Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Don't just talk...DO!

John 3:16  "God so loved"…amazing, wonderful

"That He gave!!" Christmas is all about that.  God gave. He didn’t just feel or even talk…He gave. James 1:22 – God commands us also to DO.    Flip over one chapter… James 2:17 –  He actually goes one step farther: If we don’t do anything, our faith is effectually DEAD.
Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 25:32. In separating the sheep from goats it was not by who had the most theology degrees or the strongest “belief” system…but by ACTIONS.

Over & over throughout Jesus’ ministry, the people listened to Him speak & were amazed but their belief in Him came after He performed some miracle that they could actually SEE. Examples: John 11:45 (Lazarus) & John 4:45 (the Galileans) & again John 4:54 (healing of the royal official’s son).

Biblical definition of faith - FAITH IS A PRODUCT OF ACTING ON THE WORD OF GOD. It's in acting on it that our faith is proven & the result of that acting grows our faith even more.

We can talk til we’re blue & breathless, but if our faith isn’t backed by our actions we’re wasting our time.

Why did the Pharisees get into such hot water with Jesus?  In fact, weren’t they the only ones in His entire ministry that He really called out?  Their religious beliefs (which Jesus also shared, by the way) were not the problem. They were "administering" OT laws that had been prescribed by God!  Their problem was that they didn’t back up those beliefs with Godly actions. They used their beliefs as a hammer to beat people over the heads, but didn’t follow them correctly themselves. Talk about legalistic. They enslaved the people with rules & regulations, but eliminated the love that those rules are supposed to motivate. In my childhood, we called those kind of people “Bible thumpers” and I’d venture to say that all of you know one or two. They are really good at quoting Scripture & telling YOU what you should be doing but they are all talk & no action. Their lives may or may not reflect those same beliefs that they spout. In fact, when you are witnessing isn’t the first thing you always hear something about how the church is full of hypocrites?  Well, guess what! It is. Is something wrong with our Christian beliefs? No! The problem is that we are forgetting the REASON for those God- given rules…it’s all supposed to be about Love & pointing people towards the  God who is love. And while none of us is perfect, we should all desperately try to avoid deliberate hypocrisy!

Love in Action. That’s what the Bible, what this season, what our Christian lives, are supposed to be about. Our Christian faith is not just verses & rules. 
One of my favorite verses is Matthew 5:16!!
Does it say, “Let your light shine so that you can show others how bad & rotten they are while making yourself look bright & spiritual?”

Does it say, “Let your light shine so that everyone can see how strong your faith is & come running to you to bless them with your incredible Bible knowledge?”
Not in my version – It says, “Let your light shine among men that they will see your GOOD WORKS & GLORIFY YOUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN!”

You see, my motivation should not be about me at all. It’s to glorify God. Do you want to know why the Mormon church is exploding in the world?  Why the Jehovah’s witnesses are so good at capturing the hearts of the hurting & the needy? It’s not their theology…it’s their good works. They care & they love through their actions. They put feet to their faith, as Pastor Evans was fond of saying. They do the practical things…things like Jesus did.

Remember in Matthew where Jesus fed 5000 (not including women & children) or another time recorded in Matthew 16 where He refers to feeding 4,000. Words followed by actions. Jesus taught, but He also acted. His miracles validated His message. That’s the key to today’s thoughts.  Throngs are leaving the organized church because it is seen as “irrelevant” to their daily lives. Spouting “Christianese” is ineffective to reach the world. There are so many Christians who are like the ones referred to in James – the ones who see someone in need and yet do nothing but SAY pleasant words.  This is tragic. Nothing should be more important for us, those of us who know the truth, than to SHOW the love of God through our lives and actions so that other WANT to know our God of love that they see witnessed in us.

1 John says they will know we are Christians by our love….(yes, it’s a song as well but the truth remains). We can say what we want but it’s our actions that matter.  Read 1 John 3:18. The Amplified version is awesome… "Let us not love merely in theory or in speech, but in deed & in truth, in practice and in sincerity!!" It doesn’t say not to talk about our faith. The Great Commission says Go & preach! (teach, talk, witness) as does Acts I:8 - it’s the reason for our empowering by the Holy Spirit. But our words need action.  Remember our definition of faith: It is the product of acting on the Word of God. We show our faith by doing! And our faith grows as we reach out and DO!

So practically, what does all this Talking mean? It means Do. (In some ways I’m preaching to the choir here…the girls that help with WM, the faithfulness of our ushers & worship team, the ones of you who are constantly giving rides home…etc.) but through this season especially, we need to give because God gave…not just $$, although if you have some to spare the ministry can always use it, but in reaching out in practical, needed ways to share the love of God. Blessed to be a blessing is the key.

Last women’s ministry I handed out scrolls called ACTS OF KINDNESS SCAVENGER HUNT.   It listed just a few ideas for showing random acts of kindness (a new catch phrase that I hope is more than a bumper sticker!) It’s a Biblical principle. Use the scroll as a springboard for ideas but I challenge you to do one other thing. Attach a church card or add  the church phone number with a little note of encouragement. Reach out with a purpose...the purpose being not just earning brownie points in heaven but of ministering God’s love for His glory & being a witness to those who yet need to find Him..

And don’t forget that the Bible also adds “especially to those who are in the household of faith.”  You might not be able to do great things, but you can do what God puts on your heart to do.   So ask Him! Give someone a ride to church or home from church, donate towards the children’s ministry gift fund, pick someone who is struggling & treat them to coffee or a meal.  There are so many things we can all do!

You get it. You are all creative & amazing. It doesn’t have to be a big thing obviously, but  to borrow a phrase from Niki… JUST DO IT.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Spelling "Thankful"

       I know...Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas season is in full swing. I've heard my first "Chia Pet" commercial and several stations are playing 24 hour Christmas music. The rush is on. Calendars are filling and "to do" lists are growing. Maybe more than at any other time in the year, however, we need to counter the "gimme/ I want" season with a reminder about thankfulness. What spurred my thoughts was a quote I was sent that said "Only in America do people trample each other for bargains on the day after they were supposedly thankful for all that they already have!" So I decided to share  "How do you spell 'Thankful?'" The letters in "thankful" were used as an acronym to teach a reminder lesson on fostering thankfulness.

T - Tally your blessings (you have so much to be thankful for...really...so remember)

H - Hold your tongue (once said, there's no rewinding either the words or their affect)

A - Ask for God's perspective (our own is so limited by time & experience)

N - Negate negativity (negatives cast a dark shadow on every situation & every relationship)

K - Keep your emotions in check (they're easily fired up but much harder to tame)

F - Foster family fellowship (chosen or biological, none of us are meant to go it alone)

U - Unleash your passions &  creativity (there's joy in serving others with your gifts)

L - Live in expectancy (God has a good life for you, full of amazing things....trust Him)

      These are simple reminders & yet in this busy & often frustrating time of year, we can lift our spirits by taking time to consider them. Gratitude is a spark that ignites both joy & peace. It reminds us of what is really important, helping us keep the reason for the season as our priority and that reason is simple ...God gave! Refocused, our lives will reflect a constant consciousness of all that God has done for us & the many blessings He has given us. His sacrifice & love will then cause us to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness that will permeate everything we do, spreading the true Christmas spirit in ways that nothing else can.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The People's King, part 2

      The story of Saul is a cautionary tale of how our perspectives can change as circumstances unfold through our lives. Saul's story is not uncommon, as far as emotions & their reactions. There are lessons to be learned though his story, & God reminds us in the New Testament to take Old Testament lessons to heart - that's why He recorded them for us (Rom. 15:4; 1 Co. 10:11). So here are a few I took from this story.
1- God's plans are always the best & designed for His reasons! When you start thinking your plan is better than God's, watch out. God told His people again & again to do things His way. Every time they strayed, it ended in disaster. Saul's "better idea" cost him the kingdom, the blessing of God, & eventually his life.
2-  We are all accountable for our own decisions & choices. Others can influence us, threaten us, or challenge us but in the end it is our choice to follow God's path or go our own way. Saul tried blaming the people but God, through Samuel, rejected his attempts to pass the blame.
3-  Sacrificing, even for spiritual reasons, is less important to God than obedience. No matter how we try to make up the difference or what we give up in order to appease God, the gap remains. No amount of sacrificing can usurp the blessing of obedience. Disobedience is as idol worship...we become our own god by taking control. (and you know how God feels about idol worship!) 
4-  God already knows. Rationalizing, justifying, blaming, whining, & pouting do not change the fact that we have fallen. God isn't swayed by our crocodile tears, our excuses, or our tantrums. He knows the innermost thoughts & motives of our hearts & sees through any attempts to sugar-coat truth. We think we're so clever, but I am sure God just shakes His head & wonders who we think we're trying to fool!  God knows...& don't forget it!
5- Pride really does come before a fall. Samuel reminded Saul that once he was small in his own eyes & he should have kept that perspective. God wants us to succeed & do great things for Him, through His power & in His way. Pride is deadly because it takes the focus off of God & shines the light on us instead. That kind of scrutiny is never a good thing. Flaws surface, cracks become visible, & eventually the disintegration of emotions with their reactions causes the complete collapse. None of us has anything God hasn't given us so it will never be in our own strength or ability. The creation has nothing that the Creator didn't design. Pride really has no place.
6-  You are never the sole "beneficiary" of your mistakes. Generations can be affected by choices & decisions you make. Others are watching, learning, reacting, & being influenced for good or bad by your choices so seek God, listen to what He says, & then do what He says. Like ripples in a pool, we never know how far the repercussions will go.
      Saul's story is a sad one, not only because of how it ended but because there were so many points along the way where he could have repented & turned back to God. We all make mistakes & fail in so many ways. Until life is ended, there are numerous opportunities to return to God. He waits for you to repent & desires nothing more, so don't waste another day in self-pity, regret, or fear. Give Him your failings & let Him redeem them into something good. It will give you a freedom you never knew was possible. Don't delay...just do it!!

Friday, October 4, 2013

The People's King, part 1

      I have been studying the life of Saul, the first king of Israel. His story is an example of what happens when we choose our ways over God's ways. The story of Saul is recorded in 1 Samuel.
      The Lord has been the ruler over Israel & has led them through many trials, but they want to be like surrounding kingdoms...they want a king. God knows that eventually they will cry out because of their choice but the people refuse to hear God's words (1 Samuel 8:18-22). So he gives them a king.
      At the beginning of his story, Saul was not power-hungry or even prideful. When we meet him, he is chasing after some lost donkeys. When Samuel the prophet of God begins to tell him that he will rule the people, Saul is full of arguments, much like Gideon was when the angel of the Lord greeted him with the words "Hail, mighty man of valor".  Saul argued with Samuel, "Am I not from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe of Israel? And is not my family the least of all the families of the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? So why do you speak to me this way?"  Saul has no kingly aspirations but he is the chosen one. When the lots were cast & Saul was chosen, they had to go find him. He was hiding among some baggage. When he stood before them, he seemed a kingly choice: tall, good looking, from a good family. Unlikely though he thought he was, he became the people's king.
      At first, Saul appears to lead Israel well. God gives him battle favor and the people of Israel were happy. Our first glimpse of Saul's darker side comes when he tries to execute his own son, Jonathan, for breaking an oath that Saul should not have insisted upon (having soldiers in battle fasting) & that Jonathan did not hear, for he was already in the field.  Saul's insistence upon Jonathan's death is overruled by his own troops, and Jonathan's life is spared, but Saul's pride & arrogance has begun to rear its ugly head.
      Then came the time of fateful decision:  the battle with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. God's instructions were to totally wipe their kingdom from the earth as punishment for their treatment of Israel. (As the Israelites were fleeing Egypt, the Amalekites were cutting off & destroying any stragglers. They attacked them again after those initial times & forced them back to the Sinai wilderness - Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 14:39-45) God's instructions were very clear. He wanted all remembrance of them eliminated. But when the battle was finished, Saul had saved both their king & the best of their livestock. Presumably the king would have been Saul's trophy & the animals would have added to his considerable wealth. Saul had chosen arrogance over obedience.
      This is where the turning point was made. When confronted by God, through Samuel, Saul could have repented & turned back to a life of righteousness but he did not.
      Initially, he acted as though he had obeyed. Greeting Samuel he boasted that he had performed as the Lord commanded (vs 13). When Samuel confronted him with the truth, he began blaming "they" & "the people."  He tried to put a religious spin on it by saying it was for spiritual sacrifices that the animals were spared. (vs 15-16) but Samuel immediately stopped his excuses by reiterating God's command. Saul tried to rationalize again & argued that he did obey God by destroying the Amalekites, only saving the king, but it was "the people" who took the best things to be sacrificed to the Lord. (vs. 20-21). This time there was no argument that would hold.  When Samuel said, "Does the Lord delight in sacrifices more than obeying His voice? To obey is better than to sacrifice..." Saul tried one more argument - "I disobeyed because I feared the people," but he knew it was futile & began seeking absolution. The blame game was finished & the buck stopped at Saul's feet. God would not rescind his judgment. The kingdom would be taken from Saul's family and given to another, one who was a man after God's own heart. Although he remained Israel's king throughout his life, the Lord's favor was removed from him. Saul spent his years in mental torment, bouts of extreme jealousy, & the devastation of betrayal. His life ended when he committed suicide after being wounded in battle-  a sad end for Israel's first king.
     That's the story. In part 2 of this blog, I will share the lessons that God spoke to my heart as I studied.  I hope they will impact your life as they have mine.  Blessings...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

God is Still in the Miracle Business!

       The Bible tells us that God did amazing miracles in the Old Testament. He did them Himself at times & through His prophets or chosen leaders at other times.  Why? He wanted to show His people the awesome different traits of His character. He showed them His mercy, His provision, His healing power, His protection, His ability to fight their battles for them & His overwhelming love for them in spite of their unbelief and frequent failings. His character was easily seen through those things that He did.

     The New Testament Gospels record how Jesus performed amazing miracles. Why? He wanted to point the people away from the ritualistic religion that had taken His people into the bondage of law and return their hearts to loving God. He did miracles of healing, deliverance, & power over both nature & quantity. He raised the dead, healed incurable diseases, & showed the importance of obeying God rather than man. He didn't abolish the Law, but showed how its use was for the purpose of love rather than domination.

      The epistles of the New Testament show us that the apostles did amazing miracles. Why? They were showing God's power, through Christ's work on the cross, in order to validate the ministry & message. They wanted the people to see that Christ's body, His church, could continue on through the power of the Holy Spirit. The church would be established in spite of the fact that opposition rose against it both from established religion & secular governments. Their miracles were important in that they showed God's continuing presence on the earth, even after Jesus returned to His Father.

     According to Romans 15:4, the purpose of all this recorded information is so that we who have come after will be encouraged & have hope. It was not to tease us with something that we could never see or to make us envious of power that we could never have. It was to call us to a deeper intimacy with God & to propel us into an experiential knowledge of what we have in Christ and what we can do through Him.

     So has God changed His mind? Has He decided that our generation should wallow around powerless & ineffective?  Is there anything God can no longer do? Or is it merely the fact that we don't appropriate the power given us because of our unbelief?

     God is still in the business of performing miracles. Ephesians 1:19 says He wants to do amazing things through us & for us through His unlimited, immeasurable & surpassing great power. He didn't cease doing miracles when the Bible was completed. He didn't stop using His saints when the last of the apostles died. He is still in the miracle business. I'm not talking "name it-claim it" theology that uses God like a cosmic vending machine or a genie. I am talking about the power that God wants to exhibit through & for true believers whose faith allows them to see beyond the things seen to the things unseen. I am talking about divine deliverance, supernatural healing, & works of awesomeness that bring glory, not to any man but to the Father.
     Knowing all this, how should our lives be? They should be full of peace, joy, & confidence that is not based on circumstances or situations always being favorable, but based on the knowledge that God is in control, that He always knows what is best, & that when we relinquish control to Him we can then rest, expecting Him to act.  He still does miracles. He still wants to do them. What do you need today? Ephesians 3:20 says He can always do more than we can ask or think. Ask, wait, believe & watch! He hasn't changed. He's still in the miracle business!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Life Lessons, part 2

Last time I wrote about 3 life lessons that I was reminded of during the long season of illness that Dan's mom endured. They were 1- Don't ignore the smallest details; 2- Training a child is not something to be taken lightly; 3- Things that seem innocent can be deadly!

There are many other lessons that God brought to my attention through that period. I hope these next few will also be meaningful to you.
Lesson 4 - Little things mean a lot! Small gestures that  take very little time to do really mean so much to a person in a hard place. A card, a few flowers, a handwritten note of encouragement, or even a phone call can turn put a spark of happiness into a dreary day. In this age of texting, social media, & emails the thought that someone cared enough to take a few minutes to do something personal & individualized is such a boost. Emails & messages are nice but hearing a comforting voice or receiving even the smallest token of friendship or love really sends a hug straight to the heart. I am determined, after our recent experience, to try to do so much better at this. It takes more effort, but it's worth everything to the receiver!!
Lesson 5 - Give grace in abundance for some day you may walk in their shoes. It's so easy to criticize. When someone is hurting, they really aren't themselves & neither are the ones who love them. It is emotionally draining to care for or even sit with someone who is seriously ill or in pain. All of us have our breaking points & we need to put ourselves in others' shoes before we take their outbursts or barbs personally. Grace, grace, grace...if you can't spare any, ask God to give you some of His for it is abundant. You will never really "get it" unless you go through it, so be careful about judging words or actions from the sidelines.
Lesson 6 - Remember, the Thumper rule still applies. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Spouting Christian-ese or worn out clich├ęs are NOT better than nothing. Sometimes it's better to just sit with someone & listen, hold a hand, or give a hug than to try to deny the pain, minimize the situation, or be Pollyanna! Encouragement, as I said, is nice, but platitudes are not.  Before you say it, ask yourself if you would want to hear it if you were the other person. (I remember a deaconess coming to the hospital room of someone who had just lost a baby & telling her that she should stop her "moping" because God knows what is best and her grief was a lack of faith in His plan! While God's plan IS always best, her timing was ill-advised & her "theology" didn't do anything to comfort or encourage!) We will all be judged by EVERY word that we speak, so we'd be better off to speak less & listen more!
Lesson 7 - Gratitude goes a long way! Hospice workers, nurses, caregivers, & others in that field are often criticized for their lack of compassion, & there may be some who have lost their sensitivity to the anguish of a patient or family in pain, but ours & most others who work in that area of service are amazing. They do their jobs efficiently, quietly, & respectfully - even the worst jobs you could imagine. They never raise a voice or react in anger, even when there is little or no cooperation. They relay information, without being overly dramatic about things, & are calming influences even in the worst of situations. Truly they have seen it all before, but they don't act condescending or make loved ones feel bad about their reactions. Ours acted as though we were their first concern & our loved ones their first patients. In fact, as we mirrored their kindness, our loved ones got even more attention. They were gentle & sensitive to all of us. After our season was finished, I showed my thanks for their efforts by sending a card and a large tray of brownies. It was greatly appreciated...& sadly one of the first positive acknowledgements they had ever received. (Of course there are always an abundance of complainers!) Before we write caring service off as part of the job, we would do well to consider how hard that job is and show a little appreciation - in whatever way we feel is appropriate!

If you find yourself in the shoes I just walked in, try to recall these few life lessons. They are not the only ones, but they are important ones. You may be the calming, loving influence in your situation that everyone around you can depend on & count on when the situation seems overwhelming. It isn't an easy time, but you will get through it with more strength & grace if you let God's light shine through you & you remember these simple principles.

God bless you!!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Life Lessons, part 1

      Watching someone change from feisty & vital to lethargic & numb is never an easy process. All the time I was enduring the process, I kept asking God what He was trying to teach us. While He never decided to answer with audible words or even words of wisdom & discernment, I did make some important connections that looking back I can appreciate.
      Lesson 1 - Don't ignore the smallest details.  Major illness can start with the tiniest symptoms. While that should not make us turn into raging hypochondriacs, we should always be aware of changes that occur. Most of the time they don't mean much but awareness catches even the rarest of symptoms. Just like in the spiritual sense...when we become aware of tiny changes in our desire to go to church or our need for Christian fellowship, we had better do a self-check on our spiritual health. Small changes in attitude can fester into raging diseases of apathy & disinterest. A lifetime habit can easily be broken, especially when our enemy gets involved through small incidences of hurt feelings, self-pity, or bitterness. Don't allow anything like that to remain. Take care of it with forgiveness, spiritual infusions of worship & prayer, & increased fellowship.
      Lesson 2 - Training up a child is not something to be taken lightly. As parents, we have all been challenged with the Word to make sure our children have solid spiritual foundations. The importance of that was made vivid to me during the final days of my mother-in-law's life. She could no longer react, speak more than a few words, or even seem to focus. One late evening, as I was playing worship music to calm her spirit, I went over to turn down the volume & when I turned back to her, she was mouthing the words to "How Great Thou Art". She had definitely not been in church since her childhood & I'm sure had not heard that song in over 70 years, but its comfort & peace were still there in her mind when she needed it most.  As parents, & grandparents, we have the privilege of teaching our children God's amazing attributes & ways. We can't depend only on Sunday School or Christian friends. We need to be intentional about playing Christian music at home or in the car, reading Scripture & sharing Bible stories as families, & praying together. Even if our children seem indifferent, the Word gets in their spirits & stays. Don't let another day go by without Jesus in your world & daily life.
      Lesson 3 - Things that seem innocent can be deadly.  Mom had a long-time struggle with Diabetes that eventually took her life. When talking about it with others, I was amazed at how many people were unaware that it can be that serious. Most people just think it's a matter of reducing sugar or perhaps, in major cases, taking insulin injections. Unfortunately, there are tremendously more serious consequences in ignoring or minimizing the disease. Loss of limbs & gangrene poisoning are not things we like to consider, but they are very real possibilities when the disease goes unchecked. Sin & worldliness are much the same. We ignore the changing values & worldly standards of behavior blasted to us through our computers and televisions. We rationalize & justify our attitudes toward these changes as "being tolerant" or enlightened. We accept societal norms rather than standing strong on Biblical principles. We need to re-examine our reactions to sin. Do swear words still cause you to cringe or have you become immune to their impact? Does the sight of gore & extreme violence turn your stomach or are you fascinated by it? When viewing or hearing about crimes perpetrated against the innocent are you outraged or indifferent? Do your Biblical values & spiritual foundations affect what you listen to or watch? I am not being judgmental with this. These are questions every Christian should be asking of themselves & taking the answers seriously. If a stranger lived in my house for a few days, would he know that I was a Christian by my choices of television programming, music, leisure activity, & lifestyle? Since we are to represent God in our world, perhaps it's time to take a little self-assessment. Innocent though it may seem at first, ignoring worldliness which is infiltrating our lives can be deadly to us & to the world that we are supposed to be influencing. And, by the way, God holds us responsible for not showing the sinner his error. If you don't think so, read chapter 3 or 33 of Ezekiel. Ouch!
      There are other lessons that God reminded me of through these last months, which I will write about at a future time. For this blog, I have had enough of a challenge...& hopefully you have too!  Blessings...

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Fear Factor

Desperation makes people do all kinds of things they would normally never consider.

A mom afraid of losing a bitter custody battle hides her daughter in plain sight, only to be arrested a few hours later, ensuring the very consequences that she was so adamantly fighting against.

A teenage girl steals money from her parents to pay for an abortion she will regret for years to come, all because she allowed emotional desperation to please her boyfriend to overcome her good judgment & strict morality.

A normally quiet and successful student buys a term paper on line because he was goaded into partying all weekend and didn't finish his, which ends up resulting in a failing grade and expulsion from school.

A husband and father realizes that his financial obligations are beyond his income and begins to syphon off just a small, but ever increasing, amount of money from the investment funds he manages.

There are numerous examples I could cite, but you get the idea. Fear shows its face in many ways and on many occasions in life. We borrow trouble, camp on the "what ifs", and "awfulize" our circumstances. Small things become giant obstacles, our thoughts get muddied and clouded, & our nightmare of losing control kicks in. We begin to take matters into our own hands, manipulating & orchestrating. Our emotions run wild and pretty soon we are beyond the point of rational decision-making. We grasp at any solution, viable or not, which we hope can get us out of our crisis.

The truth is, we're not any different from many Bible characters who dealt poorly with their fears.
Consider Adam & Eve who were so frightened of the consequences of their poor decisions that they actually tried to hide from God and take care of their sin problem themselves.

Abraham was so afraid of what might happen if he told the truth that he lied about Sarah being his wife, claiming her to be his sister instead.

And then there was David who manipulated a murder in order to cover up his adulterous affair with a married woman.

Skip to the New Testament and the news is not any better.  Peter is so threatened by a little girl's questions and the possible consequences that he lies about even knowing His Lord.

A woman, desperate to save her sick child, followed Jesus and begged Him for mercy. When her pleading was ignored, she groveled at His feet and even argued with His answer in order to enlist His healing power for her daughter.

Fear causes us to do desperate, sometimes irrational things. Instead of manipulating our circumstances and trying to do everything in our own way, God would have us Trust. Sounds so simple, doesn't it. God simply wants us to trust Him. He knows the path ahead, the details, & the course around, over, or through the obstacles. He knows our weaknesses, our failings, & our missteps. He has already determined a course of action that takes all of our faults into account, weaving a tapestry of our lives that includes our blackest circumstances and His brightest rescues. He has redeemed our folly and is perfectly willing and capable of turning our worst mistake into something He can use for good, either ours or someone else's.

Our "light and momentary troubles" often seem like never-ending hurricanes. We can't see the end and solutions evade us...but that's ok! God sees. And He not only just sees, but His all-encompassing love for us makes the way clear, if we ask Him to show us, & allows for us to walk through even our darkest valleys with indescribable peace. We can cast our cares on Him, release our pent-up emotions, & rest in His comforting arms. There is no need for us to fear, for His perfect love for us eliminates its need.

If you are in the grip of fear through overwhelming circumstances, emotional turmoil, or the uncertainty of the "what ifs" of tomorrow, let God break you free. Turn to Him with all of your broken pieces and He will turn the shattered fragments into a beautiful mosaic that will not only be a joy to you but a witness to those around you. He can do it... let Him!

Friday, March 29, 2013

What's so good about it?

He had just had an intimate Passover celebration with His 12 closest friends. After demonstrating to them what true servanthood was meant to be by washing their feet, He sent one of them out to finish what he had already set in his heart to do...betray Him.

Leaving the quiet communion of that upper room, He and his remaining friends walked through the city and nearby vineyards. As they went, Jesus gave His final message to them..."if you remain in Me & I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can't do anything."  The disciples couldn't grasp it all but they knew something was about to happen. Jesus had told them He was leaving, going to prepare a place for them but would return and come back for them. They walked along with many questions but still contentedly, tired from long days and their recent dinner.

When they arrived, Jesus went off to pray by Himself, as was His custom. He asked the disciples to pray as well but they soon found themselves overcome by weariness. When He returned to them, they were asleep. They could not have known His agony. He was looking ahead to unspeakable horrors which would end in death, but to them it was just another night. And then it began...torch lights blazed through the garden and the sounds of shouting disrupted the peacefulness of the night.  Soldiers & Pharisees, all led by one of their own?  What was happening?  In their panic and confusion, one of them actually wielded a sword but Jesus quickly intervened.  Betrayal by the one & desertion by the rest was His friends' reaction as He was led away. 

Trial after trial He held His ground, refusing to submit to their questioning. Beatings, ridicule, flogging, & mockery were intertwined with more interrogation. A crown of thorns & a purple robe were put on Him in answer to His "crimes" & although He was not judged as guilty, the determined crowd would allow no punishment other than crucifixion.

Beaten mercilessly, to where He was unrecognizable by His own mother, Jesus was made to carry His own cross through the streets where the crowds continued to cheer & mock Him. The nails, the slamming of the cross into the ground, the continual taunting...none of this was yet the worst. Knowing all the while He could have stopped it with a single word, He pressed on. "For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross.."

Finally, the culminating horror occurred. With the sins of the world on Him, separation from the Father brought the ultimate sorrow. He had endured a night of extreme humiliation and unbearable physical pain but this last was the worst. To be torn apart from the Father as He suffered under the weight of our sins was the final & ultimate anguish. It was now finished. He looked toward heaven, having accomplished what He set out to do, & relinquished His spirit to the only one worthy of receiving it...His Father.

What was so good about all that? Friday was horrific... but He knew Sunday was yet to come!

In the time of creation, when God would finished one more days' work, He would say, "It is good." Likewise, I am confident that as Jesus completed His task & provided our reconciliation the Father looked down and said, "It is good."  He took our punishment so that we could be free. "It is good."  Satan has been defeated although he thinks he has won. "It is good."  My creation has been redeemed. "It is good."

On that glorious Sunday, the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive. The new beginning was now in motion. Believe, confess, receive...a new way to God. "It is good."  A new commandment to go into the world and tell others..."It is good." A new future, a new relationship, a new way of life..."It is good." 

Jesus did His part & when He finished the plan it was all good. Our choice is to accept what He did on our behalf...then it will be good for us as well.

What's so good about it?  Everything!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Talk about a "practical" illustration!

We are pet people.  Throughout our marriage we have had dogs, usually at least 2! Then one day I was lamenting about not having had a sweet little kitty since childhood (and if you knew my mom you'd  know how brief a span that was!) and the next thing I knew we were standing in a friend's living room where a tiny little black furball had just adopted my husband. Right away, our 75 pound dog found out who was in charge. It is often quoted that cats were once worshipped as gods in Egypt & they have never relinquished that title. One barely audible hiss followed by a hit-but-miss swipe and from that day on the kitty got a wide berth! This tiny little creature ruled the house & continues to rule to this day, although he is a bit more formidable now that he's over 20 pounds! No matter what other creatures may come and go, human or otherwise, his singular focus never changes...he makes sure he has total access to all things & can be comfortable! Closed doors are out of the question and if you want it "kitty safe" you'd better put it behind cupboard doors or high up without climbable access.

Our Golden Retriever, however, is just the opposite. He could easily scale the baby gates we secure him behind but never tries. He is content just to be where you are, lay at your feet (or in your lap if you'll let him) & follow you around. He isn't a bit possessive, letting the cat eat from his dish at will, and welcoming "intruders" with frantic tail wagging & not so much as a bark (which makes him a miserable excuse for a watchdog!). He loves attention but isn't intrusive about it, & even other dogs are ok if they don't cause a fuss. His enthusiasm in greeting other creatures has at times caused him a few problems, like when he thought a skunk was another "cat friend", and we had to introduce him gently to the folks' wolf but these setbacks were quickly forgotten & he has always remained an easy-going, good natured member of the family!

Now don't go all religious and get offended, but as I was watching our pets yesterday I was struck by how much their behaviors mirror that of many Christians...(note that I said Many and not ALL)! Some Christians are very exclusive and prideful about their "position" thinking that somehow they have earned God's affection & favor. They stay watchful but aloof until they have a need or want to be center of attention and then they are right there. They can be very affectionate, "purring" loudly & allowing you to give them attention, but when they're over it, they're gone. God is akin to their personal assistant - meeting needs, answering prayers, opening & closing doors - but He is noticed more for His doings than His Being! New attendees are immediately taken note of and are ok as long as they don't disrupt the status quo or demand a change or realignment of position. Then the "fur" flies...toes get stepped on and claws come out, literally! Most of the time, these are the Christians who have been saved since childhood or come from "Christian" homes. They know the drill, have the language down, & often have attained position through longevity rather than gifting. You all know who I'm talking about! Don't dare sit in "their" pew or try to insert yourself into one of their domains, even if all you want to do is help!! Some refer to them as pillars, which they can be if their hearts are right, but often they are just rigid signposts, intent on directing & controlling the actions of everyone else in the church, including the pastors!

On the opposite side of the coin is a person who has "Retriever-like" qualities! They are loyal, always right there to support or encourage, and never try to weigh out your intentions. They wait eagerly for assignments & are content to sit for hours just to listen and to be taught. Their agenda is simply to show love to others & be part of the family. They gladly share anything they have or any talent they possesses without hesitation and don't fight for position, even though they may have more training or education than the one in the position. After a brief introduction, they welcome others into "their" church home and easily adapt to changes in routine or environment, including the addition of others to "their" ministry. Exuberance sometimes gets them in trouble...they don't always think things through in their haste to get things done and often make messes that the more mature person would never make, but they are sincerely sorry afterwards & quickly try to make amends, if to do nothing more than apologize. Newer Christians are often like this - excited, always trying to serve and learn, always waiting and wanting to do more! They can make mistakes, in judgment and in execution, & are often criticized by the "seasoned" believers, but their hearts are usually right & more often than not they quickly repent. Their foremost desire is just to sit at their Master's feet and do His bidding. They're just happy to be there!

Well, there you have it. Although I see the good and bad of both our pets, I love them both & our household would not be the same without each of them. As far as the analogy goes, I want to be focused, mature, and unswerving in my intentions to use my gifts & talents regardless of others' criticisms or challenges. I want to be mindful of my position in Christ, never using it as a club but as a beacon. I want to open closed doors and not allow obstacles to derail my calling. I want to be faithful as a pillar, so that others can count on me to complete tasks and fulfill assignments with excellence & efficiency. And I want to always go to God  with my needs, desires, & challenges. On the other hand, I want to always keep a singular focus, not on my comfort, but on my purpose of service to God and worship of God.  I want to easily and graciously accept others into the family, and adjust my position and attitudes accordingly. I don't want to be territorial or possessive - none of it is really mine anyway! I want others to overlook my mistakes and mix mentoring with praise for effort, rather than criticize!  I want to have the good characteristics of each, while minimizing the faults!!!

So there you have it - the practical illustration provided by our family pets with the thought-provoking look at ourselves in their mirror. Take what applies and just smile over the rest. It was just a momentary & personal insight, and you'd have to know our pets to see how really valid the analogy is!!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

There & Back Again!

      This weekend Dan & I went to Seattle. Well, I should say, we were in the general vicinity of Seattle. When asked what we saw while we were there, I had to respond that I saw a coffee shop, a Starbucks, and a hotel room.  The purpose of our trip was that Dan had appointments and a seminar  so we drove up there, he did his business, I read and rested, and then we drove home. Although I am quite sure there are many wonderful things to see and do there we missed all of them because we were just there to do a job...What a shame.
      As I was thinking about it this morning, I was reminded of how many of us live our lives that way. We are constantly "doing our jobs" with single-minded focus. Now there's nothing wrong with being serious and working hard, but we often miss out on lots of wonderful and amazing things that God has provided for us along the way, just because we never take time to put our heads up from the grindstone and breathe! We trudge along, being efficient & getting things done, & never enjoy the journey! I am quite sure this is not how God created us to live.
      I can already hear some of you saying, "But time is short and we have so much to do..." And while that is true, we function a lot better if we take some time to relax, regroup, refresh, & play. A little break from routine and business actually makes us more productive during work time.
A friend that I was visiting was actually talking about this very thing. She and her husband are starting a Sunday night potluck and game night. When she was considering it, she had the typical "no way" reaction first - I won't start my week with everything done...I will have to work harder the rest of the time...etc. But in the final analysis, they decided to go ahead with it anyway. If all we ever do is work, life is boring and we soon feel resentful, not to mention tired!  Ok, so we have to work a little more efficiently and perhaps harder when we are working, but at least we will have something to look forward to - building relationships and just plain having fun! Sounds like a good trade-off to me.
      Another friend was lamenting that the last time she really laughed was so long ago that she can't even recall it! Whoa! I can easily see how we get caught in that kind of rut, but is it God's way? It bring to mind the old song "Is that all there is?"  If work & responsibilities are truly all there is, we are surely a bunch of miserable creatures. God says in His presence is fullness of joy...so what is that saying & how does our witness look if we never experience it? He has surely given us lots of opportunities for fellowship & fun along with the ministry He has chosen for each of us to do. We just have to look around, be a little creative perhaps, & take the time to enjoy each experience. Honestly, He won't be mad at you for a few hours here and there to stop working and take a breather...He knows how badly we all need them!
      Thankfully, we are going to make another trip to Seattle in a month. I know that the work will still require time and effort. But I also intend to make sure that we are there long enough to at least do one special thing while we're up there. It may be a simple thing that doesn't consume lots of time or extra travel, but it will be one fun thing that we get to do together to build those memories & share some fun! 
      So what's the next fun thing on your agenda? If there isn't anything, get busy & find something to add to your schedule. You will be so glad you did, and so will everyone around you!!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Love & Logic Revisited

My school staff is going to attend a seminar entitled "Love and Logic for Educators."  When I asked about attending, although I am only a substitute, the school counselor said, "You already know and apply the principles that will be taught. You are one of very few teachers I have witnessed that has a natural gift for teaching that combines giving and requiring respect, along with teaching responsibility & accountability."  While that made me a little embarrassed, I also realized that the compliment was a tribute to my mentors and parents. Love as a baseline and logic as a method is not a new or complicated method of teaching, parenting, or of building relationships. In fact, it is as ancient and proven as the Bible itself and the first parent, our Father God!

When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them respect, love, & the ability to have unlimited potential to enjoy life. He also gave them boundaries & responsibilities.  When they crossed over the line He didn't punish them in anger, but held them accountable to the choices they had made. He did for them what they could not do, in providing a covering for their sin, and then He initiated protection strategies so that they couldn't further inflict harm on themselves by removing their access to the Tree of Life. I am quite sure it grieved His heart to see the injurious choice they made to give in to temptation, but His love never changed & He knew that without free will to choose they would not be able to have any type of quality relationship with Him. Without choice, they would be no better than "yes men".

Throughout the Scriptures, the principles of respect, accountability, and responsibility are taught. Every Word & every action has consequences. Our choices are truly ours to make, but we also have to accept responsibility for them. Ranting and raving at God or others does not change the fact that we are accountable for what we do and say. In fact, God is going to judge our behavior according to the Word He has given us to follow, so we better know what He requires!

There is an amazing lack of understanding of these principles. Parents have given total control over to their children with staggering consequences. So many of today's kids are disrespectful, challenging, & feel an inappropriate entitlement. Much of this comes from the generation which was taught that we parents should strive to be our children's friends.  What a shame! Because of this ridiculous notion, children have few boundaries and even less respect for elders, authority, or rules. They have been allowed to "express their feelings" in language that should cause them shame, and instead of providing appropriate and safe boundaries, so many parents of today's children arm them with excuses or demands .

It doesn't seem that complicated to me. Take the power back.  Set rules, make boundaries, & lovingly apply appropriate consequences. It doesn't take anger or abuse. It takes consistency and love. Earn respect by being fair & applying rules equally to all. Don't fall into the trap of "grayness" that looks at everything with the lenses of subjectivity. And be willing to stick to your boundaries.

Logic dictates that the punishment fits the crime (Thank you, James Dobson) and disrespect is not allowed. Challenges to authority are met with firm strength and appropriate action. No coddling or rule-bending should be acceptable except as an appropriate response to true repentance.

As an example...when my teens were dating, curfews were flexible but enforced. If we agreed on a time, it was expected that they be in at that time unless a phone call told us that there were some mitigating circumstances beyond their control. If time came and went without their arrival, the next time they went out, their departure was delayed by whatever amount of time they "owed" for being late previously, There was no anger, bartering, screaming, or disrespect. It was just how it was and they honored it (or didn't and paid the price).  That's love and logic. We set the rules for their protection, allowed for exceptions when appropriate, and held them accountable. It was always done in their best interest, and in love. It was how I was raised & I passed it on to them.

So many Christians today also need love & logic training. We want the blessings without the accountability. We scream and disrespect God, blaming Him when things don't go our way, and yet we don't want to follow His "old fashioned, black and white" rules. Faithfulness has given way to convenience & rules are seen as suggestions, only appropriate when they fit our desires. We manipulate and smudge the boundaries God has set, never taking into consideration the love that set them there.  What a shame! Instead of excuses, we should strive for obedience. Instead of whining, we should look for what He is teaching. Instead of demanding, we should be giving thanks & praise for our many blessings. Instead of seeing how close we can get to the edge, we should be running full speed towards our loving God & His protection.

Submission, authority, accountability, obedience, respect, & consequences...not always our favorite words but ones that will guide us, protect us, & grow us up into the loving & "logical"  Christians that God has designed us to become. I know I have a ways to go...Will you choose to grow along with me?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reminder from a Clever Mama


     A man came home from work and found his 5 children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn around the garden. The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog. Walking in the door, he found ...an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over & the throw rug was against one wall.  In the front room the TV was on loudly with the cartoon channel. The family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

    He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls. As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel...

     She looked up at him, smiled and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?'

     She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world do I do all day?...
     ''Yes," was his incredulous reply..
      She answered, 'Well, today I didn't do it.


     Just as this husband didn’t appreciate his wife’s hard work until she stopped doing it, I wonder if we sometimes forget to thank God for holding our worlds together...and how loud we would cry if He let go just for one day!! Today, instead of looking at all the things that are wrong, Thank God for each and every blessing in your life whether it’s big or small. He deserves our grateful praise, rather than always just hearing our list of complaints, needs, and wants!!



**Thanks, Marsha, for sharing this story. I don't know where you got it but it sure makes the point!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hope That Should "Spring Eternal"

            Webster’s Dictionary defines hope as  “a feeling that what is wanted will happen; a desire accompanied by expectation”.  Feelings are emotions that we have when we analyze our circumstances. They change as our situation changes or as our perspective alters. Desires also change because of many different factors. So even though we have expectation that they will come to pass, we are still left to wrestle with which desires we really want and how best to make them a reality. I have lots of desires…for myself, my family, my friends, …but there is very little expectation that they will all be fulfilled. When I cling to Webster’s definitions,  “hope” seems pretty variable & inconsistent. That doesn’t sound like a characteristic God would want to develop in us.
            The world would tell us that hope is like positive thinking…you wish and speak and act as if something is going to come to be & then it will!  You just have to deter negative emotional reactions & anxious thoughts.  Look on the positive…reach for the stars…your dreams are out there – go get them (as a local insurance company encourages us to do).  In fact, I read a very popular book a few years ago that promised me that the universe is just waiting for me to get the right frame of mind so that it can grant all of my desires! Sounds amazing but in the midst of a struggle, positive thinking is hard to do & results are rarely instantaneous, universe at my service or not!  Sure, I’d like to have a magic lamp to rub in a hardship so that my problems would instantly be solved as my wishes are granted, but in spite of the way many Christians pray, God is not our genie and He doesn’t live to grant out petty desires. He has such greater, more intricate plans than we do!
            God does tell us to hope in Him. What does that mean? It means that we lay our lives at His feet, struggles & victories, and we surrender to His plan. We have to realize that the outcome that He is working toward is not our comfort or convenience but our maturity & obedience. Our hope is not in our gifts or even our manipulations but in Him – His abilities, characteristics, & attributes. He is not dependent on anyone or anything other than Himself, & He has it all figured out. We can HOPE in the fact that victory, rather than just success, will come & He is powerful enough to even incorporate my failures into the plan so that there’s never a need for Plan B.
            No matter what your circumstances or situation, HOPE in God. Believe that He has your best interest foremost in His heart. Surrender to His will, knowing that He has ordained only that which leads to Your best, whether you see it or not. Refuse to allow negative energy, emotions, or thoughts to drag your spirit into a state of fear, doubt, anger or unbelief. Wait, watch, & anticipate with expectation of Victory!! He really can do more than we could ever ask or think (Eph. 3:20!)
            Faith, HOPE, & love – the triad of God’s desire for us! That kind of hope is the only kind that should & will “spring eternal”. The question is just whether you will allow it to spring eternal in you!