Monday, December 26, 2016

A Place to Return

We pulled out family videos over the holidays. There was a lot of "helping" by older children--especially when it came to opening gifts. And we sat through the infamous "Family Olympics" in the backyard. "You mean all we did was run in circles?" one of the girls asked as she watched her dad give instructions and they raced to win. "I was so cute!" another observed.

Years ago an orphanage missionary gave this advice, "Parents, make memories your children can return to." He pointed out that we have a responsibility as stewards to create pleasant memories. When our children grow up and have a hard day at work, a difficult marriage or financial burdens, we them to have the gift of childhood memories. He asked, "Have you created a place of comfort and joy they can find? A place that reminds them of the beauty and rest of God?"

How often we forget God made a place of love and acceptance for us. It's recorded in the Bible, and we're meant to revisit it daily. The memory is this: God sent Jesus.

I have a hard time imagining the limitations, struggles and trials of life for Jesus--God in a body. He was placed in a real body living under fallen, human authority (i.e. real parents) in poverty and under governmental tyranny. After living a perfect life and declaring Himself to the world, He suffered and died, offering His life for ours. He took God's punishment for our sin to fully pay the price of our treason against the Lord of the Universe. Then He rose again, demonstrating God's complete acceptance of our debt.

What an amazing memory! What an incredible place to return and revisit! And it is ours. When we struggle to love our enemies, we can think on God's love for us in Jesus. When we endure a difficult marriage, financial burdens, the weight of poor choices--we have a safe place, a place of forgiveness, hope, peace, and wisdom. We are not alone.

We may or may not have fond family memories. We may or may not be living out and creating wonderful memories--but we can return to the safest, most comforting, wonderful memory of all and find everything that is lacking in this fallen, human world. And, as we gaze on Jesus, we will change.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but 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 work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:1-17 ESV)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Heart of Giving

It's beginning to look, feel and smell a lot like Christmas! Our children were home over the weekend, so we put up the Christmas tree. We have a good scald on our annual family letter and a few cookies on the counter.

The biggest focus for many--especially children and parents--are gifts. As Christians, we are quick to point out God's greatest gift to us, Jesus. Because of His love, we give to one another.

The wise men brought costly, precious gifts to Jesus. So as I read about Mary's gift of anointing oil this morning in the book of John, I was already in gift-thinking mode. A good gift fits the receiver. A good gift reflects the heart of the giver. A good gift is precious and costly. A good gift is timely and well-planned.

One of the reasons I've been lax in writing a blog entry is that I've been working on a special gift for my in-laws. More than two years ago I kidnapped shoe boxes of snapshots from my mother-in-law's house and scanned them, one by one. I renamed and filed them in my computer. Then, this winter, I edited and compiled them into a photo book for her and her boys. Since my father-in-law passed away while they were in their teens, it was a bitter-sweet, but good, gift. It fits my mother-in-law's love of her home and family. It reflects my love for her. It cost a great deal of time and sacrifice (i.e. sleep, blog entries, housework (!)). It  was planned for a specific time and celebration.

Our gifts are small in comparison to God. His gift in Jesus is a magnification of what we're capable of. We give, we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave us both a pattern and the ability to give. In providing Jesus, He gave what we needed most and couldn't live without. He gave us His very self--greater grace, greater mercy, a greater Gift--than we deserve. His gift was costly and precious; more than we can imagine. His gift was timely and well-planned (Galatians 4:4-5).

In reading about Mary's gift of anointing oil in John 12 this morning, I thought through my own response to God's gift. The oil she used didn't just appear on her shelf. She planned. She labored. She saved. Perhaps she scrubbed floors on her hands and knees. Maybe she took in laundry, ran errands, or drew water. Chances are she did real, earnest, hard labor for a long time. Maybe she'd received a generous dowry--and was willing to give her future, her dream, for Jesus. I wonder if she lay awake at night thinking about how to increase her savings? If she worried she would run out of time? Did she watch Jesus come and go, anticipating the day she would bless and honor Him with her livelihood?

What a fitting time to think about worship--giving Jesus the worth He deserves, to worth-ship Him. Loving Jesus is not just a song sung at vespers, a passage read under the tree, or withdrawing from worldly festivities altogether. Loving Jesus is living, serving, thinking of and worth-shipping Him as I complete daily tasks, express compassion, extend kindness, lift the burden of others. It's saving eternal blessings for His glory, from one day to the next, in anticipation of the day I meet Him face to face and say, "Here, Jesus, I was thinking of You. It's all I have to give, by You grace and for Your glory." It's a gift that only I can give. It's enabled and empower by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, Himself. It requires time and sacrifice. It will be revealed at just the right time. And, craziest of all--it is all a result of His gift. It is not mine to give, but how blessed I am to represent and image Him, to spread His glory and be His gift to others.

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:36)

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:14-18)

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Revelation 4:5-11)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

When I Don't Want to Ask for Help

Argh. I was in fits. Grumpy. Frustrated. Sinfully uncommunicative. And in His gentle, prodding way, God said (through my husband!), "Have you asked for help? All you have to do is ask."

"But I don't want to!" I said with a foot-stomp in my heart . "I want to do it myself. I want to do it my way..." And that's when I realized this was another opportunity to grow in Christlikeness, a.k.a. humility.

My conversation with the Lord continued over the next few days and went something like this:

"I've been working on saying no with Your help. And You're right. I'm not the answer to everyone's problem. I'm learning to pray first and think about what's best before jumping in. It's called more-of -You-and-less-of-me. With Your help, I am applying boundaries and priorities. It's okay to say, 'No.'"

Read email. Fix meals. Spend time with family. Sweep floors. Pack for upcoming trip.

"Okay, God, yes, the last couple of months You've shown how I struggle to admit I'm wrong and ask forgiveness. The people who live with me are gracious and kind, but it's got to stop. Pride is keeping me from admitting and owning up to my sin. I need Your grace to humble my heart and ask forgiveness. I get it. Yes, You're right about that, too."

Car trip. Forgot child's swimsuit at home. Failed to warmly greet family member. Lying awake at night.

"Yes, Lord, yes. I do get defensive when people offer suggestions or criticism. You're right. It's wiser--and better--to learn from others and admit my limitations than feel important in my own mind. It's another opportunity to grow."

Travel home. Laundry. Cheer at ball game. Send child back to college.

"But, really, Lord? Now I need to ask for help? Haven't I changed enough? I thought I was getting this, but maybe we could try the remedial program? I want a break. And that whole 'asking for help thing--'... It's so much easier to do it myself. And it's loving others when I don't inconvenience and interrupt them. I'm helping by not asking."

"But maybe I want them to be inconvenienced," the quiet Voice says. "Maybe I want you to need others. Maybe others need to be needed. This is an opportunity for them to serve Me. It's an opportunity for you to admit your need. It's good for everyone."

"Really, Lord? I need to ask for help?" Maybe tomorrow....

And in all of this I'm reminded that I, that we, are flawed, weak, needy, sinful, incomplete. Even in conviction and confession I am weak; unable to get past myself (Did you count the "I's" in this post?!). We are wholly dependent on God; on His sovereign mercy and grace. It is only as I move out of the picture and focus on His goodness, grace, sufficiency and work that He is glorified. It's time to unclench my fist and allow the Lord to be central; to change me as He will, according to His good pleasure.

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:1-11)

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Thess. 5:17)

For more conviction (or help) check out this list of manifestations of pride and humility. Book recommendations: From Pride to Humility by Stuart Scott, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller,  Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney, Humility: the Forgotten Virtue by Wayne Mack.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Choices and Consequences

I heard this quote at a youth rally and it's coming around and around again like the "Song That Never Ends"--but in a sobering way.

Pastor Dave Tebbencamp from Creston, IA said, "You get to make the choice, but you don't get to choose the consequences."

Let that sink in.

How often do we make choices based on a desired outcome? Yes, we reap what we sow, but it's not an earthly harvest--and the market price is out of our control. The outcome is not ours.

I can choose a presidential candidate, but that doesn't determine the outcome of the election. In teen life, certain clothes and actions don't seal my popularity. In grown up life, I can set my eyes on a lifestyle, relationship or state of being, but when the goal eludes me, I am disheartened, bitter, angry, confused, alone, frustrated, distraught.

And here's the driving factor: the choosing is in the wanting. I make choices based on what I want. And I measure success based on whether or not I get what I wanted.

If I want popularity above all else, it will result is unseen consequences. If I want a perfect marriage, a stunning home, a high-dollar income, I can make choices to attain it, but I don't get to choose the consequences. (Note to self: what do you really want in this moment?)

In John 9, Jesus put clay on the blind man's eyes and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He could have said, "That's stupid. Why would I do that?" Or, "Uch! What was that guy thinking, putting spit and mud on my face?!" But He trusted Jesus. What he did may not have made sense, but he obeyed. He made the choice to trust. God provided the consequence--sight, for the first time ever! God always produces, or provides, the consequence. "...whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:7-8). It's not about earthly, material outcomes--it's about unseen ones. The things we don't often think or talk about.

If someone asked, we would agree that God's outcome--His consequences--are always the best, always for our good, always eternal. Pleasant or unpleasant, they are good (Romans 8:28-29; Hebrews 12:4-11). The problem is that we want to control the choices AND the consequences. We want the whole kit and kaboodle.

Honestly, there are times I don't like to make right choices. I can't and I won't. Praise God, He loves and helps me! But I must ask, trust, depend, and give up my "right" to determine the outcome. This diagram comes in handy when I have a decision to make and know the right choice, but am having a hard time getting there:
By God's grace, we can make the right choices and trust Him with the consequences--that's living by faith.

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 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. (2 Corinthians 5:9-15) not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:7-14)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Danger of "I've Got This"

Rather than work my way into it, let me say that "I've got this" is not in the Bible. Well, actually it is, but not the way we'd like it to be.

When my children ask if I need help with dinner (yes, it happens sometimes), I answer, "No, thanks. I've got this." My husband might offer to help me carry a heavy load. "I've got this." Someone at church asks how they can pray, "No worries. I've got this." Someone offers Even forbidden fruit. Adam is standing right there, but she steps in. "No problem. I've got this." And she did.

The truth is that God created us to need Him, to rely on and desperately depend on Him, but how often we overlook the words "trust" (used 53 times in the English Standard Version) and "believe" (used 258 times in the ESV Bible). In our churches we use that as a once-upon-a-time, been-there-done-that kind of word when it's an every day, moment by moment call to trust and believe. The result, or manifestation of belief, is obedience. Our obedience to God's Word is a measure of our trust. Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:29). That's God's work? Belief?

If we don't believe God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, we're lost. That's the requirement for pleasing God (Hebrews 11:6). And when I believe God is who He says He is, I trust Him. When I believe He will do what He says He will do, I obey--I see and understand the consequences and it makes a difference in my life.

The next time fear rises and your stomach lurches try, "God, help me trust you," instead of "This isn't that big a deal. I've got this." When life is overwhelming and the crunch is on, "God, help me believe you know how this is going to turn out and help me please you, regardless," instead of "What can I do? How can I make this happen? What if...what if...what if?"

For me it starts every morning. The mantra, "Not I, but Christ" has to run through my head all day as I choose to "live by the faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20).

Next time you've "got this," give it up. That's God's work in and through you.

Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself,
    for emptiness will be his payment.
It will be paid in full before his time,
    and his branch will not be green.
He will shake off his unripe grape like the vine,
    and cast off his blossom like the olive tree. (Job 15:31-33)

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?

"I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:5-10)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Eddie McCoy, Men's Slippers and Beta Fish

My garage door opener is broken. My cell phone doesn't work. And I "evaporated" the fish in its tank this weekend. There's a dead mouse in the laundry room that's stinking up the joint. And harvest has just come to a close. These are days of endurance, breathing vapors of joy from days' past, remembering God's faithfulness and unchanging nature.

As I was beginning to spiral toward self pity, the Lord reminded me of Eddie McCoy--and I smiled. If you didn't know Eddie, a short entry like this will never do. He was a mountain man born at the wrong time. He carried fishing worms in his lip like chewing tobacco. He rinsed his coffee cup in streams and brooks. He hunted and fished like the Wyoming native he became. His wife did her best. And He loved the word of God. I can still recall his deep, wooded voice during Sunday night testimonies, earnest spittle at the corners of his mouth, lest he slow down or lose his train of thought, "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." Knowing Eddie, he said a lot more than that, but I distinctly remember that passage.

Yesterday I thought about the time he took me aside after our wedding engagement. "You know what I told the new ladies who came to town? Why, they'd coming walking in my shoe store--Brown's Shoes--and they'd be looking for a nice new pair. And I'd say, 'What size does your husband wear?' And they'd say, 'I'm not looking for him. I'm looking for me.' And I'd say, 'You need a pair of men's slippers, your husband's size. Wear them when you get the mail. Wear them when you take out garbage and visit your neighbor over the fence. See, that's what the local ladies do--and look, they're right at home.'"

I must have seemed lost because Eddie continued, "When you're in a new place and you don't feel at home, stop thinking about yourself. Look at the people around you, watch what they do. Soon enough you'll feel like everyone else." Instead of wallowing in self-pity and pampering myself, the answer was to pick up my head, look around, and ask how I could change.

And that is why I rescued a beta from Walmart. When things weren't going well it was time to do something for someone (or something) else. It was time to stop looking at myself and look out into the world. It was time to consider the change God was working in my heart.

God is not glorified when I'm feeling sorry for myself, when the focus is on me and I'm living in Grumbletown. God is so much bigger than daily irritants and frustrations. He is calling, tugging, drawing my eyes away from self, from temporary, immediate concerns to worthy, eternal, weighty matters--Christ. It begins with confession and ends with repentance: praise, thanks, gratitude and worship, honoring Him by loving and serving others--even if it means baby steps in men's slippers or rescuing betas from Walmart.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-7)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


I have not been keeping up well with this lately--it's harvest time at our house. That's our livelihood, right here in the "breadbasket" of the U.S. of A. I can't tell you all that's involved from the farming aspect, but I know a few things as the farmer's wife. It means sending the farmer out the door by 7:30 every morning and trying to stay awake until he comes in at dark-thirty. It means making meals to eat on the go twice a day, running errands, and being available.

Jesus said, "Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest." (john 4:35).

When we plant in the Spring, we run a different operation than when we harvest in the Fall. It requires different equipment and different players. In the normal run of things, we have time to prepare; to repair equipment, get caught up on rest, think about storage, extra workers, and hitting the market at the right time in the right place.

Jesus said, "It's time, boys. Now." And that to fishermen. There's no time to prepare. Equipment and extra food rations are needed now. Workers are needed now. It's time. The planting? You missed it. Get up and get on with it. You can't afford to hit "snooze" one more time or watch another episode on Netflix. Your "four months" are over.

They're ready to be called out--to call upon Jesus for salvation or to continue going their own way. Put Jesus front and center. It's time.

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

Monday, September 26, 2016

Believe and Go On Your Way

I've been traveling the book of John the last month or two. When I started I wrote out the key verse of the book, "but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31, ESV).

From the beginning, I've taken note of the words and phrases from that verse as they appear throughout the book of John: these are written/testify, believe, Christ, Son of God, life, his name.

And this is the life-changing phrase that grabbed me this morning: "The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way" (John 4:50 ESV). My response? "Eureka!"

God has spoken through His Word. When I'm confronted by the Word of God I believe it. Or not. To believe God's Word and go on my way is a powerful way to live.

To believe He is the Sovereign of the universe and go my way means I trust Him with today's interruptions, disappointments and joys. To believe Christ officially, really, left Heaven and became the God-man who died in my place means I go my way free of the power and penalty of sin. To believe Christ literally rose from the dead means I go my way living His life in my thoughts, words, attitudes and actions.

Today, may I believe the word He has spoken as I go on my way.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Keeping Track

I'm going to venture that one of the things that holds us back the most is a subtle, constant thing we're unaware of. It's called, "keeping track."
When our children were small, I could count--almost to the minute--the previous night's sleep. It was my excuse for doing some things--eating chocolate, allowing them to binge-watch PBS--and not doing others--keeping up with housework or treating others with kindness. At some point, not only did I start to get more sleep at night (praise the Lord!), I also realized the blessings of not keeping track. If I simply went about my day as if I a decent night's sleep, I had a better attitude, got more accomplished, and was, overall, much happier.

By not keeping track, life becomes more about this moment and future opportunities than resentment over missed ones. I've stopped keeping track of how many times each person unloads the dishwasher,  does the wash, serves me, or gets the mail. The replacement motto is, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might;" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

We are warned not to keep track of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). Which we know--but do anyway. Perhaps not keeping track falls under the warning to "lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely...." (Hebrews 12:1). It certainly would be in line with "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14) So, even as we put off thoughts that drag us down, that keep track of and compare ourselves to others, we need to refresh our minds with God's Word and replace those thoughts with gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise.

God's Word is not simply a book of platitudes to make us feel better. When we take even the smallest principles and, by God's grace, apply them to our lives, we experience the eternal life we've already been given in Christ.

Think about. Or don't. Choosing your thoughts will give your life a whole new color....

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Personal Invitation

We did something new today--we attended a Latino festival and enjoyed a "by request only" Mariachi band. Children danced in the street, the costumes and music were intricate and fantastic. Our friends were many, not necessarily by name, but because of community, and it was wonderful to be included.

As we left the football game last night, our friend Francisco left the stands and followed us. He approached David and extended a personal invitation to today's performance. We wouldn't have made the effort if it hadn't been for Francisco's attention and thoughtfulness. We have watched his family over the years and have grown in our admiration and respect for them. They love one another. They love our community. They love others. And we have been included. Gringos. Americanos blancos.

What a parallel to the gospel! By loving and caring for others, going out of our way, and sharing God's goodness in Jesus, they might end up standing in the middle of la fiesta de la vida--the party of life. A personal invitation makes all the difference in the world. It's the way God works. He sends us out to invite, include, encourage and care for those we see and know, regardless of their walk in life or our outward similarities. We have something good to share--a vital, eternal gift. And all we're called to do is extend the invitation. Oh, to be a Francisco for God!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Frustration, Anger and Loss

I've been thinking a lot this morning about disappointment and grief. There is angst when our dreams wither and die or fall short of our desired outcome. It could be a lost opportunity, irreplaceable hours in a day, a struggling relationship or life detour.

Sitting at picnic tables under a canopy in the soybean field last night, the woman across from me recounted the day's misadventures. "That's when you hate life as a farm wife," she finished. David, sitting next to her, shot me an eyebrow-raising look I interpreted as, "Do you hate your life?" He had many of the same difficulties: power outages, a burned out motor 60 feet above the ground, men sitting on their hands, a crop to harvest.

No, I don't hate being a farm wife on difficult days--because David sees life differently. It's not our harvest. It's God's harvest and, as we persevere, God will bring about what He deems best.

Loss, anger and frustration come on a sliding scale. The bigger the loss, the longer the grieving, the wrestling. In thinking about our harvest example, I realized that my greatest struggle in facing loss, frustration and anger is the rub between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.

What about the times people make my life difficult?! The truth is hard: it doesn't matter. I have to remind myself that I'm not responsible for other people's choices. I'm responsible for my choices and my responses. I will reap what I sow--good, bad, no matter how insignificant, the consequences of my choices will grow with time. (Galatians 6:7-8)

The people piece of disappointment, anger and loss is that their choices are not my responsibility--even when I am affected greatly. That's because of the God piece. God has allowed, and wants to use, difficult people in my life. In the end, trusting Him and holding things loosely brings a great deal of peace. And this is what it means to hold things loosely, (again, the words are hard to write...and hear): it's. not. mine.

The things I struggle so hard to keep, to change, to fix, to get rid of? They don't belong to me. Each person, hour, opportunity, responsibility--they're all on loan. When the struggle comes--and it does--this truth drastically affects my thinking and response. It looks like this:

My marriage. is. not. mine. It's God's--and it's been given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own selfishness, and depend on the Lord for change.

My time. is. not, mine. It's God's; given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My children. are. not. mine. They are God's: given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My ministry, is. not. mine. It is God's: given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My family is. not. mine. It belongs to God; given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My home. is. not. mine. It belongs to God; given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My friends. are. not. mine. They belong to God; given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My church, is. not. mine. It belongs to God; given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My gifts and abilities. are. not. mine. They belong to God; given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

My networking contacts. are. not. mine. They belong to God; given as a gift, an opportunity for me to serve someone else, to see my own sinful self, and depend on the Lord for change.

And the list goes on... The words are easier to write than to think. They're easier to think than to apply. The answer is simple but impossible. It's only as I remind myself daily of God's love for me through Jesus' death and resurrection that I am reminded He will not withhold good. He gave me the best. His best. And He doesn't stop there. (Romans 8:32)

[Some losses have little or nothing to do with others. I am thinking of friends grieving the loss of a child, spouse or parent. There are no words for your pain. Only God knows its depth and despair. Some losses are common. Yours is gut-wrenching. If these words bring comfort, thank God. But please don't read them as a commentary on "how to make it go away." There is time and room for pain, grief and healing. But for most of us, the unhealthy mulling-it-over seething needs to be confessed as sin and repentance needs to begin.]

How well do you know the Master? If we know Him and have tried his goodness, generosity, grace and love, we will work hard. We will risk it all because we trust Him and have every confidence He will reward us according to His character. But if God is hard, stingy, critical and unkind, we will rat away our resources, protecting and hoarding them. We will be stingy, critical and unkind. 

When we blame others or take on too much responsibility, we become bitter, angry, resentful. When we fail to acknowledge God's rightful ownership and goodness we become cynical, arrogant, or fall into despair.

Do you trust Him? It makes all the difference in the world.

“Then the kingdom of heaven... will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.  So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.  Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 1, 14-46 ESV)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

An Obvious Blessing Hidden in Plain Sight

One of my favorite insights from Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, happens before their captivity. She and her sisters place their mother, who recently suffered a stroke, at the upstairs window of the watch shop. She writes,

"Mama’s love had always been the kind that acted itself out with soup pot and sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat in her chair at the window and loved us. She loved the people she saw in the street—and beyond: her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls that shut it in." (p. 44)

And so it is. Our love for others is not hindered by illness, disease, distance or time. Prayer supersedes them all. Love, through prayer, thought and motive overcomes limitations. What joy we have in loving others, even when we cannot physically express it.

That same love is evident in worship. We love the Lord with our words and actions throughout the week. We also love Him with our expressions and emotions. One of my greatest joys each week is to watch others during our Sunday morning worship service. Parents hold hymnals on pew backs and underline words with their fingers as children follow along. Those who have memorized familiar words, sing with full voice, heads held high. Others stumble and follow along, unsure of the melody or words, but confident in the One who receives it. Perhaps it looks different at your church, but in Christ, we worship with one heart our one God of all.

As I look across our congregation, I know that individuals are struggling with health, in relationships, challenging job situations and financial hardships. But I watch them sing freely, offering a sacrifice of praise, despite their circumstances--and that is a beautiful gift. I cannot begin to describe its measure--grandparents, international students, single men and women, newlyweds, children, full-nesters and empty-nesters--the wonder of hearts knit together.

This Sunday, look at your fellow citizens, your future roommates, and eternal companions. Don't miss the blessing of worshiping together; our God and Father, through Jesus Christ and by His Spirit. Thank God for His gift of one another, of your fellowship with Him and others through Christ. Enjoy the feast of worship, filled with the goodness and truth of of His Word, encouraged and spurred on by the love and faith of fellow saints. And if you find you can't, look to the Lord, His Word, and your heart. It's a good gift He wants you to enjoy the way He does.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. (Psalm 103:1-5)

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that 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 rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:15-22)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Backside of Public Schooling

My husband and I are starting to walk out the other side of a door called, "Parenting," and into a new room of life. Our last two children are in high school. Our oldest graduated from college. And as we look back, I'm very thankful we, as Christian parents, sent our children to public school.
Before listing some of the benefits and blessings, let me say that there is no perfect school decision for every child or every family: home school, private school, public school--they all have their place. Let me also mention that we had the privilege of choosing our community. My husband commuted so we could live in a community that was small enough to be a part of, to influence as individuals and a family, and to fall in love with. Before they were even school-age, we chose our community based on the desire to put our children in public school with a purpose.

The Scriptural basis for our decision was Hebrews 5:12-14: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

My husband, David, may have additional thoughts, but for my part, I wanted our children to learn the Word of God at home and have a place to practice, or apply it, in real life. I wanted them to face 5-year-old problems at a 5-year-old level: bullying, worldly influences, making friends, submitting to authority, learning life skills. In some situations/schools, that's not a wise choice. In our situation, it was a hard, but fabulous, experience. We cried with our children, problem-solved, and sent them back to school. We met with teachers, volunteered in the classroom, and got involved in the parent-teacher organization (see the page, "To Tango with a Teacher" on this site). As older parents, we help in specific pockets of interest, show up at activities to cheer on students, and serve on the school board.

Here are a few blessings--some we intentionally worked and hoped for, others just happened:

- We shared Christ with teachers, staff and children for seventeen years (and counting). Our job isn't to convert anyone, it's simply to be a light and share the Light.

-  We love the people of our community. Ours is a diverse group of people where the majority is minorities. All of us are part of the whole. We have learned new cultures, new languages, and ways of looking at the world. We speak and think of our neighbors and community members with respect, admiration, love and fondness.We belong together. We live together. We raise children and serve our community together.

- Being in the schools gave us the privilege of being a "mom" and "dad" to kids and an open door of friendship with countless parents, teachers, administrators, and staff. As our children grow, our time of school life is quickly passing. We will still be spectators at events and volunteers in our community, but we will lose passport into the daily lives of students and their families.

- Our children have experienced life. The world doesn't revolve around them and they don't expect it to. They have seen, on a daily basis, students with special needs, language and learning disabilities, different values, more skill and abilities, and teachers/friends fighting cancer, losing loved ones, living through divorce, neglect, legal intervention and heartache. They have seen the danger of unhealthy relationships, the brevity of life, the stupidity of drugs, the drunkenness of fame.

- Our children have learned skills and experienced the passion of amazing teachers with different gifts and ways of looking at life.They studied under the literature Nazi, the calculus queen, and the drama guru. They found out they need 14 hugs a day to be strong, thriving children, marched in step and presented at state conventions. They earned respect, learned respect and grew to appreciate its power. They have been privileged to work with and be taught by talented, committed adults outside our family and church who challenged their character, future, and stretched them beyond what they thought was possible.

- Our children are more dependent on God than us. They were offered hash brownies in a back room, head-butted in the cafeteria, cat-called in the parking lot--and we, their parents, weren't there. But we talked about those things, we went to God in prayer for the things we knew and the things we didn't. In word and by example, we turned to God and leaned on Him. We taught them to look for ways to solve problems--asking God for wisdom. That does not mean we were always successful or they never made bad choices, but it was part of the learning process. Now that some of them are off and running, we are thankful for the training ground of life in the real world.

As our daughter left for college this morning, I called through her open window, "Trust the Lord!" David added, "And keep both hands on the wheel!" That's what they've learned: dependent responsibility.

The basis for parenting in a God-centered way is given in Deuteronomy--and it can be part of the public school choice for any Christian parent. Our culture continues to change, and we need make wise decisions, but always with God at the center. Regardless of your choice, it starts with you--the parent.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. 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." (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, emphasis added)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Worship Outside the Box

Life has been full this summer, but I am reminded this morning that, "Life is worship." If you define worship as specific activities, times or events, let me challenge you to look more broadly.

Jesus was defined by obedience and suffering (Heb. 2:10-18, 5:8), In and through all of life, He depended on His Heavenly Father. The gospels note nights spent in prayer, moments of prayer, teaching on prayer. Peter tells us that through the most excruciating time of His life, He depended on the Father (1 Peter 2:23). And God was pleased.

What if worship is not what we do, where we are, or when we are, but "how" we do the where, when and what? If that's true, calling a friend is worship; in an attitude of prayer, I can please God with my words and actions. Serving my family is worship; with prayer and a thankful heart, I can prepare meals, wash dishes and laundry, or clean the house as an act of worship. I can worship as I love my husband, read the newspaper, sort the mail, return emails and make appointments.

And when that is the case, when all of life is about pleasing the Lord, there's no pressure to perform--I'm accepted, loved, and forgiven--vanity is replaced with purpose; joy and contentment are constant companions. Yes, there's disappointment, sorrow, frustration, anger, and despair, but in and through it all, the God who provided salvation also provides grace. Grace for the moment.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Life-Threatening Prayer

It was a beautiful country with military strength, political security, and financial wealth. Its leader was known for taking initiative, making visionary alliances, and building campaigns, but when the focus shifted from national concerns to religion there was only one acceptable answer. Those who served the Lord God, Yahweh, were were hunted down and killed. Many hid or fled the country altogether.
All but one. He did not instigate a coup. He did not run for office. He did not slander or begin a mudslinging campaign. He prayed. He prayed; not for better choices, a repentant nation, or a return to the good ol' days. He prayed earnestly--earnestly--that it would not rain.

Earnestly. Not once. Not twice. Not with an agenda of his own or a desire for a better government. He prayed that it would not rain. What was he thinking? Perhaps his thoughts went like this:

No rain = no food. No food = no health. No health = no wealth. No food + no health + no wealth = Desperation. Brokenness. Death. Famine. Drought. Anger. Fear. Loss. Terror. Destruction. Need. Repentance. Turning from false gods to the One, True God. Dependence. Humility. Trust. Honor. God's name revered; His truth embraced.

That was Elijah's request--God's glory. Over and above all possible outcomes, Elijah's desire was that the name of God be known, respected, feared, and admired. He was not in it for his own comfort or convenience--he would suffer with the rest. He did not seek the "best" earthly candidate or global reputation. His future, his life, was caught up in God's. As a matter of fact, his life was under contract for years. He endured hardship, thirst, and hunger. He was fed by birds of prey and a foreign widow woman. How humiliating. And that's the beauty of Elijah's life and prayer. It wasn't about him. It wasn't about him at all.

As I think about Elijah's reaction to perhaps the most wicked leader in Israel's  history, I have been challenged. Am I willing to sacrifice my (unknown) future for God's glory? What would it cost me to pray that His will be done at the expense of our nation's reputation, glory, and power? What is paramount--God's name or my comfort? And the queasy, questioning part of my heart asks, "Is that really necessary? Have we really gone that far? Isn't there more to be done?" Perhaps, yes. But I am convicted that my heart is not yet in the right place. This is not about God striking our nation with lightning or destructive force in response to my prayer as much as it is a question to my heart about what I value most. Do I honestly love Jesus Christ and His glory more? More than _____ (fill in the blank).

This, then, is a most unpopular--and deadly--prayer request. Not one of judgment or malice, but with a face bent down, knees on the ground, heart broken--after having done all, said all, prayed all, lived all, for His name and reputation, not my own. So I ask, "Is there an authenticity in my life that leads me to seek God at the risk of everything?" Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo gloria, Solo Christo, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide.... (By Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.)

I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:16-19)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The last week or two I have been more aware of the ugly stain of sin that resides in my heart and eventually eaks its way to the surface. Why I'm surprised, I don't know. What I do know is that shame and embarrassment are never far behind. How could I be so cruel? So insensitive? So harsh? So selfish?

As I've written before, other people don't determine what's right and wrong, but they can sure provide feedback that lets me know I'm out of line--or need to stop and think about what, why and how I'm doing/saying what I am.

In these moments I remind myself that the stinky sin in my heart--the murderous, lying, "I want it my way now," demands are always there, always lurking. They are not just things I do; they are who I am. They are me, sin is my instinctive choice and nature.I must own it.

But God. In grace, by His love and with His mercy, God covers it with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. He has canceled the written code against me--and it is deserved, all of it. Through Jesus, He atoned for my sin and made a way for me to be right with God. Yes, sin is present. Yes, it is part of who I am--for now--but it is losing. Its power has been stripped. Its future has been crushed . And I am in the process of being transformed, day by day, little by little .

Awareness of sin is a sign of God's grace. A dead person has no awareness of disease, wounds, hunger or thirst. There was a time I had no concept of my brokenness and desperate need. But now that I'm alive, I struggle with the areas of my mind and life that drag me down, that reveal my natural state, hurt others and grieve the Lord. Conviction of sin is a work of the Holy Spirit.

So when sin and shame eat at my thoughts, I am learning to examine my heart and mind, to confess and ask forgiveness from those I have wronged. I turn to reminders of God's love, grace, forgiveness and push on...hopefully with more humility, patience, kindness, compassion and lovingkindness than before. Because God is just that good--and Jesus is more than able.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:6-15 ESV)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

When I Can't Say "No"

How many times do you find yourself caught in a bind between two different things--good things--that you said, "yes," to? And how many times do you realize it's going to create a problem so you agree with fingers crossed behind your back? You said you would. You want to. Kind-of. Or feel like you should. So you hope and pray the conflict will work itself out before you have to.

Ugh. If you're like me, you hate, hate, hate that you got yourself in the situation to begin with, but you didn't know how to avoid it on the uptake.

The solution--although this is like one alcoholic talking to another--is simple but hard. Simple to understand in theory. Hard to do in practice.

I've spent the last few years memorizing the book of James, and it has a lot of practical application. Now that I've gotten to the end of it, these words keep smacking me up the side of the head: But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:12).

Did you catch that? He says, "But above all..." Here's a quick review of "all" the things he's referring to. Above being joyful in trials? More than withstanding temptation? More than not showing partiality or living by faith or guarding my tongue? More than living apart from selfish ambition, repenting of sinful desires, and not boasting in the future? More than not taking advantage of the poor, grumbling against other believers or looking for the day of the Lord? Umm. Wow. "Above all...." do what you say you're going to and don't do what you say you're not going to.

OK. Easily said, but how? Here are a few things I'm learning and trying to apply when I want to do it all (knowing I can't):

1. Consider my priorities. My first priority is to please God. My second is to help my husband. Then care for our children and home. After that I can think about work, ministry, extended family, and community obligations. If the opportunity doesn't fit my priorities, I need to say no. It's not wrong. It's actually right.

2. Ask myself why I'm hesitant to say "no." This is a hard one, but so very, very important. If my reason for saying no is because I'll let someone down, I've already lost the battle. I will let them down if I'm not doing things right. Honestly, my reason for wanting to say, "yes," is almost always about me. I want a pleasant outcome from our conversation. I want them to think happy thoughts about me, how nice I am, how capable I am, how wonderful I am...are you ready to throw-up? Do you see how it can spiral way out of "nice-world" into "me-world?"

3. Acknowledge my limits. If I didn't need to eat or sleep I could do it all, right? Wrong. And, the truth is, we all have limits. We have a limited amount of free time, a limited amount of energy, resources, and thinking ability. Lest we think it's a sin to say "no" because of limits, think of our Lord Jesus. He experienced those same limits in His earthly body. The One who existed from eternity past took on a human form that confined Him to real needs--the need to eat, to sleep, to rest, to relax, to submit to authority, to be in one place at one time.... To be like Jesus means to acknowledge my limitations and serve God with what I have. He is able to order my day. All I have to do is trust Him and ask (Psalm 90:12).

4. Determine the price I'm willing to pay. I might be able to squeeze it all in, but at what price? Will I put my husband and family in a tough spot, feeling like left-overs, just to win someone else's approval? (see point 2). The truth is that when my goal is to please God and live according to His Word and standard, I cannot begin to imagine the blessings. But I do that by remaining firm and following through with what I know is best, not what I want or feel in the moment.

Any standard besides God's standard is a straw man. It has no will or force of its own. It cannot mete out the rewards or consequences it promises/threatens. It has no teeth--other than self-inflicted ones. If my personal standard is one of efficiency and busy-ness, I will bear the burden and consequences. If my standard is financial comfort or influence, I will forfeit eternal blessings for temporary ones. By living according to my personal values--or the values of someone else--I compromise the most important, meaningful parts of my life. What do I stand to lose? A clear conscience before God, inner joy and peace, a thriving relationship with my husband and children, my health, personal finances, loss of opportunity, influence, sanity, respectability.

A life lived by faith is one that says, "no," based on an understanding of godly, biblical principles. Saying "no," means I trust God with the outcome. Yes, I really want to do it all. No, I don't want to let people down. Yes, I want to be liked, admired and trusted by others. But over and above it all, I want to trust God with my efforts, choices, lifestyle and heart attitude. I want to live the humble life of a servant, to be like Jesus, to depend fully and confidently in my Heavenly Father, knowing His gifts are best, they are eternal, they are good, they are abundant--just like Him.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 ESV)

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.
I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
    or his children begging for bread.
He is ever lending generously,
    and his children become a blessing.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
    and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
    his steps do not slip.

Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
    for there is a future for the man of peace.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
    the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.  (Psalm 37:3-9, 23-26, 30-31, 37-40)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Best Kept Secret

There are things we do, habits we form, ways of thinking and understanding our world that we take for granted. Since my mother-in-law moved in, we have discussions, assuming everyone thinks the same way we do when just between the two of us there are three opinions.

One of the best kept secrets--one of the things we say with our mouths and even agree with in our heads but don't actually believe--is that the Bible holds the secret to life. If we really, truly believed the Bible is directly from God, we'd pound it down first thing in the morning. We wouldn't make decisions without consulting it. We would want to know what it says that we don't know. We wouldn't gloss over the words or let it sit on the shelf untouched.

The truth is that we "know" it's important and good for us. We feel guilty when we think about how we "should" spend time reading and trying to understand it. But we never. quite. get. there. And, truth be told, sometimes, for a couple of days, we give it a go but the newness wears off, we don't quite get it and we fall back into living life.

Reading the Bible should be a conversation--God talks. We listen, We talk back. It's a circle. A conversation circle.

Here is some help for meaningful Bible reading. If you're not spending significant time getting to know God through His Word, you are missing out on the biggest part of your existence--one that will last for eternity.

1. The first thing my soul needs is an inclination to God and his word. Without that, nothing else will happen of any value in my life. I must want to know God and read his word and draw near to him. Where does that "want to" come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 119:36 teaches us to pray, "Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to gain."

2. Next I need to have the eyes of my heart opened, so that when my inclination leads me to the word I see what is really there and not just my own ideas. Who opens the eyes of the heart? God does. So Psalm 119:18 teaches us to pray, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law."

3. Then I need for my heart to be enlightened with these "wonders." I need to perceive glory in them and not just interesting facts. Who enlightens the heart? God does. So Ephesians 1:18 teaches us to pray "That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened."

4. Then I am concerned that my heart is fragmented and that parts of it might remain in the dark while other parts are enlightened. So I long for my heart to be united for God. Where does that wholeness and unity come from? From God. So Psalm 86:11 teaches us to pray, "O Lord, I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name."

5. What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of his Spirit in answer to my prayers is that my heart will be satisfied with God and not with the world. Where does that satisfaction come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 90:14 teaches us to pray, "O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days."

6. But I don't just want to be happy in my own little private world with God. I want my happiness to be as full as possible for spreading and expanding for others. I want to be strong in joy. This will make me durable in the face of threats or adversity. Where does that strength and durability come from? It comes from God. So Ephesians 3:16 teaches us to pray, "That God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man."

7. Finally, I want my strength in Christ to produce good deeds for others so that the glory of God will be seen in my life. Who produces these good deeds? God does. So Colossians 1:10 teaches us to pray, "That [we] will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord . . . bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

All this I pray "in Jesus' name," because God gives these things to my soul only because Jesus died for me and removed the wrath of God so that the Father might "freely give me all things" (Romans 8:32).

(From John Piper:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Danger of a Distant God

There is a sense among many Americans that God is there. He is real. Jesus died and rose again. And since I believe that, I'm a Christian.

How very, very dangerous.

As long as God is distant from my everyday choices and thoughts, He is manageable. I can appease Him with a certain level of moral living and keeping my nose clean, going to church occasionally (or, even better, regularly), and making healthy lifestyle choices. Sure, I have a bad day here and there--who doesn't?--at least I'm not going to hell...or so I think.

But something's missing. I'm not sure what. I'm not sure why. What I do know is that when things don't go my way I habitually fight or fly and feel like a coward, or worse, a failure. I see my inner evil but excuse it, ignore it, blame it on everyone else.

In my mind, God is there but distant. He knows. He sees. But Jesus died, so it's all good. Right?

No. Not right. Review the opening statements of this post: Do you believe God is real? That Jesus was a real man, the Son of God? That He died on the cross and rose again? That does not make you a Christian. That makes you a realist.

How? you ask. Think of it this way: Does Satan believe God is real? Yes. Does Satan believe Jesus is a real man, the Son of God? Absolutely. Does Satan know Jesus died on the cross and rose again? Of course. It's his living nightmare. Is Satan a Christian? Never. And he never will be. He is the enemy of the cross, the deceiver, the accuser of the brethren, a murderer and liar.

So what's the difference? I must believe Jesus died for my sin. I must acknowledge my failure and failing, throwing myself on the mercy of God because only He can save me. If I don't beg God to forgive me based on the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus for me, personally, I will bear my punishment in Hell for eternity. That sin is mine, really mine. I am responsible, broken, sinful, needy, unworthy. I cannot fix myself or make it go away. What I need is a God who is close, who not only forgives me but transforms me; a God who makes me a totally new person, inside and out. I can't live my old way of thinking and getting by. I have sold out to God. He is the only One with power and the ability to forgive. It's my way or His. And when I lay down my arms and surrender, I give myself wholly, freely, and completely to the God who made a way to restore and change me.

His good, His best for me, isn't stuff. It isn't happy moments or a sense of accomplishment and trophies on the wall. God's good, my best, is to look at life through His eyes. To see people and circumstances the way He does. To live life the way Jesus did. That is a God near by. That is a God who is intimate, who isn't afraid to get messy, who doesn't shy away from my failure and gross selfishness. This is the God who saves.

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:1-13