Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Immanuel Hidden in Plain Sight

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, 
and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 
Matthew 1:23

Hidden in Plain Sight
In that cool, crisp, quiet, starry night,
The world so still did lay
Waiting for the King of Kings
To come and save the day.

They watched for Him so anxiously
To rule in regal might.
Vanquishing all evil men,
Champion of all in sight.
Leader of great armies,
Battle plans all ready,
Sending soldiers to their death,
A resolve so firm and steady.

And yet our Lord slipped by them
In the guise of a small child.
Born that night among the hay,
Quiet, poor, meek, and mild.

They Call Him Immanuel
God is with us
not to condemn
but to save us
to teach and guide us
to protect and provide for us
to forgive and redeem us.
His grace is upon us
for he lives within us
nurturing holiness,
and righteousness
within our brokenness.
He's the light in our darkness.
His Spirit fills our emptiness
as we rejoice in his forgiveness
and faithfulness.
He is the strength in our weakness
and the heart of our witness.
He is Immanuel—
God with us!
The Lord has blessed us
freeing us from sin's oppression
even before our confession
while deep in our transgression
The Passion was his mission
to make the provision
for his boundless compassion
and intercession.
From the start this was his vision:
Immanuel—God with us!

Monday, December 19, 2016

About Love

What Can I Say about Love?
Love is a choice, 
a way of life, 
a sacrifice. 
It's a connection that can't be broken, 
a purpose, 
a light.
It's not about me and all about you.
It's your strength in my weakness.
It's a treasure 
and truth.
Love knows and accepts me 
for who I am
and inspires me to be better,
to be more, 
it's why I wake 
and what my heart beats for.
It's our greatest desire,
a need to give and receive.
It's a sharing, 
a gift, 
between you and me.
It's not just a feeling that warms our hearts
though warming it does
Love is going without that I may give
Love gives its own life that its beloved may live
Whatever you think love is
It's so much more
when our love is His
our lives redeemed,
our minds renewed, 
and our hearts restored.

Monday, December 12, 2016

About Joy - Why the Pink Candle?

Today’s blog started with a question: Why is the third Advent Candle pink?

The season of Advent was instituted toward the end of the fifth century as preparation for Christmas—a season of reflection and penance (a counterpart to Lent which was already a well-established tradition.) It’s a season of waiting and anticipation for the coming of the Christ. While Christmas colors may be traditionally red and green, purple was chosen by the early church as the liturgical color of penance thus the purple candles. The spirit of Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the coming of the Savior…as the babe in the manger 2000 years ago, in our hearts as we repent, and in his Glorious Second Coming. The pink candle signifies joy which is lit on the third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice”) when the Sunday Mass opened with these words: “Rejoice (gaudete) in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” The penitential nature of the season is suspended on Gaudete Sunday to symbolize that joy and gladness in the promised Redemption.

That started me thinking about the unfettered joy children possess during the weeks preceding Christmas. While we adults run around like crazy buying presents, making cookies, and preparing the home for Christmas celebrations, they are running around sharing with everyone how good they’ve been all year and what they hope a certain someone will be bringing them on Christmas Eve. They can’t contain their excitement for who and what is coming.

When do we lose that abundant joy of anticipation and expectation? And how do we get it back? I think we lose it because all of our lives, we are taught that Christmas isn’t about receiving—it’s about giving. It’s the time of year to be extra nice to our fellow man. We’re taught that Christmas isn’t about what we get but how much we can give of ourselves to our family, friends, the disadvantaged. It’s the time of year when charities make their last best pitch to solicit monetary gifts on the streets and in our mailboxes. And in recent decades, it’s about where we can display a manger scene and who is offended with two little words: Merry Christmas. It’s about the commercialism of a capitalist society and about putting “Christ” back into Christmas.

Then a thought occurred to me—the kids have it right! It’s the adults that are screwing up the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas always has been about us receiving the greatest gift of all time. We should be excited about what we are getting on Christmas Eve! We should be running around telling everyone about who is coming and what he is bringing us because the Creator of the Universe, God Almighty, stepped into our meager existence as a helpless baby to bring us an understanding of himself we could never have had otherwise and the greatest gift of love—his own life for our redemption! If that’s not something we can get excited about receiving, what is? God is with us now and always in his Holy Spirit and we have his promise that Jesus will return again. What if you knew he was coming back this Christmas Eve? Would you be filled with the joy of a child anxiously waiting? And if not, why not?

As adults, we should share the love and generosity of the Lord during this holy time of Christmas, but let’s not lose that wonderful childlike joyous expectation of the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus is coming! There will never be a better gift!

Monday, December 5, 2016

As Much as It Depends on You...Live at Peace (Again)

I wrote this blog a couple of years ago and while considering Peace, the theme of this Advent week, I was reminded of it and hoped you wouldn't mind if I shared it again. Enjoy!
My second marriage was only six months along and we were still all learning to get along and be a family at the time of my son’s death. As you might expect, my husband and my son were having a difficult time interacting with each other and I often felt stuck in the middle. One of the greatest gifts (besides redemption) God gave me was a last phone call with my son a few hours before the accident. We had all been on each other’s nerves the night before and Bryan and I reconciled in that short five minute conversation that ended with both of us saying “I love you” to each other. This memory always takes me immediately to Ephesians 4:26-27—In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. It’s so easy to let little differences get out of hand and in the way of living a life that honors the Lord. When I think about how that phone conversation could have gone, I thank the Lord. We could have continued arguing and three hours later I would have a regret in my heart I couldn’t have lived with.

Two years later, on a late summer Thursday evening, my husband came in the house after mowing the grass, sat me down on the couch and told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. The days and weeks that followed were unbearable. I had just given my life to the Lord the year before and now this man I vowed to share my whole life with was divorcing me. I was devastated and at times wanted him to know the pain he was causing me, but instead I prayed that God would help me show unconditional love and forgiveness to him. My husband was not a believer and I knew that how I treated him would be a reflection of the God I served. My first real courageous act of love for Jesus and my last act of love for my husband was to do my best to show him a glimpse of God’s undeserved grace and forgiveness.

It was during this time that a pastor friend of mine gave me a prescription for handling relationships—Romans 12:9-21
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

From my experience I can tell you that this isn’t easy to do. It’s impossible sometimes…for me, but not for God. To live out this kind of love, I need God to live in and change my heart. I need to keep reading this “prescription for life” and saying it until God’s definition of relationship is etched on my brain and engrained in my lifestyle. And I need to do it not because if I don’t, it might be too late tomorrow but because it is God’s command and his way. I know that I’m not always going to succeed at living in harmony with everyone. However, if I really try to live at peace with others and they refuse, I haven’t failed. I only fail when I refuse to try. God’s way is simple—Love God and love others. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

Monday, November 28, 2016

About Hope

Yesterday was the beginning of Advent and as a symbol of that we lit the candle of hope on our Advent wreath. Hope, along with salvation and eternal life, is the greatest gift given to me by God. Before Jesus came into my life and heart, I lived decades in utter hopelessness. Not just the kind of hopelessness we talk about when we talk about a heart separated from God (which is not to be thought of lightly). I’m talking of a hopelessness that exists when all the hope is squeezed out of an innocent child’s heart from years of verbal abuse and molestation. That heart is then made infertile beyond the ability to nurture even a bud of hope in the years of mental, physical and sexual abuse that follows. Lastly the heart itself dries up when the last good thing—the love for my child—is violently ripped away from me in a single moment. That is my picture of utter hopelessness.

But now with God’s grace I am a lighthouse of hope shining into the darkness. Hope emanates from me like the rays of light from the lighthouse. God took the dead heart inside of me and made it come alive again like he did with the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. He has healed my life and restored in abundance all that was taken, beaten out of, and stolen from me. I am strong in his power and have been placed in my community to shine my light of a life miraculously renewed.

I stand as God’s symbol of hope to anyone who has been hurt, abused, or afflicted with depression or grief. The hope that God pours out of me has it foundation in my own experience and the glory of God’s grace and blessing. Hope is the energy that keeps me going in the tough times and fuels my celebration in the good. Hope is the legs I stand on—the certain hope of God’s promise and his presence in my life. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Root of Gratitude

It's times like these when I am amazed at how many different ways preachers can preach the same basic message every year around this time. How many different ways is there to express how we are to be thankful to the Lord our God for his inconceivable grace? That's the question I put to God this week. Below is his answer. Apparently there was at least one more. Enjoy!

The Root of Gratitude
Touched by your Holy Spirit,
Hope swells this humble heart in
Admiration of your selfless generosity.
Nothing compares to your extraordinary
Kindness—for in your compassion you look beyond my
Sin-ridden soul and lavish me in the
Grace of your own sacrifice.
I can’t comprehend, nor ever repay you for, the wondrous
Victory your cross and empty grave confer on me.
I can never fully express my gratitude. 
Not a moment passes when I am not in awe of my
Great Redeemer, God and King.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Me, God, and Politics

While I speak about political matters in this post, this is not a political statement or argument, but rather a deeper look at me and my relationship with God in the midst of all the political controversy.

It’s been a long devastating week for me. But for you to understand why, I have to tell you about the events leading up to it. I have long been disappointed by the leaders of this country. In my mind, even if a rare person of integrity took office, the system has been so perverted by human pride, greed and the pursuit of power that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Standing firmly by my personal policy—give me someone worth voting for and I’ll vote—I never registered to vote. That all changed when Mr. Trump won the Republican Party nomination. Something inside of me was violently adamant that he could not win. I felt I had to vote against him to know I’d done all I could to prevent his winning the election. To be transparent here, I voted third party because I believed my candidate to be a person of integrity and I also find Mrs. Clinton almost as reprehensible a person as Mr. Trump.

I spent weeks researching all the candidates and their platforms because if I was going to vote, I was going to do it the right way—I was going to vote for someone and not against someone. When I woke up last Wednesday morning to find that Mr. Trump had won the election, the news hit me so hard I became physically ill. The next few days, I talked with a mother who, because of the election results, will be losing her family’s health insurance next year. I heard from friends from the African-American and the LGBT communities feel threatened by the outcome. A teacher pointed out that the President-elect is a bully and asked how she is supposed to explain to her kids that bullying is wrong when their president is one. I’ve heard from women who have been sexually assaulted who feel as though they have been assaulted again by the outcome. After some soul-searching, I realized that Trump’s self-absorbed, narcissistic personally directly mirrors that of an abuser from my past. When I looked at or heard Trump’s voice, I was seeing and hearing this person from my past. The thought of someone like that once again having some kind of control over my life terrified me.

I took all of this to God. How do I get over the hurt that’s been rekindled? I admitted to God all of my unkind, un-Christ-like thoughts and feelings about our President-elect. First God released me from the chains of abuse I unknowingly put back on these last couple of months. Then he reminded me that even at their worst time, the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon had hope—For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on 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 29:11-13. My hope for the future doesn’t lie with Mr. Trump or any other government official. My hope is in Jesus. No matter who is in the Oval Office, Jesus loves me and is looking out for my best interest. He has plans for me to deepen our relationship and work through me to bring his message of hope and grace to the world. He also reminded me that it my responsibility to pray for the leaders of my country, whether I like them or not—First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4. I have seen prayer change hearts—those praying and those being prayed for. I may not like personality of the man who was elected, but God loves him and Jesus died for him. The least I can do is pray that he Spirit move in him.

To all those who have been disappointed with the election outcome— Mr. Trump is just a man. God is still God. He still rules and is still on your side. Lean into God’s loving embrace and know the security of his grace and power.

Monday, November 7, 2016

More Important Than Voting

Is anyone else worn down and frustrated by all the political bickering that has occurred in this last week before the election. The hype would have us believe that no matter who we vote for, whoever wins, we will end up being swindled out of our livelihoods and led down the path of destruction. Candidates attacking each other and twisting facts to make themselves appear the better choice and their opponents seem like immoral, greedy, self-serving crooks—is it any wonder I’ve lost complete faith in the leaders of our state and country.

Despite all of this, we are going to vote tomorrow and someone is going to win and someone is going to lose and I’m praying. I’m praying that God’s will be done. I’m praying for the candidate who wins that he or she would be blessed by God with wisdom, patience, courage, and with a clear sense of responsibility to and for their state/country and the people who reside within those borders. I’m praying that God will work through our newly elected leaders to facilitate peace in a world at odds with itself. I’m praying because it is the most powerful and positive thing I can do in this election and in the days to follow and it is God’s will:  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Please consider praying with me that God will bless our leaders with integrity, a sense of responsibility to the people they represent, and the courage to face and overcome the shady side of bureaucracy and self-interest that they will encounter on a daily basis. Remember that they are not God. They are not our saviors. They will make mistakes and they will be give into temptations just like we do. They are the human beings that God has allowed to be in office in the coming years and they need our prayer support even more than our votes.

Monday, October 31, 2016

I Am In the Cloud

Yesterday was All Saints Day when, in the Christian tradition, many churches will honor those in their congregation who have joined the Church Triumphant in the past year. God is celebrated and they are honored for the excellent way in which they modeled for us what it means to live out our faith. They are an extension of the cloud of witnesses that Hebrews 11 talks about in its wonderful Hall of Faith walk through Old Testament history. And we are part of that great cloud of witnesses too.

I thought about those whom I look up to and admire in the faith and why. It’s because they really are doing their level best to live their lives in submission to God. They are not just making the hard decisions but truly are engaged in the work of the Spirit wherever they find themselves. God’s mission to reach out and love every single person he created is a part of who they are, not just something they do. I really want to be like that too. I work at it but I’m not there yet.

In chapter 12, Paul tells us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” I guess Paul saw me coming.

Modeling the grace, love, power and forgiveness of Christ to the world around me is impossible if I am trying to do it on my own without receiving guidance and power from the Spirit. And yet it seems so often I barge ahead without consulting him. I have the bible to sustain me and guide me in my walk but it can’t do any of that if I don’t open it up and read it. Every week we have the rare privilege in this country to join together with our brothers and sisters, who are also part of the great cloud of witnesses, to celebrate the Lord, to confess our sinfulness and be assured of God grace and pardon. We sing his praises and approach his throne room to ask for his grace, wisdom and intervention in matters of great concern. And too often I treat it like a chore or disregard it altogether.  I am not being a good example to those around me and to future generations. I want to do better and with the Spirit’s help, I will.

Praying, meditating on scripture and gathering with other Christians as the Church to worship our God are the ways I “fix my eyes on Jesus.” If I keep my eyes on Jesus by making these disciplines THE priority, then the worldly things I’ve filled my time with instead will have no power to distract my focus from the author and perfecter of my faith. With my eyes firmly fixed on my Savior, I will be the example of faith I want to be. Not because I think it would be neat if someone years from now might say they admire the way I lived my faith but because I love Jesus and I want to show the world how much by the way I live my life.

Monday, October 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Diet, Skits and Locusts

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

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

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

#23 - My Alternative Version

Last week in a small group devotion, I was introduced to alternative versions of Psalm 23. There a version that called the Lord our Pace-setter and went on to speak of the incredible balance and peace the Lord’s presence introduces to our daily lives. Another has the Lord as our Choirmaster and goes on to sing his praises in a harmonious, musical tone. A third declares the Lord is our Compass and Courier. (If you would like to read these for yourself, here is the link:  http://nevfam2.tripod.com/prayers/a21c.htm) The one that caught my full attention and made me laugh out loud several times was one entitled Politically Correct Jargon Version. I’ve included it here for you:

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Conquering the Tough Times

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

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Secret to Finding a Deep, Lasting Peace Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Out of Control Is Where I Want to Be

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

When I Can't Open the Door

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

God's Not Done with Me Yet

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:12-16)

Recently I was reminded that God isn’t done with me yet. I love it when God chooses to remind me of this fact because too often I judge myself harshly as if I am a finished product with all my flaws and failings. I get down on myself because I somehow didn’t measure up to Christ’s example. I find myself guilty of being less than perfect and condemn myself to self-loathing for my faults.

But that isn’t what God sees when he looks at me. He sees a masterpiece in process. Too often I get impatient with God in his handiwork. God is Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel of my life but I want him to be Bob Ross painting happy little clouds in my world and filling the canvas of my life with a beautiful landscape in 30 minutes. God doesn’t work like that so it’s good to remember that he isn’t done with me yet. This is true whether I am languishing in a valley of my faith or in those moments when my heart is bursting from a mountain top experience.

God’s not done with me yet and he will never get to a point where he is so frustrated with how I’m turning out that he scrapes me completely. As someone who has striven to become proficient in a multitude of artistic endeavors, I can tell you that I’ve had lots of practice in recognizing when it’s better just to throw out the old flawed mess and start over with new materials. Still I can rest easy because I can be confident along with Paul that he who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)

This artistic endeavor of God’s to create in me a new spirit and to mold and train that spirit into his own perfection and righteousness is a time-consuming slow process. One which he lovingly and patiently adheres to so as not to push me past the point of scraping. One thing I’ve learned from my artistic hobbies is that the more skilled I become at a particular art, the better I am able to redeem the work and save it from destruction. This is why I can breathe a sigh of relief—because God’s skills are perfect and the only sacrifice he makes is of himself in bringing new life and beauty to his creation. God’s not done with me yet.

This doesn’t give me a pass to sit idly by and do nothing. It doesn’t give me an excuse to do as I please. God created me to be involved in the process. I need to work at being the best me I can for him. I need to forgive myself and move on when I fail miserably. I need to strive to be the woman of God he created me to be. I need to let go of who I was and what I did yesterday so that I can be and do what he has prepared for me today with my eye on the glory of the finished masterpiece he has in mind for me tomorrow. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

It's My Choice

Last week God gave me two lessons – one in humility and a refresher course in empathy which is continuing even this morning. In last week’s blog I mentioned that God had blessed me with a friend who loves me enough to remind me that it’s not the quantity but the quality of what I do that matters and to help cement that in my mind and my heart, God gave me a good object lesson in what had to be the worst golf game I’ve had since I started swinging a club. The numbers were horrendous but I didn’t give up or throw away my clubs. Instead I thanked God for the object lesson and walked away having to ignore the numbers and truly appreciating the few quality swings and putts I managed that game. The numbers may have been bad but with help from my coach, I learned some things last week that will certainly help me in the quality of my game next week.

These last few weeks, I’ve physically felt weak and limited by pain. This has always been a bad time of year for me. With the high humidity (and soon the pollen count will be rising) I can barely breathe or move between my asthma and arthritis. Everything hurts and taking a full breath is a chore leaving me exhausted and in pain with no respite. I know that in a few weeks when the constant high humidity breaks and the pollen counts level off again, I will feel better but for many people that is not an option. I think of people like my mom who is always dealing with some level of pain between the six different painful medical conditions she lives with every day. Or my dad who has never been sick a day in his life and who has been dealing with a medical condition that has him laid up for the last month and wondering when he will once again feel good. It increases my concern and compassion for those whose lives will never return to the way they were before the crippling effects of a chronic disease took hold of them.

Here’s the part I want to keep uppermost in my mind right now. I get to choose what I learn from last week’s game and from my current health challenge. I could walk away angry and frustrated that even though I was playing for quality, the numbers didn’t show it. Or I could walk away happy to have spent a beautiful afternoon with a friend and enjoying a few good swings and incorporating some adjustments into my putting that will eventually pay off with practice. I could look at last week’s game like a bust or as skill-enhancing exercise. And just in case you think I’m just talking about golf here, this applies to anything I do in life—not just golf. I can choose to look at how a thing affects me or learn how I can use what happened to praise Jesus and share his wisdom and grace with those around me. I’m not feeling my best right now and I can choose to feel miserable and spread that misery around or I can keep my eye on the one who suffered the most for me and let him change that pain and weakness into love and compassion for others. And with the energy of that love and compassion fueling me into action, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I can bring help, hope, and maybe even a little relief to others.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Little Extraordinary Blessings

Did you ever look back on your week and say you couldn’t see God in it? It’s something I used to say quite often. People all around me were being blessed with parting-the-red-sea type miraculous answers to prayer or transfiguration-type mountaintop experiences and when asked about my “God sightings” for the week, all I could boast about was the love of family and friends or a good day at the office. Then God helped me see how ridiculous I sounded – “all” I could boast about were the normal everyday blessings – blessings that I was taking for granted which so many other people in the world would consider miraculous. The more I started appreciating the regular occurrences of these everyday miracles, the more God moments I began to see.

So today I want to share with you some of those God sightings I was blessed to recognize from this past week. First of all, at work I am so very blessed to have a solid friendship with my coworkers. Chad, Linda and I work so well together because we really do care about it other and want to help each other succeed. Not only do we share our careers, but we share our lives and I am blessed to know both of them. I am so very blessed to have pictures and knickknacks in my office (today’s blog photos) that honor God and help center my attention on him. In many places, even in this country where my religious freedom is guaranteed, I would not be able to display such obvious Christian d├ęcor.

I saw God in my personal life too. My father was in the hospital last week with a severe infection. He is now home and doing much better. God healed and is healing my father through the work and care of doctors, nurses, and modern medicine. Last week, while I was vacuuming my home, I expressed my gratitude to God for giving me a mother who frustrated me to no end when I was a kid with questions like:  Did you move the couch and vacuum under the chair? Did you take the cushions off the couch and sweep up all the crumbs? And statements like:  You didn’t move the lamp—dust the table again and this time, move the lamp. If I look in your closet, am I going to find everything that was under your bed? Why was I grateful for that? Because I had a mother who taught me how to clean my home properly and a clean home is healthy and helps make me happy and content.

And speaking of blessings of humility—God blessed me with a friend who cared enough and loved me enough to remind me that it’s not the quantity but the quality of what I do that matters. Sometimes, we can get caught up in the numbers and forget that how we do something, whether it is a golf swing, a work project, or anything we do in life. I am so grateful for the smack down I got last week reminding me of that.

At church yesterday, God blessed me again. In a congregation full of strangers, I turned around to see two familiar faces smiling at me and two other people who introduced themselves to me on the way out of the building after worship.

These may seem like every day ordinary things to anyone else but for me, they are what made the last seven days extraordinary. These moments reminded me that God is thinking about me and wanted to give me these little moments to show it. I couldn’t be any more blessed than that!
I hope you go into this week looking for the little blessings because if you look, you can’t help but see them. Don’t ask God where he is in a given moment in desperation but in expectation and you will see those little extraordinary miracles he is blessing you with all the time. That’s my plan for the week.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Do I Have to Go to Church?

About a year and a half ago, I made the decision to leave the church that God brought me to when I first became a Christian. It is a good church with good people but I felt that my ministry passion just didn’t coincide with theirs anymore and knew it was time to find a new church home. God had led me right to the doorstep and through the front doors of that place more than a decade earlier. While I was positive that God was calling me away from there, he didn’t really give me any clue as to where to go from there and that was a problem. At the same time one of my coworkers announced his plan to retire in six months’ time. Our staff had all been together for 10-12 years which is highly unusual in this day and age, even among churches. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with these dear friends while we were all still together as a staff so I started attending worship services at the church I work for. In my mind it was always a temporary respite from looking for my new church home and circumstances kept me there a year longer than I had planned but here I am again looking for that place where God wants me to invest my Sunday mornings and my ministry passion.

I’m a non-conformist woman of faith who has a difficult time with large gatherings and little use for religion. These days, it seems like churches concentrate their efforts in attracting families. Ministries are developed for children, youth and families because families give the impression of growth and a solid foundation for the future.  As a single person with no immediate family within my religious tradition, I feel like I am unimportant and unwanted before I even walk in the door. I walk alone into a roomful of people who are all sitting with their families. I sit alone. I worship alone. I walk out alone. I’d rather just stay at home and worship on my own because being alone in a crowd is the deepest kind of loneliness there is. But that isn’t what God wants. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” God made us to be in relationship with him and with others and that includes as a community of believers who gather together in worship.

So all last week, I was trying to psych myself up to attend a worship gathering on Sunday morning but couldn’t manage even a little enthusiasm or desire. So Saturday night I turned it over to God. After all, he’s the one who convinced me to go the first time. I asked him to give me the enthusiasm and desire I couldn’t create on my own. I'd like to share with you a small part of the internal dialog I had with myself as I prayed about it.

“God wants me to go to worship because I need to go.”

“I need to go because spending time with him in this way with others is a great privilege and honor and besides, God deserves my worship and attention!”

“Maybe God wants to bless me by speaking to me through someone else’s voice today and I need to go there to hear it.”

“What if I go there and I worship God with all my heart alone in a crowd and there is no blessing?”

That's when God brought to mind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s answer to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:17-18: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  And it hit me—God is glorious and he is worthy of praise. Going to a worship service isn’t about me, it’s about him. My God will bless me because that’s who he is, not because I worship him. But even if he doesn’t, I will still worship him and I will do it in a community because that’s his desire. With this new mindset in place, I set the alarm and went to bed determined to attend a community worship service in the morning.

Sunday morning came and the alarm went off. I never once thought about staying home but got myself ready and went to worship. And for the record, God did bless me and touched my heart in a most profound way. He brought an unexpected friend to the seat next to me. Someone to sing and pray with. Someone to hear the word of God with and share with in our worship of the Lord together. What a great blessing that was!

None of this is going to make next week and the weeks ahead any easier, but I've got a good foundation to build on and I know that where ever I roam, God will be there to receive my adoration. And someday, I will find myself at home in a new church community and be able to thank him for bringing me through the challenging time I'm going through now to get there.