Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Christmas" Translated

It's almost Christmas and I'd like to say thank you. Thank you to those of you who take time to read and check out this blog. A special thank you to those of you who encourage me via comments on the site, Facebook, in person, and by phone. It is a wonderful thing to see God work and be part of His grand plan to grow, encourage and change us!



There is a basket of packaged goodies by our door this season for those who provide services to our family week after week, month after month (find recipe here). When countered by "Bah-humbug! Rzzle dzzle phzzle pop" attitudes, I am reminded that Christmas is a time to say, "I see you. I love you. You are important to me."

That's what God did at Christmas. In sending Jesus to earth, God incarnate, He effectively said, "I see you. You are important to me and I love you."

When the angels appeared to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, they communicated His message: "I see your desperate need. I know your finite, trapped, earthly existence; the pain and loss, the agony and emptiness. I'm here to help." And He is the only one who could help; the only one who could bring peace, joy, satisfaction, and significance. And He did. At great cost (see sidebar).

How simple, then, for us to extend ourselves with a thoughtful gesture, a kind word, a small gift or expression of thanks that says, "I see you and I love you." It's an outpouring of gratitude to the One who saw me, who left all that was His to give of Himself for me--thirty three years and an eternity's worth.

Now if I can just stand in line at the store without being impatient....

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:1-5, 14, 16-17 NKJV)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Miracle



Shepherds and stink. Lanolin. Sweet smelling pellets. Steaming urine. Sweat. Layered clothing. Man smell. Beards. Smoke. Mud. Coarse laughter.
Angels. Good news. Good tidings. Great joy!
Shock. Silence. Weak limbs. Knees. Stillness. Slack jaws. Wonder.
Darkness. Stares. Craning. Nodding.
Excitement. Clambering. Running. Labored breathing. Wood on stone.
Searching. Peering. Knocking. Cursing.
Peace. Worship. Rejoicing.
Sharing.

People and sin. Selfishness. Pride. Unkindness. Shielded hearts. False appearances. Bitterness. Demands. Criticism.
Jesus. Death. Resurrection. Good news!
Shock. Disgrace. Embarrassment. Wonder.
Searching. Peering. Knocking. Asking.
Struggle. Surrender.
Peace. Worship. Rejoicing.
Sharing.

 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Always Winter but Never Christmas

"Snow is falling, softly falling; oh, what a wonderland, bright and new!" began the elementary concert. And as the songs went on, and the children covered their giggles and tucked into themselves in embarrassment, my heart grew heavy and sad. There was nothing wrong with the songs they sang, or the choices of the director or any of what was happening on stage. But something greater was missing. Suddenly I was in Narnia and it was always winter but never Christmas.



Leaving that day I thought of the two little boys ages nine and eleven who drowned in a family pond not far away, and the eighth and eleventh grade students died in a car accident this week. "Children are dying and no one will say 'Christmas.'"

There is hope in that name. There is forgiveness and unconditional love. Christ holds the joy and peace we seek so desperately. He holds the key to life--real life, abundant life--and eternity. He is the light that shines in the darkest of nights and the dankest of places. Apart from Him there is no good thing.

What's the answer? After visiting with the administrator, whom I know and respect, I understood this was not a political move, but a considerate one. It doesn't feel right, but God has allowed it. What can I do? What will I do? Keep living, keep speaking, keep holding out the name of Jesus.

One practical way, a way many others across the country use to share Christ in their community, is through Good News Clubs.  Our team meets regularly after school (in the school) to share Jesus with children week after week. We teach and sing and share Christ. Then they do, too, opening the door for staff and students.  As we practiced for the concert one boy said, "When's Good News Club?"

"What's Good News Club?" the next child in line asked. An opportunity. And a drop of snow melts in Narnia.

Our country has changed, is changing. But with the greater, stronger division between the Kingdom of God and that of this world comes a stronger message; a bolder witness. When it's the norm to go to church, God alone know the tares from the wheat. But as the price for sitting in a pew grows greater, as the ridicule increases and the penalties mount, those who know the Master heed His call. They speak His Name, fueled by His power. Darkness is pushed aside. Light pierces, reveals, heals.

Speak Christ. Not to push an agenda. Not to be the voice above all voices. But over a quiet cup of coffee, in the bustle of shopping or the din after concerts, to the heart breaking and rent, the heart given to despair weeping silent tears. Speak peace. Speak Joy. Speak Hope. Winter is here. And it's almost Christmas.

The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined....
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)



[Jesus speaking]: "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:17-21)
 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

All Good Things

We met in a local bar, which is a bit out of my comfort zone. It was early evening and we met month after month to plan our high school reunion. One evening, I don't remember the particular conversation or incident, a verse from James came to mind and my classmates took on a different hue.



"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17).

It struck me that each of us was experiencing good things--maybe not things we'd brag about, maybe not dream homes or vacations--but each of us had reasonable health, comfort, full bellies off and on. Each of us enjoyed sunshine and rain, the love of others, and a sense of purpose.

But one day, one day in eternity, not all of us would enjoy good things. Some of the people I was meeting with would, apart from knowing Jesus, lose all good things. They would never again sense comfort. Acceptance. Physical satisfaction. The sun's rays on a winter day. A mother's love. Because in eternity, apart from God, there is no good thing.

From that point on I prayed more earnestly for my classmates and sought opportunities to share Christ. Although they were unaware of their desperate need, I was not. And it still colors my days.

If you know Jesus Christ as your own--you fully trust that He paid your sin/death-debt--you have the confidence of experiencing God's grace here and now, and ever-so-much-more-so in eternity. Knowing that creates an intense burden for those who do not. Love them now. Be there. Share the best, the most, the only good thing we need: Jesus. Not because one or the other of us is better, but because neither of us is. My desperate need has been quelled. My longing and emptiness has been filled. The good things I taste now are only a tester of what's ahead. All because of Jesus.

I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:7-11

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Grouchy Sunday

Spoiler Alert: The following account includes sinful thoughts and behavior.

Today I was irritable. And I wanted to be. There were many reasons--good reasons, I assured myself--to be a touch on the grouchy side; the "look at me wrong and I'll take you out" side of life. Oh, boy.

It was wrong. Selfish. Felt a little too cozy and self-indulgent. And I didn't want to tell anyone because that would ruin the mood. Telling others is nowhere near as fun as grousing, grumbling and scowling. Besides, admitting I was grouchy would confirm the conviction squirming deep in my soul that demanded repentance. Change. And that's what I didn't want--change. I wanted to be mad and stomp my foot and tell everyone how much better life would be if they followed MY plan.

So, I did my best to stay in the foyer during Sunday school--a lesson on gratitude certainly didn't serve my plan and purpose. But, somehow, I ended up in the pew; struggling, praying, grumbling. And reading Scripture and wanting to disagree. Just because. So I prayed that God would keep my mouth shut. When someone else made a comment sweetly and succinctly I wanted to roll my eyes and spit. Just because. Because it was so right and was offered so well. I prayed harder for God to keep my mouth shut; folded my hands in my lap, tilted my head and did my best to look pious.

Phew. End of Sunday school. Mercifully, time was passing. We sang. We listened. I prayed for a change of heart. I wondered how I could gracefully leave and wrangle my way out of today's potluck but didn't have a good enough excuse. So I sat. And listened. And took notes. And remembered that it's not about me, after all.

After the service when friends said "Hello. How are you?" I honestly replied, "I was grumpy when we came. And this is still wrong and that is still a struggle, but praise God, I'm feeling much better!"

So we stayed for the meal and more singing and more Scripture. We visited with friends new and old over a wonderful meal, complete with cherry pie. And, phew, life is so much better. Good thing it's not all about me, 'cause if it was, well.... I'd rather not think about it.

"How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

"Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You. Selah
 
"Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;  give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

"O God, behold our shield, and look upon the face of Your anointed.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You!"
Psalm 84 NKJV
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Soaring

Butterflies. We miss them in this part of the world when the weather turn cold, but they're still floating, fluttering, streaming through jungles and across meadows. Somewhere. They don't boast or brag, demand attention or live a high-maintenance life. They are serene. Beautiful. Inspiring.



They came to mind this week as our youth group considered the difference between how we live our daily lives and the way God has designed us to live.  What does a saved person really look like? Does salvation make a difference in between that moment of repentance and our entrance to heaven? What should it look like?

And butterflies came to mind--grounded, groveling ones, in particular. How sad. As new creatures we are designed, remade, to show the glory of Christ, the picture of His death and resurrection. We are freed from sin-it's power and penalty, from earthly concerns, from fear and death. We are free to soar in newness of life. Yet here we are, stuck to earth, wings clasped over our heads, trudging along with dusty feet, one step after another. No wonder the world look at us with wonder, disgust, head-shaking disbelief. We hang our heads, and muddle along, feeling like a failure, a spectacle, a freak of nature. But we have so much potential! So much to live for! So many good things to live, take hold of and share. In Christ. Because of Christ. Through Christ.

So? So. So! (as my 3-year-old friend, Bekka says). We look to Him to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2-3 NASB). By faith we take hold of His complete payment for our sin. We choose to die to ourselves and live as a new creation, one who has already received eternal life (1 John 5:11).  We live as free, forgiven, grace-filled, peaceful, joyful creatures. Yes, the world is the same. Yes, the circumstances of life may be difficult. But we are new. We have new choices--by the Spirit and power of God we are able to obey the Word of God. We experience the blessings of doing what is right. We enjoy restored, loving relationships with others. We offer life and hope to those without. And we soar.

"For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

"Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

"Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Think God


Job 40:6-8: Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said, “Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?”
 
 

Impression: As limited creatures of Creator-God, we fail to understand who God really is--how big, how awesome and mighty. As a result, we minimize and generalize, blaspheming Him over and over in our thoughts, our words, our actions. To wrongly accuse God, or fail to acknowledge His greatness, is to justify myself. Here God asks, is that what you really want? Is it worth it to redefine me in an effort to make yourself feel important? Good? Right?

When God is absent from our thoughts or is present, but not Sovereign, we fail to honor, to magnify, to give Him His due. How easily and clumsily we put ourselves in the place of God or think of Him through the binoculars of our hands, God, who is beyond word and thought and comprehension. Jesus' death and resurrection declared His glory--His glory given to us, which we fall short of remembering, relying on and living out, central to His greatness. and wisdom.  To speak of Him lightly or wrongly is to sin--how good, how merciful and kind God is to forgive us. To love us. To use us-!

Application: Think God. Can I devote myself to “think God” throughout more of each day, more accurately, more deeply, richly and often? With His help, by His grace.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Who's in Charge, Anyway?

This year's apple harvest is outrageous! Branches--big ones, high ones--have broken and fallen. Across our state trees have crashed from the outside in. This fall, I set up scaffolding to reach what I couldn't otherwise and on a damp, foggy morning, tendrils of hair curled and fell, making it difficult to keep my balance in upper branches. After brushing them back multiple times, smearing dirt across my face, I realized 1) I could get frustrated with my stylist for cutting (or not cutting) my hair properly, factories that make insufficient hair tie-backs, etc. or 2) I could simply accept the fact that my hair doesn't stay put when wet and stop complaining. Who, after all, was standing on top of a scaffold picking apples in the rain? Get down already. Problem solved.



It's a benign example, but the issue arises every day: I can blame others or I can accept all things as coming from the hand of God. Our Sunday school class is reading the book of Job and what stood out to me this week are the things Job did not say and do. Job did not blame, curse or mount a posse to go after the Sabeans who took his oxen or the Chaldeans who took the camels. He did not issue a lawsuit against the contractors who built his son's house or file multiple insurance claims. He did not fire his cook, personal trainer or house servants who may have precipitated his failing health.

The very fact that Job "fell on the ground and worshiped," is strange to our man-centered ears. How could Job fall at the feet of God when there was so much to do, to regain, to reckon, and restore? When difficulty arises and my health or wealth is attacked, how quickly do I place the blame on someone I can see, hear and touch? Unlike Job, we are slow to turn to God, let alone worship, in the face of disaster.

I am learning to listen and compare my head's thoughts with the Word of God. To be man-centered is to views others as the problem, as creating the problem, as an obstacle or irritation. To be God-centered is to view God as the sovereign designer of the problem, His love as the motive moving me toward sanctification and Godliness (James 1:2-4). If I have a man-centered view, I must fix the problem. If I have a God-centered view, I must seek to change my heart (James 4:1-3). A man-centered view focuses on a solution. A God-centered view hones in on my desires, trusting God with the outcome (Psalm 37). A man-centered view is critical and judgmental of others. A God-centered view is loving and kind, patient and joyful (Galatians 5:22-23).

When I choose to think about situations as coming from God instead of others, I find great joy and peace. I also find that poor choices result in bad results and certain behaviors need to stop (like picking apples on slippery metal in the rain). Some things are what they are: my body type, the neighbors next door, the job that got away, the line at the checkout counter. It is not my job to fix or change or solve what God has placed in my path. It is my job to ask God for help to  see the situation or person or problem the way He does, repent if I need a change of heart, deal with my end of it and move on. When that is the case I am free from bitterness, anger, malice, slander, clamor, unforgiveness (Ephesians 4:31). Doesn't that describe the life of Job? When God took all that was good and left Job's wife--even that proved a trial--he kept his heart and mind at the feet of God.

May we learn and be blessed as we make Christ the center of our lives.

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

"Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Spiritual Communion

"While this recipe was good. I'd like to hear your thoughts on how we serve communion to the church body on a spiritual level."



This comment was left on the communion bread entry and kept me thinking. On a side note, thank you for sharing your thoughts and responses! When you leave a comment or idea, it is a great encouragement for readers around the world to see God at work. Leaving a topic or comment makes it more of a conversation than a one-person megaphone--and conversations are ever so much more fun!

Thoughts about how we serve communion to the church body on a spiritual level? It had never entered my mind. Until now.

What happened when the Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Lord's Supper? Who made the bread? Set the table, provided the meal, furnished the room? Here is where my thoughts took me--and the next two paragraphs are, as I often say when teaching, "free of charge."

On Sunday preceding the Passover, Jesus told His disciples, "Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say, 'The Lord has need of it.'" (Luke 19:30-31 NASB)

The Lord has need of it. That phrase rings in my mind when I feel taken advantage of or the Lord requires something I didn't think to offer--yet. I know it's all His, but in those difficult moments, the reminder, "The Lord has need of it," brings comfort and conviction.

The same attitude was reflected Thursday, the "first day of Unleavened Bread.... And He said to them, 'When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters.

'And you shall say to the owner of the house, "The Teacher says to you, 'Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?'

'And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there."" (Luke 22:10-12 NASB)


Many Bible scholars believe this was the home of John Mark, who followed Jesus and the disciples to the Garden that evening and later travelled with Paul and Barnabas. We don't have specific names; we do know arrangements were made by the disciples. The cooking and details were taken care of by __?___. That's just as it should be. The making, preparing, serving is anonymous in our own churches. The focus is not on the preparations. It is "the Lord's Supper," a reminder of His death, of how He "loved them to the end" (John 13:1). It's all about Jesus.

The bread represents His body, broken for us. The cup represents the new covenant of His blood, shed for us. Earlier Jesus had aid, " He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." (John 6:56). It's no wonder that many left Him at that time. But knowing the end from the beginning, we understand that He was not talking about a physical meal but a spiritual one. Followers of Christ we are called to ingest Him--to receive His personal sacrifice by faith that we may inherit eternal life. Through His death, His body, we exchange our unrighteousness for His righteousness through repentance (1 Peter 3:18). We come with weakness, failure, sin, ineptitude. He extends grace, forgiveness, righteousness, and holiness, when we turn away from our own efforts and rely on His.

Could it be that when we share, or speak of, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we present the body and blood of Christ? 

Among fellow believers, then, perhaps we serve one another spiritual communion when we share testimonies of God's grace, His work through His Son: over the phone, via email or Facebook, on a street corner, in a store aisle or library, even in a Sunday evening service or home church.

The Lord's Supper is not to be taken lightly--with disregard for others, harboring unconfessed sin, or in an effort to fulfill unmet desires--but with reverence, gratitude and reflection. May our memories, words and expressions of gratitude point to Christ and His sufficiency rather than to ourselves, our wit or self-righteousness. And  as we speak, as we partake of physical, regular celebrations of Christ, may we "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." (1 Corinthians 11:26)

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord...
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God." (Ephesians 5:8-10, 15-21)

Friday, October 18, 2013

An Untouched Portrait

I used to think that reading the Bible was enough. I can quote verses about the importance of God's Word, meditating on it day and night, the spiritual sustenance it provides--and that's true, of course. If I set time aside, walked through a passage, prayed about it and took away an application, I was doing well. There's a far deeper level than that.

What I failed to see for so long is now staring back--it's me, myself. Obviously, learning about God is the most important part of Scripture: He is not like us, He is the Creator, the Sustainer. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. In the Bible we connect with Him, learn of and find Him. But the piece we easily overlook in church-world is implanting the Word in our imperfect lives--not just looking at the Word, the mirror, but looking intently at the untouched reflection of ourselves. 

Our words and thoughts agree with God, "It's wrong to lie. It's a sin to cheat. I need to love God with all my heart, mind and soul and love my neighbor as myself." But without the working of the Holy Spirit, I am blind to the lies I tell to make others feel good or how easily I cut corners to get the best deal. Without God's help, I don't see the many ways I love myself and want what I want instead of loving Him. Apart from His working, I gloss over the God-words of the Bible: always, never, every, all, love. Instead, I read Scripture through my best persona, the one I want to be instead of who I really am. In that mode, I look at Scripture with agreement instead of conviction.

Thanks be to God, I am learning to see myself more clearly--the repeated struggles and strengths, tendencies, likes and dislikes. With God's help, I am reminded throughout the day of my failure to obey, to love, to live according to His Word.

The other wonderful thing about pulling Scripture out of the sacred world of church and quiet and into the cesspool of real life is that God's love becomes more full, rich and free; His mercy deeper, His grace miraculous.

Don't be afraid of yourself--God's not. You are who God made you and He promises to accomplish His purpose through you--for His glory. It has been said, "If God predestined you to be conformed to the image of Jesus, just how much change can you expect?" Change. It starts where you are.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.... (John 1:14)

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:8-21)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Letter to an Older Woman

Ten years ago I wrote a letter from myself at age 35 to myself at age 50. I stumbled across it this morning and have found both encouragement and conviction. The print in italics is my husband's reply to "the younger woman." I pray you will be encouraged.



LETTER TO AN OLDER WOMAN

Dear Self at 50:

You feel very far away.  I have been looking for an older woman, so I’m writing to tell you who I’m looking for.  I want someone who will look me in the eye and ask how I’m doing while waiting for an honest reply.  After listening, she would ask if she could pray for a specific need.  I want someone who will encourage and correct me.  Encourage and correct, you ask?  Yes, even correct me.  I would love to have someone who will make that  kind of investment. 

Dear Self at 35:
I enjoyed hearing from you – how interesting, I seem far away to you, but you are so close to me.  It could have been yesterday, or so it seems.  I have a few words to say that I hope will encourage you, and help you to become who you want me to be.  Rest assured I am praying for you too!  I appreciate your desire to be corrected, so let me give you a loving correction before we talk more. Know that God created me unique, fashioned and gifted for His specific purpose.  He crafted every circumstance, event and experience in your life to specifically fulfill His design.  Oh dear me, please never forget that who you are and what you do matters very, very much, yet, they are valued and measured more differently than we can even imagine by Him.  Did you know that what you spend time doing each day is the choice our Lord made for you?  Thank you for working diligently and tirelessly to be that faithful servant that He called you to be.  Look around.  Great is your reward! Don’t you see how immense your influence is; don’t you see how you are impacting lives for eternity?

That’s a bit of what I hope you will be able to do for women like me when you’re older….  Yes, you’re right.  I should be doing that even now.  So what other things would I appreciate from someone like you, someone whose children are relatively independent?  Without putting an undo burden on someone (but I can ask you), it would be lovely if someone would watch our children for me once a month, even once every few months.  I rarely take someone up on an offer to “help out anytime.”  It’s easy to forget who has offered.  Please be someone who calls and says “When could I pick up the kids this week?” As an older woman, listen carefully to younger women and look for opportunities to help.

So, you did recognize that you don’t have to wait to be me to pick up the mantle.  What you may not have seen with total clarity is that you are already the “older woman” to many younger women.  They would eagerly sit at your feet for advice and encouragement.  In fact, there are times even now that they are quietly observing. Look around, don’t you see them in the shadows of busyness or hiding behind the distractions of clamoring children?  They ask for advice, watch to see how you manage, then measure your response.  Ah-h, looking back to where you are– that was when I was truly in my prime as a mentor. I taught by quiet example, selflessly reaching out from my busyness to minister.  Now, I only have words and those who don’t know my history can’t test me, validate me, or examine my legitimacy because they can’t see all that I share with them.   By the way, Self, did you forget that you husband was there to help when you need an escape?   I have learned more about him over the years and one thing I learned is that he has a great desire to meet your needs, but you have to ask.

Share yourself—not just your past, but also your present relationship with the Lord.  One of the most inspiring comments I remember came from a woman with older children who answered when I asked about her day:  “You know, I spent the day sitting in the backyard with my Bible and the Lord.  It was a really great day.”  Wow!  As a mother with four young children, I rarely sit anywhere for long without interruption, but this mother had made Christ her priority.  She gave me a glimpse of the glory I can look forward to.

I well remember the day when you reflected on this woman’s comment and anticipated the quietness and reflection of the future.  I agree that she made Christ a priority in her life.  However, I want this season of my life to be as full and satisfying as you imagine it will be.  To make that happen, you must seize and capture the small bits of quietness that He gives you now. Pursue them. Collect them.  Give some away to new and wonderful activities, let some be stolen by those you love, but keep enough back, so that in time, in His time, you can have a beautiful collection of quiet to give to your Lord only.

The two areas I’ve struggled with the most this last year are loneliness and a sense of lacking purpose.  I’d love to have a “mom” of my own nearby.  Do you know how priceless it would be to have a relationship with a woman who’s older than I am? As a wife and mom, you understand the unending laundry, cooking, cleaning and other menial tasks that sap time and energy.  Life can look bleak and senseless at times.  As a young woman who looks up to women your age, you would impact many lives if you would teach me the value of loving my husband and children, of being kind and self-controlled, effective at home and helpful to my husband (Titus 2:4-5).  Their importance remains critical, but they are difficult tasks, nonetheless.  Maybe you struggle with a sense of purpose yourself.  As life changes, being a mentor to younger women might establish God’s purpose for both you and the younger women you encounter.

Well – I have probably said too much and I need to run, but I did have a final point of encouragement.  Regarding all those unending laundry loads, meals, and dust mites you dealt with—they were more important than you might have imagined.  You made a difference daily in the lives of those God gave you, namely your husband and children.  Through your faithfulness, you opened doors for the kingdom of heaven.  While still on this side of eternity, we will neither understand nor see all the intricacies. Rest confidently, my former me, that in God’s plan, because you did His work, and fulfilled His plan, you made a difference in eternity that far –far—surpasses that of many who pursued the road more traveled.

As I’ve watched many older Christian women, I’ve wrestled anger.  My heart cries, “Why aren’t you teaching the younger women?  Do you see me?  I need you!”  Silence.  As a younger woman, I urge you -- I implore you -- to take up the mantle of mentoring younger women.  We are yearning to know you better.  We covet your guidance and nurturing.   Would you be vulnerable enough for us to learn from your mistakes and failures as well as your successes?  Please be one of those older women who will take the time to invest in the lives of younger women.  Invite yourself in.  Be a friend.  Offer to help.  Be obnoxious if you must, but get involved!

I wish I could know you now.  I’d love to see how God is working in your life and what the children are doing.  There are many things I’m curious about: Do you live in the same house?  What are you doing with your life now that you’ve “grown up?”  Have you returned to the working world?  All in time…. I know that the Lord is good.  Even now, He has given each of us a need to meet for others and an opportunity to meet others’ needs.   “…He knows how we are formed, and he remembers that we are dust”  (Psalm 103:14).  Thank you for being my dust-mate.

Because He is Faithful,

Your Younger Self

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hands of Hope

After yesterday's entry about our inability to control our children's choices, especially their decision to follow Christ, I took to heart the comment made there. If you would like to request prayer online for your child--still in your home or out on their own--you can add a comment to this entry or visit the facebook page, "Hands of Hope--Prayer for Our Children."

Simply list first names (no surnames, please) or initials. Look at the two entries above your own and pray for those children--specifically for repentance and a vibrant, growing walk with the Lord Jesus.  You can add their names every week.

Together, let's join our hands and voices to bring our children before the One who knows and loves them, our Father God, Elohim. El Shaddai. The I Am.

"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit." James 5:16-18

"But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have relieved me in my distress;
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Hard Word for Parents

I'm a parent. A lot of my friends are parents--good parents who love their children. So when I visited Libby Anne's blog today, I was heartbroken. And fearful. I sat down and spun out hard, quick words; a reminder that, in loving our children and functioning in the midst of church circles, we may easily overlook this particular forest for the trees. The forest being that we do not, cannot, control our children's destiny. Each of us makes, and is responsible for, his own life choices.

Her biography begins, "I was raised in an evangelical family, was homeschooled, was taught to embrace courtship rather than dating, learned that women’s place is in the home, and was highly involved in the religious right." She speaks well of her parents, their values and home education. But after leaving home, her worldview changed.

Libby's writing flows comfortably, with depth. Her commentary is open and insightful and she welcomes differences of opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her through her blog, Love, Joy, Feminism.  As a result of her experience and voice, I am writing the following to those of us desiring to raise Godly children.


We can try to give our children the upbringing we never had; all of the good and none of the bad. But no matter how hard we try or what we sacrifice, they are real people. Individuals. They will make choices--wrong choices. And right choices. That's the free will of man. Sin happens. Sin is real. That's where God comes in. So let your children be who they are. Let them fail. It's okay if others see them make mistakes. And it's important for children to see their fallen-ness, to recognize they are sinners. Needy people. Let them struggle and get pinned to the ground and taste the grit of dust between their teeth.

Let your children see you fail.  Let them see you at the end of your rope, failing, apologizing, getting back on your feet. That's life. It's not wrong, it's reality. And reality, authenticity, in light of our glorious Redeemer, breeds hope.

Giving our children what we wanted for ourselves--public school, homeschool, Christian school, Tonka trucks-- doesn't solve their problems. It simply creates different ones. There is no magic recipe or set of 1-2-3's for raising Heaven-bound children. It doesn't matter if you homeschool because you missed out on a Christian upbringing or you want to mold them yourself. It doesn't matter if you work three jobs to give them everything you never had or plan extravagant vacations. The tragic piece of Libby Anne's story is that, despite living a God-centered life, she missed Christ. This is not to fault her parents--she shares wonderful, even admirable, experiences. But giving and praying and sacrificing does not create spiritual life. Regardless of my influence or goodness or gut-wrenching desire, I cannot instill a relationship with Christ in my children. I wish it were possible, but it's not. There is, however, one very important, comforting, necessary thing.

That one thing is me. My friendship with God. That's what I can do; it's what I have to give and model and share. By God's grace, I will discipline, instruct, raise, encourage and train our children--but the outcome is not mine.

It was during a one-on-one session with our 4-year-old Tasmanian Devil that the words came out: "I can't make you obey. I can set limits, I can discipline you, but I cannot make your choices. You will do what you will do." That was an incredibly freeing moment for both of us. In that moment I entrusted her to her Maker and acknowledged that I am no different. I confessed my sin, asked for her forgiveness and prayers. I am still confessing sin to our children, asking for their forgiveness and requesting their prayers. I don't like it. It's not easy. (My husband coaches me--one of the most humble, Godly men I know; an expert confessor.) But each of us is responsible for our choices. In that way, my child and I are no different.

In addition to fear for our children's future, fear of others is another motivator for trying to control our children's behavior and outcome. Those of us who are leaders or leader-wanna-be's must learn to acknowledge and deal with the desire to look good or spiritual if we are to guide our children with authenticity. When marriage, obedient children, an orderly home, successful ministry, appearance, career, etc. motivates me to do what is right, when other's impressions or thoughts of me and my children are more important than who I am before God--I am undone.

Parenting--it takes an incredible amount of grace. Wisdom. Patience. Love. And trust--trust that God will use me as He chooses, but these living, growing beings are not mine. So, parents (myself included), it's time to give it up. It's time to give up control, manipulating outcomes, tallying sacrifices, tucking thumbs behind suspender straps. It's time to replace fear of outcomes and fear of losing influence with a healthy fear of the Lord, one that trusts Him whole-heartedly.

Love your children. Respect them. Teach them. Free them. And be a living example of a heart set on loving God first and foremost.

With special thanks to Stuart Scott, co-author of "The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family." For a similar post that direct homeschoolers, but is helpful for all of us, read Reb Bradley's article, "Homeschool Blindspots" on Josh Harris' blog.

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deut. 6:4-9, emphasis added)
(The point being--if you read the whole passage--not that our children are just like us, or that we experience wonderful things and amazing grandchildren--but that God is good. He is the keeper, sustainer, provider.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Choices

Today's choices were everyday-kind-of-choices with a twist. Illness affects one's plans: sleeping and eating and meeting and going. And although it isn't a rock-your-world change (as countless friends and family are facing even now), the wonderful thing about our God is that His all-encompassing plan works despite sick children, flat tires, inconsiderate people, and  unpredictable unknowns.



How does it work? I don't know. But over the years I have learned a few things about facing unexpected days and moments:

1) There are right and wrong choices. My discernment of what is right and wrong grows as I practice what God says (remember, practice means, "I will blow it") Hebrews 5:14. In the Old Testament, King David testified that we experience God's goodness as we obey/do what He says. It's not just a head-game, it's a do-game (Psalm 119:59-61). The unexpected moments of each day are an opportunity to practice what is right and learn what is wrong.

2) God is most honored when I depend on Him instead of worrying, manipulating or falling back on "plan B" (Psalm 131, Proverbs 3:5-6, James 1:2-8). It's okay not to know what's going to happen next or how a situation is going to resolve. No one expects me to--it would be unrealistic to know the final play on the first down. Only one Person knows with certainty, and He's 100% trustworthy.

3) The uncertain moments of life are not so much about doing as being. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are character traits, not "thou shalts?" They aren't things you and I could conjure or cajole on our best days. They are fruit of the Spirit, not fruit of the me. My natural tendencies are quite opposite (Galatians 5:19-21, 26). But as I pray and lean on the Lord for strength, wisdom and guidance my response will be one of love (not anger), joy (not fear), peace (not anxiety), patience (not irritability), kindness (not selfishness), goodness (not spite), faithfulness (not flight), gentleness (not harshness), and self-control (not self-indulgence).

When uncertainty comes, plans change, and I'm feeling a bit confused, God has given direction for making choices--choices about 1) doing what's right, 2) depending on Him and 3) responding with His character. Change is a certainty; Christlikeness our destiny.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not Enough Time


She and I bent over, breaking brittle stems of straw flowers and purple statice from her dusty Wyoming garden, mountains towering in the distance. Hands full, Melissa stood, pressed a fist above her hip and arched her back, "There's not enough time...”

A little boy, new to town, visited their Vacation Bible School. He was the kind of boy, she said, who trailed trouble like Pigpen trailed dust. “He and his family were killed in an accident that Sunday. It was Thursday when he trusted Christ,” her voice failed. 

When life swirls and it seems that those things which need to be done won’t, I remember Melissa's dark brown eyes, tears running down her freckled cheeks. "There's just not enough time to reach them all."

May we never lose the urgency of loving and serving, reaching others with the good news of Jesus' substitutionary death, trusting that He will sovereignly direct our steps.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” (John 4:34-38)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's All Good, Even When It's Bad

I just finished reading Romans 8 and this is what I learned: it's all good. Even when it's bad.
Despite tribulation
              distress
              persecution
              nakedness
              famine
              peril
              sword
              slaughter
It's not good because it's good. It's good because God says it is. These things will happen, expect them. But God is bigger; His plan is comprehensive. It stretches from eternity past to eternity future. His love is a certainty.
Your life profile will include a mind that was set on fleshly, worldly things. It will include suffering, living in a world subjected to futility, inward groaning for a redeemed body. God knows.
So He has already done a couple of things.
1) He sent a spiritual Guide and Compass to direct our prayers (Romans 8:26-27)
2) His past provision through Christ has eternal consequences (Romans 8:29)
3) His present and future provision for us moves from one into the other (Romans 8:30)
4) He sealed it all, proving His love and intent, through the death of His one and only Son, Jesus.
Because of this, nothing in our experience happens apart from God's sovereign hand. He loves me. He chose this path, today's path, for His purpose: that I would be conformed to the image of Jesus.  Other things would be more comfortable, more pleasant, more enjoyable, but not more Divine. What could be better?
So come what may, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved (past tense with present and future application!) us.
 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

That's Insane!

Insanity: life based on what isn't there; an alternate reality.

If you're like me, you've brushed elbows with people who "aren't all there." The things you and I see, touch and feel aren't as obvious to these individuals. The circumstances of life and rules of society bend and bow as they stagger to stay inside moving lines.

Reading the book of Romans has reminded me that a life of faith is based on a reality that is not what we see, feel, hear and touch. How different life would be if I lived according to the reality of God's Word.

For example, Romans 4:19-21 says, "Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb, yet, with respect to the promise of God he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised He was able also to perform."

Abraham’s life and faith did not depend on what God gave Him--what he felt, saw, touched--but on who God was and what He promised. Abraham is know for his faith, for acting on what he did not, could not, see. Without the promised goods in hand, Abraham lived as if he had already, or absolutely would, receive them.

Often, too often, I expect an answer before making a commitment. That’s not faith. Sometimes, I live as if God must prove Himself. Only then will I yield allegiance. That is not faith. That is limited, human life and expectation—earth-bound living.

But faith? Faith is living out the promise before it's consummation. Faith is living on a partial return—making decisions and choices as if the total is in pocket. Faith in anything is not faith, it's foolishness. Faith in the promises of God is wisdom.

It is living as if my sin is forgiven—gone, without penalty. It is living as a member of heaven, praising God, leaving worry behind, rejoicing in victories won, sharing battle wounds and stories of God’s provision. It is living as if God has righted all wrongs, the debt is not mine to collect, the grudge is not mine to hold.

How would life change if my sin was done, gone, paid for? If I walked as I will in heaven? If I lived knowing all wrong against me is paid for, settled? What would life look like if we really, truly, lived by faith? Would we not be insane, living an alternate reality—here, but not all here? But by faith, we have the confidence and assurance that it is just the opposite. We live out an unseen reality; and life without faith is a fa├žade; a tunnel of carnival mirrors that distorts and deceives. The free, Spirit-filled life is anchored in the reality of Christ, His death and resurrection. It is upheld by the promise of a future in the presence of our all-loving, all-knowing God and Father.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

"In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

"Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

"And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:3-23)
 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

When God Pulls the Plunger

It's easier to be nice than real. Being real means I say weird things and get funny looks. Being real means other people see my bias, my unkindness and lack of compassion. Being real means I don't look like a professional Christian. Being real means "my sin is ever before me." 

When God pulls the plunger of "being nice" and living to please others, that's when yucky, nasty, goopy sin rises and spills over the edges of my cup. Other people see it. Other people get hurt. Other people don't like me. I don't like myself.

But how will the cup get clean without sorrow? Without confession and repentance? There is no cleansing if sin lies dark, dank and hidden in the bottom of the cup.

Praise God when He reveals our sin! Praise Him for His mercy, His lovingkindness and grace! Praise Him for forgiveness, for the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus and the resurrection power He supplies.

As words and attitudes and actions spill from my life and I learn to love, to live authentically and sincerely, God is glorified. I am not. And that's life the way it was meant to be.

When all my labors and trials are o’er,
And I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore,
Will through the ages be glory for me.

Refrain:
Oh, that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me,
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me.

When, by the gift of His infinite grace,
I am accorded in heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face,
Will through the ages be glory for me.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.... Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:1, 8-11)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Prayer Fuel

When I opened Faceboook tonight this topped the list:
Question: How do you build up a prayer life? There is power in prayer, and I have seen it. But how do I get to the point of praying without feeling like it might be wasting my time or that it is boring?

And it sat. Empty. Hours later. And I wanted to respond, but in many ways I couldn't. How many times have I tried the prayer pie, evangelism list, church list, homemade spreadsheet and failed? How many scraps of paper and missionary photos shout out prayer as they fall from my over-stuffed Bible?



Admittedly, each day has scheduled prayer, but to determine to pray--and stay praying--for an extended time? That's hard. I sat convicted. I need more. I need more of God's focus and character. And I was convicted by how easily I move into busy-ness and to-do lists instead of lingering and waiting and listening...just because. Because God is that awesome. Because I need Him. Because He is worthy.

And that is the greatest answer to the question, "how do I get to the point of praying without feeling like it might be wasting my time or that it is boring?" Prayer grows with my knowledge of God. The better I know Him--personally, intimately--and believe He knows me, the more I pray. Making prayer a priority means I love Him more than I love myself; I am willing to give up my agenda for His. And the more I know Him, the more I need Him; the more I need Him, the more I pray--until I realize I can't move or go or do or step out into life without the umbilical cord of prayer running between us. Without Him there is no purpose, no love, no hope, no joy, no peace. No life to step into.

And that is what I wanted to write--that prayer is breathing. Prayer is walking through the day talking with God in the garden of my heart. Prayer is crying out in distress, bursting forth with joy, questioning in confusion. Prayer is seeking and waiting and longing and finding. Prayer is knowing who Jesus really is and connecting with the fact that "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" and knowing that some of those things come from sorrow. Many are impossible. Experiencing life with or without all thing requires truth and patience and grace. But He is: the man of sorrows; the God of the impossible, full of truth and grace. And He is enough. That's where prayer ends... and begins. Every time. He is enough.

He is enough when I wake from the dew of slumber. He is enough when rain pours through the roof. He is enough when babies arrive blue and grandmothers fly to His arms. He is enough when supper burns and children hurt; when life is cruel and mothers melt. He is enough when meteors fall and moons rise. And that is what fuels prayer: knowing I cannot take another step, move another inch, enjoy another moment of grace apart from His intermingling presence of power and grace.

And to think He gave us the privilege of prayer through the cross. What a God!


What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.

William M. Scriven, 1855

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Got Joy?

Laughter is infectious. Beautiful. When we hear laughter, we want to join. We want to be happy. We want to enjoy good things. Laughter means life is good.
 



But when life is hard when everything's not okay, when laughter is absent and darkness surrounds, can life truly be good? Our women just finished studying the book of Philippians--the book of joy, the book written from prison, by a man in shackles, in need, without status, without means...and the most significant word, over and over, is joy.
Each week we addressed our natural reactions to difficult situations: fear, hopelessness, pessimism, self-pity, complaining, selfishness, loneliness, boasting, strife, anxiety, clutching and clinging. Paul had every right, in our way of thinking, to fall into each of these, but he refutes each with a simple truth: faith.
Because God is wise enough and big enough to use everyone and everything for His purpose, Paul didn't resent the chains or attached guards (Phil. 1:12-13). He didn't suggest that those who preached Christ as a means of harming him be silenced, he encouraged the proclamation of Jesus (Phil. 1:18)--and rejoiced (1:18).
Because God is sovereign over both today and eternity, Paul trusted God with his death...and life (Phil. 1:21) which would bring more rejoicing (2:25-26).
Because Christ is at work in all believers, he entrusted them with one another in his absence (Phil. 2:3-5)--and rejoiced (2:2).
Because God took care of Jesus at all times, including His crucifixion, Paul did not complain in his own sufferings (Phil. 1:29-30, 2:17), but rejoiced (2:18).
Because God uses Christians to minister to one another, Paul sent away a dear friend, knowing God would use him to serve and bring joy to others (Phil. 2:28), resulting in the joy of many (2:28).
Because God doesn't measure success apart from faith in Christ, Paul each one to press on regardless of what lay behind (Phil. 3:14-15). What cause for joy! (3:1, 3).
Because the Lord is near, truly near, we can have peace in the most difficult situations (Phil. 4:5-6). Paul didn't worry or fret, he prayed and rejoiced (4:4, 7).
Because God met his every need, Paul chose to wait on God in want and in plenty (Phil. 4:12). Either way, God's faithfulness was a reason to rejoice (4:10).
The Christian life is full of joy, can be full of joy, despite the mundane, the cloudy, the difficult. What we believe about God is evident in our attitudes, choices--and joy (or lack of it) which means joy is not the result of circumstances, but of....faith. What we believe is betrayed by how we live.
Need joy? Ask God to increase your faith...read His Word (faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God). Then live it.
 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Influence and Becoming

"Why did you decide to become a hygienist?" I asked as the suction was removed from my lips.
"That's a good question. I guess I had a good relationship with my dentist growing up..."
"And hygienist?"
"And, yes. And I like to help people. It was a good fit."
I thought about that for a long time. She chose a profession based on repeated, positive experiences and a trusting, safe relationship.  That's very cool.
And as I thought about her life choice, I wondered if anyone would want to know Jesus because they knew me. Do others have a trusting, safe, positive relationship with me and want to know my Savior? Or do my words and actions repulse people?
The answer? The true answer? Yes and no. Some of each. And it's something the Lord is making me more and more aware of. To be like Jesus is to be kind, approachable, patient, understanding. At all times. And I am not.
Oh, to be more like Jesus. And, oh, to stop and apologize and ask forgiveness in those moments--those countless moments--and even afterward, when I am not like Jesus. When I am not patient. Or kind. Or loving. Or approachable. Or....
How thankful I am for God's patience and lovingkindness with me! And how incredibly wonderful that God doesn't need me--He calls and justifies and sanctifies--but chooses to use me. Ah, the wonders of God!

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 NKJV)

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
“Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25 NKJV)