Sunday, October 15, 2017

Heartbreaking Hope

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:24 ESV
This week has been hard.  A part of my mind is distracted, filled with whys, what ifs and should ofs, you see one of my best friends died this week on her 97th birthday.  I know that 97 is a long time to live and she had a wonderful life.  I know that when you are friends with someone who is twice your age the odds are good that you will outlive her.   Yet I was socked in the gut when I got the call.  My kids and husband hugged me tight and told me that she knew I loved her and that I was a good friend.

My youngest asked me, "Why do people die?"  In my shock and grief, I hardly had an answer. Thoughts about our bodies giving out, sickness and disease raced through my mind.   "I don't know. I guess everybody will die."  But my response was unsatisfactory to both of us. Why did she die this week?  After beating cancer, heart problems and other sickness, I didn't know why my friend had died.  Age didn't seem to be a good reason to me or my son, especially because he knew about my pregnant friend who just went to the Dr. last week and couldn't hear a heartbeat.

Questions followed like "Do we have a body in heaven?" and "What happens to babies in heaven?" I tried as best I could but my mind and heart weren't in it. I know I didn't have good answers but logic and knowledge were dulled by my broken heart. Later as the shock wore off, my brain couldn't let go of the question "Why do people die?"  If God loves us, why do we have to go through loss, grief and sadness? As I was talking with my son, he wondered, "Why God had made us if we were just going to die." I realized that at any age, death is cruel and as a result even life is cruel. My answer, "I don't know" wasn't satisfactory but it was all I had.

Finally, several hours later my brain clicked in and knowledge triumphed over my grief.  Death came because of sin! "Remember," I told my son as I was putting him to sleep, "The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and how they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Well there was another tree in the Garden.  It was the Tree of Life. God's plan was for us to live forever, but because of sin we were kept from eternal life. That's why death at any age hurts so much. It is unnatural. We were made for eternity but the consequence of sin means that people die because they inherited sin because we are all descendants of Adam and Eve."

As Romans explains "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mene because all sinned—" People since Adam and Eve have faced the consequence of sin which is death. Jesus came to earth fully human and fully divine to break the curse of death so that we could experience eternal life.  Here's how the New Living Translation of Hebrews 2:14 explains this "Because God's children are human beings--made of flesh and blood--the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death."  Because Jesus died for our sins and broke the curse, those of us who accept him as our Savior get to spend eternity with him.

Revelation 21 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  It describes a new heaven and a new earth when sin and all its heartbreaking consequences are abolished.  Revelation 21:4‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’b or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”   Though there is pain and grief in this life as the next verse proclaims, 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”   This verse contains my hope.  God's words are trustworthy and true. All will be made new.  My mourning will end and joy will be eternal. I look forward to joining my precious friend at the foot of the throne crying out, "Holy Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, who is and who is to come."  Revelation 4:8

How would you answer the question if a little kid asked you, "Why do people die?"

None of us know when we will breathe our last breath, so I have to ask you, "Have you accepted that Jesus loves you and the good news that his death, has freed you from the curse of sin and death?  It is a free gift that has been given to you not because of anything good or bad that you have done but because God loves you and wants to spend eternity with you and I do too.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Finders Keepers

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31
My oldest son found a soccer ball at a local High School football game.   It belonged to a rival team that must have lost it during a match.  After 12 years of playing soccer, he could tell this was an expensive game ball, not the average ball that even good players have.  It was quite a find and he was pretty psyched about such a great ball.  He was less thrilled when I said he couldn't keep it without contacting the school that owned it.  But as I told him, we can't keep something that we know belongs to someone else- that is stealing. As I wrote in last week's blog on No Regrets, if we aren't supposed to keep something, we won't enjoy it.  Things like this always work out, if we do the right thing even if it is the hard thing.

After a quick email exchange, we worked out the details for the coach to get the ball and I thought the situation was over, until I was telling my younger son about the whole episode of the found ball. We have a couple of kids that carpool with us to middle school soccer games and one of the boys couldn't help but express his shock that we gave the ball back. "I would've kept that ball if I found it," he said.  "I have lost so many soccer balls. People must find them and keep them. Each time I get a new one, it isn't as good as the last one. I figure keeping that ball would be fair since I have lost so many."

I was surprised to hear how emphatic he was. So I asked him, "Wouldn't you have liked it for someone to track you down and give back your lost soccer ball?"  Jesus tells us that we should "Do to others as you would have them do to you."  He explained to me that people just wouldn't return his stuff so he wouldn't return their stuff.  I tried to explain to him that if you treat others the way you want to be treated you will be blessed.  Some people might call this "karma" and explain that "what goes around comes around." Or use the phrase, "Pay it forward." I think this is illustrated by Galatians 6:7  "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." I could tell that I wasn't going to change his mind so I let it drop but I have been thinking about it ever since our conversation.

As I was listening to him, I realized how revolutionary Jesus' statement "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" was because people naturally want to do unto others as they have done. What is even more remarkable about this is that Jesus gave us this command in the context of loving one's enemies. Here is the verse in context of Luke 6:27-31 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."

If someone curses, devalues or demeans us, our natural instinct is to put them down, but Jesus calls us to bless them, see value in them and give them grace realizing we all fall short of the glory of God.  Being obedient to Jesus by carrying out his commands to love our enemies, pray for those who mistreat you, and bless those who curse you requires an immense amount of faith and trust.  We have to trust that God is just that He will avenge us, that He will provide for us when we have to give up our coat, shirt and ball and that He is in control. 

Jesus came to earth over 2,000 years ago to start a revolution.  His followers hoped he would throw over the Roman government, instead his revolution was to take place in each of our hearts.   By following him, we would be able to go beyond our 12 year old instinct to protect ourselves and our stuff and trust that He would take care of us and He has blessings for us that go beyond what we could ask or imagine.  

Our world needs a revolution, one that starts in all of our hearts. We have to stop the cycle of insults, hatred and cursing by turning the other cheek, by showing love instead of hate, by blessing instead of devaluing and by praying for those who mistreat us.  

How have you applied these verses to tough situations in your life? What was the result?
How do you teach them to your kids?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

No Regrets

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

I was trying to share some of my hard-earned wisdom with my boys when they busted out laughing. I made a choice in college to use the motto "No Regrets" as a way to make decisions. I barely got my sentence finished when they said, "No Regerts"  in between bouts of laughter.   I didn't understand what they meant so they explained that "No Regerts" was a phrase tattooed on this tough guy in a Milky Way commercial. I started laughing too.  Some mistakes are harder to undo than others.

"What do you do about regrets?"

First, decide that you are going to learn things the easy way instead of the hard way. It is foolish to always learn things the hard way if you don't have to. I explained that as I was making decisions I would usually pray for wisdom and direction and then evaluate if the choice to see if it could lead to regret. If things didn't work out, would I regret them more because I did something or didn't do it?   During a time of a lot of freedom and choices, these two words gave me clarity on who I would date, how I would spend my time and money, and even my grad school and career choices.

These two words saved me from a lot of regret but over the years since college I still have made choices that led to regret and missed opportunity.  I explained to my sons that I had realized there are two kinds of regret, one is the one that says "I shouldn't have done that.  It was a mistake and I feel bad about it."  The second kind of regret says "I missed an opportunity and I regret that."

When I am faced with the first kind of regret, that says "I shouldn't have done that and I regret it." I switch the focus from my mistake and turn it into a prayer of confession.
               "Dear God, I am so sorry,  I completely blew it in this area and I feel awful about it.   I know  I let you down and myself and hurt someone else in the process. Please forgive me and cleanse me.  Please restore what what lost and heal the hurt in my heart and others."   

As 1 John 1:9 says, " If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  God will purify us and forgive us.  We don't have to live in regret.  God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but He does expect us to confess our mistakes. He is in the restoration business we just have to ask him to do it. 

The second kind of regret is the one that realizes "I missed an opportunity and I wish I had it to do over."  I use these types of regrets to learn a lesson and plan to do something differently if given a chance.  My son said he regretted that he didn't go see the black sand beach in Hawaii.   I understood his regret.  During my first trip to Hawaii 16 years ago, I was surprised that there weren't black sand beaches on the island we visited. After my first trip to Hawaii, I made it a goal that if I ever went back, that I would try to see one.  Rather than dwelling in the past and on what I missed out on, I made a plan based on what I had learned.  Click here to see my feet buried in black sand.  I learned from my regret and carried out my plan when given the choice.  

Another missed opportunity that taught me an important lesson involved eye cream. Our church hosted a Salvation Army women's overflow shelter.  Homeless women would spend a week in our church. As I was cleaning up after dinner, one of the homeless ladies who was probably 70 mentioned that she really needed some eye cream for her wrinkles.  As she said it, I instantly thought of a bottle of eye cream I had bought the day before.  I rarely use moisturizer and it was the first time I had ever purchased eye cream.  I had a mental debate; I just bought it and it was twice what I would have normally spent on makeup, plus she had lots of wrinkles and it wouldn't make a difference.  My selfish side won.  I didn't take her the eye cream and kept it for myself.  The truth is I didn't need it. I missed an opportunity and chance to bless this woman who had so little and I had so much.   The eye cream is still sitting in my medicine cabinet because I only used it once.  Every time I look at it I remember the missed opportunity.  I learned an important lesson, if I every get that supernatural urge to give outside of my comfort zone, I need to do it so I won't regret it later. Though I missed out on being his instrument of blessing, I have prayed for God to bless that homeless lady with all she needs including eye cream. I keep the eye cream in my medicine cabinet as a reminder to give when I have the chance. 

My "Regerts" aren't as obvious as a misspelled tattoo but I have had them.  Knowing that God is greater than my mistakes and I am not defined by my mistakes gives me peace when I think about times I have messed up or missed out.   

If you have regret from poor choices or missed opportunities, take a minute to ask God to forgive your mistakes. Purpose in your heart to learn from them. The forgiveness and grace is waiting for you, you just have to ask for it.   God can restore all that was lost, mend and heal broken hearts and replace what was lost so that you can great every day with "No Regrets."

How have you dealt with things you regret?  How has God restored missed opportunities for you?

Monday, September 25, 2017

One Sentence Sermon

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Matthew 25:23

A friend's one sentence prayer turned into a sermon. I meet with a group of moms to pray for my kids' school. Our prayer time is based on a model outlined by Moms in Prayer International.  Every week we praise an attribute of God, thank God and before we pray for our kids and their school, we take a moment to confess.  Our time of confession can be silent or out loud. Last week, my friend confessed that she felt like the person given one talent, who let fear keep her from using it for God's glory. Her one sentence prayer of confession struck a nerve.   

I instantly knew what she was talking about.  In Matthew 25 -  Jesus told a story about a master who gave his servants differing amounts of money called "talents". Two of the servants took the resources given to them and doubled the Master's money but the third servant hid the talent in the ground. He explained his actions by saying, "so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’"  Matthew 25:25

I realized that I have been like that servant and have let my fear keep me from doing what God wanted me to do.  Interestingly, I don't think fear of failure kept the servant from using the resources God had given him.  I think he was afraid of success.  Here's what he said in verse 24, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed".  When you are farmer, this is success. 

Here are some reasons why I think he was afraid of success and why am I afraid of using my talents. 

Success means more work-  Burying the talent and resources that the Master had given him meant that he didn't have to worry about it. He didn't have to plow or harvest and didn't have to monitor the investment.   He knew if he did what the master wanted being successful would make even more work.  The servant was lazy.  It is important to remember God didn't give him more than he could manage- God didn't give five times as much or even two. He only gave him one talent.  God knew his limitations and knows my limitations.   I shouldn't let my fear of work keep me from the blessing God has for me.  

Success feels insignificant- I feel like my contribution would be too small even if I did my best.  I wonder why work so hard with just one talent- it won't make a difference anyway.  After studying this, I realized if the guy who had been given the one talent, just doubled it like the other two servants, he would have had the equivalent amount of resources as the second servant who had been given two talents.  We all start out with different abilities, resources, families and personalities- all we have to do is use what we are given.  The master said that both the servant who had been given five and the servant who had been given two were "faithful over little."  While one or two might seem insignificant and five seem like a lot- compared to God's resources- they are a little.  Don't let your definition of a lot or a little limit God's work through you.

Success puts a target on your back- It is easy to see that people who are successful face a higher standard and great scrutiny.   To whom much is given...  The servant feared the master because he was hard. This meant he was focused on the negative and missed out on the blessing.  His fear became a self fulfilling prophecy.   My fear of people, being judged or making a mistake can create an environment that leaves me open to the judgment I am trying to avoid.   

This week I have been searching my heart to make sure I haven't let fear of success and the resulting accountability keep me from doing what God has equipped me and enabled me to do.    If God has given me the talents and resources, he will help me as they grow.  My fear of not hearing "Well done good and faithful servant" needs to be greater than my fear of hearing people put me down or misunderstand me. My desire to "enter the joy" of my master needs to be greater than the temporal pleasures of not using my talents.  

What are some fears about using your talents that you have struggled with? How have you gotten past fear to use talents and follow your dreams?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Bad News Keeps Coming

What you have learnede and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:9

What do you set your mind on?   Not too long ago I wrote about the distractions that filled my week and kept my mind on 50 million things.  This week, I realized that my attention easily drifts to the news feed that travels across the front screen of my phone.  There is no doubt that tracking the hurricanes, the President's opinions and other's responses, North Korea and the bombing in England are important news.  After reading about such devastating and awful things, what do you do?  Do you just blow it off?  Do you let the sadness overwhelm you?  Do you think things are hopeless?  Do you get mad at God?  Are you frustrated with world leadership?

I’ve been studying Philippians 4:4-9, I realized, the author Paul was outlining how to think and respond in difficult times.   By the time Philippians was written, Paul was in prison in Rome.  Things were looking desperate for the early church. Roman Emperor Nero had persecuted many Christians.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” The first thing Paul said in this passage is rejoice. How would you define "Rejoice?”  Be happy? Be joyful? The key understanding to this word is the "re" part.  "Re" means to bring something back or to do it again. Like "remind" means to bring something to mind again and "renew" means to make new again.   To rejoice means to bring back the joy that one experienced in Christ.  Paul isn't saying to rejoice about bad things happening to other people.  (We are encouraged to “consider it all joy” when we are personally suffering and going through hard times but reading the newspaper and watching awful things on the news, and worrying about a nuclear threat is not the same as actually having your house flood, living through a terrorist attack or being persecuted).
Floods on the other side of the country, North Korea having nuclear bombs and terrorist bombs in the London Underground are bad.  We aren’t told to rejoice about bad things, that is heartless,   In this verse, Rejoice means to remember the joys that God has brought into your life up to this point.  Experience again the joy of salvation, the joy of new life in Christ, the joy of answered prayers, the joy of healing, the joy of good gifts and the joy of knowing God's character that He is loving, sovereign, just and good.  Much of what I hear about on the news is out of my control. Rather than rejoicing, many people start worrying. Worrying often provides a false sense of control. Our minds fixate on the problem.  Paul is telling us to first focus on God by rejoicing.   
Here’s a way to apply this short verse, next time you hear news that is scary, difficult or overwhelming; stop and rejoice. Stop the worry, anxiety and your desire to fix things, and take a minute to rejoice.  
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; Next Paul says that our reasonableness should be evident to all.  We should not overreact.  As this verse reminds us Jesus is near.  We aren't on our own.   The NIV translates this word as gentleness. The concept behind this word has to do with justice and fairness.  We should be gentle in the sense of "relaxing overly strict standards." Rather than being judgmental, we need to realize the Spirit of the law rather than being tied to literal interpretation.  Jesus modeled this when he healed on the Sabbath. 
Once you have rejoiced, made a decision to be reasonable and not overreact, remembered that Jesus is near, we then are told not to be anxious but to pray.  I have to admit- I often jump to this point.  When I am worried, I start with prayer but instead of being reminded of the joy God has brought to my life, being reasonable and being grounded in the knowledge that Jesus is near - I am anxious and my prayers are all about what I want rather than filled with peace.  However, if we follow the pattern in Philippians 4 something amazing will happen. "7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  
Here’s a way to check to see if you are not being anxious and are being reasonable and rejoicing – you will have peace after you pray.  God’s peace will keep and protect you from worry and anxiety.
Paul is not saying that times won't be hard.  Often we can't change our circumstances and we have little influence over much of the horrible things that make the news but we do have control over our minds.   We have a choice regarding what we think about.  8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 
Are you thinking about what is true?  Focus on God and His truth.  What actually is, not your imagination. Going down the mental path of all the horrible things that could possibly happen- isn't the truth.  Don't let your imagination and attributions distort your reality..  Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life.  Think about him.  
Are you thinking about what is honorable? Honorable things have value and are deeply respected.  Don't focus on the negative. Pray about it and let it go. 
Are you thinking about things that are right?  “Right” in Biblical terms is not a political word or even about not being wrong. Right has to do with things that are righteous and aligned with God and His will.  
Are you thinking about things that are lovely?   Lovely in this verse is a funny word - it doesn't mean pretty or beautiful. It means pleasing, acceptable and worthy of personal affection.   Lovely things are valuable and are worth the effort to embrace. They build up your relationships.  By this definition my kids and husband and friends are lovely. They take work but are so worth the effort.  
Are you thinking about things that are commendable? The word commendable always makes me think about people getting official commendations from a public official for serving their town or country with dignity and valor. Another word for this is praise worthy. Commendable actions should inspire all of us to do more to bless others.
Are you thinking about things that are excellent? The underlying meaning of this word relates to virtuous. It has to do with moral excellence, goodness and virtue.  I have to admit much of what catches my eyes on my news feed has to do with people’s poor choices, scandals, petty disagreements and trivial discussions of celebrity’s lives. 
Are you thinking about things that are worthy of praise?  Too often I spend time thinking about the negative rather than the positive.  Negative headlines catch my eye.  It takes work to focus on the items worthy of praise in the news and even more effort to notice praiseworthy things that my kids and husband do.  I need to focus on the positive things in our country, community and especially in my family. Then I need to make an effort to actually praise and encourage my kids, husband and community members when they do things that praiseworthy.   
If we take these ideas and put them into practice, the peace of God will be with us.  Whenever I see the word “practice” in the Bible, it gives me hope.  It means I don’t have to do it perfectly, but if I keep trying, I will get better over time.    
Bad news all around us can be overwhelming.  Phillipians 4:4-9 provides a practical way to overcome anxiety and worry with peace. 
1.    Think about something that you really have no control over but it sticks in your mind and stresses you out. 
2.    Shift your mind to rejoice over great joys God has already brought into your life. 
3.    Be reasonable and remember Jesus is near.
4.    Chose not to be anxious. 
5.    Pray and make your requests known to God.   Intercession is a form of prayer that aligns your requests with God’s will.
6.    Once you have prayed, choose to think about things that are true, right, honorable, lovely, pure, commendable, excellence and worthy of praise.  If we don’t fill our minds with good stuff, worry and fear will creep right back in and we will be back where we started.
7.    Put this into practice. This is a new way of thinking.  We won’t be perfect but every time we make a choice to rejoice, chose not to be anxious, choose to think about good stuff instead of garbage, and Wil focus on the positive rather than the negative we will be blessed with peace.

If you decide to try this- let me know how it goes. This week, I am going to really try rejoicing first before I pray and to try to think about things that are worthy of praise rather than being critical.  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Honor Your Father and Mother

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 2:12

Today is a special day.  It is my Mom's birthday. One of the things I admire most about my mom is her desire to keep learning and growing in God.  I first realized this when I was “know it all" 12 year old.  I asked Jesus into my life at a very young age so by the time I was twelve, I figured I knew all there was to know about God.  I remember asking my mom why she still went to church and read her Bible, "Don't you already know everything?" She explained that she still had a lot to learn. Rather than being inspired by her wisdom, I figured maybe that she wasn't that smart.  It has taken me many years since to realize that I am not that smart and I still have so much to learn. 
      Around the age many people start thinking about retirement, Mom completed a spiritual healing coursework so that she could counsel others with hurts and wounds from their past.  She knew that she needed to learn more about this area and wasn't content to keep the knowledge for herself.
      Now in her seventies, she is still learning and growing in her knowledge of God.  She is writing to share her wisdom with others and is willing to take editorial advice from her "known it all" daughter. Her humility and heart for learning has challenged me to realize I will never reach a point where I can't learn and grow more about Jesus. 
      As I was thinking about how blessed I am to have such a wonderful mom, the commandment "Honor your father and Mother" popped into mind.  It is easy to honor my wonderful mother, though she is not perfect, she is loving, quick to apologize and is always willing to learn.
      In my Bible Study about Hezekiah, wrote about the challenges of honoring a parent that is ungodly or a downright bad parent like Hezekiah's dad Ahaz.  Ahaz was wicked and led his entire country away from God.   I have several friends whose parents are more like Ahaz than my mom. 

How can you honor a wicked ungodly parent? 

      Hezekiah is a great role model in this area. “He brought honor to his family not by continuing in the sinful patterns of his family but instead by deliberately undoing the harm his father caused and intentionally doing good and seeking a right relationship with God… Hezekiah knew that just because his father had made foolish choices, he didn’t have to continue in his father’s footsteps.   I was struck by a quote from actress Demi Moore about her mother who was an addict, "Whatever wrongdoings, bad deeds, actions that she had—what was hers was hers and she took it with her. And what was mine—whether justified or not, anything that I did that was potentially negative, out of anger—was mine."   We can’t blame others for our response to their sin and foolishness.  Our response is our responsibility.  Rather than responding to other people’s negative behavior, our responsibility is to respond to God and to live our life for His glory as healed, whole people who bring his peace to the world.”   (Keep Calm and Respond to God.)
      I am truly blessed with imperfect yet wonderful parents.  Whether your parents loved God with all their hearts, were wicked, narcissistic and abusive or you didn’t even know them doesn’t stop you from honoring them. Honoring or dishonoring our parents is not dependent on their parenting ability or lack of it.  To understand this, imagine being the parent of a criminal like Dylan Roof or John Wilkes Booth; I can barely comprehend the dishonor their parents must have felt every time their son’s name was mentioned. No matter how good and kind our parents are, if we make bad choices, we dishonor them. When we do what is right, make Godly choices and use our gifts and abilities for good, we honor our parents regardless of their personal attributes.
      Everyone can honor their father and their mother by living honorable, righteous lives.  We can bring honor to them by doing what is right, having a right relationship with God and using our gifts and abilities to bring glory to God.
   "Honor your father and mother" is one of the Ten Commandments for a reason.  It is just as important to God as not killing, stealing or committing adultery. Take a moment to think of some ways that you can honor your parents. I would love to hear how you have honored your parents.  How have you taught your kids to honor you? 

Sunday, September 3, 2017


Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:2

I have been highly distracted this week- all good things like watching soccer games, seeing friends, checking Facebook and Instagram, getting my tennis racket restrung, picking out new paint and living room furniture - but each distraction has drawn my focus away from eternal things to focus on temporal things. 

I realize I am blessed that these are all good things that fill my mind since I know so many people are struggling and overwhelmed by actual and metaphorical floodwaters.   They are dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, putting together a life after a divorce or a loss of a child, grappling with debilitating health issues, trying to make sense of our country's politics, and managing their responsibilities while supporting friends and family members through heartbreaks and hard times.  
Each of us respond differently to good things and bad things.  In hard and difficult struggles, my natural response is to start praying and seek God but in good times, I take a spiritual break and let insignificant things take my attention away from the most important One.  I have other friends who do such a good job of praising God and depending on Him in the good times but when hard and challenging situations arise, they become Superman or Wonder Woman and feel they have to fix all the problems in the world with their own strength, knowledge and determination.  

As I have been pondering how to balance letting go of these distractions but still being involved with my life and the people around me- this brief passage from Mark 8:29-33 caught my eye. "And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Wow!   I can't imagine being Peter- after realizing that Jesus was the Christ- to have Jesus say, "Get behind me Satan, you are setting your mind on the things of man."   I spent some time looking at the Greek meanings of the words in this sentence and what struck me was the idea in "Get behind me".  Get used in this verse is more often translated "go."  Jesus used it as a command after he healed someone to go home or go to the temple.  "Behind" was more often used as "after."   In other words- "get behind" means "Go to your proper place behind Jesus."  It doesn't mean the problem went away but that Jesus became first and foremost. 

With all the good and bad things in our lives, it is so easy to get distracted. If we elevate anything in our lives, whether it is good things like redecorating or bad things like sickness over Jesus, we are going to struggle with being overwhelmed.  Survival mode and artificial deadlines create a sense of urgency that drowns out the peace of God.   The certainty that God is in control, protecting us and leading us gets damaged as we struggle with wave after wave of distraction. To overcome these challenges, we have to be intentional and set our minds first and foremost on Jesus. 

The benefits of setting our minds on the Jesus and not the things of this world results in peace. The phrase "set your mind" is also translated "be of one mind." As  2 Corinthians 13:11 encourages us "Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you."    

Jesus is the source of peace in every situation.  He promised us, "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

 Have you been overwhelmed with distractions?  How do you put them in their proper place?

Sunday, August 27, 2017


I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. Psalm 77:11

I'm so horrible at remembering faces that my kids have even pointed out people in the grocery story and asked, "Mom, isn't that your friend." I definitely have a weakness in this area but Nataliya's name and face made such an indelible impression on me when I first met her five years ago at a church luncheon that I immediately recognized her when I slid into a seat next to her at a Women's Conference yesterday. During a break, I asked her about how her mother was doing and a surprised look transformed her face, shocked that I would remember her mom after all these years.

The day I first met Nataliya is highlighted in my mind. My friend Dana had invited me to visit her church for a women's brunch.  If I can help it, I never miss a chance to spend time with Dana plus great food takes me back to my college days and the joys of the church potluck dinners. We sat down at a table in the back of the room and across from us was a beautiful woman with blond hair, wide set eyes and the high cheekbones you see on Eastern European models.  Next to Nataliya was a beautiful older woman with the same cheek bones. Nataliya explained that her mom was visiting for several months but didn't know English.   Every once in a while Nataliya would lean over and quietly explain what was going on in Ukrainian.

During the meal, we went around the table and introduced ourselves and during the process learned Nataliya's amazing life story of growing up in Ukraine and coming to North Carolina after meeting her husband online through an international dating website.  I was amazed at how brave and open she was about her life story- there is no way I would have left my life and family to marry some guy from Ukraine.   After coming to the United States, she started attending church with her husband and in the process came to know Jesus.   Her eyes lit up as she shared the transformation that had taken place in her heart after finding her Savior and True Love.  She thought she had traveled across the world to find love and a new life with her wonderful husband but God had a bigger plan that meant she would find the One who loved her so much that He sacrificed His life so that she would have eternal life.   Wow!  I am always amazed and humbled to learn of the extremes God goes to to make us aware of His love. After finishing her story, she looked at at us and said in the heartfelt manner of someone who knows True Love and wants everyone else to know it too, "Please pray for my Mom to know Jesus."

When someone asks me to pray for salvation, I pray.  I never doubt that it is God's will.  2 Peter 3:9 says "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God's heart is for everyone to know Him regardless of our gender, race, age or ethnicity.  Everyone.

Seeing Nataliya yesterday brought back her heartfelt request for us to pray for her Mom.  As we were standing in line for coffee during a break, I mentioned remembering her prayer request for her Mom's salvation.  Her face went pale with shock and she looked at me and said, "I can't believe you remembered my Mom and my prayer request. I don't even remember asking you." She paused and then joyfully answered my question. " My mom is saved.  She knows Jesus." She paused again and then gave me a concerned look. She explained, "God has told me to keep a journal.  He said 'Write it down.' This is why I am supposed to journal so that I can remember important things like this." I totally understood her conviction and calling.   God had called me to write and I had realized if I wasn't writing I wasn't being obedient to His calling.  Not all of us are called to write but all of God's people are called to remember His goodness, celebrate answered prayers and acknowledge His provision and protection.

Even before the people of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt, God told them to celebrate the Passover for all generations to come.   “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast." Exodus 12:14    By the time Jesus was born, the descendants of Israel had been celebrating the Passover to remember God's deliverance for 1,300 years. Just as the Passover was a way to remember the miracle of the Exodus,  Communion is a time to remember the bondage that we have been delivered from, a time to celebrate the amazing gift of new life that we have in Christ. Jesus told his followers to celebrate their deliverance from sin and death by remembering his sacrifice, "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Luke  22:19

It is so important to remember what God has done for us. As the Psalmist encourages us, "I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." Remembering requires valuing what God has done, repeating and sharing so we don't forget. What helps you remember God's blessings and answered prayers?  How would you share stories of God's blessing and salvation with others?