Thursday, December 26, 2013

In the quiet…

God still comes in the still and the quiet; the soft and the slow, just like he did on that first Christmas.
Jesus didn't come with a thunder or mighty flame. The fanfare was minimal, to say the least. A few wise men and shepherds. This wasn't an affair that drew what would have been considered celebrities or powerful authorities of the day. The event of Jesus' coming was hidden away.
Today Jesus comes in the same way.   We may meet him in the quietest of moments and humblest of surroundings. If we aren't careful we might miss Him entirely. If we get caught looking for something flashy to signal the coming of the King we might not realize that He has come and is right here, right now.
At Christmas time we are reminded that Jesus came on a mission to be the ultimate and final sacrifice for lost, sinful people. We are reminded that His mission started in a stable, born of a virgin. The mission, the most crucial of missions that would lead to a cross and the salvation of the whole human race by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, began in the most unassuming of circumstances.
As we celebrate this Christmas season and the gift of our Savior, let us not forget how He comes. Our lives are dotted with encounters with Him that easily be missed if we don't know how He comes.
Yesterday I had the beautiful reminder of how simply God shows Himself. There was one gift that I had wanted for Christmas but I didn't vocalize my desire to anyone and didn't scratch it down on a list. I  debated whether or not to just pipe up and ask. The desire of my heart was a new cross necklace but I don't like asking for jewelry. To me, jewelry is one of those gifts you just want to receive, not one you ask for.
So, I didn't ask. Instead I sent my request to God and laid it down at His feet. The gift of a cross necklace wouldn't make or break my Christmas. It's just a material possession. In my heart I knew all those things and knew that God would see to it that if I was meant to get a cross, I would. And if He didn't want me to have it then I would rest in the knowledge that He wanted me to learn a different lesson, maybe one that strengthened my happiness and joy regardless of the gifts under the tree.
As I said my silent prayer I was immediately comforted. The words were almost audible, "don't worry, you'll get your cross." As I walked through stores, running across tables full of little crosses, I held onto those words, believing that God's care reaches to even the small and simple desires of my heart.
On Christmas morning the thought of that cross wasn't on my mind as I began to open gifts but it only took a moment for me to be reminded. In my stocking, my first gift to open, all wrapped in tissue paper, was a small silver cross.
My heart was overwhelmed with the presence of my King who came as a tiny baby in a manger. He didn't come wrapped in a big red bow or with applause and banners waving. But He came. And here He was again, showing Himself to be my constant Companion, mighty Savior and all-sufficient Provider. He didn't need to show me His love with a big flashy gift decked out with all the bells and whistles money can buy. He showed me in the most precious of ways - with a small, delicate silver cross. It was perfect. Just like that baby in a manger.
Jesus is still present and active in the lives of those who seek Him. He may show Himself in a whisper or the quietness of a falling snow. But listen carefully. Look closely. He is there with mighty power and all consuming love.
Christmas is a special time for us to celebrate the small baby that gave the greatest gift. The perfect child, born in a manger, brought the path to eternal life. In His life, death and resurrection He has paved the way for those who surrender to Him.
Much of the world missed the coming of the King on that first Christmas. They didn't expect Him to come in a stable amidst farm animals and hay. But He came in a way the world would never have imagined. He still comes in that same way today. In the soft, still and quiet He comes.
Dear friend, don't miss Him.

Monday, December 23, 2013

I am a sheep, are you?

The temperatures were hovering at freezing and the air spit out a mix between rain and snow, making the roads a sloppy mess and the air damp and dreary. But the atmosphere was alive and rambunctious. It was New Years Eve in Times Square, so of course it was filled with excitement and anticipation. Not even inclement weather could dampen the spirits of the millions who had gathered to count down to the new year.
Standing in the middle of Times Square at the moment that iconic ball dropped has always been a to-do on my bucket list. Now I can say it is crossed off. I attended the festivities and survived! Mission accomplished. As fun as that night was I would be perfectly content to never repeat it. That kind of excitement can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, if you ask me. I'd be satisfied with crossing it off the list just once.
Like I said, the weather was less than ideal. For the six hours we stood on Broadway the skies spat out rain, snow, sleet and freezing rain on a continuous loop. By the end of the night I was unsure of whether or not my toes were still attached. It wasn't until I got home and was able to inspect the situation that I could rest easy knowing that I still had all ten toes I had begun the day with.
To say that Times Square is crowded on New Years Eve is like saying that standing under Niagara Falls will get you wet. Crowded just doesn't do it justice. The crowds are packed in like sardines, shoulder to shoulder and sometimes even closer than that. You get awfully comfortable with complete strangers since you are practically hugging them. You don't have much of a say in the matter. You are literally corralled into the barricades and shuffled closer to the famous Waterford Crystal ball that will drop, aka "slowly lower", as the clock strikes midnight.
Essentially you are herded like a sheep. The sound of "bahhh" plays through your mind on repeat all through the night. The crowds are the sheep. The police are the farmers. Just like on a farm, the sheep don't have a say in the matter. The farmer knows where they are supposed to go next and he sees to it that they end up there.
And so it is on News Year Eve in Times Square. The police play farmer as they control the crowds and move them into position for the big moment.
Throughout the night I couldn't help but think of that age old advice parents always give their children: don't be a sheep. What they mean is, don't be a follower. Be a leader. I laughed internally as I thought about how what I was doing, standing in that crowd of people, was the exact picture of what our parents didn't want us to become! They wanted us to be on the outside of the barricades even when the rest of the world said bahhh all the way home, trapped behind a wire fence.
Famous writers and speakers have driven this point home using the sheep as the perfect picture of a dumb follower, blindly walking behind the person in front of them, never thinking for themselves or taking a risk. One woman once said, "It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life." Ouch. That doesn't say much for the sheep.
But have all of these writers and parents considered what flock their child or reader might join? Sure, we don't want to become a sheep of the ways of the world - following into moral decay simply because the rest of the crowd is marching forcefully in that direction. But is there a good flock with a good shepherd?
What about Jesus' flock?
Psalm 95:7 says, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand."
I am perfectly content to never be a sheep on News Year Eve in New York City ever again. And I hope to never be a sheep in the flock of this world, embracing sin and political correctness so that I can fit in and "get along." But I do want to be a sheep in the flock of Jesus. I want Him to be my shepherd, leading and guiding me. I want to follow, even blindly, behind Him. 
Why would I willingly want to be a sheep, an animal seen as so dumb and stupid that it would be better to be a lion for a single day than a sheep for a lifetime? Because I know that I am just as lost and confused as those poor sheep under the care of a farmer. I know that, apart from God, I am a lamb to the slaughter, caught in a life of sin and destined for a lifetimes of eternal damnation. I need a shepherd to save me from the pit.
On my own I know I am bound for destruction. I will get attacked by wild animals. I will search for food and water and find none. I will get lost and turned around in a land that is unfamiliar to me.
God is my only hope. It is only by His shepherding I will be shown the way.
Blessed are the sheep in Jesus' flock. The world might look at those sheep and shake their heads in confusion. Why would anyone willingly become a sheep? I will tell you why: because we have a Good and Perfect Shepherd. By His love and grace we are given life and direction. Apart from Him we are hopeless. But with Him we have a hope eternal. He is the Good Shepherd and I am happily among the sheep in His flock.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ducks, the dynasty, and God's truth

This whole Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson controversy is probably overly talked about. And with that I will now voice my thoughts about the whole situation, knowing that everyone on planet earth is probably sick to death of hearing the name Phil, seeing a duck or hearing the word "controversy."
Personally, my opinion of this situation is quite simple. Phil had the right to speak truth. The journalist at GQ had the right to print it. And A&E had the right to essentially fire Phil.
But what it says about our culture is a bigger issue. TV broadcasts "twerking" and sexually demean female conservatives on so-called news programs. Yet, when a Christian says something about a topic that they find offensive because it has to do with actual Biblical truth, they are shutup in a New York minute. The problem isn't that people have free speech. The problem is that certain free speech is having its mouth duct taped shut because it has to do with Christianity - heaven forbid.
As freedom loving Americans there is nothing we can do to reverse the actions of A&E, and who would want to, quite frankly? It is their constitutional right. I want them to have that right. We can, as freedom loving Americans, choose to support the people, programs and companies that share our values and are standing up for Biblical truth even in the midst of a firestorm of opposition. We can share the truth of scripture in the market place and in our neighborhoods, refusing to be silenced just because truth is somethings uncomfortable for some people to hear.
Brothers and sisters, there are lessons to be learned from Phil Roberton and the A&E split. Truth makes people uncomfortable because it confronts them with the stark difference between right and wrong. Lets face it, our culture doesn't like the idea of right and wrong. They want everything to be right and acceptable. Be gay. Sleep around. Drink to drunkeness. If you want to do it, then go for it!
But the Bible does not accept that lifestyle. The Bible lays out a clear, black and white, right and wrong. There is living in obedience to God and then there is sin. The Bible clearly states what sin is. Those living in sin and wanting to continue living in sin, don't want to hear what the Bible has to say about their lifestyle choices. They want to be told they are A-O.K. The Bible says there is no excuse for sin.
What Phil Robertson said was offensive to a segment of the population because it hit them where it hurt: their lifestyle. They heard that the way they were living was wrong and so they took up their fists to defend the sin they have claimed as their normal.
Their defensiveness is not a reason to be silenced.
Ephesians 4:25 says, " Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
Scripture doesn't give the born-again Christ follower an out for spreading the message of the gospel just because the world doesn't want to hear it. If we have been saved and changed by the blood of Jesus Christ then we are to speak the truth of His word. Period. End of story. We are not to be silenced just because there are some people who won't like the truth.
Truth can be spoken in love. But it still must be spoken. Love is truth. And this love can be shared with boldness when we do it with the power of scripture, the power of God's word. There is no substitute for the truth. So speak it with conviction;  in the love of Christ and with the boldness of  Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A sure foundation

When you get outside of LA, California is known for its scenic landscapes and natural beauty. The Pacific Highway is famous for the views of the ocean that run right into the foot of mountains. The state is dotted with valleys, mountains and rolling hills.
California is also known for the fires that ravage communities and destroy lives.
One such fire hit the community of Summit in 2008. This small community was dotted with mini-mansions that had been built by new comers to the area who had migrated out of Santa Cruz for a more leisurely pace of life. But one man didn't fit that description.
Hugo Zazzara had been in the community for nearly thirty years and wasn't living in a mini-mansion. His home was a replica of the old Chart House, a victorian style building in Los Gatos. He fell in love with the architecture of that particular house and set his mind to building it for himself. So that is precisely what he did. With his own two hands, complete with his great-grandfather's stained glass windows and self-milled redwood roof, he rebuilt that famous structure.
This home was more than a dream, it was a labor of love. He worked hard as a welder and furniture commissioner to pay for every cent of it without ever taking out a loan. He built it to stand against earthquakes. But when the fire came rolling through Summit the house didn't stand a chance.
Hugo ran back to the house to try to save it despite his son's pleading with him not to go. His son knew the dangers and the hopelessness of the situation. But he couldn't stop his father. Hugo had given his heart and soul into his home. Time, effort, money, dedication…it all was poured out to make his dream a reality. He had used the best materials, even family heirlooms, to make the house a masterpiece. He wouldn't let it go down without a fight.
Hugo's son Nathan didn't know if his father would survive. Would he stay with the house till the bitter end? As he waited with the rest of the displaced who had suffered the loss of their homes in the fire, he feared for his father's safety. Finally, he saw him approaching. The roof of the house had caught fire and the whole structure had been destroyed. His father had finally left the property, later crying for the first time in front of his son. His dream had gone up in flames in front of his very eyes. He had given everything for it. And then, in an instant it was gone.

We all get the chance to built our home - our physical home, this body that we inhabit. We can choose to build it up with the things of this world, putting our effort, love and soul into the that which won't last. We can fill ourselves with the temporal and earthly, hoping to satisfy our deepest desires.
Or we can build our lives on the rock of Christ.
Building your home with the things of this earth will always lead to disappointment. As beautiful as they may seem they simply won't last. Fire can destroy them, flood can ravage them and moth can eat away at even the finest of garments. The attributes of this world won't stand the test of time. They won't truly satisfy. They might look good but in the end they are nothing more than a facade, cheap materials used to build a house that can be blown over at the slightest gust of wind.
But a house build on the rock of Christ will never be destroyed. Winds, rain, fire and even that pesky moth can all try to destroy it but the person who sets their foundation on God's truth will not be defeated because God will always reign victorious.
There is no greater foundation and no greater home built then the one built on Jesus Christ. Your home rooted in His foundation will be better than any dream home you can ever imagine and it will never be destroyed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

You complete me

In 1996 the movie Jerry Maguire made this simple little phrase famous: you complete me.
You remember the line. Jerry Maquire (aka Tom Cruise) says in the film, "I love you. You…you complete me. And I just…" And before he can finish we all remember what Renee Zellweger says, right? "Shut up… just shut up… you had me at hello."
These lines sound so corny when you type them out letter by letter but in the context of a romantic comedy/drama/chick-flick, they were just the ticket to pull on the heart strings of women everywhere. The entertainment industry banks on these types of one liners. Women are suckers for a man begging on his knees and since it is such a rarity in reality they have to get their fix at the movie theater.
Unfortunately these types of movie fantasies only further to disappoint the lonely heart. The women longing to hear such words leaves with a bigger hole that she yearns to have filled. The clever plot and fairy tale ending do nothing to ease the aching heart. All they do is perpetuate the dilemma. The woman still wants someone who speaks those words to her. She still wants to complete someone. She still wants to be complete because she is united with her Prince Charming.
What a sad glimpse into the human heart. We strive to be complete. Some try to find it in love, in the uniting of two lives or the embrace of a lover. Some believe that by finding a special someone they will, at last, be satisfied in their own self. They must first find that other person, their "other half" in order to be a whole.
Others look for completeness in work, success, money or fame. They want accolades and diplomas to show that they've made it and that they are worth something. Some men and women work to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to make a name for themselves or they want to secure a bank account, all so that they can feel satisfied. They simply cannot be complete until they have reached their definition of success. Failure to achieve their goal makes them a failure, worthless in their eyes.
Beloved, I don't want to find my completeness in the things this world has to offer. I don't want my wholeness to come from another human being and the flawed love they may offer. I don't want my completeness to come in a bank account or career. I don't want my completeness to come from reaching a higher level of education or being a household name.
I want to be complete in Christ. I want Christ to complete me.
Chasing after the things of this world will always leave me coming back dry and empty. I will never feel satisfied. My heart will never feel at rest and peace when it is only feeding on what this world has to offer.
To be complete is to make something whole or perfect. There is no way that the world can accomplish that for me. Even this earth's greatest attempts at completeness will always fall short. There will always be another dollar to chase, another degree to obtain, another award to strive for. Human love is always imperfect, leaving us disappointed. The world will always scream "more, more, more." Buy more, be more, try more, experience more.
I don't want to miss the point of my entire existence because I'm looking at the successes the world wants me to run after. I want to look at Christ and find my completeness, my wholeness, my purpose and worth in who He is and who He has created me to be.
I want to live in the light of Colossians 2:10: "and you are complete in HIM."
Every day I can strive for the things of this world to make me whole. But I might as well be chasing after the wind. Christ and Christ alone can complete me. Until He is my portion and my ALL I will never be truly satisfied. The rest of the stuff of this world will be as filthy rags.
But when Christ is my all He makes my heart whole and filled to the overflowing. I am complete in Him. I am enough because of who He is, not because of what I have accomplished. My life has worth and purpose because I am His beloved, not because I have achieved what the world has stamped as "success".
I, too, love those words spoken in Jerry Maguire… you complete me. But not because I long to hear them from a man or want to find their fulfillment in the ways of this world. No, I love those words because I can claim them now as I speak them to my heavenly Father. Christ completes me. You, dear Jesus, complete me.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear singles,

The Christmas season is filled with excitement, joy and love. No matter where you go, you can't escape the festive feelings. There is Christmas music playing, lights twinkling, red and green galore and an abundance of decorations. This is a truly magical time of year.
But for many single men and women it can also be a depressing time of year.
For the single, Christmas is a reminder that they are quite alone. When you look at the scenes of Christmas time they are so often filled with happy couples, hand in hand, enjoying a winter wonderland or dressed up for a special party. Dating, marriage and pairing up in general are front and center.
Is this a recipe for a Christmas spent in despair? Are singles stuck as onlookers, wishing for not just gifts under the tree, but a date on New Years Eve? How do we avoid spending this time of year in a state of ill-contentment and dissatisfaction?
What follows are just a few suggestions for the Christian single looking to spend Christmas in a state of joy and excitement, despite the fact that they aren't part of a couple and don't have a date on the horizon. The focus of the holidays can get stuck on what we don't have: a date, someone buying us a special gift, a hand to hold on an ice-skating rink, a person to surprise with the perfect present. But if we get stuck adding up our have-nots we miss the incredible blessings we are enjoying as singles.
This year if you are spending December and New Years as a single I pray that you will embrace the privilege of enjoying this season of celebration as a party of one. After all, Christmas isn't about having a date on Friday night. It is about celebrating the date in history that our Savior made His entrance into this world. Christmas is a special opportunity to stop the routine of our daily lives and simply praise God for the gift of His son: perfect, merciful, loving, gracious son. While you marvel in the overwhelming power of that love enjoy these simple suggestions to celebrate the season as a content and peaceful single.

1) Find the perfect gift.
So there is no Mr. or Mrs. Right in your life, but there are kids all over the world who would love to receive a specially picked gift from you. There are many ministries and organizations that provide an outlet for this type of giving. Find a ministry that you trust, respect and want to support and then go out and get the perfect gift. My personal favorite is Operation Christmas Child. They ship shoe boxes of gifts to kids all over the world. The giver picks an age group and gender then gets to shopping for just the right toys and clothes to pack in a shoe box to be sent to their special child. This ministry, and others like it, are a beautiful way to share Christ's love with kids who, otherwise, might not receive a single gift on Christmas morning.

2) Go on a date.
Nope, not a date with a table set for two. No, not a date that you find through the classifieds or I'm talking about a "God date". This is a phrase that I've coined to define the following: a special activity, set at a specific time, shared by you and God alone. This isn't devotional time or Bible study. This is a date with God! I'm talking ice skating, dinner out, a Christmas Tree lighting… anything that you consider a "date" can be a "God date." You don't need to spend your God date on your knees and you don't even necessarily need your Bible. Enjoy an outing with God. Set a time and a place and meet Him there. Enjoy the adventures and outings of life in His company.

3) Pour out love on your family.
The time of singleness is a golden opportunity to show your family (birth family and church family) an abundance of love. Bake cookies for loved ones, cook soup for a friend who's sick, send cards to the special people in your life, thanking them for who they are to you and reminding them how much you care for them. Everyone loves to feel loved. Share that love with the people you care about. Don't be stingy. The season of singleness is a chance to learn how to show love. What you glean from this time in life will be vital; a priceless understanding of how to display love to a spouse someday in the future. Christmas is the perfect time of year to be deliberate in your sharing of love.

4) Volunteer.
There is no better way to take the focus off yourself then to get your hands busy doing for someone else. Pick a place, a ministry or a cause and get involved. Serve at a soup kitchen, decorate with a church, carol at a nursing home. Look around, spot the need and then jump in and fill it. I guarantee that you will find it hard to be lamenting life's singleness when you are busy helping those around you that are in need.

This list could go on, I'm sure. But these suggestions are great starting points for enjoying the Christmas season as a single. This time of year is really quite perfect for singles if you ask me. After all, Jesus was a single and isn't this time of year really all about Him?  Enjoy the season, fellow singles. Marvel at the gift of Jesus Christ born in a manger. Embrace the celebration of our King.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Running on Ice

If you live up north and happen to be a runner then you probably understand the difficulties and challenges of running in icy conditions. If you don't run and don't live up north but have experienced ice skating then you might also understand the challenges and difficulties of running on ice.
This is my first winter as what I would call a "runner", meaning that I run at least 4 times a week and look forward to my runs and miss them when I have a day off. I do believe this qualifies me as a runner, despite the fact that I never ran in high school, have never won a race, and don't belong to a special club. I run. I read running magazines. I purposely fuel my body to run better, faster, and longer. In my mind, this makes me a runner.
I began my running habits in the summer when the roads were clear and the most taxing weather was heat which could be avoided by running early in the morning or choosing shady paths. But now the seasons have changed and so have the running conditions. Instead of clear roads I'm dodging snow piles and ice patches. Instead of looking for shade I'm searching for sun. Instead of sweating I'm pulling out extra layers and doubling up on gloves. The running experience has changed dramatically.
And I love it.
I thought that the cold might deter me from my running routine. I feared that with the changing of seasons would come a change of heart but that is not the case. Instead, my love of running has been renewed. With the snow and ice have come new challenges and new insights into how to be a better runner.
While running on ice the runners focus is shifted from pounding pavement to staying upright. Conversation becomes difficult to maintain because your mind is so fixed on avoiding the slick spots on the road. The music playing through headphones fades away. The road noise disappears. All of your focus is placed on the path ahead and the best way to navigate it safely and effectively. Form becomes paramount. Speed is no longer a top priority. The run becomes an obstacle course of ice patches and your goal is to run with the best possible form and posture so that your feet can hit the ground steadily and securly.
This morning that was the challenge ahead of me on my run. Last night a thin dusting of snow coated the ground and beneath it lay a thick layer of ice. I hadn't planned on lacing up my sneakers first thing this morning but it was as if I was being called out the front door. God was bidding me to come and run with Him. How could I say no?
So I layered up with a water-wicking shirt, sweatshirt, and wind breaker; put on my two layers of running tights and knee-high ski socks; laced up my winter sneakers and secured my hat, face mask and two pairs of gloves. Then I stuck my ear buds in and turned on my Christian Pandora radio and headed out to the cemetery near my house.
It didn't take long to realize that this was not going to be a quick three miles. The roads winding through the cemetery were coated in ice with little snow coverage to provide traction. This meant I would have to be on high alert if I wanted to remain upright.
I started out slow and steady to get my bearings and get into my rhythm. But something kept tripping me up. It wasn't my feet, it was my headphones. They have always remained in place, never giving me trouble even during my longest of runs, but today they kept falling out. After stopping a few times to put them back in I decided to quit messing with them and pulled them out of my ears, continuing my run without the hassle they were creating. Instead of music I was left with the calm of a cold morning and the crunch of ice and snow beneath my feet. The sound of my rhythm was comforting.
As I ran my mind shifted from lyrics of a song to my running form. I noticed that my feet weren't hitting the ground with the precision that would keep my from slipping. As soon as I started thinking about how I was lifting my feet I found that my gait was more secure and steady.
Then I realized that I was looking straight down instead of looking forward and down. I shifted my glance up and out. The view was more beautiful than I had previously realized. The sun was hitting the trees and making the brilliant white snow gleam. The ice was making everything sparkle. God's creation was, once again, dazzling.
On that run I was given the opportunity to stop focusing on distractions to get me through my three miles and focus, instead, on the form that would carry me forward. The ice forced me to improve my form.
Just like with running, God can use the ice in our lives to achieve the same purposes. He can use slippery surfaces to shift our focus away from our circumstances, away from distractions, and onto the form of our faith.
When the road is clear it is easy to let our minds wander and faith grow stale. During the summer months, the seasons of ease and comfort, we can easily stop relying solely on our faith. When we are confident in our own power to sustain us and our own power to carry us forward we tend to stop looking to God to do it for us.
But when we hit ice we go calling out for His help. On ice we are sliding and slipping unless He reaches out to us with His steady and secure hand. We can no longer focus on how fast we're moving forward or how many miles we've covered, our minds are totally fixated on staying up - being held upright by our Savior.
If it weren't for the ice on my runs I might not have realized how much improvement I needed to make on my form. If God hadn't allowed my life to hit ice I might not have realized how much work needed to be done on my faith's form.
God has allowed the ice in my life to grow and strengthen my faith. My run through life isn't about how fast I accomplish it or how many miles I log, it is about staying devoted in faith to my Savior, relying solely on Him in all circumstances and in all seasons. That is truly good form.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The ONE who holds my times

I have become completely convinced that the National Weather Service has little to no idea of the true trajectory of storms and weather systems. They warn us and put the fear into travelers. They put the news stations on high alert for impending gloom and doom.
But then the storm hits and the world doesn't end. Sometimes rains don't even fall. Here in Northern Pennsylvania we seem to be under the constant threat of monster storms only to be dodged time and time again. I am losing my faith in the predictions of meteorologists. I don't think they really know as much about the patterns of the weather as they'd care to admit.
It makes me wonder about my own life. There are storms coming that I don't know about. There are clear days that I want to be able to predict but simply cannnot. I must plead ignorance to the future, knowing that what is to come could be impacted by a host of forces outside of my control. I can't give a ten day forecast for my future. I can't even give a forty-eight hour forecast!
Quite frankly, my times are not in my hands just like the weather is not in the hands of the Weather Channel anchor. I can spend my days wondering and fretting about what might lay ahead but I don't have a crystal ball. Even my greatest predictions, based on sound evidence, could be entirely off base. I could see a storm on my radar screen only to be missed by it entirely. Or I could miss the clouds above and get hit with a downpour that catches me off guard.
My times are not in my hands.
My times are in HIS hands.
The future isn't mine to know. Worries, anxieties, concerns, trials…they aren't in my hands. But they are safe and secure in the hands of my Savior. My times are not teetering on the edge of some cliff, swaying with the winds, constantly in danger of falling off all together. God holds my life, my circumstances, my uncertainties, my times in the palm of His hands.
When I try to put my faith in my own faulty predictions, relying on my human alert and warning system, I come up more frustrated every time. But when I put my faith and trust in God, knowing that the things I can't see and don't understand are all safe with Him, I find peace and reassurance even in the midst of storm clouds.
The times to come are not mine to see or know. They are God's. He has plotted out a path for me. He sees the patterns that lie ahead that will influence my life and shape my circumstances. He has my times in His hands. That is enough for me know.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The farming committment

I used to believe that to be a missionary you had to sell everything and move to a foreign country where the people didn't speak your language and had never even heard of Jesus Christ. This was my perception of what it meant to go into the missions field.
What I'm beginning to learn is that there is more than one way to go into missions. Certainly the most obvious way is the one in which I've just described: selling it all, moving to a whole new land and speaking to the spiritually deprived in this world. Noble and selfless don't even begin to describe this kind of sacrifice and service. Those who become overseas missionaries or even inner city missionaries give up their entire lives for the cause of furthering the gospel. They are saints.
But there is another kind of missionary, one that is not as easily spotted yet just as active. These quiet, unassuming missionaries are in their mission field right at home. There is a need for these Christ followers, those that don't sell everything and who don't move away from home, to share the truth of God. They are needed to share Christ's message with the lost right in their own towns and homes.
When we ponder the life of an overseas missionary we can quickly come up with an overwhelming list of difficulties and struggles they would face: a language barrier, a lack of modern day comforts, separation from family, and economic uncertainty just to name a few. There is one particular struggle that might not come to mind right away but is a difficult reality for the long term missionary: cultivating new believers.
Anything that takes time requires patience and patience always comes up against frustration. For the long term missionary who has devoted their life to sharing the gospel this can be a matter of great struggle. They are living among people who do not yet know God and their entire life mission is to bring them the life changing message of Christ. How frustrating when the people don't respond! How discouraging when weeks, months and even years go by and there is no great revival in the towns they are ministering to.
This struggle isn't reserved for only the overseas missionary. It is a very true reality for the at-home missionary, too.
When we are ministering to our family and friends around us we are not just in it for a moment. This isn't a quick two week trip to Mexico to build houses. Missions work at home is a long term commitment. We are cultivating long term fruit. Just like the overseas missionary, this task isn't completed over night. It is a life long dedication.
While considering the responsibility and challenge of being a long term missionary at-home and abroad I couldn't help but think of the Christmas tree farmers. Did you know that Christmas trees take, in general, about 5 to 10 years to grow to maturity? It makes you appreciate the patience of the Christmas tree farmer, doesn't it?
By the time we see a Christmas tree all cut and wrapped at the local nursery it has already been cultivated for years and years. The farmer didn't decide to go into business in September and set up his harvest of trees in late November. Those trees were in his mind's eyes nearly a decade ago. He put forth the effort of planting and tending to his trees long before any of us saw the fruits of his labor.
But without his years of dedication and diligent tree-tending we would not have the Christmas tree  strapped to the top of our car, carried into our living room and decorated with ornaments and lights. It is the farmer's work that makes the traditional Christmas tree possible.
Just like Christmas tree farming, long term missions is a long term commitment. The results aren't visible over night. The harvest takes years to cultivate. But just like the Christmas tree farmer, one day your work will be visible. It may take a decade, but God is doing the work of growth beneath the surface. When the time is right He will show you the miracle of the harvest that He has been using your work to cultivate.
You don't have to move across the globe to a missionary. God can use you right where you are. Beware, this isn't a short term commitment. God wants a plentiful harvest. He is looking for long term fruit. He wants to make you like the Christmas tree farmer, farming the seeds of the gospel, in your own home. You won't need a passport. What you will need is God given patience while you work the fields that will one day, praise God, bring forth a plentiful harvest.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Holiday Cheermiester

At this festive time of year it is hard to turn on the TV without catching the glimpse of a holiday movie or wintery scene. Every channel takes advantage of the holidays to play non-stop Christmas specials. The 25 days till Christmas is counted down with great anticipation on every other channel. Radio stations have been playing carols since before Thanksgiving. You can't escape the celebration of this season.
Last night one of the modern day classic Christmas movies was playing on repeat on ABC Family. "The Grinch that Stole Christmas" came to life thanks to Jim Carrey in 2000 but has already been thrown into classic status. Nearly everyone watches it at least once during the month of December. And I challenge you to find a soul on earth who doesn't have a sweet spot for little Cindy Lou Who. She is endearing, the embodiment of the kindness.
Little Cindy Lou Who takes her kind spirit a little too far for the liking of the rest of the citizens of Whoville. In their town Christmas is the most exciting time of year. They deck the halls from top to bottom and turn their lives upside down to make sure every bow is tied just right and ever inch of space is covered in decoration. To top it off, they even have an annual Whoville Holiday Cheermeister that is chosen by nomination. You know how the story goes. The mayor asks for nominations in the assembly of the gathered town and little Cindy pipes up with a nomination that is enough to send her parents into a state of shock: the Grinch.
The Grinch: the least cheery being to every set foot in Whoville; the green isolated scrooge who lives by himself in a cave on a hill and taunts the citizens below; the one person in Whoville who despises Christmas and every bit of celebration that goes along with it.
Yet, Cindy wants to make him the cheermeister. Talk about shock and awe.
To make a very long story (a 104 minute story to be exact) short, the Grinch's hard heart is softened and his love of Christmas and his love for his fellow Whoville citizens, is restored. His heart grew, as the story goes.
The Grinch didn't become a changed man because of boxes and bows. All the years of seeing the town below decked out in red and green never budged his hard heart. What changed him was the love of a girl who saw past his flaws and grumpy demeanor. She didn't see him for the scrooge he was to the rest of the world. She saw the cheer that could be unlocked from within him when he was loved unconditionally.
"Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more…"
The Grinch was changed by love. His heart was filled with cheer because he received the gift of love freely. There was nothing he had to do to earn it. He didn't even ask for it. Yet, Cindy Lou Who showed love to the Grinch and the result was stunning. His heart was turned inside out and upside down. He was no longer the man he had once been. Sure, on the exterior he still looked the same, namely green. But on the inside he was a changed man with a new heart. The love he received filled him with cheer that he was then, in turn, able to share with the rest of Whoville.
So, my question for you today is where does your cheer come from? Are you looking for satisfaction and fulfillment in the boxes and bows of the Christmas season? Are you trying to buy the perfect gifts or decorate your home to be the most elaborate on the block? Are you so caught up in the stuff of the season that you're missing the true reason for the season?
Cheer, real honest to goodness life changing cheer, doesn't come from a store. It comes from something much, much more. The only truly lasting cheer comes from the realization that in a stable was born a baby who would one day die on a cross for our salvation. In that little baby came the precious gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. The birth of Jesus Christ was the ultimate gift of love, unconditional and free.
Just like the Grinch didn't ask for Cindy Lou Who's love, we never asked for God's love. Still He has poured it out on us in the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Because "He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
There is no greater love than that. There is no greater reason for cheer. It is life changing, turning hard hearts soft. The message of Jesus Christ and the salvation He brings is the free gift of love that invades the lives of the lost and changes them for good. Beautifully wrapped boxes and even the most perfectly tied bows can't change the hearts of the lost, only Jesus Christ can do that work of the soul.
This Christmas season spread the cheer that will last throughout the year. Share the cheer that Jesus brings. His love is the real reason for this season that can turn even the most stubborn of scrooges into a holiday cheermiester.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy belated Thanksgiving! What a privilege we have in this country to take a day away from the normal routine of life to just be thankful - pure and simple. It is just a little small thing, only one day out of the year, but we are blessed to have it set apart. Ideally we would all approach each and every day with a heart overflowing with thanksgiving. But let's be honest, that isn't always the case. So, at least we have one day where we set aside our gripes, complaints and wish-lists to just focus on the things we do have: family, faith, and - oh yea - food.
This Thanksgiving was extra special. The day was bursting with people and blessings to praise God for. Not least of which was the long awaited addition of my brother from Virginia and his family. It has been over 6 years since they have been able to spend Thanksgiving with us. The house was full - just the way we like it! Andrew brought his wife and 2 kids and Danny, who lives right here in town, had his wife and 8 kids plus the oldest brought along his girlfriend. Add in my parents and Pippy and the kitchen was packed full with good food and good company. The celebration was perfect.
Before we all even made it to the table for our 3 PM dinner, the day had already hit extra-special status. That morning my Dad and I headed out bright and early for the annual Erie Turkey Trot. This was our first foray into the event and my first ever 5K.
A brief 6 weeks ago my Dad decided he wanted to run this race with me. He knew that was quite an undertaking for him personally. In the last 20 years he's packed on the pounds and he needed to drop some weight before he could tackle any kind of run without putting his body in danger. He made the commitment to change his eating habits and start a training program to prepare. Since that day he has lost over 20 pounds and is excited to continue with his program. He has set more goals for long distance bike rides and future 5K races. The Turkey Trot was a celebration of the life style change he decided to make and the progress he has made thus far. The journey is far from over but he is well on his way. What a wonderful reason to give thanks.
The Turkey Trot was also a celebration for me personally. Six months ago I became fed up with the limitations my health had on my life. I wasn't allowed to vacuum, lift anything whatsoever and certainly not run. I was confined and restrained from living life to the fullest. Finally I decided enough was enough. God did not create this body to be treated like a fragile porcelain doll. He created it for full health: vibrant, thrilling, exciting health.
I determined to break through the limitations that doctors, naturopaths and chiropractors had put on me for years. I determined to stop searching for "a cure" and start living life believing I was cured already. Since that day I haven't looked back.
Instead I started looked forward and running forward. The distances were brief at first. I hadn't run in years - I had been told I simply wasn't allowed to. Now I was disregarding and disobeying the advice of "experts" and listening to the true expert: God. In my heart of hearts I knew He was calling me to take a risk, take on a challenge and run.
It took months, but finally I reached my goal of running a 5K. The Turkey Trot, on Thanksgiving morning, was the perfect place to start my launch into road races. This first race was an act of praise to God for this journey and the strength He has restored to my physical body.
Running has broken all the rules for me. When you're under weight you're told not to do anything that burns too many calories and just sit down and eat, eat, eat. Running isn't part of the program. But when I listened to God I knew that He was empowering me to do big things with this little body and let Him do the work of restoring it to health. Every run has been a surrender of my right to myself and my self-reliance. Each and every run is a calling out to God, renewing my hope in His healing power and thanking Him for the work He is doing in me, both physically and spiritually.
From that day 6 months ago my weight has gone up. My muscle in my leg rarely flares and, amazingly enough, when it does get grumpy the best way to relieve its death grip is to go for a run. The rest of my body has been touched by the healing hand of God over the past 6 months, too. My body isn't cold like it used to be and my hands no longer crack and bleed when the temperature falls below 60 degrees. I have energy that I was desperately missing. And it is all thanks to God's power to heal.
As I ran through the finish line at yesterday's Turkey Trot I was overcome by the amazing work God has done in my life. The glory is His and His alone. When I crossed that finish line I didn't have any family there with signs or my own personal cheering section. There was no one running along beside me (Dad was further back in the crowd running at his own pace). But as I reached the end I realized that alone, without fanfare was the perfect way to celebrate the victory of completion.
Making it to the finish line wasn't about anyone else. It wasn't about getting applause or recognition. It was my own testimony to the power of Christ and His ability to restore. It was fitting that at the end, the line was crossed by myself, running with only my Savior.
Throughout the last 4 years I have been carried along, safe in the arms of Christ. Through the pain and suffering, joys and triumphs, God has been my faithful provider. This Thanksgiving I celebrated the love and sustaining power of my Savior. His love has never failed me. His hand has never left me. And yesterday it carried me over a finish line in celebration of the grace He has shed on my life.
Where will the run of life take me next? Only God knows. One thing is for sure, Christ will be with me through many more races, carrying me over many more finish lines. What a wonderful reason to celebrate Thanksgiving today, yesterday and every day of the year.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The business of healing

While reading through the New Testament it is hard to miss the miracles of divine healing. Unless you cut out every story of the blind being restored to health, paralyzed made to walk again, mute given voice and even dead being raised, you will read that Jesus Christ was in the business of healing people.
Every manner and type of affliction was no match for Jesus' power. He cast out demons with the simple word "go" and they fled to the swine in Matthew chapter 8. With the words "be clean" He healed a leper. Jesus simply spoke the words and the healing occurred.
How could it be that straightforward? If it is that easy why aren't we all healed from our sickness, ailments, aches and pains? If Jesus CAN heal us, then why won't He?
In reading through the many stories of the sick and suffering who found relief in Jesus there is a common thread that is key to understanding Jesus' power to heal. Each man or woman who received healing believed they would be healed. They believed that Jesus had the power to make their bodies new again and restore them to health.
Matthew 8:5-13 shows the unwavering faith of those that came to Jesus in search of healing.
"When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.' And he said to him, 'I will come and heal him.'  But the centurion replied, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, "Go," and he goes, and to another, "Come," and he comes, and to my servant,"Do this," and he does it.' When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' And to the centurion Jesus said, 'Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.' And the servant was healed at that very moment."
Jesus didn't need a special ritual to be performed. He didn't need to know the man's health history or symptoms. Jesus didn't even need to see the man lying sick and paralyzed! All He needed was the faith of the believer. The centurion believed that Jesus had the power to heal his servant and further, He believed that Jesus was going to use that power. His faith was sure and strong. 
This passage of scripture is a perfect example of the power of faith in Jesus and the pleasure it brings God when we claim that faith with unwavering assurance. Jesus thought so much of this man's faith that the Bible actually says he marveled at it. What a beautiful picture for the believer. Our faith can bring God pleasure. Jesus marvels at the faith of His steadfast followers who put their entire trust and assurance in Him, believing without a shadow of a doubt that He is mighty enough to save their souls and their bodies.
Healing didn't end when the New Testament closed with Revelation 22. Healing is still available to us today through the power of the Holy Spirit who Jesus left in His place. In John 14 Jesus promised that He would leave us with the Holy Spirit as our Helper. God actually sends us the Holy Spirit in Jesus' name. The power that Jesus displayed through His earthly ministry is now available to each and every one of us by the power of the Spirit which can live and dwell inside of us. Our role is to believe in the Spirit's power and invite it into our heart's to reign.
Every person healed by Jesus believed that Jesus had the power to heal them. Their faith was so strong and so sure that they knew the words of Christ could bring restoration to their physical bodies. Do we still believe in that power today? Are we living in the light of Jesus' power available to us in the Holy Spirit?
There is victory in Jesus Christ. He has the healing power to restore our souls to a right relationship with Him and He has the power to restore our bodies to health. His timing is not always our own timing and satan wants us to lose our faith while we wait. He wants to us to stop believing that Jesus can and will heal. Satan wants to break our faith.
But Jesus marvels at His followers when their faith cannot be shaken.
Jesus Christ is still in the business of healing. He can and will use the Holy Spirit to do that work in us. First, we must believe; putting our faith in the power of Jesus Christ who is as alive and mighty today as He was in the days of the centurion believer.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A readying touch

Once again I awoke this morning with the muscle in my left leg flared.
The saga continues.
Let me be honest, my initial reaction is ALWAYS frustration. Every single time I see that muscle flared I want to beat it down into submission. I'm human and that muscle causes me intense pain when it won't cooperate. But this morning my frustration was momentary - a blip on the screen. God started revealing himself to me through the flaring of my muscle. He spoke loud and clear to me in the midst of my suffering. My frustration couldn't help but flee. I was in the presence of the Almighty. Let the muscle clench with a death grip! Let the pain radiate throughout my whole body! God was all around me. His presence was undeniable.
As I lay there in my bed I closed my eyes and simply listened, yearning to hear what He had to say. He was thrilled to have my attention. I could feel His pleasure.
And then He touched my leg and told me, are you ready?
Somehow I knew what this meant. Miraculous healing was not what He was referring to. I would love miraculous healing, He knows this. I have cried out to Him, begging to feel his healing touch. But He hasn't healed me just yet. He is going to but it is not yet time. He is still building my story, perfecting my testimony.
This morning He asked if I'm ready for the trials ahead. There will be difficulty and struggle that is going to threaten to derail me and throw me off God's path. Satan is going to try to use opposition to stand in the way of living out the will and plan God has for me. God warned me this morning that this is going to hurt. Am I prepared to endure?
A smile broke out across my face. God in heaven cares enough for me to prepare me for what is ahead. He can't spare me because He wants the best for me and getting there is treacherous. Just like climbing a great mountain, to get the best view you must traverse the most challenging of terrains. You can't make it to the top of Everest unless you are willing to endure the ferocious winds and blistering cold that will threaten to halt your climb. The reward is at the top of the mountain. Push through the struggle of getting there and you will enjoy the most spectacular view of God's great creation.
God touched me with His love this morning and gave me the encouragement and the warning of a dutiful father… This is going to hurt but it will be worth it in the end.
Are you ready?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A suffering witness

Why do the innocent suffer?
It is the age old question of Christianity and certainly the question poised in the book of Job. Chapter after chapter, words cry out the question of why? Job pours out his misery in response to friends that want to point to sin as a cause of his plight. He is innocent and blameless yet they scorn him and condemn his cries of grief. They simply cannot face the truth: sometimes the innocent suffer.
This is a question that plagues Christians and stands in the way of non-believers from coming to Christ. How can a loving God allow hardship, disease, sickness and sadness to befall good people who love Him? How does that make any sense at all?
This brief post could never answer this question of the ages. To truly get our answer we must wait till heaven where all the mysteries of this world will become clear and brought into focus. What I have learned from Job is not a definitive answer that will close the book on all the doubts you might have surrounding innocent suffering but it has helped me to see that there is a divine purpose and plan in the midst of the Christian's suffering.
In Job 16:8, Job is responding to the condemnation of his friends when he says, "You have bound me - and it has become a witness." The suffering and cruelty that he endured was front and center to his friends. They witnessed the devastation that he endured. They saw him lose his children, his land and his health. Then they witnessed his response.
Job didn't hide his frustrations. He wailed openly to God and begged for the grave. But he never denounced God's existence. Instead he actually pronounced that God was the one in control, allowing this to happen. God allowed satan to wreak havoc on Job's life. God pointed to Job as someone upright and blameless and satan wanted to ruin that witness. Satan wanted to destroy the life Job had in order that Job might destroy his witness for Christ by cursing God and turning from him.
But Job did no such thing. Even in the midst of his cries he did not curse God to his face, as satan said he would.
On earth Job might never see what his witness was meant to accomplish. That is just another mystery withheld from the sufferer until they reach heaven. But there is one thing that is certain: God uses the suffering of the upright as a witness to the lost. He allows suffering. All we need to do is look at Jesus hanging on the cross to see how suffering has been used by God to bring him glory. By Jesus dying on the cross and rising again salvation was brought to fallen sinners. If Jesus had never suffered, this forgiveness wouldn't be available as the free gift to all who believe.
If you are suffering today hold onto the hope of Job and the truth of Jesus. There is a purpose for your suffering. There is a witness to be displayed in the midst of your pain. The greatest trials you face can be the loudest message you send to a world in desperate need of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. God is not allowing your suffering as a punishment or reprimand. If you have repented of your sins then they have been removed from you as far away as the east is from the west. That is final. The price has been paid. The debt is wiped away, clean and spotless.
The question is, will you let Him use your greatest suffering as your loudest witness?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Media Detox

This week our country was plagued by a massive storm that ripped through the center of the country leaving in its wake death and destruction. Tornadoes and winds lay waste to buildings and memories. Lives were shattered. Homes destroyed. Whole towns reduced to rubble.
My heart breaks for the lives forever changed by this storm. I cannot even begin to imagine the surreal feeling of losing everything in the blink of an eye. How can the mind comprehend such massive devastation and loss? It is beyond words.
This November storm didn't hit my home with the same force as it did those in Illinois, Kentucky and other central US states. The winds whipped here but there was no tornado. Rains pounded but there was no flooding or hail. Still this storm has made me take pause and reevaluate how I live my life.
For some time my life has been on automatic pilot. I wake up in the morning and turn on the TV, make my breakfast while watching Fox and Friends then proceed with walking Pippy and the rest of the days activities. My devotional time in the morning has become brief and my prayers even briefer. The rest of my day is filled with other electronic sources and distractions that draw me away from getting close to God. Instead I substitute an iPad or iPhone. I'm hooked on iDistraction.
But this week that has changed. With the winds of the storm my home's cable and internet got knocked out of operation. At first I was frustrated. Like many modern day Americans I have grown accustomed to being connected to the outside world via electronic sources. I am a google addict. I check my Facebook daily. I stay up on my e-mails. I read certain news websites, blogs and websites daily. Suffice it to say, I waste an inordinate amount of time "plugged" in.
Until the connection went out. When the TV went black and the internet popped up with "Try again later" I became forced to unplug - thank God.
By turning off the TV and powering down the computer I have found that I have much more time for the important practices of Christian life that I've been neglecting. Prayer time had been replaced with internet surfing time; devotionals had been substituted with TVs lousy offerings. It pains me to think of the time I've wasted on the mindless garbage of this world while I could have been opening up the treasures of God's Word.
With no distractions to steal my attention, these past few days I have had the blessed opportunity to turn to the Bible instead of turning to the tube. My morning news has been replaced with morning scripture readings. Christian books and devotionals have taken the place of evening HGTV and TLC reruns.
There are four major lessons I have learned this week while being on media/electronic detox. These are lessons I desperately needed (and continue to need) to learn. Although the process of recovery from my electronic addiction has begun it is still far from over.
The lessons I have learned can be summed up into baby steps. I need to remind myself of them daily and put them into practice to continue on my media detox even after the internet connection is restored.

4 Steps to Media/Electronic Detox

1.     During breakfast enjoy the morning meal with Bible reading instead of TV watching. No computer, no cell phone, no ipad. Enjoy a meal in the company of God’s word.
2.     Replace a half hour of evening TV watching with reading. The reading can be a book for pure pleasure or more Bible reading. Take the time to engage your mind in the act of engaging the mind by reading instead of always listening to sounds and watching screens.
3.     Tune out the shows, music and media that send messages contrary to Biblical teaching. This will automatically eliminate a vast majority of watching/listening/viewing material.
4.     Read a Psalm before bed. Instead of going to sleep with the sounds and messages of TV shows floating through your mind, close your day with the promises of God. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to bust through a plateau

Have you ever started a fitness program and made great progress at the on-set? The weight falls off. The muscles start to build. It almost feels effortless.
And then you hit a wall.
The scale doesn't budge. You can't lift heavier weights. You aren't increasing your repetitions. You aren't able to gain speed or distance on your runs. You've hit the dreaded plateau - the arch nemesis of every fitness junkie. The plateau brings your progress to a screeching halt. The exercises and habits that once yielded positive results don't produce anything anymore. You are like a hamster on a wheel: running and running and getting no where.
So how do you overcome this obstacle? Are you simply stuck with no hope?
Take heart, there is a way out of the plateau.
In all of my research on how to bust through a plateau I have narrowed down all the articles and opinions to my top 4 favorite pieces of advice. What I found so encouraging about these 4 simple steps is that they aren't just related to your physical fitness. They are perfect plateau busters for the spiritually stagnant as well. Just like physical plateaus, spiritual plateaus are the arch nemesis of the Christ follower. They threaten to pull our attention away from God and leave us dull and useless in furthering His Kingdom. When we hit a plateau our prayer life grows silent, our thirst for God's word diminishes and our heart is simply not yearning for God the way it used to. Have you ever experienced this type of plateau? You don't need to fall deep into sin, denounce God or switch religions to plateau. That is a different matter entirely. A spiritual plateau is like a stagnant swamp that has no flow of water in or out, creating a stench that only worsens over time.
To grow in our faith we must push through our plateaus, not give in to them. To grow out fitness capabilities we must bust through our plateaus, not just do the same old-same old.
The following are 4 tid-bits of information to try out the next time you hit a plateau. I hope they will encourage you and help you claim the victory over your next plateau:
1.) Identify your weakness. If it is in fitness maybe your weakness is your balance or your anaerobic capabilities. Identify the problem area and target that. If your squat looks great - great form, heavy weight, reasonable repetitions - then don't focus on improving your squat. But if your lateral lunge leaves you fatigued and practically falling over then put your effort into improving your lateral lunge. In your spiritual life maybe your weakness is carving out time for prayer. You are faithful in your devotional time but your prayer life is hit or miss. Be honest with yourself and identify this as your problem area. Then seek to fix it by setting a time and place that you will meet God in prayer.
2.) Baby steps. You won't go from lifting 30 pounds weights to 60 pound weights over night or over the course of week. But you will never get from 30 to 60 pound weights if you don't start lifting 35 pound weights. Start small. Start with reasonable increases and set reasonable goals. In your spiritual life, when you start to carve out that special time for prayer don't expect that you will go into a state of meditation for an hour if you haven't even been spending two minutes in prayer with any kind of regularity. Set an amount of time that you can stick to. Start with 10 minutes and really tune in to God. As you grow in your faith your time in prayer will grow too, just take that first baby step.
3.) Do more. Your dead-lift is your favorite exercise but you always stop at 12 repetitions. Why not do 15? Add a little bit more onto your current regimen. Don't stop just because you've always stopped there before. If your body can take it, push it a little bit further. In your spiritual life, don't stop just because the timer went off or the daily devotional has come to a close. If you always read your morning devotional why not add a time of journaling afterwards? Give God more of your time and you will encounter more of His heart.
4.) Do something different. Your body will get used to the same exercises if you never switch up your routine. A dumbbell bicep curl is great for a period of time but sooner or later your muscles won't be challenged unless you change the way they are being stressed. Move over to the cable machine, pick up a barbell, try using a kettle bell. Pick up something new and challenge your body in a different way. Your muscles won't know what hit them and that plateau will become history. If you are spiritually stagnant you can try something new, too. Instead of reading the same scripture over and over, try turning to a chapter of the Bible that you've never studied before. Seek out different authors, pick up a new book on an area of faith that interests you such as grace or miracles. Try changing the time or place that you do your daily devotional. If you have always read the Bible before bed try reading it in the morning instead. Switch it up, try something new.

These simple pieces of advice aren't complicated but they can have a profound impact on our physical and spiritual well being when we are honest enough with ourselves to know that we are face-to-face with a plateau.

Monday, November 11, 2013


You have two options when you live out your faith. You can keep it to yourself and speak in hushed tones. Or you can be bold.
Dear reader, be bold.
Don't keep your faith close to your chest. Don't hide it under your jacket, keeping it out of sight and out of mind. Don't let the world's noise drown out the gospel's message. Don't let the distractions that threaten the furthering of truth get in the way of proclaiming the good news.
Speak life to a world in desperate need. Speak boldly. Speak frequently. Speak lovingly. Speak with compassion and with conviction.
When you walk the straight and narrow with God there will be times when the world will want you to be quiet. The message you have is not one they want to hear. But God is calling you to share it anyways. He is calling you to bold faith. He is commanding you to put your light on a stand and let it shine before men. Don't cover it up. Don't allow wind to blow it out. Hold your light up high.
No matter what station in life you find yourself in today there is one thing that I can guarantee God desires of you: boldness. Boldly walk forward in faith. Boldly proclaim the love of Jesus. Boldly hold fast to the promises of God.
Don't be wishy-washy. Don't paint your faith in soft, muted colors or cool pastels. Grab the brush that paints a vivid picture. Break out the brightest of colors. The furthering of the salvation of Jesus Christ is worthy of bold action. In fact, there is nothing more worthy. He is the most precious of gifts and His salvation is the greatest truth we can share. There is no greater message to spread. So do it boldly.
As you go forward with your day, encountering friends, family and total strangers, do so with the boldness of Christ. Call on His name and ask Him to bolster your spirits, making you a vessel of His love. He is faithful and He will deliver. He will fill you with abundant boldness. He will turn your life into a vivid picture of His power and might.
God wants to use you as His hands and feet. He can only do this if we are willing to be bold for Him. Are you ready to go on this great adventure with God, proclaiming His name in every circumstance and surrounding? Are you ready to become a living, breathing vessel for Christ that speaks His name boldly and triumphantly? He wants your testimony, your voice and He wants your boldness.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A question worth asking

Do you ever feel like you are the only person that is "like you"? Does that even make any sense?
Sometimes I feel like no one else thinks the way I think or sees the world the way I see it. Everyone else seems to see everything in purple and I see it in yellow. The difference is that stark. We might as well be in totally different universes. 
This difference in glasses leads to a deep divide separating me from the rest of humanity - or at least that is how it feels! Everyone else can relate to each other but I simply cannot. My views, opinions and beliefs cause me to live in an entirely different manner then the people I see around me. 
Let me explain it this way: everyone is attending a party and I never even got an invitation. 
This feeling takes me back to grade school when one girl would have a birthday bash and wouldn't invite all the kids in the class. Instead she would pick and choose her favorites to give out the coveted invitation to. As it would often turn out, over half the class would get invited but a select few would be left off the guest list. The birthday girl would not even mention said party to those not-so-fortunate girls and boys who wouldn't be given the chance to attend. The party would be kept at hush tones. The kids not invited deemed as "losers" by the rest of the party goers. 
This is the feeling of being an outsider, looking in on the comings and goings of a world you don't belong in. At times this feeling has really bugged me. It has made me question myself. What's wrong with me that people don't seem to "like" me? Have you ever been burdened with this question? Has the lack of a birthday invite ever left you down in the dumps, rethinking your personality and character? Do you ever wonder why you seem to be a lone island floating in the ocean while everyone else is on the same land mass, so far away from you that it is just a speck on your map? 
Beloved, you aren't alone. I, too, have these feelings. I, too, have questioned who I am and wondered if I should change to find acceptance in this world. But recently my questioning has come to an abrupt halt. I no longer ask myself why the world doesn't "like" me. Instead, I have discovered that being in opposition to the world is a sign that I am in agreement with God. 
Look at this verse found in Galatians 1:10: "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."
How foolish I have ever been to question why I do not have the world's favor and adoration. If I am a servant of Christ, wholly devoted to Him, then I should expect to stand in stark opposition to the world because, quite frankly, I am not in this for their approval. If I am seeking their approval then I am not a servant of Christ. It is as simple as that. I am either living for the world, following its beliefs, morals (or lack thereof), standards and expectations or I am standing against those things and standing for God's rule book and His commands. When you stand on one side of the fence then it is a given: you are standing apart from the other side.
The question of why the world doesn't like me has been replaced in my mind. Now instead of looking to the world for approval I am looking to God and asking Him, am I living according to your Word? Am I doing all I could be doing for your kingdom? Am I tending to my relationship with you and carving out time for you? Am I relying solely on the Lord for encouragement and direction? 
Are my eyes fixed on Jesus Christ? 
Or am I letting my gaze wander to the world around me?
When we fix our eyes solely on Jesus the world fades away. We no longer seek the approval of man. In fact, we expect to be rejected by the world - and that is more than okay. The world's rejection is just another indication of our oneness with Christ. 
When we are His servants we will not be winning the approval of this world. Our approval will be in heaven. And our God who is waiting there for us, preparing a place for us, will see to it that we are taken care of no matter what the world may throw our way or what rejection we might come up against. Our Father in Heaven will be smiling down on us with the widest grin you can imagine and that, dear reader, is greater then any party invitation this world can give. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Twists and turns

The road I have taken probably looks nonsensical to you. It might look erratic and confused. I've taken so many turns, went in circles and ended up back at the beginning again. I made false starts and ran into dead ends. I traveled down roads with NO OUTLET signs and lost the well worn path a time or two. My journey has not been conventional. It has not followed a well worked out plan. Points A, B, and C haven't been logically plotted out and certainly not reached in any standard, explainable order.
But I don't expect you to look at the course of my life and understand it. In fact, I expect you to look at it as pure foolishness. I would too if I were you.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God."
My path looks crazy, possibly even brainless, to those that are looking at it through human eyes. If all you are using to examine my life is your own understanding then you will certainly find me silly, border line idiotic. 
...You moved to Florida for a few months then decided that you weren't meant to be there and came back home?
 ....You started a job and left it within weeks? 
....You were engaged and then that got called off, too? 
What do you stick to? What sense does any of your life make? You jump around like a Mexican jumping bean, seemingly with no purpose or direction. 
I understand your thoughts. I can't blame you for having them. But I must respectfully disagree with your assessment of me.
Yes, my path has been sporadic, filled with sudden twists and turns. It's been up and down, back and forth enough to leave a girl winded and whip-blashed. Yet, I would never call this journey nonsensical.  And I wouldn't dream of calling it irrational or stupid. Instead I would call it divine. 
I haven't planned my road. I haven't known what was coming next. But God has. He has plotted out each point on my map and knows the very best way to get me there. If I evaluate this journey through my limited human scope then yes, this path looks a little nutty. Why so many starts and stops? How do all of the turns end up getting us to a desirable final destination?
God isn't limited to human eyesight. His vision is Holy; it is heavenly and He sees what you and I can't. 
When my journey looks like it isn't going anywhere, when it looks like a dog chasing its tail, I have the peace and promises of God to hold onto. He has my future in the palm of his hands. The world won't get it. To them it will look foolish. But I am not to look at this journey through the eyes of the world. I am to look through God's eyeglasses. 
So call me crazy. Or call me weird. That's okay by me. Because I'm not living by the standards of this world. I'm not aligning myself to stay in lock step with the rest of the world. I am allowing God to plot my points and pave the way.
 So call it utter foolishness. Call it irrational and looney. Call it crazy. But I'm going to call it the power of God. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Treatment for your scars

It seems that you can't make it through childhood without acquiring some scars along the way. One of mine is on my ring finger - an ever present reminder of the day I fell on the iceskating rink and got my finger run over by a boy flying by on hockey skates. The pain was intense. I can still remember how badly that cut stung and the bright red blood that flowed freely from the unsightly gash.
Scars stick with us and serve as ever present tributes to the obstacles we have overcome and the pain we have endured. Scars can be a blessing. They can bolster our spirits when we come under difficulty. By looking back on our scars we can be reminded that we have overcome before and we will overcome again. We can remember that pain doesn't last forever, it fades away and dissipates. 
But what about the scars that we never tend to? Have you ever received a cut or a strain and done nothing to care for it? Instead of keeping the cut clean and treating it with ointment to protect it from infection, you leave it uncovered, just tempting bacteria to fester. And fester it does. The scar never heals properly. Instead it creates a problem for weeks, months and maybe even years to come. 
Our scars won't heal properly without proper care. 
The same goes for our emotional scars. 
Just like we all have scars from our physical falls and mishaps, we all have emotional scars. Just like our physical scars need bandaging and treated, so do our emotional scars. 
There is no over-the-counter treatment that will provide an overnight remedy to our emotional scars. But there is a Savior who came to give us healing and wholeness, treating our wounds and scars with delicate care. 
Isaiah 53:5 says, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
There is healing for your emotional scars. But you must allow Jesus to tend to them. Don't neglect them a moment longer. Ask Jesus to come in and take care of your scars. He can make them heal perfectly, removing all the burden and hurt that can be left behind. He will remove the pain and the lasting sorrow that an uncared for wound can leave in its wake. Jesus is the only one with this power. He alone can heal you wholly and fully, turning the nastiest of gashes into the most beautiful of reminders of just how great a Savior we serve. 
When I look down at my ring finger I am reminded of the pain I felt the day that poor finger was run over by an iceskate. I remember how sharp the stinging was as the blood rushed down my hand. But even in the midst of the memory I am smiling because today it is just a faded scar. Now I can look back and know that throbbing pain does go away. That acute pain I once felt has given way to an encouraging reminder: suffering will pass. 
Our emotional scars can be turned into encouraging reminders, too. Jesus will take our deepest of cuts and turn them into beauty. He will make us lights that shine for Him, pointing the lost towards a God who saves, redeems and heals. The emotional scars that never healed properly when we tried to take care of them on our own stamina with our own remedies will be made right because Jesus will be the one doing the mending and restoring. Our lives and our wounds will become a testimony of His greatness and His power. 
God wants to use your wounds and your scars. He wants to take the emotional baggage, hurt, frustration and sorrow that you carry and turn it into a story of His joy, peace and freedom. You can never heal yourself. By Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection three days later He paid the price to heal your wounds. Now He wants to be your physician. He wants to step into your brokenness and treat your emotional hurts. All He asks is that you let Him. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

The case of the missing keys

Months ago, maybe almost a year now, my Mom's car keys went missing. I mean completely missing. It was as if they vanished into thin air. Here is a Reader's Digest version of what unfolded.
I was at home in Erie sitting on the couch when my Mom called explaining that she had locked her keys in the car at my brother's house while she was making a quick stop to drop off a few of his kids after they had gone out on a special "date" with Grandma. She had intended to just see them into the house and then head home but when she went back out to her car it was locked -  a rather unusual occurrence for a woman who never locks anything. She couldn't see the keys inside so she looked in the house. She couldn't find the keys in the house so she assumed they must be somewhere in the car out of eye sight. She asked me to run her spare set over so she could unlock the car and drive home. There was just a little problem: the spare set was no where to be found either. I looked around the house but couldn't find them.
Plan B was put in place and a locksmith was called. He came, opened the door and, voila! No keys! Now the situation was truly perplexing. Everyone went into a full-on hunt for the lost keys. Everyone, young and old, joined in on the effort. We searched through garbage cans, bushes, buckets of toys, under and in furniture and even up and down the street because who knows, maybe her keys grew legs. Suffice it to say, we were desperate.
My Mom had only been in their house for a matter of mere minutes yet in that short time the keys had managed to disappear.
Finally, we decided another route would have to be taken. To make a long story short it dawned on me that the spare set of keys might be at my house in Ohio, two hours away. So Mom and I took a quick run to Chagrin Falls and lo and behold, we found the spare set. The car was able to be moved out of the driveway and the spare set of keys were surgically attached to my Mom. Okay, so they weren't really attached but we all made such a big deal out of never letting them out of her sight that they might as well have been sewn to her hand!
The mystery of where that original set of keys went continued on for quite some time - months and months actually. Kim, my sister-in-law, kept searching days and weeks after they went missing. She was as perplexed by their disappearance as anyone. She tore apart whole rooms worth of toys and clothing in an attempt to track them down with no success. Finally we all accepted the fact that this would remain an unsolved mystery. The keys were lost, we assumed, for good.  I, for one, resolved to believe they somehow ended up in the trash. It was the only explanation that made any sense at all.
It wasn't until months later that we all got the answer to the puzzling question of where those keys went. One day when most of the kids were at school, little Eliot, not even two years old, came walking up to Kim holding a set of big bulky keys - yes, that set of keys. On that set contained the Mazda CX-7 key that we had all spent hours searching for. It was a massive set of keys. How did we all miss it? Where had it been?
We will never know how we all searched high and low and somehow missed seeing the keys that were indeed in my brother's house. But when none of us were looking they were somehow found. Eliot didn't know what he was looking for when he reached into that box of toys and pulled out Grandma's keys. He had long forgotten or never even really knew that they were missing. Still, when the search had been called off and the whole situation was fading into a distant memory, the keys reappeared.

I believe that there is a lesson to be learned from the case of the missing keys.
In our loneliness as singles there are times that we want to go on the hunt for a companion to fill our aching void. We search high and low for that special someone. Sometimes, we go actively seeking them by creating accounts or attending singles events. At other times, our search is less transparent and more like a continual prowl. We go to parties, weddings and other social events with one eye on the left hand ring finger, constantly scanning the room for potential mates.
Is this really the best way to find a boyfriend or girlfriend? Or are we destined to a fate like the lost keys? Spending hours of time and energy searching for something that is hidden and not yet ready to be revealed?
Right now you may be in the time of singleness and plagued with loneliness. You may be tempted to go on the hunt for someone to take away that aching hole in your heart. You may be tempted to try to find a date or a husband or a wife to fulfill you. You may want to employ your own personal search party to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.
Fellow singles, I encourage you to rid yourself of this temptation and call off the search team. Tuck away your flashlights and don't go pulling all the cushions off your couch just yet. Instead of being on a perpetual hunt, sit back and allow God to do the delivering. Rest in your time of singleness knowing that God has the perfectly ordained time for you to finally be united with your special someone. Now might not be the right time for reasons that you don't understand. You may think you are ready for "the one", or at least someone! But God knows the best and perfect timing.
Just like Eliot showed up with Mom's keys when no one was expecting them to be found, God can bring you that special someone even when you aren't looking. In fact, it is most often when we aren't searching that God does the delivering. We can hunt till we are weary and exhausted, plagued by failed relationships and Saturday nights spent dateless. And then, out of the blue, when we least expect it and when we have stopped looking entirely, God can bring that person into clear view, surprising us and astounding us with the gift of companionship.
Finding your Mr. or Mrs. Right wasn't meant to be a scavenger hunt. God has the right person and the right time for that person to be revealed to you. Right now He may have that future mate hidden from view, giving you the opportunity to enjoy a time of singleness. Companionship is a gift from God but so is singleness. So don't miss out on all of its benefits by spending your days longing after a change in relationship status. That time will come. Your special delivery just hasn't arrived yet.