Monday, December 24, 2012

An Ordinary Day Revisited

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog on how God loves to intervene in our ordinary days. While we go about our normal routines, thinking everything is as it always will be, He visits us with life-changing power and smashes the bars of our self-imprisoning mindset.  He doesn't need angelic announcing (although at times He has used that to get our attention) and He certainly doesn't need for us to jump through a series of hoops in order to come in and work in our circumstances. He loves to turn ordinary into extraordinary!

I have witnessed the spiritual imprisonment of so many children of God lately..their desperate & heart-breaking situations have rendered them totally incapacitated. Sadness, grief, financial loss, broken relationships, & other kinds of "natural" disasters have locked them in cages of doubt, insecurity, & paralyzing fear. They can recite the verses, sing the songs, & proclaim the victory but don't feel or see the release so the downward spiral begins. The walls of doubt become thicker and the vines of unbelief grow increasingly longer, entangling them to where they can no longer move forward. God's plan gets set aside in favor of drawing away in isolation or seeking satisfaction and fulfillment through worldly avenues. While the results may seem to lead to freedom, they have just added the weighty chains of unrighteousness and the bondage of guilt to the other restraints. The chains may be wrapped in silk or satin, but they are chains nonetheless and the devil has now successfully caught them in his web of deceit. Along with this, they most commonly remove themselves from Godly influences that could strengthen and support them. Church is no longer desirable, Christians are "hypocrites", and rationalizations abound. The fires of negativity and discontent are fanned by others caught in the same trap. Escape is always available but not sought...for the temporal numbing of pain supersedes the desire for lasting results and fulfillment.

This is not how God intended us to live and it is certainly not the abundant life that Jesus sacrificed Himself to provide. The plan has always been for reconciliation, restoration, and growth but it is dependent on repentance & submission, both which grate against our human pride. We say we love God but don't obey His Word. We talk amazing "Christianese" but it is coming from our heads without really being rooted deeply down in our hearts. We attend meetings, Bible studies and church, in order to fellowship but worship, true adoration and appreciation of God, is absent. Our Bibles are dusty, our prayer closets empty, and our Christianity is more of a title than a lifestyle. Then we complain that our prayers go unanswered, our "walk" is stale, and our fellowship with God and others is unsatisfying.

There is hope, though, and you don't have to wait until Sunday or Easter. God is waiting, watching, & desiring to intervene in your life Today, right now. On this ordinary day, He wants to visit you and break all the chains that bind you. He wants to throw open your prison doors, lift you up, and escort you from your self-imposed captivity. He longs to release you from the burdens of guilt, anger, unforgiveness, & other derailing emotions that keep you from the joy of His presence and plan! He knows your weaknesses, failings, and fears but it doesn't influence Him. He has the ability to use you in spite of them if you surrender to Him. Today, right now, on this ordinary day, God is ready to bind your wounds, repair your broken places, & fill up your emptiness. He may choose to allow  circumstances that you would beg release from, but if you let go of manipulation and allow His orchestration you will find freedom in the midst of them! Your life situation may remain but your burdens will no longer overwhelm you, because Jesus will be carrying them. You will find joy in sorrow, peace in turmoil, & love in abundance. On this ordinary day, choose life...choose God... choose for eternity! This ordinary day can be the beginning of a lifetime of extraordinary days! Don't just believe me - Trust Him & you will see for yourself!!  God is good!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The People Under The Stairs"

In former days, the English gentry referred to their servants as "the people under the stairs". They were the silent, behind-the-scenes workers that kept everything at the manor running smoothly. They were meant to do their work and behave in such a manner as to be virtually invisible, unless they were called on to do yet another task or were brought in to be reprimanded because something went wrong.

Do you ever feel like you're part of the "under the stairs" group? Do you only seem to get noticed when there's a problem or when you mess something up?  Do you wish, just once in a while, that you'd get a thank you, an acknowledgement, or even a little recognition for a job well done? 

Well, here's some really great news!  The God of Creation, the Lord of the whole Earth, notices every effort, every completed task and every accomplishment. He sees your efforts, even if things don't quite turn out right, and He rewards the motivation of your heart as you do things for Him. He watches over you while you work, providing both guidance and resources. Nothing is too small or trivial for Him to notice. You can also count on the fact that nothing that you ever do for Him is wasted or done in vain because He promises results based on His abilities and your faithfulness.  He even gives you the desire to do what He asks if you want or need Him to do that! All He requires is that you give it your best effort and have the right heart when you do it. He takes care of the rest!

And there's more!  While you may think your gifts, talents, & abilities are unimportant or less meaningful than someone else's, the truth is that they are not!  The "platform" ministries & those that are more visible are dependent on the behind the scenes saints who perform the duties that free them to fulfill the call that God has given them. If you think of an army, the front line soldiers would be totally ineffective without the desk clerk who orders supplies and the truck driver who transports them. Generals are useless without the foot soldiers who carry out their orders.  It takes all of us, doing what God has gifted us to do, to make the Body of Christ run efficiently.  Jesus commended those who we might consider to be "the least" and said that in God's economy they are the greatest. He proved that by serving, rather than sitting around demanding to be served.  New Testament apostles chose deacons to perform daily ministry tasks so that they were free to teach and preach without the burden of the care-taking & hospitality jobs.  The Apostle Paul wrote several times about Body ministry, & how we all need each other.  EVERY part is important, visible or not, & critical to the proper functioning of the whole body. We might not always regard the "hidden" parts but they are severely missed when they are absent or improperly functioning!!

The bottom line is this - Whether you consider yourself a person of the "under the stairs" group or God has placed you in a position of leadership, do whatever your tasks are "as unto the Lord," knowing that He will reward you for them. Our goal, after all, is not to win the praise of men or the acclaim of the world but to hear God say "Well done, good and faithful servant."  If whatever we do results in THAT kind of recognition, we will have truly received the highest praise of all!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What's Up With That?

I hear the phrase "What's up with that?" quite frequently when I visit my sons in California. When they say it, it means that they either can't believe it or find it totally ridiculous! As I was rereading the nativity story, that phrase seemed to pop up again and again!

There are lots of things in the Christmas story that might cause you to think "What was up with that?"
What's up with a redemptive plan would cause Jesus to leave Heaven to come to earth to be abused and then sacrificed? What's up with shepherds, rather than religious leaders, being the first to be told of the new king's birth & by angels, no less? What's up with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords being born in an obscure town, where there was not even a vacant room anywhere, & using a manger as His cradle?  What's up with a mom and dad having to grab their child and escape to another country because the predominant ruler is so threatened over the possibility that he might be dethroned that he massacred hundreds of children to try to kill one? I could go on & on!! There are so many things about the nativity story that to our human way of thinking don't seem to be the best way to accomplish the plan, and yet God orchestrated every detail exactly as He desired in order to do it all exactly the way He chose to do it. 

So the Christmas story truly does bring tidings of comfort & joy...God offers us:

Security - The God that planned the perfect redemptive story, down to the most minute detail, has also planned your life down to the moment! Nothing surprises Him so there's never a chance that He will have to revert to plan B. He ordained every minute of every day before you were born & He is faithful to complete what He started in you, if you let Him.

Peace-  The love that God has for you is so amazing that not only has He made possible eternity with Him, but He also has provided everything we need in this life as well. We don't have to ever feel overwhelmed or under supplied because our resources come from an inexhaustible source - our Father God.

Freedom to be creative - God gave you gifts, talents, & traits that made you special to do the job that He has for you to do in just the way that He has designed you to do it! You don't have to look for others' affirmation or approval.  You are also freed from others' judgments, criticism, & negativity. If you are doing what He has called you to do, and are being faithful to follow His lead, then you can live up to your potential with excellence & without fear!

Hope - Nothing can stop you if you're in His will. No lack, no insecurities, no trials, no problems,... nothing is going to be too difficult, for He makes the way and nothing or no one can undo what He ordains. He will never leave or forsake you and He will always guide you in your walk with Him. No matter what happens, you are safe and secure in His loving care!

So I guess the only question to really ask yourself is whether you're freely accepting all that He has given for you and all that He's offering.  If you're not,  "What's up with that?"


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Cure For “Gimmie” Disease

                Walking through the stores these days is to see firsthand the results of the unbridled commercialism of our country.  As a consumer-driven nation, we have raised generations of children who are without constraint as to their “needs”.  Children’s programming is laced with all the “must haves” of the season. Advertisers have honed their craft to perfection, with appealing and energetic commercials that emphasize the absolute importance of owning the latest – clothing styles, video games, electronics, toys,… the list is endless. And so is the whining, pouting, screaming, & temper tantrums that can be loudly heard throughout malls and stores everywhere! It’s a parent’s nightmare! 
                The stores themselves add to the problem in that they are only too happy to oblige their young consumers’ greed. Every aisle is jam-packed at a child’s eye level with those very items that have been touted again and again on television. The “must have” item is there, so readily available…  “So why can’t I have it?” And it’s not a new problem! Clear back in the Golden Age of the 1950s, the latest toys flashed across the screen in a relentless march! We wanted Barbie, Patty Play pal, & Chatty Cathy, or Matchbox cars, Lincoln logs, & erector sets.  Children then, and now, have serious cases of the “gimmies”.  We want it, have to have it, will “die” if we don’t get it. After all, EVERYONE else has it (implying that 1- I will be a loser if I don’t get it or 2- You are a bad parent if I don’t get it!) And we all know that even when we do get it, the next new thing has already come along, devaluing the “must have” that we just got. It’s a never ending cycle of wanting!
                There was a song written a few years back by Benny Hester called “The Never-Ending Shopping List” that recognized the propensity that Christians have to also get the “gimmie” disease. So often we use our prayer lives as opportunities to tell God all the things we must have, need to have, should have,…in order to live happily and serve the Lord with gladness. I am pretty sure that God must shake His head at our childish selfishness when He has so willingly & completely provided for us. His Word says He gives us everything we need to do what He asks us to do & supplies all our needs liberally out of His endless resources.  If we ask, He gives - not always what we ask for but exactly what He knows we truly need. After all, He sees the big picture, not the limited vision that we have, and prepares us for the long term rather than our immediate satisfaction! He delights in fulfilling our desires and can do way more than we ask or think, but still we grumble & complain either about His timing or His methods. We would prefer He behave like the genie in a magic lamp or a vending machine – request in, demand met…whether it is good for us or not!  But in His perfect Fatherhood, He gives only what He deems beneficial!  He isn’t swayed by our many words, our moaning, or even our temper tantrums! His gifts are always good and perfect! As givers, we should strive to do as well!
So the next time you’re subjected to the outcries of some whining, complaining kid with the “gimmie” disease, ­­use the occasion to thank God for all your blessings & do an attitude check of your prayer life. It should be a time to worship God, present your requests with boldness, & then rest in trusting Him to supply - rather than spending your prayer time enumerating an endless list of “needs”. He already knows them anyway!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Will you enjoy or endure?

The Christmas season has a nostalgic enjoyment for many reasons. There are the "family recipes" that remind us of happy gatherings around the table in years past. There are the traditions associated with Christmas celebrations at home, at different family members' homes, & at church. There are the songs of the season, & certain songs that touch our hearts with sweetness as they remind us of those we have loved and lost, or those who are far away. There are also the ornaments and other decorations, some of which have been passed down from one generation to the next. This is part of the wonder of Christmas...enjoying the memories & continuing the traditions!

There can also be sights, sounds, and scents that cause sadness or regret. We may have lost those who are dear to us and the season brings sorrow and loneliness. We may be dealing with relatives who are ill and wish we could return to a happier time before illness or age took their toll. We may have bitter memories of family gatherings where there was anger, disappointment, and even violence. For some, the holidays are a time to "put on a happy face" & endure, or hide away in purposed isolation.

The story of Jesus birth was a wonder and a miracle in so many ways, and yet as the years passed, I am quite sure Mary had both joys and sorrows to ponder in her heart. She must have cherished the adoration of shepherd and wise men, while anguishing over the ridicule she faced as a pregnant girl whose fiancĂ© threatened to "put her away". The beauty of the star was accompanied by the smells of the stable. The fulfillment of the Bethlehem prophecy bore the cost of a wearisome trip. The midnight escape with her child was a miracle, but the slaughter of so many young children must have stung her heart. The prophetic words of others rang in her heart - the joy-filled ones lifting her spirit while she felt the fear of the Messianic sacrificial ones.

All of life has its ups & down, its highs & lows. We love the celebrations but endure the cleanup. We enjoy the gifts but dread the shopping. We decorate with joy and just a short time later have to pack it all away again. We are energized by visiting & fellowship, but stress and exhaustion mount as the season continues. While some of it is just the price we pay for what we're doing, the expectations of others can overwhelm us to the point of resentment & ingratitude often dampens our "giving" spirit.
"Well," you say, "it's just part of what we put up with to get through the season". But it doesn't have to be that way!

This Christmas season is sure to have its busyness and stress but your outlook & spiritual frame of mind can go a long way towards helping you enjoy rather than endure. Be sure you concentrate your efforts on making memories, incorporating traditions or making new ones, enjoying the spiritual  celebrations, & spending quality time with the people you love & who love you in return. Determine to be a blessing to others, whether or not you have money to spend. Get enough rest, even if everything doesn't get done. (Don't stress the small stuff because no one will probably notice anyway!) Remember, the bottom line to the season is Love - Jesus came in love, so that we can receive His love, return His love, & spread His love to others whether they know Him or not! If that is your focus, the whole season will be a success, no matter what else may happen! And your memories will end up being sweet, rather than leaving a bitter feeling in your heart!


Monday, November 12, 2012

God’s 12 step plan for conquering our enemies!

There is a great passage in 2 Chronicles 20 about Jehosephat's victory over 3 armies that arisen to fight against him. As I read it, I saw God's 12 step plan for achieving victory over the enemies in our lives. As you read the passage, look at these principles...
1. Recognize that you have enemies, & sometimes they seem impossibly strong. 1 Peter 5:8
2.Be honest with God about your feelings toward your circumstances. He knows anyway!
Psalm 62:8
3. Gather with others to stand with you! Ecclesiastes 4:12
4.Fast and pray, & refuse to allow negatives or worry to derail your faith. Praise, recall, admit, yield!
5. Wait on the Lord for His answer. Don't move out til you get it! Psalm 37:34
6.Listen to the answer & then Worship - He is in control and will not let you down.  Psalm 89: 13-20
7.Obey what He says, even if it doesn't make sense to you! Isaiah 55:8-9
8. Praise and encourage each other as you move forward. Col. 3:16
9. Watch God work on your behalf. Ephesians 3:20
10. Thank the Lord for the Victory. Be truly grateful. Romans 8:37
11.Tell everyone about it, especially your critics. Psalm 138:1-5
12.Rest in the victory and revive your spirit. The next battle will come along soon enough!  John 16:33
If we apply these principles to our daily struggles, we will be living as God requires of us & He will be able to intervene in our situations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Woman at the Well

     It was an ordinary day, like the endless days that had gone before & the seemingly endless stretch of days that lie ahead. Life had been anything but easy. She dressed and prepared for the long trip to the well. She decided to wait until noon, to avoid as much of the gossip and criticism as she could from the other women who went to the well daily in the early morning and evening. She knew what they were saying, and that it was true, but it didn’t make it easier to hear. Her succession of husbands, 5 in all, had left her friendless & despised by the other women. Her current boyfriend had chosen not to marry her, leaving her further shamed and broken. She busied herself with daily tasks but the void in her life made each day lonelier than the last.
     “Well, I’d best get it over with,” she told herself. She picked up her heavy jar, thrust her chin up with a bravado that she didn’t feel, and headed out the door. She could hear the snickers of the other women, and could feel their pointing fingers although no one dared to speak to her directly. She was an outcast, shunned by the community.
     As she approached the well, a stranger caught her eye. “What on earth is He doing here?”  she wondered. A Jew travels many miles out of the way to avoid going through Samaria. Everyone knows the Samaritans are considered half-breed traitors…part Jewish and part Assyrian. “Why would He be sitting here?”
    When she finally reached the well, the stranger spoke. “Please, woman, would you give me a drink?” Stunned that He would even speak with her, the woman responded “How can you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”  Everyone knows that the Jews consider the Samaritans to be unclean!
     Jesus replied, “If you knew what God could give you and if you knew who it was speaking with you, you would have asked Him and He would give you a drink of living water.”
     “But sir,” she said, “the well is deep and you have nothing to draw water with. Where would you get this living water? Are you greater than our ancestors who provided this well for themselves and their families?”
Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again but whoever drinks of the water I can give will never be thirsty again for my gift will become a spring of living water in the person’s life and result in eternal life!”
     “Please then, sir, give me some of this water so I can stop being thirsty and will never have to come draw water here again.”
     “First, go get your husband and then come back” Jesus said.
     “I haven’t got a husband,” she said as she blushed with the shame.
     “You are quite right,” Jesus answered. “You have had five husbands and your current lover is not your husband at all. You spoke the truth.”
     “Sir, you are truly a prophet.” She sighed.  Then, to direct conversation away from herself, she began questioning Him about the proper location of worship, for the Jews and Samaritans had a long-standing disagreement about it.
     “Ah, you are worried about where to worship but I am telling you that before long worshipping will not be a matter of a hill or a city, but a time is coming, and has already come, when true worship will be done in Spirit and in truth. Indeed the Father is already looking for those who will worship Him this way! God is spirit and those who truly worship Him must worship in spirit and truth!”
     “Of course, I know the teaching that when the Messiah, the Christ, comes He will make all things plain to us,” she replied.
     “I ,the one speaking with you, am He,”  Jesus said.
     About that time, His disciples were returning from their trip into town and were shocked to find Him speaking with a Samaritan, and a woman no less, but none of them dared question Him about it.
As the disciples arrived, the woman turned away, leaving her water jar behind, and ran back into town. Although hesitant to give heed to such a woman as her, many came out to hear her story and decided to go find the truth for themselves.
     While she was gone, the disciples encouraged Jesus to eat some of the food they had brought but Jesus refused, insisting He had food that they knew nothing about.”  Confused, that He had already been given something to eat while they were gone, they continued to question Him but He replied, “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me and to finish the work He has called me to do.” Then Jesus said, "You look ahead to the harvest but I am telling you the harvest is ready right here and  right now. Open your eyes and look around you, for the one who planted and the one who is gathering are both being rewarded and celebrating their harvest of eternal life. The old saying is true, ‘One man sows and another man reaps.’ You are going to get to harvest that which you never planted. Other men have done the hard work and you will reap the result of their labor.”
     While the disciples were pondering this teaching, the Samaritans poured out of town to see Jesus. Many of them came & some even believed because of the woman’s testimony that she had met a prophet, One who told her of her past, but many more ended up believing on Him because of the teaching that He did. He stayed with them an additional 2 days, and when He was gone they said to the woman, “We don’t have to believe anymore because of the things you said. We have heard His teaching with our own ears and now know that this man is truly the one who will be the Savior of the world!”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Just an ordinary day...turned extraordinary

      Have you ever considered that God does amazing things in the midst of ordinary days?
      The shepherds were watching their sheep on the hillsides, just like every other night, and then the angel showed up with the earth-changing news that Jesus, the Messiah, had been born.The widow and her sons were struggling through a financial crisis, just like they had for many other days, when Elijah showed up to exhibit God's incredible power of provision through the filling of jars. Gideon was hiding in a wine cellar trying to thresh wheat when the angel hailed him and started him on the path to be his nation's unlikely hero. The woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, & had spent all her money on unsuccessful cures, heard that Jesus was in town and through a touch of faith was miraculously healed.
      Hundreds of stories are recorded in the pages of the Bible and many began as just one more ordinary day. What turned it into the extraordinary was not the circumstance or situation, but the intervention of God into that circumstance. As the characters went about their normal, everyday lives  amazing things happened. None of them woke up that particular morning to trumpets blaring or
angelic pronouncements that the day had come for their miracle. They were just going about their business & God stepped in!
      Sure, there are those occasions where God gives a timeline or at least a general idea of when He intends to do something, such as in the case of Noah's ark or Pharaoh's warnings, but most often it seems that He moves in the course of daily, normal routines.
      That's an exciting thought. The God of the universe is able to intervene into my scary or upsetting situation at any time...not just on Sunday. He chooses the time and place according to His plan. My miracles could be just around any corner, on any ordinary day! So could yours!
       Those thoughts make me want to do a couple of things: I want to wake up each day in eager expectation of the wondrous things God wants to do in, through and for me that day. I also want to be aware of things that happen, for not all miracles are all-encompassing! Each day holds hundreds of little miracles, from the beauty of nature to the car accident that was avoided. And I want to live in gratitude, for in reality there are no "ordinary days" because each and every day that we walk with God is an extraordinary gift that has its own wonders if we allow Him to orchestrate & permeate our lives! We just have to stop long enough to look for His interventions & slow down enough to appreciate them!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Plan

      Life doesn't usually turn out the way we think it will. Most of my friends and I thought we'd be our in suburbia, raising a family, loving husband by our sides and surrounded by family and friends. Perhaps, if we had pursued a career, we would work for a while but only until children came along. We jokingly referred to it as the "picket fence dream."  I even have a picture on my wall of a picket fence with pink roses growing through it.
      Well, life didn't turn out that way for me. Circumstances and situations derailed my "picket fence" scenario a long time ago. Life has definitely had its ups and down, and I can truly say it has never been boring. I have done many things I never thought I'd do, ministered to types of people I never thought I'd encounter, and lived a totally unexpected life!
      Last night in Bible study, we revisited the Christmas story (I know, it's only September) and talked about it  in ways that were different from the normal telling. I found myself thinking of Mary. She must have had a normal girlhood, right up until the point where the angel showed up. From then on, there was no way her life could be the typical one that I imagine she had mapped out. From the elation of Elizabeth's acknowledgement to the agony of watching her son be crucified as a criminal, Mary lived in a world of extreme contrasts and ever-swirling emotional tides. There's no way she could have imagined all that she dealt with, both amazing and terrifying! 
      Which leads me back to my initial thought. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. We can be floating along with hopes and dreams, having our ideal plan perfectly mapped out, only to encounter a tidal wave of circumstances that totally re-route us. Our situations change due to our own adjustments, our needs & wants, or the influences of others. The expedient things circumvent the plan we thought was our future and we're on a totally different path from the one we chose. 
      The only certainty in life is that there will never be total certainty!  Good or bad, change will always take place. Thank God, He has the plan under control. We don't have to be in charge or worry or fret or try to manipulate life and its challenges. We just need to be sure we're walking with the Lord as closely as we possibly can so that wherever the path goes, we know He's not only there but has already prepared the way! No circumstance or situation takes Him by surprise and nothing we can do (or don't do) will demand that He institute Plan B. His plan is perfect, complete, & always works to our benefit even if we don't see it or understand it at the time. He never deviates from it because it's His design. We can choose to submit to it willingly, or He can cause our circumstances to keep bringing us back to it, but His plan will always prevail!  
      In light of all of your challenges and opportunities of this season in your life, aren't you glad you have the assurance that God has it all under control? Live in peace and refuse to worry - it will all work out just as it was Planned from the beginning!  It's God's promise!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Power of Encouragement

  • This teenager lived alone with his father, and the two of them had a very special relationship. The son loved to play football - even though he was always on the bench, his father was always in the stands cheering. He never missed a game. This young man was still the smallest of the class when he entered high school. But his father continued to encourage him, but also made it very clear that he did not have to play football if he didn't want to. But the young man loved football and decided to hang in there. He was determined to try his best at every practice, perhaps he'd get to play when he became a senior.

    All through high school he never missed a practice nor a game, but remained a bench warmer all four years. His faithful father was always in the stands, always with words of encouragement for him. When the young man went to college, he decided to try out for the football team as a "walk-on." Everyone was sure he could never make the cut, but he did. The coach admitted that he kept him on the roster because he always puts his heart and soul to every practice, and at the same time, provided the other members with the spirit and hustle they badly needed. The news that he had survived the cut thrilled him so much that he rushed to the nearest phone and called his father. His father shared his excitement and was sent season tickets for all the college games.

    This persistent young athlete never missed practice during his four years at college, but he never got to play in a game. It was the end of his senior football season, and as he trotted onto the practice field shortly before the big play off game, the coach met him with a telegram. The young man read the telegram and he became silent. Swallowing hard, he mumbled to the coach, "My father died this morning. Is it all right if I miss practice today?" The coach put his arm gently around his shoulder and said, "Take the rest of the week off, son. And don't even plan to come back to the game on Saturday."

    Saturday arrived, and the game was not going well. In the third quarter, when the team was ten points behind, a silent young man quietly slipped into the empty locker room and put on his football gear. As he ran onto the sidelines, the coach and his players were astounded to see their faithful teammate back so soon.

    "Coach, please let me play. I've just got to play today," said the young man. The coach pretended not to hear him. There was no way he wanted his worst player in this close playoff game. But the young man persisted.

    Finally feeling sorry for the kid, the coach gave in. "All right," he said. "You can go in." Before long, the coach, the players and everyone in the stands could not believe their eyes. This little unknown, who had never played before was doing everything right. The opposing team could not stop him. He ran, he passed, blocked and tackled like a star. His team began to triumph. The score was soon tied. In the closing seconds of the game, this kid intercepted a pass and ran all the way for the winning touchdown.

    The fans broke loose. His classmates hoisted him onto their shoulders. Such cheering you've never heard!

    Finally, after the stands had emptied and the team had showered and left the locker room, the coach noticed that the young man was sitting quietly in the corner all alone. The coach came to him and said, "Kid, I can't believe it. You were fantastic! Tell me what got into you? How did you do it?" He looked at the coach, with tears in his eyes, and said, "Well, you knew my dad died, but did you know that my dad was blind?" The young man swallowed hard and forced a smile, "Dad came to all my games, but today was the first time he could see me play, and I wanted to show him I could do it!"
    **This touching story was passed on to me by my friend Sandra Bond. Thanks, Sandra, for reminding me of the power of encouragement! Sometimes we forget that it's just our faithful encouragement that makes the biggest difference for someone else!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Lessons of Change

       The seasons of life bring the challenges of change. Some are welcome changes, like getting married or having a child. Others are painful, like losing a loved one or facing an illness. As I have gone through different seasons, I have experienced many changes. Some have been seemingly catastrophic and for a period of time have left me whimpering & defeated, hiding in a corner. Others have been exhilarating and have stirred my spirit to get out there and go! But through it all, I have learned some important lessons.
       I have learned that no matter what change occurs, and no matter how shocking or surprising the change is, God has already gone ahead of me to prepare the way. He is never surprised or caught off guard by my circumstances and always redirects my path to incorporate the new challenges.
I love the verses in Psalm 23 that say "He leads me beside still waters...He leads me in the path of righteousness for His name sake." Just like a good shepherd, God has gone ahead of me to scout out the land and remove any devastating hazards. My job is just to follow, rather than run or hide.
       Another thing I have learned is that there are always silver linings in each change, even the hardest ones, if we will take a step back and ask God to reveal them. Job losses open doors for new opportunities. Loved ones lost give others the chance to comfort & care for us, blessing them & us! Betrayals help us appreciate true friendships. Financial scares allow our faith to grow as we trust God to supply our needs. The challenge is to live as Philippians 4:4,6-7 admonishes us to do: "Rejoice in the Lord always...Don't worry about anything but pray and ask God for everything you  need, always giving thanks...and God's peace which is beyond our understanding will keep our hearts and minds steady in Christ Jesus!" As others watch us, and they are, we become lights to them as well!
       Don't misunderstand me: changes are not easy. Some are little ripples that we can easily float over, but others hit us like tidal waves, overturning our boats and making us cling to life supports for a season. Those drastic changes take some time to accommodate, and to some extent there is never a full return to life as it was before. But different is not always worse, just different,  & I have learned that as I mature in the Lord, leaning on Him and experiencing His faithfulness through all of life, the waves that used to threaten to capsize me are now more easily navigated & conquered. I am also able to share & help others through their changes, having seen God's ability to comfort, guide, and direct me. (2 Co. 1:3-4) Looking back, I see many lessons learned & benefits received from changes that I thought were life-threatening at the time! That's God's promise in Romans 8:28! All things Aren't good, but work together for our good! It's God's process working in us!!
       Changes have also strengthened the hope that I have in my forever. Someday the changes will all be behind me. I will be in the presence of my Jesus and will be able to just worship Him throughout all eternity. The fear of loss, of pain, & of suffering will all be shadows of the past and the joy of living in God's blessing will be my reality.
       Life on this earth will always necessitate changes. As long as we are here there will be circumstances & situations that will cause our lives to shift & shake. The important thing for us, however, is to make sure that we keep our focus completely on Jesus. As long as we continue to follow Him, our path is secure & our destination, no matter how full of twists & turns, is set! To fix our eyes on anything else is to wander off course & that's just plain scary!  

Monday, August 13, 2012

The choice...

Have you noticed that so many of the new songs on Christian radio have to do with forgiveness? One in particular, by Tenth Avenue North, is called Losing...and it's lyrics are very powerful!

I can't believe what she said, I can't believe what he did
Oh, don't they know it's wrong, Don't they know it's wrong
Well maybe there's something I missed, But how could they treat me like this
It's wearing out my heart, The way they disregard

This is love or this is hate. We all have a choice to make!
Oh, Father won't You forgive them They don't know what they've been doin'
Oh Father, give me grace to forgive them Cause I feel like the one losin'

Well it's only the dead that can live But still I wrestle with this
To lose the pain that's mine Seventy times seven times
Cause Lord it doesn't feel right For me to turn a blind eye
Though I guess it's not that much When I think of what You've done.

This is love or this is hate. We gotta a choice to make

Why do we think that our hate's gonna break a hard heart
We're rippin' arms over wars that don't need to be fought
Cause pride wont let us lay our weapons on the ground
We build our bridges up but it's just to burn them down
We think our pain is own apologies and get them to stop
Well truth be told it doesn't matter if they're sorry or not
Cause freedom comes when we surrender to the sound
Of Your mercy and Your grace, Father, send Your angels down

That's the bottom line isn't it? We can choose to let our emotions rule and hang on to the hurts & pains that we feel we have a "right" to harbor. OR we can realize that no matter what someone else has done to us it pales in comparison to what God has had to forgive that we have done to Him! We also have to remember that if we don't forgive, He can't forgive us!

I was watching CBS Sunday morning as I got dressed for church yesterday and there was the story of Louis Zamperini, a one-time Olympian who was a POW in Japan during WWII. The story was of torture and sadism by the guards, and the toll those years took on Zamperini's life. He ended up a broken alcoholic until as a last-ditch effort to save him his wife took him to a Billy Graham crusade. Louis couldn't resist the call and gave his heart, as well as his broken spirit and bitterness, to God. The story ends with his return to Japan and a face to face meeting with his former captors where he offers unconditional forgiveness, much as Corrie Ten Boom did with her German guards. When asked how he could do such a thing, he responded..."God finally helped me realize that until I released them I would never truly be free. It's only through forgiveness, whether they receive it or deserve it, that I can break my own bonds and be free of them once and for all. Unforgiveness doesn't hurt them, but it keeps me from letting the past go! It was time; in fact it was past time!"

Like Louis and Corrie, & like the song says we all have the choice to make. We can choose love or hate...but be seriously deliberate about which you choose because the consequences of your choice have a powerful effect, both in this life and eternally! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Anticipation satisfied...7-27-12

       "The bridegroom stands at the altar, awaiting His bride. This is the day He has waited so long for. Music is playing but He is not really hearing it. People are being seated and smiling at Him but he doesn't pay much attention, except for an occasional acknowledgement. Finally, after it seems like hours have passed, the double doors open and the procession begins. Two young men come forward to light the candles at the altar, but the bridegroom barely notices as they pass. Loving parents are escorted down the aisle. They are treasured for their role in raising this glorious bride & yet, after a quick smile of greeting, the groom turns again to fix His eyes on the door. Next, beautiful young ladies walk the aisle, one by one, with perfect hair, makeup, flowers and dresses, but it is all lost on the groom. He has waited so long for this moment. Nothing can hold his attention for long and He quickly glances at each one with a smile, & returns His gaze immediately to the door. The anticipation builds as He realizes that SHE is next...His beloved is coming.
      Finally, He sees her. His emotions swell as His eyes meet her eyes and He sees her smile. She is beautiful, more beautiful than any woman He has ever seen. Nothing and no one could distract Him at this moment. He has forgotten all the pain of making this moment possible; the endless planning and preparations, the setbacks and frustrations of the bride's indecisive commitment. Her weaknesses and past failings are swept away in light of His overwhelming love. Nothing else matters now. Nothing can add to or take away from the depth of His love for her. This is the culmination of all that He planned since the beginning. This is the beginning of their forever!"

Isaiah 62:5 "...As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so does your God rejoice over you."
Jeremiah 31:3 "I have loved you with an everlasting love. With loving kindness have I drawn you & will continue My faithfulness to you."
Revelation 19:7 "Let us rejoice and shout for joy! Let us celebrate and ascribe to Him glory and honor for the marriage of the Lamb has come and the bride has prepared herself. And I heard a might voice from the throne say, 'See the abode of God is with men, and He will live with them and they will be His people and He will personally be with them and be their God!"
1 Thessalonians 4:17b "...and so always (through all eternity) we shall be with the Lord."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Things We Love About Summer

     Summer is a fun season with lots of enjoyable things that we Oregonians miss most of the rest of the year. I've picked out a few and added Biblical applications, much as Jesus did when He took common things and turned them into life lessons.I hope you enjoy reading this!
1-Bare feet: a personal favorite! Getting out of heavy shoes and socks is a sheer pleasure to me, but it demands that you're even more careful about your walk! In Every season, we need to watch our walk because others are always watching! (& ladies, be careful of how you dress! Less isn't always better!)
2-Swimming: While it is lots of fun, beware of the hidden dangers found in and under the water. As a Christian, beware of cooled passion, distractions, and the danger of absenteeism from fellowship!
3-Berries & other summer fruits: Remember to give God thanks for providing such wondrous blessings in Every season.
4-Long days: Extra long daylight hours give us additional sunlight to increase our quiet time with the Lord and to plan additional fellowship activities! Don't waste them!
5-The Sun: Misuse of the sun can cause serious burns. Don't get burned. Use the protection of trusted sources and the Spirit's guidance, & study the Word for yourself to make sure what you're hearing is Bible and not opinion!
6-Beach Ball principle: Just like a beach ball in a pool, no matter how deep you push a beach ball down it will spring up uncontrolled as soon as you let go. Offenses are the same, so handle them Biblically and get rid of them with forgiveness!
7-Ice Cream: Variety is fun. God has called many "varieties" of people into His family. Don't stick with just the ones who are like you. Reach out to others. You will be enriched and learn from each one.
8-Sandcastles: Dreams! You're unique and amazing. Your dreams and gifts were given to you by God so seek Him and dream away! He'll direct you as you step out in faith!
9-Vacations: God designs times of rest for us but don't make vacations permanent. Renew & refresh but be sure you're getting ready for your next assignment. He will always have one waiting for you!
10-Enjoy: Whether summer is your favorite season or not, enjoy it. Live each day with a God-view, looking for His leading, and make each day count. You never know how many you have left!
      May the God of every season bless you in spirit, soul, & body as you choose to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind & strength.
**If anyone needs to know that I did this study as to #5, I have verses for all these points that I'd be happy to share!  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Pastor's Cat

One afternoon, a pastor found a stranded kitten in a tree in his yard. Although he plied it with milk, and did everything else he could think of to coax it down, the kitty refused to come down. Eventually, the pastor decided to tie a rope to his car and pull the tree over until the tree was bent down just enough that he could reach up and get the kitten. So that's what he did. He carefully attached the rope and pulled  his car gently forward, all the while checking his progress. He was doing well and figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten. But as he moved the car that tiny bit forward, the rope broke.  The tree went 'boing!' and the kitten instantly sailed through the air – completely lost out of sight.

The pastor felt terrible. He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they'd seen a little kitten. No. Nobody had seen a stray kitten. So he prayed, 'Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping,' and went on about his business.

A few days later he was at the grocery store, and met one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food and other kitty essentials. This woman had made no secret of her aversion to cats, so he asked her, “Why are you buying cat food & things when you’ve always told everyone how much you dislike cats?”

She replied, “Well, pastor, You won't believe this.  My little girl had been begging for a cat, but I kept refusing. Then a few days ago, she started begged again, so I finally thought I'd end the begging by telling her, 'Well, if God gives you a cat, I'll let you keep it.' I watched my child go out in the yard, get on her knees, and ask God for a kitty. And really, Pastor, you truly won't believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes. A kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right in her arms. Well, who can argue with something like that!  So that’s why I’m buying cat food!”

Lesson learned... Never underestimate the Power of God and His unique sense of humor.  
(This story is true and shared with me by Brenda Strait via email! Thanks, Brenda!)

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Scentless Rose

      Have you noticed the many roses are no longer fragrant? I recall the knotty old rosebush that Grandma had in her yard, and although it was old and thick looking, not too pretty anymore, just one rose could add fragrance to a whole room. That wonderful "rose smell" has been totally gone from my last few bouquets. They look as pretty as they always have, and there are new colors and combinations of colors that are just amazing, but that familiar perfumed scent is gone. In fact, there is no smell at all unless the florist adds some other flowers. It's disappointing to say the least.
      At a women's Bible Study last night, I found out the reasons why growers are cross-breeding the scent out of the roses.  The first reason is that so many people have developed allergies to different scents and smells that the market for scented bouquets has dramatically decreased. In order to please the public, roses are grown without their fragrance. The second reason is that it is the scent of the roses that attracts the pests, not the colors. Scentless roses have few problems with aphids and other plant destroyers. So you can increase beauty by eliminating the imperfections caused by pests.
      Well, you probably already see where this is going. As Christians, we should be a sweet aroma to the world and to God. He delights in our beauty and sweetness. In our efforts to be unoffensive & unobtrusive, we have lost our main purpose. No longer do we sweeten the world around us. We have blended in to the world to the extent that we are practically unnoticeable! In an attempt to regain some of our former glory, we have added in fancy buildings and a multitude of programs that may look great & may seem to fill the bill for a while, but they draw people for a season and the commitment level remains casual at best. Most non-Christians can take us or leave us. We can still look pretty, but our fragrance is no longer the main attraction which sets us apart from the rest of society. And examined up close, the absence of that distinguishing characteristic of sweetness leaves the world disappointed and apathetic. Jesus showed His contempt for this kind of "religion" in His many encounters with the Pharisees. They had all the outer signs, through their traditions and laws, but lacked the Love which made the world sweet and the other things meaningful.
     As for drawing pests, I am reminded of my childhood Sunday School teacher's words: "If you're not doing anything that the devil can get mad at you about, you're not doing anything meaningful for God." If we are apathetic and casual about God and His plan, we are not a threat to satan's plans. He will leave us alone and spend time harassing those who are committed.  If you're serving God, you have a satanic target on your back and the greater level of responsibility God gives you, the bigger the target you are. While that may be intimidating, causing you to want to "lay low", remember that the victory is already won and Jesus promises that He is greater than any worldly enemy. He has already provided everything we need for success, so we don't need to fear - we just need to obey. After all, being in the harshest war zone with Jesus is safer than being anywhere else without Him.
     So, here's my bottom line: Even though I may offend someone and I may cause satan to notice me,  I still choose to be a fragrant offering to God. A rose without scent is just not a true rose, no matter how good it may look!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Blessed to brother's gentle reminder

      My brother was in the grocery store the other day and ended up behind an elderly woman who was frustrated and rattled because she didn't have enough money for her strawberries but couldn't seem to figure out what to do.  The cashier was trying to encourage her to put something back, but the little lady couldn't seem to process what she was saying. At this point, instead of getting impatient and angry, Jim thought of our mom and how he would want the people around her to react if she were in that situation. He paid the necessary amount for her, and sent her on her way, no doubt feeling amazed and grateful. His comment was, "It was only a small amount, like $2, so it was no big deal. There is so much that we can do right here close to home.....most of us are blessed beyond our dreams.....let's really try to use it for something other than the Family Trust!"  
      It was such a sweet reminder and he's so right. Even those of us who "struggle" financially are really incredibly blessed. There are so many people out there who not only need a helping hand here and there but need the pick me up that comes from having someone care about you.  I'm sure that little lady was blown away, and told all her little lady friends about the wonderful thing that happened. So not only did she get a blessing, but everyone she told also got to experience the joy of an unexpected gift from the heart of a kind stranger.
      A movie a few years ago highlighted this very thing and became the American catch phrase "Pay It Forward". Liberty insurance has latched on to it as well with their campaign of "Do the right thing", which shows people helping strangers in a variety of ways. While these are great reminders, the true initiator of this way of life is God. Both New and Old Testaments tell us that we are blessed to be a blessing (Psalm 21: 6) and encourages us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, commonly known as the Golden rule (Matthew 7:12). Jesus even says that to do this is the fulfillment of the Law...loving your neighbor as yourself!
      It's a wonderful thing to be able to bless someone else, even in the seemingly most insignificant way, and reinforces God's declaration that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). We are showing His love when we carry others' burdens, help the weak, and are mindful of those around us. In fact, Jesus divided the sheep from the goats (those entering His kingdom and those not) by their acts of mercy: visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, tending to the sick,..(Matthew 25). He also taught that true religion is shown by taking care of widows and orphans (James 1:27).
      Imagine living in a world where helping others was the rule, rather than the exception! How amazing it would be in our self-centered, independent society if we truly lived with others as our focus & generosity as our goal. What if each of us just did one small "random act of kindness" each day? The whole character of our society would eventually be changed! And this monumental shift can start with just one person, You or me, living intentionally with a heart to bless others!
      So as you go throughout your week, slow down and look around. Find those people who God has placed in your path that just need a little kindness. It doesn't take much and who knows... you may be the deciding factor in someone's critical choice, or you may just add a little sunshine to someone's day. Either way, you will be blessed by being a blessing and you will for sure be adding to your own treasure in heaven!
      Have an amazing day!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Secret Millionaires

      There's a heartwarming show on Sunday night called "Secret Millionaire". A person who has made his or her fortune leaves behind all identification and luxuries to go to the shabby part of town to live for a few days. The first incredible part is the willingness of the millionaire to leave everything and go "slumming". Although I'm sure there are safety measures put in place, they stay alone in the poorest neighborhoods where the crime rates are high and the people are desperate. The houses they stay in are barely adequate, sparsely furnished & in horrible condition. They are given a food allowance equal to what government assistance would be, and are shocked when they try to buy an adequate supply of groceries for their stay. I remember one guy exclaiming that his weekly grocery allotment was less than he would typically spend on a business lunch! It's a shock for them to realize how the "other half" live!
       After settling in, the millionaire dresses unpretentiously and begins searching for organizations that are helping others within the community that are without adequate services. These end up being groups providing assistance to the elderly, the mentally or physically disabled, runaways & children who have been abused, or programs to keep kids out of gangs and off drugs.  During the course of "volunteering", the extent of the community's need and the lack of resources becomes apparent, as do the loving hearts of those amazing people who are sacrificially giving of themselves and their personal funds. Consequently, the biggest concern of these "angels" is not for themselves but how to find the money to keep the organization afloat. As the shows conclude, the millionaires reveal their true identity and bless the unsuspecting recipients with large, and often life-changing, checks. The "gift" is met with gratitude, humility, & overwhelming relief - a respite from the constant fear of having to scrounge for resources or consider closing their doors. As final credits roll, the organizations reveal how they have used the funds to increase the effectiveness of their outreach! It is an amazing & heart-warming program!
      As a Christian, I'm sure you can see the analogies present here.  Jesus left His beautiful home and came "slumming" to earth. (Phil 2) He found us in a state where we were unable to help ourselves.  (Ro. 3:23) He offered His limitless resources, and those of us who are willing to accept Him are saved & become recipients of His love, mercy, grace, & power. (John 1:12) As we receive all that He gives, we are then enabled to go out and give, sometimes sacrificially, to others who are in need. We often cry out as Peter & John, (Acts 3:6) "Silver & gold I don't have, but what I have I will give to you..." realizing that what we have to give is so much greater than temporal financial aid! We have God's unlimited resources & His gift of eternal life to offer.
      Unlike the show, however, there are many who refuse the gift choosing instead to stay in their poverty. God allows for that choice, although it breaks His Father's heart! But the possibility of that rejection doesn't negate our responsibility to share. (Mk 16:15) And we don't have to live in "secret" but we are called instead to be lights in the darkness, living like shining stars. (Mt. 5:16)
      So the questions are put before all of us. Will we go into all the world? Will we share what God has blessed us with?  Will we leave behind our comforts and become His servants, taking up our cross daily & laying down our rights to live for ourselves? 
      I know my answers. Your answers are your choice, but remember that they will have eternal implications both to you and to those who would be touched by you! Don't be a Secret Millionaire...get out there and share!! Blessings!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Keeping Eternity In Mind

      I spent a few days this week with a family who had just recently lost their mom. In the midst of their sorrow and grieving, they had the arduous task of cleaning out the house where their parents had lived for more than 20 years. During the process, there was lots of wrangling, bargaining and arguing over the things they discovered. Although things with monetary value had already been dispersed, items with sentimental value were fought over as everyone tried to hang on to mementos of their past. Things which had been collecting dust for many years now became precious treasures. Greed and jealousy took over as civility gave way to outright hostility. The parents, longtime Christians who loved their family deeply, would have been devastated by the lack of love, respect & grace shown throughout the week. 
      As is usually the case, the grasping had less to do with sentimentality and more to do with assertion of rights and payback. Issues that had been festering for years were now exaggerated on both sides, and hurts that had once been harbored but not said came spewing forth as accusations and ultimatums. Sisters who grew up in a family of love and caring became increasingly more volatile and combative. Respect for their mother's feelings had kept things in check but not that she was gone so were all verbal restraints and the freedom from those inhibitions no longer kept the abusive behavior in check. By week's end, civility had turned to screaming & both sides were threatening police intervention & legal action. My heart was ripped apart as I realized that without divine intervention, the sisters will likely never reconcile -the walls of resentment and bitterness are high and thick and the motivation to breach them is virtually absent! In their own words, they are "done" with each other.
      Two valuable lessons were reinforced in my heart by witnessing the demolition of this family. The first was the cancer of spirit that occurs when offenses are not addressed and resolved. Years of hurt, presumed betrayals, and misunderstandings which had been buried deep in their hearts came pouring out, just like a shaken soda can that finally explodes. No matter how long we hold them or how deep we shove negative emotions down, eventually they will come blasting forth, much like a beach ball at the bottom of a swimming pool. Once released,  any control is gone, and its damaging effects are multiplied by the depth at which it was buried . The "beach ball principle" is something we can't ignore, and unresolved offenses will eventually lead to destruction.
      The second lesson is the Biblical admonition to always put relationships ahead of "stuff". We spend lots of time, energy, and financial resources gathering & maintaining possessions throughout our lives and in the end they are left behind for others to deal with. Jesus referred to the man as a fool who accumulated many riches and regarded them as important, only to die and leave them behind. He told the rich young man to go sell his "stuff" in order to re-prioritize his life. The book of Proverbs tells us repeatedly that it is better to have little and be at peace than to have much with turmoil. Matthew 6:33 reminds us to seek God and His kingdom first, making His will our first and foremost priority, and He will make sure we have what we need. As we trust Him and commit our ways to Him, He gives us the desires of our hearts - no manipulation or hoarding necessary! While material things are nice to have, and God loves to provide us with awesome things to enjoy in this life, we should always remember that they are just temporal. When we put things ahead of relationships, it's time to re-evaluate our heart attitudes and refocus our lives on eternal things. After all, we will take nothing into eternity except the effects of our obedience & choices. Everything else will pass away in insignificance. 
      I will continue to pray for this family's reconciliation and do what I can to facilitate it. I pray, too, that I will always remember the lessons taught through this experience, not only for my own life situations, but in order to help others as they walk through their own dark seasons. That's the promise & hope of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 & Romans 8:28!! Blessings...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Standing in the Gap

      A really amazing man of God once said, "The gap between asking & receiving is the place where faith lives."  Have you thought about that lately? We ask things of God all the time. We want, we need, we plead, we beg, we bargain... But what do we do when we're in the gap between the asking and the answer?
      Most of the time, I find myself whining, complaining, and whimpering. I don't like waiting or spending my precious time in the waiting room, and I don't like the uncertainty of not knowing how He will answer. I certainly don't want Him to answer in a way that I don't expect or with an answer that I don't want. I want what I want when I want it (now) and the way that I want it (my way) ! 
      It reminds me of a part I love in "The Shack" where the main character is seated at the judge's podium and God is brought in front of him. He stammers that he has no right or ability to judge God, and the Holy Spirit says, "Well, while that is very true, you must believe that you can because you do it constantly."  Ouch! How incredible that my actions and thoughts portray my confidence that I am able to judge the God of the universe! "Well, (I tell myself) I'm not really judging Him, I'm just telling Him what I want!" 
      Really? Let's just look at this through a different perspective. When we demand our own way, we are saying that we know better than He does what we need. When we whine and complain, we're expressing our dissatisfaction in the way He is meeting our needs or wants. When we doubt, we're rejecting His promises to always care for us and do what is best according to His plan for us. When we shake our fists at heaven in our anger and frustration, we're telling our Father that He is not satisfying us in the way or timing that we want! We are judging God, no doubt about it.
      So how should we be reacting instead? If faith lives between the asking and the answer, then the challenge is to strengthen our faith. The ways we do that are so simple and yet so powerful:
*  We pray about our needs, thanking God for His answers in advance. 
*  We read His promises in the Word and find ones that apply to our situation so we can claim them and reassure ourselves of God's ultimate love for us and His desire for our good. 
*  We hang on to those promises so that when the enemy rushes in to discourage us or cast doubt upon God's faithfulness we can defeat him with Biblical truth. 
*  We surround ourselves with those who will stand with us, especially those who have fought the same battle and have been victorious. They are faith-builders for us and invaluable encouragers!
*  We listen to Christian music, which will help us focus on God and remove worldly influences from our thinking.
*  We only act as He leads us, not in manipulation or with secular methods, but according to the Word and the Spirit's prompting!
*  And having done those thing, We Rest - in His love, His promises, His timing, & His ways. 
      If we do these things, we will be building our faith and as the answers come we will be able to see God's hand at work. We will also find that the next time we are in the gap it will be a little easier! Not only will our waiting room be more comfortable, we may just be the one God uses to help someone else in theirs!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Daddy & me

      June 18th was my Dad's birthday. Although he has been gone for 17 years, I will always feel a certain loss, a hole in my heart, that will never be filled by anything or anyone else. As I was reflecting on days past, my heart overflowed with sweet memories.  I thought of the many times we walked along the pathway at Heisler Park, just talking and enjoying the sun, or  when we were sitting out by the pool in the backyard. I loved having him at our sons' football games, or going with him to Dodger games. I loved how he took me on my first official "date" and treated me like the most special "grownup" lady in the world, (I was 13 at the time) telling me that any guy that didn't treat me that way was not worth my time! I enjoyed our evening chats when I was home from college & I remember the tears he tried to hide at my graduation, just like the ones he brushed away when he saw his first grandson for the first time! Special times, special memories...I miss those times a lot and although I know he's happier now in a "better place", I would love to be able to be with him again. But it wasn't events, times, or places that made our bond so special - it was our relationship.
      What I miss the most about him is the person he was on the inside. While he had a "John Wayne" exterior, Dad was really a softie. He never took for granted that his life had been blessed & that made him compassionate and caring towards others. He was gentle in ways that were often overlooked, but not unnoticed by those closest to him. He didn't always look at the practical side of things and rarely made a decision based solely on facts. He was a heart person. 
      Because he was loyal, he was my "safety net" and I never feared anything that life could throw at me because I knew he would always come to my defense or my aid. The security found in that kind of loyalty is unmatched by any amount of "things" or finances. It's a blanket that wraps around you in the most horrific circumstances that shelters your heart and tells you it will be okay.
      Because he was always on my side, I knew he would always listen and respond with my best interests at heart. He was disappointed in my choices at times, but never in Me. He always stood with me and I never felt judged or condemned. It was very freeing to be able to be real and even vulnerable. We could talk about anything and everything, the heavy or the trivial, and sometimes hours would pass as minutes. He was very well educated but never made others feel inferior.  . 
      Most of all, I always felt loved. Dad would have quickly, without a thought, given his life up for me and I knew it. He would have willingly sacrificed himself if it would have been needed for my protection or care. He wouldn't have hesitated. And that love was not conditional either. He didn't love me because he had to, or because of my choices, or because...He just loved me. I knew there was never anything that would change that love or alter it. Nothing I did or didn't do would break our bond because it wasn't built on feelings, but relationship.
      As I have ministered to young women through the years, I find many who have never known this kind of love from a father. Because of their past, they are hesitant to believe in God as a father. Experience tells them that God must be harsh, demanding, judgmental, critical, and abusive. They have to be shown that there are other "dads" who are not like theirs...that God is the ultimate good Father who loves unconditionally, always desires their best, and will always be there. He is on their side and even sacrificed His own son on their behalf. They must come to see that it's about relationship and not feelings. What they do or don't do has consequences, but His love for them does not change...not ever!  
      With each opportunity I have to share about my Father God in this way, I am thankful again that Dad was who he was and that God gave me such a gift. It is a priceless one that will always shape and mold who I am, what I do, and what I believe. So even though he is no longer physically here with me, he continues to impart into my life...and for that I am eternally blessed!!  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In Praise of Pruning!

We have an apartment house right outside our back door. I never noticed it until this morning while I was waiting for the coffee to finish brewing but it's there. You see, we have this giant tree that has had some dead, diseased branches removed. Each place where a branch used to be is a hole that has now become a nesting place for little birds. They don't seem to mind the close quarters and happily fly in and out, feathering the nests and guarding them from "outsiders" that would try to intrude.
As I watched them, and listened to their beautiful sounds, I was reminded of the verses in Matthew 6 that tell us that although God cares for each of these little creatures He loves us so much more!  Through an unlikely procedure of removing dead branches, He has provided a safe and secure place for these bird to call home. How much more will He care for me!
How amazing our God is!
      And consider this - I'm sure when those branches were being pruned, the tree experienced a certain amount of shock but that soon gave way to additional health and wholeness for the tree! Sometimes we want to hold on to crippling and diseased things in our lives that do nothing but cause us pain and lead to eventual destruction. All the while, God wants to prune off that deadness so that we can become a more perfect home for other things that will enrich and renew us. He takes our sin and bad habits, if we let Him, and prunes them away so that His Spirit has a beautiful and clean place to dwell. He will replace our negative thoughts with His precious ones. He will bring new relationships to us that fill & complete us in ways the shallow, negative ones never could. He renews our minds, comforts our hearts, supplies our needs, & gives us great joy even in the midst of trying circumstances.
     I have known many Christians who started their journey with the Lord but refused to give up their old lifestyle and eventually their unsaved friends drew them back to their former ways. While God warns us that this is possible, it doesn't mean we have to abandon former relationships completely. It just means we have to cultivate positive ones & put boundaries on those that would influence us to go the wrong way. The same is true with activities, habits, or any other thing that causes us to stumble. God has so much more for us than the world has given us. We just have to be willing to let Him prune us, shape us, and make us new! It may hurt a little at the time, but the end result will be well worth the temporary discomfort!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Are you a Secret Millionaire?

     There's a tear-jerking show that runs every Sunday night called "Secret Millionaire" where people who have made it big pretend to be "ordinary" and volunteer in organizations that are helping other people in various ways. These wealthy people leave behind their money, jewelry, credit cards, and even cars, and live in the disguise of poverty, existing on food stamp rations and staying in less than adequate housing while they check out the worthiness of those who may be the recipients!
      The first thing I love is watching the reaction of these successful people as they walk in another man's shoes - it shocks them awake to have to look at a price tag, think about whether coffee is a splurge, ration their food, guy last night said it had been 12 years since he even saw a price tag, let alone thought about what he was spending. His comment was, "Two of us have to live on $71.00 for a week? How do people do this? I spend more than that on a nice business lunch!"
      After volunteering and learning about a couple of places, the millionaires return in their true identity and give big checks or franchise opportunities to these selfless folks who are blown away by their generosity. It's very touching and often both the givers and receivers are crying!
      As Christians, we are millionaires as well. We have been given great and precious promises, exceedingly abundantly above all we could ask or think. We are loved unconditionally with a limitless love that never fails. We are also forgiven so completely that nothing we have repented of is even remembered by God. We have a pre-planned & glorious life that starts now and continues eternally. We have abundant supply for all our needs, and are loved by God who wants to even fulfill our desires! We are watched over by a Father who never gets tired of us or becomes discouraged by our foolish or disobedient mistakes. We are guided by the Spirit who comforts us, intercedes for us, gives us direction, and imparts the good things of God to us. We are loved by Jesus who died for us while we were still antagonistic towards Him and who looks forward with joy to the day we will become His precious, spotless "bride".
      And yet, we live in a world of people who are sinking in sin, darkness, poverty & pain that wait for us to share our "millions" with them. God desires that we take off our blinders, look at our hurting surroundings, remember where we came from, and Share His Love. Better than the fading riches of this life, God's source of supply will affect change both for now and forever. Let's not be "secret" millionaires any longer...reveal who you are in Christ, Shine, & Share!! You will change a life for someone else and enrich your own at the same time!

Monday, June 4, 2012

It's not about me...

       Either due to depression or in the face of loss, I have been asked several times this week "Why am I still here?"  Although it may come across as just one more Christian platitude, the simple answer is that God still wants & needs you here. I know that just saying that sounds so incredibly simplistic and trite but at times I don't think we know the value of who we are in God's eyes and the amazing job He has given us to do.  So I hear you say, "I'm not doing anything for God and I don't have the energy, will, desire, do anything."  Believe me, there have been times in my life that I felt the same way - that life was just too hard, that no one really needed me anymore, that if I just got in my car and drove it would be better...disappearing sounded like an almost feasible option! Of course there would be people that would miss me, but they'd get over it soon enough and go on. In reality, it was a pit of the enemy's making and there were times I was ready to jump!
      But then God turned the mirror into a lens and said, "Hey, this isn't just about YOU! Take off those dark glasses and start looking through My Eyes!" (And let me look you straight in the eyes for just a minute and say, Maybe you are not looking at your life with God-vision either!) As I began to take my focus off myself and try to see what He meant, I saw that there are those around me that never call for my attention but watch my life just the same to see if God is real. There are those who examine my words and actions in order to find God in difficult times. There are others who seem so "together" that still need my seemingly inadequate words of comfort, hope, encouragement, or support. There are family members who count on my advice, my counsel and my consistent walk with God to be both a source of blessing and strength. There are those acquaintances that God has brought into my life as "divine appointments" that count on me to give them a "word in season" and those I've yet to meet that will be showing up sooner or later. And maybe most importantly are those whose lives are inseparably intertwined with mine that wouldn't miss me just for a season but would have a giant hole in their hearts, as I do for those I've lost. And even with the holes, God still doesn't expect me to live without purpose or give in to depression.
      It's hard sometimes to see beyond our own viewpoint...especially when our finite minds have repeated the question over and over & the answers, even when given, still don't seem to satisfy our hearts. That's when we have to put our faith back in the One with the plan, the One who holds each of our days in His hands, the One who calls us to see again that each day is a gift of opportunity to bless, to love, to be loved, & to share His love. It's time to go forward into tomorrow, even if I have to offer each day as a Sacrifice to Him, and when I have done all He's asked me to do and lived to the full measure of my days, I am confident that He will come and get me. Then I will be able to see each day from His vantage point, thankful that I accomplished His will along the way...and hopefully He will say "Well done, good and faithful have done all that I asked. Now you can enter your rest." Until that time, however, it's really not about me,... and in case you're wondering, it's not about you either!!!  I love you!

Monday, May 28, 2012

One more time around the mountain...

      This week has been one of those that I thought I would want to wipe off the calendar. A wonderfully, uplifting Sunday turned into a nightmare as unsubstantiated rumors went flying through the church. It was like the old song says, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going!" And what a fire it was! I was shocked at how easily people turned from supporters to name-callers, from "We are with you" to  we're outta here!
      In the midst of the hurt feelings and tears, God showed up with His comfort, peace, and understanding. He gently reminded me that Christ's disciples were loving on Him in the upper room and running full speed away from Him just a few hours later, and He was Totally innocent, where I'm sure Dan and I are not! Then He led me to a powerful book which I had received some 15 years ago by an amazing woman named Fuschia Pickett. (yep, that's her real name!) I remember her as the speaker at a Women of Excellence retreat. She was tiny, and so frail she had to be helped up to the podium. But once she got there - BAM...she was so anointed and powerful. Her big voice boomed out of that little body with clarity and strength that was both shocking and incredible. No one moved or stirred the entire hour she spoke. So I grabbed her book and started reading.
      One of the first things that struck me was her statement that before God works His power in a church, He shakes it fiercely.  I'm not belittling those who may have left, because their reason for leaving our church may just be that they were in the wrong place. She also  said not to be surprised that churches would shrink before the final revival. God is getting His army ready and those with divided or shaky loyalties have to go. And it's my job to put aside all offense, walk in total forgiveness, and let them go.
      The second thing that just jumped off the page was the explanation she gave of revival and harvest. Most Christians link the two but they are different. The church has to experience revival, reawakening of the Spirit and Life of God in its midst, before it is ready to deal with the harvest which God intends to bring in. Whoa! You see, so much of the church believes that we're just here hanging on until that day when Christ will rush in to save us from annihilation by whisking us out "like a thief in the night". The church is standing sleepily on a hilltop in a wedding gown, getting weaker and weaker as the enemy's onslaught gets stronger. The longer Christ is retained in heaven, the more Christians will fall until a tiny remnant will be left for Him to rapture. Judgment will come and the enemy will be banished, but that's later on after they've enjoyed the victory of having stolen God's creation from Him - if only for a season.
     All the while, God wants us to dig in, put on our fatigues, and sharpen our Swords. He sees the battle, and our victory, and wants us to rise up in defiance against the enemy - not cower in fear. So this is our preparation time, our cave experience, that cements our loyalty, sharpens our defenses, and turns us from a quivering collection of recruits to a mighty fighting force that the world and the enemy will take note of. He's coming back for a spotless bride, not a church on life support!
    What about our trials and battles? Just like His revelations to the nation of Israel, Every trial is purposed by God to show us a new facet or dimension of His character, a new lesson we need to learn. Nothing is an accident or a mistake. Romans 8:28 says ALL, not some.  We have to trust Him, take a step back, & ask God to reveal what He's trying to teach us so that we don't have to keep going around the same mountain again & again!
    All the while we have to be sharpening our skill at using the weapons He has given us. Prayer is preeminent, knowledge of God's Word is essential, praise and worship are our focus, and total submission is the goal. Priorities have to change, allegiances have to be unshakable, emotions have to be put aside, and perspectives have to be adjusted. It takes discipline, courage, & endurance!
      So, we are all at a crossroads and it's our choice as to whether we're going to put on God's armor or go back to sleep...I know what my decision is! Do you?

Monday, May 21, 2012

"The Benefits outweigh the hassles!"

     The month of May contains lots of birthdays in our family, one being my own. A friend and I were talking about the whole aging thing and the problems associated with it - one specifically being the ever-increasing pace at which those stubborn gray hairs need covering up.  At times, I think about just letting it all go and becoming the gray haired Grammy that I am inside...and if my hair would turn out to be beautiful silver like Mom's was instead of "gun-barrel blah" I might consider it seriously but the look of the roots isn't promising!
     So wouldn't you know that my Bible devotional reading today was called "Gray Hair". (Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?) The verses are Psalm 71:18-19  "Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare Your power to the next generation, Your mighty acts to all who are to come. For Your righteousness, God, reaches to the skies, & You have done great things. Who is like you, God? " The writer is facing the fact that if God allows us to live an abundance of years, gray happens. In our culture that strives to look young and pacifies us with "60 is the new 40", we've lost the blessing to be found in aging but its there!
     In Bible times, gray hair was a badge of honor. It denoted a reason to show respect and a person to whom you could go to find wisdom. As God honors our lives with years, He also adds the power of perspective and the ability to look back at His faithfulness through it all. We can recall God's goodness and see more of His purposes as they have unfolded. 
     Does perfection come with gray hair? I wish... but unfortunately no. Sin still plagues us and tries to get us to fall into its trap. Doubts and worries creep in to steal our peace. Loneliness can push us into isolation or offense. The evidence of this is found in the many "cantankerous" old folks living in bitterness and regret. No, mounting years by themselves don't guarantee freedom from these things, but as Christians we can escape the bitterness of heart that so often occurs. We know that God is always our answer. We have experienced the various storms of life and come through them successfully. The waves that used to threaten to sink us, that seemed so insurmountable, are not so scary now and often become ripples that we gently float over. 
     So God allows us to live year after year not only for our benefit but for others. The second half of today's verses are a plea that God would allow us to use our lives as witnesses to pass on what we have learned. We become His "Exhibit A" as our lives show His steadfast love and amazing mercy. We can share the wonder of His salvation, first with our families and then with the others He brings to us. We can tell others about His marvelous works, His miracles, & our blessings. We can pass on the lessons we've learned as we wrestled with Him in prayer or sought His sweet forgiveness after our failures. We can say "Been there, done that...and God helped me make it through it all!" 2 Cor. 1:3-4
     So while I'm not quite ready to abandon the color aisle, I hope that I am always a testimony of God's faithfulness, declaring to the next generations all that God has done in and for me, and that I can be an encourager, a mentor, to those coming along behind me! That will be a blessing that even the hassles of "the new 40" can't diminish!