Friday, December 31, 2010

Shoes and Faith

An interesting thought occurred to me one morning this week as I was putting on my shoes. Most of the time, I wear oxfords that I have to double knot or the laces come undone several times a day. I was being lazy that morning and didn’t feel like undoing the knots, so I just jammed my feet into the shoes. They slipped on easy enough, but my feet were uncomfortable and one of the shoes pinched a bit. I didn’t feel like putting up with the discomfort until my feet settled into the shoes, so I took them off, untied them, and then put them back on and tied them like I should have done in the first place. Later, I wondered why, if it were the same shoes and the same feet, that the feel was different when I slipped them on without untying them vs. putting them on and then tying them. It occurred to me that in the first scenario, I was trying to fit my feet to the shoes and in the second – I was fitting the shoes to my feet. Isn’t that just the way I tend to approach faith?

I began to ask myself – Do I try to fit my faith around my life so as to minimize the discomfort I experience in serving God? Am I willing to help out only as long as it isn’t too inconvenient? Do I too often assume the responsibility for becoming a person of deep faith instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to mold me into the child of God I want to be? How often do I obey God’s call to step outside of my comfort zone, allowing him to deepen my trust and reliance on him? Am I one of those people who mold God into my image to justify my attitudes and lifestyle or do I look to his image as the paradigm for my attitudes and lifestyle? Or am I, as I hope, the kind of Christian who allows her faith to mold her life?

The truth – I am a fallible human being and sometimes I fit my faith to my life while other times I fit my life to my faith, often switching between the two countless times each day. Here’s the really confusing part – sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Oh sometimes, fitting my faith to my life looks holy and God-driven, but my desires and my comfort are at the heart of my actions. Once again, it all comes down to attitude. What is the attitude that drives my actions? Am I loving God over me in my actions or me over God?

Philippians 2:12-13 tells us to, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (reverence for and sensitivity to God), for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Paul is telling us that it’s going to be a daily struggle to allow God to mold and make in us the new creation he had in mind for us from the beginning. God is within me, creating me from the inside out by his power and his will alone to be the woman of faith I always wanted to be. I can’t become that person on my own. I need God to do that and occasionally, like my shoes, it’s going to pinch a little.

About the pictures:
Blackwater Falls State Park

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!

A very merry and blessed Christmas to you! This video says it all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

There's Hope For Me Yet!

My vow to meet God in scripture daily is still fresh and being worked out and I have to admit – I again failed miserably. As you can imagine, this is a very busy time of year for a church secretary. Add getting the flu, a major issue with the church’s website, and insomnia to the usual seasonal stress and you get chaos. It seems that busyness and tiredness were overriding my will to open my Bible and read. However, I did renew my vow this week with a few Psalms and Philippians. In trying to discern why this is so hard to work into my daily life again (as it once was when my faith was new) I realized that over the past year, I’ve been perceiving my faith more like a treadmill and less like the incredible journey it is.

I have a commitment and faith in Jesus as my Savoir which is more often than not a priority in my life. I make time for it. I’ve experienced great peace many times in conversing with God (which includes me shutting up and actually listening to him). But then life gets busy with work, family, friends, volunteering at my church, hobbies, etc. I get stressed and don’t sleep. Then I’m too tired to do even half of what I wanted to do. The less sleep I get and the more stress I have – the more depression settles in. Then I’m able to do even less. You get the idea. My prayer times become shorter and my time with God in Scripture gets skipped one, two, then three days in a row and then not even put on the to-do list. It’s kind of like the treadmill in the bedroom piled with clothes. You get a renewed sense of urgency, so you clear off the treadmill and vow to walk every day. You do okay for a while, but then you start to slip, one, two, then three days in a row. Then one day you throw a dirty shirt on it while you’re changing for that meeting at church and the next thing you know – the treadmill has more clothes than your hamper does.

When I feel I’ve failed again, I need to remember above all else that faith is an incredible journey. God is molding and shaping me even in the moments when I’m not taking a more active rol
e in the development of my faith. Those moments that seem like I’ve failed are just as much a teaching tool in the Master’s hands as those moments when I am saturated in his Word and in prayer. I know he loves me just as I am and will continue to grow in me the new creation he called me to be. I am his unique masterpiece still in progress and someday, he will put away his tools and stand back and say “It is good.” But for now, he is putting all his energy, creativity and passion into making me into his vision of who I am. I am not a disappointment to God – He’s just not done with me yet and he won’t stop laboring until he’s finished the work.

About the pictures:
Blackwater Falls State Park (May 2010)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grief and Christmas

 Christmas, which should be one of the happiest times of the year for us, isn't always. It can be a sharp reminder of what is missing in our lives - those we love who have died. It is for those who grieve and especially for those who are facing their first Christmas without their loved one that I was compelled to write the poem below. Even in your grief, God's love and hope is true and there to comfort your aching heart. Merry Christmas!


YOUR FIRST CHRISTMAS WITHOUT ME
As I peaked through heaven’s door today,
     I saw you.
You were trembling and in tears.
I could see the love we shared has been replaced
     with a crushing sense of loss
          --for now.
Anger, doubt and emptiness
     are consuming all your thoughts and devouring your soul.
No longer does your world makes sense
     because everything you thought you knew
          is uncertain and confused.
All you can do is mourn.

All around you others are celebrating Christmas.
They’re wearing their red and green
     and putting up their Christmas trees.
They’re gathering together their Christmas gifts
     and singing every carol.
I know you watch them doing all the things
     we were supposed to do together
          and your pain turns into anger
               for the Christmas Child.

If you could glimpse past heaven’s gate
     where his awesome glory shines and the angel choir sings,
his eternal peace would comfort you
     and fill your heart and soul.
All doubt would die and you would know
     that all we’ve known in faith is true.

I stand at heaven’s door because
     I want for you to know that it’s okay.
Though you’re sure you don’t believe right now,
     our God does lives and he loves you still.
Someday your pain and grief will fade
     and when it does you will truly know
          that throughout time when all else fails
               his love for you remains.


About the picture:
Allison Park, PA (December 2010)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Giving God Excuses for Christmas

It’s that time of year again when the temperature is dropping, snow is falling, and the malls are filled with Christmas shoppers. I was out just last night looking for that perfect gift for a few more of my loved ones and trying to figure out how to get the best gift I can for the money I have to spend. Santa has nothing on me. I make a list and check it a hundred times. How much can I spend on each? What do I already have? What do I have left to get? What in the world am I going to get those hard-to-buy-for people I love? And what in the world do I get for those in my life who have everything they could ever need or want?

This morning as I was going over the list again in my mind, it occurred to me that there is one loved one whose name was not on my list – God’s. What do I give Jesus for Christmas? After all, it is his birthday! That’s why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. In considering it further - the Lord falls under the ‘What do you get the person who has everything?’ category. He created everything. He owns everything. He needs nothing. And the only thing he wants is a relationship with me. Well, he’s already got that. I gave my heart and my life to him years ago. So what gift could I possibly give God for Christmas? That’s when the Spirit whispered to me the answer, “Give me the excuses.”

So often, God calls me to task and my first reaction is, “I can’t” usually followed by “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t know how.” I always have an excuse as to why I can’t do the uncomfortable or inconvenient thing God is asking me to do. Last week, I had decided that I was not going to be a spiritual anorexic anymore. I made a commitment to read my Bible every day. It is no longer a choice. In the last seven days, I failed to meet God in his Word twice. Oh I have good excuses why I was unable to, but the point of the commitment was to spiritually nourish myself as well as build my
love and my relationship with God. I didn’t fail God, I failed myself. My excuses: I’m sick, I’m tired, I don’t have time, I don’t understand, I don’t know how, I don’t have the ability… those are what the Spirit was telling me to give to God for Christmas. If I give to him all the excuses, then there will be nothing to stop me from being with him and living out his will in my life. So this year for Christmas, I am giving God all my excuses.

What are you giving Jesus for Christmas this year?

About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (Dec. 2009)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Confession, Grief, and Gratitude

I have a confession to make. I haven’t really been living a thankful life lately. Oh, I’m thankful for all my blessings. I experience real feelings of gratitude towards God for those blessings and for the people in my life who share in them. But my life isn’t really illustrating gratitude right now. I’ve been struggling frequently this past year with new episodes of grief over my son’s death twelve years ago. I’m not saying that grief, the last great expression of love we experience in every relationship, doesn’t have its place and time – God created us to grieve. But at some point, grief must depart so that new life can take its place. This past year, I’ve spent too much time pining for the life I knew, the love I had, and the joy that died with my son and not enough time enjoying this new God-given life, the indescribable, undying love of the Father through Jesus Christ in the company of the Holy Spirit, and the joy, peace, and hope of the Gospel he has revealed to me.

We live in a country where we can read, study, and devour God’s Word without fear of reprisal and yet, too often, I leave this precious resource, my spiritual sustenance, sitting on a table unopened. I tell myself I have too much to do for God’s kingdom to take time for me in God’s Word. On occasion, I stress over a mounting to-do list telling myself, “There’s no time for prayer today.” I utter a few thanksgivings and “God bless everyone I love” and I’m off and running to cross off as many items on the list as I can before exhaustion drags me to bed to tired sometimes to even say, “thank you for the day, God and goodnight.” Then those occasional days increasingly become almost every day.

It’s about this time that the enemy starts plucking at the grief strings of my heart. And why shouldn’t he? I’ve given him free reign to. I’m failing to spiritually eat – immerse myself in God’s Word – and spiritually drink – reaching toward God’s river of love, power, protection, and guidance and the grace of Jesus’ blood and sacrifice – and then I foolishly wonder why I’m so empty. Fortunately, even when I think I’m too busy to work at my relationship with God, he is still with me, working in and through me. He patiently brings me back into his waiting arms.

So what do I do now? Well first, I refuse to be a spiritual anorexic anymore. It’s going to take effort and some small sacrifices on my part, but I will nourish myself with God’s goodness through his Word and in prayer every day. It’s not a choice anymore. Second, I must accept and keep reminding myself that I can’t accomplish this. Only God can transform me in my effort so that one day reading the Bible and praying become to my soul as my heartbeat is to my body. The next thing I need to do is recognize that my resolve will dissipate with time and distraction so I need to find someone, with God’s guidance, who will help me keep accountable. It’s no shame to seek help when help is what you need. Lastly, I want to celebrate the fact that God loves me just as I am and because he loves me, he will not leave me in this less-than-perfect condition. He will continue to shower me with grace and blessing. He will grow my heart for him and deepen our relationship beyond my hope, my desire, and my imagining. Praise God!

About the pictures:
Raccoon State Park (November 2010)

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Is the Third Option?

Philippians 2:12-13 tells us to “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."  If we’re all seeking God’s perfect will, why are there so many opposing points of view on what God’s will is? If God is working his will in and through us, how can two people who earnestly seek to do God’s will have such contradictory understandings of what he wants for and from his people?

Last night, I attended a meeting where approximately 300 of God’s people, ordained ministers and elders, who all believed they were acting acting within God’s call on their life, disagreed on the ordination standards of our religion. This issue has been in contention for many years and will continue to be so for a long time to come. As I sat there last night listening to the debate that ensued, I heard many people speak passionately for and against removing the current national standard. All of them truly believed that they were sharing what God had put on their hearts as his will in this matter.

After the meeting, I began to think about Jesus and the Pharisees. They were constantly coming to him, daring him to publically interrupt God’s mercy within the confines of God’s justice. My favorite story is when the Pharisees bring the adulteress before Jesus for public trial. God’s law given through Moses says to stone such sinners. They ask him to interpret God’s will in the matter. If Jesus shows mercy, the Pharisees will say that he does not adhere to God’s law and if he condemns her, he has failed in God’s will to bring mercy and healing to his children. The Pharisees, in their limited human reasoning, can only see the two options. He is either for or against God's law or God's mercy.

But Jesus surprises them with a third option. “Okay stone her,” he says. “Satisfy the law, but the privilege of the first stone goes to the one of you who has never sinned.” Who among us has never sinned? Only Jesus. In Exodus 33:19, we are told that it is God’s prerogative on whom he will have mercy and compassion. God’s will for us is to be in relationship with him, so Jesus spares her life so that the relationship between God and this woman can be restored and renewed. He warns her not to sin again – not because it’s the law and the right thing to do – but because sin will again separate her from God. I have to wonder if last night’s meeting was a prime example of not seeing the third option – Jesus’ interpretation of God’s will for our denomination.

Last night, a proponent for the change of the national standard said that many of us just want this thing to finally be done and over with and the only way that will happen is if we vote for the change. Another said that to accept the changes being asked for is tantamount to worshiping an idol. We have a long way to go work out our salvation in this matter, but I am confident that we will eventually hear Jesus’ third option because, as scripture tells us, it is God who is working his will in and through us. His good purpose will be fulfilled in his power and in his perfect timing. Until then, we continue to struggle to work out our faith with fear and trembling and with opposing interpretations of the balance of God’s justice and mercy in our lives. I pray we can do it with respect and love for our brothers and sisters in Christ no matter their understanding of God’s will on this issue.

About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (November 2010)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Forever Love Waits

Last weekend, I watched a whole season of a TV sitcom on DVD about teenage life which is set mostly in a school. One of the characters is a teenage girl who finds out she is pregnant. She bravely decides to suffer the embarrassment and ridicule of her peers to carry the baby to full term and then give the baby up for adoption at birth. It raised a question in my own mind about whether I did the right thing twenty-four years ago in keeping my child instead of giving him up for adoption. If I had given him up, maybe he would still be alive and living a full life – maybe married with a beautiful little baby of his own. I was filled with despair and wept uncontrollably at the thought that maybe my selfishness in wanting to keep my baby led to his life ending at such an early age. In seeking God's comfort and help in discerning his truth in this unsettling, unrelenting realization, I was led by the Spirit to Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV):

For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

God knew Bryan completely when he formed him in me and God created him to be the love of my life. He put a deep, tenacious love in me for my son from the first moment. God created Bryan to be the person he was, knowing that Bryan’s innocence and boyish charm would captivate me. When he placed that tiny life in my womb, he also placed an overwhelming desire in me to be that child’s mother in life. Giving him to another to raise and care for him was never even a passing thought. God’s will and design for Bryan’s life was accomplished even if I didn’t acknowledge him as God at that time in my life. Bryan lived a lifetime in those twelve short years and he absolutely lived every day of the life that God planned out for him. I know that human logic can’t accept it – but Bryan did not die a day earlier than God knew he would.

God's great love never dies and that’s why it still hurts so much when I’m missing my child. When God’s love is imparted into a heart, it’s there forever and with purpose. This is not an empty or futile love I feel. My love for Bryan lives on because he still lives. Bryan’s mortal life is done, but he still lives in the arms of our Savior and in the presence of the Father and Creator of us both. Not being able to give of myself to him in an expression of that love is where my pain resides. But one day, when all the days ordained for me have been accomplished, I will again be able to fully express that love which God has placed in me for Bryan, when we are both in God’s kingdom worshipping the Lord together. Knowing this doesn’t help me hurt any less. It doesn’t make the pain go away. But it does make it possible to get through another day of unexpressed, sometimes heartbreaking love for my son. Someone once told me that you never get over the death of a child, you just get used to it. I don’t agree. I’ll never fully get used to the idea of him not being in my life, but I will be able to tolerate it, knowing that our separation is only temporary. And with God's help, I will continue to learn to accept and celebrate life as the extraordinary gift from God that it is, especially when it is lived in the peace and joy of knowing Jesus Christ as my loving Savior and in the companionship of the Holy Spirit.
About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (2009-10)

Friday, November 5, 2010

God's Quilt

MY MOST RECENT QUILT
This week, I had occasion to sort through the quilt tops I’ve made in the past year. It brought to mind a time in my life many years ago, before I took up the hobby, when my mother tried, to no avail, to get me into quilting. I thought it was silly. Why in the world would anyone waste their time cutting up a perfectly good piece of beautiful fabric just so they could break their backs over a sewing machine for hours upon hours and bleed from their fingers and feet (everyone who sews has dropped pins and needles on the floor only to find them later with their bare feet.) I couldn’t see the sense in it.

MY FIRST QUILT
 Then one day we were in a quilt store – Mom was shopping for fabric for a class – and I saw it! The quilt I had to have in my living room. The quilt I wanted to make. The store had put it on display to advertise a class, but I had already missed the class. Oh no! If I wanted the quilt, I was going to have to learn to make it on my own. Fortunately for me, there was a pattern to follow and the advice of experienced quilters available to me 24/7. I got right to work and within six months, I had learned to select, prepare, cut and sew fabric, and applique, sandwich, hand stitch, and bind a quilt. By the time I had finished my first quilt, I had the quilting bug. I even took a weekend job at a local fabric store for a couple of years to support my quilting habit.

LAP QUILT GIVEN TO FRIEND
My skills have developed and improved over the years as well as my confidence and my willingness to try more difficult patterns. One thing I’ve found to be constant in my quilting is that just before I make that first cut into the fabric, I hesitate for just a moment and say to myself, “Do I really want to cut this beautiful piece of fabric into little pieces.” Then I look at my pattern and knowing how much more beautiful it will be when I finish, I forge ahead with my rotary cutter. Each piece precisely cut, meticulously sown together with purpose and then each block squared up carefully for well-matched corners. I put all of my creativity and skill into making a unique quilt that will someday say “I love you and I’m thinking of you” to someone special in my life.


SUDOKO QUILT TOP
 So what does all of that have to do with God? Well, as I looked at those quilt tops (remember that’s where this started), I saw how my own life has been like an exquisite quilt being made by God. I wonder if God hesitated for a moment before that first time my heart was broken to pieces, and knowing the wonderful plan he had in mind for me, he forged ahead. So many times in my life I thought, “This is it. My life is perfect and I have everything I’ve always wanted.” And then something happens to break my life apart again. Then God takes those pieces and skillfully puts them back together in a new and elegant way and I know a greater love and freedom by his hand. Sometimes God squares up my life with small unwanted changes which, at the time, may seem annoying, but then I later realize the new blessings that these changes have granted me. He is putting all his creativity and skill into making me into his unique masterpiece that expresses his love. Not only am I the recipient of his loving gift but he has made me a loving gift to all people. Just as a quilt is not only beautiful but useful, so I too am beautiful and useful in his eyes.

God’s blessings on your weekend!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Halloween Story

It’s obvious that autumn has arrived – the leaves are any color but green and a good many of them have already fallen to the ground waiting to be crunched underfoot. And Halloween decorations of every sort are adorning the yards and houses and local businesses in preparation for the parade of children who will be trick-or-treating through the neighborhoods soon. This week especially, I've been thinking and praying about the whole Halloween thing. I won’t be telling you in this blog whether you should or shouldn’t join in on the Halloween festivities. What I will be telling you about is my experience with Halloween and what I feel God is leading me to do.

Halloween was always a great part of my childhood. After all, what child doesn’t like to dress-up in costume and eat lots of candy? One year, my brothers and I put together a haunted house in our basement all by ourselves and then opened it up to the kids in the neighborhood. I was the bloody dead girl in the coffin who sat up and screamed at them when they walked past. And as a parent, I initiated my own child into this annual frenzy of make-believe with ghost stories and visits to the local haunted house and let’s not forget the pillowcase full of candy that was gone in a week.

My second husband really had the Halloween spirit and each year the graveyard on our front lawn grew bigger and spookier and there were new surprises for the kids every year. I remember one year, a little boy refused to step on our property. His dad told him it would be fine and just to prove it, he came to the door for his son’s candy while the boy waited at the mailbox. That year, my husband had rigged a giant mutant bat creature to fly over the heads of the trick-or-treaters as they came up the walk and just as this dad was trying to prove his point to the boy, the creature glided over the dad’s head and the man screamed. And then of course he laughed.

Some might ask, “Where was your Christianity in all of this?” and I must admit that for the last few Halloweens before my husband left me, I was a Christian. But this was all in fun. There’s no harm in just pretending, is there? Sure, Halloween may have been based on pagan rituals and occult celebrations in the past, but that was long ago. In today’s society, isn’t it just a commercial holiday that has no spiritual or religious significance? At least that’s what I told my Christian friend who was opposed to participating in Halloween festivities or allowing her children to trick-or-treat.

After my husband left me, Halloween wasn’t as fun anymore and since I didn’t have trick-or-treaters coming to my apartment, I stopped engaging in Halloween but saw no reason not to at least check out the local Halloween shops to see the new decorations and displays. It was on one such trip to a Halloween shop that I began to question my original assumptions. While I was enjoying a creative graveyard display with a no-faced, black-robed creature with bony hands raised, hovering in front of the cardboard cemetery, I was suddenly overcome with a distinct sense of pure evil. Not even Steven King with all his experience could describe the touch of pure evil I encountered that day, so I won’t even try. Unnerved and terrified, I ran from the store. As I sat in my car, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling of being coated in a slimy darkness, as if I had run through a pool of tar or molasses and it had now hardened and adhered to my skin. That was my last visit to a Halloween shop.

These last few weeks, that moment in the Halloween shop has been resurfacing in my memory at the sight of the neighborhood decorations and I am feeling uneasy at seeing them. When I asked God what I needed to know when it came to the subject of Halloween, he led me to the following scriptures:

Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, NIV)

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. (3 John 1:11, NIV)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:8-11, NIV)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

In good conscience, I cannot be a part of something that encourages the practice of or the illusion of that which is evil. I’m not saying that our little ones shouldn’t enjoy dressing up in costume and playing make-believe. Every childhood should be filled with that. What I’m saying is that while little Suzy is running around in her favorite princess outfit, she is witnessing the adults she trusts approve of serial slashers, witches, ghouls and zombies as they hand out treats to all with equal enthusiasm. She is walking through dry ice fogged cemetery replicas populated with skeletons, ghosts, and demonic figures, to the sound of spooky music all meant to enhance her Halloween fun. And though she may not be sensitive to it, she is walking through and being covered in the same evil I experienced in the Halloween shop. So this year, if I had a porch light, it would be off and I will most definitely be praying for all the children and their parents who are out and about on Halloween that they will remain physically and spiritually safe from harm and evil.

About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2010)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Celebrating My Insecurities

If you could see what this girl is writing in her journal, it might bring a tear to your eye. Her words are filled with pain and despair. Perhaps she is pouring out her heart through her pen in lament that no one likes her or maybe she is writing:
"Why not end it all and go to hell.
It’s got to be better than this.
For there is nothing here that I would miss.”
She sees herself as useless, stupid, undeserving and unwanted. Those who are supposed to love and protect her have hurt her more than those who openly hate and despise her and all she wants is just one person to love her – to think she is worth the space she takes up on this earth. This girl doesn’t know that God is there lamenting with her. “If only she would see me, hear me,” God is crying. “She would know my love and I would heal her brokenness and her pain. This girl’s insecurities are the root of her fear, her actions, her thoughts and sadness and it is her insecurities that lead her into many unhealthy relationships and deeper into depression over the next twenty years. This is a picture of me as a teenager.

In this past year, I made an incredible discovery – Everyone has insecurities! No, really, it’s true. I only just realized this. I used to look at the people around me and think, “I’m the only one who is insignificant in the group. Everyone else adds something of value, but me, I have nothing worth offering.” Everyone else seemed so confident and competent when compared with the distorted image I had of myself. But now I know that everyone else is just as insecure and unsure as I am sometimes. Insecurity is a human trait and we can’t escape it surfacing in us from time to time.

However, here is the good news: Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? (1 Corinthians 1:26-28, The Message) No matter how insecure we are, how little we feel we have to offer, God loves us and wants to work out his plan in and through us. If you look in the Bible, you will find that God often used the insecure nobodies, people who felt that they didn’t have much to offer because they weren’t rich, intelligent, charismatic, "first born" celebrities. Saul, the first king of Israel, hid from Samuel who was sent to anoint him king. David was just a young cocky shepherd boy when God called him to one day replace Saul. Jeremiah the prophet was a child, Amos was just an uneducated shepherd and the apostles were just fishermen and a tax collector. God called Jacob instead of Esau in fulfilling his promise to Abraham and Joseph instead of Rueben to rescue God’s chosen during the famine. Moses stuttered terribly and Esther was a poor orphan girl. When I think of these people whom God has chosen to work miracles through, I find myself smiling – I’m in good company.

So what if I don't think I have much to offer. That's no reason not to offer it all to God anyway and then to watch what he can and will do with it. It's not what I offer that enables God to do miracles - it's God's power and love that enables my small offering to become a miraculous gift to those I serve in his Name.

About the pictures:
Teenage me (Gibsonia, PA, taken by Mom in the early 80's)
Flower (Pittsburgh, PA, September 2010)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Lord's Prayer Anew

Recently in my study of God’s Word, I came across the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Too often I find myself just skimming over this very familiar passage, but this day God brought my eyes to a screeching halt. It occurred to me that because we have the privilege of speaking these words with our brothers and sisters in Christ in our weekly worship, we can sometimes lose the depth of our passion for the prayer’s meaning. As I read this prayer slowly over and over again, I began to gain a deeper understanding and a new appreciation for this sacred text. God blessed my heart through the Lord’s Prayer in a special way and I share it with you here in the hopes that you too will be blessed as I have.

*************

Our Father (the One who brought us into being; our Protector; our Provider; the Authority in our lives; the bigger, stronger One we admire; the One who loves us more; our Daddy) who art in heaven (where God’s people gather around the eternal throne to praise and worship the Lord; our spiritual homeland; our eternal inheritance; pure contentment of the soul; complete and absolute fulfillment; where the veil of mortality is lifted and God’s inconceivable glory is revealed; an all-embracing unity with the fullness of God) Hallowed be thy name (the mere mention of His Name is a sacred utterance–God is to be praised with awe and respect; He is holy and with admiration we revere the Lord; He is glorious and His presence demands our eager and undivided attention) Thy kingdom come (an existence with no war, no pain, no hunger or disease; where the Lord God reigns, peace rules and compassion is the native tongue; where love is the currency and joy is the air we breathe; where only God’s Word and will is sought after and received by grateful hearts) Thy will be done (empty us Father of our desires and our illusions of control; Your desires only we seek to accomplish in the offering of ourselves to glorify You Lord God; carve out our selfishness and self-centeredness that we may attend fully to Your commands in obedient service to Your just and merciful holiness) On earth as it is in heaven (You are the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. All heaven sings of Your glory and heeds Your beck and call with joyful and obedient hearts; with a word, You created the earth and we who live there. We too are subject to Your power and glory just as the heavens are and we, Your people, must submit ourselves to Your holiness with equal joy and obedience as in the heavenly realms) Give us this day (today, this minute, now – we seek audience with you Lord God; You’ve instructed us in your Holy Word to pray continuously – to be in communion with You this minute…and this minute…and this minute; today is the day You have made and right now is the time we have to worship You, submit to You, love You and serve You.) our daily bread (we were created with needs that must be met every day if we are to continue. These are not weaknesses but opportunities for us to rely on Your power and love to sustain us. You built those needs into us that we may always be drawn to You; fill us Lord God with Your presence; give us Lord what our bodies need to continue praising and serving You in this world until You call us home.) And forgive us (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debts (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) As we forgive (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debtors (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) Lead us not into temptation (guide us in Your way Lord God; take our hands and direct our paths; leave Your footprints for us to follow; give Your Spirit to push, pull, and point the way straight to You) But deliver us from evil (too often Lord, we stumble, we veer off the path or run in the opposite direction straight into the arms of the enemy. Rescue us Lord God. Dispense the crushing blow of Your power and glory upon the enemy and his armies. Come down into the dark valley of death and bring us up to Your holy mountain that we may praise and glorify You alone forever.) *For thine is the kingdom, (You created it all Lord. The universe, the earth and all that inhabits the earth. The spiritual world is Yours and anything else we may discover or uncover in the course of history, You created and it all belongs to You.) the power, (You are all-powerful Lord God. There is no power greater than Yours. With a thought, by a single utterance, You brought into being all things. With a thought, by a single utterance, You could wipe it all out in the blink of an eye with the ease of a single breath.) and glory forever. (There never was, is now, nor will there ever be anything more splendid, more magnificent or beautiful than You Father, nor more deserving of our praise and adoration.) Amen. (yes; as it has been said, let it be so)
*Presbyterian tradition adds this sentence which I believe is in keeping with the
spirit of the Lord’s Prayer and felt led to include in this new look at God’s Word.

If you will, take time with me now to speak your heart to the Lord in the words our Savior gave us…

Our Father……...who art in heaven……...Hallowed be thy name……..Thy kingdom come……...Thy will be done…….on earth as it is in heaven……….. Give us this day………..our daily bread...........and forgive us………...our debts…………….as we forgive…………..our debtors……….Lead us not into temptation……….but deliver us from evil…….……. For thine is the kingdom………...the power …..........and the glory forever……….Amen.

Be Blessed!
Maureen

About the pictures:
Raccon State Park (October 2010)

Friday, October 8, 2010

God Believes in Me

All of us have encountered the “classic” Scripture verses many times before – ones that are heard and read so much you know them from the first word – the kind that end up embroidered on pillows and written over pictures of wildflowers? This week, I encountered two such verses, but instead of skimming right past them, as I am apt to do because they are so familiar, something new caught my attention in them this week.

The first occurs in the Gospel accounts of Jesus calling the first disciples. As Jesus walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he calls to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Come, follow me.” Immediately they drop their nets, leave their jobs, their families, their homes and travel around from village to town to city hanging on his every word and being amazed at Jesus’ miraculous deeds – all the while knowing that Jesus was special, but having to learn over time just how special he was and is.

That always seemed strange to me. I assumed that they had many encounters with Jesus before that aren’t mentioned in Scripture because…really...who in his right mind would leave behind everything on the spur of the moment for someone they didn’t know? Then I learned in a Bible class this week the significance of Jesus coming to them. At that time, children would learn the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) and have them memorized by age ten. Then most of them would be dismissed to learn a trade in the family business. The kids who showed real promise were permitted to continue their education where they would proceed to memorize the rest of what we call the Old Testament. When they were about fourteen or so, they were either dismissed to go into the family business or if the teacher thought a pupil had that something special – that he could carry God’s Word to the people, the young man was encouraged to seek a Rabbi.

Now in first century Israel, Rabbis were celebrities. They were the ones everyone wanted to be like and seen with. To be in with the Rabbi was the ultimate status symbol. The young man would apply to a Rabbi who would grill him mercilessly on his Scripture knowledge. If the Rabbi thought that this young man had what it took to learn from him and could eventually one day be like him, the Rabbi would invite the young man to “Follow me.” This was a rare honor.

Well, the first disciples were working in the family trade. They apparently didn’t have what it takes. They were the rejects and yet here was this Rabbi Jesus calling to them – “Come, follow me.” He was telling them that they had what it took to be like him. And Jesus tells us the same thing when he called us into relationship with him. He thinks we have what it takes to be like him and to faithfully carry on in his teachings. Jesus believes in me. That’s incredible! My Savior, the God of the Universe believes I can be like him! Wow!

The second encounter was in reading the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25. “A man is going on a journey and calls his servants together to entrust his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money (about $5,000), to another two talents (about $2,000), and to another one talent (about $1,000), each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:14-15, NIV) That’s where I’m stopping the story, though I encourage you to read the rest of it for yourself.

Here’s what made me stop: “…each according to his ability.” So often, I worry that I’m not doing enough especially when comparing myself to the super-Christians I read about or know in the church. Or I’m not doing “it” right. I talk myself into believing that I’m a failure and God deserves better. My self-doubt and the resulting low self-esteem make “I can’t” a more frequent part of my vocabulary than “I can.” God gave me gifts and talents according to the ability he knows I have. He created me and knows me best – he knows the fullness of my potential and he gives me gifts and talents in accordance with that potential. Again…God believes in me! Wow! He has faith in my ability because he put it there and patiently and gently guides me to discover it for myself and live into the potential he has gifted me for. God is not comparing me to Super Christian or to Rev. My-Life-Is-Not-My Own and I shouldn’t either. God knows me intimately and, knowing me, believes in my ability! Maybe I should too.
About the pictures: 
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's All About Jesus

I was five years old when the series M*A*S*H came out. For the next eleven years, I laughed and cried with its characters with each new episode. It was probably the most influential TV program in my young life. There was no need for me to despair when the final episode aired in 1983 because many of the earlier episodes had already been in syndication for years. At one point, I was able to watch thirteen episodes a week. Often I would watch several episodes in a row and see tremendous growth in some of my favorite characters when watching one of the early episodes followed by one of the later episodes. No matter how much had changed in them, they were still very much the same characters I had come to know and love over the years.

Okay, besides embarrassing myself by admitting that I’m a M*A*S*H freak (yes, I own all the DVDs), there is a point to be made here. I’ve had the opportunity over the last few months to really look back on my life and be reminded of the person I was eleven years ago when Jesus came into my life. I was a very shy, scared, and hurt human being. I hated myself more than I could hate any other person I have or will ever meet and no one could’ve convinced me that I didn’t deserve all the shame and blame
 I wrapped myself up in. But Jesus broke through all of that. He saw me – the me he created poking through the storm of depression and pain that consumed my heart. He reached through that darkness and pulled me out. If you could see the me I was then standing next to the me I am now – Wow! I’m the same Maureen but I’ve grown so much as a person and as a child of God. I am so different now, but I am still me and grateful to God for all he’s done and continues to do in my life.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how much I’ve grown because I see me every day and growth is a long slow process. However, we can’t discount the occasional growth spurt. In fact, I know a young man who grew five inches in one summer. Often he would be close to tears from the growing pains that seared through his body that summer. It’s the same with our spiritual growth. Yes, there are times when we have noticeable growth spurts in our spiritual lives and it usually comes with waves of great pain. In fact, that’s been my experience these last few months. I’ve grown so much in such a short time that even I can see it. It was not an easy road and I fell so many times, I lost count. But God was there to pick me up, clean me up and point me in the right direction. He gave me good friends who supported me in prayer, friends who sat with me, cried with me and guided me back to Jesus when I felt lost.

I’ve learned so much this summer that I couldn’t possible write it all down in this blog. However, I’d like to share the most important thing I learned: it really is all about Jesus! My focus needs to be on him. I need to seek him in all things. It’s his attention, his love, and his approval I seek. I need to meet him in His Word, not just in my daily devotion, but always, for everything. When I’m happy or sad, confused or hurting – I need to run to him in his Word and in prayer. My heart’s desire is to be with him everywhere I am and it starts here. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)

About the pictures: Parkwood Presbyterian Church Garden (July 2009)

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Day with God

Let the ocean’s rhythmic whoosh linger in your ears
     while you dance with the sandpipers to the seagulls’ song.
Sway to the water’s gentle lap upon the smooth worn rocks
     that wade just beyond the shore.
Your toes sink into the cool wet sand where the water’s edge
     plays its perpetual game of tag with the land.
Abandoned by the water’s retreat, shells and sparkling seaglass
     glisten as they dry.
A wash of colors layers the horizon where water and sky touch, never to part.
     You can almost see where the waves began their quest
     to briefly touch the sand.
Breath deep the salty breeze of the ocean’s kiss.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

Come with me to the mountain range rising from the earth to touch the sky.
See the river waters stampede over rocky cliffs
     and wind through the lush valleys below.
Drink in the rainbow of wildflowers shimmering like rare gems in the sunlight
     blanketing the hillsides.
The insects’ hum swells as the orchestra for the animals’ choir that echoes
     through the rustling leaves of their forest home.
Hear the moose and coyote harmonize while the eagle sings his solo.
Each bird adding its own sweet trill and in the distance rises
     the bass rumble of the bear.
The fragrance of wood, animal, and flower permeates the air
     and you can taste the aroma.
A cool breeze rushes down from the snowy peaks to greet you.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

Walk with me as the setting sun shimmers off the golden sea of prairie grass.
A tapestry of reds, oranges, and yellows weaves through
     the endless evening sky
And the fading sunlight glistens off of the network of spider webs that connects
     each blade of grass.
The swish of the wind combing through acres of grass and wildflowers rushes
     to your ear
as the soft graceful sway of the rolling waves of flora waltzes
     across the landscape.
The scent of animal and wildflower carried on the breeze tickles your nose.
Rising up out of the distance comes the lonely howl of the prairie wolf
and the screech of an owl echoes from a single tree on the horizon.
As the day fades, the air begins to cool and the grasshoppers’ lullaby
     rises up around you.
With a word, I created this.
Be still and know that I am God.

I've deliberately not included any photographs with today's post. My hope is that the poem will bring the beauty of God's creation into your heart and your mind through your imagination.

Friday, September 17, 2010

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.

About the Pictures:
Deer Lake Park (August 2009)

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Conversation with God

Today’s post is a little unusual. For the last month, I’ve been aimlessly wandering through a dark forest of low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority and insignificance. My thoughts easily drifted from a solid reliance on God’s love to living in fear that maybe this time, he’s just had enough of me and my problems.

My life experience tells me that no love last and all love will eventually end in pain so trying to get my heart to fully accept and live into the ultimate, unchanging, undeserved, eternal, abundant love of God is beyond my ability. Last night God led me to Romans 8:28-39 (NIV) in my search for a path through this wilderness. As I read his Word, it became a conversation between him and me. It ended with an amazing revelation for me and a very big first step to leaving behind this forest forever. I invite you to be a fly on the wall and hear our conversation for yourself.

God's Word (NIV) is in black. My words are in purple. Inserted into the last verse you will see words in green. These are the words the Spirit gave me last night to clarify what God has been telling me in his Word all along.

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. I love you and your Spirit in me is proof that you have called me. You have chosen me just as I am to receive your love and grace.

29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. To be conformed isn’t a single event – it’s a process, a lifetime of experience that I will learn and grow from. I know I’m not good enough but that doesn’t matter because you are, Jesus, and I am being made like you at the pace you set.

30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. You had me in mind from the beginning, you reached out to me time and time again until I answered and then you gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever known – your love and your grace. That love and grace is transforming me and I will be the woman you intended me to be. You will not give up, nor will you fail.

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? Not even the prison built by the abuse of my past and all the pain that comes from it is stronger than you God. You will break down the walls. You will conquer the fear, enable me to see and live into the truth of your everlasting love. Your loving power protects me. Your gentle hand leads me out of the dungeon of my past into a foreign land that you are giving me as my inheritance – a land of promise where love, joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control grow freely and abundantly.

32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? I understand the pain of watching my child suffer and die. To give him up for someone I love would have been too difficult for me to do, but to give him up for someone who hated me is unthinkable. And yet, that’s exactly what you did. You gave up your perfect holy Son for me – a sinner. Your sacrifice came threefold – As Christ, you endured the pain of the cross, as Heavenly Father, you permitted this atrocity, and as the Spirit, you did nothing to save Jesus from the anguish so that I would have the ability to return to you, to love you if I chose to respond to this ultimate expression of love. How could I believe for a moment that you would offer yourself that fully in sacrifice for me and then decide you don’t love me after all or that you would grow weary of me over time? No matter what lies I believe about myself, you love me in the truth which will never change or die.

33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? The lies I hear in my head and hold in my heart are not from you God but from the enemy. Jesus, you are the truth and though I have been conditioned to believe these falsehoods from childhood, you will not stop until you break through the programming that the years of pain have imprinted on my heart and mind. I am not worthy of your love, and I don’t have to be for you to love me. Your love for me makes me worthy enough for you.
Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. I was under the sentence of death because of my sinfulness and rebellion and you, who could not bear to see me suffer the penalty, died in my place for my sins. Your resurrection is your pledge that we will always be together until the end of time. In that same love, you are bringing my needs and desires to our Heavenly Father and asking him to love me as he loves you and to provide for and protect me.

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? What is stronger than the power of the One who created all there is? No one can take me away from you and you will not abandon me even in worst of times. The worst doesn’t scare you, won’t make you change your mind, and cannot overcome you. In fact, it’s in the worst of times when I can rely on you all the more to show your love in providing for and protecting me.

36As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." There is no sin I can commit, no rebellion so odious that your love for me would die. You would still love me with the same love that led you to the cross for my redemption. The enemy will continue to attack as long as I am here on this earth because of your love for me. He will try to convince me with lies that I am separated from your love and I will need to stand firm in your power and in these mighty gifts you’ve given me: salvation, righteousness, truth, peace, faith and the Bible.

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Jesus, you have already won my heart and your patience will know no end as I learn to live into that indescribable love! God is love. You can’t and won’t stop loving me because it’s who and what you are. You are love and you have chosen to focus your attention on me. Why you picked me is not important—that you did is what matters! Your death on the cross and your resurrection ended for all time the debate of do you or don’t you really love me. That incredible act of love will stand for all time. It will not fade or decay or vanish. You will not grow tired or weary of me and you won’t “fall out of love” with me. You are unchanging. You are eternal. And you are love.


38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor any exceptions to the rule that Maureen can come up with, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [her] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so...

About the pictures:
North Park (11-10)
North Park (5-10)
Deer Lake Park (5-10)
Deer Lake Park (5-07)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Faithful Shepherd

He is my Faithful Shepherd
keeping watch over me each day,
and he looks until He finds me
when I turn around and stray.
Approaching the throne of Heaven
in repentance on my knee,
through blood-stained tears he reaches out,
in love, forgiving me.
Satan knows my weaknesses,
but Jesus hears my plea.
Though evil tries to chain my soul,
my Savior sets me free.
He heals my pain, my sorrow,
my shameful, sinful soul.
By God’s great love and grace alone,
I’m no longer Satan’s fool.
From mountaintops I speak my vow
of willing servitude.
My Lord, my God, dear Jesus my King,
forever I belong to You.

About the picture:
Blackwater Falls (May 2010)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Armor of God

A friend asked me this week, “What do you know about the Armor of God?”

I’d read Ephesians 6 many times before. I even have some of it highlighted in my Bible but I had to admit that I couldn’t remember much about the Armor of God. It wasn’t a scripture that I’d been able to connect with in the past. The helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, shoes of peace, shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit didn’t really spark any understanding in me, a devout peacemaker. When she explained it in a way I could connect with though, it began to open up a new understanding in me about some of the precious gifts God has given me to face everyday challenges and the spiritual warfare that often hides behind them.

God has gifted us with salvation, with wholeness, with completeness in him through Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. God’s salvation embraces us to guard against Satan’s attacks in our thoughts, on our will and our emotions as a helmet protects a soldier’s head. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 speaks to this as well: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (NIV)

When we give our lives to Christ, we are washed clean and clothed in his righteousness. We stand confidently in God’s presence because the Father sees not our sinfulness, but only Christ’s right-standing, in us. As a child safely curled up in her daddy’s lap, we need not hesitate to bring our pain, our overwhelming struggles and our fears to our Heavenly Father. We can call him from the darkness to scare away the monsters from our lives and know he will be there to comfort us.

In John 14:6, Jesus tells us that he is the truth. We have been given the truth to secure and embrace us. We have his life to learn from and to imitate. We have his death to free us and his resurrection to lead us into the new life he is creating in us.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you, not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27, NIV) True peace, the kind that Jesus gives all his followers, the kind that endures and overcomes the storms of life – that kind of peace comes only from God who has the power to control all things, infinite wisdom and enduring love. Do not be afraid, be confident in Christ.

Faith is our shield. Our confidence in God, our trust in Jesus, our belief in his grace repels all doubts. When we are faced with things we don’t understand or that confuse us, we have our faith to know and rely on that God exists, that he loves us and is active in our lives. Faith deflects doubt and gives us something sturdy to lean on as we stand against the challenges in life.

Finally the Sword of the Spirit is God’s Word. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that All Scripture is God-breathed and useful in showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes and training us to live God’s way.(Msg) This precious gift is meant first to guide us in our own repentance and teach us more about who God is and who we are in Christ. Second, it is our guide and our authority in dealing with the everyday challenges we face.

This was my introduction to the Armor of God and it has left me wanting to know more. So I’ve determined to make the time in the next few weeks to meditate on this passage so that I can better appreciate these amazing gifts I have been taking for granted. I hope I have encouraged you to take another look at this wonderful scripture as well.

Blessings All!

About the pictures:
Blackwater Falls (May 2010)

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Blessing Lost

The Bible tells us a story of a desperate father who brings his  little boy to Jesus for healing. The boy is being tormented by a demon causing involuntary convulsions in him bringing him great harm and many times nearly killing him. Jesus is on a mountaintop with Peter, James and John so the remaining disciples at the foot of the mountain try to heal the boy but find they are unable. Upon his return, Jesus reminds them that all things are possible for those who have faith and then heals the boy. When the disciples ask Jesus why they failed, he explained that the power the disciples lacked could come only from God, and therefore was available only through faith and prayer. (Mark 9:14-29)

I always assumed that the little boy grew up to be a strong, healthy man who married the girl of his dreams and had a houseful of children. But recently, I found myself questioning that assumption. What if that boy’s symptoms returned two months later? What if, once the convulsions returned, he were plagued with this condition for the rest of his life? Those who want to find fault with Jesus might say that the boy had never really been healed. False prophets might blame the boy’s own sinfulness for his troubles. Really, what do you tell someone whose “answered prayer” suddenly becomes unanswered? What do I tell the woman who just had another miscarriage? How do I encourage the man who moved his family across country on the promise of a job only to arrive and to have the job offer fall through? What do I tell them when their “happily ever after” all of a sudden isn’t anymore? And what if I’m the one facing the disappointment of a blessing lost? What do I tell myself?

I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. All I do know is that Jesus loves me with a perfect, eternal love. Whatever life brings me in the next moment, the next day or week, I know he loves me. He has not, nor will he ever abandon me. With faith and prayer I will make it through the challenges that come my way because he is with me. He will guide me, carry me, and push me through the obstacles in my life to bring me closer to him. There will be disappointment and hardship in this lifetime, but still I am hopeful because he has promised that someday I will know only his joy and peace. I can hold unswervingly to this hope I profess because he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23) – of that I have no doubt. I may never be able to explain to you or myself why bad things happen to good people or why God doesn’t heal the pain and sickness of all of those we lift up to him in prayer. When disappointment or hardship knocks me down, all I can do is remember to bring my fear, my confusion and my pain to him. I can lean on him, cry on his shoulder and know that he is there for me and with me through it all.
About the pictures:
Phipps Conservatory (May 09)