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: 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.