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.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Answer Key for Life

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105
Every week, my son's 7th grade math teacher emails me the answers along with that week's homework assignment. John is supposed to do his work as best as he can and then we check his work based on the answers the teacher mailed me.  We can quickly see what he understands and what he needs to work on.  Knowing the right answer is quick and easy.  If he gets a problem wrong, he figures out his mistake, fixes it and moves on.  Lesson learned.

I believe God intended the Bible to be the answer key to life.  It is a cheat sheet to understanding how the world works, the right way to live and why both good and bad things happen. God wants us to know the answers even before we have to do the assignment.

Psalm 119 explains how God's Word helps us know what to do.
"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:11  Knowing God's word keeps us from the damaging consequences of sin.
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105  It is impossible to find the right way to go if you can't see where you are going. God's Word illuminates truth for us and keeps us from stumbling.
"Great peace  have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble."  Psalm 119:165

One of Satan's most effective strategies for keeping us from abundant life is to devalue God's Word. In the Garden of Eden, "He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” After she answered Satan's question, he replied, “You will not surely die.  Satan's strategy of devaluing God's Word, hasn't changed over the years. Jesus said "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10.  We need to be on guard against Satan's suggestions that God's commands are keeping us from having the "good life."

This is ironic because Satan's distortion that God is keeping something from us, is the opposite of the purpose of God's commands.  In giving His people the Law, God gave them a cheat sheet to understanding the benefits and why they should follow the law- blessings would abound.  They didn't have to figure things out for themselves. They just had to copy the right answers in their words and deeds.  “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God" Deuteronomy 28   God also explained that if they didn't follow the law there would be consequences.

Both ancient and modern societies and even other religions have figured out the truths that have been spelled out for us in the Law.  The basic ideas like "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal" are found in some form or another in most cultures throughout the world. God wanted to make it easy for His people to blessed lives. Sharing God's Word from Genesis to Revelation is a way to give other people the answer key to life's biggest questions.

As Christians who are not under the law but under grace we can quickly forget that God gave the law as a blessing to help His people understand the right way to live so that they would live abundant lives.  The Hebrew word for peace "Shalom" captures the idea of everything being perfect and at peace- conflict and stress come when our relationship with God or our relationships with other people are lacking peace.  Following God's law results in life in abundance.  Devaluing God's law results in destroyed relationships with God and other people.  Here's how following God's commands affects us, "Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did." 1 John 2:4-6  To know God and show our love for him requires obedience.

God wants us to have an abundant life.  This requires using God's Word as the Answer Key to life. Make a goal to seek God's Word as the starting point for your tough questions. If deep down you don't want to follow God's Word, a minute to evaluate your heart and ask yourself the following questions.  

-What do I want more than God's blessings?
-Do I see obedience to God as keeping me from "fun" stuff and the "good life" or as a means to abundant life? 

Pray and ask God to change your heart so that you can exclaim with the Psalmist, "Oh how I love your Word, I meditate on it day and night." Psalm 119:97

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Blessing of a Smile

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:38

Sometimes, I can't help myself.  I stick my nose into other people's business.  I ran into Target to pick up an online order and return an item. There was no line at the customer service desk.  Jackpot!  As I was walking up, I caught the last bit of a conversation between the cashier who was at the customer service desk and the photo processing girl.  The cashier had gotten negative comments from customers about her attitude.   In an aggrieved tone she said to her co-worker, "I am not the one with the bad attitude.  The customers come in upset and angry.  They are the ones with a bad attitude."

Though it was none of my business, I had to join in her conversation.  I looked her in the eye and said, "I bet you mirror people and don't even realize it."  I could tell she was listening carefully.  "Everybody responds to body language and facial expressions but some people are like mirrors, they are more sensitive and do it more.  So if they see a smile they automatically smile in response.  I bet you are a mirror."  As soon as I finished speaking, I smiled at her in my happiest smile and she immediately smiled back.  She couldn't help herself. I almost laughed when I pointed out how she had smiled back at me without even thinking because I smiled at her.   As she processed my returned item and I wrapped up the transaction.  I smiled two more times and her beautiful smile flashed back at me.  Each time I pointed it out and reminded her, that she had to be intentional about smiling at customers and they would smile back.   Though customers were coming to the customer service counter grumpy and upset she could break through their feelings with a smile.

Here's a quote from a Psychology Today article about the power of smiling "There is a lot of evidence of body language mirroring. We automatically copy the facial expressions of others. We reciprocate and in social groups it can be contagious. People respond to, and evaluate, those who smile differently and more positively than those who do not. “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.”  

This sets up a virtuous cycle for the smiler and a viscous cycle for the non-smiler. Thus in sales, hospitality and negotiation situations the person who first smiles increases the possibility of the other person(s) smiling which increased trust and liking and therefore “co-operation” and helpfulness. Smiling helps bond people together.

There is also physiological evidence that smiling has specific biological consequence. This is even truer of laughter and is evidence of a feedback loop. Smiling has hormonal and physiological consequences which make us feel better and want to smile more. Smiling self medicates and heals."
This psychological concept is a concrete example of the cycle of blessings and curses. The author of the Psychology Today article even used the phrase "virtuous cycle."   Last week's blog was about the Biblical concept of the curse. I explained that the meaning of the word "curse" is summed up as devaluing, demeaning and disdaining something. In contrast a "blessing" sees and ascribes value to something or someone. When God blessed creation and said that "It was good," He was acknowledging the intrinsic value and worth in all of creation.  My cashier was dealing a bunch of grumpy people who weren't feeling blessed or valuable when they headed up to the customer service desk.  They felt devalued because their time was being wasted, frustrated they had bought the wrong item and they were concerned they wouldn't get something of value, their money back.  My cashier instinctively mirrored their body language and facial expression because that is what people instinctively do.

To break the cycle of feeling devalued and demeaned, all she had to do was to help them feel valued. Here's what Jesus told his followers, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  Smiling, listening to them and treating them with respect would  naturally result smiles and respect.

This is easier said than done. It is hard to break an intrinsic human cycle.  When people are mean to us, human nature is to escalate things and respond in kind.  A bad morning gets worse, frustration at work spills over into a fight at home, feeling devalued and demeaned by a friend leads to overeating or drinking in excess. This is human nature but it isn't our destiny. If we find ourselves in a pattern where people treat us poorly and we self-sabotage, it is valuable to ask ourselves, "Am I reacting to a lie that I am not valuable? Am I feeling less than? Am I feeling demeaned?"  To break this cycle, we have to remind ourselves that we are valuable, and then be intentional about what we give to others and how we respond to insults.

This week, practice proactively giving smiles.  You will bless the people you smile at and set them up for further blessings since they will feel valued. Start a virtuous cycle.  Let me know how it goes.

If you find yourself in a negative thought pattern or behavior, look back over the past couple of days to see if you felt devalued or demeaned.   Take that unhealthy thought captive and replace it with a blessing. You are valuable, loved, beautiful, and you have every spiritual gift in Christ to bless others.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Understanding Curses

But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you Deuteronomy 28:15

With Halloween just past and scary movies still playing at the Movie Theater, I thought it would be a good time to write about the Biblical concept of the curse. The idea of a curse is rather simple. Two words that can help us understand it are "consequences" and "value."

Blessings and curses go hand in hand in the Bible and as I have been studying blessings for the past couple of years, I have also been learning about curses. There are several scriptures that link both these key ideas together like the promise to Abraham- "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you."  Deuteronomy 28 contains a list of blessings for those who obey the law and curses for those who disobey it.  

The most important word to understand when reading about blessing and curses in the Bible is value.  The meaning of the word "curse" is summed up as devaluing, demeaning and disdaining something.  
In contrast a "blessing" sees and ascribes value to something or someone.  When God blessed creation and said that "It was good," He was acknowledging the intrinsic value and worth in all of creation.

Understanding the link between "value" and the curse even explains why we consider some words "curse" words.  When you call someone a curse word, you are devaluing them. Demeaning and devaluing people is an insult to their Creator.  

When someone values God, His creation and His word, they will receive value and blessings will come into their life.   Blessings create a virtuous cycle.  When we bless God, we will be blessed, when we value others we will be valued. 

When someone devalues God, his Word and His creation they will be devalued or cursed.  A simple example of this is if you value God, you will value his command to not commit adultery and you will value other people who are God's creation and not have sex outside of marriage.  In contrast, if you devalue God and His Word, you wouldn't obey the commandment to not commit adultery, devaluing His Word leads to devaluing marriage and frequently can lead to broken hearts, divorce, STDs and abortion.  

These are logical consequences. The consequences of the cycle of blessing and cursing is so obvious that even people who have never read Deuteronomy understand this principle.  They call it karma or tapping into the power of positivity, they explained it as "He got what was coming to him" and "What goes around comes around."  

Often we can see the pattern of devaluing people and dismissing God's commands that travels back through a family history.   The first step to break this pattern is to accept Jesus as your savior.  Jesus became the curse to set us free from the long term consequences of sin.  Every day we have the choice to bless those who curse us (devalue or demean us) and break the cycle of consequences.   "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28

Regardless of the poor choices made by us, our parents, or our spouse we do not have live with the consequences.  Grace sets us free.  By intentionally blessing those around us, we will unlock the pattern of blessing in our lives and in the lives of the people around us. 

How have you experienced grace and freedom from the consequences of poor choices?

How do you break the cycle of the curse by blessing God and others?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Lifetime To Do It All

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 
Proverbs 31:25-26

I went to my friend's funeral last week.  Funerals rarely capture the nuances of life, neither joy of a life well lived or the grief that comes from a life of poor choices.  I sat in the service hoping for a glimpse of her heart and the joy that she effortlessly brought to so many people.  My heart was filled as the minister began to read Proverbs 31:10-31.  My friend Joyce embodied this in her life. She was born the year that women got the right to vote and she never took this right for granted.  She started working for her Dad's business during World War II and balanced a career and raising four kids.  She managed her finances and investments, gave generously, maintained friendships and joyfully reminisced about cooking pound cake and Oyster casserole for New Year's day.  

Joyce embodied the Proverbs 31 woman. Depending on which translation of the Bible you are reading, this well known passage is titled "Description of a Worthy Woman in the NASB version, the ESV titles is "The Woman who Fears the Lord", the NIV titles it "Epilogue:The Wife of Noble Character."  

For many of my friends and me, reading Proverbs 31 can be intimidating and a reminder of all that we aren't doing right.  The NASB titles this passage "Description of a Worthy Woman" but often reading this can instead make us feel unworthy and like we don't measure up. This scripture was written by a mother to a son in a male dominated society to encourage him to value his wife and all that she can and will do, not to make us women feel inferior.  But we don't read it as such, and rather than encouraging and motivating us, it highlights all the areas our lives aren't successful.  

Many years ago, after I shared with an older woman, who had raised her kids and was expecting her first grandchild, how I was overwhelmed with insecurity every time I read this passage, she encouraged me to keep in mind that we don't have to do it all at once.  As Ecclesiastes reminds us, "There is a time and season for everything." 

I now see her wisdom and perspective. When I was younger, I couldn't imagine making clothes for my family, buying real estate, getting up while it was still dark to provide food for my family, or having kids and a husband that called me "Blessed" but I didn't have to.  I needed to go to work and do my best at that time with the responsibilities I had and not get worried about what I wasn't doing. Soon after having my first born son, I was getting up "while it was still dark" every three hours to feed him. I have since moved on to carrying out modern versions of "she puts her hand to the distaff, she hold out her hands to the poor, and she dresses herself with strength."  

Too often as women, we feel the pressure to do it all.  Have a career, raise kids, keep our house perfect, be a good manager, a wise investor, a perfect wife, a good cook.  These are all good things but they are just too much all at once.  Instead, we need to give ourselves grace and understand that just as my friend had 97 years to become a "Woman Who Fears the Lord" each of us have a lifetime whether is is 17 or 97 years to grow and use the gifts that God has given us for His Glory and to bless all the people around us.  Rather than being intimated by the Proverbs 31 woman, I have come to embrace her as a model of how to live well as a woman one step and verse at a time.  Becoming a Proverbs 31 woman should be a joy-filled validating process that lasts our entire life.

Do you feel pressure to do it all?
How do you manage your expectations and society's expectations with your responsibilities?
Do you have a scripture that you lean on when you feel the pressure to perform?

An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant;
    she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself[b] with strength
    and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet.[c]
22 She makes bed coverings for herself;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates
    when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.