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.