Month: January 2014

Ever Have One of Those Days?

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock
 and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:1-2

Ever have “One of those days”? Surely you have. If you haven’t had one recently, get ready. It’s coming. Yesterday was one of those days for me. I finished up a taxing workday, picked up my daughter from school, and we made the thirty-minute commute home.  I dropped my daughter at home and headed to the grocery store. We were out of everything. Cat food. Shampoo. Milk. Other things. I had to go.

While I was at Wal-Mart, I decided to go ahead and do the regular grocery run so I wouldn’t have to go back. So by the time I made it up to the checkout lines, my cart was pretty full. It was then that I took a peek at my phone and noticed two missed calls from my best friend. Hmm. I wondered what she wanted. I called her. She didn’t answer.

Then it hit me. She was supposed to pick me up and we were going to ride together to a women’s dinner and meeting for church. I was, at that moment, supposed to be home and dressed in a cute outfit waiting for her to pick me up. I was not supposed to be standing in the middle of Wal-Mart with a buggy full of groceries.

Oh my.

The weight of the day and the full impact of my mistake overtook me. I lost it right there in the middle of Wal-Mart.

Then my phone rang. It was my friend. “You forgot, didn’t you?”

Of course I forgot.

“I’m so sorry!” I cried.

“It’s okay. I should have called and reminded you today.”

This is why she is my best friend. If she was mad at me, she didn’t let it show. I told her to go on without me, and I would come late. Awesome.

Suddenly there was no checkout line with fewer than five people waiting. No way was I going to get out of there in less than thirty minutes. I could leave my cart and go on home, but I really needed the groceries. So I made a decision. I went for the self-checkout lines.

With a full cart of groceries.

I was a machine. I was a crying machine, but I was a machine. I scanned all my groceries, bagged them, and was headed out the door in ten minutes. I sped home, my darling kids unloaded my van, and I flew upstairs to change into my cute outfit. Still crying.

I’m not usually such a crybaby, but it had been one of those days. My sweet husband hugged me and let me cry on his shoulder, but I just didn’t have time for much consoling. I had to go!

I threw on my cute outfit, put on some really snazzy high heels, and repaired my makeup. I wrote down the directions from my computer to the house where I was going, and flew out the door. Without my cell phone.

Or a coat.

I made it to my destination in record time, and I was only thirty minutes late. Not too bad. Only in my haste to write down the directions, I didn’t write down the house number. No problem, I told myself. There was going to be about thirty cars parked out in front of the house where I was going. I couldn’t miss it.

Yes, well…

It just so happened that the house I was looking for was on a cul-de-sac, the homes were set back from the road a good bit, and there were no streetlights. There were cars parked everywhere. It was dark and I couldn’t tell which house to go to. I eeny-meeny-miney-moed it and chose a house.

I hobbled up the long driveway in my snazzy shoes, climbed the steps, and rang the bell. It was literally less than freezing, and I had no coat. I could see inside and knew immediately that I was at the wrong house. I saw no ladies through the window, and heard no laughter. Not the right house. Still, a nice man came to the door and was happy to direct me to the correct house. It was the one just next to his with the really long driveway. I was really regretting my shoe choice then.

I hobbled back down his steps and driveway, and hobbled up the next driveway. In the dark. Shivering in my snazzy heals. The whole way, I argued with Jesus about why I hadn’t just stayed home. I was late. My feet hurt. I was surely going to catch pneumonia, and it had been one of those days!

I climbed the steps to a beautiful home, and the front door stood just a little ajar. Before I got to the top step, I could hear the laughter and the voices of the beautiful women inside. I pushed open the door and walked inside. One of the first faces I saw was that of my best friend, who hugged me hard, ‘cause she knew I had been having one of those days. I wasn’t crying anymore, though. I made my way to the hostess to apologize for my tardiness, and she met me with all the grace of a woman who has had one of those days, too.

The night was wonderful. The women in that home were some of the godliest women I have met, and the spirit in that place lifted me and set me back on high ground. You see, that’s how it goes when we have one of those days. When our feet get stuck in the muck and mire of this world and we can’t see a way out, when we cry out to God, he hears our cry. He lifts us up and places us where we can stand again.

Your Focus Needs More Focus

There is little, if any, direct Biblical evidence that if you press in closer to the Lord, either by committing to the spiritual disciplines, or by stepping up and serving him in a new and influential way, that you will suffer attacks from the enemy. I looked. I looked because it is something that I hear quite often, and while it sounds plausible, I want to make sure that what I believe is based in fact. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” sounds good, but that’s not in the Bible either.

What the Bible does say is that in this world we will have trouble. So it’s a guarantee. Christians will face trouble. (John 16:33)

Furthermore, the Bible says that when we suffer for the cause of Christ, we should count that suffering as joy. (James 1:2) We will suffer.

The Bible also says, that our enemy prowls the earth like a lion, seeking whom he may destroy. (1Peter 5:8)

And then there is the passage about putting on the whole armor of God.  

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:10-12

So taking all that evidence into consideration, here we go…

Let’s just pause and think this through. If I were the enemy, I might look at my opponents, and in deciding whom to attack first, would likely try to take out the opponent who was causing me the most trouble. Why would I bother with my adversaries that were not moving things along that work against me? I might keep an eye on them, just to make sure they continue in their apathy, but I would mount my attack against the ones who are really stirring up problems for me.

So while I did not find a verse saying something like, “If you step up your faith game and start making a difference for the Kingdom of God, look out—the devil is going to come after you,” it is plausible that it does work that way.

Why do I think this? Because it happens to me every time I decide to press in and step up my faith game.

Every.

Time.

With so much regularity, in fact, that on Sunday’s when my pastor prays with people to receive Christ, I always peek to see who raises their hands. I pray, immediately, for the hands I can see. Because I know, they have just gotten the attention of the enemy. I know trials are coming. Great joy is coming, too, but challenges will follow any significant decision for Christ.

I recently agreed to step up my commitment to serve in leadership in my church. I knew. I did. I knew the attacks would come, and they did. Not even one week later. Interestingly enough, the attacks had nothing to do with my commitment at church. They hit in a completely different area of my life.

Distraction. It was a distraction. A diversion. Anything to keep my focus off of the new commitment I had made to God to serve him more. Now while I know full well what is going on, and I am doing my level best to call it out for what it is, I still have to walk through the trials at hand.

The enemy is good at distracting us from where our focus should be. He is the best deceiver. He pulls our attention from where we can do the most damage to his progress, and pulls our focus in a direction that will tie us up and prevent us from being all we can be for the kingdom.

So what do we do?

Focus.

We have to focus. Or re-focus. Or in the words of Mr. Han from the movie, “The Karate Kid”-

“Your focus needs more focus.”

It’s not easy. If you think it is, ask Job of the Old Testament. Talk about distractions! Job was living a life that honored the Lord, and because he was setting such a great example of pressing in and following God, he came under attack. Job lost everything. Everything but that nagging wife! But Job continued to honor the Lord, even when he didn’t understand the trials he was facing. Even when friends accused him and his wife belittled him. Even when he lost it all, in the end, he refocused and continued to honor God.

If you have stepped up your faith game and are feeling like you are fending off attacks from the enemy, check your focus.

And press on. Run your race. Do not be distracted by your enemy. Remain faithful and watch what God will do.

Just ask Job.

Hope: The Opium of The People

I recently sat through a lecture entitled, “Hope: The Opium of the People”. I’m not kidding. The venue for this lecture was a secular medical institution. The premise of the lecture was how medical professionals offer hope in seemingly hopeless situations and the benefits or risks of offering that hope.

People depend so much on hope, that when there seems to be none in a situation, we try to manufacture false hope in order to offer something. False hope is like monopoly money. It won’t get us far in the real world.

As I sat there listening to the lecture, I had a rough time keeping quiet. The lecturer had numerous initials behind his name, was a respected professional in his field, but his words rang empty for me. His attempt to speak about hope without speaking about the ultimate source of hope was pretty frustrating. To the relief of my co-workers, I managed to keep my seat and my mouth shut, but inside I was screaming.

The speaker shared the problems that can arise when medical professionals continue to offer hope, or false hope, to people who are diagnosed with a terminal disease, or at least a life altering one. The speaker presented statistics that showed how often doctors offer treatment options for patients that they know will not work, because they feel compelled to offer some kind of hope to the patient. Those stats are pretty high, actually.

At what point is it acceptable to stop offering a person hope?

The fact is true that we are all going to die. No one gets out of this life alive. Even if we get that miracle, it is only a reprieve. So for all of us, the hope of living longer, eventually goes away.

So then we have to look to other ways we can offer hope in those situations. If life is no longer the hope, then perhaps reconciling a relationship before death can become the hope, or living long enough to see a first grandchild be born, or a child get married can be the hope we offer.

If all of those hopes are dashed then we have to look completely outside of ourselves to the ultimate hope that we have, and that is the hope we have in Jesus. This is what I wanted to tell the speaker that day. Jesus is our hope. Our only hope. He is our hope for a cure. He is our hope for reconciliation; he is our hope for everything. He is the source of our hope.

Hope is like joy. We can only manufacture so much of it on our own. When our reserves are depleted, if we are not connected to Jesus, our source, then all hope truly is gone. We look to professionals to offer it, to family, to friends, even to clergy. But if we stand apart from Christ, we will not be refilled with the hope we need.

One of my all time favorite movies came out in 2004, and is called “Flight of the Phoenix”. In this movie, a group of men are forced to crash-land their plane in an uncharted area of the Mongolian desert. After realizing rescue was not coming, the survivors decide to try to rebuild the plane and rescue themselves.

My favorite quote from the movie comes when one of the characters decides rebuilding the aircraft is a pointless endeavor. He is met with this line from another character:

“I think a man only needs one thing in life. He just needs someone to love. If you can’t give him that, then give him something to hope for. And if you can’t give him that, just give him something to do.”

I believe truer words have never been spoken. As human beings we need three things. We need love. We need hope. And we need purpose. To have any or all of these things, we have to be in relationship with the source of them all. We need Jesus.

We cannot have a conversation about hope and it not include him. Any talk of hope, love, or purpose, without talking about Christ falls flat, just like the lecture I heard last week. It was full of statistics and graphs and lofty intentions, but apart from Christ, the speaker’s words were hollow.

Are you feeling hopeless about a situation in your own life just now? Are you digging deep and still not able to muster it up? Reconnect to the source. The Bible tells us that when we seek him we will find him. He’s not hiding from us. He’s right there, in the middle of our mess, ready to give us the hope we need.

Relationships Are Not Like Little Debbie Snack Cakes

I often fear that I am not a very good friend to my friends. I tend to require friendships that do not require a lot of maintenance. But that’s just the thing with relationships; they don’t have shelf lives. Lots of things do have shelf lives. I’m pretty sure the shelf life of a Little Debbie snack cake is two hundred years. (I just totally made that up, but it’s got to be in that neighborhood.) Those nasty little snacks can live in your pantry for months without decomposing or losing their flavor. There must be something wrong with that.

I’m not a bread baker. I’m not any kind of baker, but I have learned recently a bit about bread baking from a patient of mine at the hospital. He is a bread baker. He was talking a bit about his bread baking and told me how he has to nurture his bread “starters”. Apparently these starters require a good bit of daily attention if they are going to grow to the point that they can be used to bake delicious, fresh, homemade bread. Yum.

Relationships are like that. No matter if you are talking about family relationships, marriage relationships, friendships, or even a relationship with God, relationships must be nurtured if they are going to grow. Relationships are more like that bread starter, and less like a Little Debbie snack cake.

I have been guilty of shelving relationships before. There are just times in my life when I don’t have enough time to invest in friendships the way I would like to. My primary focus, my most important relationship must always be with my heavenly Father. Then I must keep up my marriage relationship, and as a mom, I have to continue to nurture the relationships with my kids. Sadly, these days of full time working leaves precious little time to invest in many more relationships than those.

It’s not that I don’t want to have those relationships, I do. When I have to shelve them, I miss them. We all need people pouring into our lives, and we need to invest in others, too.  That’s when I have to get strategic with my time. It’s really not fair to others when we decide to shelve a relationship we had once invested in. So often when we go back to a relationship we shelved, we find it has fallen apart in our absence.

I have been blessed to have a few wonderful friends who have weathered being put up on the shelf, but those are very few, and very far between. The reality is, when we park a relationship, it’s going to decompose. Relationships are often fragile, and they do demand attention, some more than others. One exception to this has always been my best friend, Tammie.

We were college roomies and always thought we’d our lives in community together. But life paths were not what we thought they would be, and time and distance hampered our relationship somewhat. Luckily, this was a rare friendship that did have a bit of a shelf life to it. Tammie was always a friend that I could call after several months, and it was like we had talked just the day before. The preciousness of that was not lost on me. Now, I live just a mile from my best friend, attend church with her, and talk to her at least a couple of days a week. What I have noticed since I have been able to invest in this relationship, though, is that while it has always been good, it is phenomenal now. Even relationships with a small shelf life will blossom with regular intentional attention.

Who have you put up on the shelf? Your spouse? A parent? Maybe God? While we have to be realistic about the time we can invest in our relationships, most of us could carve out a bit more to invest in the people who mean the most to us. We are called to walk this life together. Don’t fall for the myth that relationships have shelf lives. Wouldn’t you rather have a piece of warm homemade bread than a Little Debbie snack cake? I sure would!

Are You Squeamish When it Comes to Fasting?

“I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” Daniel 10:3

Today starts a twenty-one day time of prayer and fasting for the members of the church where my family attends and serves. It’s an annual thing that goes on every January. It’s just the way the church starts off every year, and it’s why, we believe, our church has achieved the level of success it has in the short twelve years it’s been in existence.

Most people understand the whole prayer thing, but when you throw in fasting lots of people begin squirming in their chairs. Fasting is generally reserved for those religious nuts who play with snakes and such. Most people remember the whole Oral Roberts fasting thing, and recall the bad taste that it put into everyone’s mouth back then. I know it put a bad taste about fasting in my mouth, too.

If fasting makes you a little squeamish, take a look into scripture, and see all those who fasted. Moses, Esther, and David fasted. The whole people of Israel fasted. Jesus fasted. The early church fasted. Jesus fasted. Did I mention Jesus? If you do a Google search of Bible verses speaking to fasting, you’ll be surprised at the number of times it is mentioned and practiced there.

So I’ve learned a lot about fasting in the last few years. There are plenty of things that fasting is not. Fasting is not something that should be done with a lot of public fanfare. No one needs to rent a billboard to announce their fast has begun. It’s not about seeking attention for yourself, Oral.

Fasting is not about losing weight. Although weight loss can be a byproduct of fasting, it’s not a diet. Jenny Craig is a diet. I’ve learned the hard way that fasting food is not to be taken lightly. It can seriously kick your tail and become a distraction itself.

Fasting is about changing one’s focus. This world has so many things that try to distract us from what things are really important. Sometimes the distractions are good things, but they can still monopolize our time and keep up from learning and growing in the areas God would have us learn and grow.

Fasting is about simplifying. We just don’t need all that constant input from worldly kinds of things. Fasting is an opportunity to say no to some okay things, to make room for some really awesome things.

Fasting improves our hearing. The Bible tells us that the Lord will speak to us through a still small voice. Most of us would never hear anything still or small. We’re too busy listening to loud and obnoxious. If we are ever going to hear God when he speaks, we have got to turn down the volume around us, and separate ourselves from the clamor. Create a space where we are free to hear him.

So for the next three weeks, I am fasting. I’m letting Facebook and Twitter continue without me. The television is going to get a bit of rest, too. No CNN constantly telling me how horrible life is and about all the impending doom. No mindless cooking or remodeling shows, which are not bad, but they suck too much of my time. I’m not going to cook or remodel anything I see on those, am I? The music I listen to will honor Jesus. It will point my heart to God and set my mind on the proper path. Hammer can’t touch this.

I’m going to avoid the lesser healthy aspects of my diet and focus on putting things in my body that will bring it health and strength. Again, it’s not a diet. And it’s not a legalistic thing. It’s a focus thing. I deny my physical body, so that my spiritual side can get a leg up. So often, we are driven by our physical body, and we forget that we are also a spiritual being. I once heard it said, that we are not a physical body with a spirit, but a spiritual being with a body. Fasting just allows that spiritual being to be in control for a while.

I’m believing God for big things during this fast. For me, my family, and my church. Because when we reset our focus on God, he tends to do big things. Who doesn’t want God to do big things?

So why don’t you join me? Afraid of calling it a fast? Fine, call it a refocus. We can do a twenty-one day refocus. Come on, what have you got to lose? Give God the next twenty-one days, it will change your life. I promise you, it will. Share your thoughts here, tell us how you’re going to refocus for the next twenty-one days! Let’s do this thing together!