day that He made, so we should rejoice and be glad in it. Every day we should look for people to bless and ways to ease others' burdens. We should enjoy whatever each day holds and make the most of each one.
       A wise person once wrote, "It is not the number of our days that matters, but the quality of our lives!" Take a breath...look around...find a way to celebrate today, even if it's a small celebration! You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

One Thing Remains

       I'm not really "UP" on the latest Christian music but when I was in CA, my son introduced me to this amazing song by Jesus Culture that I ended up singing it in the car for the greater part of the 1000 mile trip home.  While it's a simple song, the message is really profound...

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains

Your love never fails
 it never gives up
 it never runs out on me

On and one and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death and in life I'm confident
and covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid - there's nothing that can separate my heart
 from your great love

      This is the same message that the Apostle Paul gives to us in Romans 8:38-39!  God's love is so amazing...nothing you can do will ever change, alter, or stop His love for YOU. It doesn't matter what you've done or how many times you've blown it.  His love never fails, never gives us, & never runs out!  After all, He sacrificed His only Son for you - what other proof do you need??
      Apply this love to all that you're facing today. Sorrow, illness, sadness, fear, anger, betrayal, ...any negative or hurtful thing can be overcome by affirming and appropriating His Great Love!! It's all you need!

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's True - Freedom Is Never Free!

      Our nation is celebrating its independence from British rule this weekend and I started thinking about the cost of our freedoms. The men who signed our Declaration of Independence were considered traitors and if caught would have certainly been hanged! The Revolutionary war soldiers gave up everything to fight against an army that was trained, equipped, and battle ready. The victory they won was certainly not free.
      Nearly 100 years later another war was waged to stop the injustices of the slave trade. Brothers against brothers and a tremendous loss of life & limb on both sides led to a reunited nation but the freedom won for those in bondage was certainly not free.
      Other wars, other battles through the years have been fought either to defend the innocent, protect our allies, or maintain our own freedoms.  None has been "won" or finished without tremendous loss. There are thousands even today who are on the front lines, away from loved ones, risking it all.
      Freedom is never free, for there are always those who would take it from us if we didn't fight to keep it. Those who fight for us are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives in order to preserve what we have here in our amazing country!
      The greatest freedom however, the one that man could never achieve on his own, is the freedom from the bondage & spiritual death caused by our sin. We could not do anything to save ourselves, because even giving our own lives would just be the required payment for our sin. Satan had us in his grip & there was nothing we could do about it...and then Jesus stepped in.  Because He was sinless, He didn't have to pay for His own sin so He was the perfect sacrifice for ours. He willingly paid that price so that we could gain freedom, just by simply acknowledging what He did for us and accepting the payment He provided. There is no other way or nothing we can add to it. When He said, "It is finished", He meant it! Done, complete, final!
      What we do with this freedom is up to us. We can refuse to accept it, staying within the prison of our own making. We can squander our freedom by living a life that denies our salvation - turning again to those things that we were redeemed from. We can take it for granted and "play church" without ever really giving ourselves fully to God's work or His plan. We can refuse to live in our freedom, beating ourselves up with our former mistakes and poor choices, clinging to the slavery of our past as penance.
Or we can make the most of every opportunity to show our thankfulness by not only living for God each day and accomplishing His will for us, but by sharing the good news of our freedom with those who are still chained & in bondage to their sin, giving them the chance to choose new life too. 
      While Freedom is never free, the right decisions can truly set you free today and every day that follows!
                            Romans 7:24-25 & 8:1-2

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The "Thumper Rule" Revisited...

       My Bible reading for this morning was in Job 16 and I found a great definition of true friendship.  Job's "friends" have all gathered to "comfort" him in his time of distress and have been giving him "counsel", saying that a man's trouble is not without cause & that God judges man according to his other words, they were blaming him for the trouble that came upon him,even though he kept proclaiming his innocence. Job listens as long as he can stand and then replies, "I could also speak as you do if you were in my place. I could make great speeches against you and shake my head at you but instead, I would encourage you and speak words that would bring you relief!"
       That is a great definition of  true friendship. As long as we live in this world, we will have trouble - some of it is the result of poor choices or faulty decision-making but some of it just comes as a part of living. Our true friends speak the truth in love when they see us wandering from the right path, and counsel us when we will listen. But once we have fallen into the pit, they are there to encourage, comfort, & help if they can, rather than cast blame or heap up guilt.  They know we are all experts at self-condemnation and don't need their help in that regard.  Job's problems were between him and God; his friends could not have prevented them or stopped their impact.  He was suffering in spiritual, emotional, and physical ways. He didn't need their criticism, judgements, or speculations. He didn't need a "Pollyanna" friend denying or rationalizing his pain. He also didn't need their cliches about God. What he did need was words of encouragement, support, & a mediation of his depression through reminders of God's love and truth. He needed relief.
       Proverbs 12:18 says, "Careless words stab like a sword, but wise words bring healing!" Proverbs 12:25 adds, "Worry is a heavy load but a kind words cheer you up!"  Ephesians 4:29 is yet another verse in support of encouragement. It says, "Don't let any unwholesome (discouraging or demeaning or worthless) words come out of your mouth, but only words that are good & beneficial for edification  that will bring blessing and show God's grace and favor to those who hear you!"
       In the Disney film "Bambi," Thumper is criticizing the new little foal and his mom says, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Wise words that we can interpret in light of the above Scriptures; if we can't find words that will build and bless we would be better off to be quiet! 
       If that isn't enough of an admonition, remember the Golden Rule.  What words do you want your friends to speak to you the next time your strength is failing, your problems have multiplied, or your heart is breaking?  Those are the words you should speak, and only those! Those are the words of a true friend!