Month: October 2015

Pulling On My Super Suit

I’ve been exploring my relationship with God recently. His idea, not mine. Some challenges have come along in the lives of some people I hold dear, and to be quite honest, my resolve for these situations has faltered a bit. It happens. At least it happens to me.

I want to be the person with unwavering faith. I want to stand firmly on whom I know God to be and of what I believe he is capable. I say that I believe there is absolutely nothing he is not able to accomplish if he so chooses. It’s the, if He so chooses, part that gives me pause.

I believe God can heal. I’ll go it a step further and say that I know he does heal. I know it, because I have seen it. I have not only seen it… I was the one who asked for it. I have also asked for healing that did not happen. That can be hard for a person to reconcile sometimes… why God sometimes grants healing in this life, and why he sometimes grants it in the next.

Ephesians, Chapter Six, tells us that we need to put on the full armor of God. It’s like a super suit. More like Captain America and less like Hong Kong Phooey. thWe cover our heads with the helmet of salvation. We put on the breastplate of righteousness. We strap on the belt of truth which is the Word of God, and on our feet we put the readiness that comes with the gospel of peace. And after we have done all of that… we stand our ground.

Picture a soldier in full battle gear. He’s done all the preparation he can to face the battle ahead. What does he do when the battle comes? He stands firm in the face of it. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

I want to stand firm, too. I want to be that front line warrior. Having done all I can do… I want to stand. I don’t want to go limp and wind up in a puddle of tears from one of those ugly cries… wallowing in my doubt and wimpy faith.

I took these concerns to a mentor of mine. A woman I consider to be a front line warrior in full battle gear. If you don’t have one of these, get one… or two. I told her I was afraid to ask for another miracle without first fully believing that God would grant it. I want to be able to ask with the faith that moves mountains… because this is a big mountain I need to move.

She told me she didn’t think it worked like that.

She’s right. She almost always is. We are invited to approach the throne of grace in full confidence of the One seated there. My friend encouraged me to make my pleas to the Father with HOPE and ASSURANCE. (She capitalized both words.) We don’t trust in our ability to ask or believe, but in His ability to accomplish… more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

thShe told me to pray with un-clenched fists. To me, that means we open our hands and our hearts to God’s good pleasure, and fully trust Him with the outcome of our prayers. She told me in so many words that that’s the way she and God relate to one another. I like her posture in that relationship.

My faith is stretching a bit right now and frankly, it’s a little scary. I’m being called to trust more when I thought I trusted the right amount already. In my head, I know that God is worthy of this new level of trust. I just need someone to convince my heart. Thank goodness for His mercy and grace over me… for his patience and unrelenting love.

I’m pulling on my super suit, and I am going to stand. God, help me to stand.

What I Wish I Had Known Then

I think it’s kind of funny how as we get older, while most of us begin to need glasses, in many ways we actually begin to see life more clearly. There must be a good reason why I didn’t know in my twenties the things I know now, things that would have helped me make better choices, sounder decisions. I mean we make some of the most pivotal decisions for our lives while we still know relatively little. We decide on a career path. A mate. We buy cars, open credit accounts, and choose a college, and so on; all things that impact our lives and all during a time that we know so little about much of anything. Sometimes those decisions work out well for us, and sometimes we spend years undoing the damage.

I wish I had known early on that life is not about any particular destination. It’s not about crossing a goal line and dancing in the end zone, it’s about the trip to the end zone. I used to think to myself, life will really get good when I finish college, or get married, or find a great job, or have kids. Early in my life, I did a lot of end zone dancing, but I missed a lot of the joy as I moved down the field toward my goals.

I wish I had known early on that life is less about what you do and more about with whom you do it. I happen to enjoy my work most of the time. But I know now, that the tasks I perform on the job, while those tasks are temporarily important, pale in comparison to the eternal tasks I am put here to accomplish. What is she talking about? It’s about the people, not the task. You are where you are as a believer because there is someone you are supposed to influence… or someone who is supposed to influence you.

I wish I had known early on that conflict in relationships can be healthy. For most of my life, I have crossed the street if necessary to avoid conflict or confrontation. I have finally learned that an unwillingness to sort out conflict or to confront someone is more about me than the other person. I have also learned that to manage conflict well means a healthier relationship in the end. Did you know that the goal of confrontation should always be that the person leaves feeling better about you and about themselves? Just like the Holy Spirit, we confront because we love, which brings me to the next thing I wish I had known early on.

I wish I had known that I cannot be the Holy Spirit for someone else. I cannot convince someone of anything on a spiritual level. I know. I’ve tried, and I have learned that I do more damage than good. I cannot change a person’s heart, and I can do so much harm by trying. Most of the time when we try to change people, we use shame or guilt. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to stoop low like that. No, He uses truth like only He can. Only He can remove the scales that cloud vision and allow a person to see.

I wish I had known that instead of spending so much time asking God to change someone else, I should have been asking Him to change me. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years telling God how someone else should be treating me and asking Him to change them. It’s really pretty funny. We can ignore most of the change He wants to make in us if we concentrate on asking Him to change them. After all, they are the problem, not us. Right?

thI wish I had known that joy trumps happiness. In our country, we are afforded the right to life, liberty… and the pursuit of happiness. But happiness is fleeting. It’s like that little blue butterfly I used to chase through my grandparent’s corn field. I would chase that beautiful thing for hours, and just when I thought I had it… off it would fly, out of my reach. So the pursuit went on. Happiness comes and goes, and so often it is just out of reach. It is dependent on so many different things. We rest our happiness on the shoulders of others. (So unfair) We rest our happiness on circumstances. (Unpredictable) But joy? Now joy is not determined by others or circumstances. While things often stand in the way of happiness, we can have joy in spite of everything.

I know a lot now that I didn’t know early on, and life is a bit easier these days in some ways. As I get older, my eyesight is slowly going to pot, but my vision? My vision is clearer all the time. I bet yours is, too! What has a little godly wisdom taught you that you wish you had known back then? Share it. Let’s sharpen our vision together!

Sometimes Things Go Wrong

Even if you do everything right, sometimes things go wrong. Take deviled eggs for example. Even though I call myself doing everything right, and I have tried every trick I have ever heard about peeling boiled eggs well, still I struggle. You name it, I’ve tried it. Well, maybe. Feel free to share your tricks.

I have tried using “old” eggs. That hint is from my dad. I’ve tried peeling them under running water. I’ve even tried the blowing method where you peel just the end off and poke a small hole in the other end and blow. It worked once on one egg, and I got a headache from blowing all the others. No matter what I try, my deviled eggs end up bringing out the devil in me. I finally told my mother to stop asking me to make deviled eggs for Easter lunch. Throwing eggs is unbecoming behavior for a grown woman on any day, but it’s especially bad on Easter.

thBack to my point, you can do everything right, and still sometimes things turn out badly. I think there’s a momma who needs to hear that right now. And I think there’s a college grad out there that got the degree, can’t get a job, and needs to grasp hold of this truth. Or how about anyone else who played by the rules only to find life didn’t turn out like they had hoped? Doesn’t that cover most of us at one time or another?

I know it sure does include me. I was recently reminded of a time, six years ago, when our family stepped into quite a mess… all the while thinking we were doing everything right. I mean, if you are sold out to Jesus and following after him, what can go wrong? Um, plenty apparently.

So what did we do? We did a lot of things. We made mistakes. We acted rashly. We panicked. Super spiritual stuff. But in moments of clarity, we kept walking. It was slow going at times, and there were lots of days when we just wanted to lie down and wallow in our despair. We wanted to commiserate, focus on the things that had gone wrong, and try to find someone to blame for it all.

Yet when things don’t go as we think they should, we have to keep moving forward. If we don’t, it’s muck and mire time for sure.

The Bible talks about valley times; about times of disappointment and loss. It’s not “if we walk through the valley”… it’s “when we walk through the valley.” (Psalm 23:4) If you want to read about someone wallowing in the muck, read some of King David’s writings. Take Psalm 42, for example. Go check out that little joyless tidbit. That man could roll around in some self-pity, but in moments of clarity, David could keep moving forward. When he didn’t understand why he was hurting, alone, or defeated, he looked to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and remembered the faithfulness of the Almighty, and he kept on going.

thValleys are not infinite. Not if you keep walking. If you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will eventually get to the other side. And I promise the view from the next peak, looking back on that valley, will speak volumes to you. There will be wisdom on that next peak. Things that are cloudy from your present vantage point will be clear then. You will better understand that while you did everything “right” leading up to that valley, traversing it was ultimately for your benefit. That’s just how good God is.

I look back over the last six years, and I can smile. I wasn’t smiling a lot back then, but the view from where I am standing is awesome. And just think, if we had stayed in the valley, if we had wallowed in the “poor pitiful us, we did it all right and everything still went to pot”, I would have missed seeing all this!

Maybe you have done everything right (Or maybe you haven’t), and still you see everything going wrong. Hang in there. Our Father is beyond amazing and He’s on it. He is going to make wonderful things from this situation, if you just keep walking. If you just keep your focus on the Father.

So for the momma whose heart is breaking, or the graduate who can’t seem to catch a break, or for you… walking through your own valley, listen to David, the expert valley walker:

“Is anyone crying for help? GOD is listening,
ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find GOD right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble;
still, GOD is there every time. He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone;
not even a finger gets broken. The wicked commit slow suicide;
they waste their lives hating the good. GOD pays for each slave’s freedom;
no one who runs to him loses out.” Psalm 34:17-22

And can somebody tell me how to successfully peel a boiled egg? Help a sister out! Thanksgiving is coming!

My Focus Needs More Focus

I used to believe some mistruths about worship at church. I used to judge good worship based on who was present, what music was played, and how well I did it. If I was with people I loved being with, singing music that appealed to me, and was able to focus my thoughts appropriately, then I considered worship “good”.

But then I learned something really important about worship. Worship is not about me. At all. I still love worshipping alongside my people, and give me some Hillsong “Oceans” any day, but I know that worship is not about those things. Worship is about God. Which brings me to my problem. I still have a focus issue.

It may be about me getting older. I’m not sure. I used to be able to sit and devour a novel for hours if chose to. Now the thought of sitting down and reading an entire book or even a part of one is off putting to me. Just the idea of it gives me the heebie jeebies. My thoughts seem too busy for such intense focus as all that. I’m not happy about it, but it is what it is. On a recent vacation, I was actually able to read an entire novel (It was kind of short), but I can’t go on permanent vacation. I asked my husband, and he said no.

I don’t like the thought of losing focus. I am a firm believer that most of the problems folks face today is due to a lack of, or misdirection of, focus. I want my focus to be intentional. I want to direct my focus on the things of God. I should be better able to do that in a worship setting than any place else, right? Right. And yet still I struggle. My focus needs more focus.

I love my church. The people who attend my church are some of the best on the planet. I am not knocking the people who go to your church, I’m just saying that the ones who go to mine are stellar. If I were to peer out over different groups in the midst of worship and be asked to choose a group to worship with, the people at my church would win my vote, hands down. They are just that good.

Still, I find I am distracted. I look around me and wonder about them. Where did they come from? What brought them to our church? I like that lady’s boots, and I wonder where that other lady gets her hair cut. What a sweet little baby. And before I know it… I am distracted. It happens all the time. I know worship is not about those things. It’s not about the cameras, or musicians. It’s not about the temperature in the room or how many worshippers showed up that day. Worship is about God.

So this morning, as worship began at church, once again, I tried to focus my heart and mind on the Father. I did really try, but then these two ladies caught my eye. They were two rows in front of me, and something about them was different. They had focus. I mean laser focus. I watched them worship. These two ladies are what I would call elderly. Now our church is known for it’s loud and upbeat worship. I have seen some elderly folks who looked like they were just trying to survive our worship to get to sit down and finally listen to the message.

But not these two. They were dancing, and singing, and lifting their hands, and focused. So focused. And it was completely evident to me that while they enjoyed each other’s company during worship, they were captured by the awesomeness of God. They were enjoying the rhythm of the music, but it was the rhythm of their hearts in tune with His that motivated them. I watched them, studied them, and I was led by those two little ladies into the best worship time I’ve had in quite a while.

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When church was over, I decided to chase them down and tell them how much their worship had meant to me this morning. They moved surprisingly fast for the elderly. I caught up to one and put my arm around her. She looked up into my face and tried to recognize me. I told her that she didn’t know me, but that her worship that morning had led me into the best worship time I’d had in ages.

She hugged me hard, and said in the sweetest English accent, “Well, blessings on you, and may we meet again!” And then she was gone. She told me her name was Maggie, or Margie. I asked twice, but like I said, my focus is not what it could be.

She was a short, little, white headed lady with an accent. If you go to my church, and know Maggie, or Margie with an accent, please tell her I’m not nuts. Not much anyway. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That is worship. That is focus. And I am so thankful for two little older ladies who modeled that for me today.

Has Anyone Really Ever Cared?

1 Corinthians 12:26 says that we are one body. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Has anyone, anywhere, including the time of the early church, ever really cared when Christians were being persecuted? Have they? I think it’s a fair question. And it’s a question that we American Christians might ought to start asking.

For decades, American Christians have lived in complete safety. There has never been a time, since the establishment of this nation, that Christians had anything to fear regarding their faith and the freedom to practice that faith out loud, right out in the open. The right to practice one’s faith without fear of reprisal was one of the basic tenants for the founding of this country all Americans call home. In fact, I imagine our forefathers would not have been able to comprehend that this nation would ever sway from the Judeo-Christian ideals upon which this country was built, and that countless people gave their lives to bring to this land; principles that have carried this young country to prosperity the likes of which has never before been witnessed in human history. I mean, why would they, right?

When I was a kid, my school day at Pinson Elementary School started out with two things. We stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and we sat quietly for Bible scripture reading. There were no sermons. No one made any attempts to interpret those scriptures; they were just presented to us as a start to our day. And no one could imagine anyone ever having a problem with that. We respected our teachers, and were just a little afraid of them, knowing that if we got in trouble at school, a second bit of trouble would be waiting for us when we got home. Seriously.

In less than one generation’s time, those days are gone. Gone forever, most likely.

We have stood by and allowed the freedoms we took for granted as youngsters slip away to the point that our children will have no concept of the nation in which we were blessed to grow up. In saying good-bye to those foundational, Christian principles, we have said sayonara to the strong family. The lives of unborn children no longer matter; their body parts for sale to the highest bidder, and it’s anything goes with marriage. And your gender? You get to choose. Phooey on your DNA.

The majority of the kids in America are growing up without a dad in the picture, and the majority of the fathers never bothered marrying their baby’s mom in the first place. We are cranking out kids without them knowing what it feels like to have the security of an intact family and wondering why we have a generation of messed up kids who couldn’t find moral north with a compass. It’s not their fault. It’s ours.

So why should anyone care that an armed gunman shot and killed those students in Oregon simply because they were Christians? Christians, ourselves, have not cared enough to stand up for the principles that guided our lives for so long… why should we expect anyone else to care if some lunatic decides to go shooting innocent Christians just because they can. And why can they? Because we have made it easy for them to do it.

Our “Whatever” society has led us to this time in our country. We care more about what celebrity is sleeping with what other celebrity, and how quickly we can post photos of our inviable lives on social media than we do about what we are teaching our kids. We are distracted, ambivalent and self-absorbed.

My original question was this. Has anyone, anywhere, since the time of the early church, ever really cared when Christians were being persecuted? I don’t really think so. And why is that? I can’t speak to the early church times… I wasn’t there. But now? I think no one cares because we don’t really care. According to research, 2014 was the worst year ever worldwide for the persecution of Christians. Worst. Ever. Did you know that? I didn’t. Why? Because the media isn’t feeding it to me. That news, I had to dig for myself. North Korea, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia are the worst offenders. Did you know that? I didn’t. I mean I’m not surprised, but I didn’t know.

In our country today, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Christians just aren’t making enough noise. We are weak. In my previous post, I talked about meekness. I think some Christians confuse meekness with weakness. We have the power of the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead, living within us. That’s some kind of power, y’all. We are not called to go quietly into the dark night… we are called to stand firm… like that tree planted by the water whose roots grow deep and whose fruit multiplies. We are supposed to prosper (Psalm 1:3). I think it’s time we wake from our slumber. If we, as followers of Christ, don’t care for the Body of Christ here and around the world, who will? We are one Body.

When one of us suffers, we all suffer.

th

Don’t Be a Tool

Have you ever felt used or taken advantage of? I guess we all have at one time or another. It’s not a particularly good feeling, is it? I find that I am just as upset with myself -and the fact that I let it happen, as I am with the person that used me. It’s never fun to find out that your acceptance was based merely on the fact that a person needed something you could provide, and when that well ran dry- or they no longer needed you, suddenly you were cast aside.

I’d like to say that only happens out in the world, but Matthew and I have seen it happen in ministry settings, too. Just ask former church goers why they no longer attend church and you’ll find, more often than not, they were victims of this circumstance. The scars are real.

But here’s the truth. We are all either tools or instruments. To be called a tool these days is not a compliment. A tool is someone who allows themselves to be used for someone’s selfish gain, and they don’t even know they are being used, or if the know, they don’t care. Who wants to be a tool? I don’t.
We aren’t meant to be tools, instead we are meant to be instruments. Tools and instruments are similar, but different. Both are allowing themselves to be used, but the purpose for each is unique. The prayer of St. Francis is familiar to many, and it explains perfectly how to be an instrument rather than a tool.

thNo one likes to be taken advantage of, but sometimes we allow someone to use us in order that we might show humility or meekness. Some equate meekness with weakness, but true meekness takes real strength. Meekness is choosing humility when you could just as easily, and perhaps justifiably, be harsh and unkind. It is meekness that allows us to show mercy rather than judgement. It is meekness that points people to Jesus.

2 Timothy, Chapter 2 speaks about taking care and not following unsound teaching. Instead we are to recognize ourselves as instruments with a specific purpose:

“In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

If we are instruments worthy to be used of God, we will seek righteousness, faith, love, and peace. We will show kindness to all, be instructional, and helpful in showing others the truth. But if instead, we choose to be a tool of the enemy, we will pursue immaturity, stupid arguments (I’ve had more than a few of those), and will harbor resentment.

In the hands of a skilled surgeon, instruments of that profession are positioned to bring life and healing into the lives of many. Those instruments are delicately cared for, protected, painstakingly cleansed and kept… and used. As Christians, we cannot say that we will never allow ourselves to be used, but it is in carefully choosing to be an instrument of God that our use effects real change in the lives of others.

I want to be one of the Father’s favorite instruments, one often used. For that, I have to be willing, ready, and available. I want to fit comfortably in His hand. When this life is done, I want my edges to be worn, and the shine a bit rubbed off from repeated and familiar use. I’ve seen tools, and I’ve seen instruments… and there’s no doubt which one I want to be!