Tuesday, December 28, 2010

God loves a Cheerful Giver

Christmas is officially over in our home. All of the presents have arrived and have been opened. I woke yesterday morning to a home cluttered from one end to the other. Toys, boxes, wrapping paper, gift bags and packing material were strewn throughout the kitchen and living room. My kids rooms were heaped with their Christmas bounty. Now the fun part I thought, trying to find homes for all of the new toys. We have cut back in the last couple of years. Each of us only receives three gifts. "If it was good enough for baby Jesus, then it is good enough for you," has been our traditional mantra. But, those three gifts do not include the gifts from our extended family. We have been blessed by generous givers. I am grateful for all that we have received, but I can't help to think about the families who are not as "blessed."

Back in October, I sat down with my journal, inspired by a book I had just read. The writer encouraged me to make a list of my dreams for the next ten years. Please note, I said dreams, not goals. Dreaming, involves thinking big! Without being concerned about time, money or education, what are your dreams? One of mine was to sponsor two children through Compassion International. As a stay at home mom, this was a big dream. I have been wanting to (and felt called to) do this for so long, but my lack of faith in God's provision, and selfishness, kept me from making the commitment. As I sat there looking at my list, I re-read each of the dreams, the Holy Spirit began nudging me. "Trust in the Lord." "Have faith."

About six months ago, I started watching my niece a couple of days each week. The extra money was nice, I was saving and tithing and then spending the rest on myself. I felt like God was encouraging me to give more and I quickly agreed. I felt that helping two other children would be a better use of my money than buying another pair of unnecessary shoes for myself.

I am not sharing this story because I want everyone to know what I am doing, I am sharing this story because of the blessings we have received since sponsoring Swando and Sheva. I encouraged my kids to  get involved from the beginning. My little man, picked a boy only three days younger than himself. My daughter picked a little girl who shares the same birth-month. Both children happen to be from Indonesia. We read about each child and spent time choosing the child that seemed to "feel right" for my kids. We talked about the homes and environments the children live in. We talked about their families and the jobs that the children are expected to perform. I explained to my kids that I would sponsor the children monetarily, but it would be their responsibility to correspond and pray for their child. The praying started that evening. My son prayed for food and fresh drinking water, my daughter prayed for safety and that her child would be able to attend school (she wasn't).


About two weeks after sponsoring the children, my son received a packet that included a picture, and information about his child. My daughter did not receive hers. After waiting patiently, I eventually called and discovered there had been a mix-up with my daughters child, they assured me that the packet would be sent immediately. We waited another two weeks for the packet. During that time, my son received his first letter from Sheva. The letter gave us all of his personal information, such as who lives in his home, his favorite food, his favorite Bible story (David & Goliath, the same as my son) and also specific prayer requests. We were thrilled to know more about him and to have a personal connection.

Last week as we were getting ready for the holiday, I asked my children to clean their rooms. The whining, tears and drama started immediately. I sent both of them to their rooms, so that I could compose myself rather than lose my "cool". After a short time-out for me, and them, I called them to the couch for a little discussion. "What do you think Swando and Sheva are doing today"? They looked at me blankly. I continued, "well, I know what they are not doing.""They are not cleaning their rooms." The families in the underprivileged parts of Indonesia often live in cardboard houses with tin roofs. My children knew this. We continued our discussion about the kinds of toys that Swando and Sheva have and the jobs they are expected to complete, not for payment, but for their families' well being. I wanted them to realize that we are blessed to be living where we do and that it is not a punishment to clean their rooms, it is a privilege. The kids went to clean.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. -Luke 12:48b

I am thankful that God has given me the responsibility of raising and teaching my children. I am thankful that God gave us the resources to sponsor Swando and Sheva and for opening our eyes to people other than ourselves.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. - James 1:27 (NLT) (emphasis mine)

I refuse to believe that sponsoring these children won't make a difference. My kids and I are proof that it does. 

"The religious leaders hated Jesus because he broke the rules in order to help people and refused to condemn anyone for anything other than being unloving." - Alice Smith

On Christmas Eve I went out to get the mail before leaving for church. As I came into the house, I handed my daughter an envelope. "Merry Christmas," I said. "Is it from Swando," she asked excitedly. It was her first letter, an introduction, including her favorite foods, her parents names and favorite Bible story (also David and Goliath). On the back, was a special note and prayer requests. "Please pray for my upcoming exam, that I will do well." "She's in school?" My daughter could not contain her excitement or tears of joy for someone other than herself.

Thank you Lord for blessing us. Thank you for your provision and grace. Thank you for opening our eyes to your world. Please continue to teach me and our family how to give and love. Help us to see the world as you see it. Help us to love everyone as you love them. Help us to give with a cheerful heart, out of the abundance that you have already given us. In the precious name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Torrent

I have a confession to make. I got completely caught up in the Christmas Craze today. I was not a very good follower of Jesus and I set a terrible example for my young children. I started the day by oversleeping. I didn’t get my shower, coffee and quiet time with Jesus before my kids woke up. That always makes me grumpy. From there, I set out to conquer my overwhelming to-do list. I spent the day doing things I really didn’t want to do.
Every year, I tell myself that I am going to be more organized. That I am going to get my shopping done early and get my Christmas cards mailed more than two weeks before Christmas. It didn’t happen this year. I was frantically trying to find the perfect family picture, just this morning, so that I could order the cards and get them addressed today. Yep, days before Christmas.
After some toppling issues, I put the finishing touches on our tree today. I was able to put away the ornament boxes and vacuum up the pine needles that stick to everything. Finally, the house was looking festive rather than trashed.
In the midst of the chaos of laundry, decorating and addressing cards, I did manage to referee several disputes between my kids. The arguments varied depending on the toy they were playing with (fighting over). But, it was mostly tattling and finger pointing mixed with grabbing and yelling.
These are not the scenes I imagine when I dream of Christmas. The Christmas in my mind looks more like a Norman Rockwell painting. Our family happily decorates the tree together, plays board games and sips hot cocoa filled with marshmallows. We would read Christmas stories before bed and enjoy cuddle time at the end of a day filled with happy memories.
Where did it all go wrong? I know that I set the tone this morning and I was definitely off-key. I started down the wrong path and then, shared my sourness with my beautiful children.
Something in the reading for today caught my eye though. 
Revelation 12:15, Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 

Oh, Dear Lord, this was me today. I couldn’t get a foothold. My to-do list crashed over my head and the undertow of the days events caused me to somersault and prevented me from finding which way was up.
There was something else that caught my eye though, the woman was overtaken by the water spewed from the serpents mouth.
What lies was I hearing and believing today? There were things I did today because I thought I needed to. My kids don’t really care whether I send out Christmas cards. I didn’t really need to put that last string of lights outside. That was my choice, and to be honest, it was more of a pride issue than anything else. 
In the last few years, our family has done a better job of cutting back on our gifts and sharing with others who may not be as fortunate. Today, though, I lost sight of what this season is really about.
Now that I reflect on the ugliness of the day, God tried to help me up and I didn’t hear Him. As we were walking in to pick up the last minute cards, my five year old said, “Mom, Christmas is really all about Jesus. It is his birthday and we all get to celebrate it.” I wasn’t really listening. “That’s right”, I said. “If it weren’t for Jesus, we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas.”
Lord, I confess that, today I was not all that you created me to be. I’m sorry for not spending time with you this morning. I didn’t give you authority over my to-do list. Instead, I took it on myself, wrongly thinking I could do it alone. I’m sorry for being stubborn and prideful. Please forgive me. I want to do better, God, for you, for my family and for me. Teach me how to celebrate Christmas your way, Father. Show me what is truly important and help me to release the things that really don’t matter. Thank you for sending your son, Jesus, to save me from my sins. I want to live my life for you and shine your light in this world, today and everyday. Amen.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Circle of Friends, Part 2

The previous post titled: Circle of Friends is actually a devotional that my favorite cheerleader and I put together. It was a collaboration of ideas and personal experiences. I decided that I needed to write a follow-up to explain my friendship experiences and how my actions affected each of the circles.

God created us to need other people. In Genesis 2:18, God said, "it is not good for man to be alone", and I have felt that need for a long time. I patiently waited and prayed for a number 5 friendship in my life. I believe I was trying too hard to fit people from the 3's into the 4's and I think my pursuit of deeper relationships came across as being needy.

Another stumbling block for me was that, I wasn't comfortable being me and so, in every situation I tried to make myself be the person others would want to be with. Unlike Gidget, I am not an outgoing, flamboyant red-head. It is easy for me to get lost in the crowd. For so long, I tried to change my personality so that I would fit into any situation. But, like last year's jeans, it was really uncomfortable and it never really worked for me. I was never truly transparent with my thoughts and feelings and that made it difficult for people to befriend me. I didn't know who I was, so how could I expect others to know me?

I wanted so much to be liked, but I often found myself being forgotten or excluded. The loneliness multiplied.

My life has changed in the last several years. I owe it all to my new relationship, with my best friend, Jesus. When I sought him first (Matthew 6:33), everything else began to fall into place. He began chipping away all of the hurt and lies that I was clinging to. He showed me that:
   He created me in His image (Genesis 1:26-27)
   He created me on purpose with specific traits (Psalm 139:13)
   He has a specific plan for my life that will bring Him glory (Ephesians 1:11-14)
   He always loves me just as I am (Ephesians 1:4-6).
With Jesus, I am safe. He never hurts me or ignores me. He cries when I cry. He holds me when I need comfort. And of course, He is the first to joke or laugh when I get too serious. I know who I am now, I am free to be the person He made me.

My relationship with Jesus has freed the people around me. I am no longer looking to my friends to fill the place that only He can fill. My marriage has benefitted most from my new foundation in Christ. I was looking to the wrong person to keep me grounded and happy and fulfilled. A person can't do that. Humans are imperfect. As hard as we try, our feelings, temptations and moods get in the way of our relationships with other people. We end up hurting one another even when we don't mean to. Seeking fulfillment from the only one who can truly give it enables me to love others without fear of rejection or a hurt that won't go away.

He fills me, so that I can give that love to others. Any relationship that is worth having, is going to take work, effort and love. Whether it is a friendship or a marriage, you will get out of it what you put into it. I'm not saying that every relationship only needs more work to succeed. There are relationships that just don't work. There comes a time when you have to seriously consider whether your efforts are paying off. When the respect, love and friendship is not reciprocated, there is a clear break in the circle.

This week, while writing this devotional, it was necessary for me to look at one of my relationships that has taken a nose-dive off the edge of the circle. I can't continue to reach out to someone who has already moved on. I wanted to care for someone and heal them. I realized that I was being selfish. In trying to help them, I only really wanted to make myself feel better about letting them go. I also realized, that I was trying to take the place of God in this person's life. He is the Healer, not me. So, I will let go of this cherished friend for now. I will continue to pray for healing and restoration of this relationship. Although I am sad, I feel blessed by the time that we walked together and maybe our journey will cross again someday.

Friendships enrich our lives and make all things bearable. They are well worth the time and effort.

Lord, I thank you for your friendship. Thank you for sending your son to teach me how to truly be a friend. I know that it will not always be easy to be friends with other people. Please help me to be kind, loving, forgiving, generous and patient. Help me to reach out of my comfort zone and connect with other people. Show me where I am looking to the wrong person for friendship and please help me love the 4’s and 5’s in my life (or bring more if needed). I know that you will always be my very best friend and no one can take your place at the center of my Circle of Friends. I love you and look forward to our future together. Amen.

Circle of Friends

We all have a circle of friends. Some have been around a life time, others have been around for what seems like minutes. C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival." Friends are not necessary for living, but they make living so much sweeter. Our friends, enrich our lives, they pick us up when we are down and they expect the best from us.
Jesus had a circle of friends. He is a great teacher and we can learn from his friendships.
Within our circle of friends, at level 1, there are the strangers. These are the people we may never see again. Our lives intersect only for an instant. We don’t know them and they don’t know us. We may never know the impact we have on their life, but there is the potential to change them forever. We may be the only Christ this person ever sees. This stranger may never set foot in a church and we must represent Him well. 
Jesus impacted many strangers.
Luke 6:6-11 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Jesus always represented His Father well. He did the right thing, even at his own expense.
Within the Friendship Circle, at Level 2, we have acquaintances. These are people that we happen to know from various places. Perhaps we sit near them at church, or we see them when we check in at the dentist office. We may know their faces and names, but we don’t share any personal information.We usually see these people by coincidence, not because we plan to see them.
There were people who had heard about Jesus and his ability to heal.
John 4:43-54  After the two days he left for Galilee. (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
   “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
  The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
  “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”

This royal official didn’t want to know Jesus, he only wanted what Jesus could do for him.
In our circle, Level 1 and 2 are in the Comfort Zone. There is nothing scary about Level 1 and 2 friends. We never actually have to give anything of ourselves to these friends. The relationships are superficial at best.
At Level 3, we move into the Sharing Zone. Within this zone, there is give and take in the relationships. In order to move to level 3, we have to begin sharing and giving ourselves. 
Level 3, is our Peers. These are the people we see on a regular basis. We often have something in common with these people, maybe working in the same office, maybe our kids play on the same team. We have a bond with these people and we see them more often because of our common work, activities or lifestyles, not because of a specific plan to meet.
There were people who had religion in common with Jesus.
Luke 2: 41-47 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

The people in the courts were beginning to know Jesus. They shared a common interest that gave them a peek into one another’s lives.

Level 4, are friends. These are people who we know and care about. This group may consist of parents, siblings, Bible study or small group members. There is sincere sharing of ourselves and our stories, but not complete exposure of our true selves.
Jesus had the disciples, but He also had Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom he considered friends.
John 11: 1-5 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
Jesus had a history with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He loved them. They probably prayed together and we know from scripture they ate together. But they probably were not aware of Jesus’ true inner feelings and his plans.
Finally, we get to Level 5, our Companions. These are the few people who know all about us and love us anyway. They accept us in spite of our failures. They call us out privately and say, “I’m still on your side, but that wasn’t the best choice”. They love us enough to ask the tough questions, to keep us honest and encourage us to keep trying. They never give up on us. They cry with us. They lift us up. They hear us. They are the ones who will lay down their lives, and put things on hold, when we need them most. But, we have to be willing to do the same for them.
Jesus was surrounded by people, but there were three he chose as His companions.
Matthew 26:36-46 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

There is so much we can learn about a Circle of Friends from this story. First, Jesus asked his Companions for help. He knew what was coming. He needed his closest friends to keep watch and pray with him. It is not easy to ask for help, but being truthful about our needs is good for us as well as our friends. Asking for help allows our friends to minister to us in our time of need.
The second lesson we can take from Gethsemane, is to be there for a friend whenever they call. Jesus asked for help and his Companions let him down. They didn’t stay awake and pray in his most desperate final hours. This is where forgiveness comes in. Our friends are human and they will make mistakes. We forgive because we are forgiven (Eph. 4:32). When we are hurt by someone, it is easy to shut down and turn away from that person, but Jesus teaches us to forgive and to love others above all else.
The final part of the Circle of Friends and the final lesson we can take from the Garden of Gethsemane is that Jesus knew who was at his core. God. When the three Companions were sleeping, Jesus went to his ultimate friend. At that moment, his Father was the only one he could turn to. He is the only one who could provide the wisdom, strength and love that Jesus needed.
We have to be careful to seek God first in all of our relationships. We need to keep Him at our core and rely on Him for the things that only He can provide. He will guide us in all of our relationships and He will show us how to love others. He is the glue that keeps us together.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 Though one may be overpowered,
   two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Broken Heart

While I was doing the reading for today, I kept thinking about Heather’s blog from yesterday. The people of Judah were definitely experiencing one of those “how can this be” moments that Heather described.

There were swarms of locusts and a severe drought destroying their crops and their land. This meant their livelihood and their lives were being threatened. That sounds familiar.

You may be experiencing the locusts. What is eating away at you? Is it fear, stress, anger, un-forgiveness, hurt?

You may be experiencing drought. What is drying up? Maybe your finances, a job, love, a relationship, hope, faith, your Spirit?

In Joel 2:12-13, we discover the key to living through their, and our, circumstances: return to God “with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments.

I did not know what “rend your heart and not your garments” meant. I had to look it up.

Rend means to tear something into two or more pieces. To rend one's garments, means “to tear one’s clothes as a sign of extreme grief or distress”.

Joel is telling the people of Judah to go to God with their entire heart, open to Him.

My study Bible notes Psalm 51:17 as a reference to Joel. The text note there says, “what pleases God more than sacrifices is a humble heart that looks to him when troubles crush and penitently pleads for mercy when sin has been committed.”

Wow! God wants our hearts more than anything else that we might offer. It may be broken, it may be bruised or stained, but He still wants it. It is not beyond His healing.

His word says, that when we turn to Him, He is faithful and will take pity on us. (Joel 2:18). He will feel sorrow and show compassion on those because of their suffering. God says that on the day of the Lord, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25), He promises to “pour out His Spirit” (Joel 2:28) and He says, the water will return and be plentiful (Joel 3:16).

That is great news! When we turn to Him, He is faithful in healing our hearts and our lives, when the time is right. Aha! There is the catch you might be thinking (or even saying.) These things all happen in His time, not on ours. It is true, it is not on our schedule, but on His. But, don’t give up! Keep going to Him. Open your heart in prayer. Prayer gets to heaven. Want proof? Revelation 5:8b tells us, “they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” And, according to Romans 1:7 and Ephesians 1:1, you who are faithful to Christ, are a Saint!

Our prayers are lifted to heaven as incense, when the time is right, when the bowls overflow, they will be overturned and the blessings will be abundant. All that has been taken will be repaid.

You may be broken right now, but when you humbly go to Him, the healing and help will begin. He will take all of the pieces and put them back the way He meant for them to be.

Lord, my heart has been broken by my circumstances, by other people and even through my own mistakes. I am not without stain and blemish. I rend my heart and give it to you. I know that it is better in Your hands than in my own. You are my Healer, my Comforter, my Help. I know that you hear my prayer and that you will answer in Your way and in Your time. Thank you for feeling my hurt and for showing compassion. “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev 5:13) Amen. 



Friday, December 10, 2010

My Experience as a Lotion Lady

I got to wash feet last night. (Jesus washes the disciples feet, John 13)

Ok, not really, but that is what I first thought of when our church put out the request for "Lotion Ladies". During the large shows at Christmas and at Easter, our church, stations ladies in the Women's bathroom. The sole purpose and responsibility of these ladies is to dispense lotion to women as they leave the bathroom.

I will admit it sounds slightly shady and maybe a little creepy to hang out in the bathroom all night waiting for visitors. However, I was eager to help. Last year at Christmas, I experienced the Lotion Ladies for the first time. As I was leaving the bathroom, a nice woman close to my mom's age offered me some lotion. Really for me? I thought to myself. It was nice smelly lotion from Bath and Body Works. Of course, I would love some lotion! My mom, sister and I left the bathroom, with our spiritual cups filled a little more. It was a simple gesture, but one that left a large impression.

So, when the request for help came this time, I was happy to participate. I contacted the coordinator of the Lotion Ladies, and then doubt set in. I started re-thinking my hasty offer to volunteer. It had been great to receive the lotion, but what if giving wasn't quite as great. Previous work with the public has left a bitter taste in my mouth. Some people can be quite .... u-hem ... unpleasant. And then, what about the perfume ladies at the mall? I will be honest, when I see them, I run in the opposite direction. But, for the moment, I set my fears aside.

Last night, filled with apprehension, I went and checked myself through security to get to the place where I would be stationed for the evening. I walked into the bathroom and quickly found my spot. Waiting for me between the exit door and the sinks, was a stool and three bottles of lotion. One was unscented and two were the wonderful smelly lotion from Bath and Body Works. I got settled on my stool and waited.

The first woman came into the bathroom and I felt weird! Where do I look? I can't watch her walk into a stall! Don't make eye contact yet. Ugh, what was I thinking? She came out and I smiled. I wasn't really sure what to say. Ugh, this is uncomfortable. She finished washing her hands and I meekly asked if she would like some lotion. Her face lit up! "Really?" She asked, shocked and pleased. She accepted, said thank you and left.

After that first awkward encounter, the evening improved. With each pump of the lotion, I felt a little more comfortable. I began joking with the ladies, welcoming them to our church and sending wishes to "enjoy the show".

There were so many different reactions. Some were eager. Some were shocked. Some were embarrassed. Some declined. Many were grateful, "I needed lotion, thank you."

As women offered their cupped hands towards me, I really began looking. There were so many beautiful hands. New ones and old ones. Long fingers and short. Pretty painted nails and short ones that had seen hard work. Each of those hands were filled with stories and so much love.

Jesus loves you. Do you know how much? I never said it. But I prayed it several times as I was pumping lotion. He does love each of us without measure. I hope that some of the women and girls got the message last night. Not because of the lotion, but because of the great Christmas story that they experienced, first hand, at the show. Jesus is truly the best gift we could ever receive and it is even better when we give Him to others.

At the end of my post, I left the bathroom, my spiritual cup overflowing.

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. John 1:16

Father, thank you for your abundant gifts. Thank you for your grace that I cannot earn on my own. Thank you for your mercy when I deserve punishment. Thank you for the ultimate gift of your son, Jesus. Lord, I do not know all of the women who have touched my life. But, you know each of them by name. Please call each of them into a deeper relationship with you. Please bless them abundantly and fill them with your love. I love you for calling me and filling me so that I can freely give to others. Please open my eyes to the people in my life that might need more of your love and enable me to love them. Amen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lessons from the Lions Den

Daniel was a good man. He sought God and obeyed His commands. God had a plan for Daniel. King Belshazzar needed information and none of the wise men in his courts could help him. Someone suggested Daniel. Daniel was brought to the king, and by seeking God, Daniel was able to provide the information the king desired. From that moment, he continued to do well within the courts. He impressed the king’s successor and became even more successful.

Daniel was thriving in his work! In that time and in our time, success often comes with a target for you to wear. Daniel entered his “first lion’s den”. The other people in his “office” became jealous.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 

There was talk of promotion and that did not sit well with the others. They decided that Daniel had to go. They watched every move he made in order to catch him doing something illegal or to compromise his character. They found nothing. Daniel was a person of integrity.

The coworkers decided the only thing that would cause Daniel to fall would be his dedication to God. The administrators went to the king and encouraged him to make a new law. The law stated that for the next 30 days people should only pray to the king. Anyone caught disobeying this law would be thrown to the lions.

Daniel knew about this new law. But, he was dedicated to God. He continued the Jewish practice of praying three specific times throughout the day. He did not hide his prayer or his beliefs, he continued just as he always had. I believe that Daniel feared God more than he feared man. He did not compromise who he was even with the possibility of death hanging over him.

The authorities reported to the king that Daniel was continuing his daily prayer times. The king liked Daniel and did not want him to be killed. The king tried to find a loophole, but he could not. So, with more pressure from the coworkers, the king sent for Daniel. They threw Daniel into the lions den and as the den was closed the king said, “May your God, whom you serve continually rescue you!” The king did not like that he had sealed the fate of a good man.

At first light, the king rushed to the lion’s den to see if Daniel had made it through the night. Daniel was alive! All of the glory belonged to God. God rewarded Daniel’s dedication and character. The king sent for the men who had wrongly accused Daniel, they were killed. The king also issued a new law that everyone in the kingdom should “fear and reverence the God of Daniel”.

In his time, Daniel was a captive, a prisoner, but today he was my teacher. There are so many things I can learn from Daniel.

Jealousy is an ugly thing! It makes us act and behave ugly. It makes us say things we wish we hadn’t. It makes us do things we often regret. Jealousy is not of God. It is human nature and it is difficult to fight that nature alone.

I need to work on being happy for others when they are blessed or when they are successful. By seeking God, I will be filled with the Holy Spirit and the fruit that He provides. When I am filled with His love, I can love others and honestly share in their success.

In the face of adversity Daniel did not compromise his character. Integrity is a beautiful thing! It is refreshing to see someone so faithful to God that he is willing to put his life in jeopardy rather than stop worshipping Him.

I need to work on being true to who I am in Jesus. He has changed me for the better. I am not perfect and I won’t be as long as I am on Earth, but I am better with Him than I am without Him.

In a world full of lies and deceit it is easy to get caught up in all of it. It is often easier to pretend I am someone else rather than risk being looked at as a “Jesus freak”. It is often easier to go along with the crowd rather than stand up and say, “These are my beliefs and I will follow them at any cost”.

I need to work on being more afraid of God than of people. I doesn’t matter if I lose my social standing or the worldly image that others want to see. What truly matters is that I am seeking Him first.

Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 2 John 1:8 

Lord, I thank you for providing such great examples in Your Word. I praise you that an event from 2600 years ago is still applicable to my life. Only you could accomplish such a magnificent feat. Thank you for teaching me lessons that bring me closer to you and closer to the plan that you have prepared for me. Please help me to become a person of integrity who is dedicated to you and not ashamed to say “I love my God and will follow Him at any cost”. In Jesus precious name. Amen. 



Friday, December 3, 2010

What's In a Name?

Photo by Gregory Szarkiewicz


What do these names mean to you? Try reading them again, out loud. What feelings do you experience? Are you stirred? Humbled? Awed? Inspired?

I am very unsettled with the use of God in our everyday conversations. I'm not referring to conversations that involve: "my God is so great" or "God is good all the time".  I am talking about casual, flippant remarks, such as: "Oh my God" or "What in God's name".

I had a similar conversation via Facebook, a couple of months ago. The Facebook responses were quite passionate. The issue seemed black and white to the people who responded. Either it was no big deal to say "OMG" or it was a very big deal.

I fall in the category of it is a very big deal. It bothers me to the core. I don't say it, and I don't let my kids say it. We don't even say "O-M-G", because of the meaning behind it and what the letters represent. To me, it is using a holy name in a demeaning, disrespectful and irreverent way. I believe that He deserves more.

I was at a gathering back in October and I was introduced to a woman who grew up with my husband. They knew each other from church and school. She and my husband began playing catch-up; what they are doing now, where they live, how many kids and their ages, along with various other details. My husband included me in the conversation and it quickly turned toward faith, as I mentioned attending Bible studies and our couples small group. She added that she is also involved in her church.

As the conversation progressed to other topics, I became increasingly more uncomfortable. This Christian woman used "God-d@%&" so many times in the conversation that I lost track! I was shocked and disturbed and hurt. I could no longer concentrate on the discussion we were having. In my mind, the rest of her words were overshadowed by this great offense. I stood there dumbfounded as her words continued to spill out. I tried to think of a way to excuse myself and I may have even just walked away as she and my husband ended their dialogue. 

During our drive home that night, I brought it up to my husband. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me and I needed to wrap my head around what had been said. 
Out of nowhere, I started, "I can't believe that she said that". 
"What?" My husband had no idea what I was referring to. 
"(insert name). I can't believe how many times she said G-D". I didn't want to say it, I only used the letters. 
"Oh well, she will probably just confess and her slate will be wiped clean," my husband stated simply. 
"But that doesn't make it right," I responded.
"No, but that is what we were taught," he said. Referring to the church they attended. 

My husband and I have had this conversation before. This is not new territory for us. We have both grown in our faith since we first met and we work at not using this language. But, for the first time, discussing this issue, I had a response. I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me wisdom that night. The words came to me and before I had time to think, I spoke. 
"If she really loved Him, if she really knew what He had done for her, she wouldn't use His name that way. Can you imagine using one of our children's names that way?"
"No one ever explained it that way to us." His response was simple and thought-filled.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

I would like to have a mulligan and go back to my conversation with that woman. When she started down her path, I would like to say, "That is my Father you are talking about. I love God, and I will not listen to you degrade His name". Perhaps I would walk away, perhaps I would wait to hear her response.

I am not perfect. I have said things that I know I shouldn't. I don't want anyone to feel condemned. I am working on this too. Every day, I strive to be more like Jesus. I just can't imagine Jesus talking with Peter and saying, "OMG, can you believe how many people we fed today?"

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7

Lord, you are holy and you are worthy of so much more than I often give. Thank you for your forgiveness and mercy even when I haven't done anything to deserve it. I pray that I you will give me the words I need so that my conversations will be full of grace and seasoned with salt, so that I know how to answer everyone (Col 4:6). Please teach me to be more like Jesus in my actions and my choice of words. You are my friend and I will treat you as such. Amen.

More information on the names of God.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Your Tally Sheet Has Been Erased

I have messed up! A couple of times in the last week, I have really made some mistakes. These are not major life changing mistakes (although, I've made those too). These are just general human errors. It is just me, moving too quickly, not slowing down to think. Unfortunately, these mistakes affected other people. I don't worry about it too much when it is just me, but when I catch other people in my whirlwind, I feel bad.

When my husband and I first got married, I used to be very good at keeping score. Not with Monopoly or Backgammon, but, with transgressions. In my head, I had a little note pad with tally marks. Every time my husband messed up, I would add another tally. They were even categorized by major and minor infractions. I would save these lists and use them as ammunition in arguments whenever I needed them.

As I started walking with God, this score keeping became more uncomfortable for me.

Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Ouch! That one stings a little. But, God knows what is best for us at all times.

I am happy to say, I have gotten better about this. I have to be very conscious of forgiving mistakes as soon as they happen. It is very easy for my old thinking to sneak back up and get the tally sheet ready. Sometimes I even need to say out loud to myself "I am not keeping score. I have forgiven that offense."

Why should we forgive others of their errors? For one thing, we are all human. We all make mistakes. It is part of living. No one is perfect. The second reason, and probably the most important reason, is we are forgiven.

Psalm 103:12 
as far as the east is from the west, 
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Have you ever thought about that? Last year, they were talking about this scripture on the radio and I haven't forgotten it! If you are travel North around the earth, eventually, you would be going South. If you start traveling East around the earth you will always be heading East. This was such a great visual for me. God has removed my mistakes and I will never be near them again!

God has forgiven us of so many transgressions and He is not done. We make mistakes everyday and if we are faithful in confessing them, He is faithful in removing them from us. Every one is forgiven! It is comforting to know we have a loving Father that forgives every error whether it is big or small.

I want to be just like Him when I grow up!

Lord, thank you for forgiving all of my mistakes. You are so loving, kind and full of mercy. Please teach me how to be like you. Help me not keep record of the transgressions that are made against me. Help me not keep record of my own mistakes. Show me how to forgive the way I have been forgiven. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zig Zag Prayer

In my journey with God, I can look back through my journals and see different seasons that I have lived through. At times, I could not get enough of the Bible. The only thing I wanted to read was the actual word of God. At other times, I wanted to read and do Bible studies. I couldn’t get enough knowledge about Christianity or various topics. At other times, I seemed more focused on worship. Right now, I seem to be moving into a time of concentrated prayer.
I used to think I needed to do it all really well. That I shouldn’t focus on one thing and let other aspects take a back seat for awhile. I felt guilty for not sticking to a routine that included the same amount of worship, study, scripture and prayer everyday. I’m not so sure that my ideas were correct. Thinking about it now, it seems very legalistic. I know we should not take that approach when we are building a relationship with anyone, let alone a relationship with God.
Looking back over those times more closely, I think that God was leading me to different books, scripture or music. He knew exactly what I was going to need for that portion of my journey. He was always there ahead of me waiting to fulfill the need before I even knew it existed. I think that it is important to follow our instincts when we feel a need in our spirit.
A friend in my Bible Study group is a professional organizer. Recently, she used a term that got our attention. Zig-Zag organizing is basically when you move from one thing to the next without completing a task. It is not really effective or efficient. Since she mentioned it, I have been very aware of my habits. I must be a zig-zag thinker! Almost everything I do, involves zigging and zagging and very little completing.
This morning, I started thinking about how I can make my prayer life more effective and efficient to overcome the dreaded zig-zag syndrome. I have several prayer request lists and books (by Stormie Omartian) that I would like to read daily. I decided that I would make my own book that would combine all of these lists and prayer guides into one. Each day of the month I will pray specifically for my husband, my kids and myself along with prayer requests I may receive.
Prayer is such an important aspect of our walk with God. Sometimes though, I overcomplicate it. God doesn’t care if I use big words. He isn’t impressed by a well thought out eloquent prayer. He just wants to hear from His child.
James 5: 13-16 
The Prayer of Faith
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Lord, I thank you for your son, Jesus. Without him, I would not be able to come to your feet in prayer. I love your guidance and the wisdom that you have given me in your perfect timing. Teach me to be an effective prayer warrior. I want to be your partner in changing the world on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mulligan Anyone?

My husband gets up before the sun and is gone before I have even rolled over. Today, however, his schedule is different. I am in the bathroom getting ready and my dear husband comes in to brush his teeth. We don't usually have these morning bathroom meetings. I am instantly irritated. He moves in front of me to reach for the medicine cabinet. I smile (not so sweetly) and move to the side. In my mind: really? why does he have to be in here now? ugh! how many times does he have to open and close the cabinet? I am using that mirror!

After brushing his teeth, he says goodbye and gives me a kiss. I am anything but nice as I offer my cheek and respond with a "bye". And then he is gone. I am alone again with my thoughts. Why did I do that? He was only in here for two minutes and I couldn't be gracious and share?

I am reminded of my kids fighting over the sink, pushing each other off of the step stool. "I was here first," one of them shouts and someone usually ends up crying. I step in to play referee. "Be nice, take turns, you can share" I tell them. Easy to say and not always easy to do.

I am reminded of Paul. Why do I do the things I hate to do and not the things I want to do? (Romans 7:15) That is not really the way I want to send my husband into the world for the day. I don't want his last interaction with me to be filled with irritation and attitude. He needs to know that I love him, that I am here for him and that I am willing to be his partner in whatever life brings. Even if that means sharing the bathroom.

I run to the kitchen where he is gathering his belongings to take to the car . I give him a pat. He stands up and looks at me confused. I throw my arms around him and give him a kiss. This one is filled with love and hope. He looks at me even more confused now. "What was that for?" He asked. "I just wanted you to know I love you," I stated.

We all need a mulligan from time to time. Maybe we are short with a response. Maybe words spoken are not filled with love and grace. Maybe we lose our temper. Maybe we are angry about a situation and take it out on an innocent bystander. Maybe we think we are right.

Photo by Bill Longshaw
We can have a do-over. When we find ourselves in this situation, we can immediately say "wait, that isn't what I meant". "Let me try that again."

How much better would our world be?

How much better would our marriage be?

How much better would our parenting be?

Lord, thank you for always knowing the kindest way to talk to us. Thank you for sending your son to be an example for us. Please teach me how to interact the way that Jesus did. I want my conversations to be full of grace and seasoned with salt, so that I know how to talk with everyone (Col 4:6). Please help me overcome any stronghold of pride that would keep me from admitting my mistakes and trying again. I want to shine your light in the world today. Amen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hold on tight

I woke up this morning thinking about Job. At the risk of my mom tuning out, I decided to write about it anyway. She does not like Job. But every time I tried to think different thoughts, he kept coming back to my mind. So, here we are.

The last two weeks have been unusually dark. Our lives have been filled with loss, death, young families being torn apart by divorce, cancer and even horror. It has not all happened, directly to our family, but it has come uncomfortably close to our door step. So, you can see why I was thinking about Job. He lost everything. His livelihood and all of his children were taken in a matter of a few short verses (Job 1:13-19). 

At times like this, it would be very easy to start questioning God. How could He let this happen? Where is the sense in this tragedy? 

At times like this, it would be very easy to start blaming God. Why would He do this? How can He hurt His children?

But, we need to take a step back. 

Job 1: 6-12

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.  The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

It wasn't God that attacked Job, it was Satan. During dark and difficult times, we need to remember that we live in a fallen world. This is no longer the Garden of Eden where everyone is good and honest and forthcoming. There is sin, sickness and pain. There are other forces at work here.

Ephesians 6:12

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

It is so easy to dwell in this darkness, to be caught up in all the scary details and questions. During these Job moments we just need a glimmer of hope. At these times, I feel like anything good will be the fresh air that I need to keep pressing on.

Mark 5:21a, 25 - 33

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake,

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked,“Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her,“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

I can remember a time not so long ago that I was on my knees praying, I knew, that if I could just touch the hem of his cloak, I would be ok. During the times of sadness, we have a choice to make. We can sit and soak in the darkness or we can push through the crowd and reach out to Him. It may be desperation or determination, but either way, our faith in Him is what leads to healing.

I have hope. My God is bigger than any of the bad things that are happening around us. He is still in control. He is always good. He cannot do anything that is not based in love. He can turn the bad things around and use them for our good or the good of others.

I had a glimmer this weekend. My little sister got married. The wedding was wonderful. We had so much fun as a family. She looked beautiful and she married a good Christian man. I know that they will have rough seasons in their marriage. Two people walking through life together is not always an easy journey. The best thing they have going for them is their love of Jesus. I know that they will make it through the dark times, because I know they will push through the crowd and grab hold of his cloak.

Lord Jesus, thank you for making yourself available to us when we need you most. You are never too busy or too far away. When we reach out to you, you are faithful to turn to us, look right at us and provide the healing that we need. Thank you for blessing us with your presence and your love. Thank you for your comfort in a world that doesn't make sense. Amen.


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