Monday, October 31, 2011

The Closed Door

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8

God has closed a door. For months I have been eagerly anticipating an opportunity to which I felt truly led. Now that opportunity has evaporated. It is gone, due to human error, although not my error. I had to rely on other people doing their jobs and someone didn’t. For a moment I felt sick. I felt the bile of disappointment rise in my throat. Then I remembered a teaching I heard just yesterday.

Yesterday morning I was not feeling well and stayed home from church. While resting I tuned into a program that features an evangelist I used to listen to quite often. I haven’t heard him or read anything by him in the last year or so. Yesterday his message was for me. I just didn’t know it until today.

I listened as he spoke about his own disappointments and a very serious situation that had troubled his father. He spoke about how in such situations each of us has a choice. We can choose defeat or see it as a redirection. In the case of his father, what might have been a nice little ministry was instead a huge ministry, all because of adversity.

As he spoke I realized that what he was saying had a familiar ring. Not like, oh, yeah, I know this. More like, wait, didn’t I just read this somewhere? That is because I did just read basically the same message from Beth Moore. She was writing about how sometimes God says no to rescue us or to save us for something better. When what we are asking isn’t good enough for us, God says no. Hm….

So here I am this evening, disappointed still but also a bit excited. As the one pastor said, not getting what I think I wanted will leave room for something better. This no, this slammed door, this obvious invitation to ranting and raving and pure frustration, may be an enormous blessing in disguise. I certainly hope and pray that it is.

God’s ways are not my ways, thankfully. God is perfect. I am a mess. I do not pretend to understand why this happened or how. All I know is that I need to trust that God will swing wide a much better door. I can choose door number one, anger, frustration and disappointment. I can choose door number two, sulking, giving up, deciding I misunderstood God in the first place. Or I can choose door number three, the door behind which stands my Father. That door takes trust and patience, two things that are hard for me, but I will choose that door. I have to, He’s been prepping me for it for the last week.

The Teapot

How long will the enemy mock you O God? Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back you hand, your right hand?
But you O God are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.
Psalm 74: 10-11, 13


I do not believe that God does things to hurt us. I do believe He allows temptations, consequences and even disasters. He uses the negative things of this fallen world as tools for our spiritual growth, to give us better understanding of Him, to strengthen us and for many other reasons, most of which I do not understand. I do know that God wastes nothing so even my disappointments and heartbreaks have a purpose.

Several years ago my husband, a self-employed painting contractor, did work for a company who then did not pay. Unfortunately my hubby still had a crew to pay, which he did. In the same span of time we had trouble with two vehicles, not impossible but costly enough to pinch. Then our pool pump died and took our air conditioning unit along for the ride. We were looking at no income, except my little contribution, and disaster upon costly disaster.

One Saturday while my husband was working I was doing some major housecleaning, in the take care of what God has given you vein. This was not just some dusting and mopping, this was major overhaul cleaning, which gave me a bird’s eye view of everything that needed a bit of work in our home. There were a lot of things that needed a little help or refurbishing. Thanks to the grace of God I kept cleaning with the mindset of appreciating what I did have and not focusing on what I didn’t.

Toward the later part of the day I decided to take a tea break. I rinsed out my lovely electric teapot and prepared to make tea. I filled the reservoir with water, placed the tea in the filter and plugged it in only to have the water begin pouring out of the back of the machine. Was that the straw that broke the camel’s back? Not at all! Instead that broken teapot looked like victory to me. I laughed out loud. It was that moment, when you either laugh or at least smile at the ridiculousness, or you give into despair.

I knew in that moment that the enemy’s time was up. God had stayed His righteous right hand. He had allowed Satan to poke, scratch and kick at us but now enough was enough. I made tea the conventional way by boiling water on the stove. I enjoyed that tea while chatting with God, thanking Him for the upturn of events that I knew was coming. That upturn was gradual but not too slow in coming. Our disasters were righted one by one, our finances were repaired to be broken again another day.

That teapot has become quite a symbol for me. When it seems that all around me is muck and mire I wait for the tiny disappointment. Once that comes I know Daddy’s home. I can say to the enemy, “Ooooh, you’re in trouble………….”

God will allow pain, disappointment and even tragedy in this fallen world. We need to respond in faith, ride it out as best we can, seek God and His purpose for our lives. Trust that He will be victorious and wait for the clue that the enemy is running out of schemes.

If God is for us, and He is, (Romans 8:31) no one should dare to be against because in the long run God wins.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Accepting God’s No

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

Lately I have read a lot about why God says no. None of us like it. We want God to say yes and from that yes we’d really love smooth sailing. He’s God after all. Can’t He just make it easy? No, He can’t. That’s not technically true, because of course He can. He chooses not to for our good. When God says no, as harsh as that may sometimes seem, it is always for a reason.

For the past several months I have been making the same request of God over and over and over. It isn’t for wealth or power or influence. It is a simple request, one that the Bible supports. In fact what I am asking for is highly recommended in Scripture. So why, oh why, oh why does God keep saying no? I have no idea. Quite frankly I am beginning to get aggravated and frustrated, which I heard in a teaching a few days ago is referred to as the sin of Jonah. That made it a bit easier to see, the whole I want what I want when I want it but honestly what I want is a good thing. This by the way, makes me continue to question the no.

This morning I was reminded of the story of Joseph. First he garners the hatred of his brothers, then those brothers sell him into slavery. Just when things are looking up, when things are getting a little bit easier, Potiphar’s wife accuses him of some really nasty behavior and that lands him in a dungeon. Through all of that I’m pretty sure Joseph was praying. I think it would be safe to say that while some of his prayers were answered yes a lot were answered no. Ultimately Joseph was able to save the lives of his treacherous brothers. Later still the children of Israel would have to be delivered from Egypt where they had become a nation of slaves. Life then, as now, has its ups and downs, it’s yeses and nos.

Joseph’s life is a perfect illustration of why God says no when He says no and yes when He says yes, because, as we read in Jeremiah 29:11, He knows what He has planned for us.

I want a yes, dearly and bordering on desperately. Perhaps in time I will get one but for now I will focus on the message I heard for the bijillionth time while reviewing the story of Joseph. Attitude is everything. While being sold out by his own brothers, in shackles and a neck iron, while being falsely accused and even put in a dungeon, Joseph believed that he was beloved of God. He knew that his heavenly Father was especially fond of him. That belief allowed him to maintain an attitude of trust. They say attitude reflects leadership. In never losing sight of who he was following Joseph was able to keep an attitude that kept him in tune with God’s plan. That’s the best attitude to have.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Humility

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12

On humble people, Christian writer Brennan Manning says, “Following the counsel of Jesus to take the last place, they are not shocked or offended when someone puts them there.” It is important to know your worth to God but to know also that while no one is better than you, neither are you better than another. Our Father sees us all as equal. Though it is difficult for us to understand He sees all sin in the same light as well. We often fall into the trap of the Pharisee who compared himself to the tax collector, forgetting that our Father loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Self- promotion is never effective. Only God’s promotion counts.

The way of the world is to shine our own light. Take a look at any political campaign. Such paragons of virtue and people of immense strength and widespread accomplishment are running for office. It is hard to believe that such people exist. Before we get too comfortable with those beliefs someone from the opposing team is right there to tell us the real story. Political campaigns are the epitome of this verse from Matthew.

We would all do well to remember that when we yell, “look at me, look at me” people will surely look. When they share what they see we may not be flattered. We may well, as Manning suggests, be shocked by the position others think suits us best. We are wise then to follow James’ advice. “Humble yourselves then in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.” James 4:10

Friday, October 21, 2011

Seeing the Hand of God

“A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”
Luke 2:4b-6 (paraphrase of Isaiah 40:3-5)


My young friend Anna is going through a terrible time in her life right now. Her brother is literally fighting for his life. He is alive, after an experience that most certainly could have and some would say should have, resulted in death. Today the quality of his life is what hangs in the balance. So the good news is that Patrick is still with them. The hard news is to what extent? Anna and her family are surrounded by medical professionals who shake their heads and murmur words of, if not discouragement, then at least what they see as reality. Anna and her family, strong believers and lovers of Christ, nod, take in what they believe they need to hear and toss the rest. They are listening to a much more important voice. They are looking for their direction from the highest guide possible and they are seeing and hearing Him.

As the fight has progressed Anna and I have had several conversations. A few years ago I stood in prayer as my friend Jamie fought a very similar fight with a very similar and even drearier prognosis. Jamie is back on his feet now, in fact is doing better than he was before in some ways. People call him a medical miracle. I call him beloved of his Father and I know Patrick is as well.

The real story here is in how the family is seeing and then sharing the movements and messages of our Father. This morning in prayer for them, in prayer for Patrick’s precious wife to have clarity about her next move as to his care, it all became beautifully clear to me. At least in my life, Patrick’s ministry has already begun.

Every day I make decisions, do my job, and have conversations. Every day there is a chance to hear God, to see His movements, to receive His blessings and today I wonder how often I miss it. Anna’s family has very heightened senses right now as they listen for God’s directions. The stakes are incredibly high. But are they any higher than the decisions Patrick has made and will make about his son’s future? Is it more important to save for college or to take the trip to the mountains? The answer may seem obvious to some but it isn’t. Only God knows his will for us.

In our day to day dealings we think that our basis of faith is good enough to make our choices. We “know” God so we know what He requires or wants from us. How often do our own desires cover that knowledge?

Anna and Patrick’s family have literally received an answer from the sky. They’ve heard messages from the most unlikely of people and they received encouragement from close friends to acquaintances to near strangers. God is speaking to them. He is speaking to us too; we just aren’t listening as intently.

Right now the clearest, strongest voice in Patrick’s head is most likely that of His loving Father. I promise you God is in that room 24/7. The problem is that Patrick can’t communicate that to anyone right now. He is forced to simply listen. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say when he can speak but in the meantime his life reminds me to be more attentive to the voice of God and to His movements all around me. God is not dependent on our abilities as we see them. He does not choose the able, He enables the chosen. One thing I know with absolute certainty, Patrick has been chosen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

But for the Grace of God

But because of his great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5


Through my life I have heard and used the title of this message repeatedly. Disaster strikes someone near to us or similar to us and we think, “there but for the grace of God go I..” True! I used to work with a woman with whom I had much in common. The major difference being I chose to accept salvation, to invite Jesus into my heart and she said, “no thanks.” The choice however is ours. God’s grace is available to any and all who will open their hearts and take it.

Over the last year or more I have watched as a young man I know, I’ll call him James, chose to reject the invitation of God. He has cast for himself idols made of flesh, chemicals, hops and barley, etc. etc. etc. He has lived fast and loose not caring who paid the price, not concerning himself with the needs or desires of the people around him, including his two small children. He has taken every wrong turn available in an attempt to fill the God-shaped hole.

A few months back I met another young man, Steve, who looks very much like James. He even carries himself like James in some ways. The major difference between them is that Steve said yes. He said, “Give me Jesus.” I see him in church praising God and I am taken back. The physical similarity to James is remarkable but it is all surface.

I would tell you that the two young men smile the same. They do. But Steve smiles with the easy confidence of a young man secure in his Father’s love. James smiles just with his lips. The love of God is rich and fulfilling. It is life giving and affirming. The love of idols is empty, destructive and sometimes painful. The smiles of these two young men will prove that to you in a split second.

Did God never offer His grace to James? Is Steve just more blessed? No! The same God made the same offer to both young men and by His grace Steve said yes. Out of blindness and the assurance that the world had better to offer James said no, repeatedly. He has pretended to say yes in attempts to get people off his back about his behavior but he has never truly embraced a relationship with Jesus.

Watching Steve one Sunday, his face so alive with love and with health, I could see God’s hand on him. Three days later I saw James and the contrast was palpable. James’ eyes are dead. His spirit is defeated. He is sad and weary. Idol chasing is destroying him.

It isn’t over for James and I am hoping that by God’s grace I will see him in some posture of worship. In Steve I see what James could be, what he could look like and I want it for him.

I don’t know Steve well, so I don’t know what he would say were his reasons for accepting Christ. I do know this, that decision has made all the difference. He is a very talented young man and that talent could have become his idol. He could have used that to buy, create and abuse other things that would become idols. Instead Steve chose to accept God’s grace and I hope and pray that one day James will too.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Renewed Attitude

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5

I am the embarrassed, disgusted owner of a terrible attitude. Unfortunately this attitude began over three months ago and has stolen some precious moments from me. I fought it a bit at first, but when circumstance after circumstance, betrayal and abandonment came traipsing through, the attitude was shown to be valid and though I don’t like this attitude I saw many convincing reasons to keep it and to own it. Wait a minute… No, that is not the way I was “raised.” My Father does not like that attitude and has repeatedly urged me to give it over which I would tell you I have done but the truth is I made shabby attempts. Until today, when thoroughly tired of being dreary and tired, I honestly and literally gave up. Why? Because I finally heard and saw what was going on.

For years I have been aggravated by the Negative Nancy’s whose joy in life is to point out every teeny tiny imperfection in every person and/or situation they encounter. Twice this week I was told, first in a very matter of fact statement and then in the gentlest of ways, that my attitude was negative. It isn’t like it was a news flash. I have lived with the deepening pit of this attitude for months. What struck me was the realization that my nasty attitude was beginning to impact the people around me. They were seeing me in a light that is not natural for me. Sadly I realized it was becoming home to me. I was beginning to think that as miserable as I felt that this new attitude was just another phase of life.

It happened because I listened to the lies of the enemy. Worst of all I cracked the door open, let him slip on in and then take over. Praise God, Dad showed up and did what all good dads do; he showed me the error of my ways. At first I saw his prompts as more evidence that negative and defeated is just who I am, until this morning when I cried out to Him to speak to me and asked Him not to be silent. I don’t think that God speaks in the sarcastic ways of today but in his own way he gave me a “Hello! I’ve been speaking to you loud and clear all week long.” In that instant I saw it. All the pokes, all the uncomfortable reminders were not “this is who you are, deal with it” they were, run, be free, all that garbage is over.

Begging this morning for a new attitude I was directed to an old friend, Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus is the model. That’s the attitude I’m supposed to have. Humble, loving, servant, who is often taken for granted even when giving his very life for us. We should bow our heads and bend our knees but too often we question and nag. When we do he loves us still because that is his nature and his attitude.

For years I was accused of being a Pollyanna. Not lately! I want Polly back. The glass is half-full, I suppose but even if it is half-empty or completely empty, I know the guy holding the pitcher. Everything I have, need or want resides in the hands of my Father and through my brother, Jesus, all I have to do is ask. Dad, will then give me what is best for me and when He does, no one can take it away.

I began with “I am the embarrassed, disgusted owner of a terrible attitude.” I’ll end with but thanks be to God, I have been delivered and now I am free.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Presence Of God

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and they are safe.
Proverbs 18:10


Just the other day one of my students nearly died. It wasn’t because we involved in anything huge or unusual. In fact it was a simple, everyday activity that nearly killed her. She was eating lunch and choked. This is a little girl who loves her food. From what we can best surmise it was an attempt to get as much in as quickly as possible that choked her. That isn’t what is important here. What is important is that this occurred in a public school, you know, the place where we aren’t supposed to pray or mention the name of God. On Friday, that didn’t work. For at least a couple of hours there was plenty of prayer in our school.

When the episode began I was sitting beside my little sweetie and so was the first person to attempt to help her, three people and a 911 call later and she was back in a chair breathing normally. That sounds simple but it wasn’t. The second person to come along to help, or I should run up to help, was a mom, also a nurse, who just happened to be eating lunch with her own child. She was relieved by the final person in the chain who while doing her best to achieve a positive result, held out little hope of success. Our little one was unconscious and our own nurse was ready to move to the next level of rescue when a man, who just happened to be waiting to have lunch with his child, saw the struggle and went to help. His help came in the form of verbal encouragement to both our nurse and our precious child. His words changed the whole chain of events, resulting in a positive outcome. Had our nurse changed her course of action the result may not have been positive. Had that mom not come, had that dad not come, who knows?

As I made the 911 call I could see several of my co-workers whose body language absolutely suggested that they were in prayer. That supposition was later proven, when one by one they told me that as soon as they realized what was happening, they immediately went into prayer. Only one person could physically have their hands on our sweetie, a second was there to encourage and the rest of us were there to approach the throne of grace and God heard our voices.

There is a huge push to keep God out of schools. To that I say good luck! As long as His people are allowed in schools He will be there as well. We call on His name in the good times and most certainly in the trying ones.

We cried out and He answered and for the next two hours His name was praised up and down our hallways. Thank God, praise God, were spoken over and over again. Those who walked into the building oblivious to His presence were unable to ignore Him at the end of the day.

Today I will enter my classroom and eventually be greeted by that sweet smiling, albeit stubborn girl. I will hug her and tease with her. I will watch her like a hawk as she so much as sips her milk! I will be cautious with her but I won’t worry because I know that the hand of God is greater than any scheme of man or demon.

Multi-tasking

Speak lord for your servant is listening. 1 Samuel 3:9b

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10


I heard a teaching the other day that is in complete opposition to everything the world teaches. It was about multi-tasking. If you are anything like me the mention of those words brings a certain strange type of prideful reaction. “I’m a multi-tasker.” Again if you’re anything like me you aren’t going to like what comes next.

The teaching was on doing one thing. The minister giving the talk spoke of doing one thing at a time not trying to accomplish so much. She talked about how we’ve been trained (see it isn’t our fault) to think that doing ten things at once is admirable. As she spoke I thought of how often I have heard those conversations or God help me been in them.

Person 1: “Yesterday I had soccer for the kids and Jack had a party at work. Plus on the way to soccer I had to pick up the dry cleaning and find a way to feed the kids. Oh and I forgot it was my day to bring snacks.”

Person 2: (answering smugly) “Oh really? I didn’t have that much just Jenny’s birthday party, plus Al’s dental appointment, picking up my sisters kids and oh yeah solving the national debt problem.”

You know you‘ve heard it even if you haven’t said it. It’s the, my dog’s bigger thing, only with lists. My list is longer and more important. While we’re raising Mia Hamm and throwing world class birthday parties for 2 year olds where is God?

Our Father speaks to us for the most part in a still small voice. If we don’t take time to hear we either miss it or force him to shout. I hate to think I would put anything before listening to the God of the Universe but I’m afraid I do. As for shouting, well, God shouted at Saul/Paul and we all know that he spent the next few minutes looking at the wrong side of a horse. He may not have heard our Lord on the horse’s back but he heard it under his rump.

Slow down. Do one thing at a time and do it well. As you work, drive, cook or whatever fills your list, listen. There just may be the wonderful sound of your Daddy calling you

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Attempted Deception


Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a
stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written; ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Matthew 4:1-7


Jesus was fully man while he was on this earth. If a young man were walking around today telling everyone the things Jesus told the people of his time he’d be committed. In Jesus time there weren’t therapists on every corner. No one had time for psychoanalysis. The true crazies, the truly spirit tortured were obvious. They had no ability to provide for their own needs. Jesus was different. He had a job. He wasn’t running around half-naked and babbling. Odd maybe, but was he insane? No. He didn’t even seem as bizarre as John the Baptist but by today’s standards Jesus would be certifiable. Some well-meaning person would stage an intervention and have him locked up.

God never changes. He is the same always. What about Satan? What if his tactics are the same? Consider Jesus’ time in the desert. Was Satan telling him he was crazy? He says to Jesus “if you are the Son of God”. That little word if that causes us so much trouble is there in the desert with Jesus. Twice there in the desert Satan used it with Jesus. “If you are the Son of God.” There was no if in it for Jesus. He knew He was God’s own son.

Satan may have more at his disposal, more means to torture us and get us to succumb but his main weapon remains the same. If he can get us to doubt that we are truly children of God then he will win. If we feel unloved by God it isn’t so difficult to hurt Him. We lose the feeling of disappointing our Father because we’re convinced that He is not our Father. If he isn’t our Father then He doesn’t really care about us anyway. Or so Satan would have us believe.

Satan’s maneuvers didn’t work with Jesus because He never doubted for a second that He was the beloved Son of God. The spirit that dwelt in Jesus making Him aware of His parentage dwells in us too if we let it. We can bow to the power of the Holy Spirit and live in the assurance that we are God’s own, dearly loved children or we can believe the lies of the enemy. The choice is ours. We don’t have to believe Satan’s lies even if he uses a family member or a fancy therapist to whisper them in our ears. The world may tell you that you are a little off center. That’s okay. Today’s world would have Jesus in a padded room. Be willing to be seen as a little odd. Just tell people you take after your Brother.