Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When Disappointment Strikes

It's not life or death. It's not the end of the world. But in that moment, it feels like it.

You looked forward to, anticipated, set expectations--but it's out of your control. Faster than you could grab and hold it, stronger than your grip, it rips away forever. Well, the forever of right now. This moment will never come again. The opportunity, for this time, with these people, is over and gone.

How do you deal with disappointment? In the book, Good Mood, Bad Mood, Dr. Charles Hodges says, "If you want to take the measure of someone’s character, the most direct route I can think of is to tell him no." (p. 137)

Disappointment can be small, but intense. A few years ago a young passenger, maybe 8 years old, rode with me in the grain cart during harvest. We returned to the bins to unload the grain, but the tractor door jammed. We were stuck inside. After a few failed attempts, we prayed and I tried again. Still stuck. "Well," my little friend said, "God says, 'No.'" "He may say, 'No,'" I answered, "but I still have to go to the bathroom!" I thought about climbing out the back window, tried the door again, and it opened.

How do you respond when God says, "No?"

This week we had plans to join extended family at a resort in Cancun. We spent 19 hours traveling and sitting in crowded O'Hare and ended up back home in icy Iowa. God said, "No."

I don't have it perfected--and don't expect to--but here are some things that I've learned in dealing with disappointment:

1) Dwelling on the "could-have-been" makes it worse. The more I think about what I'm missing, what I should have had (i.e. am entitled to), the more sad, disheartened and bitter I become.

2) Ask the question, "Why are you disappointed?" It's okay to be sad. Grieving is normal. It's even a God-like characteristic. When we've lost something important to us, we grieve and want it back. Process the sadness and grief, the why's (not the what-if's) and shed a few tears. Even the psalmist asked, "Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?" (Ps. 42:5)

3) Compare your desire to God's desire for you. I wanted to be in Cancun with family--soaking up sun, sand, jokes, stimulating conversation, and fresh guacamole. But when I came downstairs to the kitchen the next morning (to make my own coffee!) what did the Scripture above the sink say?
One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)
That's not quite what I had in mind. But is it true? If I only wanted one thing from the Lord, would it really be Mexico? I hope not. He's so much bigger and better. Could I really want just His presence? Is He enough for me?

4) Ask for help. I have some great friends who texted this when they heard the news: "I pray you will see God's plan in this...." "Bummer news, praying for a restful and relaxing week." Along with other thoughtful comments on Facebook to examine my heart and look to the Lord--He knows and He has a better plan (although I can't imagine it's better).

5) Trust God. I was reminded in one of my classes yesterday that "hope is the result of trust." Hope does not come from simply wishing or wanting. Hope only happens when I actively place my trust and full-weight on the Lord.
"Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken." (Ps. 62:5-6)

6) Move forward; look outward. God has given me what is best for today--and He has not hidden His plan. He desires that I love Him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength and that I love my neighbor as myself. So, in this day, I am called to rejoice, to rest, to praise, and to serve others. As my mind is taken off my self and any residual pity it is moved to the needs of others and I am blessed.  The apostle Paul said, "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35).

So for today, in this moment, I'm working my way through grief and disappointment. Some moments are better than others. Some moments grief and despair creep in and I have to start over but isn't that the way of life in this sin-cursed world with frail, finite, sin-cursed bodies?

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  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 8:22-39 NIV)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Over and Done

It's the day after Christmas. You would think the "Most Wonderful Time of Year" is over and done.!/format/jpg/quality/85/

After all:
There're no kids jingle belling
And no one is telling you "Be of good cheer"

Done with holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call

No more parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow

Done with scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago.

And on and on it goes. We could almost start to feel sorry for ourselves--if that's the way it was--or worse, if it never happened in the first place. Maybe the hap-happiest season of all didn't hap-happen at all.

Regardless of the funfare and hype of the Christmas holiday, I disagree with the whole premise of the song. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music and lights and the smell of chocolate. But as I listened to this old, old song after leaving church last Sunday I realized the most wonderful time of the year is nothing without hope.

A person could have incredible experiences. The "stars may be aligned" for good fortune and all my dreams could come true, but if there is no hope, no future, no purpose, it's empty. It could happen again and again and it would never be the most wonderful time of the year.

But inject Jesus into the picture. Bring God--the eternal Creator of heaven and earth--into human existence to live the life of man, to offer Himself as the perfect substitute for the sin of the world--and you have an entirely new situation. Be the individual who cries out to Him for mercy and forgiveness, who desires to live life to the fullest and experience eternity on earth through His presence and Spirit. When that is the case, the most wonderful time of the year comes at different times, in different ways. It comes in that moment when I ask forgiveness for impatience and unkindness. It happens when I listen to my children pray, when I receive an unexpected gift or generous answer to prayer.

And when there is hope, the beauty and fun of the little things is magnified. I enjoy "much mistletoeing; And heart that is glowing When loved ones are near----.

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. (Luke 2:25-33)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11)

Monday, December 7, 2015

When Time Matters

I've noticed common themes here at HeartQuencher--time, ministry, family, food. If you're like me, limited resources create challenging situations. They also give me opportunities to learn. And they reveal what's in my heart (ouch!).

For a class at Faith Bible Seminary I'm required to keep track of eating, sleeping, and exercise. It's been a good heart check that reminds me, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31). At the end of each day we:

1) Identify any areas where God was not glorified in your eating, drinking, exercise or rest.
2) Identify victories by God’s grace today.
3) Identify needed growth and your plan for change.*

It's made me more sensitive to how I use time. Below this is a list of self-evaluation questions. They're also listed as a page on this website for easy access.

As we head into a crazy-busy holiday season, may we do more than "get things done." May we seek to glorify God with each waking (and sleeping!) moment.

Time Management Evaluation Checkpoints

Adapted from Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat and Amy Baker’s class Common Counseling Issues II (Faith Bible Seminary, Lafayette, IN)

Idolatry: Does this activity demonstrate a heart that values something more than my Savior and Lord?
Some possible idols could include:

  • 1. Control - I can do whatever I want and no one can keep me from it.
  • 2. Pleasure – I’m going to do this because I want the enjoyment it gives even if it keeps me from fulfilling God-given responsibilities to myself or others. For example:
    • Even though I’ve worked too hard/too long, I’m going to keep going because it makes me feel good.
    • Even though I have things that need to be done, “I deserve a break today.”
    • I’m going to reward myself with this activity even if it means sacrificing biblical priorities or leads to further sin (see “Inroads” and “Priorities”).
  • 3. Superiority.  I want to be better than other people.  For example:
    • I feel superior when I do more or work longer than everyone else around me.
  • 4. Comfort.  I want to feel better.  For example:
    • I feel sad, guilty, afraid and/or want to escape so I am looking to “me” time for comfort rather than seeking comfort from God.

Coveting: Am I experiencing an inordinate desire for this?

  • I want the best part of the day for myself.
  • I want the most possible time for myself.
  • I want to spend time any way I choose even if it means I miss opportunities to serve/love others.
  • I want as much freedom as people or friends I know with fewer responsibilities.

Inroad: If I do this will it create an inroad for sin?

  • Will this activity create a desire to overindulge, even though it isn’t sinful in and of itself?  For example
    • If I sit down to watch an episode or check e-mail, the news, or Facebook, will it create a desire to spend more time/money than I should? 
    • Will it lead me to other sinful activities—overeating, overspending, watching inappropriate images/videos, or wasting resources?)  
    • Is there a place I frequent where I spend more money than is prudent, fall into covetousness, or take on an arrogant, self-exalting attitude?  
    • If I “take a break,” will I then turn on the computer or T.V. and get lost in time when I should be fulfilling other responsibilities?  
    • If I set high expectations for getting things done, will I give in to impatience, disrespect for and unkindness toward others? Will it build others up or puff me up? 

Praise: Am I doing this with a heart of worship, thanks and gratitude?

  • Have I resented having to do this chore when I wanted to do something else?
  • Have I resented not getting things done that were on my “to do” list because of interruptions, unexpected people or events?
  • Have I thought of time as an enemy rather than thinking of it as a good gift from God that he wants me to use and enjoy to its fullest?

Stewardship:  Am I spending my time in a way that honors God or myself?

  • With the time I have each day, do I properly care for my body, use spiritual gifts, natural abilities and financial resources in a way that honors God or pleases me?
  • Who/What is my focus? Myself or others?

Emotions: Does the desire to spend time on this activity flow out of a heart of anger, fear, hurt, frustration or depression?

Priorities: Am I giving time, money, or energy to this in a way that prevents me from carrying out other God-given responsibilities or priorities? For example,

  • Am I neglecting biblical priorities in order to shop, pamper myself, drink coffee with friends, attend meetings, watch sporting events or play ball? (Or am I expecting someone else to neglect biblical priorities in order to spend time with me?)

* Dr. Amy Baker, Faith Bible Seminary, Lafayette, IN

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

When I Want Change NOW

Have you ever noticed that having a lot of something--time, money, energy--gives you a sense of control and lack of concern? At least it would appear that way. Multi-millionaires don't make a fuss when they purchase tickets, a meal (or five or ten) at a 4-star restaurant, or pay the door man. For some of us, it costs something. Everything we buy means something we don't. The object is the same, but because of limitations, we value it differently.

God is God--not a man--but have you ever thought about how much time means to Him?  The eternal, uncreated, self-sustaining God rules from eternity past to eternity future. He created time. For Him, it is not limited. He is not hurried. There is no deadline, due date or expiration. That means my crisis is not a crisis. He was there yesterday. He is in tomorrow. The future is the past.

When He wants to move nations and create leaders. He does. When He chooses to use a man, or change a man, He moves heaven and earth to accomplish His purpose.

Sometimes I get discouraged that life isn't happening according to my plan or I'm not changing as quickly as I'd like or in the areas where I struggle. That's when I'm reminded of the great men of the Bible--flawed, failing men--and God's patient, good use of trials and difficult circumstances. Pick one --Abraham, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, Paul. Pick any one of these men and plot his life. God patiently worked people and circumstances to change them and bring them to a place of giftedness and dependence. Getting to the "other side" was not the goal, change was. God used time as an instrument, a tool, a mechanism, to accomplish His good purpose and use each one for His glory.

The take away for me this morning? Stop. Slow down. Look up. Let go. Time is not the enemy--is never the enemy--but hanging on too tightly is.

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

You turn man to destruction,
And say, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it is past,
And like a watch in the night.
You carry them away like a flood;
They are like a sleep.
In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
In the morning it flourishes and grows up;
In the evening it is cut down and withers.

For we have been consumed by Your anger,
And by Your wrath we are terrified.
You have set our iniquities before You,
Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.
For all our days have passed away in Your wrath;
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of Your anger?
For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Return, O Lord!
How long?
And have compassion on Your servants.
Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,
That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,
The years in which we have seen evil.
Let Your work appear to Your servants,
And Your glory to their children.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90 NKJV)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Filth Factor

Have you ever considered skin--that outer layer of ours--as a reminder of forgiveness?

We live on a farm--with dirt, germs, yuck. There is clean dirt--grass, dead leaves, and soil that get under your nails and stick. There's dirty dirt--compost, manure, small animal droppings that create clinging aromas. And then there's decay--rotting grain, maggot-infested or decomposing flesh. that ascend one's sinuses and work their way into memory. I won't say more.

Those are the outer pollutants--then there's you-yuck: sweat, emptying pores, and other indiscriminate stinky things we don't talk about.

It happens. So, as soon as possible--especially before joining the company of others--we find a shower, a bath, or some method of removing it.

And that's when I'm particularly thankful that God made skin washable. Do you, like me, marvel in the wonder of disappearing stink? Filth floating down the drain? And fresh-smelling,clean-feeling, wonderful, amazing epidermis? No matter how gross, how overwhelming, how enduring the chore, the stink goes away in a relatively short time.

That's when I was reminded of my sin and shame. It might be brush-it-off, stay-with-you or infused in your memory sin and guilt, but God--through the washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ--removes it. He cleanses us. From all of it. All. He refreshes and renews us, gives us the aroma of Christ, sends us back out amidst dust-filled streets and dung-covered walkways and draws us back to wash our feet again and again and again.

Have you showered lately? Or is it time to spend some time being washed with the Word and cleansed by the work of the Holy Spirit? What's your yuck factor? Come to Jesus today. Now. He's all we need.

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Seasoned with Grace

Submission is a four-letter word. Some would say it's because of our culture, or post-modern era. Some would say it's because we live in America, land of the free, home of the brave. I am convinced it's because of my sinful heart that wants my way--the only way--all the time. But submitting to authority, to one's husband, or another person is not a negative.

To submit to someone else is to give a gift of grace. When my husband makes the wrong choice at the grocery store and brings home dried beans instead of canned, I can rail on him, go back to the store, or give him grace and get to work plumping those babies. When I work on a committee for the church Thanksgiving dinner and there's a decision to be made I can do it my way or ask the person in charge--and give her grace.

There are two choices in dealing with people: their way or mine. To submit to others out of reverence for Christ is to consider them better than, ahead of, myself--and give grace. Just do it. Unless it's terribly wrong, don't question it, give suggestions, or buck the system. Just do it: lovingly, patiently, gently, kindly, prayerfully fighting your inside voice that rants about how your way is better.

To do things lovingly is to do them God's way. And God's way is often difficult. It means giving up my identity (gasp!) because I am in Christ. It means seeing things from a different angle. It means not being the center of my world--or anyone else's. It means becoming invisible in a way that allows Jesus to shine through the cracks, brokenness and shame of my life.

If you're ready for a heart-check, follow this link. It will take you to a list of proud and humble responses compiled by Stuart Scott. I didn't get far before it was evident that I have a LONG way to go to grow in humility and submission. May God continue to put us in situations where we can learn and practice submission--because that's what Jesus did.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. (Phil. 2:1-16)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Thought for Dire Straits

Here is a brief thought from my Bible reading this morning:

Paul is en route to Rome via a trade ship. The timing is late. They've been overtaken by storms and the crew has fought for 14 days and nights. Now land is in sight. Paul is confident God will see them safely to shore....

Acts 27:35 Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God, in the presence of all and he broke it and began to eat.

Impression:  This phrase is so reminiscent of Jesus—and it just dawned on me that the act of taking bread, giving thanks and breaking it is one of hospitality. It’s seeing the need of others and providing for it in practical ways. Paul exemplified Christ by serving others when he himself was imprisoned and traveling against his will. The bread was not a representation of Paul, but a reminder of Jesus, who gave Himself when we were in dire straits. If nothing else, giving to others in this way was an encouragement and reminder for Paul of Jesus’ gift and the empowering of the gospel at a crucial time. We all need to remember the gospel—the precious life, death and resurrection of Jesus—daily, but especially when we are in difficult, desperate situations.

Application: When Jesus is at work in my life I will see the needs of others and serve them even when my own “needs” aren’t being met. And as I meet the needs of others God will encourage me, reminding me of Jesus sacrificial love and empowering Spirit. He has already provided. He will provide. He is good.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Jesus' Smile

Can you imagine Jesus' face wrinkled with laugh lines? I think you should. Think about Him sitting on the beach, having prepared a fire and food, waiting for the disciples to land their boat at the end of a long day--a day they'd spent fishing after Jesus' death and resurrection. Imagine Him standing to greet them, arms wide, smile breaking His face, calling each by name.

I've spent sleepless nights thinking of Him lying on His side in the sand as the sun disappeared, peering over the fire at these men He lived among, loved, and served before returning to Heaven to represent them there. And it strikes me that Jesus must have laughed; sometimes a low chuckle, sometimes hard and long.

I've tried to imagine His life on earth, having voluntarily taken a human form. How difficult it must have been to accept the limitations of fatigue, hunger and pain. How testing to walk from one location to another when for all eternity, He was there! How frustrating to be in one place at a time when for all time He had been everywhere all at once.

And yet, I think Jesus had laugh lines. How He must have enjoyed the beauty of the flowers, the shrieks of children, and the satisfaction of fresh water. How grateful He would have been for the small things, the big things, the personal things. I can picture Him throwing His head back in joy when the anticipated happened. I imagine He had a twinkle in His eye when others saw and recognized His kindness and goodness.

Someday, He will do the same for me...welcome me with open arms. What a wonderful, beautiful thought. Does He have freckles? I'll have to wait and find out.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 24-25

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When I'm Right (and You're Wrong)

This morning as I read my Bible, I saw the awful consequences of being right; not "being right" in the right sense, but having to be right because, well, I am.

Some of us--more than others--live a life of duty and obligation. I don't do what I want to do, in fact, I don't even know what I want to do anymore because I always do what I should do. Is this ringing a bell with anyone?

Like the Pharisees, we do what needs to be done, what has to be done or should be done. If we don't even know what it is, we'll reason it out and come up with something.

In many ways, life is easier when it's defined by "should's." We feel good when we work hard--sacrificially--to do what is right. It gives us purpose and identity, defines my expectations and makes it possible to measure success.

But not everyone lives by the rules... or rather, by my rules.

"How dare they!" "Can't they see that ____?" "What's wrong with them?"

There's a whole world of people (even in our homes) that don't live by our standard. They do what they want to do. They don't seem to stop and think about it. They don't sacrifice. They don't seem to care.

And this is where the mirror of God's Word becomes glaringly painful. Because when I read the Word of God, I suddenly realize God is not about "right" as much as He's about "love."When I do what's right, I'm not always loving. When I follow the rules, it's not about others as much as myself. And the paragraph above looks something like this:

"Others do what they want to do--not what I think they should do. They don't stop and think about my rules. They don't sacrifice the way I do or care about what I think is right and wrong."

And, ouch! In the mirror of God's Word I realize that the rules that define my life and what is right and wrong is all about me. Living by obligation is not loving God with my heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus did that--and He broke a lot of "rules." And a life lived out of duty does not love one's neighbor as one's self. Jesus did that, too, and broke more rules.

Not only am at the center of being right and determining the rules of life, I find myself driven by jealousy, bitterness and anger. Why do other people get away with ___? How can they do that with a clear conscience? It's not... right. And there is the black sludge in the bottom of the cup that looks clean on the outside. Inside, it's filled with robbery, self-indulgence, uncleanness, hypocrisy and lawlessness--just like Jesus said (Matthew 23:25-28).

When we live by rules, obligation and doing what's right, we've missed the heart of the gospel. The heart of the gospel is to die to self, not promote it. The heart of the gospel is to recognize my failings and live in them every day, not cover them up or circumvent them. The heart of the gospel is grace--knowing I will never deserve the death of God's Son. I can never get it right. And that's why I need Jesus. The heart of the gospel is to love others despite their failings, sin and muck and offer them the same grace we have received.

Got grace? It beats rules. Every time.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:10-13

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.For we know in part and we prophesy in part;  but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Voice in My Head

It's the voice in my head. I didn't hear it for years, but I started listening and it says the same things over and over. "I really should (fill in the blank)." "I'm just going to taste it, not eat it." "I wonder what she thinks of me." And around. And around.

If you've seen previews or the movie, "Inside Out," you have faces for those voices. Do you hear them? Listen. They're there. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust. And behind them all is a theme--the theme of you.
It's interesting that the book of James calls the motivating factor behind emotions "desires." When my desires are thwarted, I get angry. When my desires are met, I experience happiness. When circumstances don't meet my desires, or expectations, I'm sad. And when someone beats me to the punch, or overthrows my desires for their own, I'm disgusted. Desires. Voices. It's what makes me tick.

God knows us so well, He knows how easily we give in to what we want (or think we want) because of deceit. In the beginning, Satan deceived Eve. She knew right and wrong, but she was deceived with the age-old question, "Did God really say...." In other words, "Is God good? Does He love you or is He holding out?"

God knows all about those temptations and desires--they don't surprise Him. In love, He provided what we need to fight back: truth. He is good. He does love us. He showed it when He gave us His best--His only Son--to pay our debt of sin. That's love! And He knows our weakness. He gave us His Word to illuminate our path and our feet: Which way do I go? Where am I now? He also gave us one another: encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13).

When life is hard, when confusion hits, when we don't know which voice to listen to and which one to ignore, we need God's Word and His people more than ever. Listen to the voices in your head. Write down what they say; write down the things you say to yourself that no one else can hear. Then get real with God's Word. Get real with God's people. Humble yourself and ask for help. That's what God's Word and His people are there for. Don't be taken in. Don't be tricked and deceived into forfeiting the best God has for you. We need one another--and we need Jesus. It's not a secret, so why live like it?

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. James 1:12-18

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;  and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way,  if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:11-24

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Got Trash?

One of the best house-keeping tips I ever got was to be generous with collection containers for trash, dirty laundry, and things I don't need or use anymore. The closer and easier they are the more we use them. Why? Because life is full of garbage, dirty garments, and things that break or fall apart. A full-time wife and mom, I was often asked at corporate functions with my husband, "What do you do?"

"I'm an entropological engineer." If they asked further I would answer, "I reverse entropy (chaos), all day, every day."

I like to think of our home as controlled, fairly clean. I hate to imagine a trail soda cans, dirty dishes, spilled milk, and food-littered floors. I've been in homes like that. Guess what? Trash never takes care of itself. Ever. It builds, rots, stinks and takes down everything in its domain.

Entropy, or chaos, is part of life on Earth. It affects the physical--and spiritual--world. We say things we regret. We do things we wish we hadn't. We think about things that take us far from where we know we should be. And we need a close, handy trash receptacle, laundry basket or please-get-this-out-of-my-life bin. If we don't address sin, it--like trash--will not take care of itself. We can try to ignore it, live around it or in it, but it will build up, rot, stink, keep people away and take us down a path of ruin and destruction.

Knowing and believing in Jesus doesn't automatically whisk away sin or remove consequences. We are responsible for our choices and actions. But as we determine to believe that He paid the penalty for our sin before Almighty God, we can live in the power of forgiveness and righteousness. We can purpose to live out our calling--knowing the trash bin of confession, repentance and reconciliation are as close as saying the words. Sin. Deal with it.

The answer, the only answer, is Jesus. If you don't know how or where to start, ask.

What a Savior! What a God!

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:8-23)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lessons from a Barn

This morning I was given the task of moving our new little calves out of the barn into the warm sunshine, pasture and grass.

Here are a couple of take-aways:

1) Calves don't follow because I say, "Come, little calf. Follow me!" in a sing-song voice.

2) Flip-flops are not ideal barn/lifestock shoes.

3) When you help the weak, prepare to be peed and shite upon--in a nice way.

4) Flies make themselves at home in filth--along with other unwelcome bacteria and vermin.

Sun, grass and fresh air do a body good.
Barn experience translated to ministry:

1) No one will follow me. It's all about Jesus. He's the One who calls, convicts, prods and moves individuals.

2)  Jesus likely wore sandals through the kind of terrain found in our barn. To follow Him is to live a life of self-sacrifice and dirty feet (good thing skin (and lives) are wash-and-wear). Jesus has cleansed me. Humility, love and service means kneeling to cleanse the filth that builds up on the exposed, traveling parts of others' lives and allowing them to do the same for me.

3) Helping the weak and hurting means they will let loose with foul, out-of-control issues unexpectedly. Love says, "That's okay--it's not about me, it's about Jesus. He loves you. Let me show you how."

4) Ignoring sin compounds the problem. When we harbor sin we can expect it to attract other sinful thoughts and behaviors that eat away at the life God has given us in Christ.

Jesus, His Word and repentance change lives. Helping and loving is the least we can do.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:1-17 NASB)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Comparison Noodle: The Rich Young Ruler and Zaccheus

I haven't posted thoughts from my daily Bible reading in a while, but here's what happened in my mind and heart today. God's Word is so rich and He is so good to reveal Himself to us! I hope this encourages, strengthens--and maybe even surprises you (like it did for me).

Luke 18:15-19:48
18:20-22 “You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother.’”
And he said, “All these thing I have kept from my youth.”
When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.”

Impression:  Jesus addressed the commandments that are horizontal—the ones that speak to our relationships with one another—and the ruler had kept every one of them all his life. By asking him to sell and give to the poor, Jesus was not asking him to extend his love for others to a greater extent as if what he was doing wasn’t enough. Instead, Jesus was challenging his obedience to the first commandment—to love the LORD, His God, with all his heart, strength, soul and strength. That is what the young ruler was unwilling to do: love God more; love God most. The poor didn’t need his wealth, but he needed to love God. The truth is that he kept the commandments as a way of loving himself. He was trying to live in both worlds successfully—to do good and please God and have what he wanted. In the end, he could not please God and hold on to what he loved. There is no room for both. We cannot please God by doing good things, in fact, doing good to others is—without Christ—simply another way of loving ourselves, not God.

Application: Is there anything I’m unwilling to give up? If Jesus said, “Give up this one thing” would I do it? What is that one thing? Children? Husband? Home? Nick-nacks? A bank account or job or position or friend or family member? The challenge this morning is that one thing that keeps me from loving God most.

19:4-10 so [Zaccheus] ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see [Jesus], for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Impression: Compared to the young ruler, Zaccheus was eager, but timid. Humble. Unworthy. Jesus went to him instead of him going to Jesus. Jesus didn’t ask him to give up anything, but he wanted to give more than was required to make things right. What a different attitude and response! The people grumbled—why didn’t Jesus choose their house? Weren’t they good enough? Instead, Jesus chose Zaccheus.

Application: Jesus chose me. And I’m so glad. Now I have the opportunity to look for and find others who need and want Him. What they appear to be has nothing to do with their need or response. I could be wrong—but God knows and He will find them!

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Velcro of Life

I'll blame it on the start of a new school year. Waiting for children after sports practice, music rehearsals, doctor's appointments--a run of short times--led me to install an app on my phone. "Just a little something to fill the gaps," I thought. But oh, was I wrong!

Somewhere around level 3 I looked for hints online. Then I tried and tried, started to get bored, when lo and behold, Lights! Sound! Action! Bing, bing, bing!! Victory! Level 13. Level 23.

It filled my moments--all of them, even when I wasn't waiting on anyone or anything. When I closed my eyes figures floated in space. When I should have been _______, I said, "Just one more." It grabbed. It pulled. It wouldn't let go.

At my age I should know better. But I didn't. Or couldn't. Or didn't want to. It takes very little pleasure to get hooked--or so I've found. This was just a silly game. It couldn't be that big a deal. But I wanted more. A taste of joy, a rush, a magical moment... maybe.. just... one... more. And now, a couple of weeks into it I see that the problem is not the game--it's me. It's that part of me that wants more, the five-letter thing we don't talk about: greed. The Velcro of life (a light word for such an ugly, destructive force).

Just. one. more.

It may not grab you with an app on your phone. If you're like me, that's the least of your worries. It happens on multiple levels, to different degrees, at different times and places: relationships, projects, work, hobbies, entertainment, sleep, even (gasp) ministry! In each case, the object is neutral--or good--but my heart grabs and won't let go. Then it grabs me...and won't let go.

Here are some brief observations of my recent experience "under the influence."When all I want is "just one more:"

1) I fail to acknowledge the pleasantries of life. My responses aren't gracious, kind and endearing but short, brief and guttural.

2) I miss opportunities to serve. Instead of setting out preparations for my husband and children, I'm distracted. Needs pass me by--and I never even knew they existed.

3) I lose think time. In those empty moments of the day when everything stops, my mind is occupied with immediate rather than big, eternal thoughts.

4) I lose prayer time. I don't have room to think about others and intercede for them. I forget the blessing of emptiness.

5) I don't hear or remember important things because I'm in la-la land.

The blatant reality of a silly game was frightening. How did it happen so fast? I was frightened for myself and the effects of a seemingly mindless game. I was frightened for our young people and our world. Where are our thinkers? Our pray-ers? Our servants and listeners? What happens to conversation and gracious friendships when we're consumed with greed and self?

I needed to cut loose. I wanted freedom. I also know myself well enough to understand that saying "no" isn't enough. It doesn't have the power I need to shake free.

Fortunately, God's Word has the answer."Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21)  I can only be free from one thing by wanting something else more. Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37) When I love God more, my eyes are turned upward and outward, not inward.

Unfortunately, the more I know about the "should's," the worse I feel. I can't even do what I should. But God can. Until I ask for help and turn from doing it on my own I will fail. But when I humbly ask for help (repent) and turn to Him, He answers.

He saves and gives life! He warns because He loves us, drawing us away from poison with living water. The things I seek for myself lead to death; death of relationships, death of self, death of reward. God--the Creator and Giver of all good things--is about life and freedom. Have problems? He has--He is--the perfect answer.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:19-34)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why Church?

In the last week I've seen both mountain goats and mountain sheep. If you know anything about either one, you'll know how unusual that is. The goats were on an actual mountain top (we fed marmots and chipmunks, and trout--except what we took home!). The sheep were in a zoo.
The thing that struck me as the mountain sheep climbed a 20-foot ledge in four steps was that, in those couple of seconds, the mountain sheep did nothing outstanding or unusual. It simply did what it was designed to do. When dogs run the Iditarod, they do what they were made to do. They whine, cry, howl and pull at the harness until the driver gives them permission. Then they strain and run. And run. And run--across uncharted tundra, ice and snow, through blizzards and sleet, in inhumanly cold temperature. They run. And they prevail.

In the same way, each of us is designed for a purpose. From the moment man was created his and her purpose was to be a reflection of God: God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27) Why did God forbid man to make an image of Himself? He already had. When we look at another human being--especially a husband and wife--we are seeing a tainted reflection of God Himself. That image remains tainted until we reach heaven. Truthfully, between here and there, we will never live out our true purpose without the life-changing work of Jesus (see sidebar).

Jesus is the perfect image of God: He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.... (Hebrews 1:3). And through faith in Christ, God is making His children more and more like Him (Romans 8:28-29).

The same afternoon we went to the zoo, we were blessed to attend a symphony rehearsal. Combining gifts and abilities (much like the dogs that pull a sled), the artists accomplished what no one of them could do on his/her own. Each one brought his or her skill, experience and natural ability. Each one submitted his or her will and talent to the direction of the master. And together they created an amazing product.

That's the way God has designed the church. Each of us brings natural abilities, experiences, skills, and personality. But it's more than that. It's so much bigger than we'll ever realize. Each of us--as a result of accepting Jesus' finished work on the cross--has been given a supernatural gift to build up and minister to the Body of Christ. As we submit to the will and direction of our Master, He does a magnificent work. We find what we were made for. We live out our design and purpose, bringing glory and honor the One who made us, redeemed us, loves us and transforms us.

Did I forget to mention that the Church is ultimately important because Jesus died for her? Jesus died. He died for the Church. His life bought hers. His death gave her life. There is no Church apart from Jesus' sacrifice. It is life rising from ashes--His ashes, His suffering, His bloody tears of anguish, His humiliation, His pain. His excruciating death. His inexplicable separation from the Father. And we would say it's not enough? We complain that don't like the people. We don't like the songs. We don't like the length of the sermons. We don't "like".... Really? Are we that blind to the death of our Savior? To the debt He willingly paid? Are we truly that calloused? Proud? Deceived?

If you are living life without Jesus Christ, you are not fulfilling your purpose. You will never truly find it. If you are living life apart from a local church that is resting on Jesus Christ, and Him alone, you are failing to live out your God-given design. It is only as a changed, living, active part of a local church that we find the fulfillment and sense of belonging God created us for. Don't go to church. Be the church.

(Here's a challenge: read New Testament passages with a plural "you" unless it's specifically written to an individual: i.e. my local church, not just me, personally. I know that changes my understanding and application...and my prayers.)

To me [Paul], the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

(Ephesians 3:8-20; 4:1-8, 11-16)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What's Life Got to Do With It?

We stood in the garden, our precious 4-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter and myself, looking down on the newly dug grave of a limp, lifeless lamb.

"It's a chickie...feel how soft!"
"Sweethearts, this is something to remember the rest of your lives...what death is like. It looks like this and there's nothing we can do to change it. Anyone can take a life. No one can give it. Except God. Only God can make things alive. So never, ever kill something you don't need to. Killing is easy. Giving life is impossible. You can't bring it back. You can't change it. You can't fix it."

That was one of our first graveside services on the farm--puppies, cats, sheep, cows, rabbits. It happened over and over. We loved animals, cared for them, stayed up at night, worked around the clock. Sometimes they lived, sometimes they died. Always, we cared, striving to be responsible, to treasure life regardless of its "value," expected outcome or the length of breath: kittens, birds, bunnies. And in my mind were pictures of my own father sitting at the kitchen table, eye-dropper in one hand, hairless baby raccoon in the other. The belief and act isn't simply pro-people--although we realize biblically, that's the priority--the belief and act are pro-life. Because life is a gift.

And as I see the weight of choosing life, the burden is heavy. It's not simply pro-birth. It's pro-adoption, pro-marriage, pro-foster care, pro-life. Because anyone can kill something. Anyone take a life. But only God can give it. Grace and peace to those of you who have made the choice to take a human life and lived to regret it. May you seek the answer of Christ. In Him is hope...and forgiveness. May God grant a heart of repentance to those who made that choice and have no regrets. For in the end, life was never really ours. It is a gift.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

"He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Discarded Torch

Maybe you've seen the video clip of three generations and how they spent/spend their free time as children. Maybe you, like me, are reminded of playing outdoors in lingering sunlight or with frost-laden breath. And maybe you, like me, want the same for every child who ever has or ever will walk the face of the planet.

The reality is that we are letting our kids down--not in access to fresh air, freedom and fantasy--as much as in our role as disciplers of Jesus. Kids who play video games and spend hours lost in la-la land have very little to offer the world. They will enter crippled, weak and anemic both spiritually and practically. We know that. But the truth is, it's not the kids' decision. It's ours. We are failing. We are so self- and comfort-centered that we've dropped the torch and taken a detour instead of running the race.,_discarded_torch.jpg
Here are some ways to pass the torch to the next generation:

- Stop! Look at yourself. What kind of example are you? Monkey-see, monkey-do. What do your children see? What does the Lord see? Examine your life, your motives, your thoughts. What consumes you? What drives you? How is that evident in your choices? Sadly, the things that drive you drive your children. They're probably the same things that make you angry and frustrated. Your g/God has become their g/God. Repent or rejoice. If this part of your life isn't on track, nothing else will be. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart" (Deut. 6:5-6, emphasis added).

- Observe. Watch your kids. Ask questions. Get to know them. What do they enjoy? What do they do well? What don't they do well? What's important to them? What do they want to do with their lives? How are they doing that now? What do they need to improve? How can you help them?

- Provide opportunities. Involve your child in what you do. A disciple is a follower. But if no one leads, they can't follow. Be the leader. Teach your child new skills. Take your child to new places. Introduce them to the needs of others. Put them to work. Do it with them. Do something new, something you've never done before either.

- Be vulnerable. Allow your child to ask hard questions (they will--you don't have to prep them!). Answer honestly. Say, "I don't know. Let's find out." Let them see you struggle, fail, and figure out how to get back on your feet. When Jesus told Peter, "Feed my sheep," it wasn't because he had it all together. It's because He knew where and how to find the Good Shepherd. Take your children to Jesus. He will use your needs and weakness to show them how it's done.

- Speak truth. When your child is wrong, tell him. Present truth from the Word of God. Address the issue. When your child does something well, tell her. Praise her effort and encourage her in using her gifts. Words are powerful! Use them. "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" (Deut. 6:7).

- Do life together. When your child fails, don't write him off, send him to the corner or take away his cell phone. Help him! Come up with a plan for change. Yes, you will be inconvenienced. More than that, you will have to look your priorities square in the eye. And if we're honest, American parents, our choices communicate that our children are less important than our jobs, our friends, our ministries, our leisure and our comforts. That's why we write them off, send them to the corner and ground them from privileges. We do it for no other reason than our sin has blinded us to discipling and loving our children as God has loved and provided for us: sacrificially, unconditionally, over and above His comfort and reputation.

- Be the adult. You are not a child. God intends us to grow. All of us. The word "grow" is used 124 times in the Bible. That's God's goal for you--with the purpose that you are changing, different today than a year ago, applying the knowledge and experience He provides. Change requires exercise, training and practice (1 Tim. 4:7-8; Heb. 5:13-14). It's slow, difficult, and demanding but the results are oh, so worth it! Be the adult. Be responsible. Be accountable. Be an example. Be the leader.  "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deut. 6:8-9).

Be the kind of person who can say, "Follow me as I follow Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1)

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight....

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of 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.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 11:32-34, 39-40; 12:1-14)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

When Life Feels Wrong

Some days life just feels wrong. Off. Out of control inside. Out of control outside. And sometimes it's not just a "day" but weeks or months. Maybe years.

The truth is that we don't have as much control as we think we do (or think we should).

And life is not about what we feel, what we see, hear and perceive. It's about what is. And what is? God. His Word. It's not a trite answer, even when it sounds like one. 

Here's the way it works. When you and I feel like this:

...we're experiencing chaos, confusion, anger, strife, envy, jealousy, bitterness.... Why? Because life is off. I know what I want but can't...quite... reach it: comfort, peace, success, acceptance, wealth, a godly marriage, a happy family.... And before long "the getting" consumes me--I think about it all the time, plan and work, pray and cajole. I do everything I can--good or bad, right or wrong--to fix my life, get it under control, and make things right. When I drive down the street or turn on the TV, I notice everyone else who has "it": a child, a new car, a perfect family, good health. It isn't fair. It doesn't seem right. And the bad feelings get worse. 

The problem is my boss, my paycheck, the other woman at church, my child's teacher, the condition of my home/car/clothes.

But that's not what Jesus said.* He said it's not the things that happen outside my heart that bring on sin and feelings of failure--it's what's already inside. I get angry because I wanted something I didn't get. I slander others because I have a hateful attitude. I fight chaos and confusion because I don't trust God and I don't want what He's sovereignly given. I lust and do not have because I want an easy, comfort, peace-filled life. Every statement, every moment of life going wrong begins and ends with me. 

The things we want aren't necessarily bad. It's not the thing or outcome that matters. What really matters is why I want it. Do I want to be and feel successful? Look good? Be happy? Or do I want what God wants? Am I trusting Him to use the difficulty, the lack of good, to help me grow in compassion, patience, gentleness, kindness? How do I respond when I don't get it? And how do I respond when it's taken away or interrupted? That's the tell.

This is it: when the heat is turned up and life gets hard, what comes out of my heart? Jesus? Or a grownup version of a monster-child? As Jim Berg says, when God pours on hot water, it reveals what's in the tea bag of my heart. What's inside is no longer a secret--good or bad, it comes out, coloring my life and interactions.

The only solution is simple, but hard: repentance. I must agree that what I want has become more important than what God wants and turn around--turn around to seek His good for me, His purpose, His glory, His honor instead of my own. How? Through Jesus. When I come to God through Jesus, He is there to help, to change, to provide, to forgive.

So how're you doing? My life doesn't feel right today, but by God's grace and with His help, I will keep looking at Him, doing what is right, and waiting for His provision. Easy? Hard. Impossible.... without Christ, prayer, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, my Help and Comfort.

*But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:18-19 NKJV)

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear; when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

"The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:5-10 NKJV)

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish. (Psalm 1, NKJV)