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...