Monday, December 31, 2012

A Story Worth Sharing


Last week I received one of those "God story" emails - the kind that tells of God putting someone in the right place at the right time to help or comfort someone in need. I love those kinds of stories because it is a reminder to me that God is still very active in our everyday lives. Too often we get caught up in the message of what Jesus has done for us through his birth, death on the cross, and resurrection and we forget to share the stories of what he is doing in and through our lives every day. Yes, the Good News of redemption through Christ is the most important story, but when we end the story there, it's no wonder non-believers think God is dead. They need to know God is active and working today in their lives before they can see past today's pains and concerns to eternal possibilities.

Non-believers aren't the only ones who need to feed on the stories of God's everyday presence. As believers, we don't share enough with our Christian brothers and sisters what God is doing in our daily lives and we risk our faith becoming supported more by knowledge rather than experience. I don't know about you, but I can always be tricked to doubt a fact I know and never be convinced to disbelieve my own experience - you can't tell me something didn't happen when I lived it.

I admit that for a long time now, I've been needing to reinvigorate the awareness in my heart, mind and soul, that God not only created me, loved me enough to die for me, was powerful enough to raise from the dead to bring me into eternal relationship with him, but is actively sharing in my life now. I need to be more intentional about looking daily for God in my life and to share the stories of what he is doing in and through me with others. So I asked a friend to join me in a 30-day challenge to share with each other on a daily basis God's miracle stories large or small. The response I got was rather disappointing. It seems my friend is an ENTP (Myers-Briggs) and therefore usually doesn't remember what happened yesterday to share what God has done in everyday life. It saddened me that my friend's memory would never fails to remember the accomplishments of children, spouse, extended family and self but assumes that God's wonders would be completely forgettable the next day. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. But the point I'm trying to make is that God is real and alive, living and working in us every minute of every day and we're missing it!
 
I don't want to miss it anymore. That's why I'm challenging myself and anyone who will join me to look for and share what God is doing everyday for the next 30 days. Share with your friends, family, neighbors and church family the everyday miracles of God in your life because he most certainly is alive and active in this moment and the next - and that is a story worth sharing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Following the Christmas Star


Merry Christmas! Today is Christmas Eve and the festivities are about to begin. We’ve wrapped our gifts in anticipation and are about to embark on our journey through the Christmas holiday. We have searched far and wide to give the absolute perfect gift to those we love and anxiously await the joy of seeing them open this token of our love.

It is okay to have fun and share joy and love in the chaos of family gatherings and dinners and gift giving. It’s okay to be happy amid the torn wrapping paper and discarded packaging as we share our love and joy with our friends and family. But, let us remember this Christmas to honor the One who taught us to love, the One who came to earth from heaven that first Christmas - God's great gift of love to us.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” …They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

How far will you travel to worship Jesus and what do you bring with you?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Lantern in a Dark World


 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

Friday was a pretty good day for me. The office was quiet and I was able to get a lot of good work done. The sun was shining and the world from my little isolated spot on the hill was a joy, but elsewhere, that was not the case. I’ve cut myself off from the endless streams of media that seem to invade this world with its sensationalism and critical analysis of every move we make. I just don’t have the stomach or the desire for it. So I was unaware of the terrible atrocity that had taken place in Connecticut until much later when I chose to check in with my Facebook friends as I grabbed a late lunch. There I found the news plastered in numerous pleas for prayer by most of my FB friends and the righteous outrage of others. I consider it a blessing from the Lord that I didn’t learn of this until late because at my slow introverted pace of digesting information, the entirety of the news didn’t hit until Saturday morning when I was alone and able to deal with the grief that had surfaced in me in empathy for those mothers and families that had lost their children to tragedy. Though I can never know the depth of their pain, I do have some experience at losing a child to tragedy.


I was careful to limit my exposure to the ongoing retellings, updating, and just plain prying into the lives of those who needed our support and prayer rather than our curiosity and badgering. What I noticed among those pleas for prayer and the lists of names of those killed was a very obvious omission. In all those pleas and lists was missing the name of the shooter’s mother, who was killed just before in her home – clearly the first victim of the day and of course the shooter. The first time I saw any mention of praying for the family of this person who did this horrible thing was in a report on CNN’s website on Sunday morning from a victim’s father who “offered his condolences to all the families affected.  ‘This includes the family of the shooter,’ he said. ‘I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that our family, and our love and support goes out to you as well.’”

My heart breaks for the families who can no longer hold their children in their arms and who will be struggling to celebrate Christmas in just a few days amid the unopened presents of those who have been taken from them. But the family of the young man who did this have lost a daughter, sister, wife, mother and yes, a son, brother, nephew, and grandson. They will have to live with the stigma of those few moments Friday morning when all hell broke loose at the hands of their loved one. They won’t receive the kind of support and love that the other survivors will. At the grocery store and doctor’s offices, in their neighborhoods and clubs, people will see them as the family of the shooter instead of a grieving family. I am asking you to put aside your outrage and pray and support this family too.


Over the next few weeks (unless some other unbelievable atrocity occurs) we will most likely hear all kind of conjectures of why this happened. We’ll hear stories of bullying and family issues, shyness and maybe someone will even explain how this young man’s place on the spectrum of autism played a part in it all.  According to CNN, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police stated that “detectives will certainly analyze everything and put a complete picture together of the evidence that they did obtain, and we're hopeful -- we're hopeful -- that it will paint a complete picture as to how and why this entire unfortunate incidence occurred."  Already, the ever incessant debate of gun laws has reared its ugly head. There will be no end to ‘if he didn’t have access to guns…’ and ‘if the adults in the school had had a gun…’

This is a dark world we live in. From the very beginning, the Evil One has manipulated and deceived us in his rebellion against of the Lord. You may not feel comfortable talking about Satan or demons and spiritual warfare, and believe me, he loves that! He takes great joy in humans taking ownership of and explaining away his evil devices as we try to rout out, and thereby in the future control, the psychological, sociological and physical aspects of the human mind and will that he so expertly and quietly manipulates from behind the veil of the spiritual realm. He thrives on the chaos he creates and he loves that we take the credit for it because if we credited him, we would have to admit that the spiritual realm and warfare is very real and very much beyond our abilities. We can’t control it, so we take the easy way out and deny it. But if we are willing to admit the root of evil that devised and undergirded the terrible violence that took place in Connecticut, then we are identifying and able to stand against the real enemy of innocence everywhere. I’m not saying the young man isn’t responsible for his choice and actions. I’m saying he was another pawn in Satan’s war against God. If we openly recognize the devil as the source of violence and chaos, we could stand against him in the power of God and run him out of our homes and our communities in the name of Him who has already secured victory – Jesus Christ.


I recognize this atrocity as the work of the evil one and ask Jesus to step in and crush the head of the one he has already defeated in his death and resurrection. I know Jesus will bring light, hope, joy and peace to a broken world shattered by the sounds of crying mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, especially in a little town somewhere in Connecticut that I never heard of until two days ago. You think the enemy would have learned his lesson the first time he tried this - When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." Matthew 2:16-18.

Joseph was warned of the danger (like a gunshot echoing through a hallway) and escaped with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Innocent babies and toddlers were slaughtered all in an effort to extinguish the Light of Heaven before He cast out the darkness through his life, death and resurrection. Jesus was born, a helpless babe, at night into a dark world bringing with him the hope, peace, joy and love we celebrate during Advent. He is the Light of God we worship on Christmas Day. To the normal human eye, Jesus looked like just any other innocent child, but to those whom God chose to reveal the mystery, those able to see through the veil to the spiritual realm, they saw the angels and the face of God in a manger of that little town.


As my intent is always to offer hope in this blog, I will offer the hope I have. Amid the grief and tears of empathy this week and in facing the darkness of this world in the coming year, I choose to focus my eyes on the Christ Child, the Light of the World, Jesus – the very same Jesus who lives and rules in my heart and who will shine the light of love and grace in and through me…and you, if you ask him to.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Play My Drum for the One Who Saved Me

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the  widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. (Acts 9: 36-39)

It’s two weeks before Christmas and everywhere I go, I hear the old familiar Christmas carols – The First Noel, Deck the Halls, Silent Night, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and The Little Drummer Boy...to name just a few. Every popular musician, secular and Christian, has at least one Christmas album filled with their musical version of these songs that have been around for generations. My favorite version of The Little Drummer Boy is actually by a children's Christian band called Go Fish. In their rendition, they've inserted a rather catchy bridge repeating "I play my drum; I play my drum for the One who saves me." The first time I heard this, the message of the song finally came alive for me in a way I'd never heard it before.

The song is about bringing what you have to the Lord as your gift, your act of love and obedience. A poor drummer boy doesn't bring gold he doesn’t have and wise men/kings from afar wouldn't dream of bringing nothing but a song. Last week I wrote about expressing love for God by loving others. I'm not talking about the extraordinary gestures too many of us think we need to offer to please God - giving away all you money and living on the streets, or giving up everything and moving to a leper colony. There are some whom God calls to these extraordinary tasks just as the wise men brought the most rare, expensive gifts to the Christ child. However, the birth of Christ was also announced to shepherds who had nothing and they were not hesitant to go and offer their admiration to the King, nor were they turned away when they arrived empty handed. Perhaps they gave Jesus some wool. Like the drummer boy in the Christmas carol, they gave of themselves from what they had.

Everyone has much they can give to the Christ child. There are too many possibilities to ever form a comprehensive list, but in considering this for myself this past week, I came up with a few ordinary gestures of love most of us can offer to the Christ child this Christmas and in the coming year.
  1. Do you drive? Take a senior who can't drive to a doctor's appointment. Work during doctor's hours? How about taking them to church with you, or taking them out to dinner with your family when you go?
  2. Do you know how to read? Volunteer to tutor school-aged kids in the afternoon or adults in the evening.
  3. Do you like to crochet or knit or quilt? Be like Dorcus and bring hope to a dark cold corner of your community with handmade blankets, scarves, hats and gloves, sweaters, etc.
  4. Do you like to work with tools or do minor household repairs? Organizations like Hosanna Industries or Habitat for Humanity are just waiting for you. Don't have a whole Saturday to give every once in a while. How about an afternoon, fixing a widow's sink or fence?
  5. Still too complicated? How about shoveling the snow off of a neighbor's walk or driveway? Live in an apartment complex? How about cleaning the snow off of a disabled person's car?
You know what you can do and those things you love to do – perhaps you will take some time to look for a way to gift those skills and talents, given to you by God, back to God by using them for someone else's benefit. I would love to hear some of your ideas for expressing love and gratitude to God by offering love and grace to others. Please feel free to post your ideas.

May the peace of Christ be with you this week.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When the Alarm Goes Off

Last week I stated that I wanted to be more intentional and tenacious about setting aside time to rest and rejoice in the Lord's Presence. I've been feeling lazy in my relationship with God and apathetic toward my spiritual disciplines. To that end I confided in a friend who was very encouraging. He reminded me that every moment can't be a mountaintop experience or a carried-through-the-valley embrace. I'm okay with that. I like routine and I am quite satisfied with the quiet that comes with uneventful moments. I explained that I was more concerned by my overwhelming lack of interest in expending any energy in the spiritual disciplines through which my relationship with the Lord began and grew. I compared it to the lack of intimacy and despondency of both my marriages just before they fell apart. In a human relationship, both people contribute to the breakdown of the commitment but when one Person in the relationship is God and the other is me - guess who is the problem!

My friend reminded me of a spiritual exercise a group of us did years ago. We put a green dot on our watches for a week and every time we looked at our wrist watch, we saw the green dot which would remind us of God's grace and love. He suggested I find my trigger - my green dot - that would call me to a moment of living in God's Presence. The moment I hear the word trigger, I knew what to do. Years ago, my mother began a regiment of insulin. She had to be disciplined in eating and testing her blood glucose regularly. She was having a difficult time with keeping such a strict schedule - often eating hours late and forgetting to test her blood on time. To help her keep her schedule, I set alarms on her smart phone. When the alarm sounded, she knew she had to stop what she was doing and eat a meal or test her blood. It helped her grow into the schedule to which she must maintain to stay healthy.

So I found a great ringtone (Closer by Shawn McDonald) and picked three random times - one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening, and set the alarm on my phone. I expected to find me totally consumed within myself and "unspiritual" when the alarms went off. To my surprise this week, that has not been the dase. (This next part is very uncomfortable for me because I fell like I'm saying, "See what a wonderful person I am," but I know no other way to explain the wonderful thing God showed me this week.) What I discovered is that when the alarm went off, that majority of the times I was sharing God's love with someone in some ordinary way. I was helping a woman from another church reformat her newsletter, spending time with a lonely senior who just needed someone to talk with for a few moments, writing a note of encouragement, trying to help someone learn to use a computer, and oh, the alarm just went off a few moments ago while writing this blog. These are the kind of things I do on a regular basis and to which I never gave a thought. But when the alarm went off, I smiled because it was a reminder of why I do these things and whom I do them for - the God I love. Jesus tells us in the sheep and goats parable that whatever we do for a fellow human being, no matter who they are, we do it as if doing it for him. (Matthew 25:31-46) We express our love for Jesus by showing love and grace to others.

I was afraid my devotion and commitment to God was drying up. I was telling myself that I was slipping because I couldn’t see that my love for God has not diminished, but simply is being expressed in a more outwardly way then it did when I first fell in love with him. Our relationship isn’t dying – it’s growing! Still there is room for improvement. I would like to get back to some of that quiet one-on-one intimacy we used to share in my intense study of Scripture and long prayerful hours that defined our relationship all those years ago when I was veracious to learn all I could about the God who loves me. But now I understand that I need only to seek a balance of private and public expression of my love for the God who created me, saved me, and pursued me with love and grace until I couldn’t help but love him in return.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Most Important "To-Do" on the List

This past week was busy and stressful trying to make sure everything was done that needed to be done for the holiday. The holiday celebration with family seemed to fly by so quickly, I hardly remember any of it. I was starting to wonder if there was a lesson I could glean from my running around and confusion before the holiday or the over-indulgences that followed when God seemed to speak to me through a familiar voice.

I've mentioned before that I’m a M*A*S*H nut. I own the whole series on DVD and have been known to watch through all eleven seasons more times than I can count or would like to admit. Today as I was considering what to write, I had it on in the background and heard a particularly inspiring message that seemed to put my whole week into perspective.

Father Mulcahy, one of the characters on the show, was addressing a crowd of people saying, "I want to tell you about two men—each facing his own crisis. The first man you know rather well. (He was referring to himself.) The second is a patient here. Well the first man thought he was facing a crisis. But what he was really doing was trying to impress someone. He was looking for recognition, encouragement, a pat on the back. And then whenever that recognition seemed threatened, he reacted rather childishly, blamed everyone for his problems but himself because he was thinking only of himself. But the second man was confronted by the greatest crisis mortal man can face—the loss of his life. I think you'll agree that the second man had every right to be selfish but instead he chose to think not of himself, but of a brother—a brother! And when the first man saw the dignity and selflessness of the second man, he realized how petty and selfish he had...I...I...I had been! It made me see something more clearly than I've ever seen it before. God didn't put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so he could be here himself. So that he could exist in the lives of those he created in his image."

Amidst the chaos that can sometimes be my life, especially around the holidays, I too often get caught up in my own schedule, in my own tiny priorities. I'm so busy looking at the details of my life on those days that I'm missing the whole picture of my life in the rush to catch up so I can relax later. This past week could have been about so much more than a list of things I needed to do before the office closed for the holiday, or the annual stuffing of the faces on Thanksgiving Day, or crossing off every item on my "to get" list during our family's "Girls-Only Black Friday" shopping trip. The Thanksgiving holiday is meant to call my attention to the abundance of blessings in my life, to give me the opportunity to share those blessings with others, and a reminder to praise the God who created me and blessed me with life, salvation, love, family, home, health, food, and so many other things I took for granted this week as I attended to the details.

In just a few weeks, we will be celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus and I want to do a better job of preparing for it. Yes, I will be rushing around again, trying to get things doen in the coming weeks - it's the nature of my responsibilities. But I hope to do a better job of making myself available for God to share himself through me with the world around me. I want to be more intentional and tenacious about setting aside time to rest and rejoice in his Presence throughout the days and weeks to come. I want to seek his will over my to-do list. I hope to prepare not just the trappings of the approaching holiday, but also my heart and mind to welcome and worship my Savior on Christmas Day. I hope you will consider joining me.

I'm fallen on my knees
desperate for Your embrace.
I'm giving You my heart, Lord.
I'm clinging to Your grace.
(From my poem "Clinging to Grace")

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Blessing of Lice


I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  Psalm 34:1

You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you.  Psalm 18:28

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and saw that she had only three hairs on her head. "Great," she said, "I think I'll braid my hair today."
So she did, and had a wonderful day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head. "Hmm," she said, "I guess I'll part my hair down the middle."
So she did, and had a wonderful day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only one hair left on her head.
"Wow," she said, "today I get to wear my hair in a pony tail." So she did, and had a wonderful, wonderful day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that there wasn't a single hair on her head.
"Thank God!" she exclaimed. "I was running out of things to do with my hair!"


A friend sent this story to me last week via email. I read it, I smiled, and then I quickly deleted it as I went on with my day. However, I went back to find it after watching an old movie on TV today because it so perfectly fits the lighter side of the lesson reiterated in the movie, “The Hiding Place.”

The movie, if you’ve never seen it, is based on the book of the same name by Corrie ten Boom, a Christian survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. The story itself is incredible as God’s stories often are. She and her family provided safe haven to many Jewish refugees during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Holland. Her family was eventually arrested by the Gestapo and she and her sister spent 10 months in three different prisons, the last being the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. During their time there, many women became Christians because of their witness to God’s love and faithfulness even in that horrible place. After Corrie was released from the camp, she knew she needed to share what she had learned there with the world – that "There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still" and "God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies." Corrie began a world-wide ministry which took her into more than 60 countries in the next 33 years! She testified to God’s love and encouraged all she met with the message that "Jesus is Victor."


She was such an unlikely person – the spinster daughter of a local watchmaker. And if the Nazis had never made it to Holland, she may never have learned the depth of faith the Lord developed in her during that harsh time. What struck me the most was how her sister could find a reason to thank God for every circumstance which they encountered. It is reported that she was truly grateful to the Lord always, even for the lice that infested their barracks in the concentration camp as it gave them a place the guards would not search to hide their contraband Bible.

With Thanksgiving so close, it got me to wondering – how thankful am I? Last week, I talked a little about how grateful I am to know and be loved by “The Lord Who Provides.” I know I am truly blessed. But in times of trial, am I thankful? As I look back on my life and all I’ve experienced, I can say that I am thankful for those too. I’m grateful to God for the work he has done in me as he brought me through some very tough times. Boy, would I love to end this paragraph here, letting you think I possess the depth of faith of Miss ten Boom. But I can’t because the next logical question would be – am I truly grateful in the midst of the confusion and chaos that is my life right now and I have to say I haven’t been very appreciative. No, I’ve been grumbling and wondering when I’m going to get back my nice, quiet, leisurely life. I blame my busyness for my lack of dedication and discipline as if that excuses it. I’m too busy being self-centered and shallow to be grateful. Instead of complaining about the inconveniences, I could look for the blessing from God in that moment and praise him for his generosity. In my hectic schedule, I could be uncovering countless unrealized blessings if I spent less time thinking about me and more time trying to see how God is loving me, providing for me, and working in and through me in the moment.

Happy Thanksgiving!
 
 
Corrie ten Boom Quotes:
Ø  “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”
Ø  “This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”
Ø  “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”
 
 About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park, PA (October 2009)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jehovah-Jireh


 JEHOVAH-JIREH = The Lord will Provide.
This week, I had a front row seat to see Jehovah-Jireh (The Lord will Provide) at work in my life. We first see this beautiful name of God in Genesis 22. Abraham is on his way to offer his child, Isaac, in sacrifice to God. God has asked the unthinkable of Abraham – to forfeit the life of his boy in obedience to the Lord. As Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, God steps in providing a ram to sacrifice in Isaac’s place. For this, Abraham names the place “The Lord will Provide” – Jehovah-Jireh.


Actually, I’m probably more aware than most of how much the Lord provides on a regular basis in my life. I once read that if you live above the poverty level, you are in the top 5% of the richest people in the world. Have a car, a TV, or a computer? Welcome to the top 1% of the richest people in the world. I have a roof over my head, a car in the parking lot, a job to sustain me, clothes in my closet, more stuff lying around my apartment than most of the world’s people could ever imagine owning: a computer, a cell phone, a library full of books which I can read myself. I’ve got clean water and indoor plumbing, a kitchen full of food, and inoculations and medications to keep me healthy with access to many, many doctors. Looking at this list, I am embarrassingly wealthy.

But this week, over and above all these riches, I saw the Lord provide even more. There was a day this past week when I desperately needed to be held up in prayer and God provided two dear friends who prayed with me throughout the day. And then later I got together with a few women who are new to many aspects of their faith and God used me to reach out to them in a very powerful way. Yesterday I was on my way to serve at a lunch when I received a call about a family emergency. I didn’t know what to do as I had this commitment but was needed elsewhere. When I got to the kitchen, God had already provided an extra, unexpected volunteer so I was able to attend to my family. Also this week, I felt led by God to buy and gift five bibles and was unsure how I was going to pay for them. I’m blessed, but I’m also on a tight budget. To buy the bibles God wanted me to give was going to cost at least $75 - money I didn’t have in my budget or my bank account. When I went to the store to purchase them, I found that these particular bibles were part of a very special sale - $5 each. Because I stepped out in faith relying on God to provide, five women will have God’s Word in their hands this week. As a friend of mine says, “Yeah God!


These examples were just a few of the abundant blessings God has poured out on me this week alone. A wise woman once challenged me, “If today you had only what you thanked the Lord for yesterday, what would you have?” It gave me pause to reflect on all the Lord provides and how so often I miss the blessing because I’m too busy worrying about what I don’t have. Every morning I wake up and I can thank God for an endless list of blessings I’ve received even before my foot hits the floor starting with “Thank you Lord for another day!” I hope that my sharing what God is doing in my life helps you see a little more clearly the abundant blessings in your own life.

About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park, PA (November 2009 and 2010)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pondering the Political "ISM"

This is the week when Americans will have the opportunity to vote. Some will vote for their favored candidate and many will vote against their least favored candidate. I applaud everyone who has taken the time to try to discern what the candidates really stand for from their carefully-staged platforms and opponent bashing campaign rhetoric. This Tuesday, many will be making choices to elect the officials who will be ruling over us for the next few years. But remember that when it comes to true power, it is already decided who has dominion over us. As mixed-up and chaotic as this country and this world may seem to be - God really does have control and we will one day see His kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven. No matter who is elected this Tuesday, God is still King of the Universe and God over them whether they admit or not.
 
I once was tasked to write poems about different worldviews or "ISM's" that we as humans rely on to bring order into our lives and which we allow to guide us in our actions and interactions with others. (ie: relativism, materialism, and politicalism) In honor of election day this week, I would like to share with you the one I wrote about politicalism. Enjoy! 
 
 
Pondering the Political "ISM"
I’ve heard it said
that there is no place
for God in government
and in the social order –
Jesus isn’t relevant.

 
“We know what’s best”
we proudly proclaim
to coexist
in an amiable way.
We have our rules
to live by
to keep us all in line
and they will serve us well –
at least in my lifetime.
 
So what if they create problems,
raise one group above the rest,
take from some to give to others,
don’t you know, we’re doing our best?

So what if God created us
and knows us better than
we know ourselves?
Writing laws upon the hearts
of those that he indwells.
And what does it really matter
that Jesus showed us all the way
to love and respect all human life
each and every day?


Perhaps we need to look again
at what it is we think we know.
Then give back the crown to God
and watch Jesus break the status quo.


About the picture: North Park, PA (September 2011)

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Day with God

This has been one of those crazy weeks where I never seemed to be able to catch up with my calendar. I kept thinking during the most chaotic moments....I really need to spend some time alone with God - just me and Him. It got me thinking about I poem I wrote a few years ago and shared on this blog in September of 2010. I hope you enjoy reading it again.


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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How I Met Jesus


Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.                                                        Jeremiah 29:12-13
 

Month after month, insomnia permeated my early morning hours. Too many twilight hours had been wasted sitting in despair wondering how I’d ended up in this place in my life. At the age of ten, I’d sunk into a life-long depression that almost destroyed me and which tainted every moment of my life. Now I was twenty-five and trapped in an abusive environment with no hope or expectation of love, safety, stability, or escape. My only reason for even bothering to live was my five-year-old who needed me to be there for him. I’d spent years trying to fix my life: to be happy, to make my abusive husband love me more, to make enough money to afford to pay both the electric bill and the gas bill in the same month. Many times in that last year, I’d found myself awake in the middle of the night crying out to a God I didn’t know or understand and had denied since childhood – “Where are you? Why can’t I find you?” He never answered.

Then on one of those dreary nights, a seemingly insignificant memory from childhood came to mind. “If you get lost while we’re here – stay right where you are! Don’t move! Don’t walk around trying to find me. Just stay right where you are and I will come find you!” It was my mother’s ‘as-we-walk-into-every-store’ speech. I’d heard it many times as a child.

What made me think of that now? It was then that the light bulb went on over my head – Maybe, I shouldn’t try to find God. Maybe I should let him find me! Maybe, me trying to fix all the stuff that’s wrong in my life is like walking around trying to find him instead of staying put and letting him take care of things – letting him find me.

I remember staring at the ceiling and saying, “I’ve done everything I can to try to fix my life. There’s nothing left for me to try. So God, it’s up to you now. You can’t possibly screw up my life anymore than I already have. Do whatever you want with it. I’m lost and I’m just going to stay right here and wait for you to find me.”
I went on with my life as usual, completely unaware of the big thing that had just happened or that God had heard and accepted my offer. Over time, my life began to change in many ways. God worked behind the scenes of my life to help me overcome nicotine addiction, leave behind my abusive marriage, and weave a network of people into my life who helped me through that first year after my son’s death.
 
Several years after that late-night prayer, Jesus delighted to introduce himself to me at a Kmart magazine rack. I love to read and as I was browsing through the books that day, I saw a paperback entitled The Book. I was unable to flip through the pages because it was shrink-wrapped, but the back cover promised that this book would speak the Bible to me in my own everyday language. Something inside of me said, “Buy this book.”

That evening, I began reading in Acts and was drawn back to it every night, reading about all of the different kinds of people who came to faith in story after story after story. The striking difference in Paul’s life before and after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus helped me realize that even though I had done some horrible things in my life, I wasn’t too awful for God to love. A few weeks later, I read Romans 5:6-8: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
 
Wow! God doesn’t love me for what I’ll do for him or give to him – He just loves me! Is it possible that someone could love me for who I am, just as I am? And if he loves me for me unconditionally, then there’s nothing I can do that will cause him to love me any less. He’ll just ALWAYS LOVE ME! He loves me enough to take the punishment for my sins and he’s alive right now – loving me whether I love him or not.  

It was at that moment that I first loved Jesus back and gave him my heart and my life because without him, both were empty. With Jesus as my focus, my life has become quite an adventure. There have been some great times and some very bad times. With God’s help, I’ve faced incredible challenges and have been amazed at how God never fails to bring me through those times with grace, healing, and exraordinary blessing.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17

About the pictures:
North Park (October 2012)


 

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's All About Jesus

This past week, I've had at least three people say to me that they see a big difference in me - like I'm a new Maureen compared to the one I was just months ago. I have grown in many significant ways recently. I am reminded of of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago. Because it's still so true, I thought we would look back this week to "It's All About Jesus" originally posted October 1,2010. Enjoy!

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:
North Park (October 2012)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Where Is Jesus During the Stewardship Drive?

Background information:
The church I work for has been journeying through “The Story” (The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People) in sermon, Sunday school, small group and personal study this year. Beginning in January with God creating everything, taking “Story breaks” for Easter, special guest speakers and the summer, they have arrived at the crucifixion this week. This first Sunday in October, they will be laying Jesus in the tomb and then will be taking another Story break for the rest of the month to accommodate the annual stewardship drive.




This past week, in our staff meeting, the pastor jovially remarked that he was putting Jesus in the tomb on Sunday (the first Sunday in October) and because of the annual stewardship drive was not letting him back out until November. That statement has been resonating in my mind and my heart this week. Everything that exists is God’s and we are the stewards of his wealth. And yet, when it comes to the annual stewardship drive, how inclined are we to put Jesus back in the tomb and not let him out until it’s over and we’ve made “our” decision about what to do with the money God has placed in our care. How often do we look at the bottom line and what we think we can comfortably afford instead of going to the Master for his instructions concerning the distribution of his wealth?
 
Even as I write these thoughts, I find myself guilty as charged. I must admit that in the past couple of years I’ve given what I thought I could without really asking for God’s opinion, let alone seeking his command. With the continuing rising prices of gas and food and almost everything else, plus the addition of a car payment now, I am again more inclined to shy away from asking God what he wants me to do with the money he has put in my charge. I guess I’m afraid that God is going to say to give more than my budget’s bottom line says I am able to give. I’m on a very tight budget and there are few, non-essential expenditures to give up in order to balance a budget with a large tithe.



I guess what it all boils down to is how much do I really trust God? Do I really believe that he is real and active in my life, concerned about and providing for my needs? And not just “believe” but “know” that if God asks me to take a giant leap of faith and be faithful in giving more than my budget says I can possibly afford, that he will be faithful in providing the necessities of life. Do I believe God when he tells me in Philippians 4:13 that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me or do I think those are just hollow words of encouragement? Will I put aside what I can prove and my fear of the unknown, trusting God, who knows and hold eternity in his hand, and approach him in prayer asking, “Lord, for this small moment in my eternal life, what shall I do with the resources you have put in my charge?”
 
In the end, if I want to do this Christian stewardship thing right, I will have to give up the decision of how much to give, which by the way was never mine to make in the first place, and defer to God’s budget for the disbursement of his wealth and property. It will be a struggle in my faith and whatever God decides, I’m sure I’m not going to be happy with given that I’m human and basically selfish. However, I think that the growing intimacy in my relationship with God as I learn to rely more on him and less on my own strength and understanding is a priceless treasure worth the effort.

About the pictures:
North Park (October 2012)

Monday, October 1, 2012

You Are My Neighbor


Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
This week, at the behest of a friend, I read a book called “I’m Proud of You – My Friendship with Fred Rogers” by Tim Madigan. I found it a good read – a book that I believe everyone can identify with at least to some degree. While the book talks about the author’s friendship with “the” Mr. Rogers, its underlying message is that of the human condition and great healing. Tim is very open about his own pain and insecurity, his feelings of being unaccepted and how God, through Mr. Rogers, loved him whole.

The more I understand about myself and my own pain and healing, the more I am convinced that every human being is plagued by insecurity and feelings of being unaccepted in some way or another. This manifests itself in many ways – some people try harder to prove their worth to themselves and others, some give up altogether, some implode becoming depressed and living in perpetual suffering, and others explode launching their anger out onto the world around them.


Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
Just today, one of my Facebook friends posted on her status –“It’s hard to explain to someone who has no clue. It's a daily struggle being in pain or feeling sick on the inside while you look fine on the outside.” For some reason, we try to hide this insecurity, this internal battle of worth and value, as if we are the only one in the world who feels this way, believing that if others knew, they would laugh at us or worse, confirm our perceived worthlessness. We go to work, or church, and even at home with those we love and trust the most, and we pretend that everything is okay when inside we’re broken and longing to have someone love us, not for what we do, but for who we are – warts and all. We hide who we are because we are convinced that if they knew the truth of us, they would abandon us and in our pain, we wouldn’t blame them for it.

Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
What I’ve found in God’s healing is that he is the one I was crying out for when all I wanted was one person to love me...me for who I was, imperfect, wounded, and limping through life. I needed someone to accept me wholly, not for what I could do, or for the potential I had, but for the person I was right then, the messy, confused, insecure woman I was. Sometimes I laugh at myself now when I think about me crying out for “this unknown person” and I picture God desperately pleading with me to know him as the One who fulfills all my needs. In the beginning, I understood this in my mind. But it took years of God proving his love for me to me for my heart to wrap itself around the understanding of his complete and unending love and acceptance of me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t, from time to time, experience insecurity and feelings of being unacceptable. The enemy is good at what he does. He knows that the slightest doubt can throw all that knowing into chaos and I sometimes fall for his deceptions. But even as I struggle with doubt, there God is – loving me wholly, as always, just as I am, in that moment.

Raccoon State Park, PA (October 2010)
What I want to take away from the book and put to work in my life is how Mr. Rogers was to the author that physical communication of God’s immeasurable love and whole-hearted acceptance. I want to be that person – the person who sees the pain in others and reaches out with both hands to embrace them in their messy, insecure brokenness. I want them to know that God loves them without reservation and accepts them just as they are with a grace and love that no sin or insufficiency can overpower. Because that knowledge has brought such joy and peace into my own life, I just have to share it with the whole world. So if I look deep to see through the facade you put on or break through the walls you’ve built up, it’s not to harm you, to call you out on your less-than-perfect attributes, but to embrace you with the love and grace of the One who loves you without limit or pretense. You are not alone and you are so very much loved.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The New Normal

North Park, PA May 2010
This past week has been extremely busy, but the Lord did give me an opportunity to reflect upon “the new normal” in my life. I’ll try to explain what I mean. Recently, I was talking with a group of people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Several of them expressed that they just want things to get back to normal. They’re tired of hurting and missing their loved ones. One woman said that she would never forget her loved one and time won’t change that. For her, life will never be “normal” again. I agreed with her.

I shared with them that on March 26, 1998, I was the mother of a vivacious twelve year old boy and twenty-four hours later, I wasn’t. All of a sudden my life, which had revolved around loving and raising my son, was without purpose. I was a childless mother lost in a haze of old life purpose and habit, walking in this new land of…..what? Every moment of my life had been about seeing to Bryan’s welfare and now, my moments were empty and useless. I had to learn how to traverse the new landscape of my life - a life that didn’t include him anymore. I even had to learn a new way to remember things because everything, up until the moment of his death, was stored in my mind as “when Bryan was two, or when Bryan and I were here, and when Bryan did that…” I needed a whole new frame of reference just to sort my memories. The day my son died, the “normal” of my life died with him.

North Park, PA May 2010
I was stuck in this “new normal” and had to learn how to survive within its confines. As the days and years went by, I was no longer just living within its confines, but exploring this land of “New Normal” and discovering joy and purpose again – not the joy and purpose I had known before, but a new, engaging way of life. Fourteen years later, I can say wholeheartedly that I love my new normal! I like me more now than I ever did before. I enjoy life and look forward to each day.

Everyone has to face change in their lives. And for those who go through a transformative change like a loved one dying, or a divorce, getting married, relocation, going to college, major health issues, or having a child…, these things transform what you know your life to be into something else – a new normal. What I’ve learned in exploring this new normal is that if you look for the joy and hope instead of trying in vain to find what you’ve lost, you will find incredible blessing.

North Park, PA May 2010
It can be uneasy, scary even, to go into the unknown of “the new normal” but we are not alone on the journey. Now this is where you are probably expecting me to say God is with you through the journey and that is true. God is with us in every moment whether we acknowledge him or not. But like world explorers who choose a guide to see them safely through uncharted wilderness and willingly follow their guide deep into the unknown, so we choose in our every attitude, action and decision the guide we will follow on our own personal adventure called life. Will we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, the Guide sent to us by the Father at Jesus’ request, or will we choose to be led in circles by the guides of this world?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul!

Pittsburgh Zoo (April 2012)
This morning, it being Sunday, I went to church and enjoyed a wonderful time of worship, fellowship and being renewed by God’s own Word. I admit, I really wanted to just shut off the alarm and roll back over in bed this morning. But as I lay there, I began to think about why I go to church. I go because I love God. And once a week, I have the freedom and privilege of gathering with my brothers and sisters in Christ to share that experience. I have been redeemed by Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross – how could I not go to express the deep gratitude and admiration I have for him?

But worship isn’t just a Sunday morning, one hour a week thing. How could it be with a God as majestic and wonderful as our God! He created the universe. He created you and me. He is holy and still he seeks to be in communion with us, sinners though we are, because of his great love for us. So much so, that he, himself, did the impossible and unthinkable – left his heavenly throne and robed himself in flesh to pay the price for our sins and to conquer death to open the way into His Presence for us.

I've heard it said that man is a creature of worship. No matter who you are, you have a god in your life that drives you to do what you do...be it the one true God, or success, or the ideal of tolerance, or the ultimate healthy lifestyle...whatever it is, there is something or somethings in your life that you deem a priority over all else. Something you would give up everything else for. What if as it is said your every action, every word, every attitude were an act of worship? What do these things in your life say about who or what you worship. Set your alarm for an hour from now and when the alarm goes off - ask yourself that question?


Recently, I’ve discovered a new favorite song I’d like to share (YouTube video below) called 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman. The song is about worshiping from the heart. It moves me every time I hear it, so much so that I’ve made it my morning prayer on my way to work. I listen and sing along to this song, not just as a prayer, but as a reminder of who and what my focus and foundation is. God is the reason for all I am, all I do, and all I have - 3 reasons down, 9,997 to go!