Monday, October 24, 2016

How Do You Find a Word in the Dictionary If You Can't Spell It?

I hope you enjoy this post from the past. It's exactly where I am at right now.

A friend asked me if I knew the correct spelling of a particular word. I said yes, turned to my computer, phonetically typed the word and clicked spell check when the red wavy line appeared. I hit the change button and spelled the word for my friend as I read it from my screen. Before word processors and spell check, people used a book called a dictionary when they needed the correct spelling or definition of a word.

When I was a child, I remember asking my mother how to spell certain words. Her immediate response was, “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

Now this was disconcerting to me because I knew that she knew how to spell these words. It would have been faster and much easier if she had just answered the question I asked by spelling the word for me.

I’d whine to her, “How am I supposed to look it up if I don’t know how to spell it?” Because, let’s face it, you really have to know how to spell a word to find it in an alphabetical listing!

She’d answered, “Sound it out. What’s the first letter? What letter sounds like it comes next?” I’d answer and then she would say, “Okay then. Start there and go look it up.”

I’d, of course, storm off to my room, pull my dictionary off my bookshelf and half-heartedly look through a few pages and then march back downstairs and announce in a frustrated tone, “It’s not in here!”

She’d take the dictionary from my hand, rifle through some of the pages, and then guide her finger down the list of words on a page. When she found the word in question, she’d close the book, hand it back to me and say, “Yes it is. Try again.”

Often, I would have to start at the beginning of a letter section and work my way through hundreds of words to find my word. Sometimes, I had to look through the whole section several times because I’d miss it the first time. I should note here that my mother was right – the word I was looking for was always in there – I just had to search until I found it. As I look back on this experience now, I realize how much I learned in the process. I didn’t just find the spelling of the particular word I was looking for. The spelling of words I knew was reinforced and I learned new words every time I worked through the familiar alphabetical listing. Perhaps this experience also kindled my passion for writing. It at least gave me the tools I needed to not only pursue my passion, but to communicate with the world around me. The time spent as a child with my dictionary has also helped instill in me a drive and the confidence to work through those little challenges I encounter each day.

Okay. This is where I compare my childhood experience with my mother and the dictionary to my faith life. Let me just first say that I’ve reached a point in my Christian walk where I’ve read the Bible enough that often, it’s a little too familiar to keep my attention. Yet if I needed to find a particular scripture, it’s not familiar enough for me to be able to locate it in a reasonable amount of time. I’d rather turn to some one who knows God’s Word better, let them give me the answer I seek, and be done with it. As a result, I’ve let my regular reading time become sporadic and too often, I find myself half-heartedly reading to fulfill some imaginary quota instead of searching for what God is saying to me in those familiar words. This is a challenge I’ve been facing for a while now.

My experience is that God hardly ever gives me the easy answer. He guides me to work through the challenge at hand and usually, it includes going to a book – the Bible! What I know from my experience with the dictionary is that if I keep searching for a particular verse, or story, or concept in the Bible until I find it – I will find it. And in that search, I will find much more. I will become familiar with what I read through on my way to what I’m looking for. It is in the search for God’s wisdom in his Word that my passion for God’s presence in my life is kindled. The tools to interact with the world around me are contained in its pages. Also, as with any endeavor, the more I work at it, the more confident I will become in the process and the better equipped I will be to face life’s challenges. So tonight, I’m going to sit down with my Bible and read. Not because I should, but because I really need to if I’m to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Diet, Skits and Locusts

In mid-April I embarked on a new adventure in living a healthier lifestyle by eating better, restricting calories and exercising to lose more than 60 pounds. I am happy to say that I have lost 33 pounds so far and am feeling great. I’ve gone down a size or two in my clothing, but I really couldn’t see a difference when I looked in the mirror even though several people have commented  that the weight loss is quite noticeable. This week I happened to look at a picture of me that was taken last year and all of a sudden I could see it quite clearly. It wasn’t until I looked back at where I started from that I could see just how far I’ve come.

The same principle applies to who I am as a person. I know I’ve changed over the years. I’m older and hopefully a little wiser. I’m also more confident and outgoing. This past week a pastor friend called to ask if I could help her with her upcoming sermon. She had a little skit prepared and needed another reader. Without hesitation, I happily agreed. I wasn’t nervous about it at all. In fact I was excited—like a kid waiting in line for an amusement park ride. I had such fun doing it too! At home later, after worship, I pulled out a mental picture of how this little adventure would have played out 30 or 15 or even 5 years ago and it instantly became clear how much I’ve changed. I’m unrecognizable when compared to who I was. Still I’ve never felt more comfortable with who I am.

Jesus is my Redeemer and Restorer. He paid the price for my sins to open the way to restoration. Restoration of our relationship and of the woman he had in mind when he created me. God tells Israel in Joel 2 that will restore to them the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust and Israel will praise God in gratitude. God then promises to pour out his Spirit on all his people—men and women, young and old. When I look at the two versions of me I see (who I was without Jesus and who I am with Jesus) I feel like that describes my life. Certainly my life before knowing Jesus was swarmed and destroyed by the locusts of this broken sinful world. As I try to take in all the Lord’s blessings, I can’t help but be overwhelmingly grateful for not only has he restored or made up for all that had been inflicted, taken or destroyed in my life, but has blessed me beyond my expectation or imagination. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

#23 - My Alternative Version

Last week in a small group devotion, I was introduced to alternative versions of Psalm 23. There a version that called the Lord our Pace-setter and went on to speak of the incredible balance and peace the Lord’s presence introduces to our daily lives. Another has the Lord as our Choirmaster and goes on to sing his praises in a harmonious, musical tone. A third declares the Lord is our Compass and Courier. (If you would like to read these for yourself, here is the link: The one that caught my full attention and made me laugh out loud several times was one entitled Politically Correct Jargon Version. I’ve included it here for you:

The Lord and I are in a shepherd/sheep situation, and I am in a position of negative need. He prostrates me in a green belt grazing area; he conducts me directionally parallel to non-torrential aqueous liquid. He returns to original satisfaction levels my psychological make-up; he switches me on to a positive behavioral format for maximal prestige of his identity. It should indeed be said that notwithstanding the fact that I make ambulatory progress through the umbrageous inter-hill mortality slot, terror-sensations will not be instantiated within me due to para-ethical phenomena. Your pastoral walking aid and quadruped pickup unity introduce me into a pleasurific moodstate. You design and produce a nutriment-bearing furniture-type structure in the context of non-cooperative elements. You act out a head-related folk ritual employing vegetable extract; my beverage utensil experiences a volume crisis. It is an ongoing deductible fact that your inter-relational empathetical and non-vengeance capabilities will retain me as their target focus for the duration of my non-death period; and I will possess tenant rights in the housing unit of the Lord on a permanently open-ended time basis.  (Anonymous)

I laughed all the way through but also was saddened by the realization that we too often do this very thing in living out and relaying the good news of Jesus. We take something so beautiful, so simple and original as God’s grace and love and complicate it. We make it unintelligible to everyone, especially those who need it the most in its purest form—undeserved, unsolicited acceptance, love and grace—redemption by and through Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Of course I was intrigued. The writer in me had to try creating my own alternative version and the poet in me welcomed the chance to embrace the most well-known psalm of all time in a new way. Enjoy!

I am a character in The Author’s novel—
He created my backstory and has written everything into me needed
to engage the reader and fulfill the plot line.
Even though the plot twists and the action jumps off the page,
I am securely fixed in His hand and His imagination.
With every keystroke and edit of His pen
            He takes me where He wants me to be
            for He is The Author.
Even though I find myself caught in a dark and stormy night
            I will light the flashlight You put in my pocket
            and courageously walk the perilous path ahead
            confident that You have me coming through this suspenseful 
                      turn of events in the next chapter
Even as the story tension builds You have developed my character fully
and in carefully placed story points, You’ve written in all I need
to claim victory over the antagonist at every turn
all the while rejoicing in my happy ending
and knowing I will live on forever in the amazing sequel You have in mind. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Conquering the Tough Times

This time of year is always been tough for me. Work get extremely busy all at once, the fall weather can wreak havoc with my allergies and asthma and my joints and old injuries hurt a little more from the cold humidity hanging in the air. School bus stops have become populated again and there are scarecrows everywhere reminding me of my son. Add to that the challenges of a new boss and the new continuing effort of a new healthy lifestyle and you have the perfect recipe for depression. The last few weeks have been difficult but I can see through the fog now in spots and life ahead is sunny and beautiful.

I get through these times by reminding myself of some basic facts which I would like to share with you in case you need reminding too.
  1. Whether I “feel” his presence or not, God is here with me. He has not left or forsaken me. Job’s friends tried to tell him the same thing. Their assumption was that Job was being punished for some unconfessed sin and if he would just repent his life would be great again. That’s the false preaching of the prosperity gospel.  Just because I’m afflicted at the moment, doesn’t mean I am being punished for something or that I need to do something or learn something to get back into his good graces or to be freed from this circumstance. It also doesn’t guarantee that if I confess, repent, or do this unspecified something that my circumstance will change. I can’t control these things but I can be mindful that God is with me in it—crying with me, lifting me up and holding me in his arms as we go through it together. I am not alone. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-36; 38-39
  2. This is all temporary. This life and this circumstance even more so. Even if it exists for the rest of my life, it is a small drop in the ocean of time my soul will know. Someday, God will bring me home with him and this struggle will be a faint memory. I can get through this moment no matter how bad it may be when I know in my heart that won’t, it can’t, last forever.
  3. I have already been through the worst thing in my life and I am alive and well and praising Jesus for the hope my story brings others. Not everyone can say that. Some may still have the worst thing in their lives yet to come. To you I say, “You can endure.” God doesn’t give us anything that he can’t handle – all we need to do is rely on him, give him the load and wait and watch to see what he will do with it.  I’ve not only survived, but I am now an overcomer, a conqueror by the grace and power of God.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Secret to Finding a Deep, Lasting Peace Again

I heard a sermon where the preacher shared that the secret to having a life of contentment is being content with my life as it is. Admittedly, he didn’t come up with the profound thought…he borrowed it from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)

Paul wrote this when he was in prison. Being curious, I decided to do some research on the first century Roman prisons because my only understanding of prison is Hollywood’s version.  I learned that Paul was in prison for two years waiting trial—there hadn’t even been a trial let alone a conviction. Day after day for two years wondering if this was the day he would get his day in court.
These prisons were often subterranean, dug out solid rock with an opening the size of a manhole as the only entrance and exit.  Such was the Mamertine prison Rome where tradition tells us Paul was held. The prison itself was essentially two large rooms on different levels with iron shackles fixed to the walls. The Roman historian Sallust, writing a century before Paul, said of this dungeon, "[It] is sunk about twelve feet underground. Walls secure it on every side, and over it is a vaulted roof connected with stone arches; but its appearance is disgusting and horrible, by reason of the filth, darkness and stench." I imagine that conditions didn't improve over the century between Sallust's writing and Paul's stay. A few prisoners had friends who provided them with clothing, blankets, food and water. The others did without. It was in this place that Paul wrote to Philippians about the secret of contentment. 

If Paul could find contentment there, I should be able to find contentment in my warm, clean, spacious apartment even if I could use a little more storage and an updated living room set. While we’re at it, I’d love to replace the kitchen cabinets and maybe a little color on the walls too. Today on my way to work I saw a homeless man dressed in the same dirty gray sweatshirt and ripped tan trousers that he’s been wearing every day for years, walking alongside the road with his little cart that holds all his worldly belongings and the aluminum cans that he picks up to recycles for money. I bet he would be more than content with an apartment like mine and my 4-year old car, even if it doesn’t have blue tooth capability. Sometimes my blessings are so continuous that I take them for granted and the joy and gratitude I should be receiving them in diminishes until they almost disappear. Shame on me for that.

Now I know I’m not supposed to compare myself to others—it makes for some real unhappiness when I’m the poorer person and sometimes can lead to arrogance when I’m the richer. But I have to tell you that seeing that man today reminded me that God has blessed me greatly and not so I could be happy, but so I can share it with those who are waiting for God’s blessing to come to them through me and my stewardship of what God has given me. 

I also learned in my research that visiting a first century Roman prison could be dangerous. Visitors ran the risk of being associated with the alleged crimes of the accused. When early Christians visited those who were in prison, they were let down into the prison by rope and left only at the convenience of the guards. They weren’t just performing an inconvenient or unpleasant act of kindness—they were risking their own lives and freedom as well. This is the kind of love and concern we are to have for each other. Am I that giving—that selfless, that I put others’ needs above my own convenience let alone my own safety? I wish I could say yes, but the truth is no. No, I’m not that selfless and giving and I’m leaning on God’s grace right now to see past this when he looks at me.

Want to know the secret to finding a deep, lasting peace? I’ll let Paul share it in his own words: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Out of Control Is Where I Want to Be

Recently I spent a couple of weeks exhausted for no discernable reason. Even when I was awake I felt like I was sleepwalking through my day. No matter how much sleep I got, it was never enough. Just getting ready for work was taxing enough to want a nap before I left my home. I wasn’t sick. I hadn’t overworked my exercise routines or starved myself into a near comatose state. I just had no energy. In the evenings just getting up off the couch to go to bed seemed like too much work.

Last week the Holy Spirit showed me the cause of my exhaustion—it was a control issue. I was dealing with several situations in my life that I inadvertently was spending all my energy trying to control. I was stepping into God’s shoes and taking over his job as if I didn’t trust him to handle the situation properly. I wanted a particular outcome and was stressing myself into exhaustion trying to be God by willing those desires into existence. No wonder I was so tired.

I’ve acknowledged that control has been an issue in my life. I am a recovering perfectionist with occasional God-like delusions. I’ve worked really hard to put that part of my broken personality behind me, but I see now that it is going to sneak up on me if I’m not careful and knock my feet out from under me. Fortunately, I have solid ground to land upon. When something like this happens, it’s always necessary to go back to the basics.

I need to remind myself and thank God that he is in control. No matter the outcome, he has me in his hand and will never let go of me. I need to remember that the only person I can control is me. I choose how I act and react to the circumstances I find myself facing in life. I can face them alone, afraid, unprepared, and uncertain or I can face them with God at my side, in confidence with his Spirit leading the way.

None of this changes the situations I find myself in. But at least now I’m not fighting against myself to produce my idea of the perfect outcome. Instead, I can relax in God’s embrace and walk beside him today knowing that nothing outside of his will or his power will unfold in my day. I can go forth in hope and joy that my God is in control and I don’t have to worry about the details. I just have to look to him in certain hope for the strength, wisdom and ability to overcome. Then in gratitude and joy, share the miracles of his presence in my life with you.

Monday, September 12, 2016

When I Can't Open the Door

A father and his toddler are exiting a building through a triple set of heavy doors. They come to the first door and the little boy pushes with all his might but nothing happens. The door doesn’t budge. He backs up a few steps and runs toward the door hoping that the momentum will help push the door open. Again it doesn’t open. Then he sits on the floor and tries to kick it open with his feet unsuccessfully. Admitting his inability, he turns to his father and asks him to open the door. His father easily pushes the door open and they walk hand-in-hand through the open doorway. 

They reach the second door and the little boy tries again to no avail. Again he turns to his father and asks him to open the door. His father says that they will do it together. So they both push on the door and it opens. Again they walk through hand-in-hand. 

They come to the third door and the little boy doesn't even try to open it. He turns to his father and asks his help. His father encourages him saying, “Why don’t you give it a try yourself? After all, you might be surprised at how strong you’ve become.” The boy begins to push with all his strength and the door open a little. His father continues to encourage him and the boy keeps pushing until the door opens wide. If the boy had looked up in his struggle, he would have seen his father’s hand higher up on the door pushing it open. Celebrating the boy’s victory, they walk hand-in-hand through the open doorway.

This story relates so well to my faith journey. The first door is a great picture of my attempt at personal salvation and how I failed miserably to secure it for myself by my own power. No amount of penance, or good deeds, or any ritual performed to the best of my ability was going to bring salvation to me. Only the power of the cross is able to redeem me from my sinfulness.

The other doors represent those times in my life when I’m facing a struggle. Many times I will try to overcome life’s challenges myself and only turn to God when I’ve failed. How much time do I waste not turning to him first? And how long will it take for me to learn to ask his help when the challenge first presents itself? God doesn’t abandon me though. He waits patiently for me to ask and then helps me through without condemnation. Sometimes I actually have the presence of mind to turn to God immediately. I don’t try to accomplish on my own what I know only he can do. That’s usually when he surprises me and encourages me to pour all my effort into facing the challenge that lies ahead. The sweet victory of confronting those challenges and making it through always surprises me. But then I look up and I see that his hand was there all the time guiding me and providing the strength I don’t possess. 

In the end, that’s what faith is all about. I am limited and powerless to overcome my own sinfulness and the challenges in life. God’s love, power, and wisdom know no limits and lack nothing. He is responsible for all victories in my life from the first to the last and he chooses to share the celebration of those victories with me as if I had some part in them.