Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014

     It won't be long now and we will have completed the year 2014, and will begin the year 2015.  Every year has its expectations, whether we label them as such or not. Some of us look ahead at the new year and expect it to be better than the year just completed. Others doubt there is such a thing as a good year. There are some who purposefully choose not to give much thought to what the year ahead may be like because they've done that before and it hasn't turned out well. They figure it's better to just keep plodding along one foot in front of the other, because the year will be what it will be and there's nothing they can do about it! Which one are you?

     I came into 2014 with expectations. I had asked God in January to give me a verse for the year something I could anchor myself to, something to give me an idea of what the new year would hold. I wanted His thoughts on the year 2014 in the life of my family. The verse He gave me was, "Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it." Psalm 37:5.   I was thrilled! I was guaranteed that God was going to do something! He said that He was going to "do it".  I  just had no idea what exactly "it" was!

     I hoped that the "it" God was going to do, was to provide my husband with a full time job with benefits. I knew that he would be finishing up his Master's degree in 2014, and counted on that opening up new job opportunities. As the year wore on, it became more and more clear that this may not be the "it" God was going to do. My husband  applied for jobs, but didn't even get so much as an interview. We were actively committing our way to the Lord, as the verse instructed us to. We were trusting in Him. We were seeking Him and applying for every job that He brought to our attention. Nothing.

     Here's the thing...when you think you know what God's going to do and it doesn't happen, it makes it look like He is on vacation. He wasn't. God was and continues to be so good to us. Every need has been met and continues to be met this year. In fact, He has met our needs with abundance! The furnace broke, the car needed repairs, the bunny died, and there were unexpected bills, but God took care of them. However, these past few years have felt like we are living in limbo. Stuck where we are, wondering where we are supposed to be, and waiting for God to lead us. Even when God is taking good care of you, limbo can be discouraging. In those moments, I wish I could say that I prayed instead of worrying. I wish I could say that I gave thanks instead of grumbling. I wish I could say that I trusted God's timing to be perfect. There were certainly moments when I really did all of those things, but there were plenty of moments when I didn't. In those moments that I didn't, God was SO generous with me. He was generous with His love. When I was frustrated and tired He reached for me in such creative ways.

     God sent me reading materials. These reading materials came in the form of blogs, quotes, book chapters, and notes written on a receipt.  One quote read, "Until God opens the next door, praise Him in the hallway." It's hard to praise Him in the hallway because hallways usually don't have windows. It's easier to praise Him when we can get a peek at what He's up to.

      There were a few times when someone I had never met from one of the ministries we support, hand wrote these words on a receipt: "The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:24.  The words God sent me were always enough to encourage me, to hold me for a while...until the next time. The next time the wait felt long, the next time I got tired of having to figure out how to juggle things, and longed for simpler times. That's when I had the nerve one day to call Him slow. It was a sarcastic remark. My husband had been trying to encourage me that God's timing is perfect and I said, "I know a thousand years is like a day for God, but for me a thousand years is a thousand years!"

     Later that day, I was looking for something to watch on the television when I happened upon a sermon. The sermon was about waiting. I figured it was my spiritual spanking so to speak and since I knew I deserved it, I stopped to listen. I couldn't have been more wrong about why I needed to hear it. The pastor said that God saves His best for those who are willing to wait for Him and trust His wisdom. He also said that if God is with holding an answer to your prayer it's an act of pure sovereign love. Needless to say, I felt terrible that I had the nerve to call God slow and spent some time thanking Him for once again, loving me enough to correct me and to encourage me all at once.

     The verse I received for 2014, was right on. God did "do it". "It" just wasn't what I had hoped for or expected. "It" was so much bigger than that! I was the "it".  What God needed to do had nothing to do with my external circumstances, it had to do with the inside of me. I needed to see His love in the waiting. I needed to see His timing as perfect because His love is perfect. I needed to be reminded regularly this year to rest in Him, abide in Him, and not to try to make my own way. The verse He gave me at the start of this year was the anchor I needed to keep me steady. After seeing His love and mercy for me in the ways He held me when I was frustrated and tired, I can honestly say that when the day comes that our external circumstances change, I really want it to be because God did it. When God is at work in us changing us, it's not easy. It's uncomfortable, frustrating, and sometimes infuriating. Yet who else would you want to entrust that to? Who else would change you with such love, such tenderness, and such mercy?

     I don't look at the year ahead and have expectations. I look at the year ahead with contentment. I am content because I know all I need to know about the year ahead. I know God's there. I know He won't give up on me. I know He loves me. I know that there will be another verse for 2015 that He will use to guide and transform me. Even if that transformation isn't pleasant, I want it. I want it because I trust Him.

     May your 2015 be a year of transformation. "For He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 23:10    Go for the gold and take comfort that He knows the way you take!

    

Monday, December 1, 2014

Be His Love...

     Twice a month I kneel and pray, "Lord please just let me BE your love. Let them feel you tangibly through me, and KNOW that you love them."  Then I go to the church food pantry and pray with the guests and for that hour and a half I am blessed with the gift of being His love. This has become the highlight of my month and one of the joys of my life. He always answers this simple prayer. At first, I was surprised at this but I'm not anymore. What I've learned about God through this experience is that He very much wants everyone to know that He loves them. He wants everyone to be able to experience His incredible love. He will use anyone who is willing as a vessel for His love to flow through...even me.  I also realize that I have endless opportunities to be His love that I never noticed before. This morning my eyes were opened to just one of those opportunities.

     I hate grocery shopping. It really doesn't matter what store, I just hate it. I feel like I am ALWAYS at the grocery store, which makes me hate it even more. If you know my husband, he is partially to blame. His stomach is a bottomless pit. Then there are the kids, my oldest has a hollow leg. She can pick and snack all day long and somehow doesn't look like I ever feed her!  I too am part of the problem. I make grocery lists, buy the groceries, and then return home to find I forgot to put something on the list. So, when I am at the grocery store I have a one track mind. I want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. I have often thought this is why I tend to end up in the line with the blinking light. God must want to teach me patience! That is... I thought this until today.

     Today, I was in the line with the blinking light again! As usual, I started standing on my tip toes (don't laugh, it's not nice to laugh at short people) to see if any other lanes were moving faster. They weren't. As I stood there waiting for a manager to help the lady ahead of me, I couldn't help but notice a few things.  She spoke very little English but seemed to understand the cashier just fine. She had two little boys with her and the hold up was due to her having a W.I.C. check. She kept trying to tell the cashier that she only had eight dollars left after that check to pay for the rest of the food. The cashier would have to stop ringing things up once she reached the eight dollar limit. She didn't have a lot left, but based on what was left she wouldn't be taking home much more than her fruit. As I stood there for what seemed like forever, the Holy Spirit whispered the words, "You pay for it " to me.  To which I replied, "But I don't know her, and I've never done anything like that before."  Then I heard Him say again, "You pay for it and tell her I love her."  Now, I understood.  This was an opportunity for God to let someone else tangibly feel His love.

     The manager came, the light was turned off, and I paid for her remaining food. At first she didn't understand until the cashier explained it to her. Just when I was feeling really awkward and uncertain, the woman began to cry. She walked over to me and gave me a huge hug, and I was able to say to her "God loves you." As the words came out, she shook her head yes. She understood.  This was the joy of my day! Today, I LOVED the grocery store!

  I share all of this because it's the first time I realized that I need to pray the prayer I pray before food pantry, every single day! It makes me wonder how many opportunities to be His love I have missed. Every time we come in contact with another human being, we have an opportunity to BE His love! Think about that for a moment. Now ask yourself, how many times in the course of just one day do you come in contact with another human being? If you're like me, it happens quite a bit at places like home, the grocery store, the post office, church, work, or your children's sports activities. That's a lot of people and a lot of opportunities!

     Right now we find ourselves in the season of giving. We just finished Thanksgiving and are headed to Christmas. What greater gift can we give than to be God's love to a hurting world? So many times we feel spent, like we have nothing to offer or we aren't fit for God to do anything with. It's not true. If we belong to Him, the Bible says that we have "this treasure in earthen vessels". (2 Corinthians 4:7) We are those earthen vessels and He is the treasure. We may only be made of earth, but we are still vessels. That's just it...that's all He needs. He needs a vessel, and the vessels He has chosen to use are us. If He could use me today, He can use you. There was nothing special about me. I was just a vessel He used to love someone. It only requires being available and obedient.

     I am excited to go to the grocery store again...okay maybe that's a stretch! Let me rephrase. I can't wait to spend the rest of this month asking Him to let me be His love. I look forward to seeing Him answer that prayer wherever I go because I know His love is the greatest gift that I could ever have poured out of this earthen vessel into the lives of others. Will you join me during this season of giving? Will you pray this same prayer each day and be a vessel that God can use to love others? Be warned, He may ask you to say or do things that are uncomfortable, but I promise you it will be the joy of your life!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Darkness...

     There is something soothing, something peaceful about darkness at the end of the day. When night falls, I know rest is coming and I don't mind the darkness.  There are also times when darkness isn't soothing. Sometimes it seems as though darkness is chasing you and you run for fear of being swallowed whole. This kind of darkness can come through the evil of this world, the darkness in the souls of others, grief, and depression to name a few. How we face the darkness can make all the difference. How we teach our children to face the darkness now, will shape how they face it on their own in the future.

     We have had some bouts of darkness this past week. There have been moments when I have wanted to get rid of all communication with the outside world and just be left alone. I can't. The kids have been with me and witnessed the same darkness and I have to show them what to do. I have to set an example. We've experienced the darkness of family members who use their words as weapons to destroy each other. This week has brought the darkness of grief as we have said goodbye to a special place full of precious memories and a beloved pet. Our community continues to experience the darkness of a suspected murderer running loose in the area. Six weeks of searching and the police still can't catch him. Helicopters hovering low over our homes, schools closed, and Halloween cancelled...people shaking with the darkness of fear and the last reported citing of him was not far from our home! So how do I show the kids how to face darkness?

     I must teach them to stay in the Light. Notice, I didn't say run into the Light. I said STAY in the Light. in John 8:12 Jesus says, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."  They need to stay connected to Christ, consistent in spending time with Him, and continuously following Him in their daily lives.  To run into the Light would mean that we were far enough away from Him to necessitate a mad dash to safety. If we STAY in the Light we are never so far away that we need to run from the darkness.

     If we stay in the Light then we become vessels for that Light to shine through in this dark world. I can show my children how to be the Light of Christ, and how to bring the comfort of His light into other people's darkness, by doing so myself. It's easier to look the other way. It's easier to hide, than it is to see a person who is a walking disaster and plow straight into their mess. Some people's messes are so big that it's like watching someone in a pit of mud, in the dark of night, unable to see or get solid footing to stand up and walk out. They just keep slipping, sliding, rolling in it. Do we stand on the sidelines for fear of being swallowed by the darkness and getting dirty, or do we climb in after them and lift them out? Why fear darkness and filth if we have been staying in the Light? If Jesus is the Light and we are following Him, then we have the Light of life with us to penetrate the darkness and to illuminate the lives of others who are trapped in it. My children need to know that it is important not to run away from those struggling in the darkness. Instead, I must show them how to run to them, bringing the Light that is Christ.

     If we stay in the Light there is no need to fear the darkness. Psalm 27:1 says, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?" Then there is Psalm 91:1 "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty."  Is there any safer place to be? Is there any safer place to be than in the shelter of the Most High, hidden in His shadow? That is where we are when we stay in the Light...hidden in His shadow and sheltered. The world can freak out around us but we will be at peace knowing that He has us in His grip. The only way to teach my children to stay in the shelter of the Most High is to do it myself, because if I stay sheltered then God's peace and presence will fill me and flow through me to them and they will feel safe. Then they will know what I know...God knows where the suspected murderer is. The police may not, but God does. There is no darkness so dark that God cannot see. Psalm 139:10-12 puts it this way, "If I say surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night, even the darkness is not dark to You, and the light is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You."
   
     To stay in the Light is to carry around in our very being the treasure that is Christ. " For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves." 2 Corinthians 4:6-7.  When we carry around in our "earthen vessels" the Light that is Christ, we carry the power of Christ within us. Christ is the answer...has always been the answer. Christ is the answer to how we face the darkness. He is the answer that I want my girls to see in how I face darkness. I want them to see that the Light is always more powerful than any darkness that we face.

    We all experience darkness from time to time. We can choose to hide from it, run from it, or participate in it. We can also choose to face it and bring the light that is Christ into the midst of it. My prayer is that God will help me to respond to the darkness by bringing His light and that as my girls witness this, they will know what to do when darkness comes. What about you? What darkness do you face today? Don't face it alone. Stay in the Light!







Friday, October 3, 2014

Insecurity...

   Sometimes there are things that God nudges me to share that I don't want to. We have discussed this blog for two days now and He has been persistent! I have learned through the years not to continue digging my heels in when God nudges me to do something. Now, if I could only learn not to dig my heels in at all! Did you hear that? That was my husband saying Amen!

     There are a few reasons why I don't want to write about insecurity. First, it's deeply personal and second, I am still in the process of understanding it and working through it. I would much rather write when I feel I can be helpful because I have finished going through something. So, here is my disclaimer: I am a work in progress and I don't have this problem of insecurity figured out. What I share today will only be my journey and the conclusions that I have reached so far. I haven't met a person yet who doesn't have some level of insecurity. Most likely you have some of your own. Be thankful that God isn't asking you to blog about them!

     There are all kinds of insecurities. We can feel insecure about ourselves in a general sense. We can feel insecure about our finances, our abilities, or our futures. Insecurity can even effect some parts of our lives and not others. There are some people whose whole lives are marked by insecurity. I thought that I had gotten past some of my insecurities until about a month ago. God used a book I was reading to bring an area of insecurity to my attention. It made me really uncomfortable. I learned that I was still allowing some of the hurts from the past to make me feel insecure and to hinder me in the present. As uncomfortable as the realization initially was, after a while it felt a little bit like a relief. I now understood the REAL reason why I am the way I am in certain situations, instead of buying the excuses that I had made for myself. Let me explain...

    I was bullied all through junior high school. You name it, I was made fun of for it. My parents had just moved us from New Jersey to Pennsylvania the summer before seventh grade. I was the new kid so I was bullied. I didn't have the latest name brand clothing, so I was bullied. Once they figured out I was a Christian, I was bullied. In fact, the girl who bullied me the most, had a locker right next to mine and she was a Satanist. My parents solution was to tell me to "kill them with kindness". How do you kill a Satanist with kindness?  I was bullied for being too chubby, too ugly. I was bullied for not having a boyfriend. I was bullied for being terrible at sports. I was bullied for having a giant red duffle bag instead of a backpack, that my mother wouldn't let me return to the store! When they ran out of options they started rumors that I was gay, of course I wasn't really gay. Being gay was unacceptable then, so when I went to lunch I sat alone because everyone else moved to the other end of our assigned tables. It became so upsetting that I didn't eat and my parents called the guidance counselor, who called me into his office and said, "toughen up kid it's a cruel world". You would think that I could find refuge at my church youth group, but I did not. The kids there either ignored me or made it known that they disliked me.  I learned quickly to accept any token of friendship I could get, and most of them came from the other kids that were being bullied. These are all of the things that God has shown me, still effect me.

     I thought I was passed it. I certainly hadn't thought about it in years. In fact, I have often credited God with using it to mold me into who I am today. Being bullied taught me to listen with compassion. It taught me to put myself in other people's shoes. Being bullied, taught me that we are all broken and we waste time pretending that we have it all together. No one has it all together. We are all a work in progress. Yet, God has shown me that there is this other part of me that He needs to make whole. There is a way in which being bullied has left me with lasting insecurity that only He can get rid of. Being bullied still effects me in social situations, specifically when I have to meet new people or find myself in a large group. I am only surprised that I wasn't able to connect the dots with these things before. I now know that I have made excuses instead. Excuses like, "That's just my personality, I'm not as out going as my husband" or " I don't like making small talk" and " I don't speak unless I have something to say".

    God has shown me that I don't like introducing myself to new people or having conversations with people I don't know well because I am insecure. I don't consciously do it, but I somehow assume that I won't have anything interesting to say. God has shown me that I don't like spending time in large group settings like wedding receptions or potluck dinners because I don't want to make conversation.  Somewhere along the line I have accepted the idea that I don't have anything worth saying, they won't like what I have to say, or they may talk to me for a little while but will soon get bored. So, I avoid these things if I can. If I can't avoid them, then I tend to make sure that I have someone with me who is the life of the party so that I can just tag along and hover in the background. God is in the process of showing me how this can be a hindrance. See, I may feel insecure about myself in some ways, but I feel very secure about myself in others.

     I know who I am in Christ. I know the things that He has gifted me with. I know that anything He asks me to do, He equips me to do it. I know that He loves me just as I am. I am secure in using the gifts that He has given me. I am secure in sharing Christ with others.  Wait....there is the hindrance. I can share Christ with others and I have done it, but this insecurity in large groups and in meeting new people...it slows the process. There may be people that God wants me to share His love with and I may miss the opportunity because of my own insecurity. I may miss the opportunity because I have become too comfortable hovering in the background and making excuses for myself. So what do I do?

     This is the question that I keep asking God and this is the part not yet finished. You see, before now I didn't know I had a problem and so it didn't bother me. Now, I want it fixed...like yesterday! Yet, it's been my experience that God is all about the journey....and journeys are long!   Right now, I am asking God to heal my broken places because I don't want my insecurities to cause me any more missed opportunities. I have no idea what that healing will look like, and I don't care. I just want to be whole...to be completely who God is making me to be and I don't want this to stand in the way.

     There it is! I did it. God can't bug me anymore today to blog about this! All joking aside, we all have insecurities. The question is do we want to continue in them or do we want to be set free and made whole? You may never have to share yours with anyone the way that I just shared mine, but what good does it do to keep it to yourself? Remember, no one really has it all together!  Can we do this together? Will you journey with me and ask God to expose your insecurities and how they are hindering you? After He exposes them, will you invite Him to heal your broken places and set you free?  Free, free to be who He says we are, to do what He calls us to do, and to go where He calls us to go. 

      

    

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fear or Faith?

     What do you tell your children when the world around them is freaking out? How do you tell them that they can't play outside because there is a madman who shot a police officer on the loose? How do you let them know that it will be okay when helicopters are circling over head, state police cars are whizzing by, and swat teams are on their way? How do you quiet your own heart in the midst of the chaos and the heartache of a broken world?

     The answer is so very simple and yet profound. Point them to the God of the universe. Remind yourself and remind them that He is so much more powerful than the evil in this world. He knows where the madman is hiding even when we don't. Remind them, remind yourself, of all that He has done.

     Tell them about God who lead Gideon into battle with very few men and a lot of strategic noise.  God, who parted the Red Sea for the Israelites and caused it to swallow up their enemies. God who trained David in the fields so that he could defeat giant Goliath with some stones and a sling shot.  God, who raised Christ from the dead and conquered sin and death for all time. Surely the madman in the woods is nothing for this God of ours!

    Don't forget to teach them to pray. Prayer is one of our most powerful weapons. It reaches through walls, across roads, into the woods and beyond.  Tell them that if we pray for the madman, the police officers, and our community God will use these prayers to execute justice, provide protection, and transform hearts. Our hearts will be transformed...

     Prayer will provide us with God's eyes to see clearly. What we see will likely break our hearts but it will also change us. Instead of a madman, we will see a lost soul in need of a Savior. We will recognize him as someone's son and someone's brother. Our fears will subside and we will get a glimpse of the burden of what it must be to be this young man's parents. Parents waiting in disbelief. Parents waiting in fear and anguish knowing that every officer available is out there gunning for their son.
 
     As we continue to teach our children to pray though this we will likely be praying for the officers out there searching for this young man. This may bring up further questions and concerns about the officers getting hurt or killed in the process. Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves and the kids that when we walk with God we never walk alone. If He allows pain, injury, or death to touch us He will help us through. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. So we can pray for the officers that God will never leave their side and will surely see them through. As we pray we will surely be reminded of the officer who was buried today and once again our hearts will break as we consider is wife and two children. Again, may our prayers be transformative as we ask God to hold them in the palm of His hand, and answer the deep down gut wrenching question of why that will surely surface in time to come.

     This has been our struggle this week. What do you do in the face of circumstances that you never thought you would face?  As the week has worn on I have come to this conclusion: If I choose to live in fear then I am saying that my God is small and His power is limited. This is not what I want to teach my children. If I choose to take my natural fears to God in prayer then I am taking steps of faith. Faith says my God is big and His power is limitless. Given the current events at home in the United States and in the world, I think that pointing my girls to our all powerful God in prayer is the best way to equip them for the challenges that will likely face their generation.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Recognized...

     The definition of the word recognize according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is to know and remember (someone or something) because of previous knowledge or experience. Some people are more recognizable than others. They may be more recognizable because we have seen them on television or because we have shared an experience with them before. Some people are recognizable because of their out-going, life of the party personality. Others may be recognizable because they have a distinct voice or accent. It's easy to recognize a soldier by his uniform, just as it is a police officer, a doctor, or a fireman. How do people recognize you? Maybe a better question to ask is how do people identify you?

     We live in a world where identity is often wrapped up in appearance, occupation, and personality. Yet there is a lot more to a person than their appearance, occupation, and personality. After all, who would want to be identified by only one or two traits? Yet we do it all the time when we try to describe one person to another. She's the blonde over there, he's the best doctor in town, she's the strong willed child in the family.  There are things that we don't reveal in the limited descriptions we give to identify others. The blonde is a blonde because she is a hair dresser who likes to experiment with color. The doctor is not only the best doctor in town, he is a devoted husband and father. That strong willed child is also the smartest most driven kid in school. Adding more words to our descriptions gives a more accurate identification and makes the person we are talking about more recognizable. 

     Some of us want to be recognizable. Perhaps it's because we want people to know who we are or we want to feel special. Maybe it's simply that we want to be noticed or feel set a part in some way that distinguishes us from others. There are those of us who prefer to blend in. We are perfectly content hanging out in the back of a room unnoticed and left alone with our thoughts. We don't care to be recognized. We have no desire to be set apart in some way that distinguishes us from others. We are already aware that we are different and that is why we hope to blend in...so that others won't notice. Which one are you? 

     I have been thinking a lot lately about two recognizable men that I read about in the book of Acts. In Acts chapter four Peter and John were thrown in jail by the religious leaders of their day for preaching Christ and proclaiming His resurrection from the dead. The religious leaders threw them in jail and then decided to question them. They asked "By what power, or in what name have you done this?" Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak. In the course of his speech he said that it was by the name of Jesus Christ. This is not what has given me pause for reflection. This is merely Peter identifying himself with Christ. Verse thirteen is what caught me. It reads, "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus."

     These religious leaders recognized Peter and John as having been with Jesus. They were the same religious leaders that were around when Jesus walked the earth. They had experienced Jesus for themselves. They were able to recognize Peter and John as having been with Jesus because of their confidence and their speech. Peter and John were no longer untrained and uneducated men, that was their former identity. Spending time with Jesus had changed them so much, that even after He had returned to be with the Father they were recognized as having been with Him.  They had a new identity. They had been identified with Christ.

     This segment of Scripture has me asking myself a few very important questions. Do others recognize Jesus when they spend time with me? Have I spent enough time in His presence that my identity has changed? There have been people in my own life that I have spent time with, who remind me so much of Jesus that I felt as though I was in His presence when I was spending time with them. He was so recognizable in their life that I could identify Him in every aspect. What about you? Do others recognize Jesus when they spend time with you?  Have you spent enough time in His presence that your identity has changed?

     Just as Peter and John were recognized as having been with Jesus, we must be also. We may be the only chance someone gets to experience Jesus. There is nothing else worth being recognized for and this is no time to try and blend in. Our world is breaking. People are hurting. They need Jesus. Will they recognize Him in you? Will they be able to identify you as someone who belongs to Him? Will spending time with you spark a desire in their heart to spend time with Him?

    

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Community...

     There are quite a few things that have me thinking these days. At first glance they seem like odds and ends that are not connected, but I am beginning to think they truly are connected.  What is it that connects living water, Iraq, and Robin Williams? Community.

     On Sunday one of our Pastors spoke about living water. I am sure that there was a lot more to be gleaned from the sermon than what I gleaned from it, but this is what I walked away with: Christ is living water. When I am filled with Christ, His life flows out of me into the lives of others and this is the living water.  Living water is refreshing, pure, and it brings life. If I am not filled with Christ and drawing from His living water, then whatever it is that I am filled with is what flows out of me. If what I am filled with is something like sin or muddy water, then that is what I am pouring into the lives of others.

     The sermon reminded me that our lives touch the lives of others. We are given an opportunity with every person we encounter, even if it is only a brief encounter. We have an opportunity to refresh them or to contaminate them. It's easy to think of ourselves as individuals and to forget that are lives touch the lives of others. We are a part of a community. Schools, churches, towns, and cities are all communities. One of the definitions of a community is " a society at large".  If this is the case, then our world is a community.

     With everything that is going on in the world today I have to wonder, how much do we care about this community? It's easy to look at the problems of the world and feel overwhelmed. It's easy to think that anything that we could say or do to help would just be insignificant in light of the world's problems...but is that true?  If you and I believe in Christ and are filled with His living water, wouldn't pouring it out make a difference?  Do you think that if we shared this living water with just one person, it would change the world? What if someone had shared Christ, the Living Water with Robin Williams? Would he have been set free from all the chains that bound him? Would he have been filled with the joy of the Living God who loved him rather than the depths of despair from the pit of hell? Would he be here with us today, alive?  If sharing this living water would refresh just one more soul and free just one more captive, then what do you think it would do for the Islamic Extremists and those they persecute in Iraq?  Could God use His life flowing out of us who belong to Him, to change a nation? Could He use His life flowing out of us to bring Islamic Extremists to their knees in repentance and end the persecution of thousands of our fellow Christians?  I believe He can. All we have to do is ask.

     I think it's time to stop reading the headlines and feeling overwhelmed or disconnected. Instead, I plan to take the headlines to God in prayer and ask Him to show me how I can pour out this living water that He has poured into me. I know for certain that one way He can do this is through prayer. Prayer changes things. I may not be able to travel to Iraq but I can pray for Iraq and its people faithfully. I may not be able to do anything for Robin Williams right now, but I can pray for his family. I can also ask God to use me to share His love and His life with others who struggle with depression. Not everyone thinks of prayer as a way of taking action. There are people that look at prayer as if it is a passive, easy way out of doing something more substantial.  For those who may think this way I would like to share  some thoughts from S. D. Gordon's book Quiet Talks on Prayer: "The power loosened through prayer is tremendous and may not touch just one spot but wherever in the whole round world you may choose to turn it. Our prayer is God's opportunity to get into the world that would shut Him out. Prayer puts us into direct dynamic touch with the world. We can do nothing of real power until we have done the prayer thing."

     We live in a community called the world. True, it's a huge community with more problems than we can number, but it's our community and we can change it one person at a time. All we need is Christ the Living Water flowing through us into the lives of others. If we ask Him He will show us with each person we come into contact, what that looks like. We have to ask first... and asking requires prayer. Prayer is the beginning of unleashing the rivers of living water and as the Pastor put it this Sunday, "changing the landscape" of our community...our world.
    

    

    

     


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Different Lens...

     "Who do I look like, Mom? You or Dad?" she asked. "I think you look quite a bit like Dad did when he was your age," I said.  To which she replied, " Why do I have to look like Dad, I want to look like you!" It's this last sentence in our conversation that has me considering the lens through which we view ourselves.

     I was trying to answer her question as accurately as I could. It is true that she looks very much like her Dad when he was her age, but it is also true that she has my eye and hair color. I suppose I could have been more specific and pointed out which features she shared with each parent, but I didn't. It's the difference between really paying attention to detail and just taking a glance.

     The words "I want to look like you!" really took me by surprise especially since my girl and I have very different styles. She's made it known in prior conversations that she doesn't want to be "plain" like me. I never let it offend me, I want her to be herself and I have been called "plain" many times before. Her words made me think about the lens through which I have viewed myself. In that moment I realized that the lens she currently views me through is different than the one that I view myself through.  I view myself through the lens of "plain".  Then I began to wonder when did that become my lens? Was it always my lens or was it handed to me by others through their words?

     More often than not we tend to view ourselves through the words of others. Words are a kind of lens. The words that others offer us can encourage us, help us grow in the strengths that we already have, and inspire us to greatness. They can also tear us down, make us feel inadequate, and deprive us from dreaming big because we think we are only mediocre. Words can be general and words can be specific. General words are the words we use when we are viewing ourselves or others at a glance. Specific words are the ones we use when we are paying attention to detail.

   After pondering all of this, I realized how my words give my daughter a lens through which to view herself and it scares me. It scares me because I know that the only lens I want her to see herself through is God's lens. His is the only one that matters because it is the most accurate. Here I sit typing about God's lens being the only one that matters for my daughter...and this mother is the one who needs the reminder! This must be the reason God gave me kids, to bring Him into focus!

     If words are a kind of lens through which we view ourselves, then what does God's Word say about us?  If we belong to Him, what does He see when He looks at us? How is the way He sees us different than the way we see ourselves?  Here are some things that come to mind as I think about this: All-knowing God, looks at us through the eyes of unconditional love. He knows our failures and imperfections, yet He looks at us and loves us anyway. He knows our brokeness but when He looks at us, He sees us whole. He knows the ugliness of our sins but when He looks at us, He sees our purity. God views us through the lens of eternity. He sees who we were, who we are now, who we are becoming, and who we will be all at the same time.  If we were to be honest, we'd have to admit that our lens and God's lens are very different. The lens through which we view ourselves is probably most like the lens of a microscope. A microscope focuses on one thing and magnifies it until it's big enough to see in great detail. Isn't that what most of us do with our flaws and the flaws of others? How do we change this?

     The only way to change this is to ask God to help us to see ourselves and others through His lens. After we have exchanged our lens for His, our view will be more accurate and so will the words that we speak to ourselves and to others.  Instead of zooming in on imperfections, we will see through the lens of God's love. God's love sees the whole picture.  I don't know about you, but I want to make a conscious effort to look through God's lens. I know that doing so will provide me with His words of life, love, and hope for myself and others.

   

    

    

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Hard Places...

     Sometimes God requires us to go to the hard places. He may even lead us there more often than we like. We can choose to go willingly, reluctantly, or not at all. If we go willingly it is easier to enjoy His company and to feel His presence with us. If we go reluctantly, it may leave us feeling alone. If we choose not to go at all we will miss an opportunity for personal growth, possible healing, and potential joy.

     For over a year now God has brought me to the same hard place. In the beginning I went willingly because it was easy for me to see the importance of going. In recent months I have gone less often and reluctantly. Where is this hard place, you ask?  My hard place is the home of my Aunt and my Cousin. It used to be the place that I spent time with my Grandmother. That is why it is a hard place.

     In the beginning it was easy to willingly go. I was needed and I saw it is an opportunity to share God's love with my family. As time passed and things settled down it became more difficult. My Aunt moved into Grammy's old bedroom because of her health issues. This meant that when I went to visit my Aunt I would sit next to her bed in the same spot I used to visit with Grammy.  There were many times that I would return home from visiting my Aunt and have nightmares when I went to sleep. In those nightmares, I was reliving Grammy's last moments in that room. This is when my reluctance to go to the hard place began. I would go but not as often. Although I no longer have those nightmares, in their place I feel a heavy blanket of sadness.

     There have been times in recent months when I have felt prompted to go and visit my family and have chosen not to. I've come to God with excuses such as, "I'm too busy" or "Maybe next week". Visiting a few times a month has turned into visiting once a month, until yesterday.  Yesterday I didn't make excuses, I went. I still felt the same sadness but God showed me something important about the hard places yesterday. He used my Aunt and my cousin's daughter to do it.

      Sometimes you have to visit the hard places for a long time in order to see God at work and experience the joy.  During my visit yesterday my Aunt turned to me and said, "I always enjoy our visits. I like it when you come."  When Grammy was living I didn't have much of a relationship with my Aunt because she was very sick and slept a lot. God has used my Grandmother's death and our visits to draw us together. I didn't fully realize just how close together He had drawn us until our time together yesterday. Somehow during a year and half's worth of visits God has made me her confidant.  I now have the privilege and the joy in the midst of the hard place, of sharing hopes and fears with her. We get to do life together. If God had not helped me continue to go to the hard place I would have missed all of this.

     In addition to visiting my Aunt in the hard place, I have spent time with my Cousin and her kids there. I had spent time with them even when Grammy was living. However, since her death the kids have drawn closer to my kids and we have become a safe place for them to land. Yesterday her oldest began asking me questions about God. We've had conversations about Him before but this time was different. She is really searching and confused because of some recent conversations that she's had with a Jehovah's Witness. What if I had continued to resist going to the hard place? I would have missed the opportunity to share Christ and the truth of His Word with her. He would have sent someone else but I would have missed out on the joy of pointing her in His direction. These things that happened yesterday make going to the hard places worth it.
  
     We all have hard places. What is your hard place? Is it work? Church? The home of a difficult family member? Your own home?  As long as God keeps bringing you there, keep going. Ask Him to do what He needs to do in and through you in that hard place. It's easy when we're in a hard place to dwell on how painful it is to be there, but if we could only have eyes to see what God is doing we would go willingly rather than reluctantly. Because we are human and our understanding is finite, it often appears as if He is doing nothing and there is no point in our sacrifice or suffering. Yet if we could see through the eyes of eternity we would know better. He is always at work. He is always up to something. It's our choice. Will we only go with Him to the easy places or will we let Him walk us through the hard places, willing to be a part if His plan even if it hurts?  Maybe the questions we need to ask ourselves are this: Is the suffering and the sacrifice of going to the hard places worth it if God can use it to point just one person to Christ? Is it worth it if it brings His love, His hope, and His healing into someone else's life and in the process our own? 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Family...

     I left my heart in Kentucky. It sounds like the verse of a bad country song, doesn't it?!  While not totally true, I think a piece of me is still there and maybe always will be. A week and a half ago I was in Kentucky and I met some of my family for the first time.  I went with all of my preconceived ideas and they shot them right out of the water much like they shoot other things down South! I came home with memories I will treasure and a more accurate sense of where my Grandparents came from. I also came home with a greater appreciation for family.

     Great Aunt Mary has lived in Kentucky all of her life. She is my Grandmother's sister. She is the only one out of her eleven other siblings that is still living. She's been through a lot in her eighty four years on this earth. When we first stood face to face, she took me by the shoulders and said, " I'm the only one left. The only one left of Mommy and Daddy's kids."  I saw the sadness and the loneliness in her eyes and acknowledged that this was a very difficult place for her to be in, the last one living.

     During our time together I received long spontaneous hugs. No one has squeezed me that tight since Grammy was living. Great Aunt Mary doesn't say much but when she speaks it's worth listening to. One conversation began with her saying, " One year Daddy died and the next nine of us kids stood in the same cemetary and buried Mommy. We left with no where to go." A day later I would stand in that same spot in front of my Great Grandparent's grave and feel the weight of those words. They took me back in time and gave me an appreciation for the women Great Aunt Mary and Grammy would become.  She also spoke of a brother long gone who had done some unspeakable things to his siblings. He was the same brother who badly beat my Grandmother. Great Aunt Mary's words were, "I forgave him. I just hope he came to know the good Lord before he passed. I'd like to see him someday." Wow. 

     Great Aunt Mary isn't entirely alone. Her daughter lives with her. She also has two nephews that travel to visit her from far away, several times a year. Charlie and Bob claim that she was always like a second mother to them. Her response to that," Well, I lived right by them. They was always over my place. My kids and my brother's kids always played together. We shared everythin'. What one of us had the other one had."

     "What one of us had the other one had."  Those words have stuck with me for a few reasons. First, because this is backwoods Kentucky. These people are poor but instead of holding tightly to what they have they share it. Second, because my Grammy always said those same words when she was about to share with one of us. Finally, because I can't help but think that this is what the family of God should be like.

     It's this final thought that has really grabbed a hold of me lately. There is no reason for anyone to be in need if we all share what God has given us. If I have food then you should have food even if that means I give you some of mine. The truth is it really wasn't mine to begin with...it came from God. He provides for me. It's this way with family relationships too. There is no need for anyone to be lonely. If God has poured out His love in our hearts and made us a a part of His family, then we need to let it spill out into the lives of others. Family doesn't  just have to be the word we use to describe the people who are biologically related to us. God makes other kinds of families too. The Bible says He sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:6)  God has certainly set some precious people in my life throughout the years. He has enlarged my family and by doing so enlarged my heart.

     I'll leave you with these final thoughts. It doesn't matter to God whether we have little to share or an abundance. What matters is that we share it because it was never really ours to begin with. It all belongs to Him. Sharing isn't always about material things. God wants us to share the love He's given us. God may want to make your family bigger. For some of us this can be a scary thought because sharing life with others makes us vulnerable. As one who used to be afraid, I can tell you it's worth it.  There is no greater joy than loving someone like they are your own flesh and blood, simply because God brought them to you and placed them in your family. Look around you. Who can you share with? Who is it that God keeps bringing to your door? Could it be that He wants you to be their family?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Inspired...

     She was laying down on the floor in front of the altar at the start of the worship service. She was so still for so long that we wondered if she was breathing. At her age, it was possible that something had gone wrong. Do we walk up, kneel beside her and check for a pulse? Or would that make a scene? What if she was really worshiping and not having a medical problem? She was just so still...and she wasn't quite kneeling or bowing...she was laying down.

     I sat down in my seat and began to pray for the woman just in case she wasn't well. I figured she must have started out down there worshiping so I asked God if she was well, to bless her time spent there at the altar with Him. My husband decided to quietly walk up and ask one of the Pastors if the woman on the floor was okay. He explained our concerns. The Pastor assured him that she was fine.  A few minutes later the woman got up and moved to the floor in front of the first row of chairs and knelt there worshiping.

     She captured my attention in those moments. What she did was beautiful. She had lost track of all that surrounded her and was clearly enjoying the presence of her Savior. More than a few times I couldn't help but glance her way. Once, I saw her jumping up and down and clapping to the verse of a song we were singing. It was the verse that spoke about Christ returning. How precious to see her joy at the thought of His return. She was so full of it she couldn't be still!

     I spoke to her after church and told her how incredibly blessed I was by her obedience to worship God in the way that He had moved on her heart to. Tears came to her eyes as she quickly gave God the glory and spoke about how she just wants to be where He wants her to be and to do what it is He wants her to do. I don't know how old she is, but she is elderly. During my conversation with her I just kept thinking I hope I am like her when I am her age!

     I hope that if I live long enough to be considered old, that I am as full of God's love and life as she is! I don't want to spend my days in later years sitting around waiting to go to heaven. I want to be like her...manifesting heaven on earth, living for the glory of God, eager to joyfully serve, and quick to bow before Him.  I have been inspired!

    

Friday, June 6, 2014

Still...

     It's hard to be still...for some of us more than others I suspect! I am not referring to sitting still or an absence of physical activity. I am talking about being inwardly still. When was the last time your mind was still? When was the last time your soul was still? Do you remember what that felt like? What did you gain by being still?

     Being still is usually not a problem for me. However, these past few weeks I have been having a hard time with it. My mind wanders to what must be done not only now but in a few weeks or months from now. Sometimes I find it wandering to pieces of conversations I have had with my husband about his ongoing job search. I end up researching areas of interest to him. For example, if he has spotted a job he can apply for in Lancaster, Pennsylvania then I must learn all I can about Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (This is just an example he has not applied in Lancaster, Pa!)

     Last week my mind was wandering between many different things. It wandered between the end of the school year things that I had to finish up for the kids, summer trips, watching my niece in July, finding a new piano teacher in the fall, and the job search.  One night I laid in bed praying about how overwhelmed I felt, and that no matter how hard I tried to be still I couldn't. I was so frustrated! During the night I had a dream. It wasn't anything spectacular, but it was God's way of getting my attention. In the dream I was a little girl in the church that I grew up in. I was sitting on the floor in a Sunday school classroom making something that was needed for VBS. While I was busy crafting I was humming the hymn "Be Still My Soul".  I woke up from my dream and tried really hard to remember the words to that hymn but I couldn't. Thankfully I have an old hymnal and was able to look it up. Here are some of the words: "Be still, my soul the Lord is on thy side! Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; Leave to thy God to order and provide. In every change He faithful will remain.  Be still, my soul thy best, thy heavenly Friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. Be still my soul, thy God doth undertake to guide thy future as He has the past; Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake. All mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul. The waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below."

     It brought tears to my eyes when I read it. Sometimes the only one who can still your soul is your Savior. He knows what words and what ways are necessary to get to the root of the issue. My mind wandering was the symptom of a larger issue. The larger issue was that while I was not worried about the future, I was caught up in wondering about the future. How will I get all these things done? How will watching my one year old niece for four days straight work out? What if I don't, who will they get to take care of her?  Should I start searching for a piano teacher now or wait until the fall? What if a future job means a relocation, then I may want to wait on the piano teacher? What kind of job might God have for my husband? When will He lead us to it and how will we know? Wondering made my mind wander.  In all of my wondering I was unable to be still because I forgot that all of those questions have one answer...God. God knows. "Leave to thy God to order and provide." The future may bring change but God doesn't change. "In every change He faithful will remain." He will lead us in the future just as He has in the past."Thy God doth undertake to guide thy future as He has the past."
      Sometimes we do ourselves more harm than good by trying to figure things out, or even in just letting our anticipation and curiosity get the best of us! If you are struggling to be still I want to encourage you to go to God and ask Him for help. When we are still our souls are at rest. There is no sense of urgency to get it all done or to figure it all out. Being still is simply letting go and letting God order our days, walking with Him hand in hand wherever He decides to lead us. Being still is relying on His strength and His leading to do what it is He wants us to do, whether it's the every day things or future things. Being still is to remember "The waves and winds still know His voice."


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Drawn...

     Drawn...like a moth to a flame. There are times in life when we feel the pull so strongly that we can't help but be drawn to whatever or whoever the force is. Our curiosity is piqued. Our senses are heightened. We can't explain it. We are just compelled to head right to that which has captivated us. Those around us may not understand. They may even express concern. Still, we push forward compelled to see what lies just over the horizon. Being drawn is also a  part of the great adventure of following Christ.

     My husband and I find ourselves back in the season of uncertainty. He will receive his Master's degree in the mail in a few weeks and then what? We have no idea what God has planned. The only thing we know for sure is that it will involve applying for jobs. We don't know what job God has waiting.We only know that we have finished one leg of this journey with college behind us, and now we find ourselves on the next one. Even though we don't know what God has in store we feel drawn.

     We feel drawn to something bigger than ourselves. We feel drawn to community and to helping others. Pieces of things are starting to fit together. They tell the story of where God has taken us on this journey and how it all comes together to prepare us for...whatever is next! The organized part of me has had some regular questions about these pieces, but no concerns. My questions come from a place of anticipation rather than apprehension. This is truly a God thing! I find myself less concerned about specifics and more concerned about being ready and able to hear God's direction. In fact, the only time I felt mildly concerned was when a well meaning relative decided to express their desires for our future and tried to persuade us to head in a specific direction. After bringing that conversation before the Lord in prayer, we received a note in the mail from a ministry that we support. Hand written on the note was this verse from 1Thessalonians 5:24, " The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it."
 
     "He will do it"!!!  This is what I am being drawn to. I am drawn to the idea that God is going to do something. I guess I feel like there has been so much waiting in our journey since my husband's job loss, that I am excited that something is going to be done! Perhaps I am like that kid in the back seat of the car on a long road trip that is always asking, "Are we there yet?".  Isn't that how it is with God? We can choose to look at our walk with Him as a long journey or we can choose to look at it as a great adventure and anticipate. Prayer is a good way to anticipate. Right now I am anticipating what God will do by praying for His will to be done.

     I've always been told to be careful what you pray for. I haven't always remembered to heed that warning. I prayed for patience once and was put in charge of three very hyper four year old boys at a daycare. I haven't prayed for patience since. Another time at the end of a wonderful  Beth Moore Bible study, I was so inspired that I asked God for peace like a river instead of a pond. In Bible study we learned that ponds are stagnant but rivers have rapids. The idea was  not to desire a stagnant, comfortable life (pond) but to allow God to take you on the ride of your life through the river's rapids. People often equate being comfortable with having peace. My life has been an adventure ever since I prayed that prayer and even in the rapids I have had peace! In this case I am thankful that I didn't remember to be careful what I prayed for. Currently, I am being drawn to the words of a song and I find myself praying them. The first time I caught myself praying them I stopped. I stopped because I realized that what I was praying was powerful and there would be risks. Yet, there is no adventure without risk. There is no personal growth without risk. I don't want to miss whatever it is that I am being drawn to because I was afraid to turn the words of this song into my heart's cry. Most importantly, I don't want to miss the opportunity to grow that much closer to my Savior.

     I am compelled to pray these words from the song Oceans; " Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior."  Ultimately, this is what I am being drawn to. I am being drawn into a deeper and stronger faith in God through the plans and purposes that He has for my life.  The excitement and the risk is in not knowing what exactly those plans are. The peace I have is found in knowing He is with me. The song goes on " I will call upon Your name keep my eyes above the waves. My soul will rest in Your embrace. I am Yours and You are mine."

     What are you being drawn to? What has God captivated your heart with? Follow Him and anticipate what He is going to do even if it involves risk. What are you really risking anyway if you belong to Him? 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mindful...

       "What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" Psalm 8:4.  It never ceases to amaze me that the same God who measures the ocean in the palm of His hand, is mindful of us. He is God of the universe, one would think He would be too busy!  Yet He continues to show us that He is mindful of us in an infinite number of ways. As I ponder this, one question keeps coming to the forefront. Am I mindful of Him?

     Am I mindful of Him in my home? Am I aware that He is the unseen guest at our dinner table? He is present when we watch a movie. He is right there with me when I lose my patience with the kids. He is the silent listener to every conversation I have. He sees first hand how I am spending my time and what I am doing with my money. Even my thoughts are not hidden from Him. He is all knowing. There is no escaping Him. My thoughts might as well be said out loud because He knows them anyway.

     I put some thought into my life. I am mindful of my schedule, mindful of my bills, and mindful of my spouse and children. Am I mindful that I am minute by minute living life in the presence of the God of the universe? He isn't some far off God sitting on His throne viewing me through a security camera. He is the God who takes thought of me and cares for me!  He doesn't just take thought of me, He takes notice of every detail. I am not alone. He is this attentive with everyone. 

     In Matthew chapter ten when Jesus is speaking to His disciples He says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear you are more valuable than many sparrows." (verses 29-31)  Did you catch that? Not only does He take thought of you and care for you, He has taken the time to number your hairs. If you lose one He knows it!  It fascinates me that this is our God. He is all powerful, all knowing, the King of Kings, holy, and yet He is tender, loving, thoughtful, and attentive. This brings me to another question... now that I am reminded of this how does that change how I live my life? Will the way I live my life show that I am mindful of Him?

     It's easy to live life on autopilot. We have regular schedules and routines. There's nothing wrong with this but I think sometimes it can hinder us in being mindful of God. We become prone to living life with Him on autopilot. We think of His presence in our lives only in the context of our morning devotions, small groups, or Sunday services. If we were to live our lives mindful of Him it would change everything.  Think about it for a moment...

      Our conversations would be edifying instead of full of criticism and gossip because we would be mindful that God hears what we are saying. We might not watch certain television shows or movies anymore because we are mindful of His presence and wouldn't want to displease Him with what we are viewing. Perhaps we'd use our time and money more wisely because His presence makes us aware that this life is temporary. We would be more interested in things that have eternal value.  Our thoughts would change too because being mindful of Him makes room for the renewing of our minds.

     This is quite a challenge! I am up for it are you? Let's love God the way that He loves us. Let's be mindful of Him. Let's live our lives mindful of His presence and by doing so show Him that we take thought of Him and care for Him.
    



    

    

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wrestling...

    Have you ever wrestled? I have. Now before I go any further, let me clarify.  I am not talking about physical wrestling! I wrestle with the things I don't understand, can't seem to get a grasp of, or the questions I need answers too. From the time I was a child I have been stubborn this way. I can't let go until I have come to a conclusion of some kind. For some time I wasn't so sure that this was the best approach to take but a sermon changed my mind.

    Eighteen was a difficult year for me. I had a lot of questions that I needed answers to. There were plenty of people willing to supply me with those answers, I just didn't want to receive the answers from them. I was questioning the way I grew up. I wasn't questioning my faith. I was questioning the church. I had never questioned in this way before, but I was dating someone who attended a home church and conversations with him about Scripture raised more questions than answers for me. Should women wear head coverings? Should there be pastors or should everyone be free to share what God has laid on their heart in the meeting? Are denominations Scriptural? These are just a few of the many questions that were raised. My boyfriend and I had fierce debates. My parents and I argued because they were afraid that this home church was a cult. All I knew was that I wanted the truth and the only one I completely trusted for that was God. My prayer became, Lord show me the truth!

       During this time my Pastor preached a sermon about wrestling with God. He based it on the story of Jacob in Genesis thirty two.  Jacob wrestles with God and doesn't let Him go until He blesses him.  What has stuck with me since that sermon, is to not let go of God until I come to a place of understanding with Him.  For the first time I realized that it was okay for me to take my questions, frustrations, and turmoil to God and let it all out. It was okay not to let go of Him until He answered me or brought peace to my heart about not having an answer. It was okay not to be proper in the pouring out of my heart before Him. He would rather have raw honesty because that's what He needs in order to change me. I have been wrestling ever since.

     I hadn't thought about the origins of my wrestling for a long time, until recently.  I spotted a woman in line at the Food Pantry that I hadn't seen in several months. I was so excited to see her that I walked over to her and asked her how she was and told her I had missed her. She said she hadn't been there because of car problems and because she had stopped praying. I asked her why she had stopped praying and she said, "Because God seems to have forgotten me. He doesn't seem to answer my prayers."  I shared with her that I have felt that way sometimes and usually it has been because His timing is different than mine and I needed to wait. She said she was tired of waiting and felt frustrated with Him. She no longer believed that He cared about how hard her life because even when she had been praying, the burdens kept piling up.  I asked her, "Did you tell Him that you feel that way?"  She said she didn't think she should.  I reminded her that God loves her and wants to have a relationship with her but relationships require communication and honesty. I encouraged her to be honest with God about how she feels and what her burdens are. I encouraged her to let it all out and not to worry if it came out with tears, frustration, and anger. I told her it was okay to have what we women call, "the ugly cry".

       She shared that she had never given much thought to God wanting her to be honest with Him. She hadn't really thought that He cared about how she felt at all. She didn't know it was okay to tell Him that she felt angry, abandoned, burdened, and frustrated. This opened the door for me to share with her details of my wrestlings with God and how  I have come away time and time again knowing for certain that He cares! I was able to tell her how many times I have been face down to the floor doing "the ugly cry", asking questions, expressing frustrations, wondering where God's been, and confessing anger.  I  told her how I have wrestled with Him over wanting the truth, miscarriages, broken relationships, my child seriously ill in the hospital, and job loss.  In those moments I have refused to get up off of the floor until one of two things happen. I wait until I feel His peace wash over me or I wait until He gives me an answer.  Either way, I always come away free. Honesty with God sets me free and allows me to leave all of my questions, burdens, hurts, and hang ups at His feet.

       At then end of our conversation we prayed together. I hope she went home that night and did some wrestling. My mom will be happy to know that God used my stubborness for His glory. I am certain that there were many times she may have wished I would let things go. I belonged to a healthy and loving church family when I was a child but we were not really taught that it was okay to question. It wasn't discouraged but it wasn't encouraged either. In Isaiah we are told to seek the Lord while He may be found. Isn't that what seeking is? Isn't it searching for someone or something? Isn't searching kind of a stubborn thing? Why bother to search for anything if you're only going to give up easily? Questions...wrestlings..they are part of making our faith our own. This is especially important for children being raised in Christian homes.  They need to make their faith their own and they need to know that they must be honest with God in order to do that. Questions are good even the angry, hurt, and frustrated kind. Just don't let go of God until He brings you to a place of understanding.

       Do you have things you are wrestling with? Questions that you want answers to? Feelings you need to express? Go to God with them. He can handle it. He has broad shoulders. He loves you and He welcomes your honesty.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Thankful...

     Since my last post I have been giving God my "to-do-list".  I've asked for His help completing the things that are on it even if they are things I know I can do easily myself. Sometimes He has a different order for my day than what I had mapped out for myself and I have gotten better at embracing that. Asking for His help with the list is new for me. I don't really consider myself in need of help doing the laundry. I've been doing it just fine for years!

     It's really not so much about whether I am able to do something as it is that I am choosing to dwell in His presence throughout my day. Things haven't slowed down any but my heart is not hurried by the pace of life. There is something else that I've noticed too. I am more thankful. His peace and His presence invite gratitude. I notice little things that I may have missed before and I am thankful for them. Thursday this week especially, I found myself constantly giving thanks for seemingly little things.

     I woke up thankful for my bed. It was good to be rested. The days before had been full and busy. The sun was shining. I don't think I have ever appreciated sunshine as much as I do now after the long winter we've had. Just opening the curtains put a smile on my face! Then, I realized that I would be home ALL day.  I had no errands to run, no piano or voice lessons for the kids, no grocery shopping to do, and no doctors appointments to go to.  I was thankful. It feels good to be home. During my time at home I was able to get some things done that I hadn't gotten to in a while. I suddenly found myself thankful that I could mop the floors! Now for those of you who know me well... you know mopping is right up there with cleaning bathrooms! Both of those things are my least favorite chores! It had to be a God thing that I was thankful to mop my floors!

     Each time I was thankful I expressed it to God. I would have missed all those little things that I was thankful for without His presence. Expressing my gratitude for these things lead to being thankful for other things. My mother-in- law is home from the hospital and doing well now. My father-in-law who has been away for a few months, arrives home this week and I've missed him. I am thankful he will be back. This reminded me of how blessed I am that he treats me as if I am his own daughter. My mom called and she doesn't need eye surgery...so very thankful.

     My oldest was dancing around the house with bare feet to the tune of her own song. She had been outside and was thrilled to enjoy the sun and the warmer temperature. The youngest found our first flowers growing in the back yard. I watched them from the window as they both enjoyed finding signs of spring. I too am thankful for spring and all it symbolizes.

     Spring is a time for new beginnings and who doesn't need to begin again? Maybe that's what I am doing. I am learning how to better abide and in doing so beginning again. Beginning to give thanks for what I have taken for granted. Giving thanks has drawn my attention to the many ways I overlook God's presence in my life. He is there in every little detail of my days and I can choose how I want to spend them. When I spend them abiding in Him I spend them aware....aware of His many gifts. When I choose to abide in Him I am present in life, actively living it instead of plowing through it.  He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)  I am convinced that the only way to do that is to abide in Him.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Presence...

     The days of the week all ran together in a blur. They felt hurried, long, full, overwhelming, and burdensome. The weight of what needed to be done had me feeling tired and ugly inside. Our family was tired and grumpy. My husband and I had no patience with each other and I felt like I had no space. I wanted to find a cave and hide in it so I could sit and listen to the quiet. I wasn't present in my life. I was racing through it full speed ahead, crossing things off of the endless to do list.

     Friday came and I had to go to a Care Team meeting at church. Normally, we meet in the board room but this time we met in the sanctuary. I arrived late and found a seat. The meeting had already started but I was distracted by something else. I was distracted by the calm, the quiet, the peace, and the weight that was instantly lifted from my shoulders. There were people around me talking, but I felt the quiet. I felt it to the core of my being. I believe that quiet was God's presence in the sanctuary.  I also believe He quieted me with His presence.

     Sometimes there is nothing I can do about what must be done each day and how full the days are. That week I couldn't reschedule anything. The things that I needed to get done were all things that were time sensitive. I may not have been able to do anything about the amount of things that needed to be done, but I recognize now that I could have done something about the burden and the weight of them. I could have chosen God's presence long before the Care Team meeting. I could have chosen to let Him quiet my soul sooner.  I could have chosen to trade my hurry and worry for His pace and His peace. How do you do that? I think I may have found some answers in the book of John.

     In John fifteen Jesus says, " Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me." He goes on to say later in the chapter, " My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love."  Abide means to dwell. When I think about dwelling, I think about where I live. Abiding is where I live. Do I live continually in His presence? Am I connected to Him like grapes to a vine, depending on Him for my very existence? Sure, I spend time with Him regularly throughout my days but somehow when I get busy there tends to be a disconnect. I suspect it comes from forgetting that He is just as much interested in spending time with me during my devotions as He is when I am running errands, doing laundry, or meeting deadlines. These are all things I feel capable of accomplishing on my own until they pile up and become overwhelming or burdensome. Maybe that wouldn't even happen if I were abiding in Him, seeking to draw from the Vine Himself even for the ability to do what I think I am already capable of, and welcoming....no, enjoying His presence throughout it all. Then there is that part of the verse about bearing much fruit and in doing so proving to be His disciples...

     Is my life marked distinctively by His presence? Is His presence evident in such a way that I am bearing much fruit, so much fruit in fact, that it proves that I am His? How can anyone see Him in me when I am grumpy, overwhelmed, and trying to do things in my own strength? They probably can't see Him at all because I can be pretty unbearable to be around in those moments! On the other hand, when we abide in Him I believe those around us will feel and see His presence through us, much like you can't help but notice a vine loaded with plump, juicy fruit!

     What does your presence say? When you walk in the room do people want to run and hide? Do they exhale a sigh of relief when you exit because a weight lifted when you left the room?  Or, are you abiding in Christ and when you walk in the room those around you feel His love and joy through you? Does your presence bring peace and comfort to those around you because you are constantly abiding in Him?

     I want to do better at abiding. The good news is that I won't have to try to do better at it on my own. In John fourteen Jesus says, " I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."   How about you? Are you dwelling in Christ, dependent on Him even in the things you feel capable of doing yourself?  Is His presence so evident in your life that others see it, sense it, and are drawn to Him?


   

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hope...

  
     He asked me to pray about the word hope, this man who has no home wants me to pray about the word hope. How can I pray about hope with someone whose circumstances look hopeless? How can I offer hope to anyone when I came battle worn and weary. I came feeling like I had nothing to offer. I came feeling unworthy.

     He is tall. I squint up at him, the bright fluorescent gym lights shining down on us, and I say "Hope?" He nods yes. We close eyes, bow heads, and I stand there silently paralyzed with fear. What if God doesn't give me any words to pray?! My heart screams loudly, "God this man needs hope. Give me something to pray!"  More awkward silence. Then slowly the words come. I and the man are reminded that as long as we have Christ we have hope.  We have all we need. We may be weary and worn, but we are loved and because He loves us we have hope. Without Him we have nothing. I pray it, this prayer that is not my own. It's just as much for me as it is for the man. I see it clearly now. I and the man are the same. Our circumstances are different but we are the same.

     We both came empty and we both needed hope. He needed to know that there was hope for his life, hope for his circumstances, and that God loves him. I needed to know that when I am a mess, empty, worn, and feeling unworthy there is still hope that God can work through me. This is the beauty that is our God. He meets us in the gym that night and He sees us the same. He doesn't see a homeless man and a food pantry volunteer. He sees His children and He loves them both by showing up in their moment of need. He doesn't just have us pray about hope, He makes it clear that He is our only hope.

     Romans calls Him the God of hope. "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13.  The Psalms say it too, " For you are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth." Psalms 71:5.  Hope is the expectation that God will show up. I have never known Him not to show up, especially in the midst of my hopelessness or my weakness.

     There are many times in ministering to others when Satan tries to discourage us. He whispers or shouts that we aren't worthy. He fills our minds with fear of failure. If those things don't work then he'll make us feel like we have nothing to offer. He likes to plant thoughts in our minds that no one listens to what we're sharing anyway, so why bother. He tries to keep us from praying with others by making us fear that we won't know what to pray. If all else fails, he gets us to compare ourselves to other brothers and sisters in Christ so that we will think that they are doing everything much better than we are. Perhaps, the biggest lie in all of this is that ministry or serving Christ, has anything to do with us at all.

     God uses empty vessels that He fills with Himself. God uses messes. I haven't met a person yet in all of Scripture who wasn't a mess in one way or another. Even David, who was called a man after God's own heart, was a mess. He was an adulterer and a murderer. God used him anyway. We don't need to have our ducks in a row to serve God.

     It doesn't matter if we have nothing to offer. The Bible already says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. We can never be worthy of what Christ did for us on the cross. We will all fail at something at some point in life. Failure is just another character builder. If there were no mistakes what would we learn from? What matters is that we show up and we make ourselves available to God. All we need to do is to be where He wants us to be and love Him. He'll do the rest.

     I never know what I will pray when I pray with the people at food pantry.  After praying with that man about the word hope, I do know that God will show up.  I'm not nervous anymore because it's not about me. It's about Him. It always was, I just didn't realize how much my insecurities got in the way.  How about you? What is getting in the way of you serving God? In what ways have you lost hope? How would expecting God to show up change the way you minister to others? How would it change the way you view yourself?  Take a load off. Put your hope in God.

     

    

    

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Regret...

      "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8  If this is God's  description of love then I have regrets.

    These verses are not new to me, but God has brought them to my attention and challenged me with them. If this is His description of love then I have failed miserably at loving. I am not always patient, kind, humble, or selfless. I can at times be easily angered. There have been moments when I have remembered some of the wrongs that have been done to me as a way of protecting myself from getting hurt in the future. I don't always trust. There have been times when I have lost hope in having a healthy relationship with certain family members. I have even given up and chosen not to persevere.

    If this is what God's Word says love looks like, then I need to love this way. This is easier said than done especially when there are people in this world who are difficult to love. I've been asking God for some time how to love a particularly difficult person. Through most of the sixteen years that I have known this person, I have given it my best shot. I can honestly say that anything God has asked me to do to love them, I have done.  There have been times when loving them has been a choice of obedience to God, rather than an emotion I have felt. I have struggled with these questions: What boundaries should I have? What does loving this person look like? What actions do I take or not take?  In recent years I have chosen to keep some distance between us because it's easier and it keeps the peace. There are people in this life who will take your words and twist them to cause problems for you or to make themselves look better. I find that if I give them less words to work with, there is less opportunity for this to happen. I have regularly questioned God as to whether this was the right approach and have not gotten an answer. Perhaps this is why I am looking intently at this description of love in 1 Corinthians. It shows me where I have lacked love with this particular person. I see it in the words,"always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres". I regret that I have not loved them better and that in certain ways I have given up. 

      1 John 4:16 says, " God is love."  If God is love then 1 Corinthians must be a description of Him. I find this encouraging because of the words, "Love never fails".  I know my love has failed but God's love does not. The only way to love the way the Bible describes love is to ask God to change me and to make me like Him. Without Him it is impossible to love this way, especially when it comes to difficult people or as the Bible calls them "enemies". It turns out that Luke has some answers to the questions I've been asking. I never saw them as answers before because I never really thought of this particular person as an enemy. According to the dictionary an enemy is someone who rises up against you or someone who is antagonistic. The Bible has some valuable insights for handling an enemy. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:27-28,31, 35-36

     The solution is to love my enemy because even God, my Heavenly Father, "is kind to ungrateful and evil men". I am to pray for the one who mistreats me and to treat them the way I would like to be treated. This is such an incredibly difficult task but I am told to be like my Heavenly Father, to "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." It's not about boundaries or what to do or not to do with a difficult person. It is all about doing what God tells me to do and He has spelled it out clearly in Luke.

     All I can do is ask God to help me love like He loves. If I follow His directions in these passages of Scripture I won't have any regrets. After all, who wants to live life with regret? I want to love this difficult person in my life in such a way that they cannot help but know who my Father is because that's all they see is Him. We all have enemies. Who are yours? Start loving them today by naming them in prayer and treating them the same way you wish to be treated. I won't lie to you. It may hurt a bit to love them, but in doing so they will know who your Father is. Meeting your Father could very well change their lives forever!

    

    

Monday, February 10, 2014

Order...

      Order is a part of life. We have calendars, daily planners, weekly planners, to-do lists, and grocery lists all because of order. Weddings, funerals, special events, and church services all have order. Order is a way to organize tasks and time. It is a way to prevent chaos from occurring. Order in many ways, is essential to our increasingly busy lives. I am a fan of order.

       Order is important to me. I can't function without it. I need structure. I have to have an efficient plan for my day, this is why I use a planner. There is nothing wrong with this except for when I put more on my list than I am capable of doing, or when I become too tied to it and God has no room to change my plans. I can get so tied to crossing things off of my list in what I think is the best order, that I leave no room for God to order my day.  In my desire to make the best use of my time in cyber schooling the kids, participating in ministries, caring for my family and caring for my home, I can completely miss God's plan for my day. I have a feeling this has happened more often than I realize and it's recently come to my attention because of some unexpected free time.

     My calendar is pretty full until January comes. January tends to be the month that my weekends are free from family events or the kid's activities. Lately I have found myself asking God to order my days, especially the ones in which I don't have a lot going on. The first time I made this request was on a Saturday. I had woke up early to spend time with Him and felt conflicted over what I might want to do later on that day. I had a few different ideas of my own such as visiting with my aunt, thrift shopping, or taking a nap. During my prayer time, I shared my ideas with God and asked Him to help me make the best use of my free time by ordering my day. I didn't end up doing any of those things that were on my mind. I ended up at a prayer vigil for human trafficking. This wasn't a big event, there were only three of us but God was there and I was where He wanted me to be.

     Since then, I have asked Him to order my day a few more times. I guess I was curious to see how different my days would be if I submitted my plans to Him so that He could change them. On the days that I have prayed those prayers I have had some interesting experiences. I've made last minute visits to check on someone He has put on my heart. I was able to help a neighbor shovel her driveway and express my sympathies for the loss of her husband. She even let me give her a hug! I've done less getting things done in order to have more time to prepare my heart for praying at the food pantry. My dad and I made plans to go visit a great aunt I have never met who lives in Kentucky.  This is the adventure of God's order in my life.

     His order isn't always neat and tidy. Many times it looks like an interruption and perhaps it is. His order is an interruption of my order. His order is better and mine is boring. There is a difference between being organized and being married to your to-do list. There is nothing wrong with making lists and making plans, but they need to be submitted to God. They need to be subject to the changes He will certainly make. In God's order He sees the big picture. He knows that it's more important that I hug my grieving neighbor than finish mopping my floor. He knows that timing is everything. Sure, I could finish mopping and then go knock on her door to express my sympathies but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be the same because I would have missed shoveling her driveway. Shoveling her driveway is a way to be His hands. God's order is fulfilling.The things that He places in front of me to do aren't just one more chore to do. They are often opportunities to love others. They are opportunities that I don't want to miss.

      I know that I have already missed so many of them because I have often chosen my own order over His. I can get caught up in being concerned that if I leave things on my list unfinished they will pile up. They very well might. However, if I really think about it most of the things on my list are temporal things. Most of the things God interrupts me with are eternal. The laundry, the dishes, the mopping, and the vacuuming, will always be there. The people God wants me to talk to, spend time with, pray for, or visit will not. My list of things to do can be completed any time. God's order for my day is all about perfect timing. He knows when the person He is sending me to visit needs to be visited. He knows when it's time for a two hour phone conversation with someone who needs a listening ear.  Those opportunities will not always be there, but the opportunity to do laundry will be there for as long as I live!

    I want to be intentional in asking God to order my days. I want my plans to be interrupted with His plans and I want to be interruptible. What about you?  Are you a planner?  How would your day look different if you asked God to order your day? Would you get more or less accomplished? Would those accomplishments have temporal or eternal value? Would your day be predictable or adventurous? Would you be stressful or stress- free?  Would interruptions no longer be seen as interruptions, but recognized as opportunities?   Perhaps the plans we make should always be written in pencil so that they can easily be erased by the hand of God and rewritten with His own pen.