Where Will You Worship this Week?

Philip Yancey starts his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” with the following words, “I first got acquainted with Jesus when I was a child, singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Sunday school. Addressing bedtime prayers to “Dear Lord Jesus,” watching Bible Club teachers move cutout figures across a flannelgraph board. I associated Jesus with Kool-Aid and sugar cookies and gold stars for good attendance.”

To which my response was yes! That was exactly my experience too. His words made emotion well up within me. It brought long forgotten people, images, sights, and sounds back to me with startling clarity. And it made me incredibly grateful that I was raised in a church that brought me to a saving relationship with Christ.

The pastors, teachers, youth group leaders and mentors who invested time, and prayer and energy in me and gave me hugs – so many hugs – over the years made a vital impact on my life. Going forward for the children’s story, singing in the children’s choir, doing lock-ins with the youth group where we slept overnight in the church, and volunteering in the church nursery were all regular occurrences in my childhood and teen years.

These fond memories come from being raised in a small Baptist church in a small Iowa town. That church and those people had a profound and lasting impression on my growing up years and are a vital part of the person I am today.

Church attendance was not optional in the house where I grew up. It was expected and just a regular part of our weekly routine. I am so thankful for parents who modeled regular church attendance, small group Bible study, volunteering and the importance of the fellowship of other believers.   

How we spend our Sunday mornings matter. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Gathering as a body of believers allows us to grow deeper in our faith, use our spiritual gifts, increase our Bible knowledge, build community, give and receive accountability and fellowship with other believers.

We cannot get all that we need from watching television, listening to a podcast or reading a book in the privacy of our own home. All of those things are good but need to be our dessert – not the main course.

Matthew 18:20 tells us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This comes from gathering together in Christian community on a regular and committed basis. Church is about refining each other and having the opportunity to learn, grow, worship, pray, serve, support and encourage one other.

God is calling you to church. Don’t let excuses stand in your way. Find a Bible-teaching church that is a fit for you and for your family and commit to attending weekly. Meet the pastor, plug into the ministries and small groups that are available, strive to become part of the community. Precious Father – Please heal those who have suffered past wounds in a church setting or from other believers. May they feel your love, grace and direction. Thank you for a country that gives us the freedom to gather together as believers to study your Word and worship together. May we protect that right and never take it for granted. Amen.

The Prayer that Never Fails

There is a series of books* I particularly enjoy where the main character often says, “Let’s pray the prayer that never fails.” Four simple words that are making a huge difference for me in my current season of life (parenting adult children) and current state of mind (worried).

Those four words - THY WILL BE DONE - have become four life-changing, worry-releasing, sleep-enabling words.

Personally, I am finding that I worry more as the parent of adult children than I did when I was the parent of younger children. The decisions they make today are bigger and have bigger consequences. Those same decisions are more complicated and involve a lot of moving pieces.

I have recently become convicted that worry is a sin. When I worry I am basically saying that I do not trust the God of the universe to take care of the difficult situation or the bill coming due or the care needed for a loved one. I know that most of my worry and anxiety is caused by trying to figure it out on my own instead of releasing it fully into God’s hands.

Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . . .”

Isn’t this a goal we should all be striving towards? 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Matthew 6:25-34 has a lot to say about worry and God’s care for us ending with these words, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

When worries come I can find myself starting to spin. Getting more and more worried. Wandering down an endless rabbit trail of what if’s and worse case scenarios. When I make a choice to stop, pray and state out loud THY WILL BE DONE my worries become smaller and God becomes bigger and the rabbit trail – it becomes straighter.

Jesus said those words when he taught us how to pray in Matthew 6:10, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth. as it is in heaven.” He also used those words in Luke 22:42 when Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me. Yet, not my will, but yours be done.”

Precious Father, may we come to you as a people who are weary and burdened, knowing that you will give us rest. May our trust in you be large and our worries be small. And may we have the faith to say with utter conviction in every situation - THY WILL BE DONE. Amen.

*Father Tim in the Mitford Series books by Jan Karon. A great read!

Try Something New This Year

2018 is the year in which I turn 50 and celebrate 25 years of marriage. It is the year I will loose 50 pounds and I will try 50 things that I have never done before. It is a year to celebrate and a launch pad for the next 50 years (God-willing!)

I have no complaints about my first 50 years. I embrace it all – the victories and the defeats, the good hair choices and the bad, the wise choices and the poor. I just long, with a surprising intensity, for my next 50 years to be better than my first 50.

Less focused on me and more focused on others. Caring less about what others think and more about what pleases my Savior. Striving less for comfort and more for a life lived to the edge of all that I can be. Working harder to understand the viewpoint of others while becoming less rigid and certain about my own opinions.

I want to be more deliberate about the relationships in my life – old and new, family and friend, young and old. I want to surround myself with people of all ages who will open my eyes to their experiences and are willing to learn from mine. I want to pour into the life of the women who are younger than me and learn from the women who are older than I (Titus 2).

And I want always – and I mean always - to keep learning and growing and changing. Which brings me to the importance for all of us of trying and doing new things. For me, this year, that looks like a list compiled over the last couple of months of 50 things I have not done before. This is an important way for me personally to mark and celebrate turning 50.

It can be as simple as trying a new food, reading a new book or watching a new movie. The new things that you decide to try this year can stretch you physically – snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are on my list. It can stretch you mentally – taking a community ed class and learning to knit.  It can stretch you spiritually – serving at Community Emergency Services and reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

Whatever you choose to do I encourage you to get out of your house and into the world. To get off of your screens (computer, TV and phone) and experience more face-to-face. To get out of whatever rut you may be in and experience new and different things this year. We only get once shot. What will you do this year with the one wild and wonderful life you have been given?

Precious Father – May we trust in you with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways may we acknowledge you so that you will direct our paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6.) Amen.

Mary - The Third Wise Woman of Christmas

We conclude the three wise women with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Obviously the most important of the three women and by far the youngest. But both Anna and Elizabeth had an important role to play as well. Elizabeth was the mother of John who prepared the way for Jesus as well as being Mary’s confidante and mentor. Anna was the messenger who proclaimed the birth of the Messiah to all who would hear.

We meet Mary for the first time in Luke 1:26-28. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Who is this girl that is highly favored? A young teenager somewhere between the ages of 13 and 15 since that was the average marrying age of a girl in that time and that place. From the obscure town of Nazareth in the district of Galilee. A poor, uneducated girl who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb at the temple but instead offered 2 doves.

Luke 1:29 – 31 goes on to say, Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. Verses 32-37 explain how she will conceive as a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mary’s reply in Luke 1:38 is an example of complete submission and surrender to the will of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. With her answer Mary became the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms regardless of the cost. A cost that was high from the very beginning. As an unwed mother her reputation was ruined. She would have endured ridicule, scorn and judgement. A Jewish betrothal was much more binding than an engagement in modern times and could be broken only by divorce. Joseph had the right to accuse her of adultery, a crime punishable by death. By saying yes to God she was literally risking her life.

“Mary lived to see her Son mocked and ridiculed, spat upon, beaten with fists – and with whips. She saw His back ripped to ribbons, His brow bruised and bloody from the crown of thorns pressed into His flesh. She was there when a sword pierced His side – when He was nailed to a cross and condemned to a most brutal and humiliating death. She stood at the foot of the cross in total shock and utter disbelief. She watched Him die. Mary was also there three days later when the tomb was found empty, the stone rolled away.” Christin Ditchfield – The 3 Wise Women: A Christmas Reflection.

But as someone who was highly favored by God Mary trusted that God would meet her needs. The angel Gabriel tells her in Luke 1:36 – 37, Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. Scripture tells us that Mary hurried to Elizabeth. The only other person who could understand a miraculous pregnancy and divine intervention. To the one person who filled with the Holy Spirit would proclaim and confirm for Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. In verse 45 Elizabeth ends her proclamation by saying, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Mary gives us an example of someone who accepts Jesus on his own terms regardless of the cost. Someone who puts her complete trust in God and as a result was the chosen vessel to bear God’s holy Son. Someone who truly believed that nothing is impossible with God.

Lord, give us the courage of Mary to accept your Son no matter what. May we put our complete trust in you knowing that nothing is impossible for God. And may we live a life that is pleasing in your eyes. Amen

 

Elizabeth - The Second Wise Woman of Christmas

The second of the three wise women brings us to Elizabeth.Luke 1:5-7 says, 5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses. As descendants of Aaron they came from a long and prestigious line of priests. Considered righteous in the sight of God only two other people in scripture are described in this same way – Simeon who held the baby Jesus in the temple and Joseph, Jesus earthly father.  To Jews righteous meant faithful and serious in keeping all of God’s laws.

However, the next verse (they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive) tells us that they were not considered blameless and righteous to the people around them. In that culture at that time people believed that if you were barren it meant you were under divine punishment for some great sin. So Elizabeth would have lived a life filled with the suspicions and judgements of others. Not only that, but being barren was also considered grounds for divorce. If the husband chose to stay with his barren wife he could legally take another wife with which to have children.

And since “they were both very old” the hope of having a child had long since passed. Scholars place Elizabeth’s age somewhere between 71 and 99. For the sake of brevity I will sum up verses 8-23 since they are mostly about Zechariah and my focus is on Elizabeth. Zechariah had an encounter in the temple with an angel that literally left him speechless for about 9 months. Gabriel told him his prayers had been heard and that Elizabeth would bear him a son.

Luke 1:24-25 says, 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” In God’s perfect timing Elizabeth could not have become pregnant any sooner. Luke 1:17 tells us John was needed to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

In God’s great providence and care he brought together the only 2 women who could truly understand, comfort, and support each other. Luke 1: 39-44 unites Mary and Elizabeth at a key time in their pregnancies. One at the beginning still reeling from the shock, the other 6 months along.  39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. With these words Elizabeth became the first New Testament person to speak a prophetic word. What an amazing confirmation for Mary of all that the angel Gabriel had told her!

Verse 56 tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. During those three months a much older Elizabeth had the opportunity to pour into Mary’s life, to affirm Mary, to encourage her, to mentor her and to confirm the word of the Lord to Mary. And I have to believe that Mary was huge help to a pregnant mother of a very old age.

The last we hear of Elizabeth is in Luke 1:57-58, 57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

Elizabeth shows us the power of hope and waiting on the Lord, the value of a patient heart, and the importance of obedience to God.  She models a pouring out of one’s self into another’s life.

Lord, may we, like Elizabeth put our hope in you. May we be patient as we wait on your perfect timing. Help us to pour into a younger person’s life. And may we be obedient Lord to your commandments. Amen

 

Anna - The First Wise Woman of Christmas

Over the three weeks leading up to Christmas I am going to be take my annual look at the Three Wise Women of Christmas – Anna, Elizabeth and Mary. So much time and attention has been given to the wisemen over the years that we have overlooked a part of the Christmas story that has so much more to teach us about wisdom and bowing down to King Jesus.

To really look at the story we are going to go back 84 years before Jesus birth.  (Or by some accounts 106 years – 15 average marrying age + 7 years married + 84 years widowed.) That was when Anna, the prophetess, was born. She joins an elite group of women who are mentioned as prophets in scripture – Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and the daughters of Philip. Anna appears in only 3 verses of Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, and not at all in Matthew, but there is much we can learn from her.

Luke 2:36-38 says, “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

A widow in biblical times was particularly vulnerable and had no means of support. No children are mentioned so we can assume she had no one to care for her in her old age. To be a widow for so many years made her position even more precarious. Verse 37 tells us that she never left the temple. Herod’s temple had various rooms built into the outer walls and many believe that is where she lived, in a room built into the wall of the Courts of Women.

Verse 37 goes on to say that Anna worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. This is a women with a serious relationship with her Lord. A wise women who would have been allowed no farther than the Court of Women and who would have been well known to all of the younger women around her. One of the first biblical examples of a Titus 2 woman who would have trained the younger women in the ways of the Lord.

Anna had spent her entire life waiting for the birth of the Messiah. God’s timing had brought Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus into the temple and into Anna’s path. And when prompted by the Holy Spirit she did not hesitate “coming up to them at that very moment.” How different our lives would be if we, too, responded in immediate obedience!

It goes on to say that “she gave thanks to God.” Liz Curtis Higgs in her wonderful book The Women of Christmas says, “If we did this one thing – this one thing – it would change our lives and the lives of those around us forever. If we blessed God openly and regularly, if we gave him credit instead of taking it for ourselves, if the first thing that came to mind and mouth was glorifying his name, we too might catch a glimpse of the Christ, as Anna did when she broke into an anthem of praise to God.”

Verse 38 concludes by saying Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” The great good news of the birth of our Savior was too good to be kept to herself. Anna had spent 84 years of her life serving, worshiping, praying and fasting. She had built a reputation that would have put weight behind her words and caused all who heard to listen.

What an amazing example Anna is to all of us! She gives us an example of a person who is steadfast, totally devoted to God, obedient when he calls, thanking God in all things. A person who did not let age or circumstances sidetrack her from God’s call on her life.

Lord, may we be more like Anna. May we be prompt in our obedience and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. May we give thanks and praise to you in all things. And may we be a living testimony of your love and power to those around us. Amen

A More Peaceful Holiday Season

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is fast approaching. I am already starting to feel the stress of all that needs to happen in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I did the frantic, exhausted, running non-stop holiday race for too many years before I wised up, slowed down and got my priorities in order.

This blog is going to be a little different as I share practical ideas that have put Christ back into Christmas and given myself and my family a more peaceful holiday season.

1.) Start your day by reading the story of Jesus birth found in Matthew and Luke. Add an advent devotion to your morning routine. I work my way through Ann Voskamp’s book “The Greatest Gift of Christmas: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” each year.

2.) Attend church every Sunday. Listen to some great sermons that bring the nativity to life week by week and character by character. Fellowship with other people and sing some classic Christmas carols. Attend the children’s program (even if your kids are not in it) or a choir concert (even if you do not know anyone singing).

3.) Do a family movie night once a week. No matter what age or stage your children are pick an agreed upon night, put on your jammies and pop some popcorn. We like the classics like Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife and It Happened on 5th Avenue. Maybe your tastes run more to Home Alone & Christmas Vacation. The movie is not the point – time together and creating traditions is - with friends if you are single, with your spouse or other couples as empty nesters, or with your kids happily tucked in beside you.

4.) Encourage other people out of the abundance that God has given you. It could be with your time or with your resources. It could be as quick as a text or card in the mail or as long as an afternoon of free babysitting for a young mom in your neighborhood who would delight in the opportunity to Christmas shop alone.

Here are a couple of simple, inexpensive ideas to consider. Do a “Countdown to Christmas” for someone that needs encouragement. Wrap 5 little numbered gifts (book, candle, gift tags, favorite spice, fuzzy socks etc.) for a friend who is struggling in some way. Which gives them one gift to open each day with an encouraging word in the 5 days leading up to Christmas.

The “Magic Soup Bowl” is a great gift to give to a friend, family member or neighbor. Each Sunday during the month leading up to Christmas (or the 4 weeks following Christmas) make a large crockpot of soup. Refill a 6-cup Tupperware bowl each week with a different soup. This gives the recipient 2 to 3 servings to enjoy on different days.

Whatever you decide to do and however you choose to spend the time leading up to Christmas I pray that this year would be a more peaceful, God-centered holiday season for you and your family.

When You Feel Unseen

“I am going to share something that is probably going to make me cry. I don’t want to talk about it. I just need you to pray.” And so, gathering all my courage and not making eye contact, I said the following to my Bible Study ladies. “I am lonely and feel completely unseen in every area of my life.  Could you please pray that I would find a friend?”

And with those words I started crying and fled to the kitchen of the home where we were meeting. Sharing those words out loud made me realize several things with sudden and startling clarity.

1,) I was believing a lie and was allowing emotion to rule my thoughts and actions. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” My daughters leaving for college, my husband’s increased work load, and the fact that I work from home had left me feeling lonely and off-balance.

And the great deceiver took quick advantage of that chink in my armor. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

2.) Everyone feels like this some of the time.  Sharing how I felt allowed others to share similar feeling they have had in the past or were currently feeling. We all move so fast that we are guilty of not seeing the people around us. A sad, but true fact of our current culture is that we can spend an hour on Facebook but cannot find an hour to spend with a friend.

3.) It takes courage to share the hard stuff but in doing so our load is lightened. Shining light on how I was feeling allowed me to stop living in a place of emotion and start operating from a place of truth and logic instead. God created us for relationship with him and with each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us that two are better than one.

4.) We are always seen by God. In Genesis Hagar calls God El Roi – the God who sees. In Matthew 10:29 – 31 Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside of the Father’s will. And even the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” In the midst of a crowd Jesus saw Zachaeus in a tree. In the midst of all of our crazy and busy Jesus sees us as well.

Precious Father – Forgive us when we are too busy for relationship with you and with the people around us. Open our eyes to see the people we come in contact with. Help us to be the friend to others that we long to have ourselves. And help us to operate through the screen of your truth and not our emotions. Amen.

Under His Wings You Will Find Refuge

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4. This is one of my favorite metaphors in the Bible. I am reminded of this verse each day when I drink tea from my favorite cup covered in hand drawn feathers and when I write this verse each week on my calendar as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

The metaphor of God protecting and caring for his people in the shelter of his wings is first used in Deuteronomy 32:10-11. “In desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.”

We see this image again when Boaz is speaking to Ruth in Ruth 2:12. “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Again we see the allusion to birds which cover their young with their wings, and in doing so keep them warm, comfortable, sheltered and protected.

David uses the metaphor of God’s wings several times in the Psalms. He asks for the protective outreach of God’s power from his enemies in Psalm 17:8. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings." This bring to mind birds who often cover their young ones with their wings to save them from birds of prey.

In Psalm 36:7 David says, “How precious is your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Think of this as a word picture of a hen that gathers her chicks under her wings and protects them in time of danger. It expresses both the paternal affection of God to his people as well as his protection of them.

Psalm 57:1 was written by David when he fled from Saul in the cave. “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

David writes in Psalm 61:4, “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”

In Psalm 63:7 David rejoices, “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy." He knew that under the protecting power of God he was safe and, therefore, had reason to rejoice. Think of the chirping of chicks happy, safe, warm and secure under the wing of the mother hen.

And finally, in Luke 13:34, Jesus himself brings up the wing metaphor on the Tuesday of Passion week. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

Precious Father – Thank you for the opportunity to study your word. Thank you for timeless metaphors that help us to understand you better. May we take refuge in the shelter of your wings Lord. Amen.

God's Justice Will Prevail

Writing this blog today feels like a huge weight sitting on my chest. The weight of a hard topic and the burning desire to offer hope to a hurting world. The responsibility to do it well, to represent God’s word accurately, is completely overwhelming me right now.

Because I feel so passionately about this I am just going to state what I believe and share the supporting verses afterwards. Our God is a just and powerful God. Victorious in all circumstances. Evil may appear to win for the moment. But Satan was already defeated on the cross when Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. God is the final judge who decides who spends eternity in heaven and who spends eternity in hell.

Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and truth go before you.” This means righteousness and justice are the firm basis on which God is immovably fixed. It is not only that God is a just God but that he is justice itself.

If the average man lives to be 80, it is a drop in the bucket to the eternal timeline of our souls. Looking at today’s headlines it might appear that evil is winning or that evil people are going unpunished. Looking through God’s Word we know that is simply not true. Those feelings . . . that belief . . . is just another ploy of Satan as the great deceiver to keep us feeling defeated and discouraged.

Unrepentant crime of every stripe and color does not go unpunished in God’s economy. Sometimes we are given the gift of God’s justice carried out swiftly here on earth. But sometimes – often times – it seems we must trust in an unseen God to make it right in the end.

2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” All of us will one day stand before God and be held responsible for the actions we took and the choices we made while on earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge (Psalm 50:6).

Romans 12:19-21 tells us: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. This is a comforting truth to someone who has been deeply hurt by someone else’s sin. I wish I could stop at verse 19 because the next part of this passage seems impossible in our human weakness.

 Verse 20 - On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Certainly not something we can do in our own power out of our own hurt. However, Luke 1:37 tells us nothing is impossible with God.

And finally, in verse 21, the passage concludes with “Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good.” We have a choice. To live victorious through the power of a righteous, just and almighty God or live defeated by the schemes, plots and deceptions of Satan. Which will you choose today and in the days to come?

 

Iron Sharpens Iron

Genuine honesty among friends can be difficult, yet, it is what we most need. We fear putting our relationship at risk, upsetting our friend, adding to the problem, or being seen as judgmental. Too often we take the easy way out because it is easier to just not “go there.” Which in the long run will only make the situation worse and the friendship more distant.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” What does this look like played out among friends? And what is our role in speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to the people around us?

There is a mutual benefit in the rubbing of two iron blades together. As the knives are sharpened, they become more efficient in their task to slice and to cut.  A knife that has been sharpened will also shine more brightly since all the dullness has been removed from its surface. A dull blade still works - but much less effectively.

We were created for relationship with Christ and with other Christ-followers. Gill’s Exposition of the Bible says it this way, “Christians sharpen each other’s graces, or stir up each other to the exercise of them, and the gifts which are bestowed on them, and to love and to good works.”

I am an encourager by nature. When someone is hurting I want to fix it or at least help them to dry their tears and feel better about the situation and about themselves. I will make every effort to make someone I love feel better. We all need encouragers in our life, but we also need those who know us well enough to speak hard truths into our lives.

There are times when I should have spoken up with a different thought than that of the friend group gathered together. Times when I needed to say hard things with love and hope that a friend could receive them. Times, most especially, when I needed to seek God earnestly in prayer, to know if and what to say or if I should just remain silent.

Too often fear kept me silent (see reasons in paragraph 1). And I guess you could say a lack of courage. I know I use this verse a lot in my writing, but I find it to be a total game changer. God did not give me a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). The opposite of fear and timidity is courage and boldness which we need to use to speak the truth in love.

Precious Father – Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25). May we seek your will to know when to speak the truth in love and may we be iron that sharpens iron to the people around us. Amen.

God is Faithful

To state the obvious – things are tough right now for many people in many ways. The reality is -everybody’s got stuff. We live in a broken world with broken people who are either hurting someone else or being hurt much of the time. And when bad things inevitably happen - we have a choice – to lean in to God or to pull away from God.

I have done both. Of the two – leaning into God has always been the better choice. God created us for relationship with him. Not just for the joy-filled “Thank you Jesus” days but for the weeping on your knees, “Help me Jesus” days, as well.

The answers we seek, the patience we need, and the comfort we crave are waiting for us within the pages of God’s Word. I want to encourage you to open your Bible and before reading pray Psalm 40:8 and Psalm 25:5. “I desire to do your will, O my God; help me to place your law within my heart. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

We need to pause and look back at God’s faithfulness in our past when we cannot see or when we doubt his faithfulness in our current circumstances. God is faithful. He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Look back at answered prayers. Ask God to call to mind the times he answered just as you asked as well as the times that he answered with what he knew you actually needed.

Partly it becomes a matter of trust. Do we believe that God’s Word is true? Verses like Romans 8:28 which says, “God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” The hard part is realizing we do not have all the pieces and cannot see how our current circumstances play into God’s bigger plan. It is finally realizing that it is not all about us, but it is about God’s greater purpose over time.

Romans 8:28 was first brought to my attention during a very difficult time in my life when I desired a very specific outcome. I grabbed hold of that verse with both hands believing that the outcome I was earnestly seeking was good, and right, and just and that he would surely agree and work it for his good. When that did not happen, it made me question everything I thought I knew and believed about God.

They say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back now - from a safer distance - I can see that I am the person I am today because of the difficult circumstances I have faced and because of a faithful God who has never left me nor forsaken me.

If you are hurting and exhausted right now - take heart. God is faithful. He can take your anger and your tears. Grab hold of him with both hands and no matter how tough it gets – never let go.

Precious Father – Thank you that because of your great love, we are not consumed. Thank you that your compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lord, you are my portion. Help me to wait on you (Lamentations 3:22-24). Amen.

Living an Intentional Life

I did not blog last week because I was in the middle of reaching my goal to visit all 50 states before I turn 50. Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire were my last 3 before my birthday in March. It felt amazing to reach that goal and it was fun to share it with the people I met along the way who asked why I was visiting their state.

People had lots of questions. Most wanted to know when I set the goal and how long I had been working on it. I was somewhere around 40 when I realized I had been to 30 some odd states. If I was intentional, I realized I could visit the remaining states over the next 10 years.

Which brings me to my new favorite buzzword “intentionality.” Apparently, the college our daughters attend use this word a lot as in “build intentional community” or “show intentionality in the choice of a study abroad program.”

This word resonates with me. My live can too often move too fast and be too full to make intentional/deliberate decisions. Swept away by a packed schedule and too many demands on my time, resources and energy I sometimes land at Point B when I meant to land squarely at Point A.

The life I want to lead cannot happen without intentionality. Starting each day in God’s word means getting up earlier and finding a place to read and journal each morning. Losing weight means attending Weight Watchers meetings once a week and counting my points. Getting physically fit means walking around the lake when I would rather be sitting. Building relationships means setting time aside each week for actual phone conversations and the occasional face-to-face time.

Since God created us “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). And since our time on earth is finite and known only to God. And since we need to make the most of the time we are given. We need to live a life that is intentional.

Intentional in our relationship with God. In Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” God created us for relationship with him. And as with any relationship it takes time and energy to grow. Time spent daily in his Word. Time in community fellowship with other Christians on a weekly basis. Time in talking to and listening to God.

Intentional in our relationship with others. In verse 39 of Matthew 22 it goes on to say - And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus himself modeled the importance of friendships while on earth. He had a tight inner circle (Peter, James and John), closer friends (12 disciples, Mary, Martha & Lazarus), and an outer circle (Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, Roman Centurion).

And intentional in seeking and following God’s will for our lives. Jeremiah 29:13 tells us that we will find God when we seek him with all our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In what areas are you already being intentional? And in what areas do you need to be more intentional? The next thing I am going to be intentional about? Doing 50 new things in my 50th year that I have never done before!

Precious Father – Thank you for each day that you grant us. May we use it build relationship with you and with the people around us. Amen.

We Are Here "For Such a Time as This"

Headlines scream, hearts harden, people die. Another day dawns and it is more of the same. What used to be shocking is starting to seem more commonplace. We barely take in one disaster (caused by Mother Nature or by man) before another one pushes it off the front page. Overwhelmed, we too often turn away or sink into a pit of despair searching out every morbid and graphic detail that emerges.

Looking at all that is going on around us the only balm, the only center, that makes any sense at all is Jesus. In the midst of chaos - we need to find our calm in Christ. In the midst of feeling helpless – we need to plug into the power, love and self-discipline that is ours through the Holy Spirit. In the mist of hopelessness - we need to find our hope in the creator of the universe, the one true God.

In the midst of feeling like one person cannot make a difference - we need to remember that we were placed on the earth “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) God placed Esther, an orphan and a commoner, in the king’s household at just the right time to save the entire Jewish race.

God brought me out of a debilitating addiction to pornography when women most needed to hear the truth about the damage books and films like 50 Shades of Grey bring to women, families, and marriages.

You are not here by mistake. I am not here by mistake and neither are the people around us. We are here for a reason and we have a job to do. It is time – past time - to rise up and be the hands and feet of Christ that this world so desperately needs. Time to step out of “too busy” into a life of purpose and direction that benefits others and not just ourselves. Time to use the spiritual gifts God gave us to serve a hurting church and a hurting world. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

And as trite as it sounds it is definitely time to be part of the solution and not the problem. Time to get off of Facebook and into our communities building real relationships face to face. Time to volunteer our time and resources to help us others who are less fortunate than ourselves. Time to see serving others as an opportunity instead of an inconvenience.

Time to seek God earnestly with all that is within us. With humility, with a contrite heart, on our knees. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

If you are not sure what your talents and spiritual gifts are – find out. There are lots of books, online surveys, and resources available to do this. If you do not know where you can volunteer to help others – find out. Ask other people or do online research to find organizations who strive to offer solutions to the many problems our world faces today.

What are we waiting for? Our time on this earth is finite. God placed us on this earth for “such a time as this.” Let’s make it count!

Precious Father – We come to you today with hearts broken by the pain and evil that seems rampant in our world. Please help us to be your hands and feet to a hurting world. Thank you for the talents and spiritual gifts you have given us. May we use them for your glory and for your kingdom. Amen.

When Evil Becomes Visible

I went to bed last night with an anxious and confused heart and woke up feeling defeated. Defeated over all the hurt, and pain, and evil that is rampant in our world. Discouraged and frightened by the harm that one human being can deliberately do to another. Wanting justice in so many situations when none seems forthcoming.

If my hope were not in God I could become stuck right here. Part of the problem instead of the solution. Hopeless instead of hopeful. Living in defeat instead of victory. Seeing only bad in others instead of the good. Growing bitter instead of growing better. Living in fear instead of stepping out in courage.

When bad things happen, when evil becomes visible, when our hearts seize and our stomachs roll we can get stuck repeatedly asking “why?” Part of not just surviving but thriving in the hard stuff means changing the question. I think the more important questions that we need to ask are “what can God teach me through this?” Or “what does God want me to learn in this hard thing?” And “how can I use this experience to help others?”

To land in the muck of all these negative feelings I made a lot of mistakes over a short period of time. My first mistake was in going to bed without spending time in prayer giving all of my concerns over to God. The stuff happening around me is big. Big enough that I should have put a pillow on the floor beside my bed and prayed on my knees until I could truly give all my concerns over to the Almighty God.

My second mistake was in not seeking comfort in the promises of God’s Word. Not last night before I went to bed and not first thing this morning which is how I usually start my day. This brings me to my third (and most embarrassing) mistake – starting my day on Facebook reading a whole bunch of fearful, judgmental, uninformed comments surrounding one of the situations that has disturbed me deeply.

So in a world where truth is up for grabs and Fakebook is considered more reliable than the evening news here are some eternal truths to grab hold of with both hands and never let go:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world! – John 16:33

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 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 8:35, 37-39

Precious Father – In a world that is unstable may we find our stability in you. In a time that needs to see a visible God at work may we be your hands and feet. When we feel that all is hopeless may we find our hope in you. And when we feel frightened help us to remember that you did not give us a spirit of timidity but of power, love and self-discipline. Amen.

Faith, Hope & Love

In my daily Bible Study I am working my way through Paul’s letter to various churches in the New Testament. One of my favorite things about these letters is the way that he opens them and the way that he closes them. In his greetings to and descriptions of various people I am convicted with the desire for God to manifest these traits in me as well.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 is one such example - “We always thank God for you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In breaking these verses down what does it mean when our work is produced by faith? James 2:17 tells us that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Conversely, then, we need to strive for a living and vibrant faith that produces action. Action that helps others, rights wrongs, and allows us to work as the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting world.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 shares the hope that our God may count us worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of ours and every act prompted by our faith.

What would it look like if our labor was also prompted by love? The three words faith, hope and love are used together throughout the New Testament. The most recognized verse is probably 1 Corinthians 13:13 – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

It is because of God’s love for us that he sent his Son. It because of the Son’s love for us that he was willing to die on the cross. It is because of our love for God that we need to be prompted to labor/action. Love needs to be the foundation beneath every move we make and action we take.

And finally, what would endurance look like if it were inspired by our hope in our Lord Jesus Christ? Hope is not wishful thinking based on our needs and desires but an unshakeable confidence in Jesus and eternal life.

Titus 1:2 describes, “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” When our hope is in God and the promise of eternal life we are able to endure much more than if our hope is in someone or something else.

Precious Father, help us to draw near to you with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. Help us to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Thank you that you who promised are faithful. Lord, may we spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Amen (Hebrews 10:22-24)

Hitting the Reset Button

Imagine with me that the arrival of fall brings an opportunity to hit the reset button. Gather your courage and reach out and push it. What are you choosing to reset in your life? A challenging relationship, some unhealthy choices, a habitual sin, a difficult circumstance? Or perhaps something more along the lines of the hours you sleep, the schedule you keep and the food you eat.

Sometimes we have the privilege of resetting by choice. Yesterday I chose to start counting my Weight Watchers points, hydrating and walking around the block. And sometimes the choice to reset is not ours but happens anyway. Last Monday I had gall bladder surgery which automatically reset my entire week.

And sometimes we are just stuck and feel completely unable to hit or even find the reset button. The path leading to “stuck” looks like something different for you than it does for me. But for some of us it looks like an inability to let go of past sin.

Logically, if we have a saving relationship with Christ, we know that we are forgiven when we ask. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sons, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

But emotionally we can get stranded in the guilt and shame. Rehearsing and dwelling on past sins over and over and over again. Getting stuck in the past instead of moving forward. This was an area I struggled with for a lot of years. I knew in my head that I was truly forgiven for poor choices in my past but my emotions were a different matter.

God in his graciousness led me to Paul’s writing in Philippians 2:13b-14 when I was young in years and young in the faith. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

This is where study notes in our Bible can come in handy. Forgetting in this verse does not mean losing all memory of our sinful past but leaving it behind us knowing that it is done with and settled once and for all because we have confessed our sin and been forgiven.

God supplies the resources we need to press on toward the goal of relationship with Christ and eternal life. When you hit the reset button this fall I hope part of starting again for you includes time in God’s Word on a daily basis, forgiving yourself for past mistakes, and being in community with other believers.

Precious Father – Thank you that you are the God of second chances. Thank you for creating us to be in relationship with you. May we have the courage this fall to hit the reset button on areas of our life that need improvement. And may we seek your will and follow your lead as we strive to make it happen. Amen.

A Prayer For Our Students

We dropped both our girls at college over the weekend. So. Very. Hard. One will be a freshman, the other a junior. As part of the parent orientation for families with incoming freshmen the college where they attend does a Service of Blessing & Dedication on the last night for the parents. Powerful. Needed. So comforting.

Regardless of what age or what school your child is attending, I thought it was a great Prayer of Commitment to pray over our children as they head to school this fall so I have included it below.

We are your children.

We praise you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.

We praise you for body, soul and mind, but above all for your never-ending love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.

We praise you for rescuing us, claiming us as your own, filling us with your Holy Spirit. You empower us to live a life worthy of our calling.

We thank you for the children you have entrusted to us.

They have been your gifts to our families, our community, and this school.

We have cherished them, nurtured them, and learned from them.

Now we commit them to you as they begin their studies.

Hold them close to yourself, sustain them with joy and strength for their work, and use their gifts for the common good.

May they hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest your Word.

May they come to know themselves – their nature, gifts and callings, for Christ and His Kingdom.

Teach them Lord, to see that the whole world is the theater of your Glory.

Teach them Lord, to shun what is evil and to cling to what is good.

Teach them Lord, whether in word or deed, to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

We humbly pray you will so guide and govern them by your Spirit that in all the cares and occupations of study and life at (name of school), they may not forget you, but always remember to walk with you; through Jesus Christ, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever.

Amen.

Stretching the Umbilical Cord

What changes will your family face as you head into fall? The end of maternity leave, a toddler starting preschool, a child starting all-day kindergarten? Or perhaps a tween heading to middle school, a teenager heading to high school, a young adult heading to college? Or maybe, like us, it might be the last of your children leaving home with the impending empty nest looming largely right in front of you?

When our first daughter left for college 2 years ago I began to read books on the subject as I am prone to do when I face any life change. Many of these books discussed things like “letting go” or “breaking the ties that bind.” Concepts, that frankly, made me uncomfortable and only increased the pain, anxiety – and yes grief – that I was feeling at the time.

A concept that felt much more comfortable and has worked for our family was that of stretching the umbilical cord. It made us, as parents, feel better. And verbalizing it to the one who was leaving home definitely made them feel better.

In practical ways, this meant regular communication with our college freshman. Not just texts but regular phone calls and a scheduled, once-a-week facetime as a family. It meant sending a card every Tuesday with words of encouragement and a Bible verse. It takes all of 10 minutes but makes such a difference to the one checking their mailbox each week – never underestimate the power of the written word to a loved one!

Stretching the umbilical cord also means giving them the freedom to make their own decisions – good and bad. Giving them the opportunity to fail. Swallowing the tears when they choose to spend breaks somewhere that does not include you. Biting your tongue when they make choices you do not agree with. Encouraging independence in every way - including financially. Standing firm in the choice not to call or email the school, professors or administrators. Letting your student set their own appointments, buy their own books, schedule their own classes, figure out how to get home over break (you get the idea).

There is a ceramic plaque on my kitchen counter that personifies the idea of stretching the umbilical cord to me. On the top it says FAMILY. Across the bottom are the words ROOTS*WINGS. Down one side it says A STURDY BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE. Down the opposite side it says A STRONG LINK TO THE PAST. The graphic is a tree reaching upward and its roots reaching down and twining through words like: love, home, blessing, refuge, support, hugs, mercy, guide, treasure, grace, sanctuary, mistakes, forgiveness, encourage, trust, tears, and laughter.

Thank God for the laughter. Last night I came home from work to a stressed out and frustrated daughter who is leaving for college tomorrow and needed to calm down in order to get a good night’s sleep. I suggested a walk which took us 4 blocks south to a neighborhood park where we jumped on the swings in the dark. She is 20 now, this daughter of mine, a woman in her own right who, thank you Jesus, still wants to spend time with me.  Seeking my love, my encouragement, my wisdom, my hugs and yes, shared laughter as we soared into a perfect summer night on a swing set built for 2. The umbilical cord has stretched, as it should, but it has not broken.

Precious Father – Thank you for the gift of family. Please give us, as parents, wisdom and discernment as our children take the next step whether to preschool or to college. Help us to trust you with their past, their present and their future Lord. Amen.

We Are the Sum of Our Parts

We are the sum of our parts. Our family of origin, our childhood experiences, the schools we attended, the friends we made. Shaped by our choices and the choices of others. So many choices - single or married, faithful or unfaithful, children or childless. Affected strongly by the lives around us and sometimes, even more strongly, by the deaths. We are expanded by the good and struggle against being refined by the bad.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.“ What does trouble look like for you today? And more importantly, what are you doing with the trouble that has found you (or that you went out and found - as was the case with my pornography addiction)?

When trouble came in the form of my porn addiction I did not handle it well. I allowed the secret, the shame, and the guilt to trap me in an endless cycle of addiction and isolation. I did not talk to a trusted friend or seek professional help. I did not confess to my husband or ask him for forgiveness and accountability. I did, however, allow the addiction to taint my relationship with everyone around me. I did believe the lie that a porn addict was who I was and would always be. I did build a wall brick by brick, sin by sin between me and God.

With distance, what I have come to realize is that the addiction – it is not who I am it is just a part of who I am. Taking the analogy that my life is a book – it is just one chapter.  Or if my life is a puzzle that is being pieced together day by day, year by year, experience by experience – it is only one piece. OK, maybe 10 pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle - but you get the idea.

Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I love the wording of this verse. It does not say we hope, or we wonder, or we think but instead it says we KNOW. And not in some things but in ALL things which I take as a very literal all. There is nothing that God cannot work for his good.

It takes courage to share our troubles with the people around us. But it is by standing in the truth that we are set free for God to do his very best work in us and through us. Shining light on the dark places and telling the truth allows the healing to begin. It allows us the privilege of coming alongside someone else down the road who experiences similar troubles. It allows us to be set free from the tangled web of guilt and shame that entrap us. It allows God to work good from bad things.

Precious Father – Thank you that we are the sum of our parts. That we are a story still being written. Give us the courage to turn the page and face whatever the next chapter may bring. May we find rest and peace in your word, your promises and your presence Lord. Amen.