Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas



Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Luke 2:10

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Matthew 2:10 (KJV)

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government of the world will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government there will be no end.

Isaiah 9:6-7a

Whatever translation you read, whatever verse is your favorite, (the ones above are three of mine) this is the season of exceeding great joy, of gospel (good news) and of light.

Jesus came and He's coming back!

Some people struggle with the hustle and hurry of preparing for Christmas. Some thrive on the energy. Some of us are surrounded by noise, children, extended family and friends. Some are barely able to control their grief or are drowning in sadness, loneliness.

Which ever side of the spectrum you inhabit, or if like me, you're somewhere in the middle, take a few minutes and just be with God. The Prince of Peace is calling, answer Him.

Enjoy the lights, the spectacle, the over abundance of food and frivolity. It's the one time of the year when we can be gaudy without apology. In all of that, please remember the cold, quiet of the manger. Think about the true spectacle and be in awe of the star that still shines brighter than any other.

Give Jesus the best gift, the one He wants. Give Him you.

Merry Christmas! May God bless you today and always.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Everywhere

When they saw the star they rejoiced

with exceedingly great joy.

Luke 2:10

(This was written two years ago but is so precious I had to repost it. Abram is now almost four and is now showing his little sister Margaret "Christmas everywhere.". He still finds Christmas, and pretty much all of life, “amazing.” I wish more people had his attitude and his humor.)



Our heavenly Father, from whom all blessings flow (James 1:17) has blessed my husband and me with ten precious grandchildren. It might be a bit biased to say that they are the sweetest, cutest kids ever but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Just the other day our youngest grandson Abram came to see us. It was his first time at our house since the arrival of the Christmas decorations. Walking in to our living room he stopped and said, “Grammy, it’s Christmas everywhere!” His voice was filled with the awe and wonder. As he moved through the house and saw more and more decorations he repeated his sentiment again adding, “It’s amazing.” Keep in mind our little prince is not quite two years old. In those moments I was enjoying the privilege of seeing the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a child.

Beyond my decorations, Abram is absolutely right, it’s Christmas everywhere. At church on Sunday our pastor spoke about Mary and Joseph. Most of my devotional readings are of the Advent variety, mentioning the birth of, or preparations for, Jesus. It is that most wonderful time of the year when people who aren’t terribly aware of Jesus are singing His praises and His name because those songs are playing everywhere. There are lights, baubles, songs and smells all around us that indicate a heightened sense of excitement.

Then there’s the down side. The stores are crazy. The roads are a nightmare. More people are out and about more than usual. The end result of that is not a positive one. There are long lines, traffic jams and snarling voices. Why? It’s Christmas, everywhere. The problem is that in too many places it isn’t the kind of Christmas that Abram encounters at Grammy’s house. In the world the name of Jesus is playing on sound systems in many stores and malls but the spirit of Jesus is missing. Many faces display stress and many voices offer disdain. “I’ll be happy when it’s over.” It’s Christmas everywhere but in too many places there is no awe and wonder.

I am happy that it never is over. My house is dressed up, if you will, covered in bright colors and pretty lights. From today forward every visitor will be greeted by the smell of something baking and the sounds of Emmanuel. In our home we are blessed to know the true spirit of Christmas. We know that Jesus came to save us and that He is coming back. We know that’s why our house is so fancy and our hearts are so excited but if for one second we are tempted to forget, tempted to be infected by “holiday stress,” Abram will remind us. “It’s Christmas everywhere and it’s amazing.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Make Room




 
Let every heart prepare Him room...”
Joy To The World

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn,a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:6-7
What happens at your house when someone special comes to stay? Do you do a little extra cleaning and primping? I do and I'm sure that hotels are no different. Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary are checking in today. Okay, we're ready. The room is clean. But what happens when King Someone and Queen Super Special check in? Is the room clean, like amazingly, sparkling clean? Good. Now let's add a vase of flowers and some snacks. Maybe some nice new fluffy pillows? Oh yes, when it's “somebody” checking in, the preparation amps up considerably, I'm sure.

Here in Luke 2 we see that the King of kings is about to be born. The God of the entire universe! Whoa! What is that prep like? Well, it looked a bit like this... Big yawn from a tired inn keeper, overwhelmed by the influx of people who need to be counted in the census. “Uh, yeah, sorry buddy we don't have a room for you.” Imagine Joseph trying to explain that his wife is about to give birth. Imagine how tempted he is to tell this inn keeper about the angel and the fact that they've never.... you know.... and that this baby isn't just some baby. This is one big deal! He can't, so he doesn't. He just takes Mary to a manger. (Manger as in yukky place in a barn. Sounds a lot like mange, as in the gross stuff on animals.)

How about you? Where are you putting Jesus in your life? As you trim your tree, buy/order/wrap your gifts, where are you putting Jesus? Is there a warm, well decorated, lovely welcoming spot in your heart? Or are you just throwing Him in the manger of your life? Oh yeah, Jesus.... well, I was busy with the cookies and the kids school party and the office event and well.... here's a little corner, slide in Jesus, you'll be okay. Maybe that's a bit of hyperbole but in some cases it's not far off. If that sounds like you, stop. STOP! Make room, lots of room, the best room for Jesus.

He deserves more than we can ever give and when you stop and make that room, everything else gets done. You'll feel less stressful and you might even enjoy this season a bit more than usual. Let your heart prepare Him room. Stop and listen to heaven and nature singing.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Broken Chains


 
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
and in his name all oppression shall cease.”
O Holy Night
If my people called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
It's Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, what the secular world refers to as “the Christmas season.” During this time radio stations of all varieties, stores and many other public venues play Christmas music. The song I quoted above, “O Holy Night” has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. As often happens for me, the other day, I truly heard the lyric above, “chains shall he break for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease.” In his name.

We live in a time of finger pointing, “hate speech”, an obsession with tolerance and bullying. There are people in this world, far too many of them, who believe they can control the behavior of the people around them with legislation or at least, herd thought. It's not working. The more they try to make the world tolerant, the more division and dissension is occurring.

I grew up with friends of all different ethnic backgrounds. We all knew the slang terms for every nationality and we all used them, in good fun. Read those words again, please. In. Good. Fun. Were there hateful, hurtful people around? Yes. And how did we deal with those “bullies?” We ignored them.

We can write laws and demand respect and tolerance all day, all night, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year but nothing will change. Laws do not determine the way people behave. If they did our jails would be empty. In fact I believe that this push for tolerance and political correctness have made things so much worse. We're focused on the wrong part of the story.

Laws will not win. Grace will. I could tease my friends as a kid and easily accept the “Mick” remarks because there was no evil intent. We were good kids who knew which labels could be used jokingly and which ones crossed the line. We acted our of love, not law. Law will not break a chain or help me see a person who is different, as my brother. Grace will. In His name. The name of Jesus is what breaks chains, chains of discouragement, discord and dissension. If we all saw every person as a child of God, whether he or she recognizes that fact or not, if every face was the face of a “brother” all oppression would cease. It will only happen if His people who call His name, stand up and behave as His children. “Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother.” If we're wise we are all slaves to grace and grace wins every time.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

In The Air


 

"Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, even the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:39-40

A few years ago my mother was visiting from New York and we went shopping. Our first stop was a shoe store. We'd been there just a few minutes when Mom touched my arm. “Trish, is this a Christian song?” She asked me. I stopped just idly humming along and actually listened. “Yes it is.” Mom seemed baffled by that but didn't stop to comment as the shoes were too distracting.

Next stop a department store. While the shoe store is regional, as in they don't have them in New York, the department store is national, Mom is very familiar with that store. Once again she stopped. “Trish! This is the same song that was on in the shoe store! It's a Christian song. You said it is.”

Not sure why this needed to be mentioned again, I nodded. Yes, it was the same song. She then went on to express her surprise that it would be playing in the store! Oh right! I live smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt versus her home in Upstate New York! I guess it would seem odd to hear Christian songs mingled in with all the other music or as in the case of the shoe store, the only songs being played.

Today, whether you live in Florida, North Carolina, California or New York you are going to hear the name of Jesus while you're shopping. You're going to hear songs sung about the King, about the heavenly birth. Why? It's the tail end of November and because it is, stores everywhere are playing Christmas/Christian music. I love it!

It's not just about which state you call home either. It's also about who you claim as god, if in fact you claim a god. None of that matters. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist, we're all hearing the same songs. It is the one time of the year when Jesus is freely and gloriously proclaimed everywhere. Walking through stores I see and hear people singing along and humming along with lyrics like, “let every heart, prepare him room” and “what child is this” along with “go tell it on the mountain, Jesus Christ is born.” Granted those are sandwiched in with “Santa is coming to town” and “let it snow, let it snow” but that's not a problem. It just means that people who rarely, if ever, hear the name of Jesus are hearing it at least for a month or so and maybe sometime in that month they will truly hear it and believe.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cursed or Blessed


 

Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength and
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands:
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
But blessed is the man who trust in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
Jeremiah 17:5b-6a, 7-8a

Jeremiah 17 has so much to say! In referring to the man who is like a tree planted by the water the Lord goes on to say that “it does not fear” and that “it has no worries.” Doesn't that sound wonderful? Why does that tree live with such confidence? The answer is in the verses above, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.”

The part of the verse that first caught my eye many years ago, was this, “He will not see prosperity when it comes.” It doesn't say it won't come. It says the man who trusts in his own flesh, his way, will not see prosperity. You know a “man” like that I bet. He worries and moans and declares woe is me, over and over. Meanwhile you're looking at a life that looks pretty good. Bills are paid, he's in good health, family is intact. So what's the problem? It's not enough. Again, the question is why and again the answer is in the verse. They're not satisfied because they're trusting in the flesh, in their own efforts.

Look at the man referred to as blessed. That man trusts in the Lord. The rest of verse eight says that man does not fear or worry, even though heat comes and even in times of drought. That man neither fears nor worries and using the tree analogy, the Scripture says that “its leaves are always green” and that “it never fails to bear fruit.” That man is not looking to his own power. That man is looking to his Father, to the source of all good things. (James 1:17)

Looking at circumstances, at the people around me I might decide that I need more; that what I have, what I am is not enough. Looking at my Savior, at the gifts from my Abba, I can see that my cup overflows. No thing, no amount of things, money, success is ever enough if that is your god and your goal. If God is your God and pleasing Him is your goal then whatever you have is a blessing.

Recognizing that what we truly need to live is a relationship with Jesus Christ, changes everything. It doesn't mean that we'll suddenly be rich and famous, living worry free lives in perfect health. It means that we know whatever comes along, whatever our circumstances may be that God is on His throne, that He loves us and regardless of how it may look, our leaves are green and our trees are producing fruit.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Blame


 

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities: the punishment that brought us peace was on him and
by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (emphasis mine)
In responding to a note from a friend I was reminded of my childhood. Once I got to an age where I could make decisions and plans of my own, I seemed to have my parents' trust. I would provide information about my plans and for the most part, they okayed them. Then my sister did something that really upset them and the hammer came down.

Bear in mind, the sin, if you will, was hers. She did it all by herself. I wasn't with her nor did I have any knowledge of what she was doing. To add insult to injury, when our parents confronted her she lied and that is the day that trust went out the window to be replaced by inquisition. Her lies led to my being cross-examined.

At that point my behavior, my choices and integrity no longer mattered. One horse had gotten out of the barn so they bolted the door on the next one. What was a quick, this is where I'm going and this is who is going with me conversation became endless questions. In response, I rebelled. Why oh why oh why was I paying for my sister's mistake? Short answer, my parents were living out of fear. Prior to her actions they had no thought that their daughters would behave that way. In light of new information rules had to be applied.

Whether or not that was right or fair is not the point. The point is this, I resented them and my sister because I was paying a penance for someone else. At the time all it brought up was anger. Later in life it would give me a glimpse, a teeny, tiny, infinitesimal glance at what Jesus did for all of us. In light of that I am no happier about what happened all those years ago. I am however so very, very, very grateful for grace; grace that forgives and forgives and forgives and never asks why. Why should perfect Jesus be crushed because I'm selfish or snide? Why should He endure my punishment because I resented enduring the blame for my sister? He shouldn't but He does. He does it because He is love, perfect love. Jesus took the blame for every nasty, thoughtless, heinous thing that will ever be done by anyone, anywhere and by those wounds we are healed and set free.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

For Your Good


 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Recently a friend of mine went through a ridiculously humiliating experience. I won't recount the actual event here because I love her and the details aren't all that important. Suffice to say, she was headed for a once in a lifetime experience when something went glaringly wrong. Humiliated and at a loss for a solution of her own, she approached someone she hoped could help. At that moment in time her thought was to salvage what she could of the event. The person she asked for help saw it differently.

My friend was trying very hard to fly below the radar, be as inconspicuous as possible. Her helper was having none of that shrinking violet routine. Instead she took the matter a little higher up the chain. My friend went from the very back of the room, so to speak, to the front row. She went from being mortified to being elated in a split second. Why? Grace.

The person she approached could easily have said, “Sorry sister.” She could also have blamed my friend for the dilemma and not been completely wrong. Did she do that? To quote my granddaughter's favorite book character, “Goodness no!” That helper truly helped. Beyond solving the problem, she made the solution so sweet that it took away quite a bit of the sting of embarrassment. In other words, she worked it for my friend's good.

If right now, your world looks a little off, if things aren't going your way, don't panic. If you need help, ask for it. In my friend's shoes I would have slithered away, too humiliated to ask for assistance. She didn't. She humbled herself and looked for a solution. What she got in response was a gift, a big one.

Scripture tells us that God is never outdone in generosity. (Matthew 7:9-11) If we as human beings know how to be kind and generous, helpful, leaving judgment to the side, how much more will our Father do for us? Our loving gestures hold no comparison to His.

So again, if today you feel tired, angry, disappointed, fearful, ask your Father, your Savior for help. He will help you. No matter how things look or feel right now, God does have your best interests at heart. Ask Him and wait to see what wonders He will do in your life.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In Spirit


 
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body
but made alive in the Spirit.
1 Peter 3:18

Has anyone ever said this to you? “I'm so sorry, I can't be there but I will be there in spirit.” It is spoken to be supportive, to show a desire to share the experience but it's impossible for anyone who isn't Jesus Christ.
I cannot be in one place while my spirit is in another. Having been invited to an event, I may keep the invitee in my thoughts. I can pray for her, for the success of her venture. I cannot however, “be their in spirit” because I cannot separate my spirit from my body. Jesus can and did and does.

Deuteronomy 31:6b says, “for the Lord your God goes with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you.” John 14:16 says, “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with your forever--- the Spirit of truth.” Matthew 28:20b says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

When we lose a loved one we like to think that person is looking over us, watching, caring for us from heavenly heights. I have no idea what happens after someone dies but I know this, the words from the Scriptures above promise me that Jesus, though no longer on this earth, is still very much alive and stands with me every minute of every day.

Those of us who have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior are not traveling this world alone. When Jesus returned to the Father he left us a Counselor, Comforter, Guide, to be with us, to dwell in us; that is the Holy Spirit.

Any one of us can pray for a friend, regardless of physical proximity and we can care for them and love them. We cannot be with them unless we are in fact, with them. My friend of longest standing, Mary, lives in Tennessee. I talk to her often but I am rarely with her and being with her is very different from talking to her.

The next time you hear someone say they're with you in spirit or you're tempted to say it to someone else, use it as a reminder of who is truly with you in Spirit.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Be Still



Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”
Exodus 14:13-14
 
Be still.” Say it out loud. “Be still.” If you have children or work with children you probably say those words fairly often and then cannot understand why the child isn't still. Now, personalize it, add your own name after the “be still.” Hm.... maybe you're beginning to understand the kid a little better.

It isn't easy to be still or do nothing or wait. For most of us it is our nature to be active. So we pray and then we take action, not waiting for God to speak to us, direct us or just take care of the matter Himself. After all, “the Lord helps those who help themselves” right? Wrong! So, so very wrong. If right now you're thinking “but that's from the Bible!” I assure you it is not.

One of the hardest things God can ask us to do is nothing. To be still and wait often feels impossible. Ohhhh how we hate do nothing. If we read both verses above from Exodus we can see that it is a very active waiting or stillness. We may not be moving or doing anything but then again we are called to do something. We're called to “stand firm.” Also a difficult directive.

When life is hard or tumultuous we want to change it, fix it or bolt from it. That is often when God asks us to stand firm, trust Him and wait to see what He's going to do. It's so passive and yet so strong. It is not easy to trust anyone else to take care of a problem or need that we have but when we're talking about God we can be sure that He has our best interest at heart.

Lately I've been praying the same few prayers over and over and over and.... well, I'm sure you get it. I'm waiting, trying very hard to stand firm and harder still to be still. Just this past week I really thought I couldn't do it one more second. Then God met me in my need. He spoke to my heart and showed me that His timing is perfect but that I'd better pay attention and look for what He's doing. In case I missed the urgency or power of that message, He showed me the verses from Exodus just this morning.

God knows what is right and best. He's willing to fight our battles for us and deliver us if we just stand firm and be still.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Not Fair


 

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7

The stories in Luke 15 of the lost sheep and the prodigal son beg for the whiny response, “that's not fair” because on the surface, from our worldly perspective, it's not fair.

Look closely. Ninety-nine sheep are sticking close to the shepherd and he leaves them to search for the one who wandered off. That one didn't get left behind, the shepherd didn't abandon him, he wandered off of his own volition. Willfully doing what he was taught not to do.

Then there's the prodigal son. This brat said, “Give me my money Abba, 'cuz I'm over you and this dreary farm. So, basically I'm wishing you were dead and I could do my own thing. See ya' later.” Like the sheep, this boy was not thrown out of his home, his very comfy home. No, he threw it all away in a fit of selfishness.

The shepherd searches for the sheep and when he finds him there is great rejoicing. The son comes to his senses, realizing that home was actually a pretty good place to be and he returns. There is once again, great rejoicing. Everybody's happy. Well, maybe not everybody.

Sheep can't talk so we have no record of any of the ninety-nine whining to the shepherd, “That's so unfair! We stayed right here. We were good sheep but you left us. Left us! A wolf could have come you know. Not fair sir! Not. Fair.”

We do however have the older brother of the brat child prodigal, who, to paraphrase, says, “I've been here with you side by side all this time while that little brat went off and did his own thing. Now you're happy that he's back. Not fair, Abba. Not fair and not cool.”

It's not fair! The ninety-nine did follow directions. The older son did stay and do the right thing. Good for them! But.... each and every one of us has been the malcontent sheep or son. We've wandered off distracted by greener grass or in pursuit of the shiny object over there, away from responsibility and commitment. When we're lost we want our Shepherd to search for us. When we come home, repentant, we want Abba's open arms to be waiting.

I hate, loathe and despise the expression “not fair.” I am so exceedingly grateful that God is “not fair.” Grace is certainly not about fairness or deserving. Grace flows down and covers me when I wander or willfully walk away and I count on that grace every day. In those moments I don't care if it's fair. I'm just so thankful to receive it.

Next time you're tempted to see something as not fair because you're one of the ninety-nine or you're the older brother, remember a day when you were the wanderer or the prodigal. I'm willing to bet the idea of fair or not fair will fade pretty fast.




Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Who Wins


And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. Revelation 20:10a

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the Last the Beginning and the End. Revelation 22:13


The other night I was watching a television show with my husband. It's all about the conflict between good and evil. It's wildly imaginative and fun to watch. It's also quite a bit farfetched, even for its genre. At one point one of the main characters said to another, “Face it, darling, the villain always wins.”

I laughed at that, first because every fairy tale I've ever read, no matter how gory parts of it might be, has ended with, “they lived happily ever after.” Sure there's death and destruction in some of the original, darker tales but in the end, good always trounces evil. Tells me that somebody's reading their Bibles.

The other reason I laughed was because I know that is the world view in so many cases. No matter how hard we try, no matter how “good” we think we are, ultimately, nice guys finish last.

If you look around the world, there's plenty of evidence to back that up. Most of us don't even have to look very far. We see the cheaters, liars, hustlers and charmers getting away with the prizes. That's not fair! (Ooohh how I hate that expression!) But what prize are we talking about? Anything that is of this world will fade. For those of us who love the Lord, eternity should be our goal.

More bad news, we can't achieve happily ever after there either. Good news? Jesus did it for us. The “good” guy, the very best guy conquered sin and death. He achieved ultimate victory and in His gracious love, He's promised to share it with us.

The Bible is full of evidence that good triumphs over evil. The villain will fail. In the end, the Good Guy, our Savior will win and His people will live happily ever after.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Unforgivable


 

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12

For whatever reason, I seem to be experiencing a season of testing in the area of forgiveness. It's not just my own challenges either. I've had a couple of friends come to me to talk about how much we're supposed to forgive, how often and what that means going forward.
In those conversations it's easy to quote the Scriptures about forgiveness. It's easy to talk about the next steps, reconciliation or moving on from those people who are toxic to us.* The conversations are easy. The actual living out that forgiveness is hard, very hard. As flawed human beings, when the offense is too much for us, or has happened too often, we say, “That it's! That one is unforgivable.” Hm.....

Think about Jesus. He suffered and died for all sin. All sin. Every single sin that had been committed, has been committed or will be committed, those sins caused the torture, humiliation and ultimate death of the One perfect being. Not His sin, not His shame, but ours. Think of the worst thing you've ever done. Now think of the worst thing that has ever been done to you. Now, think about the most horrific event you've ever heard about. Are any of those unforgivable?

Personally there have been a few moments lately when I've been sorely tempted to think of an event or action as unforgivable. Wrong. Who am I to say something cannot be forgiven? Jesus knows each and every one of us at our very core. He knew all about the horrible things man would do to man and to ourselves when He made His way up that hill to His death. Not once did He stop and say, “Oh wait, most of it, sure, I can forgive most of it, but that one thing.... No sir. That's it. That's where I draw the line.” Not at murder, not at torture, not at rape, not at stealing, not lying, not deliberate humiliation, not at pettiness, not at any point at any action or any thought, did Jesus say, “Sorry, you've pushed me too far.”

I'm pointing fingers here but mostly at my own chest. As I said, I've been very tempted to withhold forgiveness but the truth is, it isn't mine to withhold. I live by God's grace and God's grace alone. My Father gave clear instructions about forgiveness and I need to follow them. I doubt that I'm the only one who needs this reminder and my prayer is that if you are reading this, it will enable you to forgive others as we have been so richly forgiven.

*That is not to say those people are evil or without any positive attribute. Toxic relationships are a two way street. Think oil and water, or gasoline and matches. Some relationships just don't gel. Others are truly dangerous because two perfectly fine substances simply cannot co-exist.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Yellow Brick Road


In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

This morning during my prayer time I was talking to God about feeling a bit lost. I so dearly want to do His will and go only where He directs. I prayed for a clearer vision, for more Holy Spirit power. Suddenly I found myself talking about the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz.

How great would that be? Can you imagine? You take your question, decision, confusion to God and turn it over to Him. There in front of you, path illumined! If only the Holy Spirit would take us by the shoulders, turn us toward our goal and say, “follow the yellow brick road” or shiny white way or whatever color the Holy Spirit likes to use.

Throughout the day my mind wandered back to that thought. What if? It isn't like it would be all smooth steps from there. We would still encounter trials and potholes. Think about Dorothy's journey. Can you hear it? “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

That's not all of it either. There was evil, in the form of a wicked witch, and once again, Dorothy has it easier than we do. Evil doesn't show up at my door wearing a pointy hat and carrying a broom. It often looks a lot like fun or even opportunity. Our enemies are not as blatant as Dorothy's were. Ours are sneaky. They masquerade as righteous indignation, worry, or things that are “not that bad.” Sometimes our enemy dresses up to look more like invitation than temptations.

Dorothy had her yellow brick road and her obvious nemeses, while we walk by faith and try hard to recognize the enemy. We have to walk by faith. God's Word is most certainly a light to our paths but we have to stay in that light, in the Word. Even so, we often misinterpret it. We walk our various color, brick, sand and pothole filled roads. We do what we can to avoid evil and we pray. And right there is the biggest and best difference.

In the end, at the end of the yellow brick road Dorothy encountered a fake savior. In the end when we get to our curtain, we don't have to wonder what's behind it. It's torn. It was torn by the One who came to save us. We may have a more treacherous journey. We may not know exactly what road to walk or how to walk it but we do know one thing. When we get to the end, we're already home. No need for ruby slippers and incantations. All we need is the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the best news is, we already have it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mountains and Valleys


 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want,

He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name sake. Psalm 23:1, 3

My husband and I live in Florida. It is flat here, very flat. Having transplanted from upstate New York, that flatness was odd at first. Now, rolling hills, valleys, mountains, those are things we visit and feel awe.

As each of us walks our faith we often encounter teachings, sermons, devotional messages about the mountains and the valleys. We want, we're told, the mountain top experience, where we can see for miles, beauty, majesty. I love the view from the top of the mountain. While visiting Tennessee, Otto and I went to Clingmans Dome, which is the highest point in Tennessee. It is magnificent.

Let me get back to, we live in Florida, flat, flat Florida. I'm not an athlete of any kind. I'm a grandma in decent but certainly not good shape. That walk to Clingmans Dome was not easy. It was beautiful and awe inspiring, even on the way up, even as I had to stop to catch my breath. It was gorgeous but it was a climb.

Later we would travel back down and gaze up at where we'd been. The view from below, to me, is equally beautiful. I have three pictures of the same tower. One is from above, taken while we were ascending. One is from below, taking from the valley. The third one was taken from our balcony and is about at the same level as the tower. It's the same tower but the size, color, and location all seem a little different in each picture.

Right now I am in what some would call a valley. There are things in my life that I would never have chosen. There are things that I hate and that is when people say, “oh you're in the valley.” Hm, no, I don't think so. I think I'm on the climb. It's hard. Often I can't catch my breath. My heart hurts. I get angry too quickly and I don't like this. To quote my precious three year-old granddaughter, Harper Rosie, “I'm sick of this! I'm done with this.! I'm over it!” This doesn't seem like a lush, green valley with an upward view of majesty and beauty. It seems like one painstaking step after another. It doesn't feel like the walking ascent to Clingmans Dome. It feels like the treacherous ascent we see when people are strapped in and clinging to the side of a rocky mountain.

The mountain top is beautiful. The valley is beautiful. It's the climb up and the often hurtling fall back down that are far from beautiful. I'm aware that my perspective is a bit different from the cliché, mountain/valley perspective. Here on my current climb, fall back, climb, fall back journey I know one thing for sure, God is with me. He is for me. He is holding me up, sending angels to be sure that I don't hit my foot against a stone. (Psalm 91:11-12) Regardless of where I am in the journey, God is good and His will is best.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

All About Me


 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

For the last few weeks I've been revisiting some familiar songs. They are songs from a movie series my grandchildren loved. Now one of my students is allowed to watch videos of the songs as a reward. Listening to them I was struck by two thoughts, all three movies follow the same exact formula. Each one contains the anthem, the breakup song, the song of angst sung by the male lead, and so on and so forth. One set of songs stood out to me and I realized that it is a part of the problem in today's society.

One female character is convinced that she is someone special. She pouts, she poses, she manipulates and she schemes, all to get her own way. Her innate selfishness and exaggerated self-image is demonstrated in each movie by a song. In the first one, she's going to the top of the heap, no one will get in her way. In the second one, she announces that her life should be perfect, fantastic, nothing but the best, better than the best. In the third one, she freely admits she wants it all, all. Why? Simple, it's all about her, no one else matters.

We laugh at the songs as we listen to them and watch the histrionics that go along with the music. Is it funny? Maybe not.

When I taught Pre-K we always did a project at the beginning of the year called, All About Me. It's a perfectly innocent and acceptable way for the children to get to know each other, for the teacher to get to know each student. The project isn't the problem; it's the title, “All About Me.” Right there, we start our babies on the road to seeing themselves as centers of the universe which of course, they are not.

Each one of us will take that to a different level. I, thank God, have never been at the level of our fictional friend who thinks her life is the only one that really counts but I've known her real life counterparts. They used to be anomalies but now that behavior, that belief is becoming more rampant. What happens to a world where each individual is interested only in their own life, their best outcome? Look around, read the news. We're beginning to see what happens in a “me first, last and only” society.

We need to remember and to remind the children in our lives that it is God first and foremost, then everything else falls into place. Sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it does not but as long as we are in His will, all is well. If it is All About God, it's a much better and more fulfilling life.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Needs


 

I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remain in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5

A few weeks ago I was at dinner with my husband, daughter and three granddaughters. It was a special dinner, so of course we had our phones out to take pictures. After leaving the restaurant we began to walk along, stopping to watch a street performer. As we did I reached for my phone to take a picture of my granddaughters and it wasn't where I usually put it. I mentioned that I thought I might have left it in the restaurant. I delivered that information with no fear or panic in my voice. Would it be a an inconvenience to walk back through the crowded, tourist filled area to the restaurant? A little. Was I in utter panic because I'd left my phone? No.

That last piece of information was too much for my daughter. “Mom! Why aren't you freaking out? It's your phone!” She said to me in a tone that suggested we'd left one of the girls behind. “What if you can't get it back?”

While my poor girl was freaking out for me, I looked through the rest of my bag and lo and behold, there was the phone. I laughed at my daughter's obvious relief. What was the worst that could happen if I didn't get the phone back? I was with my husband and daughter, both of whom have phones which meant I could easily contact my son if necessary. I would have been sad over lost pictures but beyond that a phone is replaceable.

Since then, I've thought of that event so many times. How many people would react as my daughter did? Most, I dare to think. We've all become super attached to our phones and tablets and pads. If I hadn't been with my husband my own reaction would have been stronger, not the total panic my daughter deemed necessary, but stronger.

That led me to think about what is truly important. If my life is stripped down to what I really need, what I really need is Jesus. In His infinite love and mercy He has provided a wonderful husband along with many other dear people, things I truly need, food, clothes, shelter, things I think I need, and things I simply want. Still, at the end of the day, all of those people and things are blessings only if I recognize the Giver of the Gifts. I am merely a branch on the beautiful Vine and apart from that Vine I have nothing and I am nothing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Seeking God



In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Woe to me!” I cried, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:1, 4

The past couple of weeks have not been easy ones. It seems that the enemy is not content to attack one area of my life but rather likes to hit multiple targets and he has great aim. There is no avoiding the attacks. They are blatant, loud and disturbing. On one front I'd made up my mind to just not look at it. Ignore it and it will fade away. That didn't work. Meanwhile I continued doing what I do, seeking God first thing every morning, meeting with Him in prayer, reading and simply being together. From there I've had the strength to face each day and though there are dents in my joy by evening, I have my nightly refresher with my Abba and as promised in Scripture, joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

Our Bible tells us repeatedly that God is faithful, mighty to save and that He is our strength. We are called and encouraged to seek God, to draw close to Him and we are promised that when we seek Him we will find Him and we do. We are also promised that when we draw close to Him, He will draw us closer still and He does. It is easy then to see the Abba/Daddy side of God, to get used to His protection and nearness and forget about His majestic side. We minimize the depth and reach of His power.

The other day our pastor was talking about Isaiah's reaction to seeing God. He made a slightly chagrined, cowering posture to demonstrate how Isaiah might have reacted. He went on to say that we would most certainly react in similar fashion when face to face with God. I'm sure he's right. When we see God face to face everything else will disappear in the light of His glory.

What my pastor's words made me realize is that through this rough patch in my life I am experiencing a version of that revelation every day. As I said, each day I wake up and embrace the renewed joy the Lord has promised us. I speak to Abba, using words that He gave me, to claim that joy and peace. I then spend time with Him and I see His face, so to speak. I see where He is working in my life. I feel the comfort of His love flowing over all the things I perceive as problems and truly, though I know I will leave that quiet, sacred time and space and move into the ordinary, trying challenges of this current season in my life, I know the way to not just survive but to grow, maybe even to flourish and thrive. It's not a big secret. It's what we learn through the stories of Peter attempting to walk on the water, of Stephen before the Sanhedrin, of Daniel in the lion's den. Keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. His beauty and majesty will eclipse all of life's issues. We'll still feel the sting of our circumstances until we get through. We'll feel the heat of the fire but we won't be burned, not if we love, serve and seek our mighty God.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Salvation

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

On Sunday I took part in a class on authentic faith. The object of the class is to make people comfortable with sharing their faith journey. There are various levels of comfort in sharing something that personal. This was my third time participating in this class and I've seen everything from total comfort, an eagerness to share, to the “okay but this is uncomfortable” all the way to the not there yet, maybe someday but not today response. The latter I understand completely while the former is maybe somewhere in my future, I sit in that midrange, mostly dependent on who is listening.

The group I was with on Sunday is easily my favorite so far. It was comprised of lovely, open, absolutely delightful people. One in particular is a young woman named Olivia. I met her shortly after I joined this church and immediately loved her. She is a beautiful girl, inside and out. She also has a great sense of humor.

While we were talking about the various questions people ask once they know you're a Christian, the “when were you saved?” question came up. Olivia said that she would like to tell people she was saved two thousandish years ago when Jesus came to the world for just that purpose. Great answer, right? Olivia's mom seemed to think people might not take it well, especially coming from such a young person.

In truth, Olivia did deliver the answer a bit tongue in cheek. We laughed and moved on with the class but her answer stayed with me. When were you saved? I can't definitively answer that question. I've been aware of God's presence in my life for all of my life. When did I fall in love with Jesus? Again, for me, that's a gradual process or as my husband says, “a long and winding road.” I know some people encounter Jesus in a huge and dramatic way and can say, “April 10, 1999” or whatever. I cannot and most of the people I know can't either.

I think the better question is, “when did you decide to live in response to Jesus' sacrifice?” We've done nothing, not one thing to become “saved.” We accept the gift, the very much free and beautiful gift of salvation but the act of salvation is not ours.

When were you saved? Olivia is right. We were all saved when Jesus Christ came and lived and died to save us, to take on all our junk and lead us home. If we are wise enough to accept that gift then we will share it, at some point in some way and always with God's help.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Divine Protection


Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house. Matthew 12:29
Several of my friends are gun owners. I joke that a gun in my hand is weapon for whoever is coming against me because I have no clue how to use a gun. I do however, have weapons that can keep my worst enemy away and those are praise, worship and thanksgiving.

My life has never been threatened by someone with a gun. I've never been in danger of losing my possessions to anyone holding a gun. I have been threatened by someone, namely Satan, attempting to steal my peace, my joy and my faith. Satan could care less if I own a gun or whether or not I can use it. He is not deterred by guns. What does deter him is any attention that I give to God.

In the past few days I've been challenged on both the professional and personal fronts of my life. In my humanness I felt attacked, disrespected and hurt. It would have been easy for the enemy to carry off my joy, my peace and my strength. My faith is a bit more secure these days so it wouldn't have been carried off but it could have been dented. If I had let him, “tie me up” with cords of anger, bitterness and self pity he would be victorious and I would be a heap on the floor. None of that happened because I used my weapons.

Even as I was complaining to friends about the job situation, I was saying, “but I believe that God has a plan. I'm trusting that He is working this for my good.” In my private moments with God I was singing praise, quoting Scripture, remembering whose I am rather than thinking about what I might have to do. It wasn't easy but I dare say that it's a much more pleasant experience than having to defend yourself with a gun. For while I felt and still feel, injured and a bit insecure, I also know that my Defender is standing right beside me. He is going before me and He most certainly has my back covered. Beyond that, focusing on Him increases my joy in ways I can't fully explain.

The personal attack is a bit more difficult because I can't reach out to anyone. In part because it is that personal but mostly because I'm at a loss for a words to express my feelings. Again I used the weapons I was given and again I felt surrounded on all sides by my Savior and King.

Matthew 12:37 says, “For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.” No matter how hard the enemy comes against us we need to fight back with praise, worship and thanksgiving. The God of angel armies is absolutely on our side and no weapon forged against us shall prevail. (Isaiah 54:17)

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Gift of Faith


 

But because of his great love of 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 2:5

It is part of my morning to time with God to write down ten blessings. It's a great way for me to start my day. On a good day when I wake up feeling just fine or better, it's an excellent reminder of why I have that contentment. On a bad day, when I feel challenged or ill, it's a way to switch my focus off of what isn't going well and onto the gifts I've been given.

This morning one of the things I wrote was, “the gift of faith.” Just seeing the words in print made me feel so, so blessed. Faith isn't something I set out to earn. It is a blessing. It is absolutely a gift.

I love to talk to people who are aware of that truth, the kind of people who recognize the truth of James 1:17, that every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in heaven. The look of joy in their eyes, the awe that comes from knowing that no matter how much we think we understand there is so much more than we know and best of all, the humility.

On the other hand, I am quite put off by people who claim a knowledge and love of God's grace but throw it out there as an achievement, as if their hard work and perseverance earned them a spot on God's team. Um, no.

Yesterday I was blessed to sit with a group of people who are not at all new to a life of faith but still have that childlike wonder that we are called to have. Listening to each one I wanted our somewhat limited time to never end. There is in that group, such a desire to share that faith, that wonder with other people.

That's another difference between people who recognize the truth that says our faith is a gift, they really want to share it. While the people who think it is something that they can earn want to keep it exclusive. It's not worth much if just anybody can have it, right? Wrong! Our faith is the most precious thing we will ever have, our relationship with Jesus, who was so gracious to come and die so that we could have faith, is a gift we need to share because in sharing it, it grows by leaps and bounds.

Faith is a gift, given by grace, which as I was taught years ago, could stand for, God's Riches At Christ's Expense. A free gift to us, bought at a price beyond our comprehension.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Simple Prayer


Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10

Those words are familiar to most Christians. In some denominations they are prayed so often that for some people, for most people at some point, it's just words.

Think for a moment about those words. “Your kingdom come.” If you've read the Bible you know that the condition of our world today is pretty far away from God's kingdom. What words come to mind when you think of heaven?

For me it's words like beauty, peace, joy, love, warmth, comfort, caring, grace and mercy. Those things are pretty hard to find in the news today. I avoid the news as much as possible. The words that come to me when I think of the current state of the world, the “news” are words like selfishness, greed, darkness, fear, hatred, pride, disaster, anger, and death.

Every now and then, however, I see glimpses of God's kingdom. Thankfully I'm currently attending a church where, for the most part, I see God's people acting like God's people. I see caring, mercy, and warmth. I would hope so, it's church. I love bumping up against God's love when I'm in the community. When I see someone go out of their way for a person they don't know. When I catch a snippet of conversation and I hear words that speak of God's love.

“Your kingdom come” we pray and we hope it will be sooner rather than later because the world perspective is getting farther and farther away from what God intended.

The next words say, “Your will be done.” Ah, there it is. This could be why we are moving with breakneck speed away from mercy, love, peace and forbearance and headlong into judgment, hatred, anger and destruction. It's easy to say, “Your will be done.” It's harder to mean it.

“Your will be done.” As long as I can still roll my eyes at that jerk across the street. “Your will be done” unless it means I have to be nice to those people who look different or have different beliefs. “Your will be done” unless that means I have to put You first, give You my first-fruits, promote Your way instead of my own. “Your will” is all fine and dandy until it infringes on mine.

I tease my Bible study ladies all the time because they're terrified to pray out loud. It seems to them to be this huge challenge. If they look at this verse they will find the perfect prayer. “Your will be done.” If more of us prayed that more often and meant it, the world would be a different place, a better place. His will is perfect, right and best. Try it pray the simplest, most complete prayer there is, “Your will be done.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

God's Will Be Done


 

May the Lord grant all your requests Psalm 20:5b

Read that verse again. “May the Lord grant all your requests.” Hm... At first that seems great, doesn't it? I know I've read it many, many times because it is in Psalm 20 which includes verse 7, one of my favorites, “Some trust in chariots, some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” I love that verse! I go back to it a lot and often read the whole psalm so clearly, I've read verse 5 before. Today, however, those words really grabbed my attention. Instead of thinking, “Yes! Please grant all my requests!” I was overtaken with dread.

What if God really did answer all of my requests? Not the well thought out, continually prayed requests that really might do some good or be in my best interest or that of a loved one but what if He granted all of my requests? As I thought about it several small, petty, self-serving requests came to mind. Then, horrifyingly, some bigger things, like saying that I want one of my children to have children who treat him just as he has treated his father and me. What if God granted that request? Then at least one of my sweet grandchildren would have a hard, angst filled road in front of them and I do not want that! That request was spoken, sad to say, more than once, in the heat of the moment, from the pain of heartbreak. No, I do not truly want God to grant that request.

How about the off hand thought that an inclement weather day, just ugly enough to close the schools could occur? So God says yes to me, because after all I just want an extra day off. What of the people who are hit the hardest by that weather? Do I truly want people to lose their homes or family members so that I can be lazy for a day? Of course not but I'm only thinking as far as I can see, about my tiny world not the world at large.

I appreciate the psalmist sentiment. I do want God to grant my heartfelt prayers for people who are ill, for my loved ones to be safe and have joy, to have an inviting and infectious spirit that will draw others to Him. Those are great requests. Some simple ones are okay too. Like, please let the dinner I'm making for my family be delicious and please them. Help me find someone who needs encouragement and then encourage them.

Oh.... maybe the trouble is not with the verse after all. Maybe the trouble is with my requests. Yeah, you saw that already didn't you? Still, I know that I will make sad, sorry, pathetic requests that should be answered no. I will also make requests that are seemingly great but may not be in God's eyes. Any prayer for healing is good, right? Maybe. The truth is, I do not know the big plan. Only God can see the whole picture.

I am hoping to be more mindful of how and what I request. At the end of the day, I know that God says yes for a reason and no for a reason and that His way is right, good and best.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ocean



When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. Isaiah 43:2a
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. Psalm 8:1


Last week I was blessed to have a five day vacation at the beach with my husband, my daughter and granddaughters. I love the beach! If you are now picturing me jumping into the surf, choosing the biggest, highest wave, stop right there and let me tell you, I. Can't. Swim.

That's right, I can't swim and beyond that, I have an outsized fear of the water. Still, I love the ocean and the pool in my backyard. Love them!

Over the last year I've been blessed to be at the beach several times. Each experience has been different. Last September I was at the beach with my husband and pretty much o one else. In the early mornings we would head to the beach and while my hubby did his metal detecting I would walk the beach, stopping every now and then to just listen to God. It was amazing! I had read where Dan Rather asked Mother Teresa what she said in prayer. Her response, “I listen.” He then asked what God said to her. She responded, “He listens.” On that quiet and lovely beach in September I experienced the truth of that. I listened and He listened.

Last week was entirely different. There were many, many people at the beach and of course, little ones right there with me. There was no time to just listen. Instead this time I saw.

I saw the gentle lapping of the water at the very edge. I saw huge waves building to higher heights and growing in power. I saw the strength of the sea, to propel my girls toward me on their boards but also to over power them and my husband. Standing there, watching the tide ebb and flow, feeling the current pulling at my feet I sensed the incredible power of God.

We are taught to fear God and many people balk at that suggestion. We need to fear God. Not in the way that I fear the water, a fear that suggests a desire to harm. No, we are to have a reverent fear of God and I believe that the ocean can give us a snapshot of that. God is loving, nurturing, merciful but He is also able to defeat and destroy. If He weren't then the enemy would win and we know that isn't the case.

The ocean is teeming with fish, sea creatures and power that I don't pretend to understand. God is all powerful. He created that ocean, the fish therein and He controls the tides and the waves. Watching those waves I was so grateful to belong to the Power behind them. So very thankful that He is for me and not against me.

I don't imagine for a minute that I have a total understanding of God, how He works, why He does what He does and allows what He allows. I don't know why I receive so many blessings, so much mercy and favor. I do know this. God's power is there for me. It's there for you. We only need to recognize, reach out for it and put ourselves into His might outstretched hand. Then the waves of life can build and crash against our shores and while we might get a little wet, we might even be drenched a time or two, we will remain safe in that mighty hand.