Friday, February 28, 2014

Just ask

Do you remember back to your elementary school days when you had a question but embarrassment kept you from ever asking the teacher for an explanation or answer? Maybe you were like me, hesitant to raise your hand and ask what that word on the board said, or what math principle should be used to solve number four on the classroom handout. I used to sit there, just hoping that another student would have the very same question and the courage to voice it. Sometimes I was in luck. One of the vivacious, outspoken students would boldly call out (rarely raising their hand), "I don't understand what you wrote on the board!" or "Number four is confusing. I don't know how to solve it."
The teacher would inevitably sigh, frustrated by the lack of manners in the questioner. She would then clarify the word on the board or help to explain the correct action to take on solving number four. Sensing that a number of students must have been plagued by this same question the teacher would often conclude her review by saying, "Remember class, there are no stupid questions."
"Yeah, right!" I would think. You might not think they're stupid but the rest of the class will laugh at me. Never mind that there was a very good possibility that a number of other kids had the same question; I loathed to be the one to voice our confusion. I was far too inhibited. I feared being deemed stupid or "slow." But thankfully, my class always seemed to have one or two students who didn't suffer such shyness and didn't mind loudly and frequently making their lack of understanding known.
Now that I'm older I'm still faced with problems that I don't know the answer to, life equations that I don't know how to solve. With these questions there is no text book or handout with numbers and symbols that taunt me with their obscure meaning.  There is no classroom full of students scribbling with number two pencils or teacher writing on a chalkboard with illegible markings. The questions that face me now are more complex and nebulous. What is the purpose of my life?... What should I do for a job or career?…. How should I handle my health struggles?…. How do I make myself useful for the Kingdom of God?…. What does God really want me to do with my life?…. 
These are certainly not the questions I faced in elementary school. Yet, I still suffer from the same fear that keeps me from asking for answers. The questions plague me, leaving me confused and paralyzed. I am taken back to sitting in fourth grade with my math book open but nothing written on my handout. I don't even know how to solve the problem. I don't know what the book means by "x" or "exponent" or "quotient." I'm overwhelmed and too timid to ask for assistance.
I made it through elementary school in that predicament but I can't make it through life that way. There is no other student faced with the same life circumstances as me. No one else who can ask my specific question that I desperately need answered. No, this time the asking is up to me. Thankfully, I have an attentive teacher who assures me that there are no stupid questions. Unlike in elementary school, I'm taking my Teacher's words to heart, coming to Him without hesitation and embarrassment.
James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." I am in great need of wisdom. I don't have the solution to the predicaments of my life. I'm overwhelmed by questions and short on answers. I struggle to know which direction to go, whether to turn left, right or just continue on straight. I desperately need wisdom!
God doesn't expect me to come into this classroom called life with all of the answers. In fact, He knows that I am ill-equipped to tackle all of the predicaments of life on my own. That is why He has sent me His ever present counselor in the Holy Spirit. God has promised to never leave me because He knows that I will always need a teacher. On this side of heaven I will never "graduate" and no longer need my Teacher. As long as I live I will be a student under the care of His direction and guidance. He has all the answers and the kindest, most gracious way of teaching His lessons. Sometimes He doesn't give me the answers in a way I could predict. There are times He comes along side me and guides me to the answer. Rarely does He simply lay it in my lap. More often than not He wants to lead me to the answer while teaching me patience in the process.
The first step to ever getting an answer to my questions is to ask. God has all wisdom and He will share it with those who ask.
Remember, there are no stupid questions. Simply come to your loving, all-knowing Teacher, laying down all of your confusion and questions, believing that He will answer you with His mighty wisdom.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

God is God

The FDA is considering whether or not to allow "3-parent babies." The fact that this is even a consideration is troubling to say the least.
Proponents of 3-parent babies claim that this "technique" for having children would reduce disease. Opponents argue that this would lead to designer babies and could bring with it a host of unintended genetic abnormalities. There is an even greater debate over whether or not one potential child is sacrificed by the destruction of a healthy embryo. Essentially, one egg is cannibalized to be added to another egg which is then fertilized. That is a very broad explanation to say the least.
For me, I don't need a big, long, technical explanation of the procedure to know where I stand on the issue. This is appalling and a sad commentary on the state of the human condition. Doctors are all too willing to play God and the public is all too willing to praise them for their efforts.
Hey, doc, I've got a news flash for you. You are not God. God is God. It is not your job to manufacture life and it isn't your right to terminate life. Who will be born isn't a matter for your test tube. Life is not your judgement call.
God alone is the author and creator of life. He has made the perfect design for how life is to be created. One man, one woman. He has given some women the burden of infertility. But He has given them the opportunity to experience the blessing of adoption. He has created some men and women for lives of singleness, giving them ample time to spend serving His kingdom. Not every individual will be designed for parenthood. Some have a different path plotted out for them. That path isn't to be decided by an OBGYN or a pharmacist separating pills into little bottles. The giver of life sits in heaven.
This fallen world that we live in wants to play God at every turn. The womb is just the start. Some want to end life before it ever gets the chance to take its first breath. Others want to go under the knife, inject chemicals and play with science to create life where God didn't plant it. Both push God out of the way, attempting to override His ownership and kingship.
Our lives are not our own. They are God's. From conception all the way to our deathbeds, God knits us together and numbers our days. The role of deciding who should live, who should die and how many parents should be involved is not for the human mind to reason, manipulate and manufacture. God, the master creator, who shaped and formed Adam and Eve is still the producer of life. He gives life and He takes it away.
The FDA isn't God. Your family doctor isn't God. The world renowned scientist isn't God.
God is God, no matter how far our society falls away. God remains on His throne even when the nations fall away and when they seek to dethrone Him. God, the mighty King and author of life, cannot be overcome.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Better than a mantra

Just ask any die-hard yogi what their personal "mantra" is (if you happen to know one!) and chances are they'll have an answer. There is an equally strong chance that you will have no idea what their little phrase means. When the yogi responds with, "Om" or "Ham-Sah" will you know what they are referring to?
Don't feel bad about your Hindu ignorance. Without Bing I too would have been stumped on the meaning of these mantras. Thanks to the internet I can now inform you that "Om" means "It is" and "Ham-Sah" means "I am THAT." Whatever THAT means I'm still not sure. Further Binging is required to get to the bottom of that query.
There are some not so obscure mantras that you and I are probably much more familiar with. Popular among my generation is, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Ghandi's quote is so beloved that it is written on posters, cell phones cases, T-shirts and bumper stickers.
Mantras have become quite a fad in America. We love our little sayings that motivate and inspire. This idea might have been born in the ancient Hindus but it is being taken to a whole new commercialized level in the United States of America.
Further investigation into mantras led me to the purpose of repeating certain phrases over and over. According to the Hindu belief, mantras are sacred, bringing new life into the body. Mantras cast off evil and negative energies and invite spirit and transformation into the body. These little repetitions aren't just words to the Hindus, they are mystical and magical. Some religions chant them, others sing them. No matter how they are communicated, mantras play an integral role in Hindu religious practices.
And now they play an important role in yoga sessions across this nation. It is hard to escape the world of yoga. Everywhere you turn there is another reminder that yoga is the exercise "du jour." In fact, it is more than just "du jour," it is "du" decade or "du" century (depending on how long this fad lasts). Even just sitting at a restaurant the craze is hard to escape. Just today I overheard a couple of ladies discussing their lack of yoga abilities. One was lamenting the fact that she wasn't flexible enough to do downward facing dog. Another was talking about how she has been attending yoga sessions three times a week and is seeing great improvement in her form. Neither woman discussed her personal mantra. Maybe that is too private and personal to be discussed in such a public setting. I don't know. I'm not up enough on mantra etiquette.
All of this yoga, mantra, "Om" talk started turning the wheels in my little head. Do I have a "mantra" of sorts? Is there some go-to phrase that I repeat to get me motivated or encouraged when I'm down? Do I have a phrase that I live by, like so many of my age group who embrace the words of Ghandi as their life philosophy?
Nope. I'm without a mantra. I read all about mantras, popular mantras, "Top 10 Mantras", celebrities favorite mantras, athletes favorite mantras and I concluded that I don't have a personal mantra. There is no single phrase that bolsters my confidence and gives me the strength to hold warrior pose for twenty more seconds (not that I ever do warrior pose to begin with, but you get the point). I don't have a word that I hum when I need encouragement or spiritual guidance.
What I do have is faith in God. I have Colossians 2:6-7, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." It is my faith, rooted in Jesus Christ that is my encouragement and motivation. By looking to Him I find my spiritual guidance and compass. 
The American culture loves the utterances of the Hindu religion and the chants of one syllable mantras. But God loves a heart that is rooted in Christ. There is strength and life that can only be found in Jesus Christ. There is no other road that leads to eternal life. The death of Christ on the cross is the only path to Heaven. It is by receiving Him and turning our lives over to Him that we are saved.
Mantras are deceiving. They give a false sense of security. The truth is, there is no security in the word "Om" or any other favorite meditative word. Security, motivation, encouragement, and true life are found in Jesus Christ alone. That is why I am casting off the whole idea of needing a mantra. Instead, I am going to live by the words of Colossians. I am living my life rooted in Jesus Christ and the eternal life I have by receiving His gift of salvation that comes through the work He did for me on the cross. That "philosophy" might not be popular in this culture. I may not overhear women talking about this truth at a restaurant or coffee shop. But this is the life giving truth, better than any mantra. And I will forever make it the song of my heart and the words on my lips.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Selfie-less service

Americans are self-obsessed. I have proof.
As I sat in Panera Bread, typing away on my computer, a man across the restaurant grabbed my attention. The seats around me were quite empty, just a few couples chatting over coffee and a few other booths occupied by men and women busy on their laptops. But one man was not busy chatting with a friend, eating a sandwich or clicking away on a computer. This man walked in, took a seat at a big booth, took out his camera and began his own personal photo shoot.
By my best estimation I would guess that this man was in his fifties. He sported a gray head of balding hair that was styled into a well groomed combover. His beard was in a matching shade of gray. Even his sweatshirt seemed to be picked to match his hair color. He sat at his booth alone, with a book unopened in front of him. He apparently had no time to read. He needed to get some picture taking in first. He lifted up his phone high in the air, the camera focused down on his face. He looked up into the lens and made different faces as he clicked away. Some faces were more serious while others had a hint of a smile.
After a sufficient number of clicks he lowered the phone and began reviewing the shots. He must have been satisfied with his work because he clicked a bit more, a little smirk coming across his face, then put down his phone and picked up his book. With the selfies out of the way he could now relax and read. But only for a moment because within minutes he was out the door with book, coffee and phone in hand. Time to move on to the next location for a selfie photo shoot.

Now maybe this seems a bit extreme to assume that this man indicates that the whole American population is self-obsessed. I argue that it isn't extreme enough. Not only is America self-obsessed but human beings are self-obsessed. We are in a constant state of "selfies". I needn't look any further than my own life to find sufficient examples of self-absorbed living.
When I stop and think about my daily thought life and the errands and actions that take high priority in my day, I feel the sting of guilt over my own selfish heart. The top to do's on my list are always what benefit me and further my own agenda and desires. My thoughts tend to follow suit. More often than not I pray for me and think about my own obstacles, dilemmas and circumstances. Once I have sufficiently thought about myself I can think about someone else. But only for a moment! Because before you know it I'm just like that man at Panera Bread. I'm up and on to my next self-consumed endeavor.
This is certainly not the way Jesus intended for me to live. He didn't come to save me so that I could serve myself and be consumed with my own wants, desires and needs. He didn't even come to live that way for Himself! As Mark 10:45 says, "For even the son of man came not to be served but to serve." Jesus didn't come for self-service or for others to serve Him. His own fulfillment was the least of His concerns. His number one priority was serving others. Jesus, the perfect King, lived with the sole purpose of being a servant.
While operating off of my own flesh tendencies I live with the purpose of self-service. My top priority is me. I concern myself with satisfying my own thirsts and fulfilling my own longings. At the end of the day there is little left to give in service for others.
With one look to the life of Jesus and His commands I am brought to repentance for my selfishness. My narcissistic heart needs to continually submit to the Lord, intentionally and purposefully aligning my life with His commands. When I do that, when I put the brakes on my own human flesh, I immediately see the error of my ways. By looking to Jesus and reading His words in scripture I see the error in living for my own self-interests.
My prayer is that God will continue to stir my heart to abandon my selfish ways and embrace life as a servant. I want to live by the words of Galatians 5:13-15: "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" 
A life of "selfies" may satisfy for a moment but where is the eternal value? When I reach Heaven and stand before God He won't be asking to look at my iPhone's camera roll. His concern won't be how successful I was in fulfilling my every desire or how diligent I was at completing chores on my agenda. He'll be looking at my service. It is a life poured out for others, serving the needs and desires of my neighbors, that will stand the test of time. Then I might hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25:21).

A lesson from Anne

Do you ever wake up in the morning and just want to close your eyes, roll over and go back to sleep? The comfort of a warm bed is so much more appealing than the blustery cold and the mundane tasks of the day ahead. So, you hit snooze and hope the second alarm fails to go off.
This morning, as I lay in bed, I didn't have any alarms set or big plans for the day ahead, yet I still wanted to roll over and go back to sleep. What purpose was there to get out of bed anyway? I didn't have anyone depending on me this morning, no work to attend to or rides to be given. I struggled to find the motivation to get myself up and out of bed. My will to face the day was weak at best.
Suddenly the words from Anne of Green Gables came to mind, "I'm so glad it's a sunshiny morning. But I like rainy mornings real well, too. All sorts of mornings are interesting, don't you think? You don't know what's going to happen through the day, and there's so much scope for imagination."
Granted, this morning was not sunshiny.  It was still six AM when I awoke and the sky was filled with lightly falling snow. Yet, that quote came to the forefront of my mind because Anne was right. All sorts of mornings truly are interesting. 
Whether my day is filled with big and important tasks or just the simple act of making breakfast and taking Pippy for a walk, the day ahead can be interesting and exciting. The day's worth and importance isn't dependent on how thrilling my life appears on paper. My day is important and worth waking up for because it is the day the Lord has made. I am to rejoice and be glad in it no matter what it holds for the hours ahead.
Anne never points to God as her purpose for enjoying each day, but I think she understood that each day is a gift that we can choose to either embrace or waste.
When Anne spoke those profound words it happened to be on a morning when she had anything but a good reason to get out of bed in the first place. As far as she knew, she was about to be carted back to an orphanage in Nova Scotia, far away from the beautiful rolling hills and streams of Green Gables. If I were Anne I'm not sure I would have willingly left the confines of my bed, let alone my room!  I would probably have held onto the posts of my bed with all my might, crying and begging not to be taken away!
But Anne did no such thing. She arose and took in the beauty that lay outside her windowpane. She got dressed and ate her breakfast. She didn't have anything the world would classify as "meaningful" on her agenda, and she didn't have a great excitement in her day to look forward to. Still, she faced the day with an imagination wide open and heart ready to embrace whatever beauty she might encounter up ahead.
The Lord has made each of our days, whether or not we see beauty in them when our eyes pop open at six in the morning, before the sun has pierced the clouds and the birds have begun to sing their song. On days when the ground is covered in snow or pelted with rain or smiled upon with sun, they are all the Lord's. They are days created for rejoicing and praising His Holy name. In our days He has for us wonders and brilliance that our minds can't yet foresee. When we approach the day with a sense of anticipation and imagination we are free to see the marvelous hand of God at work in the mundane and ordinary.
This morning I had the chance to see the world through the eyes of Anne of Green Gables. After I rose from my bed I made my way down the stairs to the front door to let Pippy outside, as is our morning routine. Upon opening the door I was immediately struck by the brilliance of the falling snow. The world outside my door was sparkling. The snow had coated the whole yard, trees and neighboring houses in a blanket of glitter. The sight was spectacular. It was as if I had been transported out of Erie, Pennsylvania and into a dreamy winter wonderland. The dazzling view didn't even feel real.
If I would have stayed in bed I would have missed the wonder of God's creation on display right outside my door. I wouldn't have seen the glitter or the sparkle. I would have still been in my bed, grumbling about the uselessness of the day ahead, instead of being swept away into a wonderland of wintry delight.
Thank you, Anne of Green Gables, for reminding me that every day is worth waking up for. Every day is worth exploring with wonder and anticipation. Because every day is made by the Lord and for His glory. He has made every morning special, ever afternoon exciting and every evening glorious. Each day is the work of His hand, specially created for His beloved. That alone is enough reason to be thrilled at the opportunity to get out of bed in the morning.


The Stone Inn opened in 1806 in the town of Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. Travelers journeyed through the mountains on treacherous paths all in the hopes of getting a taste of the famous spring waters found in Bedford. The Inn was a resting place for those visiting the spring, a place to enjoy a meal or lodging for the night.  This spring was special, believed to have healing powers first discovered by the Indians inhabiting the area.  Eventually, a local doctor created a retreat for treating illnesses which became known as "The Bedford Cure".
Over time the Inn grew. Improvements and upgrades were made. Buildings were added to the property, creating the sprawling Bedford Springs Resort. As the property was growing so was its significance in American history. It was a getaway for politicians and the "Summer White House" for President Buchanan.  The first transatlantic cable was received at the hotel when Queen Victoria sent the inaugural telegram to President Buchanan in 1858. Over the years seven presidents visited and stayed in the rooms of Bedford Springs.  For the next century the Inn welcomed visitors from all over the world. 
Then, in 1986 the resort closed its doors and turned out its lights. Tastes had changed and the bustle of visitors had died out, leaving the expenses too high and revenue too low to justify staying in business. This historical landmark would be no more. Two years later further destruction took its toll on the abandoned property when the area was ravaged by a flash flood. The once beautiful and luxurious property fell into absolute ruin.
It appeared that the tale of Bedford Springs Resort had come to a close. The property sat empty for twelve years, falling even further into utter disrepair. The walls were falling in, the floors were rotting. The entire building was in a total state of decay.
But in 1998 a group of businessmen bought that decrepit piece of history. They purchased it and did what appeared to be nothing. For six more years Bedford Springs Resort sat, still empty and still abandoned. New names were on the deed but nothing new seemed to be happening from the view on the street. To onlookers, it still looked like a haunted and crumbling mess. 
Then in 2004 something started to happen - something big. Work crews appeared on the scene. Demolition began to take place. An unprecedented renovation effort began to take place. The task was enormous. The financial cost totaled over one hundred and twenty million dollars. 
The new owners' plans were not to completely tear down the old Bedford Springs Resort, they wanted to bring the old landmark back to its days of glory. Their blueprints included a remarkable plan for restoration. All that had decayed and rotted would have to be removed and replaced. Every crevice and corner of the property would be restored to its original beauty. Historians came in to ensure that every detail matched the original architecture and design, remaining historically faithful. Miles of old moulding were carefully removed, sanded, repaired, painted and returned to its proper place. Old pictures depicting the first visitors of the resort were uncovered, restored and beautifully displayed. 
2007 was the grand opening. Bedford Springs Resort reopened its doors to the public, welcoming  travelers to once again bask in the beauty and serenity of the resort's walls. Today the resort stands as a glorious landmark, tucked deep within the hills of Southern Pennsylvania. The property once lost to decay has been brought back to a greater glory than it has ever known. 
Just like Bedford Springs Resort, God longs to perform a remarkable restoration project on His beloved children. Maybe the Bedford Springs Resort restoration was unprecedented when it comes to mortar and brick buildings, but this kind of massive undertaking isn't unprecedented to God. He is the Master Architect of total restoration.
God is skilled at removeing the waste and decay that sin has brought into our lives and replacing it with His glory. The miraculous job of rebuilding is His specialty. He creates the most outstanding blueprints. The plans He has are of splendor and beauty. When we give Him the right to our lives He can come in and perform His powerful work of redemption and restoration.
When I gave my life to Christ I signed over the deed of my life to him.  It is no longer mine. Instead I gave Him control so that He could work out the plan specifically designed for me. The process hasn't always been smooth. Sometimes, just like at Bedford Springs, there has seemed to be nothing going on at all. The work He has been doing hasn't always been visible from the street. But all the while He has been perfecting great plans and moving the right people into the right positions so that the ongoing work of the project can be done with precision and accuracy. 
Bedford Springs Resort wasn't brought out of its decay into all of its grandeur and beauty overnight. The purchase was made, then the real work began. The plans for the building had to be finalized, the old ruin had to be removed before the restored walls, floors, windows, mouldings and lights could be replaced. The finishing touches couldn't be put on until the foundation was secured and the basic necessities installed. The process was long and required great masterly skill.  But today the property is a masterpiece.
God is doing that work in me. As Psalm 23:3 says, "He restores my soul…" He is restoring me to a condition better than I ever was before. He is making me new, a masterpiece that is a tribute to His handiwork. 
As did the Bedford Springs Resort, we have all fallen into a state of ruin. Apart from God we are constantly decaying, wasting away into further ruin. But God longs to purchase us. He wants to take ownership of the wreckage of our lives so that He can restore it according to His plans. When we surrender to His ownership we put our lives into the hands of the greatest Architect. He knows just what walls need to come down, which materials to use and the best seasons to undertake each phase of the project. 
Are you ready to be restored? Sign over your deed to Jesus. Let God start the work. The project will be massive. But at the end of it all a marvelous masterpiece will be revealed. The doors will reopen. Your life will be something extraordinary, better than ever before. God alone can do this work of restoration in His beloved and He longs to do it for you. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A kangaroo chase

I ran as fast as I could, putting my little legs into overdrive. My heart was pounding so loudly within my chest that it drowned out all the sounds around me. All I could think about was running... fast. I had to run fast enough to get away from the German Shepherd that was hot on my trail, chasing me down with a fierce look in his eyes and the threat of attack in his growl. His size was overwhelming and his speed was like lightening. How could I ever outpace such an animal?
I just kept my focus on the path forward, dodging branches and potholes to escape his vicious grasp. There seemed to be no end in sight, no safe haven up ahead. I kept shifting my glance from side to side, searching for somewhere I could escape but there seemed to be no where to hide so I just kept running forward.
Then all of a sudden, for reasons I don't understand, I decided to look back at my aggressor. And that is when the whole scene changed.
What had once been a vicious German Shepherd had turned into an innocently hopping kangaroo. He too was following me but there was no viciousness in his eyes nor growl on his lips. This kangaroo was just jumping along behind me, as if he were just looking for a friend.
My run slowed to a gentle walk. The threat was over. My attacker was just a kangaroo. I could handle a kangaroo.
And then I woke up.

It has been weeks since I've had a single dream. But the kangaroo changed all of that. The chase scene that played out in my sleep last night was as vivid and real as the run I took yesterday through the park. I could feel the anxiety of being chased by that angry dog, the overwhelming terror of having nowhere to hide and no escape route. But then I experienced the calm and relief that came over me like a tidal wave when I realized the dog was gone. In its place was just a fuzzy kangaroo who had no intentions of harming me.
There is an undeniable symbolism in my return to the dream world. In the last week my health predicament has taken a drastic turn. Without any prompting or begging, God gave me a diagnosis for the health issue that has been plaguing me for years. There was no audible voice but there was a clear-cut diagnosis. When the word came down I was overcome by a sense of calm and peace. It was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, a weight I hadn't realized was so cumbersome.
For four years I have lived with the terror of not understanding what was happening in my own body. I was perpetually being chased by something vicious that I couldn't define or outrun. And then, with that word from God, I turned around and the attacker was gone. In its place was something much less harmful and much more manageable. In the place of the terror was just an innocent disorder that I could handle. One simple sentence from God brought my run to a walk and returned my heart's pace to a state of rest. The anxiety was cast off. The terror and fear of the unknown was over. God provided me with an answer and it was far less frightening than what I had been running from all along.
There have been years spent running and my body is certainly worn out. The tension of the unknown has taken more of a toll on my spiritual and physical state then I ever realized before. I never knew how heavy a load I was carrying and how fast I was running. But now that the weight has been lifted and the paced slowed, I see how taxing these past four years have been.
Now it is time to rest. It is time to catch my breath. The vicious dog of my dreams has been chasing my reality for four long years. Little did I know that all the while it was really just an innocent kangaroo. But now I know. God has revealed to me the truth of my health and the real cause of my condition.
God knew who was chasing me all along but before He could show me the truth He needed me to run first. I needed to run so that I would search for Him and seek His safety. Never before had I searched for Him with such intensity and fervor. Then in my most dire of circumstances I ran as hard and fast as I could to find refuge in His arms.
It was when I ran to Him that He could show me the true identity of the attacker. He has turned my head to look behind so I can finally see what has driven me to His side. It was really just an innocent kangaroo all along.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fences of protection

Pippy used to be allowed out in the front yard, footloose and fancy free. Or, in dog terms, uncaged, unfenced and unleashed. That is no longer the case.
In the evenings I used to open the front door and let Pippy wander out front, do her business and blow off a little extra energy before we hit the hay for the night. Most evenings she wandered in the yard without even approaching the street or wandering past the trees that divide our yard from the neighbors. But one night all that changed when a couple walked past with their Jack Russell Terrier in tow. Off went Pippy, running into and down the street, chasing after the dog and his owners.
She went crazy - crazy disobedient! I called her name in my "stern voice" that I put into practice when I mean business. That voice works like a charm, getting Pippy's attention in a moment. But not this time! That little stinker wouldn't come for love nor money. Not even a freshly grilled chicken could have drawn her attention away from the offending walkers on the street.
Finally the woman had to walk up my driveway so that Pippy would follow her away from the street and back toward the house. I apologized profusely. The woman was kind and understanding but I was mortified by the disobedience of my typically well behaved dog.
Well, when Pippy came through the door and ran back into the house I laid down the discipline. I reprimanded her for her terrible doggie behavior. Whenever I discipline Pippy I talk to her like she understands what I'm saying. I get serious. I furrow my brow. I talk slowly and deliberately. Words like "disappointed" get thrown around and phrases like "you know better" are key points in my lecture. I always end with this word of caution: don't you ever do that again!
If Pippy understands my words I'm sure she's thinking, "Yea, right Mom," while rolling her eyes. (I'm quite sure Pippy has a high level of human comprehension.)
After this particular evening incident I decided to no longer gamble on whether or not Pippy would listen in a similar circumstance should it happen again.  Since that night Pippy has lost all freedom in the front yard privileges. She now must stay on the deck and a small patch of grass at the bottom of the deck's steps. The rest of the yard is inaccessible due to the snow.
Pippy is my responsibility to protect and keep safe. I won't take the chance that she might bolt into the street to chase any man, woman or dog walking past. And I can't take the chance that she'll stay away from cars zooming down the road. I need to look out for her. So from now on she is staying in the backyard behind the secure barrier of my home's white picket fence.
Like Pippy, sometimes I need imposed protection, someone to shield me from the dangers of the world. On my own I'm prone to wander like Pippy. I'll go running in a direction that could bring me harm. There are dangers that I don't comprehend, risks all around me that I can't see. There are dangers that Pippy doesn't understand like the concept of a street and large cars with big wheels. I suffer from the same limited perspective and understanding in my own life. There are paths and avenues in life that I don't understand the harm in traveling and exploring.
But God sees. God knows where the hidden dangers lie. He sees the obvious risks that I completely miss. Just as I have to step in and discipline Pippy to keep her safe, God steps in and keeps me safe, too. Sometimes He has to take me out of the front yard and put me behind a fence for the sake of my ultimate protection.
God knows the dangers in the road, so in His love He disciplines me and removes me from the street. At times He has to provide a protective barrier around me so that I don't wander off into danger. He safeguards my heart from evil. He keeps me from calamity and destruction.
I've been known to walk off in the wrong direction, neglecting warning signs and red flags. Still, God has stepped in like a loving Father and imposed restrictions on me so that I can remain in His safe care.
There have been times I've railed against the fences He's imposed. I've wanted to be out in the front yard where there is nothing keeping me from all the world and the road; where I can run as far as I want, as fast as I want. But God sees that limitless freedom isn't always the safest place for me to live. What I see as freedom might actually turn out to be a fast road to my own demise.
God has for me a freedom that will keep me safe and secure in His all-powerful arms. That freedom might be behind a fence, but it is a fence that encloses a garden filled with all the fruits of His spirit. Why would I ever complain when I am surrounded by such glory?
There is no safer place then in the will of God, behind His fence of ultimate refuge and safety.
As I rest in the security of the fence God has built for me I will praise His name with the words of the Psalmnist who wrote in Psalm 121:7-8, "The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore."
Pippy and I both need the correction and obedience that pulls us away from danger and puts our feet solidly on safe ground. For Pippy that means no more evening sniff sessions in the front yard. And for me, that means being pulled back to my childhood home so that I can be physically strengthened and spiritually grown. There is a safety here, behind the walls of His fence, that I wouldn't have chosen on my own. In His infinite wisdom, God knew that I needed to be taken away from the risks of the life I was pursuing. He saw the red flags I missed along the way. In His love He has pulled me back and put me behind the fence so that I can remain under His care, protected and safe. What a wonderful place to be! Right in the middle of God's will, in the glory of His refuge, surrounded by His grace. Thank you, Jesus. 

Haunted no more

The other evening while flipping through the TV channels my eyes came across one of the most disturbing commercials I've ever seen - quite a feat given the amount of filth flashed on screens across America. I'll protect you from the details.
The commercial I'm referring to was promoting an upcoming movie. The movie, the name of which I can't remember, is a horror film featuring, of course, dead people. Isn't that always the premise of every scary movie? You'd think that the public would be sick of seeing the same plot with a changing title played on repeat at the cost of $8.00 a ticket. Maybe people are just going for the popcorn.
But back to the commercial... As I watched the zombie-like woman covered in rags and chains, cast in a variety of gray and black tones, I couldn't help but wonder who would want to take on such a role? Who would want the to play the part of the walking-dead woman who haunts the lives of the living?
Can you picture the day the actress for that role got "the call"? Did she jump at the opportunity to portray this character? Did she immediately phone her Mom and Dad, giddy with excitement, practically screaming, "I got it! I got it! I'm going to be 'walking dead woman #1!"
Mom and Dad must be so proud.
But really, what is the appeal of that dark, evil, sinister role? The costume isn't flattering. In fact the actress probably (hopefully) looks a thousand times better in real life than she does in the film. White, pasty makeup and shadowy lighting usually doesn't do much for the complexion. Even Halle Berry wouldn't look her best under those circumstances.
On top of the not-so-flattering look, the character who haunts her victims rarely says much. She almost never has a big monologue where her acting talent is put on display in all of its glory. She is never the character to get all the laughs, display a keen comedic timing.
The appeal of the role of the haunting zombie is completely lost on me.
I'm sorry to say that there is another kind of haunting role that I know and understand all too well. Just like the zombie woman, this haunting role doesn't have much appeal. It is distressing, bringing with it darkness and negativity. There is nothing attractive about this role, yet I've allowed it to play a staring role in the recesses of my mind.
Its name is guilt.
I have a terrible tendency to hold on to guilt. I've laid guilt on myself for past sins that date back years. The corrupt and sinful behaviors that took place in my years at college in particular have relentlessly plagued me. I am a great one for self-condemnation. The lies, broken promises, promiscuity, corrupt behavior and disobedience that has taken place in my past has filled me with shame. The regret for my sinfulness has weighed heavily on my heart and mind.
Guilt has played a haunting role in my life. The worst part is, I've let it happen. I've offered it the role! Why would I allow such a role to be played in the story of my life? Guilt is nothing but darkness and negativity, haunting its victim with despair and regret that take a toll on the spirit. I wouldn't want to watch a movie with a zombie haunting the living, so why do I let guilt haunt me?
Jesus came so that I wouldn't have to live in this constant state of shame and guilt. He came so that the guilty, like me, could go free. All those who accept His free gift of salvation are no longer condemned. As 1 John 1:9 teaches, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Jesus came to do the job of cleansing the guilty.
Jesus, the perfect Lamb, died in my place. On the cross He bore the nails of my sin. Every lie, every corrupt thought and deed, every disobedient behavior was nailed to the cross. He cried out to His Father, bearing in His flesh pain and torture because I sinned. I did that to Him. I nailed Him to the cross. 
And yet, He rose again. The grave could not keep Him. My sin could not put an end to Him. After He took all of my shame and guilt on His innocent, perfect body He died and then He rose. He triumphed over all that I did wrong and every sin I ever committed or will commit. No sin will ever be too big for Him. He has overcome it already. In His victory He washed me, cleansing me from all my unrighteousness. He renewed my spirit and relieved the haunting memories of past regret and sin. 
By repenting of my sins I am united with Christ in the overcoming of sin. Through Him I am a new creation. I am no longer a creation haunted by my guilt and shame. All guilt has been put to death. Shame has been removed as far from me as the east is from the west. Jesus has paid the price. He has provided for me forgiveness. 

As a new creation, saved by the blood of Christ guilt should no longer play a role in my life. That evil character who haunts thoughts and lies to hearts no longer has a place in my story. I am not a child living under a shadow of shame. I am a child of the Redeemed. I am forgiven and loved and cleansed.
There might appear to be an opening for a new character to enter into the story of my life, a new role to cast. You'd be right. There is a new character and the role has already been filled. Forgiveness is taking center stage, playing a glorious part in the story of my life that is unfolding before my eyes. There is no place for the darkness of guilt and condemnation because forgiveness has come with light and beauty, telling the magnificent story of true redemption.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Want vs. Need

"What are the must-haves on your list?" asks the HGTV House Hunters real estate agent of her new clients. 
"Well, I'd really like to have a big kitchen." replies the home buying wife. 
"A garage would be great. Preferably a two-car garage." says the husband
"And we absolutely cannot live without a double vanity sink in the master bathroom!" they both practically shout in unison. 
"We'll go insane with only one sink." says the husband.
"We'll end up divorced." confirms the wife. 
The real estate agent doesn't appear the least bit phased by this necessity. Her buyer's insistence doesn't rattle her in the least. She's heard this story before.

Want versus need. It is a constant predicament - and not just on house hunting reality shows. What is a want and what do we truly need? Do we truly need our wants? Do we actually want what we need? 
I'm guilty of confusing the meaning of these two simple words. I haven't had to insist on a double vanity yet (Pippy doesn't use a sink so my competition for mirror time is a non-issue in our relationship) but I have insisted on plenty of other "needs" that are really not needs at all. 
For example, my purse collection. My assortment of purses is borderline ridiculous. I have a purse for every season. For some seasons I have multiple purses in varying sizes. I have tote bags galore. I have wristlets and cross-body bags. The styles range from classic Ralph Lauren to cute and girly Fossil prints. Some purses date back ten years while others are new this season. 
I'm sure my purse fetish isn't unique. I'm a girlie-girl and we like our accessories to match our outfits. They complete the look. The wrong purse can throw off an entire outfit. Carry a fall purse in April? Gasp! What a faux pas! I must have the right purse for the right season! 
….You see, there I go, talking myself into a confused logic that twists the true meaning of want and need. Of course when I stop and really think about my purse needs I come back to the truth: I don't need a purse at all. If I didn't have a purse would I cease to exist? No. Would my world come crashing down? No. Would I feel inadequate  because of my lack of female accessories? No, certainly not. My world would go on. In fact, it might be better without a purse. Those bags can get awfully heavy. My shoulder might actually like being purse-less… Geez, maybe I need to rethink this whole purse thing! 
Okay so I think it is established that purses are certainly a want, not a need. We can all agree on that, right?
But the confusion doesn't end at purses, accessories or bathroom sinks. The line between want and need gets blurry in all sorts of circumstances. From material possessions to health to relationships, the word need gets attached to a whole host of desires. It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that if we get whatever we say the "need" is then we will be fulfilled and content. But so often what we perceive to be a need isn't actually necessary. It is a want disguised as a need, tricking us into a false sense of dependence on that particular something or someone. 
The truth is you and I don't really know what we need. Only God knows our true needs. We know what we want - I can attest to that. I'm great at knowing exactly what I want. I'm also well versed in communicating what I want and persuading other people that what I want would be good for me to have - right now! But God is looking down on me in infinite wisdom and He knows all the wants my little imagination has thought up. More importantly, He knows what my spirit and body needs. 
Matthew 6 contains some of my favorite verses in all of the Bible. They are not only a comfort in the midst of anxieties and concerns but they are a constant reminder of God's ability to meet needs. 
In verse twenty five Jesus begins by describing the flowers of the fields and birds of the air, reminding us that they don't worry about their wants or needs. He simply takes care of them. 
Then He goes on to say, "For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (v. 32-33).
I can never be reminded often enough that God knows what my needs are and that He will always take care of them. There is no reason to be anxious that my true needs won't be met. God has in His supply what I need to be sustained and fulfilled. Sometimes that means I wont' get all of the wants on my list. There are instances where what I want opposes what I need. I may want another purse but God might know that I need to learn to be less materialistic. I may think I want to get back to my desired weight but God might know that I need to be in this physical state so I am in a better position to hear His voice. 
When I open Matthew 6 I am reminded that the one aim of my life is to seek God's kingdom. Period. End of story. My job is not to seek after my own wants or perceived needs. God has those already secured and He will provide them as I need them, if I need them. But my role as His child is to seek after Him.  
As Paul closes His letter to the Phillippians He sends them off with this truth and important reminder:  "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (4:19). That is the gracious and merciful God you and I serve. When we seek after His kingdom and His righteousness He will never fail to meet our true needs. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

A jump in the river

It was a crisp fall day when Pippy went insane.
Yes, my loving, sweet, gentle and meek Schnoodle went insane. The craziness was sparked by geese in the park. It all started when Pippy, Mom and I were walking through the park in Chagrin Falls, strolling down the path next to the river. All of a sudden Pippy spotted a flock of geese in the middle of the river.
Before I go any further let me preface the story that follows with these facts: One, Pippy has never jumped in a body of water - ever. Two, she does not particularly enjoy taking baths. Thirdly, she never chases wild animals. And fourthly, she practices the safety tactic known to kindergartners as "stranger danger" any time she comes across an unfamiliar dog.
Now with some background information out of the way let me continue on with the story.
Pippy spotted the geese and took off running towards the river. And then into the river. With a  flying leap she went sailing into the Chagrin River. My heart practically fell out of my chest. I started running toward the river too, mentally preparing to go into dog rescue mode.
It didn't take but a moment to realize that Pippy's dog instincts were solid. She started paddling with all the force her little legs could manage. Her face looked terrified. If she could have spoken I do believe the famous words of Ron Burgundy would have summed up her feelings in that moment: "I immediately regret this decision."
She paddled back to the shore as quickly as she could and climbed out of the dirty water. My once clean, dry, odorless pup, in the blink of an eye, transformed into a dripping wet, smelly, completely crazed animal. She took off running around the park, rolling on the ground and shaking her whole body as if she were doing some kind of dancing jig. She ran with her face in the grass - nature's washcloth. She used the air as her personal blow-dryer.
The scene was too comical for Mom or I to be mad. Sure, Pippy now smelled like a toxic wasteland and looked like a wet mop, but she was having a blast. The smile she displayed as she tore around the park was one of overwhelming joy and pure glee.
Little did she know that a bath was in her not-too-distant future!
But for those moments in the park she was thinking of nothing but running free and rolling in the soft, warm grass. She hadn't managed to retrieve any geese - what she would have done with one even if she reached it in the water, I'm not sure. But she was having a blast and her excitement was contagious.
After her romp around the park it was straight home for a bath. The water in that tub ran brown for what felt like hours but Pippy was a trooper through it all. She waited patiently as I shampooed, rinsed and repeated over and over. Maybe she was too worn out from all the running in the park to put up any kind of fuss. Or maybe she knew that when it was all over she would be smelling like a rose, looking silky and smooth, just begging to be pet.
After her long bath and hair blowing session (done with an electric blow drier this time) Pippy was looking like herself again. Actually, better than herself. When we had left for the park that morning her coat hadn't been this shiny and she hadn't smelled so fragrant! Her jump in the river prompted an intense bathing session that otherwise would have been left for another day. The result was a dog-show ready Pippy!

Today, months after the craziness of Pippy's antics, I can't help but smile when I replay that scene in my mind's eye. Pippy's momentary insanity reminds me a lot of myself. How many times have I had displayed foolish behavior, taking off in directions that appears crazy and nonsensical? I've made mistakes and missteps that have left me saying, "I immediately regret this decision."
And yet God always cleans me up, washes me and leaves me more glorious than I was before. Through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the shedding of His blood on the cross I am cleansed from every moment of insanity, every sin, every foolish endeavor and every terrible mistake. He wipes my slate clean and gives me a fresh start. He shampoos, rinses and repeats. He even conditions, blow-dries and brushes!
No matter how many rivers I jump in or how badly my sins stink, God forgives me. He takes me back into His arms and restores me, making me cleaner than before.

If Pippy has another lapse of judgement resulting in another quick dip in a river or some other dirty body of water, I will still love her when she comes climbing out, all covered in dirt and dripping in foul smelling water. I'll let her get all the craziness out of her system by running around a park, releasing the insanity from within.
And then I will take her home and give her a long bath. I'll use the best shampoo and the sweetest smelling conditioner. I'll brush her and spray her with doggie-perfumes. I'll make her coat shine brighter than it had when she woke up that morning. She'll be fresh and clean. More beautiful than before!
And God will keep cleansing me, too. When I make a mistake He will always be faithful to forgive me and make me new.
I am imperfect and I am prone to sin. But God is the everlasting redeemer who doesn't grow weary of forgiving me. When dirty and messy sinners like you and I come to God in repentance, asking for His glorious washing and renewal He is always ready to give us the bath we so desperately need. In His love, God makes us new, cleansing us from every moment of insanity and every jump in the rivers of life.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Turn the other cheek

Pippy is the best teacher. She doesn't need words, she teaches by example. Today I was back in the life lesson classroom with Pippy, my beloved teacher and dog.  
This afternoon Pippy and I went out on one of our daily walks. Today was cold but windless which made our walk pleasant. It's the wind that really puts a damper on our walks. But today it wasn't the wind that made the walk difficult, it was the plethora of out-of-control dogs we encountered. 
First we came across a stocky black dog that looked to be some sort of lab mix. He was on a walk with a middle-aged woman who was struggling to keep the over-excited dog on his side of the road. He kept tugging on the leash, growling at Pippy. The woman leaned back and put all her weight behind that leash to keep the dog from running in our direction. I picked up the pace to get past the touchy situation as quickly as possible. Pippy didn't miss a beat. Her little legs began prancing at a faster pace.  She wanted away from that dog as badly as it wanted off its leash. We turned the corner and soon were out of ear shot of the growling beast. 
Little did we know that the next encounter was only a few houses away.
The house came up on our right. Both Pippy and I heard all the dogs before we saw them. A grouping of small black and white dogs with fierce barks and sharp teeth came bolting to the street. At first it seemed that they were safely behind invisible fencing. They all were wearing the special collars that immediately put passerbys at ease. But then one dog neglected the shock of the fencing system and bolted onto the street. I do believe he was the fiercest of the pack because he was growing and charging with the most intensity of the bunch. Although he was small he was still bigger than Pippy and much angrier. 
He kept trying to get at Pippy, showing his sharp teeth all the while. Pippy didn't make a sound but she was obviously frightened. I could tell by the slight tugging on the leashing and darting back and forth between my legs to get as far away as possible. I did as much as I could to stop the dog. I stepped in front of Pippy and scolded the attacker. I charged back at him. I yelled at him to go home! (Making quite a scene, I'm sure)
His owner came out and did some hollering. He never left their yard to come after their escapee-attack animal. Finally the dog gave up. I was in its way and his owner was obviously not pleased with his bully-behavior, so the dog turned around and ran home. 
Pippy was relieved. As we walked away she looked up at me with the most precious and innocent eyes I've ever seen. My little dog would never attack a fly. The cruelest thing she does is destroy dog toys, which are meant to be ripped to shreds anyways, right? Poor Pippy, taunted and harassed at no fault of her own. 
And yet she never fought back. She never even let out as much as a lame attempt at a growl. She is just too kind for that kind of behavior. 
Pippy believes in turning the other cheek. 
Pippy practices the Biblical command to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Okay, so dogs probably don't pray. But you get the point! Even under attack, Pippy wouldn't fight back. She doesn't allow the harassment of another dog change who she is or how she behaves. She simply isn't a fighter and even a vicious neighborhood dog can't change that fact. 

In my walk of life there have been instances where I have come across individuals who don't see eye to eye with me. They don't share my beliefs and faith and they've made that point crystal clear. Have I responded with the humility and grace that Pippy displayed today on our walk? Have I always turned the other cheek or have I fired back in my own defense?
Time for some honesty: I have not always put into practice Matthew 5:39. I have not always turned the other cheek. I've thrown up my defenses. When attacked with caustic words, I've been known to fight back. I certainly have not always displayed the meek and mild attitude of Pippy. 
As a Christian I am bound to come under attack from all different angles. The world doesn't like the Gospel and they abuse it at every opportunity. They mock God and all those who submit to his Kingship. Claim Jesus Christ as the Lord of all the earth, the one and only way to eternal salvation and attacks are sure to follow.
But that doesn't give the Christ follower a pass on fighting back. The scripture still holds true. Jesus' command is still the words to live by: "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." (Matthew 5:39).
Pippy put this scripture into practice today as she resisted the evil attackers on our walk. Inside I'm sure she was shaking in her fur, but on the outside she didn't stoop to the level of fighting back. Pippy simply stood in the confidence that I would protect her. She didn't need to fight back. 
When I am tempted to fight against my attackers I can, like Pippy, turn the other cheek, resting in the knowledge that I am under the protection and care of my Heavenly Father. I don't need to be my own fighter. I don't need to throw any punches or come up with some clever come back. God wants me to let Him be the avenger and judge. He will administer justice. 
In the face of persecution, mocking and abuse I am called to be a Pippy. Stand without returning the attack with a punch or a jab. Stand without waging a counterattack. I am simply to stand in the confidence of God, knowing that He will be my shield and protector even in the midst of the most vicious of attacks. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A walk on bay

The Great Lakes are making history. There is more ice on the lakes this winter then there has been in over a decade. 88% of the lakes are covered in ice. I pulled up a special map designed to display ice coverage and was not surprised to find that my great lake, Lake Erie, is completely covered in ice. I could have told you that without a map. If you've lived through the past two months in Erie then you could practically write the map for the National Weather Service. After all, experience is the best teacher and there is no doubt we have experience with ice. 
I've enjoyed the scenes that accompany a frozen lake and bay. In Erie the ice fisherman are out in full swing and even walkers, photographers, ice skaters and ice boaters are all out on the bay enjoying activities that are only offered when thick ice is available. During my runs down at the Peninsula I take in the view of the winter warrior's activities. My favorite groups to watch are the parents and grandparents with their kids who love the thrill of walking on the ice. The surface that is usually freely flowing, lapping up against the shore with gentle waves has turned into a rock solid ice floor that is over a foot thick. 
In all my years of living in Erie I've never walked on the bay in the winter. Even when the ice has been thick enough I've never wanted to venture out onto its surface. I guess I've always been afraid that I'll be that one single unfortunate soul that steps on the solitary patch of thin ice, sending me down into the icy waters below. That possibility has never been worth the risk, in my opinion. So I've always avoided the scenario all together.
Until today.
If the ice is record breaking then I suppose now would be my best shot at exploring the surface of the bay without risking life and limb, right? So today after my run I decided to finally experience the thrill of a walk on the ice. 
Gently and carefully, I stepped out onto the ice. The view was pretty much the same as from the sidewalk but there was an added excitement because I knew that this was not pavement or dirt underneath all the snow. It was a sheet of thick ice with water flowing underneath. 
As I walked along the slippery surface, relying on the traction of the snow to keep me upright, I couldn't help but think of Peter walking on the water to Jesus. In Matthew 14 the familiar story is recounted.
"Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (V. 25-33)
These verses came to mind as I nervously explored the ice. All of the sudden I started to see the Peter in me.
How often have I read this story of Peter and thought, "Come on Peter! Jesus is calling you. Get over your fears and walk out there!" I tell myself that I wouldn't have been afraid. With my have faith I would have been running on that water to get to Jesus!
...But would I really? I was nervous to walk on ice! I was watching little kids run and play on the ice, fisherman pitch tents on the ice, photographers set up tripods on the ice… And I still had this lingering nervousness that I might possible fall into the icy waters. How silly! If my faith in rock solid ice had doubts, what would my level of doubt be if asked to walk on freely flowing water?
As I walked further out onto the ice I repeated those words of Jesus in my mind, "why did you doubt?" Those are words I don't want God to ever have to speak to me. I don't want to be nervous, anxious and fearful. I don't want to hesitate to put my entire, wholehearted faith in God. When He says, "come" I want to be ready and willing to heed the call with every ounce of my being!

My walk continued on but my nerves didn't. As I walked along the bay I realized that I was no longer anxious. My fears about crashing into a freezing pool of water were gone. I was walking with nothing but assurance and confidence that the ice would hold and my steps would be secure. 
It might have been just a small, almost laughable, act of faith but this morning walking on ice was what I had to give to God. That walk was my display of mustard seed sized faith.
Next time God calls me forth I pray that I will cast off any anxieties that tempt to hold me back. Instead I'm going to put on my ice-walking faith that relies on the solid and secure foundation of Jesus Christ.

Snowy circumstances

This winter has been brutal, breaking records for snow accumulation, ice thickness and freezing temperatures. I've taken to calling it the frozen tundra. This is as close to Siberia as I ever want to get. The cold is so intense that it blasts through three layers of clothing rendering even the fuzziest of coats inadequate.
My pets and I have been spending more time indoors than usual. Pippy and I still go for our walks, although I must admit they have become increasingly shorter. Other than those brief expeditions around the neighborhood Pippy is mostly inside. Patches, the overweight cat, hasn't passed over the threshold of the front door in over two months. In fact, she has barely come within five feet of the door. I believe she is trying to make her point crystal clear: I'm not going out there and you can't make me. Point taken. I haven't even attempted to corral her out the door and into the snow globe on the other side. She's old and, in my opinion, cranky. So, let her be - even if that means having to put up with a stinky litter box from December till March (if we're lucky).
Pippy, on the other hand, doesn't have such an aversion to the cold and snow. In fact, sometimes she seems to thoroughly enjoy it. Take, for example, last night. Pippy was prancing around, signally a need for a trip outside. I proceeded to the back door where I let her out so she could wander off the deck and into the yard to do her business. This is our typical evening routine.
After her normal five minutes I went back to the door and called her name. I must admit to a bit of nighttime cold paranoia. What if she freezes out there? What if she gets stuck in a big mound of snow? I can ward off these thoughts for about five minutes before I head to the door to retrieve the Pipster.
Last night I called her name and waited... No sound. I called again. Waited. And heard a little rustling. So I called again and didn't have to wait long because there came Pippy ripping around the corner. She bolted through the back door, stopped on a dime and looked up at me with her signature cocked head. And there it was, a snow covered face that was a dead give away that fun in the snow had just occurred. Pippy was off having a good romp, whooping it up in her own snow covered playground that was previously just a grassy backyard.
That little face looking up at me was one of pure joy. I can just picture what she was doing out there for those five minutes. I'm sure she was sticking her face in the snow, rolling around on her back, jumping up snowy stairs and licking at the wet substance. All the wonders of winter were at her disposal and she was obviously thrilled.
Across the room from the exuberant Pippy sat the ornery Patches. One would spend an hour in the snow if I would let her and the other would claw me to pieces if I tried to expose her paw to temperatures below forty-five degrees. This stark dichotomy put the wheels of my mind into motion. Two pets can take a very different view and opinion of the same circumstances. One sees a reason for celebration while the other wants nothing to do with the festivities.
I guess pets aren't all that different from people. Some people look at this snow and cold and see nothing but misery. Others put on their skis and hit the slopes. One person might loath the months of January, February and March while the other sees beauty and enjoyment in the change of scenery and activities that accompany the falling temperatures and rising snow.
The difference in perspective doesn't just stop at snowy winters. Some people see a hiccup in their plans as the ruination of a day. Another person sees that same hiccup as the chance for a different adventure. One person looks at a past failure and places a heavy burden of guilt on themselves. Another person might take a failure and use it as a learning opportunity. One person might interpret a Valentine's Day without a date as a sign of loneliness and inadequacy. Another person spends that same dateless night making themselves a cup of hot cocoa and watching a funny sitcom, not even remembering it's Valentine's Day at all.
In all circumstances, good or bad, there is always a choice to be made: see the good or sink into a pit with the bad.
Pippy's play time in the snow reminded me that I want to be one of those people that sees the good no matter what the weather. As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances." If Pippy could talk I think she would have been giving abundant thanks last night for the snow and for the frosty air. But she can't talk so instead she just enjoyed the blessing, giving thanks by displaying an undeniable pleasure and joy.
Today when I go out to walk Pippy, which I promise to do even if it is only fifteen degrees outside, I am going to do it with a thankful heart and a joyful spirit. Because I don't want to be a Patches type of person. I don't want to look at every circumstance and weather pattern as a reason for sorrow. I don't' want to grumble and complain when life doesn't go exactly my way. I want to look at every hiccup as an opportunity and every snow fall as God's wonderland. I want to enjoy life with a Pippy attitude that makes even the coldest and snowiest of days a cause for celebration and thanksgiving.

Once again my dear Pippy comes through with another lesson. And the timing is just perfect because once again, it has begun to snow. Looks to me like a good morning for a walk. Ready, Pippy?

Friday, February 14, 2014

New Life

Scripture says that I need to lose my life. 
Before I go any further let me thank Jesus for His full disclosure on this fundamental aspect of faith. He didn't mince words. He was straightforward. No campaign speech, no bait and switch. You want  to follow me? Lose you life. Get rid of it. There is no confusion here. Jesus is clear with His commands. 
So, back to losing my life. 
There are a few different ways to define lose. One is to have something taken away. Personally, I like the definition that puts it this way, "mislay something: to be unable to find something". Jesus wants me to lose my life that I've come to know so that I can never find it again. I have to throw it into a black hole. Let it slip into a great abyss. 
Essentially, I need to let my life become like my Mom's prescription sunglasses, which have ended up in the Bermuda Triangle of lost spectacles on a number of occasions  Somewhere, in the ocean and probably in some land fills, are multiple pairs of tortoise shell sunglasses with horribly scratched lenses. At one time they belonged to my Mom, but now they are lost forever.
After losing my life it is on to step two: follow Jesus so I can find a new life. 

So far I like the sounds of all this. It's a bit exciting. Sort of like a treasure hunt. I'm going to lose one thing that is flawed and eternally separated from Christ and I'm going to suddenly find a new one that is eternal and glorious! Sign me up! 
Oh, but wait a second… How will I find this new life? And when will I find it? How does this work exactly? I give up my old life and then what? Do I instantaneously get a new life that provides me with a new job, some new hobbies and a new group of church friends that get together and play Scrabble every Thursday night? When I trade out my life, do I get a prepackaged, quick-start new life that I can jump right into and enjoy?
Jesus' words in Matthew 10 provide clarity. In verse 39 He tells His disciples, "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." But right before He speaks those words He tells them this: "Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
When read together there is a deeper understanding of just what is required to find this new life. This is a life with a cross, not necessarily a six-figure job. This is a life of persecution, not a life that is guaranteed a thriving social circle. This is a life of humility, not one of fame. This is a life of service and obedient surrender
Jesus carried His cross on His back up the hill of Calvary so that He could be crucified in my place. That wasn't an enjoyable walk. It was painful and grueling. He carried a physical cross that bore not only wood and nails, but the shame, guilt and punishment of the sins of the world. He carried a cross that He didn't do a single thing to deserve. That was the most torturous cross ever placed on a man's back and it has already been carried for me.
And now He is asking that I take up my own cross and follow Him. This cross won't have to be one that leads to a physical death by crucifixion to pay for all my sins. He already took that punishment. My cross is of obedience and surrender, living my life to serve the God who saved me from eternal damnation and separation from glory.

You and I can find our lives in Jesus when we pick up our own cross and follow Him. We have to leave our old life behind. There is no way to balance both our old lives and the cross at the same time. So we have to put down the old life so we can pick up our cross. When we pick up that cross we can start following Jesus. When we follow Jesus we can be led to our new life.

The challenge in following is to not put down the cross; not sit down on a nearby rock for a breather. Jesus' walk up the hill to Calvary reminds me that He didn't stop carrying the cross and neither can I. The One I'm following never took a break, He never lamented that the cross was too heavy to continue on His journey up the hill. Jesus kept walking with that cross on His back in the face of mocking, spitting, flogging and jeers from a crowd who hated Him and relished His slow and painful demise.
I have no excuse to put down my cross when I'm following Jesus. No matter how difficult and heavy that cross may be, no matter what the conditions, I must continue forward, following Jesus to the life He has for me.

Jesus will lead you and me to a life that is far better than the old one we had to lose when we picked up that cross. Will this life be easy? Heavens no! But far, far better! Because the life Jesus has leads to an eternal relationship with our heavenly Father. God longs to invade our lives and He can do it right now if we will surrender our old lives and take up the cross of His Son.
There is a glorious life to be found and it is in the cross of Jesus. So I am going to throw off my old self, pick up my cross and follow Him into that magnificent new life.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dear Daughter

Dear daughter,
I see that you have a deep craving. There is something in you that yearns to be satisfied and fulfillment. You are antsy and restless.
The world certainly provides you with a variety of options to try out. Your choices are many, displayed with flashy advertising and clever campaigns. They all claim that what they have to offer will be the magic "something" you have long searched for. Just take your pick: entertainment, money, social gatherings, dating, looks, the latest car or an exotic vacation… The world has a plethora of possibilities. You can try every one of them if you so desire. You can try out one today and another tomorrow.
But will you ever be truly satisfied?
What this world has to offer you will never fill you up because you are not of this world. You are mine. You are my child. In you I have put a void in which only I can fill. You have cravings that only I can satisfy. This world can and never will be able to meet that need. I placed it in you and I alone can fill it. But do not despair because I am here, present and active. I have given you life and I have given you all you need to live it to the fullest.
I can satisfy your cravings. There is no need for you to ever go hungry. I have more than enough to fill you to the overflowing. I have set before you a feast in which you can freely partake : my Word.
This Word is written and given for your benefit and for your fulfillment. Delight in it. Soak in its presence and let it quench your thirst.
Are you restless, is your heart fidgeting within you? Come to my word and find peace for your soul. Are you adrift? Have you lost your way or stumbled on the path? Open my Word once again and reclaim my truths. Are you downtrodden, feeling stuck in the mire of life? My Word has the story of victory and joy that is yours in Jesus Christ.
You may find yourself at a place in life where nothing seems to be happening. You are hungry for some excitement or thrill. Despite the lights and displays of this world believe me when I tell you that it has nothing to offer you that will do anything but give you a temporary fix. All of the glitter and sparkle will fad and every high will fall flat. The world is temporal.
What I have is everlasting. My Word is eternal, it is a light for your path and true delight for your soul. No matter where you are in life, My Word can provide what you have been desperately seeking. All you need to do is come and sit at the table and feast on what I have prepared for you. My table has been lavishly set with the truth of my love, joy, grace, peace and mercy and I am asking you to join me in partaking of the magnificent spread I have to offer. Only I can give you this true nourishment that will give you lasting contentment for your soul. Come, dear one, and delight in my Word and be truly satisfied.
                                            Father God

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Faith in the footnotes

Of all the translations of the Bible, the NIV is my favorite. Some people prefer to read from the NKJ or ESV or even the contemporary translation, The Message, but for me, I turn to the NIV. Particularly, my NIV Study Bible with Jesus' words in red, a lime green and baby blue leather cover and brown silk ribbon book marker. This beautiful Bible is marked with the bright yellow of a highlighter, underlined words and scribbled notes in the margins. It is my morning companion who joins me for breakfast.
This particular Bible has been a fundamental part of my interaction with God. Not only does it provide the very word of God but this Bible provides footnotes. I love the footnotes. When I don't understand a scripture or want to gain more insight into a verse I've read a hundred times I turn to the little notes at the bottom of the page and my eyes are further opened and my understanding deepened.
This morning as I read through Romans 4 I realized that I was merely skimming the words, not really feasting on the glory of the message. Then I remembered the footnotes.
The note for verse nineteen of chapter four brought me back to truly soaking in the goodness of God. In referring to Abraham and God's promise to him that he would be the father of many nations, Romans 4:19 says, "Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead - since he was about a hundred years old - and that Sarah's womb was also dead." This is a familiar passage but the footnote that accompanied it made me take pause and look at Romans 4:19 as if seeing it for the first time. The NIV study Bible says about this verse, "Faith does not refuse to face reality but looks beyond all difficulties to God and his promises."
Faith isn't foolish. Faith doesn't deny reality. But faith is bigger than reality. What a beautiful truth! Reality might look overwhelming but faith is more powerful than our realities. God gave Abraham a promise, He gave him His word, and Abraham stood on God's word in the face of reality. He was far too old to have kids. So was Sarah, his wife. Still, God's promises trumped all of those technicalities. Reality, "fact", said that children were no longer possible for Abraham. God said you will be the father of many nations no matter what your age may say about you. Abraham choose to put his faith in God.
Our realities and difficulties exist but God can overcome them with His power, bringing glory to His name. When Abraham fathered Isaac there was no one but God who could get the credit. Fact and reason said Abraham would never have a child with Sarah. But God's promise was bigger than human reason and proved utterly faithful. In His time, God brought forth a son to Abraham because Abraham put His faith in God and trusted that God's word was true.
Even when you and I stand in the midst of difficulty or a trying circumstance we can look past the realities of our lives and look to the God who is faithful, knowing that He is bigger than the facts. The design and plans He has for you and I can't be thwarted by age, health, money or any human reason. When our faith is in God there is no fact on earth that can stop His will from being done. He will overcome all logic and every reality so that He can reign all-powerful and mighty over our circumstances.
Abraham had to wait a long time to see the fulfillment of the promise God made to him. But he didn't lose faith. He saw the impossibility of the promise and the stark reality of his circumstances, yet he put his faith in God. The promise wasn't delivered on his time table, but because he was faithful it was delivered in God's perfect timing. All the glory for the birth of Abraham's son Isaac went to the ultimate keeper of promises and the faithful fulfiller of His word, the Lord our God.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Change my heart, oh God

The lyrics are simple and easy to remember. Maybe that's why my childhood pastor loved to have the congregation sing the song "Change My Heart, Oh God" at the end of practically every Sunday service. At the time I must admit I was sick of singing the refrain. After every sermon I would internally roll my eyes, "Here it comes…again!" I would think. Sure enough, the piano would play those familiar opening chords before the congregation joined in with the words, "Change my heart, Oh God. Make it ever true. Change my heart, Oh God. May I be like you…. You are the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, this is what I pray…"
The melody is flowing and smooth, with the rhythm of a lullaby. The tune lends itself perfectly to a prayer but in my younger years I didn't appreciate the beauty of the song. I merely focused on how often I heard it and what I perceived as a lack of original thought. Why wouldn't our pastor choose a different salvation message chorus to conclude the service every now and again? "Change My Heart, Oh God" is a nice song but there are many wonderfully composed choruses and hymns that we could sing on occasion. Mix things up a bit; keep the congregation on its toes. That was my thinking.
My mind was so fixated on the routine of the song that I missed the profound message found in the lyrics I was singing. Now, when I read those simple words, I am stunned by their substantial meaning.
"Change my heart"…Had I realized what I was singing all those years? The words were never, "change my circumstances," "change that person's attitude," "change the trials" or "change the world." No, the words cried out for a change in ME. Dramatically alter, reconfigure, redesign, transform who I am, Lord.
I sat in the midst of a congregation of Christian believers for my whole childhood and teenage years singing that song almost every Sunday and yet I never stopped to think about the gravity of the words I sang. The words that passed through my lips asked God to turn me upside down, inside out. I wasn't asking for anything around me to change, only me.
The prayers I have prayed on my own, far removed from the chords of "Change My Heart, Oh God" haven't always reflected that same desire. I have often prayed for the changed behavior of those around me. I have prayed that I would be delivered from my difficulty and pain. I've prayed for blessings and asked God to do X, Y, and Z in my life and in that order. But how often have I prayed solely for my own heart to be changed? How often have I simply asked God to change who I am so that I look more like Him?
Maybe my pastor knew something I didn't understand. All those years he choose to sing that simple chorus over and over, could it be that he knew all those who sang the words weren't really getting the message just yet? We needed to hear it repeated a hundred times and maybe that wouldn't even be enough. The message he was trying to impart to us, the truth he was trying to reveal, was that God doesn't want us to be concerned with our circumstances. God wants us to be concerned about the condition of our hearts. He wants us to be begging for our souls to be transformed by the work of God.
My life might look exactly the same tomorrow as it does today. That's okay by me. What won't be okay is if tomorrow my heart looks the same as it does today. Every day I want to be further molded and sculpted to the image of Christ. I don't want my heart to go a day unchanged. I want the work of the potter to be active in my life each and every day.
The heart is where God can do His most masterful work on you and I, His cherished works of art. He can change our perspective on our circumstances by changing the condition of our heart. Our entire lives can be transformed when we earnestly seek to have our hearts invaded by Jesus Christ, submitting to the molding and shaping He has in store for His beloved creation.
I want to sing with sincerity the words that were once nothing more than a Sunday routine. I want to lay myself down at the feet of the cross, desiring for nothing but a changed heart. Let my circumstances remain but not my heart. God, I want a changed heart, made ever true. Please, change my heart, Oh God, so that I may be like you.