Archive | January 2014

Perspective

This morning brought an early rise after a sleepless night.  One of those nights where I just couldn’t get the brain to shut off.  I wrestled with the covers in an endless attempt to get comfortable.  Surely if I could just get in the right position my body and mind would relax and sleep would come….

So the coffee brews early and extra strong as I wander through the chaos that is the current state of my house, wondering what I can accomplish without disturbing the ones who are enjoying their sleep.  I am jealous.  I think that if I can just get those first two cups of coffee down I will be able to face the demands of this day.  I’ve already calculated what needs to be done and what time I will be able to crawl back in my bed tonight.  Early.

As the caffeine begins to chase away the brain fog, I read a devotional and it is perfect for this moment.  It reminds me that God already sees this day and He’s not worried about it at all.  He calls to me again, just to sit and relax and let Him love me.  His presence makes me acutely aware of my inability to do anything without Him.  The old me that would start the day in an effort to muster the strength needed is gone, and the now me gladly acknowledges my desperate need for His strength.  It pleases Him.

I glance up from my bible and see a poster I’ve hung by my desk that reminds me to pray for persecuted Christians around the world.  Persecuted Christians.  Believers that aren’t relaxing in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of coffee.  Believers that will wonder today if they will face bodily harm because of their faith.  Believers who have sacrificed everything to stand boldly for Christ.  Believers who are imprisoned by literal bars and chains.   I am humbled.

The old me would feel guilty about my freedom, my comforts in this life I have.  The now me knows that God sees my needs and is ever ready to help me even though so many face so much worse.  There is no sin in being blessed, in being born in a land that is free. Only if I would forget those who have so little.   In considering their needs, my words seem lacking.  But He knows and He hears.  So I pray.

Let’s not forget the amazing power of simple prayer.  Today, a believer I don’t know in another part of the world where I’ve never been is helped because I asked our Father.  Today, an unbeliever I don’t know in another part of the world I will never see hears the gospel of salvation and gives their heart to Jesus because I asked my Father.  It doesn’t require lofty words or even intense emotion.  It requires faith and the willingness to slow down long enough to remember those who need our prayers.

“…whatever you ask for in prayer, believe (trust and be confident) that it is granted to you, and you will get it.”  Mark 11:24

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God’s fortune cookie

Last year I made a commitment to give God my Sundays as a true day of worship and rest.  The last quarter of 2012 had been very stressful for me, and the pressures of my work were going to continue into the new year.  Having a day to spend with God resting my body and mind sounded very appealing.  So for the better part of 2013 (with a few exceptions for family events), on Sundays I attended worship services in the morning, had lunch at home, and spent the remainder of the day in bed with my bible, computer, and journal.  There were opportunities to work and temptations to play, but I was determined to give myself time to recoup my strength and energy, and time to really give Him my attention.

What a novel idea!  Oh wait…it was God’s idea in the first place.  “Earnestly remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (withdrawn from common employment and dedicated to God).  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work…”  Exodus 20:8-10

Let me rephrase:  last year I decided to obey God and make my Sunday’s a true day of worship and rest.  I don’t believe God is too terribly concerned as to whether we give Him Sunday or Wednesday, or Saturday.  I do, however, believe He created us to need a day of rest from our labors and time to develop our worship relationship to Him.  A day dedicated to Him, making Him the center of our lives with no distractions.  He had a plan.

It has been the most deeply rewarding and fulfilling commitment I have ever made.  It has changed me.  It has deepened my relationship with Him more than words can describe.  I’ve learned so much from His word that I wonder where my spiritual life would be now if I had been giving Him what He asked for all these many years!  The sacrifice of the time was an act of worship in itself.  It honored Him, and He in turn began to open doors for me to do exactly what He has called me to do.  And He was faithful to do what He said He would do:  He led me by still waters, refreshed and restored my soul, and led me in the paths of righteousness – showed me more of His way of thinking and doing (Psalm 23).  It is now a lifelong commitment for me.

This last Sunday we received a notification that brought upheaval to our lives. My very first reaction to this bit of news was that anxious knot that begins in the stomach.  My thoughts began racing, “What are we going to do??  How are we going to work this out??”  Being an excessive planner by nature, my brain immediately began going through a mental list of everything I needed to do and how quickly I was going to have to make things happen.  I was just about to jump out of bed and get to work when I heard Him.

“It’s My day.”

“Yes, Lord, it is.”

“Wait with Me.  I’ll lead you and help you.  Don’t give in to the pressure.  Wait with Me.”

“Yes, Lord.”

I pulled the covers back over me, grabbed my bible and opened to Psalm 112   “Praise the Lord!  Blessed is the man who fears (reveres and worships) the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments….prosperity and welfare are in his house….light arises in darkness…he shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is firmly fixed, trusting in the Lord…his heart is established and steady…”

You know that verse that talks about “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7)?  It washed over me like a flood!!  I refused to give the enemy the day.  I spent it praying and praising and RESTING.  When Monday came I was up for the task ahead of me that required much physical stamina.

But better than the rested body was the change in my attitude.  This unpleasant circumstance had overnight become a situation I was getting excited about!  I kept telling my husband “This is going to be an adventure!”  I have been able to keep my peace and my joy and watch God do amazing things in just a few short days.

Today I stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch.  As I turned to leave I grabbed a fortune cookie, the very last one in the bowl.  Once in the car I broke the cookie, retrieved my fortune and here’s what it said:

A bold and daring adventure is in your future within the year!

HAHA!!  I love God’s sense of humor!

Running

I like running.  It’s my favorite workout – I don’t have to count, or learn tricky dance moves, and it requires no equipment other than a good pair of shoes.  It gives me time to think, or not think, depending on the mood of the day.  In the past I’ve had friends that ran with me, but I much prefer the solo runs.  I don’t want to talk or listen to music.  I just want to run.

Dogs are one of the greatest challenges to a relaxing run.  I was only a half mile from finishing a nice run one day when I was spotted by a Rottweiler who immediately made a beeline towards me, the owners screaming “STOP, TANK!!”.  Tank, an appropriate name for this enormous dog, was thankfully an obedient dog who returned to his master before devouring me.  I believe I ran faster that day than I had in many years.   Another time a different large dog came at me with greater success.  He was very aggressive and actually bit me twice before I could get away.  The bites weren’t serious at all, but my heart rate was seriously elevated from a combination of fear and anger, and for months after, I ran down that street with trepidation.

Big dogs are scary, but the small dogs are the worst.  They tend to be very brave despite their diminutive size, and often get so close they make contact.   Obviously the goal is to get past the little buggers without stepping on them or eating pavement.  Most of the time I can get past them.  But not always.  I’d gone many years without even the slightest injury from running, before I encountered him.  A deceptively cute little canine, he evidently believed the sidewalk was his personal space and I was the invader.  In just a few short seconds from the moment I saw him, he was beneath me and my plan to side step went awry.  I went down hard.  This one little dog brought my run to an end sent me limping home, bruised and bleeding.

Along with my love for running, I am extremely competitive.  When I run alone, I am usually focused on beating my previous run time, even if only by a few seconds.  Having not run much since high school, I enjoyed returning to it when I was living in a small, rural town.   In this area of the country, all the small towns had their yearly festivals throughout the spring, summer and fall, and each would hold a race.  The races would draw familiar faces as all who liked to compete would go from town to town and run.

From my home town there was a girl that was very fast.  She won the women’s division in every race, every town, every time.  She became my motivation.  My first goal:  just keep her in sight throughout the race.  Don’t let her get so far ahead of me that I can’t see her.  This took a few seasons.  However, my competitive nature drove me to practice harder each time, and before long I had met this goal.  I could see her back throughout the entire race.  Next goal:  stay within 10 yards of her throughout the race.  I practiced harder and met this second goal.  Final goal:  win, or at least tie for the win.  I diligently mapped out my weekly run schedule, knew the time I had to beat, and practiced like never before.

It’s the day of the race in my home town.  I am pumped!  I’m confident that I can not only keep her in sight or stay near her, I can win!  I ran like never before, remaining very close to her the entire race.  I can see it – the finish line.  I am right beside her running as hard as I can.  We cross the finish line and they call a tie!!  I did it!!

I am very proud of my finish that day, but that’s not what I remember the most about this race.  What I remember are the fifteen to twenty minutes immediately following our grand finish.   My muscles are throbbing, my knees are shaky, my ankles wobbly – it is all I can do to put one foot in front of the other.  I am struggling to walk upright.  I look over and this young woman is walking around with her friends laughing and talking!!  She’s full of energy and I want to crawl back to the car and have someone drive me home for a hot bath and bed!  In my enthusiasm to compete, my lust for the win, I neglected to take into account the age factor. She was a teenager and I was pushing forty!!  That race made me appreciate the fact that they place you in an “age category” for a reason, and I retired from competing against teenagers that day.

“let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance and that sin which so readily clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us…”  Hebrews 12:1

We are in a race and there are “dogs” after us.  The big dogs are the unnecessary weights that we carry around – worry, shame, guilt, etc.  When they show up, we live our lives in fear and trepidation.  The little dogs that entangle us and trip us up are the sins we allow to remain – unforgiveness, resentment, jealousy, etc.  They are pesky and hard to get rid of, and trying to side step them instead of removing them always causes us to fall.  This verse instructs us to strip them off and throw them aside!!  We can’t run and be steady with these things hanging on to us.  And look at that last part:   …let us run…the appointed course of the race that is set before us.

Whose race are we trying to run?  Are we on our appointed course of this race, or are we measuring our success on how someone else is running their race?  The finish line is the same for every believer and we will all see each other there.  But we each have to seek the course God has for us so that we’re not exhausted and trying to crawl just to finish!!

I walked away from that race with a small medal of some kind that I have no idea what ever happened to it.  There is something so much greater we’ll receive from this race we’re in:

“Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things.  They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness that cannot wither.”  1 Corinthians 9:25

WooHoo!!  See you at the finish line!!

Exercise

We live in a time when exercise is a common topic.  It’s talked about on television and the internet, written about in newspapers and magazines.  Everyone has an opinion about exercise.  Having been a small health club manager at one point in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to observe people in an exercise setting.  I knew several people who hated to exercise and they never joined the gym. Others joined even though they didn’t like it, but believed the health benefits were worth it.  Some gym members never took their exercise program seriously; they were just there for the social aspects.  Then there were those who really liked to exercise, who in turn were the ones who reaped the greatest rewards.

I’ve watched those who had to work very hard to achieve results, and others that reached their goals quickly and easily. At times this would be so discouraging to the one whose results were slow in coming, that they would give up.  I’ve seen some who had tremendous results in the loss of weight and inches, yet when they looked in the mirror still saw themselves as overweight.  To them, the success just seemed too good to be true.  There was the socialite.  While they may be very friendly and entertaining, they distracted many from their goals and rarely had words of encouragement for those struggling – they had no empathy, because they never actually exercised enough for it to be difficult!

Then there were those who had made a commitment.  They showed up to work out even on the days they didn’t feel like it.  A bad day at work, inclement weather, their favorite show on tv – nothing distracted them from their commitment to reach their goal.  It was a delight to share in their accomplishments, to see the change not only in what happened to their physical appearance and health, but to their confidence in themselves.  The successes that were the most difficult to achieve were the ones that developed in that person a fearless attitude about other things in life – the challenges they may be facing at work or in relationships.  They discovered they could be “over-comers”!

Did you know the bible tells us to exercise?  I believe we have a responsibility to take care of our physical bodies – we have a job to do on this earth and our bodies need to last until we’ve fulfilled our purpose!  That being said, this physical body is temporary and we must give the greater attention to the spiritual things.   Here’s what Peter wrote about exercise:

“…employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy)…”  1 Peter 1:5

Some in the body of Christ really don’t like the message of faith, so they rarely attend services even though they believe in God and acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Others attend services out of obligation.  There are those who attend church as a social event; not interested in any commitment, it’s just a place to go and visit.  Then there are those who love church!  They understand the value of coming together with others to learn and grow.  These reap numerous rewards.

The bible warns us about comparing ourselves with one another, but from time to time, that is exactly what we do.  The one who is struggling to stand in faith and the answers to their prayers are slow in coming may look at another who seems to believe God so easily and their answers to prayers are immediate, and become discouraged.  Sometimes they just give up on faith.

There are others who hear the words of forgiveness and grace, but when they look at themselves still see sin and defeat.  The fact that they’ve been made righteous before God just seems too good to be true.

Some have no commitment to the body of Christ, they simply enjoy the socialization each week.  They don’t know what to say to those who are hurting or struggling because they don’t really follow the teachings of Christ and have no experience in standing in faith through difficulties.

But, oh, there are those who are in love with Christ.  They are committed to believe Him no matter what and they let nothing distract them from their faith walk – they purposely exercise it.  They know that they must exercise their faith in everything in order to develop and grow.  With each stage of development, new victories are won and confidence grows.  They become fearless when their faith has held fast through the challenges and hard times that come.  They’ve discovered they are “over-comers” in this life!!

That passage in 2 Peter goes on to say that we should exercise and develop virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and Christian love.  But it all starts with exercising our faith.  Every day.  In every thing.  This takes purposeful thought on our part, carefully choosing our words when challenges appear.  Exercising our faith means SAYING faith words – acknowledging that God is helping us, that He is the God of the impossible and nothing is too difficult for Him.  Each time we set our minds on Him and Who He is, our faith is strengthened.  The scripture also continues with “if these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep you from being idle and unfruitful unto the full personal knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”!  These qualities will help us fully know Jesus!

Who knew we could be so excited about exercise??      🙂

Curve balls

Back in my days of junior high and high school, P.E. was a required class.  Physical Education.  I don’t remember any instruction on diet or exercise, physiology or kinesiology.  We were made to walk or run around the track and sometimes run bleachers; on bad weather days we played dodgeball in the gym (a cruel game, in my opinion).  When spring came with its sunny days and warm temperatures, we played baseball.  Actually, the girls played slow pitch softball.  I was an average player.  I could hit the ball more times than I missed, and I was a faster base runner than most.  But I couldn’t catch.  I was scared of the ball and never got comfortable with the glove.  I also threw like a girl…a girly-girl.

Obviously curve balls were not a part of our game.  From what I’ve read, curve balls are a difficult skill for a pitcher to master, and of course, hard for the batter to hit.  The batter is up with his eye on the ball, and just when ready to swing, the ball takes an unexpected dive and a strike is the result.   I’m sure there are baseball players that can hit curve balls, but in my simple google search, I didn’t find any. They must be few and far between.  Preparation for a game with a skilled pitcher involves observing the way he moves with every pitch in an effort to identify when the curve ball is on its way.  When a player does get a hit on a curve ball, they know in just a few seconds if it was a good hit or a foul.

Life has just thrown me a curve ball.  I understand this kind of curve ball more than the kind in baseball.  Wikipedia defines it as “a significant deviation to a preceding concept”.  Although aware of the pitcher and his moves, it still caught me by surprise and this curve ball was a game changer! It has redirected my life in a significant way, requiring some major adjustments.

The timing in life’s curve balls is vastly different from that in a baseball game. When life pitches a “deviation” our way, we will know in a few seconds if we have a hit or a strike!  Our reactions in the first few moments either have the potential for success or failure.  When our first response to an “unexpected dive” in our circumstances is to lash out at another, or grumble and complain from a bad attitude, it’s a strike.  However, in this game of life, we can experience numerous strikes and still not be out of the game. When the pitch comes and we connect with the ball, we will know very quickly if it was a good hit or a foul.  We may initially respond appropriately to what has just come our way, but when our faith begins to weaken our attitude will take us off course, and it’s a foul.

When we respond to life’s curve balls by taking our stand in faith, it’s a hit.  Here’s where the timing changes significantly.  As long as we plant our feet and stay in faith, we get to watch that ball keep flying.  We can keep running the bases until it’s a home run. This may not happen in a few seconds, hours, days, weeks…..maybe even years!  But we are guaranteed a win if we don’t give up!

So what is the right response when life has thrown your plans off?  When things are not going as expected?  When your life is changing and there is nothing you can do to stop what’s happening?

“Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations.  Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience.  But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfectly and fully developed, lacking in nothing.”  James 1:2-4

Seriously?? Be joyful when trials come?  It is a choice we get to make, and when we go to God and ask Him  how to be joyful in the midst of difficulties, He is faithful to show us and help us.  When we are committed to staying in faith – keeping our joy during times of pressure – it strengthens us to be able to endure patiently!  When we endure, a thorough work is done in us and we become developed in maturity and we will lack nothing we need!!

Now that’s a home run!

Mysteries

Don’t you love a good mystery?  I love to read and a good mystery is at the top of my list.  I remember as a young girl reading Nancy Drew mysteries, enjoying the discovery of clues, putting the pieces together until finally – mystery solved!   As soon as I finished one book, I was ready for the next.

The fun part of the mystery is the hunt.  It starts with a desire to understand something seen or heard. Perhaps it’s something that doesn’t make sense, or something that doesn’t seem reasonable or even possible.  But curiosity is stirred and the search for knowledge begins. It takes time and perseverance to solve a good mystery.  There must be observation, investigation, and meditation on each clue to see how it fits with the last.  There is satisfaction when a clue is understood and much anticipation as we know we are that much closer to understanding the bigger mystery.

I also like jigsaw puzzles.  You can look at the box and know what the final result should be, but the challenge is in fitting all the pieces together.  Some pieces are so very close in size and shape to others that it would be impossible to find proper placement if there weren’t a picture on the box.  The greatest satisfaction comes from fitting the most difficult pieces together.  Often we will look at a piece and try as we may, we just can’t find the right spot.  We walk away for a bit and when we return it seems so obvious where it goes!  Much like solving a mystery, it takes time to study each piece and find the connection to the others.

The things of God are a mystery.  We see or hear something about Him that stirs our curiosity and we want to know more.  We open His word and begin to read and it can seem impossible to understand.  We must be willing to persevere, willing to keep His word in front of us, even if we don’t yet have understanding.  We must observe it and meditate on it in order to gain knowledge. God gives us a promise that we can understand:

Psalm 119:130 says “The entrance and unfolding of Your words gives light; their unfolding gives understanding to the simple.”

Paul wrote “For I always pray to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, that He may grant you a spirit of wisdom and revelation – of insight into mysteries and secrets – in the deep and intimate knowledge of Him, by having the eyes of your heart flooded with light…”  Ephesians 1:17-18

Do you see how these two pieces of the puzzle fit together?  Psalm 119 says the if we study His word we will be given light (understanding) and Ephesians says we will have insight into the mysteries and secrets when our hearts flooded with light!

Remember the picture on the front of the puzzle box?  It’s Jesus.  When we observe, investigate and meditate on His life – Who He was and all that He did, the pieces of His word begin to make sense.  We can see a pattern forming and the picture becoming increasingly clearer.  Every answer is in this box, the bible.  It truly does all fit together perfectly.

There is much excitement when we’ve fit pieces together, particularly when they were difficult ones!  Our anticipation grows as the picture begins to take shape in our lives and we start looking more like the picture on the box! The commitment must be to keep His word in front of us, to seek understanding with the same determination we would employ to solve any other kind of mystery.  We are guaranteed success:

“And He (Jesus) said to them, To you has been entrusted the mystery of the kingdom of God (that is, the secret counsels of God which are hidden from the ungodly)…   Mark 4:11

God has trusted us with the mystery of His kingdom – His secret counsels that are just for His children and no one else.   Do you have a mystery in your life right now?  A problem you have no idea how to solve?  Pieces of your life that seem completely disconnected?  He’s waiting to speak to you through His word:

“And your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it…”  Isaiah 30:21

Let not your hearts be troubled

Today I enjoyed the company of friends.  It was a business meeting, but this gathering of professionals was much more than business. We are friends, our own family of sorts.  A room full of relationships grown largely through the skillful leadership of one with great influence, who imparted to us the value of a work “family”.  We’ve pulled together to accomplish great things, challenged each other in friendly competition, traveled together often in celebration, and picked each other up when we’ve fallen – or sometimes when we’ve just sat down in despair!  And sometimes we’ve cried.

As life would have it, we’ve also felt the sting of loss.  Some we lost into eternity, others moved on to a different profession, and some life simply took in a new direction.  It’s always hard to lose a family member, and it’s hard when others move away.  The bonds of love and friendship are still there, but adjustments must be made to move forward.  As some leave this “nest”, others arrive with great anticipation and new relationships bud and bloom.

It’s a hard decision to leave the inner circle of this family, to take a different course.  To realize that to follow the dream in your heart will carry you away from all that is comfortable.  To understand that those you love so dearly may lose sight of you as they are dream-chasers themselves.   It is a painful process soothed only by the certainty of direction, the voice of the dream that is greater than the sorrow of leaving.

Jesus developed a family of close friends when He was on earth.  In the many days, weeks, and months they were together they grew to love each other intensely.  Together they worked, talked, laughed, and cried.  When it was time for Jesus to leave, He told them what to expect – He let them know He was leaving them and it would be through death.  The heartache they must have felt! Their dreams of the future were shattered in that moment and here’s what Jesus said:

“Let not your hearts be troubled.”  John 14:1

NOT BE TROUBLED???  How could He say that to them?  How do you just turn off the agony of loss?  The fear of the future?

Jesus had a choice.  He was completely human and felt the temptation to NOT follow His purpose.  He knew the suffering ahead of Him, but more than that He was committed to the purpose.  He knew that in the end it would be worth it all.  And not just for Himself, but for His disciples, for everyone.  He even told them that it was “profitable” for them that He leave (John 16:7).  Their lives had been this amazing adventure of one miracle after another – how could it be better for them if He left?

He had to make way for the Holy Spirit.  It was better for them – for us – to have His Spirit to indwell us than for His Spirit to inhabit only one man.  The disciples grew to understand this and did discover that it was more profitable!!  They still missed Jesus in person, they longed to touch Him again and just hang out with Him.  But God had called them to something greater and the dream of their calling became greater than the sorrow.  These men went on to change the world!

Today I visited my “family”.  I don’t live with them anymore, I’ve moved away.  How hard it was to leave! How my heart ached and struggled with the decision!  But had I clung to the safety of the nest, the security of this family, I would be missing the excitement of a dream unfolding, the deep joy of living out my deepest heart’s desire.

Has God called you to something new?  I don’t particularly mean professionally, but in your heart.  What dreams do you hold that are drawing you, waiting to unfold?  Has He asked you to leave something behind so that He can take you into a greater work, into the fulfillment of your purpose?  Are you afraid to step out, to follow His call?

“Don’t let your heart be troubled.  You believe in God; believe in (adhere to, trust, and rely on) Me.”

Trust Him.  It will be worth it all.  We can change our world!

Today’s post is dedicated to Jeff West, influential leader and fellow dream chaser.    🙂