Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Light in the Darkness

Matthew 5:16 says "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Christmas celebrations begin at our house the Sunday after Thanksgiving with a brief Advent reading.  Our Advent tradition is a hodgepodge that began with a wreath I made at church, note cards from my friend Velda and candles from my friend Joyce. 
The highlight of Advent for my boys is lighting the candles. They love seeing the flame from the lighter jump and double for the brief moment as both the candle and lighter are lit.  They love putting out the candles even more. My youngest loves blowing out the candles- it is like his birthday every evening as he is anticipating presents and the joy to come. My older son whose nicknames include “Danger” likes to put out the flame with his thumb and pointer finger by pinching it out. Last night, the boys tried putting out the flame by whistling.   Advent at our house is not a formal solemn affair but a way to focus for literally two minutes on Christ, the Light of the World. 
Jesus came as the Light of the World. “He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’.” John 8:12   He came into our dark world and He understands our places of pain.  “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not”. Is53:3
This is a dark time of year, the days are shorter and darkness easily creeps into our hearts as we stress about finances, shopping lists and getting everything done.  We can dread Christmas as we think about the people who are no longer here to celebrate with us. Seeing family doesn’t always bring joy.  Loneliness, unmet expectations and grief can steal the warmth from the this season.
As the light flickers on our Advent wreath, I have been marveling at how much joy light gives. It provides safety, warmth and connection.  Things get lost in the dark, yet the light shines and illuminates everything around it.   
As a child, I remember sitting in darkness, holding a candle at our Christmas Eve service, waiting for my mom to pass the flame from her candle to mine. I would eagerly light my little sister’s candle grateful that I was old enough to pass on the little flame. The room would start to get brighter as more people lit their candles.  Everyone in the room had a choice to accept the light and then they could chose to pass it on. As each of us made the choice to pass on the light, the sanctuary was illuminated and the darkness was banished.    We all have the same choice- will we accept the Light of the World, will we allow it to transform our hearts and fill our lives with love and warmth?  Then we have to choose if we will pass it on.  Will we share the warmth and love we have been given with others? 
We are called to be a light to the people around us.  Just as a candle brings light, joy and warmth, we have the ability to be a blessing to others through our words and actions. The Message puts Matthew 5:14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.  
There is a lot of darkness in the world right now.  Accept the Light of the World.  Jesus will transform your life and bring you comfort and joy instead of grief, sadness and loneliness.   Then pass it on.  You have an amazing privilege; you can bring light and joy to the people around you.  Share the Light

Sunday, November 27, 2016

When Yes is Less

 “He must be greater I must be less.”  John 3:30

I recently spent time with my sweet two year old nephew.  He is an adorable guy that loves all kinds of trucks, Curious George, listening to music and reading books.    As we were reading books, hanging out at neighborhood parks and eating lunch together, whenever I would ask him a question that you or I might answer "Yes," he would sweetly say, "Less." It was obvious what he meant so I would read the book he wanted or give him extra crackers because I knew that "Less" was his way of saying “Yes.”

While visiting my nephew, I got to hear Christopher Yuan  and his mother share their amazing life story of love and redemption.  After a life of depravity and desperately seeking love, he has found the amazing love of Jesus.  His message called all of us to holiness.  My notes from his talk included the statement that "the opposite of any sin is not doing the sin but instead holiness." Not doing the sin isn't enough. We have to pursue holiness. 

As I have written in the chapter about Elizabeth in my book Embracing Change, I am afraid of holiness, afraid of being different, afraid of being less.  In most of my life, I want to be more not less.   I want to be more organized, a better time manager, successful, well liked, put together, pretty, healthy, nice… The truth is my list goes on and on. 

Toward the end of his presentation, Christopher Yuan made a comment about being the least.  A light went off in my head. I realized that while my desires to be liked, organized, pretty, nice, etc. weren't bad but they had to become less if God was going to be greater in my life. I have to worry less about how people would perceive me and more about how they would perceive Jesus. I have to be more concerned with God's reputation than my reputation. 

A story about John the Baptist shows how to do this well. John had attracted many people out to the wilderness to hear his message of repentance; but as Jesus' ministry was growing, John’s disciples were feeling threatened. “To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.” “He must be greater I must be less.”  John 3:27-30 

Everything we have from God is a gift.  As John said, "A person can receive only what is given them from heaven." We don’t have to have more fame, be more organized, get in better shape, have more clothes, or be more successful if we are willing to give the glory to God and use whatever little resources we have for His kingdom.  God often calls people that are the least likely to succeed, like Gideon and King David, to do great things that are way beyond their ability and experience. 

God has great things for us to do if are willing to answer his question like my sweet nephew by saying "less" and meaning "yes."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Being a Mom is Tough- Don't be afraid

"Don't be afraid, because I'm with you; don't be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I'm truly helping you. I'm surely upholding you with my victorious right hand." Isaiah 41:10

I have been praying for a friend who has struggled with deeply wanting a baby while undergoing the agony of multiple miscarriages.  My heart breaks for her.  I often pray for her and have been asking God to intervene, answer her prayers and heal her. As I am praying I keep hearing that I should tell her, "Don't be afraid."    This is harder than it seems.  

Being a mom is hard.  I was desperately afraid of being a mom. My sister died at age 15 and sometimes when you ask my mom how many kids she has she say four and one in heaven. My teenage sisters' rebellious years were hard. Don't be afraid. My friend Susan lost a precious baby girl at 9 months. Don't be afraid. My friend Missie's sweet daughter has a form of Microcephaly and Cerebal Palsy. Don't be afraid. I know two women who have given up their children for adoption, both struggled with many poor life choices and addiction. Don't be afraid.  My friend Betts' daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. Don't be afraid. My bible study friend Renee adopted a little girl from Africa who has had developmental challenges. Don't be afraid. After my friend Shelby miscarried, God brought a little foster girl named Emilie into her home that has changed her life purpose and our community. Don't be afraid.  

A church friend took in two foster girls who had been horribly abused by their own family and the fact they came back with lice every time they visit their family was the smallest of their problems. Don't be afraid.  My friend Alison wanted a little girl after having six boys, she was blessed with two girls. Don't be afraid. My friend Tracey signed up with a local adoption agency and after months of silence and agony, she found out she was going to be a mom- almost exactly nine months after registering with the agency. Don't be afraid. 

My friend Jaletta lost her 17 year old daughter to suicide. Don't be afraid.  My friend Carmen's deep desire of being a mom led to being a foster mom for two young boys, yet all she can post on Facebook is a picture of her family's shoes lined up biggest to smallest.  She dreams that one day she will be able to adopt them but knows that it possibly won't happen. 

My college friend's daughter Bailey prayed for years to have a little sister, her parents were happy with three kids, they now have four including a little sister from Rwanda.  Don't be afraid. After years of struggle, God miraculously answered prayers for my friend Karena who had dreamed of being a mom long before getting married. Don't be afraid. God answered my friend Erica's heart desire to bless others because she was blessed, when three young women choose her and her husband to adopt their children. Don't be afraid. God allowed my friends Beth and Avis to have children when doctors told them pregnancy could possibly kill them. Avis's daughter is planning her wedding and Beth's daughter has been a dear friend. Don't be afraid.  

God gave me two precious boys in spite of my deep fears of heartbreak and failure. I was afraid.  I knew the grief of parenting and as the oldest of five, I knew kids were a lot of the work. Yet as I completely surrendered every part of my life to God after doing the Bible Study Experiencing God, I heard that quiet voice say, "Trust me." So I did. I held on to the promise that children are a blessing. As Psalm 127:3 says, "Children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD." In spite of my fear and doubts, I would say over and over, "Children are a blessing."

Most people aren't afraid of having kids like I was, but if you have a place you are struggling with fear; my encouragement to you today is to not be afraid. I just read the story of Joshua and Caleb after they had come back from exploring the Promise Land. The people were so afraid of the giants in the land and the hard times, they missed out on the blessing God had for them. Going to a new place, taking new territory, growing a family, starting a business and inviting someone into your heart is scary and hard work. But there is a blessing on the journey.

Joshua encouraged the people, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them." Numbers 14:17-19
Unfortunately, they did not listen to Joshua's good advice and let their fear determine their behavior rather than trusting God. As a result, their kids had to suffer in the wilderness for 40 years. There is no doubt there were giants and hard times ahead in the Promised Land, but the blessings would have far outweighed the work.  Don't miss out on the blessings God has for you. Don't be afraid.  

As Laura Story wrote in her song, "Blessings." 
We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise
We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe
My prayer for you today is that you accept the blessings that God has given you and not be afraid.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ascending the Mountain

Our family loves to hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  When the leaves start to turn colors, we head up to the hills of North Carolina to experience the beauty of nature.  We load up the car with food and water and eagerly start our journey.  The first part of the trip is the one we take every day to school,but a little over an hour into our journey the scenery begins to change.  Small rolling hills give way to bigger hills.  I eagerly scan the horizon and at each curve, I hope to catch a site of the mountains.  As we get closer and closer to our destination,brief glimpses of mountains in the distance turn into majestic panoramas. It makes me so happy.  The mountains are one of my favorite places in the world. 

As our gift from God minivan climbed up the ever increasing hills, a favorite passage from Psalms went through my mind. 
Psalm 121:1-2  "I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth."

I love this whole chapter. It is a Psalm of Ascents meant to be recited as worshipers were walking to Jerusalem. It is so comforting and beautiful- a great reminder that we can trust God, our Creator to take care of us and our loved ones.  

As much as I love this chapter, I have often skipped the deeper meaning of the first line.  When the author wrote, "I lift up my eyes to be mountains- where does my help come from?" He wasn't marveling at God's creation, he was contrasting the idolatry that took place on "high places" at the tops of the mountains and the false help that was sought from idols to the help that God the Creator of heaven and earth provided. I recently realized that when I read this passage I need to stop and make sure I haven't started looking to "high places" like money, friends, Google, knowledge and strength to be my help and protection instead of God. 

False gods may provide a temporary sense of peace but they cannot give us what we need. In contrast, God is our help. He knows what he is doing... He made the heavens and the earth.  When I study scripture, I will look up words at   The word translated Maker in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 1 when God "made" the firmament, the sun and moon, the animals and people.  If God made everything, nothing is too hard for him. 

After we get to the Blue Ridge Mountains, our ultimate destination is a the Rough Ridge trail. This trail has huge boulders, a creek to cross and beautiful panoramas.  As I was climbing up the steep hills and narrow paths, Psalm 121:3 definitely applied. 
"He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;"
About halfway down the trail, I hit a slippery spot and had to grab a tree to keep from falling. God will protect us in tough and challenging situations. Am I reaching out to God when things get tough? Am I looking to God for protection?  Am I trying to find security in areas other than God?   

We can trust that God will take care of us and our loved ones. "indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night."  
Don't you love that The Lord is watching over us and our loved ones day and night.   I have a friend who lived in a Buddhist country and she mentioned to me that the reason Buddhists Temples had gongs was to wake up Buddha.   Our Lord doesn't sleep or slumber but is actively providing shade in the desert.  
If I am feeling the heat, have I stepped outside of the protective covering of the Lord?  Have I listened and been obedient?

"The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more."

Praying that you feel His protection, covering and provision wherever your journey takes you.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Unfinished Projects

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Ecclesiastes 7:8 

My mind is overwhelmed right now by all the things that are not finished around my house and in my writing.  I've got piles of bills, papers and documents to file. Clutter from a friend's move, shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, groceries that need to be put away and laundry that seems to multiply if left alone for a minute throughout my house.  My neighbors have cute fall wreaths on their doors and pumpkins on their front steps- none of that has happened at my house.  Not only is my house full of unfinished projects but my blogging notepad is full of unfinished thoughts and random scriptures.  I haven't published a blog for the past two weeks. Over the past two weeks,  I would sit down to write but after jotting down a couple of paragraphs, I became distracted and decided to finish later but later never came. Partially finished blogs about cleaning my long neglected back porch and my thoughts on God's role in appointing leaders exist in a scattered format that I may get to one day. My writing hit a mental block that I couldn't find the mojo to push through.   So no blogs and lots of random unfinished thoughts. 

As a result of these unfinished projects, I have been struggling.  I like to check things off my list and get that sense of accomplishment that comes from saying, "It is finished." I hate the nagging thought in the back of my mind that I have a little more to do, to clean, to write.  I want to be done.   

The first part of Ecclesiastes 7:8 sums up my view, "Better is the end of a thing than its beginning." The second half of this verse is a little harder, "the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit."  I want to finish things because it makes me feel good and gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Like an adrenaline rush that a extreme sports addict gets, I love the proud rush of "I did that."   I like seeing results whether it is painting a room, finishing a book, making a cake or spreading mulch.  

Being patient is hard.  It is hard to be patient and not get frustrated. It is even harder to be patient when things are out of my control.  Kids take years to grow up, opportunities slowly unfold, people don't seem to change and dreams get deferred.  Getting to the end takes patience, grace and the understanding that some things can't be finished in an afternoon. 

I learned from Proverbs 14:29 that "Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly."   This verse highlights the beneficial correlation of patience and understanding.  If I give myself understanding; patience comes easily.  Understanding shows me that the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes stacked in my dining room are waiting for National Collection week, my friend's boxes will be moved when her house is built, I will be fine in the long run if I never get pansies planted or a pumpkin. Understanding helps me when I am frustrated by traffic and Google maps shows there is an accident two exits away.  Understanding lets me adjust my expectations, change my plans and sit patiently -grateful that I wasn't trapped in an overturned vehicle far from home. 

Understanding has taught me that even things that are important can often wait. I realized my need to feel accomplished was driven by pride and prioritizing what other people think rather than what God has called me to do at that time.  The writing didn't happen because I was distracted by a bunch of other things that had to get done, birthdays to celebrate and carpools to drive.  

Deadlines and dependability matter but sometimes it is more important to give myself and the people around me a little understanding which helps all of us have patience.  Patience helps me not get angry or frustrated, it helps me take a long term view that enjoys life and isn't always driven to achieve and get things done.  While I am so happy to say this blog is finished and I am looking forward to hanging a fall wreath on my front door, giving myself understanding and having patience took the stress out of all my unfinished projects and turned the things I have to do into opportunities to be grateful and to trust that just as He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it whether or not I get the laundry put away anytime soon. 

How do you handle wanting to get things done and your frustrations when you aren't able to finish projects?  

Do What is Right

To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3

Have you ever started a project and then had to completely redo it? Mention painting to my husband and he can tell you a few stories. Like the time,  I hired painters to paint our kitchen a lovely shade of lime green and then had to hire a decorator to pick out a different color because it was so bad.  He still grimaces if painting our master bedroom comes up in a conversation.  When we moved into our new house, I chose a lovely shade of cream to put on our formerly teal bedroom walls, however once my husband had finished painting the walls, I realized I hated it. So back to the home repair store we went, two more gallons of paint and several more hours and my bedroom was a warm shade of tan, a much better color but not the coffee with cream I was hoping for however since my husband wasn’t willing to paint it a third time, it is the color on my walls to this day.   If I had picked the right color to begin with, it would have saved us conflict, time and money. In every part of life, doing what is right leads to blessings and saves us from heartbreak, wasted money and time. Though it can be hard to implement, it makes tough situations simple and leads less regrets and more joy.

“Do what is right” is a phrase has been knocking around my brain, getting louder and louder.  It is advice I give my kids when they are trying to decide how to spend their time- on video games or work, whether to listen to me or do what they want.  It helps me decide small things and big things.  It is the litmus test on what to eat, when to go to sleep, whether to make a comment, and what shows to watch or books to read.  It crosses my mind when I am tempted to speed, when I am on the tennis court and have to call a line, when the person in front of me drops twenty sheets of paper and I have to stop what I am doing to help them or when a cashier didn’t charge me for an item.  Do what is right.

Often though it seems like common sense, “Why wouldn’t I do what is right?” it still creates a struggle in my heart.  Help the person, go to bed on time, turn off the tv, click away and go exercise  but in any given situation, I find my inner self battling with my desire for things to be easy, entertaining and convenient.  The struggle is real. Do what is right.

I even find myself in situations like Cain when he was asked by God, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:7   Though I am not about to kill anyone, the struggle to do what is right is one I face every day. I really hate going to sleep and strongly dislike exercising.  Romans 7:19 highlights this struggle when Paul writes, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”  Why are we surprised by violence and conflict?  Proverbs 21:7 explains that “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, for they refuse to do what is right.” As I tell my kids, there are bad consequences when we chose not to do what is right.  Do what is right.

When I chose to do what is right, I hold on to the promises that if I do what is right, God will bless me.  Psalm 106:3 says “Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.” Some of the blessings are intrinsic; like if I do the right thing and go to bed at a reasonable hour, I will enjoy my days so much more. If I chose to do the right thing and exercise, I will be healthier.  If I chose to not fill my mind with junk and negativity, I will have peace and contentment.  If I chose to forgive and not be bitter, I will be forgiven and mentally free.  Some blessings are harder to appreciate because they result in bad things not happening.  For instance, God said His people would not suffer the diseases He brought on others if they do what is right. In Exodus 15:26 “He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”” Google pictures of STDs if you want a reminder of the consequences of choosing not to do right regarding sex outside of marriage.  Doing what is right provides the ultimate protection. Some of the blessings of doing right take years in the making and ultimately bless our children and our grandchildren.  “Do what is right and good in the LORD's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors” Deu 6:18  Your choices to do what is right create a template of blessing for future generations. Do what is right.

Our society is crying out for justice.  There are so many things that just don’t seem right.  Evil seems rampant and hearts our broken.   Interestingly, the Biblical response to suffering and injustice isn’t to get even because vengeance is the Lord’s to carry out. We are to do what is right because doing what is right and justice go hand in hand. Isaiah 56:1 says, “This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” The Book of Romans says a lot on this topic.  The early church in Rome was persecuted and harassed.  They were treated as second class citizens and executed for their beliefs.  In response, Paul wrote in Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.”  He continued in Romans 13:3, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.”  Paul also wrote a similar message to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8:21 “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”  Finally Peter sums up this idea in 2 Peter 2:20, “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”  Don’t suffer for being foolish, evil or doing wrong. Even though doing what is right can lead to suffering, persecution and being misunderstood.  Do what is right.

As I was writing the chapter on Sarah in my Bible Study Embracing Change, Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible, I was struck by this verse about her from 1 Peter 3:6 “like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” I realized that fear often keeps me from doing what is right.  I am afraid that I won’t get what I want, I am afraid that God won’t protect me or my children, I am afraid that God won’t provide… My fears drive behaviors that are the exact opposite of trusting God to provide, trusting God to protect me and my children, trusting that God will give me the desires of my heart. Even though I am afraid, I need to make the choice to not give in to fear.  Do what is right.

While doing what is right ultimately leads to blessings, in the moment, doing what is right is hard.  It can lead to suffering, it is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable, it means being different, it requires work, it doesn't always taste as good, it isn't cool and doesn't seem fun. 1 John 3:10 says, "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister."  

This week I have a challenge for all of us- as you go about your day, say to yourself, "Do what is right."  I'll do the same. When you get up in the morning, remind yourself, "Do what is right;" as you talk to your kids and spouse, "Do what is right." As you drive in rush hour traffic, "Do what is right." As you check your friends' Facebook posts and Instagram pictures, "Do what is right."  As you eat your lunch and dinner, "Do what is right." As you chose how to spend your evening, "Do what is right."   Let me know how it goes. I'll do the same.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Buyer's Remorse

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

I struggle with buyer's remorse. Questions like "Did I get the best deal?," "Is this something I even need?," "Do I really like it?" flood my mind when I make most purchases -whether it is a pair of shoes, a new shirt or an appliance.   I use a lot of strategies to prevent buyer's remorse.  I like to try on clothes with bad hair and no make up - because if it looks good when I look bad- I know it is a winner.  I wear super comfortable shoes when I go shoe shopping so that if I like a pair of shoes I can compare them to one I really like to make sure they will be cute and comfortable long after I have left the store.  A bigger purchase means I pull out the big guns of research and prayer.  I eagerly subscribe to Consumers Reports, read online forums and scour review sites to get an outside perspective.  I'll ask friends for their advice and most importantly, I'll pray.  My goal is to know and do God's will. I really believe that God will show us His best if we ask him and wait on His response.  In my opinion, one of the reasons for the law in Leviticus is to teach us though we are no longer under the law, God has an opinion on seemingly insignificant things like what we wear and what we eat.

Over two years ago, I felt led to give my beloved and well-used silver Sienna van to friends who are missionaries at JAARS. My plan was to wait about six months and buy a another vehicle but when I went to test drive a new van, I wasn't impressed.  Why would I pay tens of thousands for a car that wasn't much of an improvement over my previous van? So I decided to test drive a Prius v, they got much better gas mileage and had a ton of room for carrying plants and soccer stuff. But I didn't have a peace about the Prius v either. I knew I would have buyer's remorse if I got it, so I decided to wait longer. I moved on to test driving a Honda Odyssey, Subaru Outback and a Lexus RX 450h and in each of them I felt like Goldilocks, "one was too small, one had bad visibility and one cost too much."  I wasn't willing to buy a new car until it was "just right."  I wanted that feeling of perfect peace and confidence that I was in God's Will.  Like Goldilocks, I know what "just right" feels like when it comes to following God.

After two years of trips to car lots, my family was done. I'd tell them I'd found a possibility on Auto Trader and they would look at me sadly, unwilling to believe that I would ever find one that was just right.  The years of car limbo rolled by.  I had perfect peace when I gave our friends our van so why couldn't I fill that spot in our garage?  School started again and I finally felt maybe it was time.  I found a silver Sienna online for sale at a car rental company.  It was only a year old and still under warranty and the scratches on it gave it character that I would easily add to. I brought it home and everyone approved.  After a couple of hours of paperwork and a promise to fix the scratches, the van was ours!    Driving home, I started to wonder if I had done the right thing; "Had I rushed things?," "Was this really God's will?,"  "Was it really a lemon.," "Could I have found a better deal if I had waited?" As the questions flooded my mind, I could feel God say, "It is the right time, it will all be okay."  

My buyers' remorse and genuinely cheap tendencies battled with the peace that comes from following God in every part of life.   In my struggle, I held on to, "It will all be okay."  The next day, when I picked up my kids from school, my youngest started exploring the van's glove box, as he was looking at things he pulled out a book that I had assumed was the Sienna's  owners manual.  It wasn't - It was my owner's manual. Tucked in the glove box of this former rental van was a Bible!  God wanted me to know that He had picked out this van for me and that He knew what I needed and He would provide.  Perfect peace flooded my soul.

Have you had an experience where God confirmed a tough decision?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Never forget

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12  

Where were you on September 11th?  I was at home with my one year old watching Regis and Kelly.  They interrupted their lively broadcast to show a video of the first plane flying into the World Trade Center.  There was absolute shock and disbelief on their faces.  Just then our home phone rang, it was my husband telling me he had landed in Pittsburgh.  While we were talking on the phone, it was announced that the second plane had hit the World Trade Center.  Soon after, a plane crashed in a field near my husband by the Pittsburgh airport.  Thousands of lives were lost and the whole country was in mourning.

After the attack, I struggled with a feeling of vulnerability.  If this had happened once, I knew it could happen again.  I wanted to go back to that oblivious feeling of security and invulnerability that I felt the day before the attack.  The terrorists had been in America for months, training and planning for their attack yet I wasn't worried or scared.  I was living in blissful ignorance that wasn't reality. September 11th changed that. 

As a Christian, I believe there is a spiritual battle going on that crashed into the awareness of the United States on September 11th.   As Ephesians 6:12 says "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."   After September 11th, the whole country responded in prayer.  There was a feeling of kindness and compassion that filled the towns and cities of our great country.  Our great military and intelligence hadn't protected us from the attacks, so we turned to God.  Soon however, our prayers for peace were supplemented by increased airport security, terrorist tracking, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fifteen years later, Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the attack is dead but in his place thousands of radicals have carried out plans to inflict terror on Belgium, France and Turkey just to name a few.  This reminds me of the spiritual principal that Jesus talked about in Matthew 12:43-45, "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

In much of the "Christian" world like Europe, Latin America and the US, we have replaced our foundation on Christ with trust in the government. Rather than seeing the government and leaders as instruments of God's grace and blessing, our governments have become a "god." Instead of seeing God as our Provider, the Government is our provider; rather than seeing Jesus as our Healer, the government is our healer; rather than seeing God as our Shield and Fortress, the military is our protection, rather than seeking God's Justice, we have used laws to define what is right and to create our own version of justice.  

Islamists know that this is a spiritual battle.  It is time for Christians to join the fight through prayer and vigilance.  I wish I could go back to the blissful innocence I had while watching Regis and Kelly on September 11, 2001 but I can’t.  Over the past 15 years, my eyes have been opened to the spiritual battle in the heavenly realms.  Where were you on September 11, 2001? How did September  11th change you?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lies and More Lies

The Lord detests lying lips but delights in those who are trustworthy.  Proverbs 12:22

This morning,  I woke up thinking about deception, half truths and hidden facts. Maybe it was the unfolding Ryan Lochte situation, the political lies about emails and Benghazi, maybe it was thinking about times that I have twisted a story to fit what I wanted people to believe, maybe it was thinking about friends who found out hidden truths years and decades after a situation. 

Truth always comes out.  As I have been thinking about this in my life and in my friends' lives, I have realized that lies create a vacuum.  Hidden facts, twisted stories and deception create an unevenness in relationships and a hollowness behind a facade of normalcy.  Eventually, the facade crumbles, the hole is exposed and the disconnect is  discovered.  

When I have allowed deception to grow in my life,  I hide my sin behind concern for others' feelings and a desire to not face conflict.  I find a desire to blame others, and to highlight their imperfections rather than acknowledge mine.  The well known story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 highlights this process. David's dishonesty led to Bathsheba's pregnancy and his desire to hide his unfaithfulness led to the mighty warrior Uriah, her husband's death. Though David tried to hide the truth in this situation, a short time later truth was revealed by God to the prophet Nathan. Though David repented, David's lies and deception had long term consequences in his relationship with his children including his son Absalom, his  military leaders and his kingdom. 

Recently, I have been struck by the timing of when God reveals truth. For King David and Ryan Lochte, the truth came out rather quickly. But sometimes truth takes years to be revealed. A retired minister's wife found out that her husband had been unfaithful multiple times during their forty year marriage only after he retired due to a stroke. A friend found out she had a half sister long after their father died.  Another friend found out her "godly" husband had been living a double life for two years.  I have recently been struck by the Book of Jude and the blatantness of people who come into the church with the intention to deceive and manipulate God's people.  In some of these situations  learning the truth had been decades in the making. Why had God waited?  Why had God not revealed the truth to my friends at the time?  God is truth and all knowing- Why does He allow the deception to continue?

As a believer in Christ, I hold fast to his statement, that Jesus is the "way, the truth and the life."  He will protect me from lies and give me discernment in situations that allow me to see the truth even when there is deception going on. It is important that I don't let myself be deceived, I need to be on guard and seek Truth.  The closer I get to him, the more peace I can rest in that He will protect me and take care of me.  

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Assigned Reading

School has started in our neck of the woods. Easy summer mornings have turned in to carpool and schedules. On my 10th grader's school supply was buying a copy of The Kite Runner. The teacher included a note to the parents that required signed permission for the student to read the book. Her note started with "The Kite Runner is a novel about friendship, betrayal, and the price of loyalty. It is about the bonds between fathers and sons, and the power of their lies. Written against a history that has not been told in fiction before, The Kite Runner describes the rich culture and beauty of a land in the process of being destroyed. But with the devastation, Khaled Hosseini also gives us hope: through the novel’s faith in the power of reading and storytelling, and in the possibilities he shows for redemption.” The story was set in Afghanistan before the Russians invaded it. The book contains mature content including one of the boys in the book being raped by another character, children used as sex slaves and attempted suicide by a little boy. It was heart wrenching.

Scenes of innocence lost and sacrifice have been playing through my mind since finishing the book and though this book is fiction, I been haunted by this story.  Everything around me has been filtered through the shock and grief of knowing people all over the world have experienced even worse than what was portrayed in this book.  I've watch news broadcasts about the horrific fighting in Syria and am haunted by pictures of blood covered kids pulled out of buildings, I received a note from Samaritan's Purse on the civil war in South Sudan that is tearing up that country, a Wall Street Journal article told about the thousands of boys taken by Boko Haram in addition to the hundreds of school girls kidnapped as “wives”, it seems as if pictures of refugees washing up in Greek islands have become common place, and even here in America, I sat through a presentation this week about human trafficking in my hometown. My heart is overwhelmed by the suffering that comes because people are hurtful and can be depraved in ways that are beyond my comprehension. As I am trying to figure out how to talk about The Kite Runner with my teenager, I can't help but think about the connection between sin and suffering. If you think about all the ways that people mess up, it becomes obvious that every sin causes suffering to ourselves and often to other people.

I don’t know why I am still shocked by the sin and suffering in the world.  Many years ago, after reading through the Bible a couple of times, I realized every person in the Bible except Jesus messed up.  Romans 3:23 puts it this way, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.” (NLT)  Some people messed up really badly through murder, incest, adultery and idolatry.  Others’ sins were more subtle like pride, envy or deceit. One of the most common failings of kings in the Old Testament was the failure to tear down the high places; this was a sin of spiritual complacency, of not wanting to rock the boat and not assuming their spiritual responsibility.  The ways that I have hurt people and have neglected to assume spiritual responsibility are extensive.   
Amir, the main character spends much of the novel trying to atone for his pride, cowardice and complacency.  His failure to act created a chasm between him and his Kite Runner, Hassan.  Our sinfulness has created a chasm between God and us.  People all around the world have devised religious ways of atoning for sin. Their faithfulness to burn incense before a statue, to go to the temple, to complete Jihad, and follow every rule in their religion becomes a way to compensate for the hurt we cause ourselves and others. The goal of these actions is to create enough good to outweigh the bad. Since it is impossible to know if we ever do enough to balance out the hurt and harm we cause ourselves and others, the striving for atonement never ends.

This is a vicious never ending cycle unless it is broken by the perfect sacrifice.  In Christ we don’t have to sacrifice and atone for our sins; He did it all.  This is explained very clearly in 1 Peter 2:24 which says, "’He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’" Jesus carried every sin with him to the cross.  His wounds and suffering atoned for our pride, anger, envy, deceit, incest, murder, idolatry, selfishness, complacency and every other hurtful thing we have done or has been done to us. 

The amazing thing about Jesus’ sacrifice for us is that while we were still sinners he died for us. (Romans 5:8) Jesus carried every burden and grief to the cross because He knew that people will never be good enough on their own strength.  He suffered so that no matter what we do, we don’t have to.  He paid the price so that we would be free.  Free to worship, free to live, and free to enjoy life in abundance.

Take a minute to thank Him for his sacrifice, rejoice that you are set free and give him glory for his amazing love.  “For God so loved the world that he sent His only son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Just What You Need for Two Quarters

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ephesians 1:3

I love a bargain and several years ago, I hit the jackpot for two quarters at our local library book sale. Finding The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship in the pile of books for sale brought back memories of my Mom reading it to me and the amazement I felt as the story unfolded before my eyes.  Fifty cents later, this book now sits on our bookshelves tucked between Dr. Seuss and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Recently, I was telling my friend Pam about this book as we were marveling at how God brings friends into our lives that we can bless and who bless us at just the right time.  

The Fool of the World is based on an old Russian folk tale and tells the story of a young man, the Fool, who though he was neglected by his family, decided that he would marry a princess. The Czar had offered his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who could bring him a flying ship. 

Early in his journey he met a hungry old man; though the Fool only had crusts of dry bread and a flask of water, he willingly shared his food with the old man. Before the meal the Old Man proclaimed, "Let us eat what God has given." Reaching into the bag for their dinner, the Fool miraculously found soft white rolls and cooked meats. After a delicious meal, the old man explained to him how to make a flying ship ending his instructions with this important advice, "Be sure to give a lift to everyone you meet."  

As the Fool went on his journey, he picked up an amazing assortment of individuals. One man could listen to all that was being said in the world, the second man he picked up could step across the world in a single step, next they picked up a man who could shoot a target thousands of miles away. Later in the journey, the ship picked up the Eater and the Drinker, individuals who had an insatiable ability to eat and drink. The last two passengers were a man who carried a lot of wood that turned into an army of soldiers and a man who had a bundle of straw that could change summer into winter.  When the fool got to the palace, the Czar was not impressed with the simple peasant who showed up in the flying ship.  To prevent his daughter from marrying a peasant, the Czar came up with a list of absurd tasks that no one would ever be able to accomplish, like getting the magical water of life, eating a huge meal of twelve oxen, drinking 40 barrels of wine, chilling a glowing hot bathhouse and raising an army of soldiers. Amazingly, the motley crew of misfits the fool had picked up along his journey to the Czars' palace had the exact skills need to accomplish the impossible tasks set before him.  In the end , the Fool and the Princess fell in love and "she loved him to distraction."

As a kid, I marveled that all the random people the Fool picked up turned out to have just the skills and resources that he would need to complete the impossible tasks necessary to win the princess. Not only was the Fool blessed because of their uniqueness but they were blessed by sharing their gifts with the Fool. As a grown up, I can look at my life and see how God has put people in my life who have empowered me to complete tasks that I could have never done on my own.  I was blessed with supportive parents who helped me and gave me a strong spiritual foundation. He brought passionate teachers and a wonderful 4-h agent to develop and challenge me. He provided friends like Pam who had knowledge and resources that I don't have. I am so grateful for the stranger who set up a college scholarship so that I was able to have an amazing education and make friends who bless me to this day. He opened doors in my career that are amazing. I can now see how He provided just what I needed, often through a journey that was years in the making. 

As I look at my life, I can see God's hand guiding my path, introducing me to just the right person, making a way when there appeared to be no way and solving impossible problems.  Just like the Fool, on my own resources  I have only a couple of pieces of dry bread but God has turned them into an amazing opportunity to bless others. Just as miraculous as a flying ship, God has given us everything we need, we have access to his unlimited power and resources, though our knowledge of him.  I love how 2 Peter 1:3 says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."  

Share this with others and let me know how God has blessed you through the seemingly random people and opportunities He has divinely brought in your life.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rough Waters and Hard Times

He leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:2

I am writing this blog while hanging out at a whitewater rafting center on the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee. My husband and son are braving the rapids while I am hanging out at base camp. I decided to remain onshore because rafting is hard work. Many years ago, I blithely climbed aboard a whitewater raft and thought I would be able to float down the river.  I was wrong. Rafting equals paddling. It is hard.

While I chose to sit out this particular adventure, there have been times in my life when I made things a lot harder than they had to be. One critical time was when I was a teenager. In my early teens, I realized I pretty much knew everything about God.  I couldn't understand why my mom, who was well over thirty years old, kept reading the Bible and going to church.  By age 14, I had completely hardened my heart and had decided  I knew more than the Creator of this world and my parents, who obviously didn't know as much as I did since they still needed to go to church and ask God for help. I was confident that my way was better and I didn't need God. Since I was determined to carry all the burden, it was a lonely, miserable four years of doing things all by myself. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus promises that if we walk with him our yoke will be easy and our burden will be light.  But since I wanted to do it all on my own without God, everything in my life depended on me and my effort. In my quest for control, I had made my life much harder.   

Carrying a huge load reaches a point that goes beyond making you stronger and begins to completely crush you.  All the things that I couldn't control, didn't know and had messed up overwhelmed me.  I realized I needed God and I didn't know everything but He did. God had used my limitations to softened my heart to His infinite abilities. The softening process wasn't easy.  It makes me think of the process of tenderizing meet.  You pound it till it gets really soft and malleable.   

I have friends and relatives who have also chosen a hard path. Watching my loved ones as they stumble along breaks my heart. In their need for control, they keep insisting that their way is better.  They have made their lives incredibly hard.  Not only are they carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders but they as they continue to harden their hearts, I know they will continue to face the tenderizing process, a process that is designed to break you and bring you to your knees.  Amos 4 shows how God uses this tenderizing process on Israel. It has haunted me since I read it a couple of weeks ago. I can't get it out of my head. I was struck by the list of things that God had inflicted on Israel so that they would turn to him.  
Amos 4:9 says, "I struck you with blight and mildew;
    your many gardens and your vineyards,
    your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”declares the Lord.   
This verse is about God taking away their sources of wealth. Other verses in this chapter talk about God sending conflict, death, destruction, plagues, drought and starvation; all this was so that the people would return to the Lord.   These are hard verses. 

A lot of people struggle with the idea that a loving God would purposely bring this type of suffering on His people.  To better understand this: imagine how a parent might punish a rebellious teenager who had wandered down the wrong path. First, they might lose their phone or be put on restriction; but if the problem continues, some parents have signed their kids up for scared straight programs hoping an  intervention will prevent an actual incarceration. Big problems require tough measures. God's ultimate goal for all of us is for us to know him and bring him glory. just as sometimes the most loving thing that a parent can do is punish their rebellious child so that the kid doesn't continue on the destructive path, God will bring hard times into our lives to get us to the point that we cry out, "God I can't do this anymore. I need your help. Please lift this heavy burden off of me." Just as he helped me, He will pick up the paddle and lead your loved one by calm waters. He will restore their soul and lead them in paths of righteousness for His namesake.