Archive | October 2014

Paper sack costumes and candy

For a brief period of my childhood we lived in the city.  Understand that by city I mean as opposed to the country, not a location of dense population.  We lived in a funky pink colored house on Kipling and through my young eyes our neighborhood looked just like those I had seen on television, a street lined with houses side by side.  I don’t remember other children that may have lived near.  My world centered around my home, particularly around my older brother.  We played and rode our bikes and had adventures in the empty lot across the street.

We lived there only a short time, but I remember that while there we made costumes for Halloween.  There were no funds for store-bought costumes and I suppose there were some complaints registered over that fact. However, left to our own with paper grocery sacks, construction paper, crayons, scissors, glue and very active imaginations, we happily created our own.  I don’t remember what any other children wore that year.  I don’t even remember exactly what our costumes ended up looking like – I think mine was a witch.  But I do remember the fun of it all.  I remember leaving our door proudly donned in our creations, ready to fill our smaller paper sacks with sweet confections which was, after all, the whole point of the event.

As I think back on this time one word comes to mind:  innocence.  I was wonderfully oblivious to the evils of this world even while children dressed as goblins and ghosts stood beside me at the doors, arms outstretched for the tasty morsels that would be placed in our bags.  I wasn’t scared or influenced to pursue darkness because of our costume choices.  I was a child having fun in a paper sack.

I outgrew the desire to participate in this childish play helped along by the fact that we moved back to the country where there were no neighbor-lined streets upon which to display our paper sack designs. Halloween became only a time for a few parties at school and a gracious splurge of candy wherever you went.  Prominent displays of ghosts and witches and Frankenstein greeted you around every corner. Scary movies that were forbidden in the early years were now the central entertainment at the sleepovers.   Why do we find it entertaining to be scared?  I do not know.

Adulthood came and along with the arrival of children were the decisions of how to train them up.  As many Christians have done, I learned about the schemes of the devil and how deceitful and tricky he can be in leading us astray.  I viewed Halloween through this lens and it became a day of evil, a day designed to lead our children into darkness and destroy their lives.  We created alternatives with God-centered themes and made costumes and played games and had great fun.  We taught the two older children how wicked this day was and they experienced nothing other than the fun of our Fall Festivals.  Good choices.  So when I succumbed to the pressure of my third child who wanted to dress up and go trick-or-treating, there was tremendous guilt as if I had abandoned all that was good and was offering up my child as a sacrifice to the devil.

Now I watch my granddaughter excitedly anticipate the purchase of a costume (no paper sack will do) and a fun evening of dressing up and receiving a bucket full of candy.  Should she want to dress as a zombie or a vampire I would carefully make every attempt to steer her in a different direction.  (Should her mother encourage such a choice, I would masterfully exert my influence over both of them in order to have my way…)  She is beautiful and it would sadden me to see her dressed in something hideous. Thankfully, she is very much a girlie-girl and desires to be dressed in sparkles and shimmery fabric and I can avoid being the party-pooper.  I probably will not see her on the night she is this princess, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

Which makes me face my hypocrisy.  While heartily sounding a very spiritual “Amen!” to the teachings of the evil influences this holiday represents, I smile at her choice when it is far more likely that this precious life I love so dearly will be more negatively influenced by the princesses of this world than any goblin or werewolf or witch.  The images she is bombarded with on a regular basis promote a consuming self-centeredness and impossible standards with the potential to lead her into discouragement and defeat, two of the strongest life-destroying demons to ever exist.  And I have been guilty of judging the parents of the child dressed as the walking dead with a blood-like substance dripping from the nauseatingly realistic wound that has been created, as if they love their child or God less than the parents of the sweet little tiara-adorned life that will knock on my door.

As Christians we must each decide what to do with Halloween.  There is much evil in this world and we are called to stand against it.  But let’s not get so focused on the outward displays of what we call evil so much that we miss those more likely to capture our children – greed, selfishness, jealousy, etc.  The answer to evil is the same as it has always been.  Light dispels darkness.  Be the Light to your children and your neighbors and the world.

Let your Light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

“What is Halloween all about?” I asked our twelve-year-old this morning on the way to school.

“Candy” he replied.

Just as I thought.

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Attention Ladies!

The Fall Ladies Retreat hosted by White Oak Baptist Church in Round Top, Texas is only two weeks away!!  The theme is “Keep Calm and Armor On” based on the armor of God.   Check out the events tab to find the details or email me for more information.

I am so excited to be speaking at this event and hope to see you there!! 

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Inner circles

I was desperate.  A difficult marriage, never enough money, two young children who came to me not just from their birth mother, but with their birth mother (it’s complicated….), pregnant with another child and all the emotional upheaval that comes with that experience, and did I mention there was never enough money?  Not one to admit weakness or need, I would put on my smile when others were around and I genuinely tried to make the best of it, determined that things would get better.

I remember one day in particular when I lay on my bed, flat on my back with this humongous belly before me and all I could do was cry.  Overwhelmed with everything, I had come to a breaking point.  I so clearly remember thinking “I want to see my baby born, then God, just please take me home.”  We didn’t have cell phones (they had not progressed much further than the brick phone at this time) so texting wasn’t an option.   I reached for the land line and made a quick call to a friend.  All I said was “Pray!”.  I hung up and cried some more.  I was confident that my friend was praying for me when I couldn’t pray for myself.  Before long, peace began to settle back in and I pulled myself (literally) out of bed to re-engage with the family and life went on.

My friend’s prayers that day did not solve all my problems.  There were still many difficult things to confront and endure.  I didn’t call her everyday, although I’m quite sure I considered it, but I was confident that she was keeping me before our Father on a regular basis.  I trusted her to help me in this life journey with her faithful prayers and every time I felt I couldn’t pray for myself, I knew that someone else was.  This brought me tremendous strength and hope.  She had struggles of her own and I committed to do the same for her.  We each had others in this small circle with us.  Women whom we could call at a moment’s notice and they would pray with us or encourage us or cry with us.  It was one of the greatest blessings of my life.

It wasn’t easy to let anyone into my inner circle.  For a long time, I was the only one there.  My fear of rejection and disapproval caused me to keep everyone at arm’s length.  My own choices had gotten me in this situation and I had the “you made your bed now lie in it” mentality.  I felt I deserved the difficulty because of my previous sin.  But God in His goodness had orchestrated my path and placed me in a young women’s bible study offering an atmosphere of genuine love and acceptance.  This is where I found my inner circle friends.  They varied widely in age and personality but all shared a common characteristic – they loved God and allowed His love to flow through them to me.

We all need inner circle friends.  Jesus had them.  He loved His disciples and had wonderful fellowship and relationship with each of them, but out of the twelve there were three with which He shared very unique experiences.  They knew Him at a deeper level than the others.  They certainly weren’t perfect, but He chose to allow them into a more intimate relationship with Himself than any others.

It’s hard to share our deepest needs, our scars, and our failures.  Especially if we have ever poured our hearts out to the wrong person.  This is even more painful than having no one.  To bare our souls and then experience rejection or gossip or judgement is excruciating.  And if we are not careful, this pain will prevent us from finding those who were meant to be our armor bearers.  In bible times, armor bearers were selected for their bravery.  They would not only carry the king’s or general’s armor but would also stand by them in times of danger.  We need armor bearers.  Armor bearers cannot help us from a distance.  They must be close.

As life goes, these women in my life are no longer a part of my weekly worship experience.  We had our children, relocated, took jobs, and made new friends.  But no geography or activity can take someone out of my inner circle.  These women are still to be trusted and are still faithful to stand with me anytime I need them.  They remain only a phone call away.

Bear – endure, carry – one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ and complete what is lacking.  For if any person thinks himself to be somebody too important to condescend to shoulder another’s load when he is nobody of superiority except in his own estimation, he deceives and deludes and cheats himself. Galatians 6:2-3

So my prayer for you today is twofold.  First, that you find trusted armor bearers and allow them into your inner circle.  There is strength to be found in allowing another to help you carry your load.  And second, that you choose today to be an armor bearer for someone else.  To not help another carry their burdens is to cheat yourself.  Being invited into another’s inner circle is an honor.  Take it seriously – it is a position to protect them and stand with them, faithful to fight for them in prayer and available to them for encouragement and strength.  It is how we fulfill and observe the law of Christ.  It is love.

 

 

 

Uninvited guests

A dear friend had quite a surprise this weekend.  She rose early to let the dog out only to find a stranger in her house.  He had broken in, removed his shoes and shirt and was standing in her dining room when she walked in.  She screamed at him “What are you doing in my house??”  His response? “I don’t know.” She asked him his name and he told her, then she demanded he leave.  He ran out, leaving his boots just as he had placed them, neatly by the front door.  She called the police immediately and the man was caught, identified, and jailed.  Though shaken by the experience, her understanding of the protection of God over her life has prompted her grateful praise.  She remains stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty!!  (Psalm 91)

Beyond her sharing the above with me, we haven’t talked.  But I strongly suspect that she and her two grown sons are examining and reevaluating the security of her home.  I’m sure they are looking at every possible way someone could enter uninvited, and working to resolve any weaknesses uncovered.  She has many friends that love her and would run to her aid at the drop of a hat.  I expect she will be receiving more frequent phone calls as she is surrounded with support and the desire to protect.  While she may inhabit her home with no one else, rest assured she is not alone.  And while I personally have never seen my friend angry, I am quite sure she is a force to be reckoned with!

We may never know the story of this man.  Upon entering the house he left his boots neatly by the door??  I find that so interesting!  It’s as if he planned to make himself at home.  He obviously was not planning for a quick get-away.  He had entered a home where he had no rights or privileges but acted as if he did….  Can you imagine my friend entering the room, noticing a stranger who did not belong, but continuing about her routine as if he weren’t there?  Or taking notice of him, asking him why he was there and what his name was, yet not demanding that he leave?  What if she had decided to let him stay and actually began to cook his breakfast and have a little conversation, get to know him better?  No way!!  She took the authority she had as homeowner and commanded him to leave.  She called on a greater authority that would back up her demand and take this criminal to jail.

While we would find it ridiculous for my friend to have decided to entertain the intruder, being honest with ourselves we must admit it is exactly what we do spiritually sometimes.  We notice the resentment that has crept in, but go about our routines pretending we didn’t see.  The anger shows up and we let it have a seat as if it belonged.  The discouragement stands right before us and we decide to feed it and get to know it a little better. We didn’t send jealousy an invitation, but when it came through the door we didn’t demand that it leave either.  Sometimes we know there are strangers in our house, but we never ask them their names; we just live with the discomfort of a life among inhabitants that don’t belong. Before we know it, theirs are the voices our loved ones hear when we speak.  We know they shouldn’t be there but it’s so hard to get them to leave…we hope they will just go away on their own…

We want God to do something.  He did.

Behold!  I have given you authority and power to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and physical and mental strength and ability over all the power that the enemy possesses; and nothing shall in any way harm you.  Luke 10:19

Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!  (1 John 4:4)  

Oh, I wish it was just as easy as saying “Begone!” and that was it.  Not so.  Walking in authority is a life of discipline.  We must take a stand and say “No!” to the intruders.  We must demand that they leave. But that’s not enough.  We must check the weak areas where they continue to find access.  We must tighten the security in order to protect ourselves – our enemy is a repeat offender!

..when the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, it roams through dry places in search of rest, but it does not find any.  Then it says, I will go back to my house from which I came out.  And when it arrives, it finds it unoccupied, swept, put in order, and decorated.  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and make their home there.  And the last condition of that man becomes worse than the first…  Matthew 12:43-45

It’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief once the anger is spent, glad that it’s over but not dealing with its roots.  We relax once jealousy has passed, without finding where it came in.  We talk ourselves into believing that the fear won’t be so intense next time when we’ve never uncovered why we are really afraid….  It’s clear that the enemy is searching for a place to inhabit.   We must guard that we give him no opportunity because he’s planning on returning.  With his friends.  We cannot leave our “homes” unoccupied.  We must fill them with Him.

God has provided a safe place, a secret place of protection and security for us.  It is in living with Him. Becoming so full of Him that He inhabits every room of our lives and intruders will scatter before they even get near.  We have the Greater Authority backing us up.  Let’s be like my friend – forces to be reckoned with!!

 

The wrong coffee. Again.

Several weeks ago I got one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had.  Normally I make my own coffee with my little one-cup machine, keeping a few different flavors in the pantry from which to choose. However, occasionally I treat myself to a “specialty” coffee at the coffee shop or, more recently, the famous chain donut shop that is closer to home.  They are known for really good coffee and this is where I obtained the mysteriously delicious brew on that particular day.  I use the term mysterious because I have since returned three times in order to delight myself again with this flavor, but each time have driven away disappointed.

I have gone over and over this process in an effort to discover where it’s going awry.  It was clear by the second order that we were not on the same page, this new server and I.  In response to my repeating exactly what I had ordered the first time she said “Huh??”  Now what?  Second server doesn’t know what first server gave me.  We go through a few questions before she determines what she thinks he did.  I drove away.  It’s not right.  The next time, I am very distinct in the details that I gleaned from second server when speaking to third server.  Still not right.  Obviously, I can’t sit in the drive-thru line until it’s cooled enough to taste, so I’m almost home before I discover it is not what I wanted.  I am tempted to turn around to tell them it’s not right, but since I don’t exactly know what’s wrong, I don’t know how to tell them to get it right!   I realize there are limited combinations of the few ingredients that could possibly be included, so if I persevere, sooner or later I am bound to get the combination right.  I just hope I remember what I order by that time!!

As I sat in the drive-thru this morning with high hopes, it struck me that sometimes we offer God our drive-thru prayers. I’m sure we’ve all done it  – prayed for something and when the answer came it was exactly what we wanted or even better than we expected.  We then tried to take all our requests through this same process expecting the same outcomes.  When answers came that were less than we had hoped or not exactly what we envisioned, we analyzed what we prayed and how we prayed it hoping to discover the perfect combination that will get us what we want.  Sometimes we’ve even have the audacity to tell God He got our order wrong.

We often measure whether or not our prayers are successful by whether or not we get what we wanted. What a foolish way to view His working in our lives!  Jesus told us to pray bold prayers full of faith.  He is seated at the right hand of God interceding for us as we learn and grow and ask.  He taught, and is still teaching us, what His will is and how to pray for His will not our own.  And He said trust.  Trust that He will do what is right for us.  Trust that He is still working when things are not like we want them and our expectations go unfulfilled.  Trust that He is good.  Trust that He is for us and not against us.  Trust that His love will drive out our fears of not getting what we want.

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever…  Deuteronomy 29:29

Some things will be secrets that we cannot understand this side of heaven.  Some things are revealed to us and belong to us – the things we learn and know about Him and His ways give us hope.  And true hope in Him never disappoints (Romans 5:5).

I didn’t get the coffee I wanted this morning.  Again.  But I got a great reminder that God has my best interests at heart and He will never get it wrong.

Whether it’s two days or a month or longer…

This week I’ve gotten back on a workout schedule.  I like my workouts and I like my schedules, neither of which life has seemed to cooperate with much over the past couple of months.  The cooler temperatures have finally reached the south which means I don’t have to rise before the sun to be able to endure time outdoors, so even midday workouts can be enjoyable.  So I’ve begun walking everyday.  Not running.  Just walking.  Sigh.

I pushed myself in my running this summer and achieved some exciting new goals along with some not-so-exciting new pains and stresses.  Forced to stop for recuperation, I became discouraged.  Running clears my head.  Running works off my stress.  Running burns calories!!!  My running plan did not include a setback.

My run time has always been a time I pray and talk to God about just about everything.  He does most of the talking when I am winded, but we converse nonetheless.  Yesterday as I was walking, I was mentally mapping out how many days I would walk before I began to run again, and He very simply said “It’s not time to run.”  What???  Not run???  Walking is too slow.  Walking is only the warm-up.  Walking doesn’t burn as many calories.  Walking won’t achieve my goal.  (Refer to previous post “When obeying God doesn’t make sense”….)

So as I’m walking, God reminded me of the Israelites on their way through the wilderness.  God had given them a promise of a land that would be all that they needed, abundant in provision and a place of rest.  He had sent Moses as His man to lead them, but provided visible manifestations of His presence and guidance for them through a cloud that would lead them during the day and a pillar of fire that would remain with them at night.  The plan seemed simple enough:  Follow the cloud.

There is much to be learned from this people’s experiences in the wilderness, but for now I am pondering and learning from only one:

At the Lord’s command the Israelites journeyed, and at His command they encamped.  As long as the cloud rested upon the tabernacle they remained encamped.  Even when the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle many days, the Israelites kept the Lord’s charge and did not set out.  And sometimes the cloud was only a few days upon the tabernacle, but according to the command of the Lord they remained encamped, and at His command they journeyed.  And sometimes the cloud remained from evening only until morning, but when the cloud was taken up, they journeyed; whether it was taken up by day or by night, they journeyed.  Whether it was two days or a month or a longer time that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, dwelling on it, the Israelites remained encamped; but when it was taken up, they journeyed…they kept the charge of the Lord…  Numbers 9:18-23

Now, amongst the many that were traveling that way, I am quite sure there were more than a few that were of the same inclination as myself.  They wanted to run.  They wanted to hurry this process up and get to where they were going.  They were happiest when the cloud kept moving for days on end.  Yes, they had to push themselves and they got tired just like everyone else, but moving forward satisfied their need to achieve.  Moving forward encouraged them that they were almost there, almost to the fulfillment of the promise.

I’m also quite sure that when the cloud tarried for days on end, many went to Moses or the leaders of their section of the camp and asked “What’s the holdup?  Why aren’t we moving?  Wouldn’t we get there faster if we just kept going??”  Look a few verses on from the above passage and you find:   And the people grumbled and deplored their hardships…..(11:1)

The Israelites had a much, much harder existence than you or I.  Moving with the cloud wasn’t an easy task – they had to break camp (tents, not Winnebagos), pack it all up on animals, walk however far they had to go, and set it all up again when the cloud stopped.  This was hard work.  For some, the hardest part of the journey was in the movement.  But for others, it was in the camping.  And waiting.  I’m afraid that if I had been there, you would have found me in the camp of the grumblers…

God has always used my run time to talk to me about the much bigger or deeper issues in my life and heart.  I have visions of one day (finally) running a marathon, and I still believe that is ahead for me.   But my frustration in this little matter of running was really just an outlet for a different journey I am on.  God has given me a vision and a promise, yet I feel stalled, making little progress and I am antsy to move forward.   He didn’t cause my injuries – I did that to myself by not listening to Him when He said slow down! He showed me that what I view as a setback is Him keeping me where He wants me right now, and my efforts to make things happen my way will only hurt my progress.

So I am camped, determined to move only when God moves.  But resignation to being camped isn’t enough.  I can’t be sitting in my camp and grumbling, either.  I WILL learn from the Israelites.  Their grumbling had some pretty destructive effects.  Their lack of faith in the way God was taking them and His ability to fully accomplish all that He had promised cost them dearly.  That will not be my story.

Now I think I will go enjoy my walk.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s wrong with me?

How often have you asked yourself that question?  You didn’t measure up to an expectation, someone else’s or your own.  The list can go on and on…you missed the quota, failed the test, offended another, said the wrong thing, stuck your foot in your mouth again.  I managed to accomplish several of those things yesterday.  I was quick to respond to a precious lady’s comment before I had completely grasped her intent, which I’m sure made her feel more than a little uncomfortable.  I quickly realized what I had done and whispered an “I’m sorry”.  When bible study (yes, I did this in the middle of BIBLE STUDY!) was finished, I asked her forgiveness again.  She very graciously responded, but I still felt the sting of having missed the mark.  I drove home having a familiar battle with myself:  Why do I do that????  What’s wrong with me – I know better!! 

Focusing on my weaknesses is a problem area for me.  Perhaps it’s my temperament and personality that take me that direction.  Old insecurities are quick to rise when I make a mistake, the perfectionist in me finding any deviation completely unacceptable.  Factor in a few influences from the past, both people and experiences, and this can snowball on me if I am not careful.  I have learned through the years, however, to quickly respond to this scheme of the enemy with immediate prayer.  So as I drove and prayed, I heard the Lord say “Let it go”.  (And yes, the Frozen tune came to mind….)

God reminded me of one of the most valuable training principles I learned in my professional sales career: Spend most of your time accentuating and developing your strengths rather than focusing on overcoming your weaknesses.  Helping a person discover what their strengths are and pointing them in the direction that will utilize and accentuate their strengths is key to that person maintaining a positive attitude while they continue to learn and grow.  It doesn’t mean that weaknesses are never discussed, but more often than not the focus on developing the strengths will greatly minimize, if not completely overcome, the weaknesses.

The person who must foremost face the things they are not good at day after day will lose heart very quickly.  They will become discouraged if weaknesses are not easily overcome and this frustration will begin to overshadow their strengths and cloud the possibilities for the future.  They begin to identify more with their weaknesses than the things they are very good at.  This does not make for a good sales rep, employee, worker, helper, friend, or family member.  Or Christian.

Hmmm…what if we applied this professional principle to our spiritual lives?

It has only been in the last few years that I have really grasped the concept of having been given a new nature.  We have been given all the strengths that we need to do all that He has created and planned for us to do, yet we live most of our lives unaware of the characteristics we now have.  I believe Jesus died not only to give us eternal salvation, but with the absolute intention that we were to live from this new nature while we are here on earth.  We have placed our faith in Jesus’ power to save us from sin but live as if we are still waiting to be changed.

To identify with this new nature isn’t to boast or become arrogant.  Truly understanding this marvelous grace leads us to humility and a deeper reverence for the sacrifice made.  The bible says we’ve been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).  We live so often like this righteousness comes and goes based on our actions.  He didn’t give us righteousness, He made us righteous.  Focusing on the fact that we’ve been made righteous doesn’t lead us to sin more – just the opposite!  His grace trains us to reject sin (Titus 2:12).  It stirs in us a desire to yield to this righteousness more and more, and this submission leads to changed behavior.  He does the work!!

The bible most definitely deals with sin and our tendencies to yield to it.  We are exhorted to pay attention, instructed to yield to the Spirit rather than the flesh (our natural inclinations), and warned about the plots and schemes of the devil.  And this is very important information! But if we are not careful, we are so busy “working” on our weaknesses and trying to overcome them, that we totally ignore the strengths we have been given!  We become more identified by our mistakes and weaknesses than the new creatures we are.

God has placed within us His Spirit.  His nature has become our new nature and He wants us to live our lives inside-out.  I believe that “working out our salvation” means just that – letting what has been put inside us come out!  Love, joy, peace, righteousness, power, gifts, forgiveness, holiness and so much more! Focusing on the wonderful strengths we’ve been given is the answer to minimizing and overcoming our weaknesses.

What’s wrong with us?  Nothing, if we’ve made Jesus our Lord.  We don’t always do the right thing, but that doesn’t define who we are. We have been made like Him.  I’ve decided to believe it.