Thursday, December 3, 2015

Come...

     Christmas after Christmas, I find myself drawn to the song "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".  I don't know exactly why but there is something about this song that settles into the depths of me. I can feel the angst in the song...the longing. Today, I took the liberty of rewriting it a bit. I hope you don't mind. In my quest to find out why it speaks so strongly to me, I decided to put it in modern day language.

     O Come, Please come God, and be with us. Release us from the chains we've bound ourselves with. We languish in our separation from you!
     O Come, promised One, of whom the prophets long foretold. Free us all from Satan's cruelty. Lift us out of the pits he tricked us into digging for ourselves. Give us triumph over our own destruction!
     O Come, First Light. Come, comfort and encourage us with your presence. Eradicate the darkness of depression and fear. Break through the clouds of confusion and illuminate our minds.
     Rejoice! Rejoice! God has already come! He's answered your prayers, every single one.

     This song is the cry of humanity throughout the ages. This is the cry of Christmas. The world needed a Savior and He came. In one way or another I have prayed theses words over and over again for myself, for others, and with others. We live in dark times, and yet as Christ followers we have this incredible Light living inside of us. The world aches for light in their darkness and aches for hope in the midst of their despair. Here's the thing...light shines the brightest when the world is the darkest. Jesus said, " I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." John 8:12  If we have Him, we will not dwell in darkness and despair, because we have the Light of life living in us. Others will take notice of this and want to know how this is possible.

     They'll wonder how it's possible, because they are still crying out in their despair much like the words in "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". They are looking for an end to the darkness that suffocates them. We get to proclaim that the answer has already come and their prayers have already been answered. The Light of life has already pierced the darkness and the darkness could not overcome Him! This is what Christmas is. Christmas is a celebration of prayers answered long before we ever uttered them...answered with just one name, Jesus.

     Christmas is a golden opportunity for Christ followers to extend an invitation to a weary, hurting, and dark world. Amidst terrorism, mass shootings, and instability... they are ready, waiting, and longing for hope. We say "Come". Come and meet the Savior. Come and let Him set you free. Come and let Him chase away your darkness and flood your soul with light. Come, and let Him love you. Come, and rest here in His arms. The Light of life has already come in answer to the prayers we didn't know we needed to pray. The question is, will you let Him shine through you? Will you be His brilliant light filled invitation?

O Come, O Come Emmanuel and may the light of your love radiate brilliantly through us!









   



 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Perfect Love...

     A week ago as I lay in bed talking to God, I mentioned that I was fearful and saddened by the kind of world my girls are growing up in. It was just a passing comment I made to Him before I turned in for the night. The following morning I was awakened by a song. It was playing so loudly in my mind that I actually thought someone had the radio on! No radio...just these lyrics from the Newsboys, "And when the oceans rage I don't have to be afraid. Because I know that You love me. Your love never fails." God woke me with a song in answer to my fears. It's continued to be a sweet reminder as I've watched the world react to the terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis.

     One of the saddest things I've seen is how fear grabs a hold of the body of Christ and tries to render it useless. Brothers and sisters that were once supporters of welcoming refugees into America, are suddenly afraid to. Not only are they afraid but they are filling all of social media with their fears. The hate I've seen between Christians of differing opinions on this issue has by far caused more destruction than the Paris suicide bombers. I can't help but think of how we break God's heart when we allow the devil to divide us instead of prayerfully considering the other side's viewpoints through the light of God's Word. The world needs the church as a whole to be united in love. We have the answer the world is looking for, Christ. They can't see Him because our arguing has gotten in the way!

     We like to think that there are two sides to this problem of whether or not to take in refugees. There isn't. There is only one side. There is only one option and that option is called perfect love. 1John 4:18 says, "There is no fear(terror) in love; but perfect (full grown) love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment (torment) and the one who fears is not perfected (completed) in love."  So what is this perfect love anyway? How do I get some so I can be rid of fear?

     1 John 4:16 says, "We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."  God is perfect love. When we truly believe the love God has for us and we make His love our dwelling place, then we have that same  perfect love that casts out all fear living inside of us! For years I have looked only at verse 18 and wondered how I could have perfect love. I had never really read the whole passage in context until now. It starts with us truly believing the love God has for us and then making His love our home...that's what a dwelling place is. It's a place where you can kick up your feet and rest.

      When we are resting in His perfect love we aren't afraid. When His perfect love is dwelling in us, we don't see Syrian refugees as potential terrorists. We see them as "the least of these." Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 that one day the King will say," Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Think about this for a moment...these words came from the mouth of Jesus who went to the cross not just for all of those He knew would receive Him, but for Judas who He knew would betray him. Jesus was an expert when it came to "the least of these"! Jesus was perfect love. He gave His life knowing there would be those who would reject Him, some of whom would literally nail Him to a cross. So why won't we follow His example and take in refugees knowing that some may be terrorists? I believe it's because we've forgotten who we belong to and lost sight of the security that we have when we are living in His perfect love.

     Romans 8:38-39 says it the best, " And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow- not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below- indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."  This is that perfect love that casts out all fear. This is the love that we can make our home in. It's all we need...and that' the thing. The world is scared to death right now because it doesn't know God's perfect love. We do, so we shouldn't be afraid. We have all we need right here for ourselves and for welcoming refugees. We have God. We have perfect love and nothing can separate us from that love. We are secure.

     Security...perhaps that's why I was fearful and saddened by the world  my girls are growing up in. I had misplaced my security. When we place our security in God and we remember that His love never fails, we won't give a second thought to taking care of "the least of these".  Instead we will love without counting the cost.

   " Perfect love casts out fear. The one who fears is not perfected in love." I don't know about you, but I want to be perfected in love.
   

   

 



   

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Call to Prayer...

     Anyone who has been on the internet this morning or watched the news will see that Paris was attacked by Islamic extremists last night. ISIS has claimed responsibility. The media broadcasts are filled with fear and outrage. Facebook is filled with sadness, fear, outrage, and an expressed desire for vengeance. Some of those who want revenge also happen to be fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. A desire for revenge is a natural reaction. It comes from our flesh's desire to take action and fight injustice. God's ways of taking action and fighting injustice are much more effective than any revenge we might seek. God changes hearts.

     While the media and the politicians spend weeks debating what could have been done to prevent this, where we went wrong, and what future actions should be taken to stop ISIS...why don't you and I hit our knees?  Our knees are where we are most powerful. Our knees are where we bend low in prayer before an all powerful God, and become world changers without ever having to hop on a plane and head to Syria or any of the other places that our enemy camps. The reason ISIS is able to do what it is doing is because the world is trying to fight a spiritual battle with man made weapons. When we desire revenge we do the same. Think about it...has it  been successful? Have the armed forces, the intelligence community, or the politicians seen victory with their man made weapons? You can't fight an ideology successfully in the physical realm. Only God can change hearts. This is why we must hit our knees and pray for heart change in our enemies.

     It's not easy to pray for our enemies. It's much easier to pray for the people we love. Perhaps this is why Matthew 5:43-44 says, "You have heard it was said, ' Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  One of the most profound ways we can love someone is to pray for them. When we pray we are going to God on their behalf. What if we did this for ISIS? What if we saw them through God's eyes. They are human beings just like you and I who have been deceived by the devil and are being used for his purposes. Doesn't that really and truly describe us all before we came to know Christ? Do you remember the chains you bore before someone prayed for you and you came to know Christ? Do you remember what it was like to hear for the first time that God had sent His Son for you and forgiven you...forgiven all of the unthinkable things you had done...the things you couldn't imagine anyone ever forgiving you for? Shouldn't we want every human being to be that free, to experience that love? Maybe you are like me and have known Christ from a very young age and can't remember having any chains...that doesn't mean you wouldn't have. Look at ISIS and see that if God hadn't gotten a hold of you at such a young age...you could very well be wearing the same chains and blinded by the same deceptions. Feel the weight of that for a moment and let God use that to soften your heart in order to pray.

     Our world needs us. God could have placed us in any other era, but we are living here and now in this century for such a time as this. Esther was told by Mordecai  in Esther 4: 14, " For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not obtained royalty for such a time as this?"   We can't be silent. It's time for the church, the body of Christ as a whole to hit our knees in battle. Their are members of ISIS who need to receive Christ, Christians who are being tortured and killed by them, and nations who are being terrorized who need deliverance...and we have access to the only One powerful enough to deliver us all!

     "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." Hebrews 4:16
   

   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Where Do You Go With Your Broken?

     Where do you go with your broken? I've been thinking about this a lot these past few days. I guess you could say I've been surrounded by a lot of broken. I truly believe that where we go with our broken determines the duration of our brokenness and the extent of our healing.

     Some of us hold on tightly to it and keep it locked inside. We retreat from our loved ones and tell ourselves it's because we're going to deal with it on our own...but we don't. Others of us drown out the hurt or the anger with alcohol, drugs, food or any other number of vices. They become our escape, our way of not feeling and our way of not hearing. Still, others of us rage. We beat everyone who wants to help us with our words...slowly but surely pushing them away. The sad thing is that we often mistake all of this as being a normal part of our process. Some may even think it is healthy because after all, isn't there more than one way to deal with our stuff?  The reality is that all we are doing is more damage that will require more healing, and prolong the duration of our brokenness. Why?

     For those of us who know Christ especially...why? This is the question I've been thinking about the most this week. He is our healer. He is the only one who can truly make us whole. So why is it that so many times we choose to stay in our brokenness...or worse add to it rather than go directly to Him? I suspect it's because we know deep down that it can be painful to bring Him our brokenness. We know that to bring Him our brokenness requires honesty and surrender so that He can tend to our wounds. Honesty and surrender often mean that we have to take responsibility for certain things or maybe even confess other things. Who really wants to do that when they are broken ? Isn't that even more painful? I've noticed something. Just as it is far less painful to allow a doctor to tend a wound initially than to wait until it's infected, it is far less painful to allow God to tend to you from the start than it is to continue on in brokenness and as a last resort come to Him later.

     Emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds can run just as deep and be just as damaging as physical wounds. Let's say you had a wound on your leg that was so deep that it required immediate medical attention, but you decide to handle it on your own. Perhaps you rinse it out with some water and wrap it with sterile gauze. It seems to work initially. The bleeding has stopped and you can sort of hobble around. A day or two passes and suddenly your leg is throbbing. The pain is excruciating and the area around the wound is swollen and red. Suddenly, you find yourself running a fever and vomiting. A friend has to drive you to the hospital, and the doctor tells you that your wound is infected. He doesn't understand why you didn't come in and get it taken care of right from the start. Because you waited, you'll need to receive antibiotics through an IV and have surgery. They'll need to cut down to the bone to drain the infection. Hopefully this will work because if it doesn't, you may very well lose your leg! This is what it looks like when we don't go directly to God from the very beginning with our broken. During the delay we compound the problem until we've heaped upon ourselves more and more suffering...all because we think we can take care of it ourselves or we don't want to face the sting of the initial wound cleansing. By the time we end up coming to Him we are no longer merely broken in pieces. We are shattered like glass. All that's left is a mess of fine particles with jagged edges!  Just like a deep wound needs more than a rinse and some gauze our emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds need more care than we can give them ourselves. We can save ourselves a lot of added brokenness and a lot of unnecessary suffering if we would just run directly to God with our broken.

     This past week I've spent time with some broken people. Some are broken and trying to fix it on their own because they don't want to surrender their lives to Christ. Others are busy beating people up with their words because deep down they are really angry at God. It's futile to avoid going to the only One who can heal us because we are angry with Him. He is a big God with broad shoulders. Nothing we could ever shout at Him in our anger and hurt would surprise Him, lessen His love for us, or keep Him from making us whole...take it from someone who's been there! At the end of the week, we lost a family member who died in his brokenness. He didn't seem to think that God could really forgive someone like him. He chose to drown out God's voice by living in bondage instead of taking a chance on the freedom of God's love.

     Don't let this be you. Go to God with your broken. Ann Voskamp once wrote, "We have a God who sees hearts like we see faces, a God who hears ache like we hear voices, and we have a God who touches and holds and heals our wounds like we long to be held."  Run to Him. He's waiting!

   
   

   

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Splendor...

   Bright red, flaming orange, and golden yellow trees on either side of the road arched like a glorious tunnel of color for me to travel through on my way to church. I was so caught up in the splendor of their colors that I told God, "Your artwork is amazing! Thank you for making the leaves turn such beautiful colors!" That's when He replied, "They look the most beautiful right before they die." Hmmm...I had never noticed that before, but I have not stopped thinking of it since.

     I've done some research in recent days. My whole life I was under the impression that the leaves actually change their colors. What I've learned since is that they have really been those vibrant colors all along! According to the website Answersingenesis.org, "As the plant withers, it may produce vibrant colors because, as a leaf ceases to function, the chlorophyll degrades, revealing the colors of previously hidden pigments."  Those vibrant colors were once all previously hidden pigments. This means that they were a part of the leaf all along, they were just hidden underneath the green color.  Once fall arrives and they peak in a magnificent display of color, we are finally able to see the beauty that was underneath all along! After they peak, they die and are no more. This reminds me of some people that I know.

     I've noticed that as people age they often become more beautiful. In fact, some of the most beautiful, the most vibrant people I know...are in their seventies and eighties. You may laugh at this, but bear with me a minute. People are like leaves. We spend most of our lives looking like your basic green leaf. There doesn't appear to be anything special really going on. Yet all the while, God is artfully painting pigments of color underneath our outer layer....if we let Him. Every time we allow Him to have His way in our lives we gain a new pigment. Every time we allow a trial He sees us through to produce growth, He adds another brush stroke to the under layer. Each test of faith, every time we choose to forgive, when we speak the truth in our hearts and allow Him to change us, more and more brilliant pigments are added! As we age, those pigments slowly begin to come to the surface. Suddenly there is nothing about us that looks ordinary! As we share those pigments with others, we show forth the glory of the master painter...God!  Every time we share how He has seen us through a trial, how He has changed our hearts, how He taught us to have faith, and the moments we chose to forgive others...they see a pigment. In sharing our journey the bright reds, flaming oranges, and golden yellows show through until finally we get to meet the master painter face to face!

     It often takes a lifetime to get all of our pigments. I've noticed that those who are in their seventies and beyond are the best at letting them show through. They are masters at transparency. Perhaps it's because they know that simply based on their age they are closer to meeting the master painter than ever before! Maybe it's because they have allowed the pigments He's painted to reach such deep layers of saturation in their lives that they have truly become those glorious colors! Whatever it is, they have an inner beauty that they eagerly share with anyone who is willing to sit for a while and listen....and spending time with them is such a treasure! Not only can we learn so much from the wisdom they've gained through the pigments of their lives, we get a glimpse of what our future can be...if we will allow God, the master painter to have his way.

     If we allow God to have His way in our lives, then we will spend all of our lives being changed one pigment at a time.  Finally, when it's near time to meet Him we will be at our peak showing forth the most splendor...for His glory! It's not easy to allow Him to have His way. Often the very things that will bring us those brilliant colors are the hardest and most painful of lessons we will learn. As I write this I find my heart's cry is to never stop letting Him have His way and to never stop growing. How about you? Do you want to to be plain old green or do you want to show forth His splendor to future generations? What brilliant color of His glory do you want to be?  I really hope I get to be flaming orange with a touch of red!

     

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

One...

     Somewhere in Kentucky there is a cobblestone chimney and some bricks that were once part of my great grandparents' home. My husband traveled there recently with my father. He brought back a brick from the foundation and a large stone from the chimney. I have never met my great grandparents, Asa and Lora. They were the parents of my grandfather on my father's side. I have only one memory of my grandfather. I was four when he died.  There is something about holding the brick and the stone in my hands that feels like a connection to all of them....as if the remnants of the physical dwelling place are also remnants of another type of foundation...the foundation of family.

     It's remarkable how the rest of the old home is gone, but remnants of the foundation and the chimney still stand after all these years. It's a sort of marker for family members to go back to. It helps us find our way there and distinguish those ruins from the ruins of the other homes in the old mining town. The remnants of the family home may not be recognizable to others but we know what it is, our foundation...our beginning.

     All of this reminds me of the church. I've been wondering for a while now how the body of Christ can ever truly be one. We have so many differences and often allow those differences to divide us. I've been asking myself what can unify us? Is it even possible to have unity in the body of Christ on this side of heaven?  The remnants of my great grandparents' home have me wondering... if all of our differences disintegrated over time into ruins, what would the foundation be that would still be standing?

     If we set aside the things we disagree on like whether women should be pastors, when the rapture will take place, speaking in tongues, which political parties most line up with God's view on things, what would be left? What is the foundation of all of our faith? I believe it would be our love for Christ. Isn't the foundation of the home the most important part of it anyway? Without  the foundation a home can't stand, can't function. Without Christ there is no church.

     So what do we want our marker to be for future generations of the family of God? What will be our chimney, our brick? What is it that will stand the test of time when everything else around is in ruins? If we will cast aside our differences and allow ourselves to be unified by our love for Christ, then the church will have left a firm foundation for future Christ followers to come. We don't have to agree on everything to be one. Love for Christ will make us one when nothing else can.

     Often we mistake unity for agreeing with each other. Genuine unity means that I may strongly disagree with you, but I will love you just as fervently because I love Christ...and because of that I won't allow our differences to divide us and become bigger than my love for Him. Our love for Him is what makes us one. Our love for Him is the brick from the foundation that will allow the next generation of Christ followers to feel a connection to what Christ did through the generations before them. Yet, it's more than that...

     If we are one because of our love for Christ, that oneness...that unity will also be recognizable to the world. It will stand out like a cobblestone chimney in the midst of ruins. They will know that this is where the family of God dwells, because our unity and our love for Him sets us apart in a world that is constantly at odds with itself. Tired of living in the ruins, the weary world will want to know how it is we can be so different from each other and yet function in such profound love and unity. That is when we can point them to the foundation...Christ.

       I can hold that brick from the foundation of my great grandparent's home in my hand and feel  love for family I never knew.  Shouldn't it be this way in the body of Christ? Shouldn't we be able to take one look at each other and see only the love of our Savior and our love for Him? Suddenly....the differences fade away...just like the cracks and the dirt marks on my brick.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

It Takes A Church...

     The title of this blog has been rolling around in my mind for three weeks now and I haven't been able to write. Every time I sit down to write, my mind is flooded with the many different directions this blog post could go. The problem is, I want to write about all of them! Initially the title came to me as I was reflecting on the people God has used to shape my daughter's life. Over the years God has sent various individuals from the body of Christ...the church to grow her. There were some who patiently drew her out of her shell away from being the four year old that hid behind me, and into being a more confident and social seven year old. Others have prayed her through some strong-willed seasons, no doubt wearing their knees out on her behalf. At times God has used a Christian teacher to affirm her talents and skills so that she would consider using them to bless others. Recently He sent someone else to pick up where that teacher left off and patiently yet persistently, invite her to take a risk and sing on the worship team. God is shaping her and strengthening her through His people...the church. It's a beautiful thing to watch and it's brought to my attention that the church can be God's tool not only for shaping each one of us, but for shaping the world.

     It's this shaping of the world I want to explore for a bit. Our world has taken on quite a sloppy shape lately. It's in rough shape. There isn't a nation on this planet that isn't in some kind of trouble. We've got no shortage of world leaders that have tried to solve the world's problems. They won't be able to. Though countless people look to them to fix things, nothing they do will have lasting success. Even future world leaders can't truly fix what's wrong with us. You can vote for any one of those men or women who have thrown their hat into the ring for president of the United States.The only guarantee you've got from either political party, is that somewhere down the line you will be disappointed! The solutions offered are the equivalent to slapping a band aid onto a main artery that is hemorrhaging. That's because Christ is the only sure solution to anything and the church is the agent who acts on His behalf,  through which He chooses to solve problems.

     The church is the agent through which He chooses to solve problems... I marvel at this thought. Have you been to church lately? The church is made up of humans. The church is made up of people like you and I who don't have it all together and don't always agree on everything. Sometimes we can't seem to agree on anything at all! Yet He chose the church. I would have found this hard to believe some years ago. My experience with the church being an agent through which God chooses to solve problems was this: The church sponsors missionaries and the missionaries go to other countries to help solve problems (such as poverty or malaria) and while doing so, preach the gospel.  Now however,  I have a new frame of reference through which to view this. I have seen time and time again how God uses the church I currently attend to be an agent through which He can offer a solution to a lost and hurting world.

     There are a variety of ways the church I attend does this...too many ways to list but I will highlight a few.  A few years ago, homeless people were sleeping on our church steps. The church could have sent them on their way and suggested other places to find shelter, instead it went through the necessary steps to become a homeless shelter. Now, during the winter months eighteen homeless people have a warm place to sleep. The county we are located in has had a high unemployment rate in recent years and this likely contributed to the many families in need of food. There are several food pantries in our area, but the church decided to be a part of the solution and open its own food pantry. In addition to providing physical food, the pantry provides spiritual nourishment through a sermon and love through volunteers who listen to the guests and pray with them. Most recently, the church learned of the Syrian refugee crisis. The pastors could have just encouraged the congregation to give to one of many organizations out there who are helping the refugees. Instead, one of the pastors bothered to do some research and found missionaries from our denomination, who are on the front lines serving the refugees. She contacted them personally, to find out how we could help. The pastor could have asked us to give a second offering that would be sent to the missionaries to aid in their efforts, but she didn't. No, she took it one step further. She announced that ten percent of the regular offering would be sent to help the refugees. Our pastors chose in that moment to give sacrificially from the general offering, knowing that we are behind budget to begin with for our church's needs. I think this last example really spoke to me in a unique way. In the nearly eight years I've attended this church I have grown accustomed to it being an agent through which God chooses to solve problems in the local community. This time I saw how God can take a church and make it an agent that He can use across the world and this excites me!

     It excites me because so many times I see things on the news that move my heart and I want to help, but I wonder...what can I really do?  Sure, I am aware that sponsoring a child in another country or working with another church in a faraway place to build a school are ways that I can help. However, there was something different for me this time. I had been watching the news for days and reading blogs about the crisis. It has been called the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II! Somehow that made me feel like anything I could do would be nothing more than a drop in a bucket...so why bother. However, by the time the church service rolled around I was ready to help. Even though I am only one person I was willing to add my one drop to the bucket. Here is the beautiful thing about being a part of the church...we are all God's drops in a bucket but when we come together we create a big splash! When the church unites and is willing to be an agent acting on God's behalf...nothing is impossible. We know that  the impact of just one person is significant. Many times all it takes is just one person to stand up to a bully or one person to believe in you, in order to make a difference. Now take that one and add one more...now the impact has doubled. Add one more, now it has tripled...and so on! So it is when the body of Christ unites and takes action on the things that are dear to God's heart...it is much more effective than striking out on our own.

     This is how it's meant to be. The church is meant to be the agent through which God brings life changing solutions to the world. We are His image bearer's. His Spirit lives within us. We know the life changing power of His love and He has filled us to overflowing with it so that it can spill out. Who better to point them to Him...the only One who can change anything for good, than the church? The church has been transformed by God's love and God's love is the secret weapon that He stores inside each one of us...not so we can keep it to ourselves. It's there for us to release because our loving God is the only complete solution for all of the world's problems.

Will you unite with the rest of the body of Christ- the church, and be His agent?
   

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Altar...

     The altar is my favorite place in the church building. It's one of the places that I feel God's presence and love for His people most profoundly. It's a place of surrender. The altar holds the sweetness of hearts laid bare before the Lord. Those who kneel there will not return to their seats the same. Being in the presence of God changes us from the inside out and there is nothing sweeter than kneeling before Him in His sanctuary.

     God uses the time spent at the altars of our lives to transform us.  Whether or not we are physically kneeling at an altar or we are simply kneeling at the altar of our hearts, it's a place of transformation. The nature of the altar requires us to come humbly in recognition that we need God.

     The way we come..humbly is only the beginning. We have to come honestly if we are to be transformed. To come honestly requires us to speak the truth in our hearts as well as to God. There's no need to keep our thoughts, feelings, emotions, expectations, and view points to ourselves. It may be tempting...especially when we are fairly certain that they are not right in God's eyes. Regardless  of this it's best to talk them through with Him honestly. When we speak the truth in our heart this way, spend time in God's presence, and then leave the altar...we are certain to find that we are not the same. Something will have shifted. Those thoughts, feelings, expectations, and viewpoints that were not right in God's eyes will have changed. After spending that time with Him, we will come to see things the way He does.

     Psalm seventy three illustrates this beautifully. The Psalmist writes about how he came close to stumbling because he was envious of the wicked. He was envious of their prosperity. In verses 12 - 14 he writes, " Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning."   He's frustrated because it doesn't seem fair that the wicked are doing so well and have it so easy, when he is trying to do what's right and is experiencing trials. He's actually starting to believe the lie that there is no point in him keeping his heart pure. As we read further we will find that eventually his thinking about the wicked changes. Verses 16-17 explain how, "When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end."  His thoughts didn't change until he came into the sanctuary...until he had spent time with God at the altar.

   I don't know about you, but I am ever in need of transformation. I need daily time at the altar...heart laid bare, kneeling in His presence.  Without this time at the altar I will be like the Psalmist was...falling prey to inaccurate view points of the world around him, susceptible to believing a lie. You see, whether we're physically kneeling at the altar or spending time with God at the altar of our hearts, it's the exchange there that transforms us. If we're honest at the altar, we'll exchange our burdens, our thoughts, our hurts, our hang ups, and our frustrations for God's healing, God's thoughts, and God's ways. When we allow God to make this exchange with us we leave transformed. We leave lighter for having been in His presence and lifted by His love.

     The altar is one of the places that I feel God's love for His people most profoundly. It's because of His great love for us that He even bothers to transform us. The question is, do we love Him enough to kneel at the altar and let Him work?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Shell...

     They had been searching the ocean floor for days. They'd already found plenty of shells on the beach but they knew that the big ones were on the ocean floor. They stood in waist deep water, goggles on, and looked straight down to the ocean floor. The sun was shining, the water clear, and the waves manageable.  They had some successes... a piece of drift wood, a pair of glasses, a set of goggles, and some medium sized shells...so there was hope.

     My husband joined their search around the fourth day. He enjoyed it for a while but soon gave up and decided to ride the waves on his boogie board. In between the search and the waves he stepped on something. Curious as to what it was, he reached down and picked it up. From the beach I heard shouts of "No way! I can't believe it!"  I looked to see what the fuss was about and there he was holding a very large, whole shell up in the air. It was the size of a grapefruit!   Everyone wanted a look at this shell. They couldn't get over how they had been searching for days and he had just stepped on it.

     I've been thinking about this shell for a while now. It reminds me of life. Everyone is in search of something. We search the world over in frustration for treasure. We search for the treasures of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and freedom to name a few. We stand in the waist deep waters of the ocean of life, braving the waves life throws at us, with the hope of finally finding that one thing that makes all the difference. The waves knock us around and often our efforts prove to be futile. We don't realize that this treasure we search for is right under our feet!

    God is like that sea shell everyone was searching for. He's been there waiting for us the whole time. He's the treasure we can't seem to see at the bottom of the ocean, even though He is right under our feet. Once we've stumbled upon Him, we can't help but share our excitement with those around us who have also been searching for treasure. Then everyone wants a glimpse...wants to understand how you seem to have stumbled upon Him so easily when they had been searching so hard. They had been searching so hard...but they didn't truly realize what it was they were searching for. Perhaps they admitted that they were searching for the treasures of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and freedom...but didn't realize that what it came in the form of was Jesus dying on the cross for their sins. Just like the waves of the ocean can blur the search for a shell, the waves of life can blur the search for a Savior.

     This is where we who have stumbled upon the great treasure of a relationship with God, have an opportunity to show them what we have found in Him. Like my husband who was so excited to have found the shell that he held it up in the air for all to see, we can do the same with Jesus. Our lives, our words, our actions, can all be used to lead others to the great treasure that is a relationship with God.  That's the thing about treasures...they are never meant to be hidden away. They are meant to be shared for the benefit of others.
      So what are you doing with your treasure today?

   

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Hand Print of the Cross...

     A few weeks ago the church I attend regularly celebrated 100 years. As part of the celebration everyone was encouraged to dip their hands in some paint and place their hand print on a wooden cross. That same cross now stands in the front of the sanctuary. I think it is the most unusual and the most beautiful cross I have ever seen in a church building. When I look at it I can't help but think of how rich in symbolism it is.

     Some may see it and think that it is childish. It is reminiscent of the pictures that preschoolers often bring home on Mother's or Father's Day. You know the ones...little hand prints made with finger paint and a cute poem pasted next to them. That childishness is part of what I love about it. It's artwork that we all made for our Heavenly Father. It reminds me to have child like faith. There is no need to be proper or put together in order to approach my Heavenly Father. It encourages me to hold on tightly to the cross...to always be reaching with my hands toward Christ. I can show you exactly where my hand print is on that cross, just as surely as I can tell you about the first time my hands reached for Him in prayer.

     I've been thinking about this cross a lot lately but in a sort of turned around way. I believe that the cross has its very own hand print. It has it's very own identifying mark. That's what a hand print is. No two hand prints are alike. Each one has it's own identity. This is why finger prints are often used to identify criminals...they are specific to the person who owns them. There are no two people with the same finger print or hand print. Forensic labs have tools and techniques that they use to see and identify a hand print that would otherwise not be able to be seen. Perhaps it is the same when it comes to the hand print of the cross. Those whose lives have been forever changed by what Christ did on the cross, are marked by its hand print.  This hand print of the cross should be what identifies us as different from everyone else. The daily interactions we have with others should make them wonder why we are the way we are...why we are so different.

      Second Corinthians 4:6-11 gives us a clear picture of what the hand print of the cross looks like.  "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, that the surpassing greatness of the power  may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."

     As I read these words I have to ask myself, does my life look like this? Do I die enough to my fleshly desires that the life of Jesus can be manifested in me? Do my words, my actions, my lifestyle have the hand print of the cross on them or do they appear to be the same as everyone else's?  Does the way that I live my life, and the way that I interact with others cause others to ask me to "give an account for the hope" that is in me? (1 Peter 3:15)

     The hand print of the cross is distinctive. There is nothing else like it. If we know Christ as our Savior and Lord then the hand prints of the cross should be all over our lives...so much so that the world around us takes notice and wants to know what makes us so different. There is only one way for this to happen. Our hand prints need to be all over that cross...holding fast to Christ, reaching for Him, not letting go of His life altering power.

     When you look closely at the hand printed cross in the church sanctuary, you'll see that the hand prints over lap each other. There are places where you can't tell where one hand print ends and another begins. This is a beautiful picture of how our hand prints must be with the hand print of the cross...so intertwined that you can't tell where one begins and the other ends. It must be that the hand print of the cross is so completely covering all aspects of our lives that we can't be identified by our own hand prints and we are solely identified by the hand print of the cross... which truly is the identifying mark of Christ on our lives.


   

   

Friday, August 14, 2015

Presence...

     Presence...this word has different meanings depending on the context it's used in. If I were to say that someone had the presence of mind to take action in a difficult situation, it would mean that their mind was present in that moment. In other words, their mind wasn't wandering off somewhere else. They were mentally engaged where they were at and because of this, they were able to think quickly and take appropriate action. Then there is the word presence used in the context of a request to be somewhere. We see this often in the form of an invitation, it may read "Your presence is requested". In this context a person's physical presence is being asked for. They are being asked to attend something, to spend time at an event. Finally, the word presence can be used in reference to a feeling you get when you are around someone. Perhaps you've heard someone say, "He has a presence about him." or "He brings a certain presence with him when he walks into the room."  As I ponder the many uses of the word presence, the same questions keep coming back to me. Is my presence a present?  Would other people in my life who have spent time in my presence, consider my presence in their lives a gift?

     My mom had a saying that used to really annoy me when I was a kid. Whenever I wanted to watch something on tv or listen to some music that likely wasn't good for me she would say, "Input, output! What goes in is what comes out!"  I probably was more annoyed because I knew that was her final word on things and I wouldn't get my way, than with the saying itself.  Now that I am older I see the truth in what she said, and I think it relates directly to what kind of presence we have. My mom knew that lyrics to songs, bad behavior, and bad language would linger in the recesses of my heart and mind long after the tv show or song was over. She also knew that whether I realized it or not, it could effect my thinking and behavior. Much like she wanted to feed me healthy food that would fuel my body and was good for me, she wanted to do the same for my heart and mind. So what does this have to do with presence?

     The presence we have is dependent upon whose presence we are spending time in.  If the bulk of our time is spent on social media, watching television, spending time with people who gossip, spending time with people who freely judge others, spending time with people who complain, spending time with people who despise God, or spending time with people who are racist...to name a few, we will become like them. What we put in is what will come out...even if we don't mean for it to happen. This will cause us to bring an unwelcome presence with us wherever we go. Our presence will no longer be a gift. People will see us coming and make excuses as to why they can't spend time with us. People will find our presence to be draining and will likely feel exhausted when they are done being in our presence. I know this isn't what I want. I don't want to drain people or have them run the other way when they see me coming! So how do we remedy that? How do we prevent it?

     We need to spend time in God's presence.  Spending time in God's presence gives us the opportunity to take all of our thoughts, feelings, fears, failures, hurts, hang ups, and questions to Him. There's no need to put on a front with Him. We can come into His presence rough around the edges and let Him do the polishing. We can bring all these things that we have input into our lives and ask Him to change the output. If we let Him He will change our negative thoughts into thoughts filled with hope, love, and mercy for ourselves as well as others. If we let Him, He will replace our fears with peace and show us how to rely on Him for courage to face the future. He will open our eyes to see that our failures were really not failures at all, but opportunities for growth. He can heal our hurts and set us free from our hang-ups. In His hands, our questions become catalysts to go deeper in relationship with Him as we search for answers. Spending time in His presence has a way of changing us from the inside out. We no longer see things the same way. I think it's because He loves us so well. When we spend time in His presence we experience His love for us first hand...and it's life changing. When we input His love it opens our eyes so that we can see clearly.We no longer view others the same way. We see them through the lens of God's love and it effects all of our interactions with them. It's then that we truly see it... if we want our own presence to be a gift, then we need to output His love. I believe His love flowing out of us in our interactions with others, is the difference between people feeling drained by our presence or people feeling refreshed by our presence. It's allowing His presence and love within us, to change us... that changes everything!

    Presence...a word with several different meanings. Yet it strikes me that this one meaning seems to matter most. If we want our presence to be a present...then we need to spend time with the Ultimate Gift Giver- God. This is the only way that we can become a gift to others. In becoming a gift to others, we become most like Jesus who has been such an incredible gift to us. Isn't this what we really want anyway...to be a gift that points others toward the Ultimate Gift Giver?
   



 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Journey to Emmaus...

     There are blogs I don't hesitate to write and then there are blogs that I wait on for quite a length of time. This is one of those. I wait for a variety of reasons. This time I waited because I thought it would be one of those things that I would write about in the future, after I came through to the other side of things. Since it keeps being brought to the forefront of my mind, it seems that it is for now. My prayer is that this post will speak to you and encourage you, should you find yourself on your own journey to Emmaus.

     Two months ago I was painting the deck. There is something about being outdoors alone, that instantly quiets my soul and invites me to talk to God. As I was painting I began to talk to Him about our family's circumstances and I asked Him to give us a clear direction for our lives. It has been three years since my husband's lay off and he had just applied for several jobs...all of which would require us to move out of the area should he get hired. As I continued to paint in the silence that followed, I heard Him say, "Go read about the road to Emmaus." I wasn't really sure why I needed to read that but curiosity got the best of me. I took a break to go read.

     The road to Emmaus takes place in Luke 24 after Jesus was crucified and after He appeared to the women at the tomb. Two of the apostles are walking to the village of Emmaus. As they walk together they begin discussing everything that has taken place. During their journey Jesus approaches them and begins to travel with them. In verse sixteen it tells us that "their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him". He asks them what they are talking about and they say, "Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?" Or in modern language, "What rock did you crawl out from under?!"  Jesus doesn't miss a beat and replies, "What things?" They tell Him all about Jesus and the crucifixion. In verse twenty two they even share their disappointment with Him and say, " But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened."  Finally, they tell Him about the empty tomb. Jesus responds by taking them on a Scriptural tour of sorts. He explains beginning with Moses all of the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures. Eventually they reach the village. He appears to be going farther, and they convince Him to stay with them. He agrees. It isn't until they are sitting at the supper table and He blesses the bread, breaks it, and begins giving it to them that their eyes are opened and they recognize Him. Can you imagine their shock when they realize that they had been with Jesus that whole time and didn't know it?!

     I had read this passage before, but never before was I able to see myself so much in those apostles... until that day when I was painting the deck.  At that moment in time my husband and I were just like the apostles. We were walking on our own road to Emmaus, talking about all that had happened in our lives these past three years, thinking about how God hadn't shown up in the ways we thought He would or expected Him to, feeling the length of our journey, and wondering what direction we needed to go in. Were we even on the right path? Had we missed something? Had we missed God's will for us in our search for it? Just as it was with the apostles, God has been walking this road with us all along and listening to our conversations. Sure we have seen and recognized His faithfulness and provision for us on the journey, but there are ways in which like the apostles our eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. After all, how many times did we silently wonder where He was and strive to search out his will? Just like the apostles had hoped that Jesus was going to redeem Israel and were disappointed that instead He was crucified, we had hoped that God would have provided us with a full time job by now. We had expectations just like them, and our own timeline just like them. Yet here was Jesus the whole time...listening to them, walking with them, and finally educating them. He took the time to school them on the Scriptures pertaining to Himself starting with Moses. It's Him saying, "This is where I have been all along. There has been this master plan from the beginning and you don't have to strive to see what it is." Still, they don't recognize Him until He breaks bread. They had been searching for Him in the mind blowing, extraordinary, out of their control things that had happened to them. He was right there in the ordinary every day act of breaking bread. So it is with us.

     I read about the road to Emmaus that day and went back to painting the deck, but I haven't stopped thinking about it. It keeps following me around. I think it's because I can relate so well. The biggest thing the apostles expected Jesus to do was to redeem Israel. The biggest thing I expected God to do was to supply us with a job by now. The apostles were three days past the crucifixion and feeling every minute of it, waiting for something to happen. I am three years into the journey and feeling every bit of it. You know, Jesus did so much more than redeem Israel. His plan was so much bigger and better than what the apostles had hoped for. He redeemed all of mankind. He conquered death. What I have been waiting for may very well be much smaller than what God has planned. Perhaps I am still waiting because I have underestimated Him. I still can't get past the fact that they recognized Jesus only after He broke bread and gave it to them. They had just spent all that time walking and talking with Him, trying to wrap their minds around the events that had just taken place...no doubt in search of some answers. It makes me wonder how many times  I strive for answers or strive to know His will, when all I need to do is recognize Him in the ordinary and keep on walking on the very road that He has been walking with me all along. I asked God for clear direction that day when I was painting. I received clear direction. We are to keep on walking on the road He has us on. Maybe the reason why the story of the road to Emmaus keeps following me around is because I need to remember it.

     I need to remember that I will miss the will of God for my life when I strive for it. That doesn't mean that I should give up asking God to show me His will. It simply means that while I wait for Him to reveal it to me, I continue to faithfully walk the road He currently has me on. If I am faithful to walk with Him on the road He already has me on, I will likely find that I will walk right into His will. This walking or journeying with Him comes back to that word that I have been holding tight to for some time now. The word abide. When I abide I am at rest in Him. There is no striving, no wondering where He is, and  no feeling every minute of the three year journey. When I abide, I have already recognized Him because I am sitting across the table with Him in the ordinary...breaking bread.

     How about you? Are you on a long journey too? Do you strive to know what direction to go in or what God's will is for your life? Stop striving and abide. Keep putting one foot in front of the other walking with Jesus on the road He has you on. Take comfort in knowing that He is with you and you don't journey alone. If you continue to journey with Him, He will walk you right into His will. We long for Him to show up big, to take care of those things that seems so big to us...but He is already at work doing what is truly needed. He has already shown up in the most important place of all...the ordinary. It's in the ordinary that we learn how to rest in Him.
 

   

Friday, July 24, 2015

Value...

     I've been thinking a lot about value. What the world values is very different from what God values in terms of money, material possessions, the measure of success, and even in terms of humanity. As a Christ follower, I believe it's important that what I value lines up with what God values. Another words, I need to see it all through His eyes and have His understanding of things. That's why reading my Bible and spending time with Him are so important. It's only through the lens of His Word that I can get an accurate view and understanding of things. It's only by spending time with Him, really knowing Him, that what I value can become the same as what He values.

     There are many ways...too many ways, that what God values and what the world values are different. The differences I've been considering lately have to do with humanity. God's used a special little boy to encourage me to take a broader look at the differences. I first met the boy at our church food pantry. He was hiding behind his grandma when I asked if they wanted prayer. The grandmother responded to my question with "Yes! I need prayer because he is evil!".  I had never heard a parent or grandparent say something like that in front of a child before, and it really threw me. So much so, that I couldn't pray with her. So, I directed her to one of the other ladies that were waiting to pray with someone. In the mean time, the boy had taken off running in the church gym and I went after him.

    He was surprised to see me walking toward him and he stopped in his tracks.  I told him my name and said, "Do you know God loves you very much?" He didn't speak, just shook his head yes. I wanted to continue the conversation, to somehow let him know that he wasn't hopeless. I asked him another question, "Do you know that God has wonderful plans for your future, because He loves you so much?" Again, he shook his head yes. Shortly after that he and I walked over to where his grandma was standing and they left. I have had the privilege of spending time with him four times since, and every time I see him I tell him that God loves him and has great plans for his life.  Slowly, God is softening his grandma's heart and she no longer calls him evil. Perhaps she said that initially out of her own frustration and hopelessness. The boy is in fact, autistic. That doesn't matter to God... to the world it may matter. The world may see those with autism and feel hopeless because it only focuses on the challenges of being autistic. God values the person regardless. He still sees someone He created in His image, someone He loves. He still has great plans for their future. The world forgets the God of the impossible. The God who made this little boy has already made him incredible. There are things that only this little guy can contribute to this great big world of ours....and those contributions will surely make it a better place.  This little boy is valuable. He is a treasure. It's only when we focus solely on his challenges that what we value becomes more like what the world values and we fail to see his value through God's eyes.

     Sometimes we don't realize that what we value is the same thing that the world values. Sometimes we think we are standing up for what God values when in fact, what we are taking a stand on doesn't even line up with His Word. Christians tend to do this a lot out of fear. I saw a perfect example of this play out on social media this week. A brother in Christ stated that he felt the U. S. should close its borders to Muslim immigrants. This statement was made after the Chattanooga shootings. Although not all of the details are known yet, the shooter was a Muslim. This brother in Christ believes that closing our borders to Muslim immigrants will prevent these things from happening. He sees Islam as the root of the problem. He likened a decision to close the borders, to the U.S. closing its borders during World War 2 to Japanese immigrants.  He stated that every Muslim that comes to the U.S. has the potential to be radicalized and they will kill to honor their religion. It strikes me that closing U.S. borders to Muslims would be like closing Pennsylvania's borders to New Yorkers. Sure, I would be less likely to get killed in a car accident as I head to Walmart on a weekend, but I would also miss out on getting to know some really great people. Several of my friends are from New York, and my life is only richer for having known them! We miss out on so much when we only value those who look like us and think like us. We miss out on so much when we make sweeping generalizations and lump a whole people group into one category, such as lumping Muslims and terrorists all together or crazy drivers and New Yorkers all together! Why do we do it? Perhaps it's easier to do this than to ask God for His eyes to see the value in others. After all, seeing the value in others requires taking the time to get to know them, and caring enough to point them to Christ.

    I've struggled all week long to wrap my mind around this way of thinking. I see this man's points. I have also heard similar ideas from non Christians. The questions keep coming to me: Does God value the Muslim immigrants?  If we serve a radical God, radical enough to send His son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, then why should we be concerned or afraid of radical Muslims?  Can't our God save them too? Is He not loving enough, powerful enough...to change their hearts? Are they not human beings created in God's image just like we are? If so, then why not invite them in and choose to be an instrument God can use in the American church to lead them to Jesus Christ, the radical Savior? Then they truly will be radicalized!

     As I've thought about these two very different set of circumstances this week, I've come to realize that we devalue what we don't understand. We do it out of fear and sometimes out of laziness. It's easier to dismiss those who are different from us than to get to know them, pray for them, love them, help them, and value them. It's easier to dismiss Muslim immigrants than it is for the body of Christ in America as a whole, to get it's act together, get it's spiritual armor on, and invest in the lives of Muslim immigrants with the end goal of leading them to Christ who already loves them, values them, and wants them for His own.  We are too quick to forget that Christ valued us. He valued us...sinful us...so much that He went to the cross. If we could just remember what He has saved us from, how completely He's loved us since, then we could more easily view others who are different from us through His eyes. When that happens we will come to see as valuable what He sees as valuable, and suddenly everyone we come across is that little boy in the church gym and we can't wait to tell them over and over again that God loves them and has great plans for them...and we'll continue to declare it until it sinks down into the depths of their being and they too can see their value in God's eyes.

   


















Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tigger...

     The longing in those big blue eyes captured me. I couldn't look away. The owner of those eyes voiced his need for love and affection. I scooped him up. Looks can be deceiving. He looked bright eyed and healthy, but his fluffy fur coat hid the truth. He was skin and bones. "Can we keep him Mom?" I heard my youngest say. The oldest was soon to follow with, "We can take him home with us, he can sit with us in the back seat!" I hesitated for a moment. "No, we can't girls, but we can love him well while we are here."  Two days later we would name him Tigger.

     Tigger is a two month old kitten that someone abandoned at the edge of my Great Aunt Mary's property in Kentucky. My cousin Dude discovered him two days before our visit while she was out feeding the chickens. They don't allow cats on their screened in porch or in their house. This time they made an exception for the sake of my girls. They were loving my girls well while they were there.

     Tigger and the girls spent every moment together. They fed him and he nearly swallowed everything whole! He played with them for hours biting their toes, batting their fingers, and chasing things all over the place. He often wore himself out and fell asleep in their arms. All of this led only to more pleading from the kids, and strong encouragement from my Great Aunt to take him home. I couldn't. I told my girls, "God brought us Tigger for this place in time. With no wifi here and little to do, He brought you a little friend to keep you busy. He also brought you to Tigger because Tigger needed love. Make the most of your time together and stop thinking ahead to when we leave. Make the most of the time you have to love each other now."  Who knew there were life lessons to be gleaned from a kitten?!

     The world is full of "Tiggers". We are surrounded by them wherever we go.  These "Tiggers" may sometimes find themselves in need of physical provision, but they are always in need of love and acceptance. We need to make the most of the moments we have with them. There are no coincidences with God. Each person He brings our way is a divine appointment. He is intentional. The people He brings across our path may be like that kitten...here for a moment and gone tomorrow. That moment matters. That is the only moment we have to quench a love thirsty soul with the love God has poured into us. So often we stop first to analyze the person in front of us, and what helping them or loving them would mean...for us. We worry about whether or not it will turn into a long term situation where they are somehow dependent on us. We can paralyze ourselves with this and fail to act. We can be so busy worrying ahead that we miss the opportunity to do what God has called us to do in the moment...simply love.

     I wonder what would happen if we stopped overthinking things and left them up to God? Maybe the "Tiggers" in our lives would be less like a stray cat looking for a home, because they will have felt at home in the love of God that we did not hesitate to allow to flow through us.

   

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Unspoken...

     This has been a week of a lot of words. I've watched word wars break out on social media. Various churches have posted links to long statements full of words regarding same sex marriage. Christians are exchanging words with non Christians. Worse yet, Christians are exchanging heated words with each other as the non Christians sit back and watch. So many pointless words.

     The wisest words we will ever speak are the ones we say to God in our prayers. This moment in our Nation's history, this Supreme Court ruling...it's not an invitation to rant. It's an invitation to hit our knees. The very same knees that should have blisters on them by now because of how often we've knelt to pray for our fellow man. There is no point in speaking, shouting, posting, or ranting about the truth as it is written in the Bible when we haven't taken the time to truly love the person or people group that we are speaking too. They won't hear it and I can't blame them. When has slamming people with the truth ever brought them to Christ? When has ranting on social media and arguing with other Christians made anyone want to set foot in a church? The world doesn't need to hear our viewpoints it already knows them. In some cases the world knows what the Bible says better than we do!  Some things are best left unspoken.

     What if instead of being so quick to use our words, we let our actions do the talking? What if the Church as a whole sought God earnestly for a plan? What if the Church as a whole, asked God to show it how to love the homosexual community?  The Church in general, is quick to agree with the Bible that homosexuality is a sin, but slow to recognize that all sin is equal in God's eyes. All sin requires a Savior. Heterosexuals sin too and I haven't met one yet who came to know Christ and was delivered from their bondage because someone shouted at them and pointed out how wrong they were on social media. So what's the plan?

     Isn't this the real question? Isn't this the root of all the ranting? Fear. Fear because we have no plan? Fear because we don't know how to deal with this. Fear because we watched the Left Behind Series and we are certain this Supreme Court ruling has ushered in the end times! Fear that this is the beginning of the government telling the Church what to do. Fear that someday, the Church will be persecuted or forced into doing same sex marriages. So what? So what if this is only the beginning of greater challenges to come?! All the more reason to make the most of the time we have. This is all the more reason to seek God earnestly for a way to love the homosexual community so that they too can experience the freedom from the bondage of sin that Christ has to offer. I believe that if we truly seek Him God will gladly reveal His heart to us concerning this. Until He does, let's leave everything but our prayers unspoken. It's better to be silent than to inadvertently become a mouthpiece for the devil.

   

   

   

Friday, June 19, 2015

Charleston and the Church...

     I grew up in the Church. It was my home. It was the place where my biological family and spiritual family came together and loved each other well. This church was full of spare aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  For the majority of my life, church was a place filled with love where I felt safe. Even as the congregation grew from fifty to one hundred and fifty, we still remained a tight knit community. We knew each other and trusted each other. This was the over all experience of church for me, from birth to eighteen years old. So speaking of church, have you seen the headlines today?

     A man in Charleston sits in a Bible study in an African American church for an hour and then murders all but one woman. He lets her live so that she can tell the world what he did. His act of violence was racially motivated. In the hours since the news broke, I have read one article after another about how churches need better security. I even know people who are considering carrying a concealed weapon to church...just in case. My heart hurts. Since when did we start serving a pistol packing Savior? When in all of Jesus' life on earth, do we see Him answer violence with more violence? Is there a verse somewhere that tells us to defend ourselves? Or, did our Christ stand in silence before His accusers?

     What happened in Charleston was racially motivated but there are Christians in churches around the world who experience this regularly simply because of their faith. I have yet to read about the persecuted church taking up swords, spears, or guns to defend themselves. They simply go on worshiping. They continue to be a home, a place of love, a family. This is how they bring God's Kingdom to earth. See, they understand the truth. Church was never meant to be a safe place.

     Tell me, what is safe about a place that people enter into one way, and exit completely changed? What is safe about a place where we love instead of judge? What is safe about a place where the chains of alcoholism, drug addiction, and pornography are broken? What is safe about a place where the mentally ill sit in the pew right next to the healthy? Where a murderer is just as forgiven and just as loved as the one who isn't a murderer? What is safe about serving a God who says that in order to save our lives we must lose them? Nothing. Nothing is safe about any of this. Lives are forever changed in the church and the enemy of our souls knows it. He will use whatever means of hatred he can to stop it, or scare it into seeking false security.

     So what if we did hire security guards and have metal detectors for our churches? What if that was the lesson we learned from Charleston? Would you want to go to a church where their were security guards present? I wouldn't. There is something about that concept that suggests we are trying to keep certain people out for our own good. Here's the problem with that, those certain people are the very people that Christ came for. They are the people who need the church to invite them in and love them. They are the people who need to be set free, who need the friendship, the family, the home that the church has to offer. They are the thief on the cross that Jesus forgave. They are Saul who became Paul. Paul...who once murdered the people of the church!

     It's true, we can all start carrying concealed weapons to church under the false assumption that they will provide us with protection or at the very least a way to defend ourselves. Why? What purpose would it really serve? We wouldn't be any safer. We would be in even more danger. When you carry a weapon to defend or protect yourself, you are putting yourself in the position of possibly choosing whether or not someone else dies. Regardless of who that person is or why you may feel the need to make that choice, you will have to live with that weighty decision for the rest of your life. So, why do it? Why find security in guards or a weapon? Isn't our God the same God who shut the mouths of the lions for Daniel when he was in the lion's den? Is He not the same God who parted the Red Sea as the Israelites fled from the Egyptians? Didn't the very God we say we believe is all powerful, convert one of the church's greatest persecutors- Saul into Paul? Is He not then capable of protecting us? And if He chooses not to....

     If He chooses not to then we get to go to heaven sooner than we expected and enjoy His presence. We get to leave this tired, scary, sinful, burdensome world sooner than we planned! Those men and women who died in Charleston would not want the church to cower in fear and have that be the lesson we choose to learn from the sacrifice of their lives. They would want us to remember that  "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear." I John 4:18.  God is love. There is no fear in love. If we say that we love Him, then why would we be afraid? If we say that we trust Him, then why take matters into our own hands?

     If we take matters into our own hands then the church is no longer a home where people are welcomed into the loving family of God just as they are. If we take matters into our own hands, we deny the power of our God to transform the lives of others. We will never know how many times a man or woman has sat in our pew with the same intention as the man in Charleston, and not followed through because God changed their heart before the service was over. This is not the time for the church to react with fear. This is the time for the church to rise up in courage with faith that our God is bigger than our fears, bigger than this scary world we live in, and bigger than the hate. It's time for us to remember that we serve the living God. He has already said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

     When we forget who our God is we will live in fear. When we forget who our God is, we will take matters into our own hands. When we forget who our God is, we will pack pistols instead of stretching out our arms in love. Let's not forget. Our lives depend on it!
   

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Beat Up...

      "The world will always beat you up, but God will always heal you." I found these words rolling off the tip of my tongue after I cleaned up a watch today. Have you ever said something out loud, heard what you just said, and wondered where it came from? Yeah, it was one of those moments. My mind keeps thinking on those words. They were spoken to someone else but I know they are very much for me.

     It all started last night when I heard someone honk their horn several times in our driveway. I looked out the window and saw that it was my husband honking. He wanted one of the kids to move their bike out of the middle of the driveway so he could pull in. Both girls were outside. The child who owned the bike just stood there like she was frozen in place, while the other one ran to move the bike out of the way. I would soon find out why.

      One of them had been riding that bike all over the yard, skidded down a steep hill, rolled with the bike, and hit the pavement. She came into the house blood dripping down her knee, running down her arm, and a giant lump that was quickly turning purple on her chin. The lump was so big it made her face look longer! After running for wet paper towels and ice, emptying the band aid box, all the while silently pleading with God that she had not broken her jaw, things calmed down and I began to assess the situation.  She could talk. She was asking for food and was able to chew it. She was able to yawn. All of her teeth were accounted for and still seemed in alignment. We were now completely out of band aids and sterile guaze and I desperately needed chocolate! Time to run to the store.

      My ride to the store provided me with plenty of time to talk to God. It had been a long week. It was one of those weeks where every time we received a blessing from God, something discouraging would happen to follow it. I felt beat up by the cares of this life both physical and financial. I began scrutinizing and questioning every decision we had been making in every area of our lives recently. Until I realized that this bike accident had nothing to do with any of that. We just simply needed God's protection. You see, we have been at a place of really resting in God in recent months. We have been content with where He has us right now even though it may not be right where we would like to be. This contentment, this resting in Him, has been our greatest blessing! What better way to rob us of our greatest blessing than to flood our hearts and minds with fears, financial worries, doubts, frustrations, and physical suffering?  This way we can be so distracted by feeling tired, worried, and frustrated, that we won't be content with God's plans for our lives or with where He has us right now. This is just one of the ways that Satan uses the difficulties of this life (world) to beat us up. However, God is right there ready to heal our wandering minds and anxious hearts, just like I was right there waiting for my daughter with bandages and peroxide. We just have to let Him.

      His healing doesn't always take on the form we want and it doesn't always come in the timing that we want it to. Yet God is still at work on the inside healing our hearts and making us new. This reminds me of how much my girl dislikes the painful sting of peroxide. The cleansing it offers is part of the healing process but it's painful. God's healing processes in our lives are often no less painful because He heals and cleanses from the inside out! We tend to be people who like to stick a band aid on things and call it healed, all the while ignoring the dirt in the wound it's covering. Dirt if left in a wound untreated will cause infection. Infection in one part of the body if left untreated, can spread through out and eventually take a person's life. There are so many parallels between the physical and the spiritual life!

     I was washing the face of my daughter's watch this morning. It's her favorite watch because it has a world map as the back ground. She says it reminds her of her dream to travel the world someday. The watch took quite a beating and its face was dirty and scratched up just like its owner's! I cleaned it as best as I could but I knew she was still upset that it was scratched up. After handing it to her I said, " I can't do anything about the scratches, but maybe it could be a reminder to you when you travel the world... the world will always beat you up but God will always heal you."  In my heart I pray it will always be so, that she will always run to God and let Him heal her.  I know that if she does...He always will.

     For the record, the thought of her traveling the world someday has always been difficult for me. But the same God who rolled down the hill on a bike and hit the pavement with the child who refuses to wear a helmet...will be traveling with her. She couldn't be held in better hands! 
 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Already There...

     There are moments in life when we can honestly say we are certain that God was already there. We are sure that He had to have gone ahead of us and protected us in some way. There are also moments in life when we need to be reminded that He is already there...that He has been there at the end from the very beginning. The moments I have found myself in recently have me thinking about this quite a bit.

     I first started to consider this after a very unusual night at food pantry. I had asked a man in line if he wanted prayer, and I thought that he had responded with the words "I pray." So I said,"That's great that you pray!" He shook his head no and motioned for me to come closer to him. I did. Then he said, "Give me your hand." I thought nothing of it at the time because often the guests at food pantry want to hold hands when we pray. I gave him my hand. The instant I held his hand I felt this overwhelming sense of peace and safety. I felt the most safe that I have ever felt in my life. It was such an unusual feeling of safety that I was conscious of it. At precisely that moment the man brought my hand up, snarled at me, and said "I bite!".  I thought he was joking with me so I laughed a little and said, "It's okay that you bite. I'll pray for you anyway." He shook his head no, so I went back to where I had been standing. Twice more, he walked past me that night snarled, acted like he was going to bite, and said "I bite!".   By the third time I no longer believed he was joking, and I was certain he had a demon. I still felt safe.

    That feeling of safety bothered me the whole way home and I asked God a lot of questions. What is wrong with me that I thought he was joking and didn't discern right away what was going on? Why did I feel safe when I should have been freaked out? Why didn't he bite me? What is it you want me to see that I'm missing?  I wrestled with those questions on my own, and with a friend who is much older and wiser than me. A few times during the night God woke me up and brought various things to my attention. One of the things that He said to me was, "I was already there at the end of your day, from the beginning."  That overwhelming feeling of peace and safety was because God was already there. He knew this was going to happen. He went before me, He covered me, and He protected me. I spent the next few days marveling at this. Every time I thought about it I felt so loved, so held, and so thankful.

     In the week that followed, I faced quite a bit of uncertainty. I took a loved one for an MRI.  I prayed hard that nothing would show up on it. We're still waiting for the results. My heart was burdened by another person I love who is contemplating walking away from God completely. As the week wore on and the burdens piled up, my mind was drawn to God who is already there at the ending. I couldn't help but wonder what the endings for all of these stories playing out in the lives of those I love are going to look like. I couldn't help but wonder why we have to go through them at all, if God knows the end from the beginning.

     At the week's end,  I sat on the porch with my aunt watching the kids play. There was a hornet buzzing around us and she wanted to throw something at it to make it go away. I reminded her that we didn't want to make it mad since I'm allergic. Eventually it flew away and we sat there enjoying the sunshine. I happened to look up during our conversation. I was looking at the clouds and enjoying the blue sky...when I saw directly above the chair I was sitting in...a large hornet's nest. I had been concerned about one hornet and there was a whole nest a few feet above my head! God had already been there. I was safe. I was covered. I was held.

     We're not guaranteed a life free of trials, pain, or sorrow. We may never fully understand why God allows certain things to happen to us or to those we love. I truly don't believe that there is anything in this life that we will face without Him, if we are His. He is already there at the end, from the beginning. Another words, He has gone ahead of us. He knows what we are going to face before we face it and He will see us through if we'll let Him. I don't know about you, but right now there are things that I worry about and wonder how they are going to end. Will they end well or will there be more heartache? All I can see before my eyes is one hornet.  I am learning that I don't need to know that answer. God hasn't lost sight of the whole hornet's nest!  I don't need to worry about how things are going to turn out.  All I need to know is that God's already there!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Eighty...

   Eleven years ago my husband met a very interesting man at a men's prayer breakfast. They had a great conversation and bonded over their mutual love of golf! I remember my husband saying that he felt strongly that God wanted him to get to know this person. I thought nothing of it at the time.

    Eventually they would spend more time together. Often after golfing, they would come back to the house and have something to eat. It was during one of these times that I jokingly told this new found friend that if he continued showing up for meals we'd have to make him a relative. Of course he thought that was funny and was soon known as "Uncle Erich" to the kids. In that moment, none of us knew exactly what that would look like, or what shape this relationship would take in our lives. God knew.

     As time went by and we shared life together God took the words I spoke in jest, and truly made us family. Erich has been a cozy spot for my youngest to fall asleep on. He's been a play mate for both girls since the oldest was a 5 year old and the youngest was a 1 year old. I've caught him on all fours playing with the kids. Just a week ago he participated in a "photo shoot" in our back yard with my oldest as the photographer! I must say, he looked especially handsome pretending to pick flowers off of my forsythia bushes! To the kids, he is the giver of stuffed monkeys, a practical joker, a playmate, and a friend. If you ask the youngest she'll tell you "He's a little wild" and "He makes the best corn!" Erich is an important part of every holiday. In the beginning, our families would say, "Be sure to invite Erich."  Now, it goes without saying. Erich is as permanent a fixture at Thanksgiving dinner as the turkey on the table! None of us can imagine a holiday without him, nor do we want to.

   Today Erich turned eighty. In recent conversations he has asked me not to pray that he makes it to one hundred! I really enjoy my conversations with Erich. We can start out talking about what's wrong with the world and always end up in the same spot, looking forward to being with our Savior. Other than my grandparents, I don't think I have met anyone else in recent years who truly can't wait to spend eternity with Christ. That's the beauty of Erich. He is able to live his life here on earth with eternity ever present in his mind. He doesn't get stuck on the here and now. He knows the best is yet to come and he gets great joy out of picturing it.

     When we first met Erich, we had no idea that the best was yet to come. We thought we had simply made a new friend, when in fact we had unknowingly discovered a missing branch in our family tree. Yet God knew. That's the thing about God...He's always looking to grow a family. Who is He looking to add to yours? Will you make room?  With God there is always room for one more at the dinner table and the best is always yet to come.  I am so thankful that we have had these eleven years together and can celebrate this milestone of a birthday. Most of all, I am thankful for Erich.

   

 
   
   

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Forgetful...

     It felt so good to get away for a bit recently. I didn't go far, just out with a friend. We sat at a little table in the local Deli sharing life, lost in conversation. All of the sudden we were interrupted by this half horrific and half comical screaming noise. We stopped talking and looked around to see where it was coming from. Our eyes fell on the clock hanging on the wall. It was a unique looking cuckoo clock that had just struck three. We came to the conclusion that it had to be the clock screaming! Shortly after we paid our bill and went on our way. 
 
    A few days later I heard the same screaming noise that I had heard at the Deli...but I was at the grocery store this time. The noise was so loud and strange that other shoppers were looking around to see what it was and where it was coming from. That's when I realized much to my embarrassment, that the screaming noise was coming from my purse! Of course, I did what anyone else would do in that situation...I kept on shopping and pretended I had no idea that my purse was screaming! Later on after I had paid for my groceries and loaded them into the car, I looked at my cell phone and saw that I had missed a phone call from my mother-in-law. Then it dawned on me! A few months ago I found some funny ringtones and downloaded them. I gave certain callers unique ringtones so that I would know who was calling me simply from the sound. I had set my mother-in-law's ringtone to the voice of the "screaming goat"....and had forgotten about it! It turns out that it wasn't the clock at the Deli making that noise, it was the cell phone in my purse.  I had spent a considerable amount of time listening to ringtones and picking out just the right ones. I'd spent enough time that I should have recognized the scream as my ringtone instead of thinking it was the clock. This has me considering what other things I so easily forget...

     How often do I spend a considerable amount of time reading my Bible only to forget what I have read by the end of the day? Unless I spend time meditating on, or in prayer about the words that I have just read and how to apply them to my life, I will forget them.  It's only natural to forget, especially when I get further along in my day and caught up in juggling life. In fact, it's happened to me quite a bit this week and maybe that is exactly why God has gone to great lengths to bring it to my attention. Not only did He use my crazy ringtone, He repeatedly brought me verses that drove home the same message from various places in the Bible.

     The week began pretty normal until I started helping someone I love through some health issues. Through the course of conversations and internet research, I became worried. Worry is one of the easiest ways to forget what you have read in your Bible! As the day kept on going and so did my mind, I began to pray. During my prayer time I heard God say, "Did you forget what you read this morning already?"  Unfortunately I had, so I went back and read it again. These are the words I had forgotten "A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones." Proverbs 14:30. At the beginning of my day God had already given me the words that I would need. Throughout the rest of the week, every time I forgot what He had told me because of fear or worry, I needed to look no further than what He had spoken to me each morning. Out of His great love and mercy, He gave me a steady supply of instruction. For the days when my mind was overwhelmed with questions, He sent words from Isaiah 30:15, "In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength."  On the days when He knew my fears would multiply He sent Psalm 94:19, " When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,Your consolations delight my soul."  After a week of regular forgetfulness, I can't help but agree with the Psalmist when he says, "Your word have I treasured in my heart. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word. I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great spoil." Psalm 119: 11,16,&162.

      My prayer at the beginning of this next week, is that I am not so forgetful!  Discovering that the source of the screaming noise was with me all along was enlightening, as was discovering that God had already given me what I needed for each day this week...right at its beginning.  I've always seen the time I spend with Him in the morning as preparation for the day...but I don't know that I have hung on to His every word, like I have this week. Perhaps more than I want to be less forgetful, I find in myself this fervent desire to forever hold on to His every word, and treasure it.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Once Upon A Time...

     Once upon a time there was an overwhelmed, tired, impatient, frustrated, angry, sad, and frightened mom. Like other mothers, she had entered motherhood with expectations and assumptions...she just didn't realize it. She assumed that she could raise her children using the exact same methods that her parents had used in raising her. She expected these methods to work because they were based on biblical principles. Only God knew that the children He gave her were going to blow those expectations and assumptions right out of the water!

     The children didn't respond the way the mother expected to the guidelines, directions, and methods she was using to raise them. Of course she knew there would be opposition  no one is perfect, not even her little angels! What she didn't plan on were the tantrums, the talking back, the strong will, and a season where every day was a battle. She tried everything she knew and then lost her temper. When she lost her temper she slammed doors, yelled, and lectured. Sometimes an occasional curse word would fly out of her mouth, and right after it hung wide open in shock! She felt like a bad example, a failure. Many times she cried and prayed, certain that she was messing up her kids. Sometimes she left. There were times when she waited by the door because she knew her husband would be home soon. She stood there waiting shoes and coat on, keys in hand ready to make a run for it, to escape for a few hours. She was tired of the battle of wills.

     One day when she had come to the end of herself, she sat at the kitchen table with her Bible open and simply said, "God I don't even know what to pray anymore. Show me."  Suddenly verses that she had memorized as a child flooded her mind one after the other. She quickly wrote them down until they stopped coming and peace flooded her soul. For the next two years she prayed those verses over her children's lives every day...and SHE was transformed. She prayed those verses over her children, allowed those verses to guide her responses to her children, and taught them to her children so they would know that God had something to say about how to live life. Her children were transformed too. Over time the battle of the wills became a less common occurrence, expectations and assumptions vanished, and hearts were softened and teachable. She didn't lose her temper as easily, she stopped slamming doors, and she yelled less. Praying these Scriptures over her children catapulted her into praying for others. Her prayer life took off and she learned how to use her Sword, the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. She became convinced that the Word of God is alive and active, and it gets things done. She also became convinced of her constant need for Christ. Without Him she would still be that mother at the beginning of our story and who knows what terrible shape her kids would be in!

     That mother is me. I share all of this because I've been doing some thinking back lately.  In recent weeks my husband and I have received some very encouraging words about our children, their behavior, their love for God, their love for others, and their knowledge of God's Word. Some have said, "You must be doing something right." That's why I wrote this tonight. You see, I didn't do anything right. I KNOW it was all God. I'm thankful for the encouragement and I'm thankful that people see God at work in my girls. However, more than anything I am so incredibly thankful that God brought me to the end of myself that day at the kitchen table and lead me in the direction I needed to go to raise these kids of mine. It's something I never take for granted because we're still in the process of raising them and two things I know for sure...there will be battles yet to come and I will always fight them on my knees!

     One more thing...if you are reading this and you can identify with the mom at the beginning of this tale don't give up, let go.  Open your hand to God and let go of your expectations, assumptions, fears, and perceived failures. Keep your now empty hand open to receive His love, wisdom, grace, forgiveness, and peace. No one loves and understands you and your kids more than God. No one else can guide you through parenting AND transform you in the process. I am convinced that no matter how old our children get (even when they are adults), we will always need wisdom in how to love them in the way they will best receive it at the time. I also know that for as long as I need wisdom...I need God!