Archive | April 2014

Playing the outfield

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You’ve just gotta love little league baseball!  This photo makes me laugh.  The ball is in the pitcher’s hand, but check out the outfielder.  He’s a kid and we can only imagine what he is looking at and thinking about.

He’s on the team.  He’s got the uniform.  He’s in his assigned position.  He knows his position is an important one.  But since few balls have come his way in a while, he’s lost focus on where the play will be next.  Most of the plays in this game have remained within the diamond so he’s decided to take a little mental break and enjoy whatever happens to be in the sky at this moment.

I know how he feels.  I’m on the Christian team, I have the uniform of righteousness that was given to me, and I am absolutely sure that I am in the position God has for me in this part of the game.  But there doesn’t seem to be much action coming my way.  I know that my position is important, but at times I find myself uncomfortable with the fact that the major plays seem to be happening elsewhere.  There’s not much for me to do except stay in position and wait until He has a play for me.

I never thought I was that good in the outfield.  I am confident in my ability to hit the ball and to run the bases, but I never was very good at catching or throwing.  Or waiting.

Little by little, I am learning how to enjoy the outfield.  The game seems to be moving slower now and I have time to relax.  Perhaps I will be put in a different position at a later time in this game of life.  Or maybe not.  Sometimes it feels like I’ve lost focus on the game because I’m not as involved as I’ve been at earlier times.  Maybe later things will pick up and more action will come my way.  But for now, I think I’ll do what this young man did and just look up.

“I am looking and waiting for the Lord…”  Psalm 130:6

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Giants in the land

Last year my granddaughter met her father.  He was present for her birth, but soon after became an absent father. Through the toddler years she was completely unaware that anything was missing from her life.  She had her mother, and of course, she had her Granny.  As she grew and the questions began, they were matters-of-fact, not emotionally driven inquiries.  Her mother very wisely responded to the questions with enough honesty to admit that she did not have the answers as to why he didn’t care.

Teachers presented their special Father’s Day crafts for the children to make, unaware that she does not know hers. Being a quiet child, she carefully completed her works of art and took them to home to her grandfather.  Little by little she began to piece together this puzzle to find that the missing piece was supposed to be an important one.  Her friends had fathers or step-fathers.  Where was hers?  Realizations began to settle in and conversations about his absence at times brought tears.

I don’t know what prompted his desire to re-enter her life.  It was met with much skepticism by her mother and great discussions occurred before a meeting was set.  As every good mother can imagine, the protective instincts reached new heights as this door was preparing to open.  He dare not leave again once he has entered.  He dare not break her heart.

The meeting was set and mother and daughter talk about the plan.  Kylie easily accepted the idea that she would meet him until the scheduled day arrived.  She exited the school bus with a slow step and a troubled countenance. She did not want to go.   My daughter understood and began to offer suggestions to make it easier.  She doesn’t have to call him Dad, she can call him by his name.  She can pretend he is just another one of Mommy’s friends that she’s never met until now.  She will not be alone with him, she can just look and listen if that’s all she wants to do.  It’s just an introduction.

Kylie’s response?

“I have to face my fears.”

Not bad for a six-year-old!

There are giants in the land.  We all see them   They are people and situations and circumstances that seem to tower over us, obstacles in our effort to get to the promised land.  We fear them.  We feel small in comparison to them.  We do not know how to face them.  But we must.

We have a Father Who goes with us.  He is there to protect us, to encourage us, to empower us to prevail.  He has ensured our victory, but we must act.  We must trust in His ability and desire to help us and we must take steps of faith to move forward.  We must face our fears.

The central key to facing fear is to acknowledge and embrace this love God has for us.

“There is no fear in love – dread does not exist – but full-grown love turns fear out-of-doors and expels every trace of terror!”  1 John 4:18

His love drives out fear!  But we cannot sit in the safety of our homes waiting to feel no fear before we move.  We move by faith and confidence in His love and He dispels the terror as we go!

Many, many years ago twelve spies were sent to scope out the promised land that God had planned for His people.  It was a place where He promised they would experience peace and rest and abundant provision.  But it was occupied by the Canaanites who would have to be overthrown in order for Israel to possess the land.  The spies returned and ten reported their fears.  They saw giants in the land and had no confidence for a victorious takeover.  Only two spies saw this land through the love of God – they believed in His ability to do exactly what He said He would do – give them success.  But they were outvoted.  Their fear of the giants not only cost them the wonderful plan God had for them, but their children had to wait forty years to enter this wonderful promised land.*

It is a miserable thing to live a life afraid, to miss the wonderful things God had in mind.  It is sad to know that children pay the price of parents who live afraid.   I know.  I did for many years.   But not anymore!!  His love set me free!

And Kylie?  She and her dad have a slowly developing relationship.  She recently spent her first time alone with him and she is happy.  She faced her fears and she is stronger.  She knows who her Heavenly Father is.  He is love.

*Numbers 13

 

Persistence for perfection

Eager to know God, I have been a student of the word for quite some time.  And there have been quite a few verses in the Bible that have caused me great distress through the years.  One of them is:

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  Matthew 5:48 KJV

Already being a perfectionist in nature, no matter what I am attempting to do I feel strongly compelled to do it exactly right.  But this?  How is this possible?  We know God is perfect and we are not, so what is He really asking of us?

It’s written in the Amplified Bible this way:

“You, therefore, must be perfect – growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity – as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  

Whew!  We are supposed to be growing into complete maturity.

When my children were little we measured their growth.  As babies they were weighed often, even at times at the grocery store!  (Back in the day there were rather large scales at every register in order to weigh the produce.  It was not uncommon for a baby to be placed on the scale if a parent knew the cashier.  I suppose it wouldn’t work in our day and time as our children do not have PLU codes, and certainly not with all the concern over germs!)

Once they were able to walk, we backed them up against a wall where we’d hung the growth chart and marked the new height they had attained.  This recording was celebrated with each new inch!  While never focused on looking for problems, any dramatic lack of growth would have prompted a visit to the doctor to see if something were wrong.

If we had a chart that measured our growth in maturity of godliness, what would it reveal?

God does expect His children to grow, just as any good parent does, and a lack of growth is an indicator that something is wrong.  Have we grown to be more loving, forgiving, patient?  Maybe our growth is slow, but it still counts!  Or perhaps as we weigh ourselves we find that we haven’t grown in quite some time.

More than our perfection in this life, He is looking for persistence.  Are we persistent in our seeking to grow?  Do we hunger for His word which is the only way we can be changed?  Do we crave time with Him more and more?  These are the ways we grow up in Him.  But unlike our physical bodies, this growth takes decisive action on our part.  We must choose to grow up, persistently moving toward perfection.

 

 

 

Christians: slaves, servants, or children?

Child:  a son or a daughter.  

“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has given us, that we should be named and called and counted the children of God!  And so we are!”  1 John 3:1

What a wonderful thing to have Almighty God as our Father!  The perfect Father lavishing perfect love on His children unconditionally for all of eternity.  A beautiful relationship offered to anyone who will say “yes”. The opportunity to be reborn as His own and an heir to all He has.  This is a position to be respected and thoroughly enjoyed.  Jesus came for this reason – to make a way for us to be in His family.  He came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly!  We need to rejoice in our place in this family!

But is the child also the servant?

Servant:  one who serves; subjection without the idea of bondage

“But we commend ourselves in every way as true servants of God…”  2 Corinthians 6:4

Most Christians embrace this role as well.  We know Jesus was the ultimate Servant, prophesied as such many years before His birth.  We know that He is our model and we are to pattern our lives after His, so we make ourselves available to serve others in many ways.  We teach at church, we volunteer at the food pantry, we distribute coats to the homeless, we mow yards and clean houses and a multitude of other things.  This is such an important part of our purpose on this earth – for the children of God to express His love to others by serving. We feel comfortable with having the opportunity to choose where we want to serve, finding roles that best suit our personalities, gifts, and talents.  It is a wonderful experience to serve passionately because all the pieces fit together well – we feel we are in the right place and able to give our best.

But let’s consider more of the words Paul wrote about being a true servant of God:

“…through great endurance, in tribulation and suffering, in hardships, and privations, in sore straits and calamities, in beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless watching, hunger; by innocence and purity, knowledge and spiritual insight, longsuffering and patience, kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love; by speaking the word of truth, in the power of God….amid honor and dishonor, in defaming and evil report and in praise and good report…branded as deceivers…unknown and ignored…well-known and recognized…”  2 Corinthians 6:4-9

We have many opportunities to choose when, where, and how we serve others.  But I must admit, I fall terribly short as a servant when trouble comes.  I have a tendency to become very self-centered, no longer serving Christ or anyone else other than myself.  Paul set a pretty high standard of what it means to be a true servant of God!

That’s because Paul didn’t stop with the concept of just being a servant.  He called himself a slave.

Slave:  a person held in servitude as the property of another; bondage

Slavery is a horrible, ugly problem in the world.  Millions of people suffer at the hands of others, held captive against their wills for the purposes of abuse and all sorts of evil.  It should grieve the heart of every Christian and move us to pray passionately for their release.

Slavery was also a part of the culture of Paul’s day.  He understood that slaves were not free to make their own choices. He knew that slaves were often abused.  They were bound to do whatever their masters bid them to do.  We are repelled by the idea of being a slave, yet this is the term Paul used to describe himself:

“From Paul, a bondslave of Jesus Christ…”  Romans 1:1

From Vine’s Expository Dictionary definition of bondman:

In calling himself…a “bondslave of Jesus Christ…the apostle Paul intimates (1) that he had been formerly a “bondslave” of Satan, and (2) that, having been bought by Christ, he was now a willing slave, bound to his new Master.

“…You are not your own.  You were bought with a price – purchased with a preciousness and paid for, made His own.”  1 Corinthians 6:19-20

We are children, servants, and slaves.  We are not our own.  We’ve been bought with a price.  We belong to a perfect, good Master that is worthy of our willingness to do whatever He asks us to do.

There is no greater freedom than as a slave to Christ!

That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works!

Often television commercials provide more entertainment than the programs we watch.  My new favorite commercial features Beatrice who thinks she knows how things work but she’s got it all wrong.

For those who may not be Facebook users:  Facebook is an online social networking site that allows you to set up your own account and invite “friends” to be able to view whatever you post on your “wall”.  You also have the option to “unfriend” anyone you so choose.

Beatrice has the terminology of Facebook down and believes herself to be very “tech savvy”, yet she has it all wrong. She uses the disc player on her computer as a cup holder.  Rather than post her photos online, she has taped them to a wall in her home.  She very proudly displays her efforts to her friends telling them how much time she has saved by posting the photos to her wall, as well as the time and money she saved on her insurance.  One friend politely comments on a photo that she likes.  The other friend tells Beatrice that she saved more money in less time on her insurance.  Beatrice looks at her friend and with a wave of her hand declares “I unfriend you.”  The friend stands and proclaims “That’s not how it works.  That’s not how any of this works!”

Sometimes I’m like Beatrice.  I think I know how this Christian thing works, only to discover that I have it wrong. Like the many years I faithfully served God at church without truly believing that He loved me.  Or when I’ve struggled to make my own plans and desires come to fruition when God had a different plan in mind.  Or the times I’ve walked away from my prayer time feeling proud of the many lofty things I said when all God wanted that day was for me to listen.  Oh, and of course, let’s not forget the times I have “unfriended” someone because they dared to disagree with me or tell me I was wrong.

Sometimes I’m like Beatrice’s friend.  I may boast of my own accomplishments when someone is trying to tell me theirs.  Or perhaps look in disbelief at another’s actions or beliefs and feel compelled to quickly stand and let them know they have it all wrong.

I totally believe God has a great sense of humor and I can just hear the Holy Spirit saying “That’s not how it works.  That’s not how any of this works!”

We are works in progress and we get some things right and some things wrong.  We have a tendency to spend our efforts  trying to fix what is wrong (or telling someone else how to do it) before we go to God.  That’s not how it works!  The only way to know what we have wrong and to make the corrections is to start by going to God.  Learning how to live in His presence will automatically uncover both what we have wrong in our actions or beliefs and the solutions.

“…God is love.”  1 John 4:8 

“…we abide – live and remain – in Him and He in us…”  1 John 4:13

Abiding – living and remaining in Him.  Making Him the most important part of our lives is the foundation of getting this Christian thing right.  If we focus on Him in every aspect of our lives, through every activity and responsibility that we are involved in…if we talk to Him about everything….if we take the time to listen…He has promised to lead us into all truth.

Beatrice seems quite content in her world where she has it wrong.  Let’s not be content there with her.  Let’s get close to Him and get it right!!

What is it worth to you?

My husband and children occasionally like to watch a television show about a pawn shop.  People come in with all sorts of items in the hopes of walking away with cash in their pockets.  Once a description of the item is given, the shop personnel always ask “What do you want for it?”.  They never offer up an amount they want to pay before asking what the seller has in mind.  Most people over value the item they’ve brought to sell and will either go home with less money than they had hoped for, or take their item back without the sell.  The shop personnel are experienced in many different types of items and what fair values would be, however, they are not experts.  At times they have the opportunity to purchase something they believe to be valuable and will have an expert examine it before the deal is done.

Then there is the antique show where people bring their treasured items to have them assessed by professionals.  It is not uncommon for someone to discover that a simple item passed from generation to generation has great monetary value.  The items that have been the most well-preserved will be of greater value than those with defects. Anyone who watches this program wonders if there are valuable treasures in the garage or attic, just waiting to be uncovered!

We’ve probably all heard or read the stories of people who have purchased great works of art at garage sales because the previous owner had no idea of its value.  Or perhaps the heir to a vast fortune who lived as a pauper.  I recently heard a story of a queen’s attendant that upon retirement was given everything she needed for the rest of her life in a written document from the queen.  The woman lived in desperate poverty with the document framed and hanging on the wall of her shack.  She couldn’t read and had no idea what it said.  How very sad!

Simple, everyday decisions are an indication of what we believe is worth the money or the effort.  Such as the decision to purchase a garment that may be a bit pricey, but we know the quality is good and will last for many years.  Or the decision to crawl out of bed an hour earlier than most so that the workout is done before the day gets busy because we understand the value of taking care of our physical bodies.  And of course, the decision to pass on the cheesecake and have an apple instead.  Even though it’s hard or it hurts, we know it will be worth it.  Our money, time, and efforts reap great rewards when invested in things of true value.

Many people in America have a great treasure in their homes that often gets overlooked.  There may be more than one and because they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, they are seldom viewed as of great value.  Some lie neglected, covered with dust.  Some are proudly displayed on coffee tables, yet seldom used.  Others are frazzled and worn from much handling.  But do we really know how much they are worth?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.  He was present originally with God.  All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being.  In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.  And the Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it.”   John 1:1-5

We have the written account of Jesus’ life and the words He spoke for the purposes of our lives.  He is the Word.  He is the Light.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He has promised to help us with anything in our lives that we need, to lead us in the way we should go, to take the cares of this life upon Himself so that we could enjoy peace and rest, to open our eyes to mysteries that are hidden from those who are not His children.

What is His word worth to us?  Is it worth turning off the television or the computer to make time to read?  Is it worth skipping a social event in order have some quality time really studying the Bible.   Is it worth pushing through the difficulty of study, persevering until understanding comes?

Jesus has the words of life (John 6:68).  Not just for the days in which He walked this earth, but now.  Today.  He has the words we need for whatever this day has brought our way.  We will spend all of eternity discovering just how valuable these words are.  How sad it would be to have lived out our days with every answer we needed sitting right on our desk and we never took much time to find them.

 

Time to think

In our days of hectic activities, we rarely just stop everything to take the time to think.  Just think.  We feel a sense of accomplishment in our busy-ness, even when we may not be making progress toward our goals.  We are comfortable with much activity.

Occasionally life forces us to be still, giving us time to think.  For those of us who thrive on productivity, this can be quite frustrating.  It may be a small measure of time, such as the time in a waiting room that extends longer than expected.  Or perhaps an injury or illness that limits activity for a season.  Unexpected, unplanned down time gives ample opportunity to just think.

If life is going well, this time can be enjoyed thinking about all the good things that are happening.  We can relax, replay the pleasantries experienced, and plan the future with optimism.  However, if our lives are not going as planned and we are in the middle of problems, this down time can be difficult.  Our minds race in an effort to find the quickest way out of our troubles.  The minutes drag by and the days seem endless.  The impulse to DO something can be overwhelming, even when we don’t know what to do.   Solutions seem to escape us and God seems silent.

Imagine the followers of Jesus on the Sabbath that followed His death.  Some have dispersed to their homes, others have remained close together.  They are Jewish and their activities are restricted by the rules of the Sabbath.  No work, no activity planned other than keeping this day holy.  They are supposed to be resting, focusing their thoughts on God, honoring Him in this day.

They’ve just witnessed the most horrible events of their lives.  Their beloved Lord lay dead in a tomb.  They are in agony of soul, helpless, nothing they can do except think.  They are thinking about the things Jesus said to them, trying desperately to make sense of what has just happened.  The women are thinking of the burial process, the act of love it will be to apply the spices and perfumes to His body.  Many are thinking about their own reactions when the pressure was on.  Some are thinking about how they should have stayed awake that evening instead of falling asleep when with Jesus in the garden.  Others are thinking about their betrayal of the One they loved as they hid in the crowd and didn’t stand with Him.  One is thinking about a cock crowing and the words his Lord spoke to Him thunder in his mind.  And they each wonder if they had done things differently could they have made a difference?  They feel the weight of guilt.

They can’t enjoy this Sabbath.  Forced to be still, their minds are filled with distressing questions, painful fears, and faithless doubts.  They combat these thoughts by reminding themselves He loved them and said He would return.  They don’t know how but they strive to believe.  They weep.  They mourn.  They want to DO something but they don’t know what to do.  They must be still and God seems silent.

Had they really understood what He meant when He said He would return, this day would have been much different. They would have gathered together and worshiped on the Sabbath like never before.  The horror of the previous day would still be etched in their minds, but their tears would flow without despair.  They would be excited about running to the tomb the next day, wondering where He would be, looking around in anticipation, expecting to see Him.

We know the suffering Jesus endured was for us.  He died so that He could redeem our lives and reconcile us to God. But we can learn from the suffering the followers endured also.  Even though they couldn’t see it and struggled to believe, Jesus did exactly what He said He would do.  He was faithful to His promises to them and He is faithful to His promises to us.  He said He would never leave us or forsake us.  He said He would send His Spirit to help us, comfort us, lead us, and teach us.  When God seems silent we can be assured His plan is still working.

*Faith is the substance of things hoped for….

What are you hoping for?

*Faith is the evidence of things not seen…

What are you waiting to see? 

This is the Easter season and it’s easy to think about what He’s done for us.  Let’s carry this with us every day for the rest of our lives – taking time to think on Him and believe!!

*Hebrews 11:1