Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Plan is Salmon

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. 
Proverbs 16:9

"What's for dinner?" my people asked. It was a little after five and the natives were getting restless. 
"The plan is salmon," I proclaimed
"We don't want salmon," they exclaimed. "We want pizza."

The one who works so hard every day explained he had already had fish that week.  I didn't argue -  maybe I didn't really want to cook anyway.

But the salmon is coming. It is already defrosted in the fridge. The plan hasn't changed even though they are eating pizza. It only appears that it has. The plan is still salmon. 

I bought it for my family because it is good for us, full of healthy fats, protein and other nutrients.  My plan for them to have the salmon was because it was beneficial for them and my desire hasn't changed.  I serve it with sushi rice and sauteed zucchini.  I have assembled all the ingredients.  It is always a delicious dinner and way better than pizza. 

As I was cleaning up the kitchen tonight, which after ordering pizza is a breeze, I wondered how much of our life is like my "Plan for Salmon."   God plans our steps, assembles all the ingredients and tells us His will for our lives; even if we go in an opposite direction, His plans have not changed.  

His plans for Jonah didn't change even though Jonah got on a boat heading to Tarsish.  Jonah 3:1-2
His plan for Joseph didn't change even though his brothers sold him as a slave. Genesis 50:20
His plan of salvation doesn't change even if someone rejects it. John 12:44-48
His plan to bless us doesn't change even if we are living with the consequences of poor decisions. Jeremiah 29:11-13

My kids might get a couple more meals without salmon- but it will happen. I know the future because I am the cook.   In the same way,  God knows the future because He is the Master Chef. Rather than wasting our energy resisting his plans, let's trust that what he plans for us is good and lovely. 

Romans 12:2 encourages us that God's will is good, pleasing and perfect.  It is time to make that jump and trust Him completely in every part of your life.  

Thinking back on your life, have their been times that you have let go of your plans to follow God's will?  

Is their something that you need to let go of to fully embrace God's will? 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Season For Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: Eccl 3:1

Everything is cold here.  Lakes and ponds are covered by sheets of ice.  Cars take forever to heat up in the morning, plants have gone dormant and I actually started wearing a coat when I go outside. A couple inches of snow and we will have a Winter Wonderland. It is cold. Very, very cold!

Cold weather brings out my desire to roast turkeys, bake potatoes, and make pies. I am basically looking for any reason to use the oven as an extra heat source.  My husband loves the cookies and pies. I think he looks forward to these cold induced domestic urges all year long.  Unfortunately for him, my urge to bake is a brief season that lasts as long as a cold snap in the South.  Instead of calling this time of year, Winter;  I propose naming it, Baking Season.  What do you think?  Would you name this time of year "Netflix Season" or "Football Season"?

We all go through seasons that aren't exactly determined by the calendar or even the weather.
Solomon wrote about this in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

As I look back on last year, it ended with a season of mourning for my dear friend Joyce but was filled with rejoicing with my brother in the birth of his son. God restored friendships that had been lost for years and brought new friends into my life. It has been a year focused on studying blessings but as a result it has made the power of demeaning people so much more obvious.  It was a year of determined blogging, after only sporadically blogging in the past, I was determined to faithfully write my blog every week. 

Looking forward into 2018, I am challenged to finish my fourth book. I have been researching and studying blessings for the past two years.  This is a loaded topic that has a lot of baggage from the prosperity gospel to being used in a demeaning way like, "God bless her pea pickin' heart." To focus on my book, I am taking my new friend Sue's advice to cut back on my weekly blogging.  Hopefully, I'll get a couple of blogs written over the year to let you know what I am working on and learning but this year is going to be "Blessing Book Season." I would appreciate your prayers and I am so excited about all that God has in store this year.  

What season did you find yourself in last year? Is there something you need to let go of or cut back on to fully embrace the next season?  Is God calling you into something new for next year?  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What Makes a Gift?

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

Is a gift determined by the heart of the giver or the acceptance of the recipient? Our church often receives requests for help at Christmastime and I signed up to help a family who had asked for help. The lady I spoke with requested Christmas presents for her two grand kids ages 4 and 5.  They didn't want much and I was happy to help make their Christmas special.

Her humble apartment was decked out in anticipation of Christmas - with a cute "Santa Stop Here" sign that stood out among the emptiness of the other doors. A petite blond grandmother with the wrinkles and voice of someone who started smoking young met my son and me and invited us in. She quickly hid her pipe in the other room as we walked into her house.  In the apartment was a small tree with one present under it and Home Alone was playing on TV.

She was grateful for the gifts and explained that she suffered back pain from an accident in her teens. Her daughter and kids weren't there but I am hopeful that they will be blessed.  I gave her a hug and told her I would be praying for her, her daughter and her kids. After I left I had take off my sweater because the smell of smoke that wasn't tobacco was overwhelming.

On my drive home,  I struggled with feeling like a sucker.  To counteract my doubting heart, I had to dedicate all the gifts to God, hoping that the kids would get them and love them but realizing this wasn't about two kids getting a Buzz Lightyear and Imaginex toy but a lesson in God's great love for us.  I have no control over that Grandma giving those toys to her grand kids. She could easily take them back to the store and buy alcohol or use them to barter for drugs. I intended to bless their family but it is up to them if they accepted the blessing and use it for good.  Isn't that the story of God's love for all humanity. He gave his chosen people the law and his love as a blessing and they rejected it. He sent Jesus to share His love with the whole world.  Even though Jesus was the perfect gift and just what everyone needed so many people will exchange God's love for cheap fleeting thrills.  Yet God doesn't stop loving us or generously blessing us. In spite of our foolishness and unfaithful hearts, he still loves us, pursues us and lavishes us with grace.

Here's how Titus 3:5-7 explains this amazing concept, "He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

I have decided to trust that I am fulfilling my mission to love others just as God in his mercy and generosity is always giving and reaching out whether or not we are worthy or even appreciate the value of the amazing gifts He is giving us.

Have you ever given a gift that was rejected or wasted?  How did you handle that? How have you seen God's love in spite of being rejected?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:  Luke 2:10

"Do Not be Afraid" has been a theme in my Bible reading. The message comes from two very different passages I have read this week.  First I read the story of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. God tells Moses to tell the people "Do not be afraid." I read it again during our family advent reading plan when the Angels appeared to the shepherds in the field to give them the good news of the Savior's birth.  

On first glance- the phrase "Do not be afraid" is the only thing that brings these passages together. As I thought about it more I realized in both situations God was giving his Word.   As John 1:1 declares "In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  Jesus was the Word of God- the law fulfilled.  

The Word was the essence of God - He is truth and light, love and sacrifice, grace and justice.  

Yet God had to tell the people "Do not be afraid."  I often have to tell myself not to be afraid of the things that God has for me.  I have to remind myself that every Good and perfect gift comes down from the father of heavenly lights (James 1:17).  When God gave the law to the Hebrews he gave it for their benefit to bless them. When he gave Jesus, he gave his son because he loved the world. When He sent the Holy Spirit was because he wanted to bless us and allow us to experience supernatural gifts that will bless us and others.  It is for our good.  

My friend Kathleen called me up last week afraid.  Along with my friend Kathy, we are leading a Bible Study next month on the Five Love Languages and a complimentary book on the five languages of saying sorry.    Kathleen is going the lead the part on apologies.  Kathleen said to me "Penny I am afraid of leading this class with you.  If I am going to teach this - I know I have to walk through it and I don't think I want to." 

I completely understood her fear.  I have often been afraid of the things God might call me to do.  Many years ago I was afraid to do the Bible Study Experiencing God because I heard people's lives were changed after doing it- I was afraid of how God might change me.  They were right- it was life changing.  It was the best change ever- God softened my heart toward being a mom.  Why was I afraid? 

I was afraid of being a stay at home mom- I truly didn't know who I was without a career to identify myself.  Being at home has been such a gift and taught me that God is my provider and my satisfaction. 
I have been afraid of blogging and writing on so many levels yet I have learned so much and experienced the joy of understanding Truth and having others understand it too.   

I explained to my friend Kathleen something I often tell myself
"I have nothing to fear.  
What God has in store for me is a blessing.  
He wants to give us good gifts. 
He wants to set us free to live healthy and fulfilling lives.  
We have nothing to fear from our true love, our Heavenly Father, our all knowing and ever faithful God."   

What if the shepherds had allowed their fear to paralyze them from going to worship the newborn king? The shepherds would have missed out on coming face to face with the Messiah.  Their presence didn't change Jesus' destiny but they would have missed a life-changing and amazing blessing.  
What if the people of Israel had let fear keep them from embracing God who gave them the law to bless and protect them?   

Have you let fear keep your from fully worshiping the King of Kings?  Have you let fear keep you from accepting things you don't understand? Have you let fear keep you in a place of slavery and bondage?  

Do not be afraid - these words are simple and life changing.  Try it. Your life will be transformed.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Insufficient Resources

Fear the LORD, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. Psalm 34:9

I loved reading questionnaires in magazines to figure out my personality or decorating style.  So much fun.  Today's blog starts with a quiz to see if you have ever "fallen short"?

Have you ever finished last in a race or not even entered the race because you might not finish?
Have you ever been late to an event or a meeting?
Have you ever had to pay an overdue fine at the library?
Have you ever started baking something and realized you were missing an ingredient?
Have you ever been left out of of a celebration?
Have you ever failed to fulfill a goal?
Have you ever felt physically or mentally depleted?
Have you ever had insufficient funds to buy something you really wanted or needed?
Have you ever struggled to find the right words in a situation?

If you answered yes to any of these questions- you will be able to understand the meaning of the Greek word hysteréō  meaning "I am lacking, fall short, suffer need" Properly, at "the end," i.e. coming behind (to "be posterior, late"); (figuratively) coming behind and therefore left out; left wanting (falling short). 5302 /hysteréō ("failing to fulfill a goal") means to be in lack and hence, unable to meet the need at hand because depleted ("all run out"). This state of lack (insufficiency, privation) naturally results when a person misses out on what is vital.

If we are honest with ourselves we all have places in our lives and times that we have been lacking. At one time or another, I could answer yes to everyone of these questions.  Just last month I had to text my neighbor Wendy with a last minute request for some sugar because I had started to make a cheesecake and didn't even have a cup of sugar in the house!  I had insufficient resources and was  lacking. The writer Paul uses this word in Romans 3:23, "All indeed have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I think Paul knew a lot of good people who wouldn't identify with the concept of sin but were well aware of places they were lacking. 

After thinking about this list of questions, I realized I spend a lot of time and energy avoiding situations where I might come up short.  My cabinets are stocked with essentials so I don't run out, I keep a cushion in my bank account and even have an automatic notification set up if the balance falls below a certain point. I have never entered a marathon because I don't want to fail and I set goals I am 90% certain I can achieve.  Though I try to avoid feeling like what I have is insufficient, it still creeps up on me. Hearing about a party I wasn't invited to, realizing I have to save a little longer for something I want, or finding out that I forgot something important leaves me feeling less than.

While I work hard to avoid being in situations where I won't have enough or be enough, I have friends who have actually embraced their constant need for more. They are on the treadmill of want.  They focus on their lack, their insufficiency and missing out and it drives them to try harder.  There is never enough _______ in their life.  They seek more time, clothes, house, career, friends, achievements,  cars, and money in a never ending cycle of insufficiency.  Once they get the new item, it becomes obsolete.  Once they finish a race, they are training for the next one. This need for more isn't determined by how much or how little you have.   I even think this was a problem a rich young leader had who asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Jesus answered him with this advice, "You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Luke 18:22. Jesus identified though this man was materially rich, he was still in a state of lack.  Driven by a need for more. Feeling inadequate in spite of affluence.

My friends tend to be people who make good choices, work hard and as a result are successful. They are doctors, engineers, executives, writers, teachers and good tennis players.  They understand that what you do and the choices you make have good and bad consequences. Because they have made mostly good choices and have been successful, they don't connect with the Christian idea of being a sinner.  They look around at people who call themselves Christians who have not been successful and have made lots of dumb choices, and think "I am not anything like them."  Paul must have known people like my friends because right after he wrote that all have sinned, he added that all have fallen short of the glory of God.  He wanted to make sure that even good people, who didn't connect with the idea of being a sinner, understood that they were lacking and had fallen short of the glory of God.  We are created in the image of God to reflect His glory; our insufficiency is evidence of our need.

Next time you find yourself in a place of insufficiency, when you have fallen short and come face to face with your inadequacy, see it as a chance to assess your heart just like taking a personality test in a magazine. 

Are you depending on your own resources and abilities rather than depending on the unlimited grace of God?

Are you always trying to protect yourself from inadequacy and lack rather than realizing we are created to reflect His glory not hoard it for ourselves?

Are you are on the treadmill of want always pushing harder and defining your life by what you don't have rather than using what you have to bless others?

Are you focused on fear of not enough you or fear of God?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Unlocking Value

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28

I just read an article about a scientist who used the green protein that gives jellyfish luminescence as a bio marker to identify organs and cancer in other animals and humans.   Wow!  Scientists are striving to discover medicine from plants found in the rain forest. Every innovation in construction, design, art and even our food is evidence of unlocking the value intrinsic in creation.

We can use the gifts of creativity, curiosity and ingenuity to discover new and unique value throughout the universe.  Here are a couple of ways people have unlocked the value God created in our world.  People have cut up stones to make giant buildings, pyramids and and massive statues. People have used wood and string to make instruments that fill the world with music. People used oil to power cars, heat houses and develop plastic which is used for toys, sandwich baggies and holding office supplies. The value of wood, oil and stone are intrinsic but God enabled people to transform these items into useful and beautiful creations that bless all of us.

Blessings acknowledge value and have the ability to speak value into existence. Blessings have a prophetic characteristic that can "see" beyond today into the potential in every person and all of creation. Just as an architect can "see" how all the disparate building supplies fit together to make a home that will fit your family, we have the ability to speak blessing and "see"'what could be.  This is easy to understand as a parent. Often we praise our kids on their potential for future giftedness.  We might say "Oh sweetie, you have a beautiful voice, I can see you leading worship" or "What a beautiful picture, you would make a great illustrator."   Helping our kids unlock their giftedness and passions is one of the great joys of parenting.

Blessing others by calling out their places of skill, giftedness and blessing will bless us. Teachers unlock the intrinsic blessings and abilities that their students may not even know they have.  My 7th grader's drama teacher sent me this note about my son, "He is incredibly creative and has a great sense of humor.  He works well with others and comes up with great ideas.  The class and I really enjoy his wonderful stories.  As a performer, he keeps growing and developing strong skills."  I was amazed. This teacher had decided to send a note to each of his student's parents letting them know how their child was doing in the class. What a blessing to receive a note like this during the Middle School years when so many kids don't feel they have much to offer.

We can bless our friends, co-workers, store clerks and customer service reps by speaking value into their lives. No one is perfect but we have a choice to focus on the potential or the problems. Chose to speak to other's potential- our words have power and just as God spoke the world into existence- we can speak life into those around us. Proverbs 18:21 "The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequence." Let's reap the rewards of blessing.

God created each of us with intrinsic value. Genesis 1:12 says "God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.".  By putting people down people, dismissing people, talking negatively, being racist or sexist, we are insulting the image of God. Each of us reflects a portion of the unlimited creative ability that God used to create the world and every person.  Living lives of blessing requires seeing the blessing and value in each other and in Creation. Our creativity and inventiveness is a gift from God. Let's use it to unlock the value all around us.

God blessed creation and called it good.   Part of our mission is to unlock the value that God infused throughout all creation.  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

How have people blessed you by speaking life?  Have people complimented your abilities, giftedness and creativity.  Has this influenced how you spend your time and your career?

This week make it a goal to speak life into those around you.  Acknowledge their value and potential.  Chose to focus on potential rather than problems- you will bless others and be blessed.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving -What's Next?

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. 
Give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

We have nearly finished the last of our leftover turkey and stuffing.  The pecan pie was gone in the first 24 hours and I have two slices of pumpkin pie that might not make it to the end of this blog post.

I have to admit for me Thanksgiving and food are basically synonyms.  I am truly thankful for the food, unlike my kids who have no gratitude for sweet potatoes, green bean casserole or spinach souffle. They are good sports so before we ate our feast, my family shared what we are thankful for this year.  It is a wonderful tradition to pause and acknowledge our blessings and give thanks as a nation and as a family.

In celebration of the food, I have been humming a song based on Psalm 100:4, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name."  This seemed like the perfect thanksgiving song so I decided to do a little research on the Hebrew word "Todah" which is translated "Thanksgiving."  Intrinsic in understanding this word is the idea of confession and sacrifice.  Since my definition of Thanksgiving equals food, I was pretty surprised to read the Hebrew definition; I had never thought of thanksgiving requiring confession and sacrifice, except for the turkey. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Thanksgiving is used as a description of a sacrifice that was made to celebrate and give thanks to God. It was described in Leviticus 7 along with other peace offerings.  Ironically, for this type of offering, birds were not sacrificed, so no one was eating turkey for their thanksgiving sacrifices.  Thanksgiving sacrifices were communal and all the meat had to be eaten the day it was sacrificed; basically, it was a big cookout that you invited all your friends and family to because the meat had to be eaten ASAP. While it seems that Thanksgiving sacrifices were mostly about food, more importantly, they were about purity.

Before anyone could enjoy the feast, they had to be ceremonially clean.  Since a Thanksgiving sacrifice could be given at any time, joining in the feast meant being in a constant state of holiness. Sins had to be confessed and all the people who participated in the feast had to be pure according to the Law.  Purity and holiness according to the Law enabled God's people to have connection with Him through the sacrifice and connection with each other through the meal.  A lack of purity and holiness not only created a barrier to relationship with God but it also meant that you couldn't join the feast with your friends and family. Though our national day of Thanksgiving is over, this lesson still applies, we should be seeking purity and holiness so that we are ready and willing to join in a thanksgiving celebration with our friends and family members.

As King David wrote in Psalm 24:3-4 "Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear falsely."

The purpose of Thanksgiving was connection with God and celebration with others.  The preparation of the food was secondary to the preparation of their hearts.  When we have gone through the process of purifying our hearts and minds, we can experience joy-filled connection with God and others.  We can enter the courts of our Lord and we can join in praising and giving thanks with others in the presence of the Most High.

This weekend, we packed up the turkey platter and have started getting out Christmas decorations. If you are like me, it is easy to quickly lose focus on my relationship and connection to God and instead focus on the hustle and bustle of 50 million things that I have to do at this time of year.  Focusing on the exterior holiday activities misses the heart and purpose behind the blessing of Christmas.

I've decided to take this lesson from "Todah" to heart.  It is easy to imagine the Thanksgiving sacrifice was all about the food, when it was really about a heart of purity and gratitude that wanted to connect with God and bless others out of a thankful heart. In the same way, it is easy to think that Christmas is all about the presents, celebrations and food, when it is really about God wanting to connect with us and our desire to share that gift with others. 

Our thanksgiving celebration doesn't have to end just because the calendar is about to roll to December.  This month, my goal is to be ready to celebrate with clean hands and a pure heart.    Let the feast in the presence begin!

Is God calling you to clean hands and a pure heart?  Is there a place of idolatry or compromise in your heart?  In the Bible, thanksgiving and confession are synonyms. Take a moment to pray and confess your sins. You will open up new connections in your prayer life and restore relationships with other people.  I think this could transform this stressful time of year and fill it with peace and joy.  Let me know how it goes.