Monday, December 31, 2007

I Am Resolved

It's that time of year again--time for the dreaded "New Year's Resolutions." I know, I know...what's the point? We're just gonna resolve to lose weight, exercise more, stick to our budget and other things that we're not even gonna manage to hang with for the first WEEK of the new year.

I used to be firmly in the camp of refusing to even make resolutions, because I knew I had TWO chances of seeing them accomplished--slim, and none. But, as I once told a friend, I resolved one year to quit making resolutions, and I failed at that one too.
The truth is, most of us, even if we refuse to "make" new year's resolutions in any formal sense, make them secretly in our head anyway. We just don't want to voice them--we think if we don't say them out loud, or write them down, then it won't seem so bad when we fail to actually do them.

Over the past few years though, I've changed my mind about resolutions. I think they are, in fact, necessary, and the New Year is a perfect time to make them. The problem, I think, is in the word "resolution." We dread the ultimate failure that seems to already linger in the air as we pronounce the, perhaps "goal" would be a better term to use.
Now, we all know that if we have no goals, we will never achieve much at setting goals, I challenge myself to keep moving, keep trying. I may not "achieve" the goal, but at least I'll achieve something!

I make "to do" lists at work, pretty much every week...these are really "goals" as well--what I intend to get accomplished that week. I don't actually remember the last time I ever managed to actually DO half of what's on that list, but can you imagine how long my job would last if I just quit trying, because I know I'm not going to make it?

So, making goals gives us something to shoot for--and the New Year is a great time to "re-evaluate"--set new goals, reorder some, drop some, whatever we need to do. Why? Because the New Year gives us that sense of a "fresh start," a clean slate. See, it really doesn't matter whether we accomplished last year's matters that we have set our sights on something to achieve now.

But--here's the important thing, to me anyway. The New Year shouldn't be the only time we make these goals, or evaluate them. I think the major reason we fail at some of our resolutions is because we make them, then we set them aside for another year.
Well, good grief!! No wonder we fail at them. Can you imagine a teacher looking at the curriculum for the grade she teaches at the beginning of the year, "committing" or "resolving" to teach everything...but then never looking at it again, never reviewing her lesson plans against the curriculum, until the end of the year? I'd hate to see her students' test scores!! The fact is, she may or may not get everything covered as thoroughly as she'd like, but she'll do a whole lot better by staying focused on the goal, than by looking at it once and then forgetting about it. Make it at least a monthly habit, even weekly, to pull out your list and re-evaluate: Am I getting this done? Do I still WANT to do it? Is there something I can do to get it done better/faster/differently?

Just as God gives us a clean slate EVERY time we come to Him and ask forgiveness when we fail, so we can start with a clean slate over and over, throughout the year, as we attempt to achieve the "to do" list for our lives.

So, go ahead...don't just MAKE the resolution/goal--resolve to remind yourself of it, often, and to keep trying every time you fail. And most important--make sure that you pray FIRST and ask God what His Goals are for you this coming year!

My resolutions? Well, some are personal and not to be shared on such a public forum...but there are a few that I will be bold enough to post here for all the world to see (or, at least the portion of the world that will read this, which I recognize is substantially less than "all the world."):
--to get the speaking ministry God has put on my heart started in earnest.
--to spend more time in prayer & in real Bible study (i.e. studying the Bible, not just participating in book studies) Note: I've quantified this for myself, but no point sharing that here--in other words, don't just say I'll do this more, but "how much more?"
--to try at least one thing I haven't ever done before (I'd better be careful here...THIS is how I ended up in a choir when I can't sing!)

Mostly, I am resolved to become more fervent about my walk with Christ--to submit more and more to Him and less and less to the world. In the words of the hymn that keeps buzzing around my head these past several days (and yes, I know I skipped a couple of verses):

I am resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world’s delight,
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.

    I will hasten to Him,
    Hasten so glad and free;
    Jesus, greatest, highest,
    I will come to Thee.

I am resolved to enter the kingdom
Leaving the paths of sin;
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
Still will I enter in.


I am resolved, and who will go with me?
Come, friends, without delay,
Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,
We’ll walk the heav’nly way.

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I will press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gifts for that REALLY Special Someone

Wow, I can't believe it's been so long since I posted anything--I didn't mean for that to happen, but life does sometimes get in the way...
I've had a sick kid and have been in and out of ERs and doctor offices, with nobody able to really figure out what's wrong with him. We have as many opinions as we have doctor visits, and meantime, the kid (all 17 years and 6'4" of him...) still hurts...but he DOES seem to be improving now and hopefully he's on the way to getting better...when your kid hurts, everything else seems to fade into the background, and so it's been for me.

And so I find myself in an all-too-familiar situation: just a few days left before Christmas, with too many gifts left to buy and WAY too little money to do it. I am making something for most of those on my list, so the only ones I've really got to buy for are my kids. I've had a LOT of medical bills this year and so have even more limited funds than usual, but we're all okay with that. Still, you want to do what you can, and you want to "please" your you look at the list and try to determine what you can give that will give the most "bang for your buck." Would they rather have ONE more expensive thing, or several smaller items on their list? Would they rather have THIS game, or THAT DVD?

And it's the same no matter WHO your intended recipient want your gift to please them.

Well, maybe you're all done with your shopping, or maybe you're like me and you've just gotten started....but what I want to talk about in this post is one particular recipient that you may have left off your list, and what you might consider giving them that would be sure to please.

See, you've probably got the kids, and the spouse, and Mom & Dad, and maybe even the aunts & uncles, some friends, maybe a Secret Santa gift to buy.
But what about Jesus? Is He on your gift-giving list? It IS His Birthday after all, so shouldn't He at least get a present? But what do you give someone who really DOES have it all? I mean, His Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills (but come to think of it, so does mine). Yet there are plenty of things we can give Him that are sure-fire hits...every time I think about it, I come up with more and more ideas for Him, but I am going to list just three, since there were three gifts mentioned in Scripture that were brought to Him. These are the three I am giving Him this year...what about you?

1. Time--in one quiet moment over 2000 years ago, in a dirty little stable, an event happened that changed the world forever. We talk about that event even today, and we talk about the angels, and the shepherds, and the wise men bearing gifts. We talk about Mary and Joseph, and, of course, about the baby. But there's a group of people we don't often think about yet...they are the ones who MISSED it. THE most incredible event of all humanity happened right in their own town and they never saw it!! They are the entire rest of the population of Bethlehem, those who lived there as well as those, like Joseph and Mary, who had come only because of the decree. The city was filled with people hustling about, busy visiting family and taking care of the business that brought them there...they were so busy that they MISSED the birth of Jesus. Do we do the same thing? Are you so caught up in the gift-buying, card-signing, present-wrapping, cookie-baking, family-visiting busy-ness that you've missed spending time with Jesus? Give Him that gift this Christmas. One night, after everyone's in bed, take a few moments and seek Him out, like just a few did that first Christmas. One of my favorite ways to do that is to sit in my living room, with only my Christmas tree lights on, and read the Christmas story, out loud, to myself and then just sit and talk to Jesus and enjoy the beauty all around me that is because of Him...
2. Music--Jesus LOVES it when we sing to Him! The Bible is FULL of references to singing our praises, making a joyful noise, lifting our voices in song, and we may as well practice now because when we get to heaven, we WILL be joining the choir!! Maybe you're like couldn't hit a particular note even if you knew HOW, which you don't....Jesus doesn't care!! So, just sing Him a the car, in the shower, anywhere you want to...but sing out loud, sing with abandon, and sing TO HIM! Pick a Christmas carol that really speaks to you and sing it as a prayer to God. Not only is it a sure-fire hit with Jesus, but you'll find it brightens YOUR mood as well! It's hard to get too grumpy when you're singing!
3. Gratitude--I admit it, it's easy for me to get caught in the last-minute frantic atmosphere....rushing from one place to another, trying to get everything bought and wrapped, and the house decorated, and still make all the church events and parties and family visits...not to mention still having a job to go to!! It's so easy for us to begin to focus on all that we still have to DO, instead of focusing on all that we HAVE. That's especially hit home for me this year, because I have less to "spend" on Christmas than I ever have...and yet, we have SO much to be thankful for!! When I'm tempted to "wish" I could buy more for the kids, I shift my focus to be thankful that I HAVE kids, and that, relative to many, many kids in the world, mine are VERY well taken care of, and I have Jesus to thank for that.
Here's a challenge...every time you find yourself thinking something negative between now and Christmas, make a conscious decision to give Jesus the gift of gratitude by choosing to replace that negative thought with something that praises Him. If you find yourself thinking "I need 8 more hours in this day," instead thank Him for even giving you this day, for giving you the very breath you breathe. Upset because every store is out of that one last item you "need?" Thank Him for giving you the health and the means to go from store to store, and show Him thanks by making it a point to say some uplifting to at least one person at each store you go a gift to Jesus. Frazzled about all that's left to do at home? Thank Him that you HAVE a home, and then give something to those who don't...give a gift to the local homeless shelter, donate a coat to someone who needs it, go spend a couple of hours at a nursing home, handing out Christmas cards and/or small gifts to residents you don't even know! I don't really even have to ask myself whether Jesus would rather me spend some more time putting out my decorations at home, or bringing joy to an individual who can't even BE at home.

"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." Matthew 2:11

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanks Giving isn't over

If you want to read a list of just a few things I'm thankful for, you can visit my blog called The Seven.
Today's posting isn't going to be in my usual style--I've been lazy today, doing almost nothing except for watching football and playing with some of my pictures on the computer..and reading blogs. And I have NO intention of changing my activity level today!

Our thanksgiving was wonderful, as usual--a small gathering of about 25 people (we've had up to 40 or more at times)...WAY too much food, great company, no squabbles, even among the children...maybe a bit of mischief (my nephew and I "re-decorated" a niece's UK birdhouse, giving it a distinct orange TN Volunteer spirit..improved the whole front yard!--nothing that couldn't be easily undone, by the way!).
We also always have index cards available for everyone to write down things they are thankful for; it's fun to read everyone's. My kids always make me laugh...they are thankful for so many things--aside from the rather obvious and oft-stated God, Jesus, and family, they also list things like "the entire electromagnetic spectrum."

So my point for today's blog is simply this--Just because Thanksgiving Day is over, don't stop giving thanks!! You can spend your time focused on problems, and it will seem like they abound...but if you spend your time focused on your blessings, and on the God who is able to see you through anything and everything..your attitude will reflect it!

And make sure that you give thanks every day to the One who created us and loves us, and made a way for us to know Him and love Him, too!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights. James 1:17

Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks Giving Fool

Every year, the Sunday night before Thanksgiving, my church does a "Night of Thanks" service, and it is always one of my very favorite services. There is no prepared sermon, just music, prayers and an opportunity for the congregation to stand up and give God thanks...microphones are set up and anyone who wants to can just get up and publicly praise the One worth praising. Some people just stand up and say something very quick and simple, like "I just praise God for my salvation." Others may tell of a specific need or crisis that God has seen them through this year...almost nobody takes more than about a minute, but I can't tell you just how uplifting it is to hear how faithful God has been in the lives of His people.

But, I am also always struck by how many people don't get up and say something. Why not? I mean, if we won't even stand up and say one word of praise in front of our fellow believers, it makes me wonder how likely we are to praise Him anywhere else.

Is it because they have nothing to be thankful for? I don't think, before I go any further, let me say that I know there are probably some valid reasons that some people don't get up and speak--Maybe they have laryngitis!
BUT...I daresay that the majority of them don't get up because they are more concerned with what everyone will "think" than with just giving God praise. Oh, we fancy our excuses up a bit, so they don't sound so irreverent..."I'm just a quiet person," "I'd just stumble over my words and sound like an idiot," "somebody already said what I was thinking," the list goes on and on. Maybe they're thinking, "well, if everyone got up and said something, we'd be here all night!" Well, let me just tell you...That would be Awesome!! Wow, spending hours just letting every single person stand up and praise THAT'S worth missing football for!! My fondest desire would be that one day we would have this service and every single person would say at least one thing they praise God for...if they can't stand up and walk, we'll bring the mike to them!

All those excuses mount up to just one thing...our eyes are on ourselves instead of on God. We are more concerned with how we appear to others, than with how we appear to God. We are so afraid of saying something "foolish," that we do something even more foolish; we sit quietly when God desires our praise.

When David brought the ark of the covenant down from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David, we are told that he went before it, rejoicing. He was so focused on God and unconcerned with what anyone else thought, that he took off his royal robes and wearing just a "linen ephod," he DANCED before the ark of the covenant. Music was playing, people were shouting out their praises, and David was "dancing & leaping" before his Lord (David might not have lasted long at my Southern Baptist church!)

Now, look at this closely:
"As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart." 2 Sam 6: 16

I notice two issues here:
1) She is disgusted by David's PDA(public display of affection) for the Lord; she thinks it is beneath his kingly position to do something so foolish-looking.
2) Even more important to me--she is INSIDE, looking OUT through the window. The ARK of the Covenant of their Holy God is being brought into the city, and she is not even moved enough to at least go outside and watch as it comes down the street!

A few years ago, when the Olympics were in Atlanta, the flame passed within sight of our house. We knew it was coming, so we all sat out on in our yard, waiting and watching. My kids were about 4 & 6 at the time, and they were quite excited. Well, the big moment came...we saw the truck, and the motorcycle escort...but no flame. Where was the flame?!?! Finally, my youngest son said, "There it is!" and start jumping up and down, he was so excited. Sure enough, there was someone running behind the truck...but there was no Flame...I learned later that, for some reason, they had had to pull the flame into the truck for a few minutes. To this day, my son believes he saw the Olympic flame pass right by his house.
Now, if we can get that excited about a stick on fire, just imagine how exciting this event had to be!! The very Ark that held Moses' staff, the manna the Israelites had eaten in the desert...this was bigger than the Tennessee-Florida game! And Micah could not even muster enough enthusiasm to go outside and watch!
And she couldn't believe her husband was acting like such a Fool! You know, it seems to me like it's the people who aren't busy worshiping the Lord themselves who have the time to focus on criticizing how everyone else is acting during worship...

When she confronted him later, David had this reply:
"It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." 2 Sam 6:21-22

In essence, David said, "I don't really care what you thought of it, because I didn't do it for you. I did it to celebrate before the Lord. And I'll act like an even bigger Fool than that to bring God honor! I'm not concerned with building ME up, but with glorifying God!"

WHY do we care what anyone else thinks about how we choose to praise our God?! Why isn't glorifying Him more important to us than "keeping up appearances?"

We sit in our pews and we say we are Thankful. But we are really sitting at the window, watching the Holiness of our God go past, and thinking only about how others around us look. We give a funny look at the guy next to us with his hands in the air, or the woman behind us who is making up for her poor singing with really cranking up the volume (er, if you're hearing that, it's probably me...), and we sit quietly, and "dignified." And we keep our praise all neatly bottled up inside, because we don't want to "embarrass" ourselves.
In Luke 19, as Jesus headed into Jerusalem, people gathered along the road and began shouting, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Luke 19:38
The Pharisees were incensed and told Jesus to shut them up--Jesus replied that if they kept quiet, then the stones would cry out! (was that the beginning of "Rock Music?")--you know, I can't think of anything much more embarrassing than God having to let the ROCKS cry out his praises because His people are too concerned with "appearances" to do it!

So, this Thanksgiving, be a Thanks-Giving Fool for God! Quit sitting at the window and watching--go out and give God the glory for what He has done for you! Sing to the Lord, even if you "can't" sing; talk about his wonderful deeds; read some of the Psalms before your meal; instead of grumbling about the lines and the crowds and the service, look for things you can Publicly give thanks for!

There are about a gazillion verses I could end with, all on praises and singing and glorifying God, but I especially love Psalm 100, sub-titled, in my Bible, "A Psalm. For Giving Thanks.":
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Are you truly thankful to your Lord? Are you willing to show it, even if it may make you seem "foolish" to some?
Don't make the rocks do it for you!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Time for Some Midnight Runs

Remember the story of Paul Revere? How he took off on horseback to warn everyone, yelling, "The British are coming! The British are coming!" He also arranged a "warning signal" from a Boston church, one lantern if they were coming by land, two if by sea. Revere rode through the countryside, warning every house he came to (this was 1775, remember, so stopping at every house wasn't quite the chore it would be today), as he made his way to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were on the way to arrest them.
This early warning gave many an opportunity to prepare, to be ready to fight when the British army came...without Revere's warning, many of them might have suffered a different fate.

Did you know that there was MORE than one rider that night? According to the Paul Revere House website, "After delivering his message, Revere was joined by a second rider, William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route. .. Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green."
Revere may be the one we remember, but the others were just as important--imagine how much different our history might be if only Revere had been sent and if he had then been arrested before he could warn others.

Today, we have lots of warning signals-- if a tornado is in the area, we have sirens that go off; nearly every home and business has at least one smoke alarm, to help us get out safely in the event of a fire; carbon monoxide detectors can protect us from an invisible gas that can kill us before we even realize there's trouble. Many schools, in reaction to recent shootings, now have a text-messaging alert system, where they can notify every student with a cell phone when there is an emergency.

But one thing all these warnings have in common is that they can't prevent the event they're warning us about; that's up to us.
A siren can't stop a tornado, but it can give us time to get somewhere safe.
A smoke alarm can't stop a fire, but it can give us time to wake loved ones and get out.
And Paul Revere couldn't STOP the British from coming, but he COULD make sure others were ready when it happened.

Did you know that YOU, and I, are God's warning system to the world? Jesus IS returning, and I am more convinced every day that the time is drawing near. No, I'm not an "end-of-the-world" prophet, I don't claim to have figured out the secret code that reveals the precise date of His return largely because there IS no secret code. Jesus was pretty clear on the topic--nobody is ever going to be able to figure out the day and the hour, but we CAN see the signs and know that the time is drawing nearer...
The day of Christ's Return IS drawing closer...the signs are clear. And I think the devil knows it too, because it seems to me like he has been on the attack like never before, not just in my life, but with my friends, and all around us. One thing we can know for certain--TODAY we are closer than we have ever been before to the Lord's return.

And so my question is, what are you doing to warn others? I'm sure that not everyone who heard Revere's shouts of warning really believed that they were about to be attacked by the British...but he didn't let their disbelief keep him from issuing the warning, and neither should we. It is NOT my job to MAKE anyone is my job to "go and tell." And it's your job too.
Christians--do NOT keep silent about the Lord's return. Do NOT let others intimidate you into keeping silent about your beliefs...GO AND TELL!
Tell your family, your friends, your co-workers, the guy in front of you in the checkout lane, the people stuck in the elevator with you...will they think you're some "fanatic?" Maybe...but would you rather please man or your Father? Don't wait until it's too late and then wish you'd taken that midnight run to warn a few more...

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. " Matthew 24:42-44

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm a Weakling, and Proud of It!

Being weak isn't exactly something our society looks on as an asset. We want others to see us as strong, self-sufficient, confident, intelligent, capable. We're not likely to list "can't do much on my own" on our resumes.

But there's just one little problem...for Christians, this "I can do it myself" attitude is the exact opposite of what God says! In fact, Jesus said that we can't do ANYTHING without Him...He said He is like the vine and we're the branches, totally dependent on the vine for everything...we simply can not even exist apart from the vine.

But we are really good at persisting in this attitude that we must present ourselves as strong and self-sufficient and even as Christians, we tend to admire that in others. We put the focus on the individual and not on the God who gave them their gifts and talents.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about this concept of weakness, specifically about Paul's "thorn in the flesh," because of my own physical struggles. Like Paul, my preference would certainly be for God to take this away from me, and I've certainly prayed to that effect...WAY more than three times!!

But God has not chosen to remove my physical ailments from me, and so I have to look at why He allows such "limitations" in our lives. In the grand scheme of things, my disability is not that bad...I have the full use of all my limbs, I have my sight and my mental capacities are about as good as they've ever been. The doctor tells me that my hearing is completely normal for an 80-year old (yeah, okay, so I'm in my 40's...but at least I CAN hear, and most of what I miss I probably didn't need to know anyway).

But, I'll be honest...having motion sickness when you're not moving can get really old! Having it get progressively worse for two years, so far, can just flat wear you out. Add to that the constant ringing in the ears and the occasional feeling that you're about to fall over on top of your fellow choir members during a prayer, and it sometimes seems like it's just not worth getting out of bed in the morning!

It's easy to sometimes ask "why, God?"--well, in this case, God has an answer (okay, He always has an answer, He just doesn't always reveal His reasons).
My weaknesses are a constant reminder of His Strength; there are days that I literally cannot get out of bed in the morning and get going without His help, and that reminds me that I depend on Him for everything. It is a constant reminder that I am weak...and that that is a GOOD thing, because it means I must rely on the One who is Strong.

I have a problem with pride. We all do, it is one of the most rampant sins and is the root of many of the other sins we commit. I want people to admire my talents and abilities, I want to be short, sometimes I want the glory that is due to God. When others commend my teaching skills, or applaud some other gift or talent I've displayed, the tendency is to let that build up our pride, "puff us up." But the truth is, that the credit simply doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the One who made me, who gave me the talent, the ability to do everything I do.

Paul said that when he prayed for God to remove his thorn in the flesh, God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." See, Paul was incredibly intelligent and capable, and I'm sure he heard a lot of compliments in his days about his wonderful would have been pretty easy to let the focus fall on himself. But because of this "thorn in his flesh," whatever it was, Paul was constantly reminded of his utter dependence on God, and that helped him remember to always give the glory to God for what was being done through him.

This is important--God's power is made perfect in our weakness.
When the world sees me as strong and self-sufficient, as capable of handling my problems on my own...well, then they see ME, but nothing else...I'm not revealing the true power in my life, I'm just taking the credit due to God.
But when I'm willing to admit my weaknesses and problems and struggles, and when I'm willing to be vocal about the fact that I'm incapable of handling them on my own, and must rely on the strength of God for every step...well, then the glory of God is revealed for those who are willing to see it.
Your weakness may not be a physical ailment, but we all have areas of our life where God is reminding us how much we must rely on Him for everything we have. He does this, not to make us feel small and incapable, but to help us see how much strength and power we have available to us, given by the very Creator of the Universe. He reminds of our limitations so that we will understand more clearly that we "can do ALL things through Christ which strengthens us."

John's gospel records a very simple, yet very profound statement spoken by John the Baptist after Jesus was revealed to him as the Messiah. He said, "He must become greater, I must become less. (John 3:30) This is the greatest desire of my life, that I would seek more and more to show Christ to the world, and not myself.

I admit it...I still pray that this "thorn in the flesh" will someday be removed. But as long as I have it, I pray that God will be glorified through it, I pray that it will be evident to others that I must rely on the power and grace of my God just to get through the day. I pray that the way I live my life, the way I handle this illness will keep ME in the shadows and bring glory to God.

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Return of the Blog

I'm back...I didn't really intend to be gone from the world of blogging for so long, but you know, sometimes life gets in the way of our plans! That's why God said we shouldn't just say, "tomorrow I'm going to do this, or go here," but rather, "Lord willing, these are my plans for tomorrow." We can make our plans, but God plans our life!

Anyway, I've been on what I call a "medically-induced vacation." I have a chronic disorder that has yet to be diagnosed--for the past two years, I have had chronic nausea, like being motion sick without being in motion. Some other stuff too, but I won't go into it all, since this is not a medical blog! Anyway, I've been to more doctors in the last two years than in my entire life combined before that! They have determined a myriad of things that I DO NOT have...but what I DO have seems to elude them.
So...a few weeks ago I traveled to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD, about nine hours drive from where I live, to see a specialist. My sister and I drove up, first to D.C. where my brother and sister-in-law live, on Capitol Hill; we stayed with them a few days then went on to Baltimore.

The result? Well, they think perhaps a condition called "vestibular migraines" (vestibular has to do with the inner ear, for those of us who speak English, not medicalese). This is despite the fact that: a) my problem does not come and go, it is constant, and has gotten progressively worse over the last two years, and b) all the vestibular tests they did came back completely normal.

So, I am MORE than skeptical about whether this is really what I have, but am hoping that the MRI I'll have next will help.

We did get to sightsee one day, in Baltimore's inner harbor, which was great. Took lots and lots of pictures; some will likely make it to my "Life Artified" blog. We also spent a day exploring in D.C. with my brother; went to a lot of the art exhibits this time. The first time I went to D.C. it was a true vacation, and my kids went with me--they were about 8 & 10 at the time, and the youngest had an obsession with rocks and dirt...we spent an ENTIRE day in the Museum of Natural History looking at EVERY single rock there was...I think there must be about 13, 326, 421 rocks in that place and we saw every last one of them!
So this time, no rocks...but I must confess that by the time we were done, I was about as tired of seeing great works of art as I had been with the rocks the first time.

So, I got back and was looking forward to gettng back to work, and blogging and church and everything else. But, not so fast...we got back late on Thursday, Nov. 1. That Saturday, my eldest began complaining about a pain in his side...we knew it wasn't his appendix, because THAT was the problem eight years ago when he had a pain in his side. Anyway, by Sunday it was bad enough that I took him to the ER at the local Children's Hospital...they said he had a kidney stone. Then they said, no he doesn't...maybe it's his, it isn't....he ended up being in the hospital for FOUR days while they ran every test they could think of. They never did really figure out what was going on, but they sent him home anyway. By yesterday, the pain finally subsided, so hopefully it will go away on its own and we won't have to repeat that experience anytime soon!

So, now, hopefully, I'm back to, well, if not normal, at least MY normal. My next blog will return to its normal scripture-application theme, although it relates to the medical difficulties I've been having. I'm hoping to write and post it today...God willing!

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." James 4:13-15

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Precious Child

Don't you just love to look at pictures of children? Even when they're messy and dirty and causing mischief, they're just so cute! I have a picture of my youngest when he was about 2 years old, sitting on the floor, with his face almost entirely covered by ketchup from the hot dog he'd just eaten!

Of course, not every picture of a child is "cute." Pictures of starving children, homeless children, abused children...these are heart-wrenching images, but, for me at least, there is still just something so precious and endearing about the child, the innocence in their eyes, and you just want to clean them up, feed them, hug them and make everything better.

Now, pictures of ME? That's another story! I love taking pictures, and I HATE being in them...because when I see a picture of myself, I see all that's "wrong" with me...I'm too tall, too skinny, my teeth are not a Crest commercial waiting to happen, I always have the whole "red eye" thing going on, and somehow, every picture was shot on a bad hair day. Oh, and I often seem to have my mouth open in pictures (which is really quite realistic, since about the only time I'm not talking is when I'm eating). Trust me--there is a REASON I use Eeyore for my profile pic; he's more photogenic!

The other day, I came across a picture of one of my nieces that I just's one that I played with in Photoshop, cropping it down to focus in on the eyes, which were particularly striking, and then posterizing it:
As I looked at this picture the other day, I thought about how a picture of a child just makes you want to hug them, and it struck me--THIS is how our Father sees us. He never, ever looks at us and thinks, "wow, she could stand to lose a few pounds," or "lose the beard, seriously, man." No, he just looks at us and sees something so precious He longs to hold us. He looks in our eyes and LOVE overwhelms Him (not that God can be overwhelmed the way WE think of it, but you get the idea).

Now, I could go a lot deeper with this (and probably WILL at some point), but for now, I just want to stop right here, because if we can truly GET this one point, that God LOVES us and we are absolutely precious to Him, no matter WHAT we look like on the outside (in fact, He MADE that outside, and He's pretty proud of it!), if we truly GET how we make Him feel...when we really get a hold of that truth, it will indeed set us free. Free from our self-critical natures, free from our fears, free from the baggage we carry around, from our concerns about how others see us. Free to just Love Him. And there IS nothing greater in this life.

Go right now and find a picture of yourself--or better yet, look at yourself in a mirror. Not at your faults, not at your physical features...look at YOURSELF, the you that God sees. See the child there that He loves so much He just wants to pick you up and hold you...even when we've messed up, He still looks at us as a precious child and just wants to clean us up, feed us (spiritually), hug us and make everything better. Now, if THAT doesn't make you feel pretty good about yourself, nothing will!!

He loves you, as if you were still a little child...because, to Him, you are.
Be a child, and love Him back, freely, openly, without reservation!

"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31

"Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." " Matthew 19:14

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Kingdom Building

Disclaimer--I know so little about how to do construction, it's scary. I can't dig a foundation, and even if I could, I would have NO idea where to go from there. So, if you're a builder, a contractor, or just plain smarter than me, just try to ignore it if I say something that displays my ignorance of all things construction.

Habitat for Humanity can build an entire house in a matter of days--so fast that I used to suspect they couldn't possibly be very GOOD houses...they must be pretty shoddy if you can put them up that first, right? But the fact is, these houses are as good as most, better than some. So how do they build in sometimes as little as a week what it often takes months for others to do?

Well, my apologies to Habitat here, because I'm about to really oversimplify this, but essentially what they do is this:
Make a plan
Get willing volunteers
Give their volunteers the necessary tools and supplies
Send the volunteers off to work.

Now, for a moment, I want you to imagine a scene. You're building a house, and everyone's been given their tools. Some have hammers, some screwdrivers, some saws, and so forth. Once everybody has their tool, you send them off to work, but when you come to check on the progress, nothing has happened. NOTHING. There has been NO building done on this house. And so, you start looking around, and what you discover is someone trying to install a window with their hammer (THAT's not gonna be pretty!), someone else trying to cut a piece of wood with their screwdriver. You also notice a few people just wandering around, picking up wood and looking under it, or just looking around dumbfounded. You ask a couple of them what they're doing and they tell you that they don't know where their tools are. And then there's a whole bunch of people sitting in a corner, talking. As you approach this group, you hear the conversation...they are talking about HOW to build a house, what a hammer is for, how to hold a screwdriver, safety precautions when using a power saw.
You look at this group, and notice that all of them still have their tools, but they've stuffed them into their pockets, or set them off against the wall.
There is ONE guy who seems to have been working--sweat is just dripping off the poor guy, there's sawdust all around his work area...but when you ask him where the wood he's cut is, he says every time he cut it, somebody would tell him he was doing it all wrong, and he had to start over.

How long will it take to get this house built? FOREVER...and then some. Because the ONLY way you're going to get the house built is to get these people to start USING these tools...and using them PROPERLY. You've got some with tools who aren't working at all, and others who ARE working but they are completely ineffective because they are using the wrong tool.

Well, it strikes me that the church today is frighteningly like that group of building volunteers.
Look back up at those simple steps Habitat takes:
Make A Plan. Get volunteers. Equip your volunteers. Send them to work.
God has a plan to build His Kingdom. He had this plan since, well, since forever...and ever since He laid the foundation, He planned to use volunteers on this project. The volunteers are those who choose to put their faith in Him. Believers. Christians.
Then He gave each "volunteer" the tools they needed...these are our spiritual gifts. "in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues."

So far, so good...most Christians can agree that God has called them to serve, to be a "volunteer" for His Kingdom, as it were. And most of us agree that God gives us each a spiritual gift when we become a believer.

So, why isn't the Kingdom growing the way (I believe) God desires? Well, first, without gettting WAY off my topic here, let's define Building the Kingdom; I'm talking here, really, about fulfilling the Great Commission. Reaching the lost for Christ, seeing them come INTO the Kingdom, and THEN teaching them how to grow in their relationship with Christ, and equipping them to become "volunteer" builders themselves.

I believe we (the Body of Christ) are not doing our job of fulfilling the Great Commission, and I believe that a big part of the reason can be seen in this house-building example. At the building site I described, everyone there had "volunteered" and said they were willing to help; they are professing Christians, those who have SAID that they have made Christ Lord, and they will obey His will for their lives. The tools are the spiritual gifts that God has given us.

But the building isn't getting done, and there are several reasons for this that I want to point out:
--Some Christians are just wandering around doing nothing, because they have no idea what their spiritual gift IS. They're still trying to FIND their tools. If that describes you, let me give you some suggestions to FIND your tool--first, while Spiritual Gift tests are interesting, and, in my opinion, often quite accurate, they are NOT the best way to find your gift (again, in my opinion). There are TWO good ways to find your gift: First, ask those who know you best what THEY think your gift is. Second, and this is radical, I know--DO SOMETHING!!
Teach, Participate in a Missions project, go on visitation, help organize an event,...just go DO something in your church, and you'll know pretty quickly if God has given you a gift for that particular ministry. I've done lots of different jobs in our church, and I've learned a lot of things that God did NOT give me a gift for; I've also learned a couple of things He did gift me with, and that has become my focus. (that does NOT mean, by the way, that I don't need to practice those other things...but that's a topic for another day, I won't chase that rabbit here).
--Some Christians have their tools; they KNOW what their spiritual gift is--but they aren't using it. They'd rather sit around and talk about the NEED to use these tools, HOW to use the tools, and criticizing how others are using their tools. Sadly, this seems to describe a majority of those in our churches today; they fill our pews, they can certainly talk about what needs to be done, and find fault with what others are doing...but they don't bother to actually pick up their OWN tool/gift and start helping out!!
--Finally, there are a few out there using their tools for the wrong purpose. What am I talking about here? Sometimes, those who are WILLING to do the work take jobs within our churches just because they "need" to be done, NOT because they sense God calling them to do them. I once got a NEGATIVE score in Mercy on a Spiritual Gift test--I am probably NOT the best choice to head the benevolence ministry or an encourager's ministry. If someone handed me three paper bags to sort by size and store, I'd lose them all within a week's time--so my skill set probably doesn't include organizing an event. But ask me to speak, or to teach, and I'm all over it!! Now, let me add one thing--I don't teach or speak because I'M good at it, but because God has gifted me with it. It may seem a small distinction, but it all makes ALL the difference! Maybe I AM good at it, maybe others really enjoy it--I certainly hope so--but if that is the case, that is to God's Glory, not mine...I'm just USING the tools He gave me.

Oh, that last guy...he represents those few poor folks at church who ARE working, they ARE using their gifts, the WAY God intended...but they don't seem to get much accomplished because everything they do gets criticized by the pew sitters, the very ones who aren't actually working themselves. Whatever you do, DO NOT be one of these critical pew-sitters!!

WHAT is your tool? How are you using it? ARE you using it? What are you helping to build for the Kingdom? If we are to accomplish all He has planned for us to do, we need EVERY "volunteer" out there, working!!

There are so many great verses regarding spiritual gifts, I just can't choose! So, I'll put a couple of verses here, and also some Scripture references...go check them out!
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:10-11
Also read:

Romans 12:6-8
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 Corinthians 14:26
1 Corinthians 12:8-28 (it's long, but worth it!!)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Piling On

I've had this post in mind for awhile but haven't had a chance to write lately. And I'm not sure it really says all I want it to, but it'll do for a start...I'll change it if God gives me another direction for it!

Piling on is a football term for when a runner is tackled and the play is over, but then one or more other players "pile on" top of the runner, even though he is already down. You see this especially when there is a fumble--someone dives for it, then someone else, and pretty soon there's twelve guys all piled on top of each other. Did that tenth guy REALLY think he was gonna come up with the ball? Of course not, he just wanted to be part of the action.

Sometimes, it seems like Life is "piling on," as has been the case for a couple of my friends lately.
One close friend has been trying for several years to adopt two boys from a foreign country; recently her family accepted God's call to MOVE to that country as full-time missionaries. THEN her dad was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer, and also lost his job of 38 years.

Another dear friend has recently faced surgery on her dad which turned into a near-death episode and a long hospital stay; the diagnosis of late stage cancer in her brother, who is already paralyzed from a car accident years ago; her own fairly major surgery and recovery; and most recently, a scare with a bad report on a test her mom. Not to mention that she now has a teenage driver, which is enough stress for anyone!

This two friends were there for me when life was "piling on" for me a couple of years a five-month period, I lost my father, my house and my job, and my will to keep going on. And so, to watch them face these trials, well, you just wish you could make it all better. But I can't...I do, however, know the One who can!!

It was on the day that she got the bad test results for her mom though, that I witnessed a different version of "piling on." During choir practice, we always have a time for prayer...after all the requests had been voiced that night, our choir director said that he just felt a special need for us to really pray for my friend who has had SO many things happening lately. But rather than just have someone pray for her (which is good, I encourage that!!), he asked that we all actually gather around her and pray. So, there were all were, like one great big pile, covering the one person in the middle who had the ball.

Only the ball wasn't a football, it was the "ball" of problems that life had been piling on. And as we all gathered around her, and prayed, one at a time, for specific needs in her life and in the life of her family...well, God joined us there. "Whenever two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20

Prayer works, anyway, whether you are alone in your bed or surrounded by 5,00o others...but when believers come together, physically, and earnestly seek God together...well, something truly supernatural happens! It happened that night...I think we ALL left that huddle with lighter spirits, lightened burdens. And oh, yeah, those test results? They turned out to be fine...

It is time for Christians to start "piling on" each other. Instead of shooting our own wounded, we need to take the stance that we will leave no one behind. The marines will risk their own lives, to go back for a wounded, or even a dead, comrade...they will not leave them alone.

Our churches today are too often sanctuaries full of individuals trying to make it on their own, instead of the Body of Christ, banded together. Too often, we live each other alone to fight our battles...and the devil loves it!! It's so much easier to defeat one isolated soldier, than to have to face the whole battalion!!

Not even sure WHY I picked these two verses, but they just keep coming to mind as I type this:

"Troubled on every side, yet not distressed, we are perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, cast down, but not destroyed." 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 10:37

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Dogs are Fighting

No, I don't know Michael Vick; it's not that kind of dog fight...

I've written about three different versions of this post; it's a subject that I need to prepare as a topic for a women's ministry event (so if you want to hear more, ask me to come speak to your group!) because there is no way to really handle it completely here, even if I made it a series of postings. So, this is like the Reader's Digest Condensed version...

I am a perfectionist. Unfortunately, I am NOT perfect. Not even close. This is a highly irritating reality to people like me, cause I wanna be the “Super Jesus Girl” as Angela Thomas puts it (if you don’t know who she is, google her name and buy one of her books…you’ll be glad you did!).

This past week, God has given me lots of chances to see just how imperfect I am. Moments when I've felt like the worst Mom in the world. Moments when I’ve fallen to the same sin I’ve fallen to umpteen times before, and I wonder if I will EVER learn. Moments when pride has brought me low, when anger has bested me, when a “little white lie” came out before I even thought about it.

Now, we all mess up from time to time. But there are times when it seems like our mistakes just come in spades, when you make mistakes trying to correct your mistakes, when you realize you’ve committed a sin right on the heels of asking forgiveness for the last sin you committed…this is what my week has been like, and it makes me want to just crawl in bed, and cancel the rest of the week. But God decided HE kinda liked this week (cause He made it...) and He thought He'd just stick with it.

And then I remember that evidently, Paul sometimes felt the same way:

“For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!" Romans 7:15-24

I love this passage in Romans because I think of Paul as such a great man of God, and he was…but he sometimes felt the same way I do, like he just couldn’t get it right!!
BUT…Paul added one other little detail, a detail that we need desperately to remember when we feel defeated by our faults:

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:25

God KNOWS we won’t always get it right!! That’s why He not only sent His Son to die for us, but He sent Him to Live through us, too…"I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet NOT I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

There is just ONE way for me to ever defeat sin in my life, and that is to let Jesus live through me. Think of your “flesh” nature and your “spiritual” nature as two dogs living inside you. These dogs keep getting into fights (okay, dog fighting might be a touchy subject just now…but just hang with me!). Which dog is gonna win? The strongest one; the one that’s been fed right, exercised, and taken care of. Well, then, which dog are you taking the best care of? Do you “feed” your spirit with Scripture, prayer, preaching, uplifting music? Or are you feeding your flesh with inappropriate TV shows, movies, foul language and jokes (saying them OR listening to them), music that has questionable lyrics…

Do you “exercise” your spirit? The Scripture is full of ways to do that—GO and tell others about Jesus, DO something good for someone in need and let them know why you’re doing it, FORGIVE someone you’re angry with, RECONCILE with a brother…pretty much anywhere you see a verb in the Bible, it’s an opportunity to “exercise” your spirit. But instead, we exercise the flesh instead—I know, you’re thinking “exercise” is the farthest thing in the world from what you do with your flesh…but I’m not talking about jumping jacks here. I’m talking about the flesh involved more in your actions or is the Spirit?
Just an example...I could wallow in my pity and focus on the mistakes I've made this week and become pretty negative...or I could sit down and write a blog post about how to learn a spiritual lesson through this experience...guess which one I chose?!...

Which dog do you want to win? What are you doing to make sure of victory? That's the one you need to feed...let the other one starve for awhile (good grief, now I'm even getting into animal abuse...just in case the ASPCA is reading this, remember, these are NOT real dogs...if you have a real dog, please be nice to it..).

Finally, here’s a bit of encouragement…I needed it, so I’m guessing maybe you do too:
God’s not done with you, and He’s NOT giving up, ever, on making you what He knows you can be.

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Now, excuse me, I've got a dog to feed…

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Never Forget

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

I pledge allegiance to the Lamb
With all my strength
With all I am
I will seek to honor His commands
I pledge allegiance to the Lamb

I have heard how Christians long ago
Were brought before a tyrants throne
They were told that he
Would spare their lives
If they would renounce
The name of Christ
But one by one they chose to die
The Son of God, they would not deny
Like a great angelic choir sings
I can almost hear their voices ring

Now the years have come
And the years have gone
And the cause of Jesus still goes on
Now our time has come
To count the cost
To reject this world
To embrace the Cross

And one by one let us live our lives
For the One who died to give us life
Till the trumpet sounds on the final day
Let us proudly stand and boldly say

To the Lamb of God who bore my pain
Who took my place
Who wore my shame
I will seek to honor His commands
I pledge allegiance to the Lamb
Allegiance, by Ray Boltz

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Follow the Truck

In my Sunday School class this morning, during our discussion of the story (based on Daniel 2--it's cool, you should read it!) we were talking about how we can know that we are acting in faith and not acting in folly. One of my class members said, "Don't you think that the difference is that Daniel was walking BEHIND God, not in front of Him." She was exactly right and it was a great way to show how to apply this to our own lives.
When we run off in front of God, and merely ask Him to bless what we have already decided to do, that's just folly. But when we walk just behind Him, checking each step of the way that He is still in front, then He will be able to lead us down the right path, and we CAN be confident in what we do, because we KNOW He is the one leading us to do it.

This made me think of an experience I had years ago. I was driving through Atlanta, up past the airport. At night. In the rain. I hate driving in Atlanta, and I especially hate driving in the dark and the rain. So I was not enjoying the experience. And then, it started raining harder. And harder. At this point, I thought of the advice my father had given me, that if it is raining too hard, you should just pull off to the side of the road until it lets up, instead of risking an accident. Good advice, that...only, until that moment, I hadn't thought of the problem with that advice, which is that if you can't SEE the side of the road, HOW do you pull over on it!? So, I kept driving, unable to tell which lane I was in, or if I was even in a lane at all. I still praise God that I did not meet my end via a concrete wall that night, because my eternity would have been spent in the wrong place!
And then, help arrived in the form of an 18-wheeler. It entered the interstate just ahead of me, and I just fell right in behind him, and decided he was my "safe passage," my salvation. I just drove along, following that truck like a baby duck follows its mama. It occurred to me that if that truck suddenly drove off a 50-ft. cliff, I was gonna be landing on top of it, but I just decided to trust that it was going to stay on the did, the rain finally let up, I became more comfortable with finding my own way, pulled out ahead of the truck, and arrived back home safely, except for a tension headache...

The thing that got me safely where I was going was my decision to just stay behind that truck--sure, I was really just "lucky" that I picked the right truck, because I could just as easily gotten behind one that wouldn't have been safe to follow (well, it wasn't luck; God sent that truck, even though I was spiritually lost at the time.) But, hey, that's not the point here.

The point is, that the safest way to get through life is to get yourself up behind God, and just follow His lead. He will NEVER lead you onto the wrong path, and you are absolutely guaranteed to arrive safe at home, because He knows the way! It is when I become comfortable, and pull out ahead of God that I get myself in trouble, because then the storm comes, and I can't see a thing, and I have NO idea whether I'm on the right road or not. I become afraid that I'm going to end up in trouble, because I can't see ahead of me. The good news is that all I have to do is STOP trying to make it on my own, get back behind Him, and I'm right back on track.

Where are you in life? Do you know you're headed in the right direction, because you're following The Leader...are you trusting Christ to take you in the right direction?
Or are you out ahead of Him trying to do things on your own and just hoping He will bless what you do? That is folly, and you'll find yourself in a storm, unable to find your way out!
Maybe you're already out in the storm, alone, and unable to see where you need to head. You're scared and you don't know how to find your way out. Pull off for a minute and turn your life over to Christ...He will lead you in the right direction, because He knows the way home!!

Today's closing passage is a bit long, but worth it, especially if you're trying to find your way:
" 'Trust in God, trust also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms...I am going there to prepare a place for you...I will come back and take you to be with me...You know the way to the place where I am going.' Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?' Jesus answered, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.' " John 14:1-6

Friday, September 7, 2007

Here I Stand, Too

Well, yesterday's post was so long, even I almost didn't read it all!! When I really get going, it's hard to stop me! That's why I blog, so my friends don't have to listen to it all the time...

Anyway, today's post is something different. A friend sent me this video and I thought it was worth sharing. Now, let me first state, this is NOT a political endorsement!! I do not yet know who I plan to vote for, but I know that I DO NOT plan to make this, or any of my blogs, a forum for politics.

No, I'm not showing this because of its political nature, but because of its Spiritual message. Here is a man who is willing to take a stand, even though he KNOWS it may cost him some votes. Clearly this is a person who cares more about pleasing his Savior than about pleasing man.

My point in posting this video is this--if HE can do it, knowing he may lose votes, knowing that he is going to get attacked in the media for it...well, then, what about YOU?

WHAT do you believe? Are you so firm in your faith that you are willing to proclaim it, no matter the response you get? Are you living to please God, or man?

Finally, I leave you with this quote, which Huckabee's one of my favorites. It's from Martin Luther when asked to defend or reject his 95 theses that inspired the Protestant Reformation, including the idea that Scripture says we are saved by faith in God alone and by His grace. Luther's response was this:
"Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Oops! You Did It Again

Some time ago, the city where I live began putting up traffic cameras at some of the busier intersections throughout the city. These aren't just any traffic camera, though--these cameras snap a picture of the car and license plate of anyone who decides the whole "red light, green light" thing doesn't work for them and just keeps on going through the red light. Should you choose to ignore the red light and go anyway, in a few weeks you will get your very own, personalized traffic ticket in the mail. You can pay it, or you can go to court, but you should remember that they did catch it on tape...

This story is not about whether these cameras are good or bad, but just a couple of secondhand experiences I've had with them recently that got me thinking.
A friend of mine told me that her daughter had gotten one of these tickets in the mail; but her daughter insisted that, not only did she have a good reason for speeding (her son was having a seizure...not a first time, but always scary...), but that she did stop and look before going on through the light. So, my friend called the number on the citation, and explained all this to the lady on the phone. Ms. Ticket-by-mail lady listened politely, then told my friend that she was looking at the video and that her daughter had not in fact stopped. She said they would probably forgive the ticket based on the situation if she had shown some caution, but that she had not even slowed down. Ticket-by-mail lady said daughter did not even slow down...if anything, she sped up. The ticket was paid, and hopefully, the lesson learned.

Then yesterday, I witnessed what must be just about the most bone-headed thing I've seen this year. I was driving down the road, approaching a light just before one of these traffic cam intersections and saw THE flash--that super-bright, white light that tells you one of the cams has just snapped a red-light transgressor. I looked up the road to see the culprit, just then getting to other side of the intersection, and I thought, "man, I bet he wishes he hadn't done that! (yes, in all fairness, perhaps "She" wishes it...I don't know)"
Now, this is a stretch of road where there are actually two large, busy intersections in a row, both with cameras. Well, while I'm still watching this car, thinking how it must feel to have that bright light flash behind you and realize what you've done, they get up to the second intersection, which has also just turned red, and what do they do? Oh yes, they did it...they went right through that one too! They were turning right this time, but they did not even slow down to see if there was anything coming. And yes, there was another flash of light, meant just for them...

All this got me thinking about....God. Pretty scary how weird my brain works sometimes, but I suddenly saw how these cameras were like God's security system for us.
In the last post, I talked about how God warns us before we "hit" something, before we fall into a temptation. But what about after? Once I fall to temptation, once I enter into sin, does God just punish me and that's that? No, God is more interested in helping me learn so that I don't keep making the same mistakes.

In the first instance, the daughter insisted she had stopped, she had done what she was supposed to, and besides her situation made what she had done okay...I do this ALL the time; it's called rationalization...what I did was okay, because....
Her mother didn't see her at that intersection. Her friends didn't see her there. She could have told them anything and they would have believed her. Except for one problem. The camera saw her. And the camera doesn't lie...she was busted.

God is the same way--I may be able to fool everyone else and make them believe that I didn't do something, or at least that my reasons were pure and just. I might even make myself believe it...but sometimes I forget one little thing. God was watching--He saw it, and there's just no getting around it.
If you had your dad, or your mom, or your pastor, or the principal of your school, with you everwhere you went, do you think there might be some things you'd do differently? Would you work a little harder, be a little nicer, stay out of certain places? Well, as Christians, we DO have Jesus with us, everywhere. He's there when you tell that little lie. He's there when you tell that dirty joke. He's there when you decide to go somewhere you shouldn't, even though you pick a place far away from your home so "nobody will know." Think about that the next time you're facing temptation!

But then there's the second part of this, the guy/girl who went through not one light, but two, even though they got busted the first time.
There are two parts to this. First, God doesn't just warn us when we're about to sin, He also tries to make us stop and think, and repent, as soon as we do sin, so that it won't get any worse than it already is. That first camera flash really should have done the trick! Once busted, he could have acknowledged his mistake and changed his behavior the next time, but he didn't, and now you can bet, it is not going to be pretty when this poor soul gets not one, but two tickets!!

So, what about us? How does God "bust" us sometimes? What about when you get caught in a lie? Or, you let temptation win, and you go to that place you shouldn't go, far away from home, and somebody you know sees you as they're driving past? Or you let the urge win, and you get on the computer and go to that site you have no business looking at, and someone walks into your room? BUSTED....but does it change your behavior? Does it make you stop, realize what you're doing is wrong, and repent (change your mind & change your direction)?
That's what God wants us to do, you know, and He'll even help us do it, if we'll let Him. But if we blatantly disregard the warnings, and if even getting busted once doesn't wake us up, then pretty soon, we will find ourselves in a real mess. Beware--getting caught in the lie was a warning to not tell the lie again!! Getting caught on the website was a warning to block those sites, don't let yourself go there!! Those are all God's ways of saying, "Hey! I'm watching, don't do're gonna get yourself in a big mess if you keep that up!" See, God will allow us to suffer consequences for our actions, but it is NOT because He enjoys punishing's because He loves us, and He wants us to learn from our mistakes and draw closer to Him. In fact, He wants us to draw SO close, that we go everywhere with Jesus, and we let Him decide what we do...

For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live; yet, not I, but
Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Monday, September 3, 2007

Warning, Warning!!

This past weekend I went to a family gathering in my cousin's Expedition. As she was backing up to park, there was a beeping noise--turns out, her vehicle tells her that she's about to hit something...and the closer you get to the object, the faster it beeps.
You can choose to ignore the beeping sound, and just hit the object (realistically, you might just do this, because it will beep whether you're about to hit a truck or a wispy little branch shooting off from a bush). Or, you can abort and try a different direction.
Well, I thought that was pretty cool, but didn't think much more about it until the next day, Sunday. During the service, a particular verse our pastor mentioned just really struck me--well, the first thing that struck me was that this was probably the 3rd time that week I had heard that verse.
And that was when I heard the beeping. Not literal beeping, mind you, which was good, because that would probably be the sound of my cell phone ringing during church. No, this beeping was happening entirely in my head, and behind it was the voice of God, saying, "You know, when you hear My Word, the SAME verse, that many times in one short period, you might want to stop and ask yourself, 'what am I about to hit that God is trying to warn me about?'"

See, God wants us to stay on the right path, and He sees it so clearly when we are heading off the wrong way. And, contrary to what some seem to believe, God is NOT looking just to make us stick to a bunch of rules, and to "punish" us when we do wrong. No, God wants us to stay on His path, because He knows that's where we will stay safe, that's where we will find all the blessings He has in store for us, that's where we will be able to use best the gifts He has given us and find the "life more abundantly" that Jesus promises.
Sometimes, we just begin to angle off that path--we don't even realize it. Maybe it's something "little" to our eyes--we lied about something and have refused to admit it, we are angry with someone and refuse to confront it and find reconciliation, we're confused and trying to find our own way out of a problem instead of waiting for God's answer. And slowly, if we'll listen, the beeping starts.
We are continually reminded of the lie we told...different people keep bringing up a subject that reminds us of the person we're angry with...even newspaper articles and TV shows "coincidentally" bring up the very thing we are either struggling with, or maybe struggling to ignore. And, of course, often the beeping takes the form of God's Word. "In your anger, sin not." "Do not be anxious about anything..." "He who knows the good he should do, and doesn't do it, that is sin for him." Beep, beep, beep!! Warning! Get back on the path before you hit something!!
The beeping gets louder, and faster. "Warning, warning" is ringing out, if we will hear it.

God will continue to warn us as long as He can, but if we choose to ignore the warnings, we WILL eventually run smack into our own sins, and then we will have a much bigger mess for God to clean up.

But we can also listen to the beeps, HEED the warning, and change our direction. It's called "repentance" which just means "change your mind AND change your direction."
See, the car beeped because the sensor KNOWS there IS something there and if you ignore you WILL hit it, whether you even realize it's there or not. Well, God knows that when we sin and ignore it, we ARE going to run right off His path and straight into trouble, whether we can see the trouble coming or not.

I have no idea what else the pastor said that morning, because I was busy backing up and getting myself back on the right was a little thing I was about to hit, and I'm glad of that. But it was still off His path, and that's just not where I want to be.

Is God's warning system "beeping" at you about something? Pay attention, and move back where He wants you to be!!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bite Your Tongue!

This is a picture of one of the stained-glass windows at my church, which I've played with and posterized.

I admire those who are organized enough to post to their blog every single day...I am NOT one of those people.

Today's thoughts are based on Matthew 12:34b, 36-37:
"For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks....But I tell you that mean will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned."

These are, to me, some of the most convicting words in Scripture--because I have uttered MORE than a fair amount of "careless words," words that I really do not want to ever have to talk to Jesus about.

Now, I already know that my eternal destination is secure--I have placed my faith in Christ and in the power of His Blood. So my careless words aren't gonna keep me out of heaven; that's my home and I KNOW that I'm going there when my earthly journey is done.

BUT--I may just have some " 'splainin" to do when I get there. The way I think about it is this: I have two boys, both teenagers. They go out and do things; the oldest one is driving now, so he's out on his own more and more. But they KNOW, without doubt, that they have a home to come back to. It doesn't matter what they do, or what they say--this is still their home, and their mother still loves them. HOWEVER...when their mother finds out that they have said something that they shouldn't have, then they may have a little "Come to Jesus" meeting when they get home. They still have a home, they still have my love, but they are also going to have to explain why they said what they did.

Why did Jesus apparently feel so strongly about these "careless words" we speak? Because what we say, and especially what we say without thinking, reflects what our hearts are full of. That's what He says in verse 34, that the mouth is simply uttering what the heart contains...

What's in your heart? One way to tell is to pay attention to what comes out of you. I must admit, I can sometimes be very careless about what I say--I have a dry wit, a very sarcastic sense of humor, and enjoy making fun of things...but sometimes that borders on making fun of people, not things, of tearing others down instead of building them up, of simply being careless about what I say.

So, if I don't want to have to explain to Jesus why I said what I said, maybe it'd be good to start thinking a little more BEFORE I say it.

A good rule of thumb for whether to say what you're thinking is, not surprisingly, also found in Scripture. It's Philippians 4:8, and I'll end with it:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.