There's Something About Christmastime...


I can’t believe Christmas has come and gone, and we’re about to bring in another New Year. To me, it’s a sad reality that this holiday season is almost over. What is it about Christmas that brings such joy to children? And such appreciation to our elders? When I was a kid, the anticipation of Santa was almost overwhelming; but it wasn’t just the presents, even then I knew there was a magic that only existed at Christmastime. Unfortunately, over time, the magic seemed to disappear…What happened? Life got in the way. I grew up. I stopped believing…and Christmas hadn’t been the same ever since? I don’t know about you, but as each year passed, Christmas became a stress-inducing, panic attack-waiting-to-happen time of year. What to buy? For whom to buy? How much to spend? What to cook/bake/fix? How to get all the visiting squeezed into a couple of days? When to get it all done?

Maybe part of the magic when I was a kid was that I didn’t have any of those worries. I went to bed with excitement, and woke up the next day overjoyed! I opened presents, played, ate… Where did it all go wrong? Where along the way, did the magic disappear? If I’m being honest, it was probably around the time that I stopped ‘believing’… Truth. I still enjoyed gift giving and receiving, the meals, and even the family visitation, but it was just another day anymore. When I didn’t see any magic to believe in, I quit feeling it as well…

Let me tell you a secret…you don’t have to see to believe; you have to believe to see. (And I’m not talking about Santa). You see, there is something about Christmastime… It’s about love. The Love that God showed when He sent His Son to be born to us; and eventually die for us. It’s about the love that encompasses us all when we’re thinking about those that we shop and cook for, and the time we spend visiting others.

Imagine what the world would truly be like if we carried that love all year through. Christmas symbolizes joy, hope, love, faith, peace… What if we allowed every day to be indicative of such?

Growing up, the saying approaching Christmas was “If you stop believing, you stop receiving…” We naturally meant Santa. But you know what? It applies to Jesus. (Matthew 21:22) What if our problem throughout the year is that we don’t really believe that Jesus Is everything He Is?  We doubt, we make excuses, we wander… God’s promises never fail (Hebrews 6:18). God never fails us; we fail Him. We easily celebrate Him at Christmastime; but what if we celebrated Him all year through? It’s not God that disappears when Christmas is over; it’s us; our faith, our trust, our love, our belief. Belief that He still remains; belief that He still promises; belief that He still loves.

What is it about Christmastime? It’s that we allow ourselves to embrace the Christmas Spirit; His Spirit. We give, we share, we do; for this short holiday season, we do what we’re supposed to do all year through: we love as Christ loves. It’s Christmastime that we embody our namesake—Christ. It’s Christmastime that we share the love. It’s Christmastime that we believe.

Maybe if we carry that belief all year through, the magic will remain with us, and everyone…and it will feel like Christmas every day… Can we at least try? (Luke 2:19)

Merry Christmas!

It is Christmas Eve as I write this.  My family sits watching Christmas shows with the tree lit up while I ponder the ways that God has protected and cared for us over this last year.  I have been blessed to see my children grow a year older, to see my husband draw close to God, and to spend a lot of quality time with my first grandchild.  We had a lot of moments in which we weren't sure how things were going to turn out, and even a few in which a positive outcome seemed impossible, and yet we have come through.

I began a new Bible study this week focusing on all the names of God.  In Jewish culture a name is more than just a unique label to identify a person.  A name is a description of a person's personality - it identifies a quality of them.  Therefore when someone assigns God a name it isn't a new identity for Him, but a newly identified aspect of who He is.

One of the earliest names given to God is by Abraham in Genesis chapter 22.  God has called him to sacrifice his son, a test of his obedience to and trust in God.  Abraham brings him up the mountain, builds an altar, lays his son upon it and raises his knife before God stops him.  It is then that God shows him the ram he is to offer instead.  Abraham then identifies a key aspect of God and names Him:

The Greek and Latin root of the word provide shed a bit more light on this wonderful aspect of God.  You see pro- means before and vid- means to see.  God gives us what we need before we even see the need!  

Which brings me back to Christmas.  Since Eve bit the fruit God saw the need to provide a way to return to Him.  We may have run from that need over the years, and some of us may not even realize how much we truly do need that relationship with Him.  But God knew - and before we recognized it He had already developed and implemented a plan to provide for us.  And many years later He did - by sending His Son down to earth as a helpless babe to experience all that we might.  

Jesus came to take on every thing that you or I have ever done that could separate us from His Father.  He paid the price so that we could once again have fellowship with God, so that we could again enter into a close, personal relationship with Him.  He is the ultimate provision!

So as you open your Christmas gifts and enjoy time with your family today, please take a few moments to remember the best gift you could ever be given - Jesus - and take the time to give Him the best gift of all - YOU.  

Merry Christmas!

Nothing Means Something

 
 
Isn’t it curious the amount of lessons we can learn from the Bible? There’s a message within just about each verse; we just have to know how to decipher it. Much of it requires research into the historical times and how things were done in order to fully understand; and some of it just requires us to remember what we’ve previously read/learned to see the importance of a sentence. For instance: 2 Timothy 4:11 (NLT) “…Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.” Seems simple, Paul wanted Mark to come visit him with Timothy because he would be helpful. But, lest we forget that this is the same Mark (John Mark) that deserted Paul and Barnabus in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13) and later triggered a rift between Paul and Barnabus (Acts 15:37-39), causing them to split up their ministry. Consequently, it’s peculiar when we read in 2 Timothy 4:11 and see that Paul is requesting that Timothy bring Mark…
So… what have we learned from 2 Timothy 4:11? Well, in Acts 13:13, we see that not all Christians have courage, strength and willpower to continue through the hardships they face, especially in their youth (meaning not only age, but also length of time as a Christian). Also, sometimes taking a break from it all does not necessarily mean that God will be finished using you. Through Acts 15:37-39, we learn that Christians don’t always have to agree on everything, especially to be successful, and God can and will use conflict and disagreements to further His work. We also see that giving patience and encouragement to someone that is falling short of being the ‘perfect’ Christian knows no bounds for either of you. (Because Barnabus didn’t give up on Mark, he matured, grew learned from his mistakes.) Between here and 2 Timothy, the Bible doesn’t go into what happened between Mark and Paul that healed their relationship, and made Mark valuable to Paul and his ministry. Somewhere along the line, the two reconciled, forgave and forgot the past. But 2 Timothy 4:11 is proof that people can change, and through growth and experience, they can be instrumental in leadership and ministry. Forgiveness of can salvage any relationship and ministry.
Look at the lessons we learned in one simple stated Bible verse! I beg you not to go through an obligatory routine just reading the Bible. Heed each verse. Ponder the meanings. Even the verses that seem like nothing, is something…Nothing in it is in it for nothing.


Black Friday


I am not a Black Friday shopper.  There, I have admitted it.  Not that I think there is anything wrong with those of you who do Black Friday shop.  I love a deal just as much as the next gal.  And it isn't even the crowds that keep me away, I can handle those.  And while I am TOTALLY not a morning person that isn't the reason I chose to stay home either (although it definitely is a bonus to get to snuggle under my warm blankets until I smell my automatic coffee pot begin to brew its delectable offering!). 

I don't Black Friday shop because very rarely is there something on sale that my family and I really want at a price that we are willing to pay.  When those two things merge on the day after Thanksgiving you will find me patiently waiting in line with the rest of you.  Several years ago I stood in line for a few hours with my sister to purchase the Game Boy that my son had been requesting all year long.  We laughed, we talked with those in line around us and generally enjoyed ourselves.  And I have to say that on the times that I have ventured out I have been pleasantly surprised to NOT witness the chaos that the media tends to portray it as.

There was no pushing or shoving, no people being trampled, and no foul language being shouted angrily.  Now I am not naive enough to believe that this is the case everywhere, as it obviously isn't.  But if you are a follower of Christ, it shouldn't ever be the case for you (and me!).

The book of James was written by Jesus brother.  It is interesting to me that he did not believe that Jesus was God's son before His death and resurrection.  It was only afterwards that James recognized the truth and began to share the news with others.  His book is right up my alley as it tells us how to live as followers.  And I think he may have had a peek at a future Black Friday sale when I wrote the beginning of chapter 4:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. ~James 4:1-3

Can't you just picture him standing in the midst of a full on Black Friday brawl shaking his head in disbelief?  Only, he was talking about a once a year sale.  Instead he was talking about the every day struggles within us - our desire to have a house bigger than our neighbor, a car nicer than our friends, a TV that dwarfs all others, the latest phone, the newest tablet etc. 

You see, we all have passions.  We were built to.  The problem comes when we misdirect our passions to selfish desires.  Galatians 5:24 says those selfish desires, or desires of the flesh, were supposed to die when we gave our life to Christ.  Instead we should be passionate for the things that please Him. 

He wants our passion to be for Him and not ourselves or even other people.  (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31)  In order to do this we must first spend time getting to know Him.  Pray, study His word, learn all about him for yourself.  Unfortunately just showing up at church once a week and listening to what someone else says about Him isn't going to cut it.  You wouldn't expect to learn all about your spouse or children by listening to what their friends say once a week and then not talking to them the rest of the time would you?  Why do we so often expect it to work with God?

When our passion is for Him, He starts directing us on how to be passionate for others.  It may be that you are called to raise a family, to serve in a shelter, to teach others, to reach out to your neighbor that seems so grumpy.  Or it may be to hand the person beside you in the store the last of THE sale item with a smile on your face.  I can't tell you what He is calling you to, but I can tell you that you won't know if your passion is misdirected.  Happy Black Friday.


One of "Those" Days


 
Have you ever had one of those days (weeks, months, seems-like-years) where no matter what goes on, what you’ve planned, where you’re at, nothing seems to go right? And you find yourself more and more agitated, overwhelmed, chaotic and just completely discouraged with everything (and one) around you?

I’ve found that it’s in those times that Jesus is trying to get my attention; most likely trying to draw me back in for a ‘convo’. Sometimes it’s a big epiphany of an answered prayer. Sometimes it’s a direction He wants me to go. But more often than anything else, it’s when He’s ‘reminding’ me that it (meaning anything I’m complaining about in this world) is not about me. A (not-so) gentle reminder that it doesn’t matter if I feel inadequate, taken advantage of, taken for granted, insecure, inconvenienced or insignificant. It’s not my time, my efforts, my self-worth to begin with. It all belongs to Jesus. Everything I have (physically, emotionally, literally and metaphorically) is by God’s grace. So, when I feel as if someone has wronged me, or something has gotten in my way, instead of reacting, I need to be enacting God’s love. It’s a jolt to take the focus back off of me, and put it where it belongs: on Jesus.

It’s humbling moments like this; the ones that remind us that we’re not infallible, and life, no matter how hard we try, is not perfect. But there is One that is; and if we stay focused on Him and honoring and praising Him, then all the other ‘stuff’ is what is inconsequential; not us.

(Matthew 6:24, Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:5, Philippians 4:8, Philippians 2:3-11, Colossians 3:2)

Costumes

Whether your family celebrates Halloween or not, it is hard to miss a hoard of children dressed as everything from princess and pirates to Lego men and weeping angels as they travel around neighborhoods begging for tricks or treats.  For a few hours they get to pretend to be heroes, or villains.  They can forget about homework, grades, and chores and just BE.  And this got me thinking...

We are all wearing costumes.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a costume is "an outfit worn to create the appearance characteristic of a particular period, person, place, or thing".  Now take a look at this verse from John 3:6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit".  If you have accepted Christ, you are no longer flesh, but spirit.  Hebrews 13:14 reminds us that this is not our home.  So follow me here.  We who are saved by grace are wearing a costume and wandering the neighborhood until we go home.

That leaves us with a myriad of costume choices.  Fortunately, God has some suggestions for us.  Ephesians 4:22-24 encourages us to shed our old costume and instead put on a new one.  One that is in the likeness of God.  Ephesians 6:10-18 reminds us that while we are here in this world we aren't safe and as a result we need to put on our armor to protect and defend ourselves.  Colossians 3:12-15 gives us a list of things to put on as well: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love.   And the suggestions don't stop here.

God's word is full of advice about how we should navigate this world, if we just take the time to read it.  Instead we tend to be so focused on gathering the treats and avoiding the tricks that we neglect the instructions our Father has given us before He sent us out.  This Halloween I encourage you to take some time to consult with Him.  Trust me in that the costume He would have you to wear really is flame retardant! 

Chosen


The other day I saw a quote on Facebook that remarked how ‘Stepparents are awesome because their love is a choice’. And it made me reflect on my stepmom, who has been in my life for close to 30 years. There were times when she was the mom I longed for; times when she was the friend I needed; and I hate to admit, but times when I didn’t want her around. And I am so thankful that I have grown up and have come to completely value our relationship and having her in my life (and I’d like to think it’s a two-way street now!)

The quote dove me deeper, still, and made me think of our Heavenly Father. You see, He is like the stepparent, in the sense that He chose us. (John 15:16, Romans 8:29-30; 1 Peter 1:2) While our earthly parents receive us as a gift, God chose us, like the stepparent. He takes the good with the bad; (furthermore, He knew just how bad and just how good we are capable of, and still chose us.)

When I reflect on being chosen by God, I am awed. While I understand (to the best of my ability) that God loves each of His children, it still amazes me that He chose to create me (Psalm 139:13); mold me from clay (Isaiah 64:8); bring me into His arms (Deuteronomy 33:27)… (Especially when I reflect on how unworthy I am of even a thought of His, let alone the time He took to form me…)

And it brings me back to my stepmom. She loved my dad, and understood that I was a package deal with him. And yet, she chose to stay, and love us both. (There were women prior to her that couldn’t accept me with the deal. (And this was before I was a mouthy, selfish, unappreciative teenager!)) She took the verbal attacks, the silent treatments, the acting out; she took it all in love for me.

And that brings me back to our Father. He does the same doesn’t He? I know I’ve lashed out at him in anger and hurt. I know I’ve ignored Him and His teachings at times, because I thought I knew better (or at the very least just didn’t want to do what He wanted). I know I did some things that clearly were against His Word… And there have been times when I didn’t want Him ‘around’… and yet He has taken it all in love for me. As a matter of fact; He’s gone above that, and sent His Son to die for my [all of the above].

As I grew up, I finally began to fully appreciate the value in having my stepmom. Yes, I have my mom, and my stepmom could never replace her, but she has a whole other role in my life that my mom can’t fulfill. Especially as I’ve gotten older, my stepmom could’ve backed away, eased out of my life (as we live 400+ miles apart), but she hasn’t; we’ve actually grown closer. I’ve had some painful losses and disappointments in my adulthood; she’s cried with me. I’ve had aspirations and dreams; she’s prayed for me. She’s been a huge supporter and encourager of my life. My own personal cheerleader, so to speak. Not that my mom couldn’t or wouldn’t do those things; it’s just… my mom has to love me; she naturally aches when I hurt, prays for me, and wishes the best for my life. My stepmom chooses to do these things.(And she has two daughters of her own, and still chooses me (as the favorite) (LOL)).

And as I’ve grown up, I’ve finally begun to fully appreciate God’s miraculous plan in my life. (I still don’t understand it, but I’ve learned to trust Him). He has given me every blessing I’ve had, and yes, allowed me to experience all the hurts, too; but has used each instance to grown me closer to Him. (Romans 8:28) He is my true source of encouragement and support (Psalm 27:1). He is my true source of life (Psalm 54:4). He’s wept with me (Psalm 56:8; prayed with me (Hebrews 5:7) and wants the best for me. (Isaiah 58:11)

So, paraphrasing the quote on Facebook: Being chosen in love is awesome…

Property of...


I love receiving little gifts. (Who doesn’t?) I love the feeling that someone thought enough of me to give me something.

Sunday was one of those moments. I sat down in church, (a little late from a line at the restroom), and someone leaned over to me to tell me that there was a bag in the foyer with my name on it. I was surprised because I wasn’t expecting anything. And when the service was over, and I made my decent out of the sanctuary, I found the bag on the table. Naturally I had to open it immediately. Inside was quite possibly the best t-shirt I’ve ever seen, and so perfect for me! It was a picture of a cup of coffee with the words “I Own You” above it. I laughed, showed it to a few friends also in the foyer and tried to figure out who it was from. (I’m still trying to figure that out, as they signed it with an alias.) I showed it to my husband when I got home, who agreed it was perfect for me.

And then later it hit me: I do love my coffee; (Duh!) but is that what I want to be most remembered for? It sure does seem like anyone who knows me, knows my coffee obsession. At almost every gift-giving holiday, I receive something java related. People post coffee memes to my social media wall, or tag me when they discuss the beverage. My boss has a cup waiting on me every morning he arrives before I do. Even my pastor brings it up during sermons… (*cough, cough*). Even my blog ministry revolves around the enchanted beverage. Coffee is a significant part of my life, and something I wholeheartedly look forward to every morning when I awake…

But, shouldn’t that be Jesus? Shouldn’t the first thing I think about; the thing that gets me most motivated to crawl out of bed in the morning be Jesus? When people think of me, shouldn’t they immediately think of my love for Jesus, not coffee?

I’m not saying I don’t love Jesus, or that I don’t look forward to my alone time with Him each morning. But which motivates me first? Some days it’s a total toss-up. (And that’s obviously something I need to fix). What about you? What obsession ‘owns’ you? If you had a t-shirt- what would your ‘picture’ be of? I’m not saying you can’t enjoy things in this life. He created us for enjoyment. (Ecclesiastes 2:24) He gives us many blessings and gifts to assist with our enjoyment. But we must be cognizant of the true ‘object’ of our affection, and seek to please Him above pleasing ourselves. (Matthew 6:10)

I will wear my shirt, don’t get me wrong. And I will continue drinking my coffee. (Duh!) But I will strive to fix that fact that everyone who knows me thinks that coffee is my first love. It’s not; Jesus is. (Song of Solomon 7:10)  
 
PS: Here's my awesome shirt :)
 

Shallow Depth


 
I’ve been doing a different kind of study than I typically do. Or at least I’m getting a different kind of result. I study my Bible almost daily. (I refer to it daily, but some days I just don’t dive into it as an actual study, I only read…) When I actually study it, the Word speaks to me in different ways. Most often, literally. Sometimes, figuratively. And sometimes, not at all. Those times frustrate me, but make me realize that I am completely missing a point; and more often than not; an important point. (Read the Parable of the Four Soils in Matthew 13- we have to have ‘ears to hear’…) This is when my studying digs much deeper. And this is when I draw closer to Jesus.

You see, when I’m having a hard time understanding a verse, a story, or a message, then I know I need to really dig into it. Everything in the Bible has a purpose; it’s just not always an obvious purpose. And lately, I’ve been diving into some topics more than just a Book/Chapter study. For instance, I was challenged on an issue with a fellow Christian regarding a topic that differentiates our denominations. In order to understand his view and defend mine, I had to dive into multiple verses and research some historical background. Then with the controversies lately of our fellow Christians in the news, I wanted to understand why or how they could take the stance they took, and what action I would take if I were in their shoes. I have to admit, I am really enjoying this type of study. And it is consuming me with more information than I ever thought I needed or cared to know. (And through my latest blogs, you can probably see that they haven’t been my typical entries…) To me, this type of study brings the relevance of Scripture to the forefront of defense. I’ve stated it in the past, but for reiteration: you have to understand why you believe what you believe. You have to be able to defend your faith and your Jesus to others. (But note, that does not mean you have to always be on the defense.)

The gist of the Four Soils is that people who listen and want to really know Scripture understand what is written. The four types of soils represent different responses to God’s message. People respond differently because they are in different states of willingness. Those that want to continue to live their lives, don’t hear it and subsequently don’t really believe it. (Matthew 13:13) If you are truly seeking His Word, then you will understand what It says. (Matthew 13:12) But besides our understanding, we are responsible to use the knowledge we are given through it. When we stay in His Word, we not only can help others understand, but as pointed out earlier, help ourselves understand our beliefs. To have this understanding will be the only true defense of false teachings. It’s so easy to want to believe the easy way; the bountiful blessings, the peace, the easy life. But we know that that is not how this life will be while we are on this earth; (John 16:33); therefore we need to be prepared.

And being prepared means being able to differentiate between those that are trying to teach, and those that are trying to stir the pot (so to speak). And it helps us to understand that our being able to keep our mouths closed during controversy is helping to stop the spreading of false teachings. For instance, going back to a former blog, why do we insist on arguing our denominational differences? (Particularly when all that really matters is Jesus Christ. If He’s Who others preach to love, then let it go at that.) (John 14:6) We argue about details on how to worship, what to wear, who can teach, etc.; yet we miss the point that through all this discrepancy and disagreement, non-believers are even more confused at our so-called beliefs and have greater doubt. Religious speculation and theological arguments will only sidetrack us from the central message of the Bible. They may seem like valid, or even harmless debates, but they take our time away from actually doing His work. (1 Timothy 1:4) (Again, I am not saying we shouldn’t speak on topics that are strictly forbidden (ie: homosexuality, adultery, etc.), but that we should watch our arguments over some of the vague discrepancies (as stated above). (And I am not saying that having a healthy conversation or debate amongst a few is wrong; quite the contrary; it’s a great way to understand your own beliefs and a great introduction to a deeper fellowship with Jesus. (I can attest to that!))

I guess what I am truly trying to convey is that we’ve got to dig deeper into the Bible and It’s Message. Yes, It’s about our salvation through Jesus, but there’s so much more than that. We can be go with the shallow ‘faith’ that Jesus Is, Was and Is yet to come, but we don’t have to stop there… The answers, explanations and truths are there. We only have to dig a little deeper; and be receptive to what we find. (Matthew 13:23)

Lest we Judge


With all that is going on in the news lately, particularly with Christians making headlines, I feel compelled to speak out. Forgive me if this is not the type of blog you’re wanting today…

I’m not asking you to take sides on a heated subject or headline. What I’m asking is that you stop and think about them first before speaking. When Christians make the front page over controversial topics, we need to be ready to defend our faith; if needed. What I mean is: we need to know why we believe what we believe. (2 Timothy 4:2) And be ready to explain it. And also know when to keep it to ourselves.

Regardless of which side you’re on when it comes to the debate in Kentucky, the baking battles, or the famous family facing backlash, remember that they are Christians; just like you; imperfect, in desperate need of prayer and God’s continued Grace. They are constantly criticized for their actions. Non-Christians are hovering waiting for us Christians to screw up and pounce the second we do, assuming that proves our Jesus doesn’t exist. But we Christians know better. We know that we will have problems in this world (John 16:33), we can’t escape them because of our human nature and imperfections; but they don’t understand it. Therefore, you can’t blame them for the verbal attacks when we mess up. But us? We should know better.

I’m not going to lie, I get angry when I read articles written by Christians, attacking other Christians on their actions. Who are we to judge? And how do we even think we know the hearts of them and what is truly fueling their actions? (Matthew 7:3-5) I clearly understand why Jesus flipped the tables in the Temple, and I wish I had my own tables to flip when I go on the internet and see fellow Christians slamming our brothers and sisters. [I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk to a fellow Christian that is sinning—in private, on a personal basis, offering prayer and help where they need it (Matthew 18:15)—this is about casting judgment on those we don’t know, but feel compelled to throw our opinion out there about how they aren’t being a ‘good’ Christian like ‘you’.] Why? Why do we feel the need to defend our faith, when we aren’t the ones that started the controversy? You are not to judge if you don’t want to be judged (Matthew 7:2). Furthermore, you don’t know the whole situation and story. (And if you think you’re getting it from the media, that’s a whole other blog…) You certainly shouldn’t pass judgment based on appearances. (Proverbs 18:13; John 7:24) You shouldn’t pass judgment on someone’s mistakes, when you make your own. (Romans 2:1) You shouldn’t pass judgment assuming your opinion is correct over their stance. Be humble (and quiet). (Luke 18:9, 14; James 4:6) The (should be obvious) thing is—we aren’t part of the story to be able to cast judgment. You risk spreading gossip and false statements. (Proverbs 19:5) Bottom line—we shouldn’t be slandering anyone, especially our brothers in Christ. (Titus 3:2)

Christians attacking other Christians are more to blame for the continued hatred on our faith than non-Christians attacks. If we can't love each other, (1 John 4:19-21) and accept that we each only account for our actions to Christ Himself, then we don't understand Jesus' Love and have no chance at loving others. (John 13:34) We need to quit attacking each other, and quit defending our faith for others actions. Live your life to please God, and the heck with everyone else- Christian and non- this competition with each other and this hatred is a disgrace to His salvation, mercy and grace. We clearly don't understand Whom we represent and are to honor. All we're doing is proving to others that we truly DON'T have His love in our hearts.

Maybe if we all just stopped and thought about the headlines, we’d recognize what they all are: tabloid. Maybe you wouldn’t react the same way that they are. But does that mean they are wrong? Does that mean their actions are dishonoring to Jesus? Does it mean that they represent the rest of us? No. If you’re asked, then tell your side, without being hateful and degrading to your ‘brother’. If you’re not asked, then don’t speak out. It’s pretty simple. Non-believers are going to believe what they want, and many are chomping at the bit to smear us whenever and wherever they can. Shake it off. You don’t answer to them; and you certainly don’t answer for anyone’s actions other than your own. The only way to win over a non-believer is to win them over with love. Instead of telling others how you wouldn’t act that way; show them. Spread the love; swallow the hate. Too many people are waiting for Christians to fail and to prove our religion is a fake. Stand up for your fellow believers; have their back. And most importantly, pray for them. (Colossians 1:9) [Can you imagine how much they are being tested and hated during their controversy? Would you want one of your ‘mistakes’ or ‘decisions’ thrust out in the public for all to weigh in on?]

Life Out There




Life. I get so caught up in mine that I forget there is so much out there beyond me…

It hit me this weekend, while browsing through my social media that I noticed the lives of my friends. In one weekend, there was a wedding, a divorce, a birth, a death, celebrations, sad announcements… the list goes on. And I was humbled once again at the reminder that this world doesn’t revolve around me. And the even greater reminder that God is Omnipotent and I am, not.  (Jeremiah 10:12)

I have a hard enough time keeping track of my own life, daily tasks and chores, let alone my friends’ lives—and yet God has it all under control. Some of the events in my newsfeed surprised me, but none of them surprised God. (Isaiah 55:8) He is using each event to His Will, according to His Plan. (Jeremiah 29:11,  Romans 8:28) (I get stressed just trying to plan dinner…).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is so much out ‘there’ than us, and it’s about time we start realizing it, and take action in it. (1 Timothy 1:16-18) We’ve got to get out of our own little world, and see the big world around us. I’m not going to pretend this idea doesn’t put additional stress in my life, without any action. The mere thought of adding something to my already hectic, life-draining schedule freaks me out some. But this isn’t a comfy, cozy life we’re supposed to be living. We’re supposed to step up and step out for Jesus! Get up off that couch, and out into the world. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Maybe you’re supposed to be volunteering at a shelter, or your church… Maybe you’re supposed to be visiting the sick and needy… Maybe you’re supposed to be writing a check equivalent to your car payment to a ministry… (Matthew 6:3-4)

Or… (Because we’re not all called to a ‘large scale’ ministry…)

Maybe you’re supposed to be helping your friend (or better yet, non-friend) on a household project… Maybe you’re supposed to be cooking for and/or visiting your elderly, lonely neighbor… Maybe you’re supposed to be writing a check equivalent to your take out coffee bill to your church… (Proverbs 21:26)

We all have something we can give. Some of us have more available time, than others. Some of us have more available money than others. We find the time to do what we really want to do; and we somehow find the money to buy what we really want to buy… So it’s about time we start sacrificing a little of one or both to God’s Kingdom. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Philippians 2:4; James 2:14-23)

Denominational Differences vs. Christian Unity

 
 
Our world is full of contempt for Christians. It’s sad how disliked we are. It’s even sadder that that we dislike ‘each other’.

It’s so aggravating how we treat each other of different denominations. There is no absolute one correct denomination; though there are many that think they are the only way. News flash: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. (John 14:6) Not a denomination.

I think there is deliberate silence and ambiguity on certain subjects in the Bible because we are all very different human beings. (Revelation 22:18-19) The Old Covenant in the Old Testament was all about legalism and religion. The New Covenant in the New Testament is about freedom and love. The Old Covenant was demolished by Jesus; we no longer are bound by sin or laws. But does this mean that those laws no longer apply? Not necessarily. (I am not saying that we need to make animal sacrifices to God; however we may have to make sacrifices in other areas for God: career, family, hobbies, etc.) What’s good for one Christian is not necessarily good for another. (Romans 14:14) Certain practices in Christianity differ among denominations. But what does the Bible say about these differences? We (the church, aka- all denominations) should join together in unity to serve God. (Romans 14:17-19; Romans 15:5-7)

This New Covenant means that we don’t have to follow the old ceremonies and traditions. But it doesn’t mean we have to ignore them, either. (Colossians 2:16-17) However, we need to know the difference of why we may continue to follow the ‘old ways’. If it’s to draw you closer to God, then by all means, do it. (Romans 7:12) But if it’s because you think the act itself is drawing you closer, then you’re missing the concept of Christianity. Who we worship, not how we worship, is what matters. Christ is all we need, and He is the only One you are held accountable to. If we have Jesus, then we have what we need to know and please God. Following rules or observing rituals and acting ‘religious’ will not earn our salvation. Our discipline and rule keeping doesn’t determine our salvation; the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection do. (Galatians 2:15-16) (Colossians 2:20-23) We don’t have to do anything to earn our salvation; but what we do should be done in truth and love for God. (Colossians 3:23)

All things are created by God (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16) and everything God created is good. (1 Timothy 4:4) Therefore, we shouldn’t be condemning how others enjoy God’s gifts; we should be asking for a blessing on His gifts to us, and thanking Him for all of them. We should be enjoying these gifts He’s given us; using them to bring Him Glory and Honor and Praise. (For example, food is a gift from God, but gluttony is abusing this gift. Enjoy your meals, but don’t over indulge in the treats.)

We get so caught up in everyone else’s business that we lose sight of our own business—which is our personal relationship with Jesus. You answer only to Him; no one else. (Romans 14:12) Make sure you’re worshipping and honoring Him to the best of your ability. And while you answer to no one else, no one answers to you, either. If a fellow ‘brother’ worships differently than you, that’s between him and God.

Conversations of these differences are wonderful. They spark intrigue, research and ultimately a deeper growth in your relationship with each other and with God. Don’t shy away from them. (Besides, you should always know why you believe what you believe). (I believe different denominations are a great way to find where you are most comfortable in your worship and relationship with Jesus; so long as you are in a church that teaches from the Bible—and allows you to ask questions for clarification—then you’re on a path to grow.) (My personal example is ‘chatter’ during a sermon. I’m okay with an ‘Amen’ or two when the Pastor is preaching (and think he needs to hear it as much as we do) but when it becomes frequent and interrupting, then my concentration on the sermon falters. I don’t think it is wrong when someone is compelled to speak out, but it, more often than not, turns me off and tunes me out.) But don’t condemn others for not agreeing with your beliefs. (Romans 14:13) The church (aka- all denominations) should be working together in unity to teach the world about Jesus, and His love. If we can’t first love our own brothers and sisters in Christ, how in the world are we going to love non-believers? (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26) If non-believers see our division and disagreements as walls in our unity, why would they want to be a part of that? Our condescension and condemnation needs to stop. We need to show a unified front to the people that need Jesus and don’t know Him. (Romans 14:17-18)

(This is not to say that when a fellow believer is blatantly disobeying God’s Word (adultery, homosexuality, etc.), we need to hold them accountable. This discussion is for the ‘ritualistic’ differences between denominations (clothing, music, food, etc.)).

We welcome your views and conversations to these subjects. (Please be courteous and respectful of others.) Conversations are great. Even differences are great. We are all different parts of The Body; but we are One in The Body. We need to remember that as One, we must work together, not separately. There’s only one goal: bringing people to Christ.

Romans 14:21”…Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right.”
 

Perfection


Perfection. We all seek it. But we all have different ideas of what ‘perfection’ is. For instance, the idea of a perfect day to me is coffee and bible study—alone. Then a lazy day curled up on the couch with a good mystery book or romcom movie on the tube. To some- that sounds boring; to me—relaxing. But some days, my perfect day idea consists of lounging in a pool or (preferably) on the beach (after my coffee and bible study). (I’d like to note that I recognize both days involve me being lazy… maybe because it’s few and far between that I get complete time to myself that has no real requirements of things that need to be done; or maybe it’s that I need to work more on my faith walk (Romans 12:11)) And I also admit, that when I get a ‘lazy day’, I am often left feeling incomplete and unsettled. So, why the inconsistencies? Because ‘perfection’ is just a perception; there is no true concept of ‘perfection’; except Christ.

And even considering Jesus, and reading His Word, we still don’t know the true meaning of His ‘perfection’. (If we did, we (Christians) wouldn’t disagree on so much of what is and isn’t in the Bible).) All we can do is continue to grow in our faith, and narrow our widened path towards Christ. Paul was a ‘perfect’ example of striving towards ‘perfection’ aka Christ. (Philippians 3:12-14) He acknowledges that he isn’t ‘perfect’ like Christ, but he’s striving to be more like Him daily, focusing on ‘forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.’ He doesn’t look back at his past mistakes (and boy did he make some!); instead he looks forward to what God has planned for him now and in the future. In other words, don’t dwell on all that you’re not or all that you’ve done wrong. Concentrate on who you have become and what is yet to be. You are forgiven of your failures and sins. (Amen!) So move on with your faith. As you strive to become more obedient to Christ, you mature in your walk. It’s this spiritual maturity that Paul was referring to when he taught ‘perfection’. (Philippians 3:15-16). Trying to live the ‘perfect’ Christian life is exhausting, and can leave us feeling discouraged and worthless; complete opposites of what we should be feeling with Jesus in our hearts. Jesus came to save us from condemnation, not to bring doom and gloom in this already dreadful world. Faith is all we need to be made righteous with God. (Romans 3:22, Philippians 3:9) It is through His grace alone that we undeservedly receive His gift. Therefore, if He can forgive us for any and all things we’ve done and said wrong—we don’t need to try to impress Him with ‘perfection’; of which we will never attain. All we are expected to do after receiving Him into our hearts is to continue to grow and mature in our studies and understanding of His Word and spread the gospel and His love. We will never learn it all (that’s in the Bible). But we can live our lives out to what we have learned and live up to what we know thus far. We can strive to ‘perfect’ our ‘perfections’, and grow out of our ‘imperfections’.

Jesus is a heart condition. He wants to change our hearts to be filled with only love; love for Him, love for others and even love for ourselves. If He can forgive our sins, why shouldn’t we forgive ourselves? ‘Perfection’ is what we strive for, yet will never achieve. But His perfect love is something we’ve all received, without having to do anything for it. Continue to grow and understand and learn and mature; never quit running the race (2 Timothy 4:7-9). Never quit growing or learning; but never let them be obstacles to your growth. Persevere in the race (Hebrews 12:1) towards ‘perfection’. But don’t get so caught up in ‘perfection’ that you lose the perception of what it is you’re really trying to achieve: to be Christ-like.

Bondage-it's not what you think!

My laptop is on the fritz.  Perhaps because my son accidentally knocked it over and it fell on the floor.  Maybe due to it's age (I have had it 3+ years and it is a refurb).  What I can tell you is that during this past week I have come to realize that I may have a small computer addiction.

I found myself frequently reaching for my laptop during downtime so I could just browse through Facebook to see what was going on.  It didn't happen just once or twice - but several times throughout the day.  I was forced to stop and examine just how much time I spend on mindless social media interactions.....and I am ashamed to admit that it is more time than I am comfortable with.

The irony is that my husband and I decided to limit the screen time for our children.  We were concerned that they would spend so much time on a computer or game screen that they would miss real world experiences.  And somehow I missed the lesson and became the example.

During my Bible readings this week God really drove this point home with the verse from 2 Peter chapter 2.  It says:

for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage (verse 19)
God whispered to my heart that sometimes our enemy disguises himself in order to overcome us.  In my case, I was being overcome with a false sense of camaraderie with others.  Now don't get me wrong, Facebook and other social media tools can be a wonderful communication tool (thanks so much to those of you who are following us!) and way to keep in touch.  My problem was a result of too much of a good thing becoming a bad thing.  ANYTHING that pulls us away from God becomes a bad thing, and screen time was not only pulling me away from God, but was pulling me away from the things God had laid on my heart to do.

I was getting up in the morning and rather than opening my Bible I was opening my Facebook app.  I would be on the computer planning for the upcoming home school year and then get sidetracked when I "quickly" checked my Facebook.  I would log in to Pinterest to pull up a recipe and find myself browsing other pins instead.  And the next thing I would know my husband was home, my kids were hungry and I hadn't managed to turn on the stove.  I would pull out my knitting needles to create an item to donate to my favorite charity only to find myself on my favorite pattern site browsing endlessly for that perfect pattern....that I never managed to get started on before the sun went down.


The good news is that bondage can be a good thing too - in the right circumstances.  It is just a matter of who or what you allow to control you.  The thing is, about 15 years ago I willingly submitted control of my life to Jesus.  Over the last 15 years I have had to stop and examine myself to see where I had given that control to something or someone else instead several times.  It reminds me of Paul who said, "I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate". (Romans 7:15)  I don't want to be brought into bondage by anything or anyone other than Jesus.  But that requires me to daily submit and draw close to God.  Fortunately, when I do that He promises to draw close to me as well.  (James 4:8)

So, for now, it's bye-bye screen time as I refocus.

Healing- In His Time

There come moments in our lives that we wonder if God is going to heal us of our ailments. At some point or another, we will all face this uncertainty; whether it’s a broken heart, infertility, loss, cancer… We will question the point of the pain (whether it’s physical , emotional or mental- there will be pain) (John 16:33).
(2 Corinthians 12:8-10): “8Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. My Bible’s commentary additionally details (and particularly hits me.) (Tyndale’s Life Application Study Bible, NLT) “Three times Paul prayed for healing and did not receive it. He received, however, things far greater because he received greater grace from God, a stronger character, humility and an ability to empathize with others. In addition, it benefited those around him as they saw God at work in his life. God, according to His sovereign plan, doesn’t heal some believers of their physical ailments. We don’t know why some are spared and others aren’t. God chooses according to His divine purposes. Our task is to pray, to believe and to trust. Paul is living proof that holy living and courageous faith do not ensure instant physical healing. When we pray for healing, we must trust our bodies to God’s care. We must recognize that nothing separates us from His love (Romans 8:35-39) and that our spiritual condition is always more important than our physical condition. Although God did not remove Paul’s affliction, He promised to demonstrate His power in Paul. The fact that God’s power is displayed in our weaknesses should give us courage and hope. As we recognize our limitations, we will depend more on God for our effectiveness rather than on our own energy, effort or talent. Our limitations not only help develop Christian character but also deepen our worship, because in admitting them, we affirm God’s strength. When we are strong in abilities or resources, we are tempted to do God’s work on our own, and that can lead to pride. When we are weak, allowing God to fill us with His power, then we are stronger than we could ever be on our own. God does not intend for us to be weak, passive or ineffective—life provides enough hindrances and setbacks without us creating them. When those obstacles come, we must depend on God. Only his power will make us effective for him and will help us do work that has lasting value.”
I don’t mean for this to sound hopeless or morbid, that God isn’t going to heal you or save you from your suffering. (Nothing is beyond His control and power). But what resonated with me is that, maybe He’s not healing you because His plan for you is to use you to help others find Him through your pain. Your courage and strength and faith throughout the situation will grow you closer to Him. In your positivity others can draw strength from you in their moments of weakness. But also, maybe He’s not worried about your physical ailment right now, but focusing on your spiritual ailments (we all have them). Maybe He’s made you weak in body, to make you strong in His Body. We are all children of God, and He wants all of us to come home to Him. Maybe He’s helping guide you and strengthen you spiritually because He loves you that much. He wants you home with Him (whenever that may be).
The uncertainty, the helplessness and even anger you may be holding onto as you face your situation as it seems to be beating you will pass. However, I can’t stress the light you have to show through it. You don’t know who you’re reaching and who you’re teaching about Jesus through your faith and trust. Hold onto that. God can heal you; if it’s His will. (And I pray that it is). But if it’s not, whatever time you have left, or regardless of how difficult things continue to get; grow closer to Him, and draw others with you. All we have in this world is Jesus. And too many people don’t understand, don’t know or don’t care about Him; regardless of how much He loves them. You can help show them.
Maybe through this temporary weakness, God is showing you how much He loves you; at least a little glimmer (because I don’t think any of us truly understand the depth and magnitude of that love until we meet Him). Never give up hope. Jesus will take your pain; and He will heal you. When is the only uncertainty.
May you see God’s blessings in your struggles and feel His (eventual) healing.

Summer Cleaning


I can’t believe that summer is basically half over. I don’t know where the time has gone, but I feel so far behind on summer chores. My plants/flowerbeds look awful because I haven’t been able to keep up with the weeding and feeding. (Not to mention that I am lacking potted and hanging basket plants that I just never bought.) I haven’t cleaned my windows, pressure washed the house and deck, or had my annual yard sale (or even begun to gather items to put in said sale). I have a long list of projects that need to be completed this summer that (obviously) haven’t been started. (two new retaining walls need built in my flower beds, my brick block decking needs fixed, as water has damaged it and unleveled it, my porch posts need sanded, patched and painted, a tree needs cut down, a bush needs pulled out…and the list goes on. The only thing I can say is accomplished is that today I finally cleaned all of my porch railings. They’re the vinyl railings that look great and don’t rot, but they show dirt and mildew and scratches easily. Typically I clean them the first sign of warm weather. And honestly, it took a lot to talk myself into cleaning them now because I feel like summer is almost over, so why bother.

I’m so thankful that I did, though. They look wonderful, and make me feel like I might be able to enjoy summer after all. (Seems ridiculous, I know, but I truly feel like this summer has been a waste.) And if I dive into it a bit more, I’m so thankful that Jesus doesn’t just let me stay unclean. (Psalm 51:7, Ezekiel 36:25) As a Christian, I tend to look okay from far away. I look clean and durable, but once you get closer you can see that I’m a mess and scratches. From a distance, I seem to be holding up my faith quite well. I go to church, study my Bible, and talk about Jesus when I see a chance to include Him. However, with a deeper inspection, one can see that I skip church sometimes, don’t open my Bible some days, and more often than not, don’t discuss Jesus.

I, like my porch rails, need cleaned; unfortunately, more frequently than annually. Thankfully, Jesus wipes me down with the linens He was buried in, (Luke 24:12, John 19:40, John 20:5-7) and washes me spotless. And just like my porch rails, I sparkle for a while. I attend church more regularly, read more frequently and share the gospel more steadily. And that’s when the durability of my faith shines. When I’m spending more time with other believers, staying in His Word and sharing His Good News, I am resilient. He’s the same with you. If you take the time and allow Him to work with and on you, you, too will shine like new. (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:22-24) And He will make the effort more than worth your while. (Hebrews 11:6)

Bound Together

Fear not, be glad and rejoice. For the LORD will do great things.” Joel 2:21 

I don’t know about you, but for me these last several weeks have been hard.  Social media has blown up with opinions on both sides of the "Love Wins" issue, and some harsh words have flown - both from those who support and oppose the decision.  I have at times been very disappointed with the Christian community during all of this.  You see, sometimes it is easy to forget that our enemy isn't flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil.  (Ephesians 6:12)  Sometimes it is easier to take a stand against those who are held captive to sin rather than against the one who holds them captive....after all, those caught in sin are easier to see and confront.

I have been trying to remember this when others talk to me about my opinions on the subject, but honestly it is difficult to answer.  I worry, am I going to say the right things? Am I going to honor God in my actions? Is this what I am supposed to be doing or saying? It can be overwhelming at times.

 Joel prophesied to a nation that hungered for God, even if they didn’t know it. The times were dark and the enemy was near.  Yet Joel reminded them of just how much they needed to say “yes” to Him, that God had not turned His back on them. I feel like we are standing in a similar place. We stand in a world that hungers for all that God offers - love, acceptance, compassion - and yet they often do not understand or even know that it is being offered to them.  They face an enemy that they can not defeat alone and don't realize that they don't have to.

We, as followers of Jesus,  need to remember who is in control.  We need to take to heart the words of Joel.  He tells us that we must return to God with all of our heart (Joel 2:12).  He encourages us to trust in the Lord, because He can and will do great things.  This word “great” in Hebrew is gadal which can also be translated as "to cause to grow". Gesenius’s Lexicon defines it as “to twist together, to bind together.” I find that comforting. The Lord will cause us to grow, bound together with Him. I don’t know about you, but I want to grow bound to Him, and I want to help others to grow that way too!

So perhaps we need to stop lamenting the law and start reaching out and sharing how love really wins, through a relationship with Jesus.  Maybe it is time to stop pointing a finger of condemnation and instead extend our arms in love.  That doesn't mean accept their sin, but it does mean that we realize that God loves them just as much as He loves us - despite ALL of OUR sins.  It is through love that we can lead others to be grafted into God's family.  It is through love that we can grow.  And it is through love that we can be bound together as His people.  THAT is how love truly wins.

"This We'll Defend"...


Some days I have a hard time understanding what my purpose is. So many people around me seem to have their stuff together, and I’m just hanging out…wondering where I fit in to God’s Plan.

I hear stories about people who receive this ‘calling’ from God. They’re given a very direct order on the role He wants them to do. But what about those of us that don’t hear that direction? What is our purpose? Are we to do nothing? How does that help?

I want to be more for God; I pray for His help to grow me, teach me and guide me where I can do the most work for Him. And sometimes, I feel like a strategic operative; others, a tactical nuisance. I’m not going to lie, I want to hear Jesus tell me “well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21, 23) But does that mean that my work for Him has to be big? I’m struggling with that idea lately. Maybe it’s my plans that are big, and His plans are much scaled back for me. Maybe I can’t handle the pressure, the capacity, or the recognition and praise. Something is holding God back from using me in a larger scale. Am I disappointed? Absolutely! But, and here’s where I’m learning a bit, I’m not discouraged. God has a complete plan for me. (Jeremiah 29:11) He knows best. (Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 55:9) There’s a reason I’m not the frontrunner. There’s a reason I’m more behind-the-scenes. (Ephesians 2:10) Maybe it is because I struggle with my pride, and wanting praise. Maybe it’s because I’m better at assisting than leading. Maybe it’s because of a reason I am not in the need to know right now…

It reminds me of the children’s song “I’m in the Lord’s Army”: “I may never march in the infantry, Ride in the cavalry, Shoot the artillery, I may never fly o'er the enemy, But I'm in the Lord's army! Yes Sir!”

The point being, it doesn’t matter what my job is in God’s Plan; His army; it only matters that I do the task(s) He’s given me to the best of my ability, all for His Glory; not questioning His Authority. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Maybe I’m not the one that will be leading the battle, firing the defenses, flying the rescue…maybe I’m the one that will prepare the leader’s tools, loading the weapons, or pack the parachutes… (Luke 4:18-19) Maybe my rank is forever to be ‘Private’, as in low man on the totem pole, and ‘private’ as in not to be known. (Ephesians 1:11)

It doesn’t matter what rank I’m given; it only matters about the job that I do; for Whom I do it. It’s not about me at all; it’s about Him. It’s His battle. It’s His Win to be had. (Exodus 15:3) “This We’ll Defend.”

No Hurries



Last week at work, I read over an article for a marketing campaign. After review, my boss told me the article didn’t fit the campaign because it pertained to Europe, not America. I missed that in my initial skimming of the article. (even though it clearly stated ‘UK’ at least 15 times). I sent an email the other day about a special event, and neglected to state the time of the event. (I’m willing to bet there will be typos in this blog after I’ve published it.)

The other day I went to the grocery store with a partial list, and not my typical coupon organization. It was a last minute decision to stop there on my way home, figuring I’d get it done early. Only, while I was there, I wasn’t paying proper attention to the sale prices verses what coupons I had, and long-story short, I ended up paying $8.00 more than necessary.

And this past weekend, I had my hands full while walking through the foyer, and my giant horse of a dog stopped right in front of me. Trying to avoid falling on and over him, injuring us both, I grabbed for the wall, knocking down a ceramic cross wall hanging and breaking it. Then the next day as I was cleaning up my flower beds, I (assume) lost my balance and fell in the road as I tossed out the weeds. I placed my hand down to help break my fall, and for a moment thought I’d broken it. (I could continue this paragraph indefinitely, as I walk into walls, furniture, trip, etc. on an almost hourly basis).

Why do I tell you this? (Besides hopefully making you feel a little bit better about yourself) Because I’ve come to realize that I’m always in a hurry. Everything I do is done in urgency. Maybe my impatience plays a hand in this. Or my overwhelmed plate full of tasks. Possibly I’m a careless and haphazard person. Maybe I have attention and focusing issues. Or maybe I’m just lazy. But the lesson I’m learning is that I need to slow down. Why do I have to rush to get everything done?

In this past week’s aggravations at my mistakes because I rushed through tasks, I’ve begun to understand that I need to slow down some. (Notice I noted ‘some’—this is going to be an on-going struggle for me) God never intended for us to always be busy and in a hurry. Why do we tend to think we have to always be doing something, or getting things done as fast as we can—only to do more stuff? We’re missing out on all that God entails for us in this life because we’re so busy. Holiness can’t be rushed or instantaneous. The way of God is the way of waiting. (Psalm 46:10; Hebrews 4:11) Take a breath before completing tasks. Stay focused on what you’re doing, and for Whom you’re doing them for. (Colossians 3:23) Do you know what you’re missing when you’re rushing through life? Life. The ordinary and the extraodinary. Enjoy each piece of it, as this life is short. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

In my hurriedness, I end up making mistakes; mistakes that cost me money, time and energy. If I’d gone slower on the above tasks, I wouldn’t have had to redo my workload twice; I wouldn’t have wasted $8.00; and I wouldn’t have fallen, twice. (Well, yeah, I probably would have- I’m a klutz.) But in my efforts to save time, I wasted it, and so much more.

There are 24 hours in a day; 7 days in a week (and so forth); yet we try to stretch them into more than they were inteneded for. Do we forget that even God rested on the seventh day? (Genesis 2:2) (How about diving a little deeper into that and notice that the other six days, all of the work that He had done was ‘Good’ (Genesis 1:31); not ‘good enough’; not ‘I have other things to do’… but it was ‘Good’. Can we say that all we accomplish in our busy-ness is ‘good’? (I know I can’t)

Drowning?

My youngest daughter started swim lessons this week.  It is her second year, and to be honest I almost didn't sign her up.  By the end of summer last year she was jumping from the diving board and swimming to the side of the pool after a short confidence break in my arms once she surfaced from the dive.  This year, however, it was as if she had never swam before.

Our first visit to the pool I asked her to stay where she could touch until I got everything settled and could get in with her.  She got a little overconfident and swam out to where she could just barely touch, and her feet slipped out from under her.  She instantly panicked.  I saw it on her face as I was entering the pool.  I began to push through the crowd to get to her as I saw her bob in the water as she attempted to right herself.  It lasted about 5 seconds but it was enough to convince her she could no longer swim.  I spent the day trying to restore her confidence but by the time we left I stopped at the lifeguard table and added her name to the swim lessons list.

This past Monday I saw this video popping up all over social media about the dangers of drowning.  In a lot of cases a drowning person doesn't LOOK like a drowning person.  To the casual observer it just looks like a kid splashing around in the pool.  The adults around my daughter, the ones right beside her had no idea she was struggling.  It's a scary thought for those of us with kids, but then God laid another thought on my heart...

In this world we are surrounded by people who are drowning, and more often than not we don't even recognize that they are in trouble much less reach out a hand to help.  I am not talking about the obvious people, those who are homeless, living a lifestyle that is blatantly opposed to God, addicted.  While all of those people are drowning in their sins, I was reminded that there are many who appear to be okay and yet they are still struggling to inhale the breath of life.  These are the people that seem to be "ok".  The person you work with, the cashier that is scanning your groceries, the neighbor with a newborn baby and a husband that works long hours, the single father struggling to make ends meet and still be there for his kids.

We are surrounded by people who just need to know they aren't alone, people that thirst for a kind word or a helping hand.  And yet we, who are called to love them, often barely recognize them, much less reach out to help them.  It is easy when you are "in the pool" to shift focus to those who are "yours".  After all, you know them and love them.  But Jesus reminds us that our calling is to care for more than just those who are in our inner circle, but to care for all his children.

This first begins with those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. (Romans 12:13, Romans 15:1, Galatians 6:2)  But beyond that, we are called to care for those in the world.  Did you know that of the 132 intimate contacts between Jesus and individuals in the Bible, 122 of them occurred either when Jesus went to them or while He was on His way somewhere?  In other words, Jesus met the people who needed Him most where they were.  He didn't require them to come to Him, or to visit the temple or synagogue.  He knew the people in the world were drowning, and just like a drowning person in the water they needed to be rescued.  We don't expect a drowning person to go to the lifeguard stand and request help.  Why do we expect the people of the world to do any differently?

So today I encourage you to look around you for those who are drowning and offer some help.  What does this look like?  Sometimes it just means to smile at the cashier and really see them while they scan your groceries.  Others times it may mean noticing the mom in the beat up car with three kids in the backseat who is only putting $5 in the gas tank and anonymously paying to fill the tank for her.  Other times it may mean just listening to someone, just being there for them.  And maybe, just maybe a door will open for you to tell them about Jesus.  But first you have to love them.  After all, you don't give swim lessons while a person is drowning.  First you address the immediate need.

Supplements



I don't know about you, but I take a vitamin supplement every day. My food choices aren't always great and it is often a struggle for me to eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables; I'm pretty selective about which ones I like and very confident that I am not eating the ones I don't. So I take a vitamin every day to help fill in the gaps that my diet leaves.

God gives us a list of supplements to fill our faith gaps as well. We don't always have the faith that we should. Sometimes fears and doubts get in the way and cause us to question and worry. Fortunately God has a plan for us to supplement our faith. In 2 Peter 1:5-7 He lays it all out for us:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love. (ESV)
The verses preceding this tell us that we are to do this because God has given us all that we need and allowed us to share in His nature.  His gifts are not given to us IF we supplement our faith.  The gifts have already been bought and paid for (thank you Jesus!).  Rather Peter is making that point that while our faith saves us (Ephesians 2:8), it should motivate us to want to do something in return.  And in the doing sometimes our faith needs some gaps filled in because we aren't feeding our faith properly, and the list he provides helps us to strengthen the health of our spiritual life - our faith.  So let's take a look at these things.

Virtue is an outward show of our moral values.  This is where we walk the walk and talk the talk.  God says don't steal, so we don't.  We know lying is wrong so we choose to tell the truth in love instead.  It is possible to behave virtuously and not have faith, but if you have truly have faith it is impossible to not have virtue as well.

Knowledge is gained by actively studying God and His word.  You can have a set of morals based upon your understanding of God, but you have to take the time to know Him, to understand His character.  Not everything we encounter in this life will have a neat Bible verse to turn to.  Sometimes we have to make decisions based upon what we know of God and his character.  That is why knowledge is so important.

Self-Control, admittedly this is one I struggle with.  Our faith sometimes will require us to react in a way counter to our instincts.  When we learn to control those instincts and choose to react according to our virtue and knowledge instead we give God room to work.  We also set an example for those around us of what it is to live what Jesus preached.  (Matthew 5:38-42)

Steadfastness is the choice to stand firm, even when it is easier give in.  This is especially important in the world we live in now.  When we are told at every corner that life is about our personal happiness, having more than our neighbor, and that anything we desire should be allowed it is hard to stand up as the dissenting voice.  However, it is so important to not waver.  When we remain resolute in Jesus we are choosing the less traveled, but correct path.  (Matthew 7:13-14)

Godliness, or devotion to God that results in a life that is pleasing to Him, is something I strive for daily.  When we keep this goal at the forefront of our mind it will affect every aspect of our lives.  Living a life for God is to trust in who He says He is and to devote yourself to Him.  That trust helps to fill in the gaps when our faith wavers, when we don't understand why things are happening we can choose to continue living our lives for Him because we know He has our best interest at heart, that He loves us.

Brotherly love, or phileo, is to feel affection for others.  This is where we open our eyes to those around us and choose to really see them.  All of the previous "supplements" have been about personal growth.  This one asks us to look outside ourselves and start looking at people the way Jesus does.  They may not be perfect, but they are our brothers and sisters trying to make it through this world just like we are.  Some are even worse off, because they don't know they aren't alone on this journey; they haven't met Jesus yet.  Here we are called to not only recognize them but to care about them.  And when you start caring you get a glimpse of God's love in a special way.  THAT is a definite faith boost.

And finally there is LOVE, real, agape love.  This is more than just an emotional response or an affection for another.  This is a conscious choice to put others before yourself, to consider their needs more important than your own.  When we get this right it is as if we are walking with God.  Next to loving Him, this is the most important thing we can do.  (Matthew 22:36-40)

So today I ask you, have you taken your supplements?  Maybe you should!

When you are walking in the fire



"So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames." ~Daniel 3:23

I was recently watching a documentary with my daughters about two college boys who left the comforts of home to spend two months living in a third world country on an average third world salary.  While that alone was eye opening, I was drawn to the story of one man, 24 years old with a wife, 3 children and elderly family members he was responsible for.  This family lived in what most of us here in the U.S. would consider deplorable conditions.

They all lived in a one room home.  He was among the "rich" in his community because he had a job cleaning in a local hotel and thus had a steady, although meager, income.  They had saved and been able to purchase a stove for the house rather than cook over an open fire but school for their children was not something they could afford at $25 per child.  Despite all of the difficulties, and yes he did recognize and struggle with the difficulties, he appeared to be always cheerful.  He usually had a smile on his face and was quick to help those in his community with not only knowledge, or physical help, but even financially - despite the burden it put on his own family.  And I wondered....how was this man - who had so little in the world - able to maintain that joy?

Many of you know the story of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego;  Three young men taken captive from their homeland with Daniel to go live in Babylon.  They were trained up in the ways of the people and expected to serve the royalty.  These boys remained strong in their faith and true to God despite all they were surrounded with.  When things got hard, when they faced the fires, they didn't waver.  This, I think, is where so many of us fail - myself included.

When things get hot, when we face the fire, we begin to question God.  We begin to shake our fist or bow our heads in defeat.  Whereas Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego stood tall and declared that either God would save them, because they knew it was within His power to do so, or He wouldn't. (Daniel 3:17-18) Either way they would not be swayed from doing what they knew God had asked of them.  WOW!  Personally this is the point that I am questioning if I really heard Him.  After all, it wouldn't be so difficult if I were walking the path He chose, would it?

The king then had them bound and tossed into the fire.  Not just any fire, but one that was so hot that when they were being led to it, their guards bust into flames.  (Daniel 3:22)  This was a trial that even the strongest person, without God, could not withstand and yet these three boys had accepted their fate.  In this instance, God chose to display His power to those observing.
“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!" ~Daniel 3:25
The faith that these young men had not only saved them from the fire, it released them from their bonds.  I believe that this is the mystery of the fullness of joy that God calls us to.  (Psalm 16:11)  Sometimes, the fires we are called to walk through  are there to unbind us from the things that keep us captive.  So I ask you, what keeps you bound today?  Is it a fixation on the things of this world?  Are you tied up by the pursuit of things? of money? of prestige?  If you feel like you are in the fire, perhaps you need to examine yourself and see if God is trying to release you from bondage. If so, is your faith strong enough to willingly step into the furnace?

Maybe, this is what the man in the third world country had discovered.