Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fearless flying

Boarding time was coming to a close so I filed into the dwindling line to enter the jet-way leading to the airplane. I made my way down the ramp and onto the packed Boeing. Glancing at my ticket I found my seat number and proceeded to the very back of the plane. It figures that when you buy your ticket three days in advance you end up in the seat right next to the bathroom. Good thing this flight is only an hour long, I thought to myself
I took my seat and, like a dutiful passenger, stored my bags securely in the overhead compartment. I pulled my book from my purse and then pushed the rest of its contents tightly under the seat in front of me. With my seat-belt fastened and chair in an upright position I was all ready for takeoff. 
As I got comfortable I noticed a woman to my right just a row ahead of me. Although her chair was in its proper position and all her personal belongings were stowed she was certainly not ready for takeoff. Not mentally, that is. She looked spooked. Her hands were fidgeting. Anxieties were written all over her face. This woman was clearly suffering from Pteromerhanophobia. Also known as the fear of flying. For her sake, I hoped for a smooth take off and turbulence-free ride.
When the plane's wheels left the ground it seemed as though we were in for smooth skies. The plane took off with ease and minimal time spent lingering on the runway. 
But then we hit a bumpand then another. The plane shook and swayed. My eyes immediately shifted to the nervous woman to my right, one row up. Sure enough, she looked terrified. Her hands were gripping the arm rests of her chair so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. She laid her head back on her seat and was breathing deeply, trying to calm herself. With every bump, bounce and shift the frightened woman cringed and tensed even further.
In a few minutes that I'm sure felt like hours to the tense traveler, the airplane leveled out and the ride once again became smooth and steady. The pilot came over the PA system and assured his passengers that we had just experienced a little bit of turbulence but that it appeared we were in for clear skies for the remainder of our trip. We were told to keep our belts securely fastened though, just in case.
The fearful woman seemed to relax just a bit. The voice of the pilot appeared to have given her a comfort and assurance that all was well and that the plane was not just a blink of an eye away from falling from the sky. She just needed to hear that she was safe and that the pilot had it all under control.

Like that anxious passenger, sometimes I need to hear that all is well and that I am safe and secure in the arms of my Almighty Pilot, God. When life looks bumpy and unstable I long for Him to come over the PA system and say, "I am in control of this. We will get to the destination safely. Just keep your seat-belt fastened."
Sometimes I get a fear of flying on God's plane. Although I know He is the perfect Pilot who never loses control of the plane, sometimes I get anxious when the skies don't seem to be just right. The low level clouds and thunder in the distance cause my nerves to act up.
"Are we about to fly into that storm?... Won't that be bumpy?... I'd rather fly in the other direction, away from the turbulent skies." I think to myself. But the way of the cloudless skies isn't always the direction on God's flight path. Sometimes to get where He wants me to be I have to travel through  the shaking and shifting of a storm in order to get to my final destination.
It is in those times of turbulence that I need to reach for the promises of God, my Pilot. I need the reassurance found in the words of Isaiah 41:10. "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." No matter how fierce the storm or how dark the skies, God will uphold me through it all. He will see that the flight path He has me on won't be disrupted by even the roughest turbulence. He has the path of life in His hands and He has the destination in His sights. Nothing can thwart His plans. 

While flying with God there are times when fears will threaten to keep you and I gripping our seat for dear life. Take heart, God has not abandoned the controls and He cannot be overcome by the winds that buffet your plane. He is in control of it all. He will see His children through to their ultimate destination. There is no storm that can throw off God's will, disrupt His route or ground His plane. He is the over-comer of the storms and the mighty Pilot. So take your seat with comfort and peace because God is behind the controls. There is no reason to fear. 

Never alone

In seventh grade I didn't have many friends at school. In fact, I had so few friends that sometimes I didn't have anyone to sit with at lunch, no one to talk to while munching on my PB&J. Of course I didn't want to sit in the cafeteria all alone! I was far too embarrassed to be seen without a lunch buddy. So I would eat my lunch back in the teacher's classroom and help her correct papers, away from the on-looking eyes of my peers.
As I grew up I found lunch companionship and the seats around my lunch table were filled with friendly faces. Still, I will never forget those lonely days in middle school when I felt unwanted and abandoned. No one wants to eat lunch alone. Everyone wants a friend. Everyone wants a companion who they can talk to and laugh with.
Have you ever felt like I did, alone and without a friend in the world?
Can I let you in on a little secret?
You aren't alone.
Even if your lunch table is completely empty and you are digging into the contents of your brown bag amid a grouping of friendless chairs, you do have a companion that longs to chat with you. His name is Jesus.
Jesus is always near to us and we can talk to Him anytime, anywhere. He longs to communicate with us because He loves us! When we call on His name and pray, our God in Heaven hears us and listens to all we have to say. Psalm 145:18 actually tells us that, "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth." You and I can have the presence of the Lord with us when we pray to Him, calling on His name. Isn't that a wonderful promise? Jesus can enter into our cafeteria at school, bedroom at home, sanctuary at church or anywhere that we call on His name!
How can we experience this presence of God? By coming to Him in prayer and asking Him to be our constant companion. Matthew 7:7 promises that by praying to God and seeking His company we are sure to have the door opened for us. The scripture says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." When we pray to God and ask Him to take a seat with us at lunch He will always come and pull up a chair.
You and I, God's beloved children, have a friend who never fails us. We always have someone to talk to who longs to hear our voice and listen to our prayers and praise. We don't need to be in a big crowd or seated at a table full of people to have a faithful friend. We have a unchanging, reliable, constant companion. His name is Jesus and He is only a prayer away.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Give, give, give

What is the secret to a happy marriage?
Where to begin, right?
Well, you could start with someone who has been married for a long time. Seventy-three years qualifies as long, wouldn't you agree? In fact, it deserves a word more expressive than long. Seventy-three years of marriage is worthy of a word not even in the dictionary yet. Someone needs to come up with one. I'll start working on that but until then I'll just read up on Barbara "Cutie" Cooper's advice about marriage.

Harry and Barbara met in Los Angeles in the 1930's. They married and the rest is history. Seventy-three years worth, to be exact. They lived in LA, raised a family and became an internet sensation thanks to their blog "The Original Grandparents" or "The OGs." Thanks to their grandchildren, the legacy of "PopPop" and "Cutie" and their marriage advice will live on, complete with their own theme song. 
The blog that once featured the married couple became a solo endeavor in 2010 when Harry passed away. Cutie continued to write on and even penned a book with the help of her family. In it she shares funny stories, observations about life and, of course, marriage advice. She covers topics like greeting one another to making time for love. My favorite piece of advice has to be this simple little nugget, "give, give, give."
Cutie tells her interviewer that often times people rely on the emotion of love to keep them going. They focus on, "love, love, love." But Cutie has a different perspective. "It's about give, give, give," she says.
Isn't that true of all of our relationships? Love is a beautiful emotion but without the giving it tends to fall flat. I can claim that I have love but if I don't give then my love is nothing more than empty words, sure to disappoint. 
I'm not married, not even expecting a phone call for a first date anytime soon, but I can learn a thing or two from Cutie. Her advice is relevant for the married, single, old and young. Love is more than an emotion, it is an action. To practice love requires the practice of giving. 

Jesus was the living, breathing picture of this principle. Because of His great love He gave up His very life on a cross.  John 3:16 says, "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us." That is love. Jesus didn't just say that He loved us, He showed it with the ultimate sacrifice, His very body. He gave everything to save those He loves. 
As a Christ follower, I too must love in more than simple words. As the saying goes, "talk is cheap." As 1 John 3:18 says, "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." I can talk all day long but if I never give then my words are meaningless. Worse off, they can be hypocritical, giving rise to a false testimony and tarnished witness.
Giving out of the depths of love isn't just for those whose names are stamped on a marriage certificate. It is for anyone and everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Giving is essential. Not only am I to give in obedience to God's word but giving is the secret to healthy relationships. Just ask Cutie.
Whether or not I ever marry, I want to have thriving relationships with my family, friends, church congregation, grocery store clerk or even the next stranger I cross paths with walking out of this Panera Bread today. I can accomplish that by giving out of the love of Christ. Not by my own love which is conditional, weak and unreliable but out of Jesus Christ's unfailing love that can be mine to share when I invite the Holy Spirit to come in and invade my heart. By the indwelling of Christ I will be a true lover who gives, not simply a lover by word alone. I will show my love by following the advice of Cutie and the example of Christ: "give, give, give."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Breath of God

My dear Child,

I sustain you….
I uphold you….
I protect you….
I invigorate you….
I make your paths straight….
I save you from your enemies….
I lift your spirit….
I give you peace….
I restore your body….
I repair your brokenness….
I carry you….
I comfort you…
I defend you….
I am your energizer...your strength…your lifeblood….

Beloved, apart from Me you can do nothing. All of your efforts will be as worthless as chasing the wind. You will run and run, growing faint and weak, never to obtain your desire. 
With Me you will never run a step in vain. You will sprint with great force yet your breath will not fail you. You will run up mountains and through storms and still your feet will remain steady and strong because no matter the obstacles or conditions, I will be your life-force.
When you run under the shadow of my wings you run on the power of my mighty strength. I will oversee your every stride. Before you reach the finish line, I will declare your victory because I have already won the race. I have traveled the same path, overcome the same challenges and risen above them all. When you run on my power you run with my great triumph in your feet. When you call on the breath of God you run with limitless endurance and stamina. 
Let me be your sustainer and your strong tower and you will not be overtaken. You will be justified. You will be victorious through the power of my grace, love and mercy.
Call on me to be your Lifeblood. Call on My breath to invigorate you to your very core. With Me you can do all things. With Me you will win the race with a lightness in your step and a joy in your heart. Just call on the breath of God. 

Almighty God

Monday, March 24, 2014

Perfectly made plans

Robert Burns had it right when he wrote back in 1785, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men, 
gang aft agley," or, as you and I have probably heard it said, "The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry." Those words were as true in 1785 as they are today.
His poem's wisdom didn't stop there, although that one solitary line is the most famous and quoted. The original poem goes on to say (in the modern day translation, I'll spare you the language of the eighteenth century), "And leave us nothing but grief and pain instead of promised joy!" 
Can you say, "Preach it, Burns!" I sure can!
I can sympathize with the cry of his poem because I have seen my own plans go oft awry. I've seen my plans fail and dissolve into nothing more than a memory of good intentions. In all of my planning and plotting I have become so caught up and invested in the schemes I am formulating that I have lost sight of how, in a moment, those plans can go wildly off course. 
Looking back on the plans I have made I am left shaking my head  in regret, turning red in the cheeks over my foolishness. I have thrown my entire being into designing the best of plans. I've written out blueprints in my mind, calculated twists and turns and come up with fanciful ideas. I have gotten so wrapped up in the foresight that I've lost my foundation in the here and now, carried away down paths of plans. 
Then the present reality hits with a force I could never anticipate. My plans fail. A monkey-wrench gets thrown into my carefully designed diagram of my future. It may feel like sabotage or just good intentions gone terribly wrong. Either way, the result is the same. All my ideas that I have planned and plotted go up in flames, lost in a cloud of smoke and consumed by raging fire. 
I've seen this scenario play out too many times. The sting of lose is acute and sharp. As Burns wrote, there is pain endured as a result of all those plans gone bad. The joy that I had in the planning is replaced with misery and grief. 

Slowly, very slowly, I am beginning to learn a vital lesson from my own personal tale of the mouse and failed plans: don't hold on to plans too tightly. 
Plans are just that, plans. They are an idea for the future but they aren't the present reality. They are very much subject to change. In a moment, without any notice, all of those plans can be turned on their head. Life can suddenly and unexpectedly throw a curve ball that knocks even the best made plans right out of the way, down a hill and into a ditch. So long plans! So long calculations, blueprints and designs! And hello to a whole new reality. Probably one that you and I didn't plan for and hardly know how to handle.
When I am holding onto my plans for dear life I become devastated when they are dissolved. My joy goes up in smoke right along with all of the designs I had in mind. Grief and pain replace my excitement and happiness. But this isn't how God intends for me to live. He doesn't want me to be so attached to the plans I've devised that I become dependent on them for my contentment. Instead, He wants me to find true joy and peace in the plans He has for me. After all, they are better then anything I could ever devise. 
Jeremiah 29:11 says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
There is no denying the scriptures. God's plans aren't necessarily my plans. I must remind myself when that Jeremiah 29:11 doesn't say, "I have the same plans you have!" or "I'm going to let you make your own plans and I'll ensure they go according to your design! Just give me the blueprint." That is not at all the promise of God. 
God says that He has plans for me. They are plans that will give me hope and a future but they won't necessarily be my plans. In fact, it is probably better that they aren't my plans! Quite frankly, my plans are flawed. Even my best plans aren't half as wonderful as God's. This truth should leave me desiring His plans and not my own. I should be holding tightly to the promise of His plans instead of clinging for dear life to my own ideas for the future. 
When I plot and plan, no matter how detail-oriented they may be or how carefully I lay out each step and thought, those plans will fail if they are not God's plans. When they fail how will I respond? Will I be filled with pain and grief? If so I probably was far too invested in them and far less invested in God's will for my life. 
Or will I continue to be joyful and content? 
When I cling to the promise of God, that He has marvelous plans for my life and a great hope for my future, there is not a single failed plan of my own invention that can get in the way of my joy. My joy won't be contingent on my own ideas. My joy will be rooted in the promises of God and the truth of His word. 
The great privilege of being a child of God is that, no matter how many well made plans fail us, we are not reliant on their success to have a bright future. Our futures lie in the hands of God. He alone makes the perfect plans and sees them through to fruition. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The upper room

Evenings in the cozy warm abode I call home have been experiencing a new animal addition as of late. Her name is Truffles.
Noelle, my oldest niece, adopted her beloved dachshund about two years ago. Truffles is just what you'd imagine when you think "weiner dog." She is chocolate brown, a little plump and has a comical running style that is a mix of waddle and trot. Truffles is deeply attached to Noelle and takes her role of protector dog very seriously. She barks at passerbys and chases young boys. Anyone who might possibly come near one of her family members is fair game to be bombarded with a barrage of woofs.
Truffles is also Pippy's best friend. The two are cousins by….marriage? I'm not sure of the proper terminology for a dog's family tree. Nevertheless, Pippy and Truffles are best buds. Whenever Truffles comes over the two dogs exhaust themselves by running around the house, chasing after toys and each other, jumping up and down off of couches and wrestling on Pippy's dog bed (which she graciously shares with her BFF). But more than any other activity, Truffles favorite pastime at my house is to pester the eldest of animals under our roof, Patches, the big fat cat.
In her own home Truffles doesn't have a cat to sniff and investigate so she must feed all of  her curiosities when she as at my house where she has the mother of all cats to put her nose all over. Truffles relishes this opportunity.
Case in point, Thursday night. From the moment Truffles came barreling through the door she was all over the cat, literally. She was sniggering(?) her from head to toe. Maybe Patches had a new and tantalizing smell that was a feast for Truffles' nose. I can't explain the extreme curiosity, all I know is that Patches wasn't too thrilled. In fact, she seemed downright peeved. She just sat there and meowed. I wanted to tell her to go run up the stairs, find a cozy bed and go to sleep away from the intruding nose of this silly dog. But Patches is getting old and senile. Maybe she forgot that she has the ability to escape the bombardment. Or maybe she is sick of having to hide. Either way, she stayed put and let the sniff-fest continue as she aired her dissatisfaction with incessant meowing.
As the night wore on I was in and out of the room where the animal activity was on full display. I had gone to clean my room, do some laundry and write. When I came back down the stairs and rounded the corner into the kitchen I saw the most unusual sight. Patches was sitting on the small kids activity table that takes a prominent spot in my home's kitchen. On the floor stood Pippy and Truffles, looking up at the oversized feline relaxing in sniff-free peace. The cat had won. The dogs were perplexed.
How Patches managed to lift her oversized body up off the ground and onto the top of a table I will never know. All I can say is, where there's a will there's a way. Patches certainly had the will. It sounded something like this, "Get me away from this annoying dog." Somehow she came up with a way to remedy the situation.
For the rest of the evening Patches laid comfortably atop that table. Not one of us had the heart shoo her off. That poor cat had put up with enough for one evening. We all agreed to let her stay out of reach of the rambunctious dogs and simply sanitize the table later.
What Patches needed at that moment was a break from the chaos of life on the floor. She had put up with the antics of her dog companions long enough and she simply needed to get away. The table provided her an escape and a measure of serenity. Patches may be old and in desperate need of a diet, but she is far wiser than I had suspected.
Sometimes, like Patches, we all need to take a step away from the hustle and bustle of life. We may not have a dachshund sniffing us, but there may be plenty of other unwanted intruders that are bombarding our rest and causing our heart to lose its peace.
Watching Patches, I was reminded of the upper room referred to in Acts chapter one. After a day's journey back from the city the apostles and a number of women, including Jesus' mother, went into the upper room of the home they were staying. They separated themselves from the world so they could communicate with God in peace. In the upper room, away from the comings and goings of the world below, "They all joined together constantly in prayer…" (v. 14).
The apostles needed to be away from the noise and the demands of the world so that they could tune into the will of God. Their prayers were for guidance and direction in the matter of who among them should be nominated as another apostle. They needed to step away from distraction so they could hear the commands of God, have peace about their decision and walk in obedience. 
They needed to jump up on a table and get away from all the chaos of the world below. They needed to pull a Patches. 
There are times that I need to find refuge in my own upper room, my own kid's activity table. To hear God clearly might require that I shut off the noise of the radio and TV and temporary retreat from the people around me so that all of my attentions are entirely focused on God. It is in my upper room that He can speak to me directly and I can know that I am hearing Him and not the whisperings of the voice sitting at the next table or the background buzz of the news reports playing on repeat. I want to hear the direction of the Lord, not the distraction of the world. So sometimes I need to step away from the chaos that surrounds me so that I can take hold of the peace of God.
That evening, the one where Patches was in desperate need of an upper room, she remained on that table top for at least an hour, maybe even two. She didn't come down until Truffles had left the house and was well out of the driveway. Then Patches hoped off the table and laid back down on the rug. She had found the refuge she so desired and now she could come back down off of her perch and remain in peace.
When I am losing my peace and in desperate need of a rest I hope I put into practice the wisdom displayed by my pet cat. Go to an upper room; seek the company of God; find serenity in communing with the Holy Spirit. In His presence I can find a resting place for my head and a peaceful calm for my heart. In my upper room, prayerfully coming before God, I will claim the truth of Isaiah 32:18 that says, "My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

There is a season

Spring will come….
Spring will come….
I am absolutely certain that spring will indeed come!…

I keep repeating this truth to myself. I need the reminder after this long winter that the freezing temperatures will end and the sun will break through the blanket of grey that has enveloped the sky for months on end. I will get to pack away my boots and store my winter coats. I will once again enjoy open windows, inviting a warm breeze to blow through the house while enjoying the melodious songs of the birds perched in their blooming trees. Spring will come again.
But then I look down at my car's thermometer and see that little snowflake flashing its bright white light, reminding me that it is still thirty degrees. It is late March and I'm still wearing my winter coat with the furry hood and my hands still feel like ice cubes despite wearing my thick alpaca gloves. I know that spring will come but it definitely has not sprung yet.
Despite freezing hands I hold onto the promise of the changing seasons. For twenty-three years I have experienced an annual spring. It has always come right after winter. Sometimes it comes in late February (Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog, does not see his shadow!) and other years it has remained hidden until mid-April (Phil sees the biggest shadow ever!). The month and date hasn't remained constant but regardless of the unpredictability of its arrival, spring has always sprung.
This year will be no different. Flowers will once again bloom, grass will burst forth in vibrant green color and the temperature will break out of its arctic deep freeze.
God has promised to keep changing the seasons since the beginning of time, from all the way back in Genesis. God has planned for the seasons and knows precisely when they will arrive. Daniel 2:21 even says that He, God, "changes the times and the seasons." He is the master planner, knowing when to put a stop to the snows and blustering winds and when to introduce the song bird and the buds of the tulip. His masterful hand is on the seasons, always bringing forth a glorious spring no matter how harsh the winter.
God does the same work of change and rebirth in the lives of His children. Even after the most brutal trial and struggle God has a spring to unleash in perfect timing. As Ecclesiastics 3:1 says, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."
Just like the weather, I don't get to determine when God will change the seasons of my life. I would love to have every winter end in the first week of February, giving way to the brilliance of spring sooner rather than later. But God doesn't always give me spring precisely when I want it. In fact, sometimes it seems as though the wait will never cease. But experience has proven that there is always an end to my great anticipation. Spring always comes.
When I am tempted to grow weary in waiting for the change of seasons in my own life, changes that have nothing to do with temperature or the colors on the trees, I can look to the seasons for reassurance. God will not leave me in a perpetual state of winter. The dreary, bleak days of cold and wind will not go on forever. In God's perfect timing the seasons will change and my winter will gave way to spring.

This morning I heard a bird outside my window. Do you know what that means? Spring is coming. The winter has been long but God's faithfulness has not wavered. He is still God of the earth and God of the birds, bringing them back for their annual grand entrance.
God is changing the seasons of my life, too. Soon my life will be blooming with bountiful tulips in brilliant color. There will be new leaves on once bare trees and birds will be back in full song. Just as He promised, God is once again changing the seasons.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Roses have thorns

Roses have thorns. This isn't an earth shaking revelation. Certainly any gardener who has ever picked up a pair of pruning shears is well aware of the fact that roses have some serious spikes protruding from their stems. But when you look at a picture or drawing of a delicate rose with its soft petals and brilliant color it's easy to forget that right beneath those dainty buds and blooms on the top of the flower there's a not so sweet surprise just waiting to poke the unsuspecting hand. All of those pictures are so deceiving, the soft focus on the blossoms, rarely exposing the presence of the thorns. Yet, you and I know the truth. The rose, no matter how gorgeous...well, it does indeed have thorns.
With the coming spring, I began this morning thinking about roses. My heart skipped a beat when I visualized the beauty that awaits those of us who have been tucked away in our winter state of hibernation. Right around the corner we will behold the leaves on trees start to take shape, shades of green popping up seemingly overnight. Soon we will wake up to the sound of birds singing, sweeping into our homes through the open windows. And before too long we will be greeted with the pinks, reds, oranges and yellows of the blossoming flowers. Bulbs, hidden in the cold earth, will once again begin to show their friendly faces just in time for Easter. 
And the roses will be here before you know it. The trellis framing the gate of my white picket fence will be abounding in plentiful rose buds. The sweet fragrance of God's creation will waft across the front lawn, providing a feast for the nose as well as the eyes. Is there anything more brilliant and hopeful than the first sight of a rose after a long, dreary winter?
But, dear Reader, in all your excitement over the budding bushes and blossoming flowers, don't forget to watch out for the thorns. The long winter might cause you and I to forget that beneath the beauty of the bud is a pesky little terror just waiting to cause a cut and a sting. The thorn lies underneath.
I can't help but wonder why would God cause such a beautiful creation to be attached to something so bothersome? For all the charm of a rose, why ruin it with an array of daggers protruding from the stem - the very part of the rose our hands could hold without disturbing the intricate blanket of perfectly placed petals?
Thankfully I didn't create the rose. For if I had then I wouldn't have made it with thorns and therefore, the rose would have never survived long enough for you and I to enjoy its beauty. God, in His abundant knowledge and understanding, knew that when He created the rose He had to give it thorns for its own protection. The purpose of the thorn is to detract predators. Animals don't like to eat thorns, just like you and I don't like to touch them, so hungry wildlife choose not to feast on the luscious blossoms of the rose. The sharp prickers on the stem are God's built-in security system for the precious petals. You and I get to enjoy the brilliant color and delicate design of the rose because God has protected it with the thorny stem below. 
The handiwork of God is miraculous, isn't it? He is limitless in His understanding, even His understanding of botany and the appetite of ravenous animals. When He created nature, plants and animals, He did so knowing what characteristics would be needed to preserve that creation so that it could stand the test of time. 
God has that same understanding and knowledge of you and me. When He created each us He saw in His infinite wisdom what would be needed for our protection. For some of us, that includes some thorns. 
There is no doubt in my mind that God has given me specific burdens for an express purpose. He has placed thorns in my life for my ultimate protection. My struggle with my health and the reoccurring symptoms that plague me are a perfect example. These thorns continue to poke me, causing me to wonder what purpose God could possibly have for such unwelcome intruders. 
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul writes about his thorn in is side with these words, "Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
As bothersome as that thorn was to Paul, He saw that God had given it to Him for His own good. The thorn in Paul's side kept him humble and dependent on God. Paul had no strength of his own to rely upon, no power of his own in which he could puff himself up. That pesky thorn kept him on his knees before God - right where he was meant to be. 
There is no denying that God uses thorns. He uses them in nature to protect the beauty of His botanical creation and He uses them to keep His beloved children close to His side. Through the pointy daggers of the thorn His kids are kept coming before Him for healing, help and protection. Because of those thorns, you and I are continually brought back to the feet of God. 
So next time that you reach for a brightly colored rose, the big and blossoming beauty just waiting to be picked, don't forget the thorns. Let them be a reminder that you and I, just like the rose, are protected and secured through the blessing of the spikes that we find in our own lives. God can use the thorns in our flesh to draw us closer to Himself, continually humbling us in His presence. By the power of His love God will shower us in His grace that is all-sufficient and able to overcome all the pain and suffering endured through the presence of those pesky thorns. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The greenest grass

"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." Or, as the Roman poet Ovid wrote back before 17 AD, "The harvest is always richer in another man’s field." Although the wording varies, the meaning does not. Simply put, my life would be a heck of a lot better if I were over there, not here. I would be happier if I were on that side of the fence, not this side of the fence. 
Oh, what a harmful trap to lament our own side of the fence. By longing to be in someone else's lawn, peering through the white pickets of someone else's fence, we tread into dangerous territory.
I should know, I am terribly guilty of this sin that breaks one of the Ten Commandments: thou shall not covet.
Through periods of my life I have built up in my mind the beauty of my neighbor's yard, so to speak. I've looked at other towns and thought if I could just live there my life would be so much more exciting! I've looked at the talents bestowed on other girls my age and thought, if I had those blessings I could do grand things with my life! My eye has wandered to happy couples and my mind has followed with thoughts of how I could be content and satisfied if only I had someone loving me with that kind of romantic passion.
Even church and ministry has caused me to have lust and envy in my heart. Pictures on Facebook have filled me with jealousy. Other girls my age have gone off and gotten married to Christian men, written devotional books, gone on missions trips and become worship leaders. I've watched as they've seen dreams of mine come to fruition in their own lives and in my heart I've harbored resentment.
They look so happy in their pictures, wearing dazzling smiles, exuding confidence and happiness.
As I click through their pictures I can't help but think, "Of course they are happy. They happen to be on the green side of the fence! Their lives are ticking along quite nicely. Opportunities are falling into place; doors are opening with swift succession. I'd be all smiles and giggles if I were in their shoes, standing on their side of the fence! But I'm not. My side of the fence isn't as green. In fact, it looks brown. It could use a serious dose of fertilizer; Maybe a little sunshine to bring new life to these wilted blades of pathetic grass. This lawn of mine would certainly benefit from a good landscaper and a powerful rototiller. If only someone would do some work on it, maybe it could look more like the grass I covet. Then my life would really be glorious….."

In the middle of my envious lament all I have to do is look out my backdoor, into the wild and untamed terrain of my yard, and to catch a glimpse of Pippy. While traversing the yard, Pippy is barely visible with her gray and brown coat of fur blending into the patches of dirt, leftover fall leaves and large tree branches strewn about the yard. The big trees dotting the lawn cast shadows on the ground, glimmers of sun piercing through, dotting the earth's surface with little pockets of light. And there in the midst of this ordinary scene is Pippy, exploring her surroundings without a care in the world.
Unlike me, Pippy isn't concerned with what is on the other side of the fence. Who needs the neighbor's yard when her own is such a treasure trove of wonders to explore?.She has bushes, tree stumps, and dirt piles to discover. There are smells to keep her little nose busy for hours. If she gets tired she has an array of trees in which she can lay under to find rest. And, every so often, she even has a big fat cat to join her in the joy of exploration. She doesn't need any one else's grass. She is perfectly content with her own.
Pippy is fulfilled with remaining on her side of the fence. Her contentment humbles me and rebukes my wandering eye. I need God's forgiveness for my envy and lust. In my heart I have sinned by looking upon other people's circumstances and lots in life with jealousy in my heart. I haven't been happy to just stay in my own yard and enjoy the thrills and pleasures it has to afford me. There are abundant blessings and wonders to explore, yet I haven't truly appreciated them because I've been too busy looking over the fence at the neighbor's grass.
As I seek God's forgiveness I am reminded of John 21:22. In this passage of scripture Jesus is answering Peter's questions about a fellow disciple. He doesn't indulge Peter's desire to know what will become of his fellow man, instead he answers by saying, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” There was no room for looking at another disciple's "grass," so to speak. Jesus wanted Peter to be more concerned about the condition of his own heart and his own walk with the Lord, not the lot of another man's life. 
The command is the same for me today. The grass on the other side of the fence may be greener, browner; it could even be purple or pink. It doesn't matter. God doesn't want me to be caught up in comparison. I am simply to follow Him, focusing my attention on my own obedience.
Once I stop looking over the fence I am free to take pleasure in my own yard. Then I will come to learn what Pippy has already discovered. This side of the fence is actually quite thrilling! There are nooks and crannies to explore. There are sights and sounds that I've been missing. By constantly yearning for another plot of grass to stand on I've been missing the sweetness and softness of my own lawn. This side of the fence is actually much more wonderful than I had ever imagined! 

Come this spring, when the flowers start to bloom and a vibrant green blanket of grass spreads across the earth, I may be tempted to look upon my neighbor's lawn. The home across the street might have blossoms on their trees and more tulips lining the driveway that attempt to lure my eyes to gaze upon my neighbor's yard. But I won't be fooled into this sin of comparison because I know that, no matter how lovely that yard may look from afar, it isn't the yard God has set apart for me.
God has planted me with a special purpose in a particular yard of His choosing. He has blessed me with unique circumstances and specific surroundings, rich with wonders to behold and treasures to discover. Right here on the side of the fence God has for me, there is not a blade of grass that could ever be greener.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Opossum with a purpose

His name is Howard. Each evening he drops by my house by way of the backyard. I am alerted of his arrival thanks to my not-so-fierce Schnoodle who does her best to growl at our visitor. I can't see him on the deck, covered in the darkness of the night sky but the moment Pippy makes her way towards the back door I know that Howard is back to say hello.
I rush to the door, quieting Pippy as I reach for the light. I flip the switch and, without fail, Howard is there, directly on the other side of the door, unfazed by the barking beast on the other side of the glass. He is calm as a cucumber….or should I say, calm as an opossum. After all, that's who Howard is, an opossum.
I must admit, opossums aren't the cutest of creatures. No offense to Howard, but his appearance doesn't scream, "Hold me! Cuddle me! Love me!" The sight of an opossum usually elicits a much different response, more along the lines of, "eww" or "get it off of my deck…now!"
Despite Howard's unappealing appearance I am not disgusted with his visits to my deck. Granted, I speak from the opossum-free inside of the house where I am separated by a thick sheet of glass from Howard's smelly fur and fifty teeth. If I were standing on the deck with him I might not be so tolerant. But in our current indoor/outdoor positions I can handle the nightly addition of Howard's visits.
My Dad, on the other hand, would rather that Howard not come around at all. His immediate response is to reach for the nearest object worthy of swinging (probably a tennis racquet) and attempt to shoo away the unwelcome intruder. I immediately put a stop to what could very well border on wildlife cruelty. I don't want a visit from the National Opossum Society (and yes, it does exist and no, I am not going to request membership).
So Howard has been given free reign over the garbage cans and trash bags on the back deck each night. He makes quite a mess which I am left picking up on the night before the garbage man is due to come by, but it is a small matter. If digging through trash makes Howard happy then, by all means, dig away little opossum. Just don't try to come into the kitchen. Then we may have a problem.

Just the other night as I watched Howard through the security of the back doors I couldn't help but marvel at God's curious imagination. Why did He create such awkward and strange creatures, such as Howard? What are these unappealing opossums meant to accomplish anyway? Why did God make them and lots of other animals that I usually classify as a nuisance?
Someday when I get to heaven I'm going to ask God about all of these peculiar animals. I'm sure He will have a good answer to share. After all, there are no mistakes with God. He has a purpose for everything.
When I look at Howard and consider the lives of all the wild animals that populate God's creation I am struck by this truth: God has created them all, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. He has molded and formed each of these animals as part of a bigger plan. You and I may look at an animal like Howard and see a disease infested rodent but God sees an intricately woven creation of His design.
That is how God sees me and the my life, too. When I look at my past mistakes and my present circumstances I am tempted to see nothing but the regret and guilt of my past and the trials of my present. But God sees a greater design. He sees the beauty of His creation in the child He formed and molded before the world began. He sees my life's journey as a detailed plan that He has plotted and prepared for long before I was even a twinkle in my Mother's eye. There is so much that is perplexing to me; so much that I don't yet understand. The twists and turns, ups and downs leave me scratching my head and asking, "what is this all for?" God is saying, I am working out the life I have created for you.

If God has a purpose for the bewildering opossums and their strange garbage-digging behaviors, then I can rest assured that God has a purpose for me and my life. Every person and animal created by His hand has a reason for being. Every road and path we travel while following God, no matter how obscure and convoluted it may feel, has a purpose. Because our Heavenly Father has a vivid and mysterious imagination. You and I can't comprehend it. But when we trust that God's ways are better than our own we are able to embrace the most puzzling of people, craziest of animals and the most baffling of circumstances knowing that God is using them to fulfill His ultimate purposes and glorious plan.
So maybe that is why Howard was created, to reassure you and I that if God created even the crazy opossum with a purpose then there is most certainly a purpose for each of us, His beloved children.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

No such pill

In 2011 doctors wrote four billion drug prescriptions in America. That's right, on average thirteen prescriptions for every man, woman and child. It is safe to say the pharmaceutical industry is big business.
Should we be surprised? Of course not. The average American visits the doctor at least eleven times a year. And why do we often go to the doctor? Strep throat, allergies, headaches, aching joins, that lingering cough… We desperately want relief from our ailments. Just turn on the TV and practically every other commercial will point you straight to the doctor's waiting room, awaiting that precious slip of flimsy paper.
America is a country hooked to meds, clinging to prescriptions and never without that trusty pill carrier case. For all our sickness we believe we have found a cure and it comes in capsule form.
Or does it?
Are all of our illnesses, sicknesses, aches and pains truly cured by a visit to our family physician? Can a piece of paper with illegible script really be the golden ticket to health and wellness?
Our country is all-too comfortable with calling the doctor, waiting in his sitting room, getting poked and prodded and finally paying out a hefty co-pay. Yet we are all-too reluctant to come before God and seek help for our failing souls. When our body has a weakness we want a quick answer to relieve our distress. When our soul is burdened with sin we want to run away and hide from our Master Physician who would do His own poking, prodding and spiritual (not surgical!) removal.
Beloved, I don't want to be more at home surrounded by medical instruments, sitting on an examination table then I am in the presence of God. I don't want to be more comfortable running to a sterile office than to the arms of my Savior. When I have brokenness, pain and sin in my heart I want to be on my knees before God in the blink of an eye, faster than I could ever drive to the nearest MedExpress or ER.
Mark 2:17 recounts the words of Jesus when He said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." That is me. I am that sick, ill sinner who is in desperate need of the touch of Jesus Christ, the Mighty Physician. He has the power to take away the destruction that I have brought on myself by my sin. I have caused aches and pains to enter my life by living removed from His care. I have disregarded His prescriptions for upright and healthy living, trading them for corruption and worldly temptations.
But God hasn't dropped me as His patient. No matter how many times I don't follow His orders or forget to take His medicine, He is ready and willing to have another appointment with this wayward child. He is always willing to remove the sin from my life and do His cleansing work on my heart.
The question is, will I run into His care?
Four billion prescription drugs can't fix the sickness of the soul that plagues every American and every human that walks this earth. There isn't a pill, injection or surgery that can solve our spiritual illness. True health and wellness is only found in Jesus Christ. When we come to Him, entrusting our very beings into His care, He will tend to us and heal us with His love and mercy. By repenting of our sins and laying ourselves at the foot of His cross, Jesus can do the work of healing our brokenness and restoring us to perfect health.
God alone restores the souls of His dear children through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. By His sacrifice we are made clean, new and abounding in spiritual health.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Perfectly written

Our country has a dilemma.
We are suffering an editor shortage.
Not the dilemma you thought I might be referencing? Take heart, dear reader, I'm not about to go all political on you. The shortage I speak of is one that seems glaringly obvious given the grammar and spelling mistakes littering contemporary literature on the shelves of every Barnes and Noble and Ollie's Bargain Outlet. The pages are chock-full of incoherent sentences, misused words and incorrect punctuation.
But I don't blame the authors. Coming up with clever, original thought is not an easy task. The author can edit their own work to a certain extent but they will inevitably miss mistakes because they are so familiar with the text. After all, they penned it themselves. That is why all authors have at least one editor. Even I, on my little blog that is read by…I'm not sure who!…even I have my own personal editor. (Thank you, Mom). We still both miss mistakes that I'm sure leave my reader rolling their eyes, thinking, "shouldn't she have caught that?" I can't fault you for those thoughts. Every time I read anything at all I almost always am given the opportunity to think the same exact thing. The mistakes abound in every genre of writing. From "Letters to the Editor" to mystery novels to magazine articles on the latest food craze; they all are fraught with mistakes.
There is only one book that I have ever read that can be classified as an exception to this rule. The Bible.
Each morning I open my Bible and do my best to read it slowly, clearing my mind to take in each word as if for the first time. What I've noticed is that as I read and reread certain passages and sentences I am never rereading because the sentence structure is flawed or the author missed a preposition or goofed up the punctuation. No, there is never a single mistake in the writing. The only time I need to reread is when I need to rehear the truth so eloquently and purposefully set before me. My only cause for a double take is when I need to commit to memory the infallible truth of the scripture.
There is never a day that I will open my Bible and find a scripture that is faulty. I will never find mistakes. The Author of this book didn't make any mistakes. In His inspiring of the Bible He was not only the Author but also the Editor and Perfecter of the book. No second set of eyes were needed to check over His spelling or correct His punctuation, God has had the words written perfectly from the start. As Proverbs 30:5 says, "Every word of God is flawless…" The Holy Bible contains no defects in its language or message. The God-breathed words are utter perfection.

Out of all the books on my shelves at home, and trust me there are many, only one will never leave me lamenting an editor shortage. The Bible has no need for another trip through another proofread.
When I close my Bible I do so humbled, convicted and inspired because the words on its pages are absolutely perfect. Every parable, Proverb, Psalm and story has been written to draw me nearer to God, correct my sin, teach me how to live and give me hope for the future.
My Bible is perfect because God is perfect. No further editing needed.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Not so fragile

It happened again. Another dog encounter.
By now you are probably sick and tired of reading about neighborhood dogs chasing after Pippy and me on our walks. I can't blame you. I myself am just as sick and tired of the reoccurring chase scenes. I don't enjoy the thrill of a high speed chase on a movie screen nor do I enjoy it in my real life. I prefer the leisurely walks where barking dogs are safely locked behind fences. I like walks even better when the barking dogs are asleep in their homes, away from the window and out of sniffing reach of my little pup. But that is a bit picky. I'd settle for a tall fence and double locked gate. But even that is too much to ask in my neighborhood.
This morning's saga was another story of a big dog running after Pippy and I at warp speed, catching me completely off guard. At the same time that one dog was breaking free of his electric fence and charging at Pippy, another dog in the same area was barking viciously. The whole scene happened so fast that I thought the running dog was also the barking dog. I reached down to scoop Pippy up in an attempt to protect her from the vicious attacker. The running dog was already at my side as I tried to get Pippy. He was moving so quickly that he knocked me forward, causing me to lose my balance. My grip on Pippy was compromised and I ended up catching her leg in my arms, causing her to yelp while I went tumbling to the ground.
From start to finish the scene only lasted a few brief seconds but it felt agonizingly slow. My fall felt cartoonish. All the while the dog who had been running at us was not the dog who was barking. So my frantic attempt to save Pippy was all in vain. I ended up doing her more harm than good.
In that moment when I was falling forward my eyes were wide open, taking in the looming pavement that was before me. I was able to stretch out my hands just far enough in front of me to break my fall. My knees took the rest of the impact. Once I hit the ground I paused for a moment, taking in the reality of what was happening…again. I was once again flat on the ground, my nose just inches from the pavement. And Pippy was once again frozen stock still as a large dog sniffed her butt with such intensity I thought he might pick her up off the ground with his big nose. The scene was all too familiar. I couldn't believe it was repeating itself. I wondered to myself, is this Groundhog Day?
The time for contemplation didn't last long. I quickly rose to my feet, quickly gaining my stability and equilibrium. I scooped Pippy up, saving her from the sniffing intruder. The owner brought his dog back in his own yard as Pippy and I quickly continued down the road on our walk.

Today I realized something about all of these reoccurring frantic falls. Every time I've been knocked down I've been given the strength to jump right back up. No matter how hard the fall or how rocky the pavement, I've gotten back on my feet.
This certainly hasn't occurred on account on my own strength. This is not a secret: I am weak. All it takes is one look and anyone could confirm that fact. I could easily wear the label "Fragile. Handle with care." I look like I could be easily broken. I don't have built-in padding and cushioning on my little bones. I don't have muscles indicating power and might. My appearance sends quite a different message. "Downright wimpy" seems to be a more appropriate fit.

And yet God…
Isn't that the greatest start to any sentence?

And yet God's strength is bigger than my frailty. He is not limited by my low weight or lack of fat and muscle. When I am knocked down He is powerful and stable enough to get me back up on my feet. It is not by any force found within me. It is entirely through the rock solid foundation of God and His unshakable strength. God, dwelling in me, has the power to show His limitless, mighty power in my tiny being. As Isaiah 40:29 reassures, "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak."
My weakness is undeniable. It is visible. And the weakness doesn't stop at my appearance. I am not only physically weak but I am spiritually weak, too. I need God to lift me up in both my body and my soul. I need His power to lift me up off the pavement when I fall and out of the pit when I am dragged down in spirit. Thankfully, His power is great enough to do both. He can physically sustain me, enabling me to overcome the limits of my physical body. And He is able to life my spirit to new heights by His forgiveness and indwelling of His Holy Spirit that fills me with grace and love.
When I rely on God's strength I am able to overcome the weakness of my human frailty. On my own I am helpless, easily grounded by a simple trip and certainly broken by a face-plant on the pavement. But with God I am able to get back up again. By His power I am able to rise to my feet with energy and vitality that is from Him alone.
So although I may appear weak and fragile, don't be fooled… I have the strength of God in me.

Lost and found

My teddy bear was small, white and fluffy. He had no distinguishing features and didn't wear an outfit. He was just a simple little bear, but I was attached to him.
That is, until the day I lost him in the grocery store. At least, I thought that's where I last had him. I must have been three or four when my beloved bear went missing. I was sure the last place I had been carrying him was the grocery store, so my parents went back to check the lost and found. But no luck. They combed the store looking in the aisles and shelves, but he wasn't there either. After leaving their names and numbers with the service desk, my parents had to give up their search. They kept looking elsewhere, covering every square inch of the house and car, but that bear was no where to be found.
I was brokenhearted to lose my dear bear. My parents replaced him with another white stuffed animal, but it would never be the same. The new bear wasn't "my bear." My bear was gone forever.
My precious bear didn't have any monetary value. He wasn't a special edition or an antique. He didn't come from a designer store or even a Build-A-Bear Workshop where he would have been given a name and his own red heart. No, my bear was precious because he was mine. I loved him because I had claimed him and made him my very own.

That, my friend, is how God sees you, too. You are His precious, beloved child. You may not feel precious. Maybe you just feel ordinary, like a bear bought at the CVS checkout counter. But let me assure you, God has no ordinary children. He has chosen you and made you His own.
Just think about that...the maker of all the earth, the One who has put every star in the sky and makes the sun rise and set, has chosen you! Before you were even born He chose to love you and make you His very own. He has numbered every hair on your head and knows your very thoughts. To God you are worth more than silver or gold. You are His beloved white teddy bear. He loves you deeply.
When you and I go astray or become lost God yearns for us, just like I longed to find my missing bear. God does just what my parents and I did: He searches for us; He seeks us out. But unlike my lost bear who I had to give up searching for, God never ever gives up looking for us. He doesn't go out and buy another replacement for His lost child. There is no replacement to be had! So He never gives up His search and rescue efforts for that one precious, lost child. He never ceases in His search.
If you have never come to put your belief, trust and faith in Jesus Christ then God is still looking for you. Won't you come out of your hiding place? He is longing for you and searching for you. Today, right now, you can end that search. You can be found in Christ Jesus by repenting of your sins and declaring Jesus Christ as your risen Savior who died on the cross to forgive you of all your sins.The God of the universe is looking for you. He sent His one and only Son to save you. That is how precious and special you are to God. The love He has for you is so great that He will never give up searching for you. He will seek you out until you are found because you are His beloved "teddy bear" and there is no other that could ever replace you.

"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?"
Luke 15:8

Saturday, March 8, 2014


We could picture the sign on the door, written in a fanciful script with whimsical charm. We could see the striped awnings hanging over the windows and the black and white checkered floor greeting customers at the door. Mom's imagination had given birth to a new business venture brainchild: "Stuff."
The idea was to take old, neglected furniture and home decor and refurbish it. Mom would take old chairs, end tables, lamps, mirrors - any piece she could find that had hidden potential - and breath into it new life. Revitalize and redesign it! She started putting her plan into motion by visiting estate sales, purchasing chairs with missing seats and dressers standing on their last legs. All were gems in disguise, treasures just waiting to be uncovered.
My Dad, the ever plotting and planning entrepreneur, was all for this new business idea. He even bought my Mom a hand sander for Christmas. Romantic, don't you think?
Around the kitchen table Mom and I used to dream up more ideas about how the store front would look and where we would travel to find our hidden treasures. We discussed the eye-catching displays and catchy advertising phrases that would draw in customers. We were all excited about the impending opening of "Stuff."
But time passed and so did "Stuff." The doors never opened. In fact, the black and white checkered floor was never even ordered, let alone installed. All of those mismatched, broken chairs never did experience the transformational work that could have been accomplished with that new hand sander. Instead, "Stuff" became a storage unit piled high. "Stuff" became what my brothers and I affectionately called, "Crap."
"Stuff" was a genius business idea at the time. For a few moments, even my brothers, always the jokesters, agreed. But the bloom was quickly off the rose when the reality of "Stuff" came to light. The money that would need to be spent to get the store up and running, the time spent having to man the hours of operation once we were open for business, the restraint owning "Stuff" would put on our families ability to pick up and travel all together…the reality of "Stuff" looked drastically different than the dream of "Stuff."

Isn't that how most "stuff" ends up? All of the treasured stuff becomes random knicknacks and whatchacall-its that no one knows what to do with! The latest must have item ends up being a dust-covered, space-sucking burden, buried under a pile of other "stuff" that was, at one point, an absolute essential.
The story of "Stuff" is now ancient family history. The jokes continue on - they always will - but the dream and the broken chairs are long gone. But the lesson of "Stuff" is just as real and just as relevant today as it was the day we put the lock on the storage unit: stuff doesn't satisfy.
I was reminded of the lesson of stuff this morning as I read Psalm 23. Never before had I read that particular Psalm and thought in terms of material possessions. The moment I read verse one my mind was stopped dead in its tracks: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
Stuff. I shall not want stuff….
Biblical scholars and seasoned pastors might not preach with materialism in mind when they preach on the beloved Psalm 23 but this morning that was precisely how God preached it to my heart. I didn't even need to go on to verse two. Verse one was a sermon all of its own. It was as if God were speaking directly to me through words I've known by heart for years but never applied in this particular way: "Stephanie, you shall not want stuff."
"But God," my mind said, "I happen to like stuff. I like stuff so much I even jumped on board with opening a store bearing the name 'Stuff.' Stuff is appealing to me. I don't worship stuff, but I enjoy stuff. Purchasing stuff can be fun. Finding just the right stuff can be a thrill! I know stuff isn't as good as you, God, and I don't worship the stuff. So what's the harm?"
Then I read the first part of that verse again and I shut my mouth. "The Lord is my shepherd."
By declaring that the Lord alone is my shepherd I lay down my own wants. Maybe my wants aren't evil or malicious in nature - that isn't the point. The point is that I lay down all wants no matter what they are so that I can devote myself entirely to my Shepherd. If I am dedicated to both His guiding and my own wants then I can easily become torn. But when I cast off my own wants I can submit to the care of my Shepherd wholeheartedly and completely.
Stuff can be tempting. But all that glitters is not gold, even the shiniest jewelry loses its sparkle. The latest and greatest technology becomes obsolete. But the Word of the Lord stands forever. The great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, remains the same yesterday, today and every day to come. There is no stuff on earth that can compare or satisfy like Christ. Every material possession on this earth will end up like my family's fantasy store, "Stuff." It will sound great on paper, excite the dream life but in reality it won't live up to all the hype.
God alone can truly satisfy and sustain. He alone can surpass our wildest dreams and bring true excitement to our reality. When we want for Him alone, when we yearn for and desire Jesus Christ, our souls won't be in want for all of the stuff of this world. They will be filled to the overflowing with the goodness of God. The need for "stuff" will be satisfied by the Savior.

Friday, March 7, 2014

No such thing as spiritual Spanx

Women everywhere know about Spanx. This product came to life in 2000 when a woman was distressed over the unsightly appearance of panty lines. Her crafty handiwork with a pair of scissors and some pantyhose, gave birth to a new phenomenon known affectionately as Spanx. The idea was to eliminate the embarrassing lines and create a smooth, sleek shape. 
The concept took off. From her kitchen counter, the founder handled calls and fulfilled orders. But that simple business model didn't last long. By 2008 her small start-up had flourished into a thriving company worth over $750 million dollars. 
Not too shabby for some shape wear!
You may be wondering why I'm spending your precious reading time covering the history of a women's undergarment company. I promise, there is a purpose to this random history lesson. 
Spanx is proof that we human beings are concerned with our shape. And it's not just women. Men have gotten on board, too, purchasing their own line of Spanx for men's products. The desire to be formed and molded into the right looking package is a universal desire that spans generations and  genders. Men and women want curves in the right places, muscles with the right definition and figures that flatter. And we humans would like it all with minimal effort which is precisely why Spanx is so popular. Spanx provides the shape and all you have to do is put it on! Spanx does the job of molding and forming for you.
No wonder this business took off. 

The love of a simple solution that is easily purchased and requires no effort has made Spanx a huge success story. The concept has worked wonders for the physiques of women and men worldwide. But this concept has its limits. The Spanx solution isn't transferable to all manner of shapes. Consider, for example, your spiritual shape. There is no Spanx for our spiritual shape.There is no "shapewear" that can be purchased and put on that can fix all of our spiritual problems or give us the desired spiritual physique. 
Our spiritual shape is doomed to flab and ghastly panty lines without Christ. The saving work of Jesus is our only solution to poor spiritual shape. 
Unlike Spanx, getting into spiritual shape does take sacrifice. To attain a desirable spiritual shape takes dedication and commitment. You can't buy spiritual shape. There isn't a product on the market that can be put on, injected or ingested that can improve our spiritual shape. 
Spiritual shape comes from being molded to the image of God. It is His shape that we are to strive to attain. He doesn't give us shapewear. Instead He has given us the Holy Spirit. By submitting to the indwelling of the Spirit and living in obedience to the commands of God we can be formed into the image of Christ. 
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 tells us how to get into spiritual shape. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."
You and I get to choose our spiritual shape by opening the door to the Holy Spirit who is the Lord Jesus. When we invite Him into our hearts He can do the work of molding, forming and shaping us from the inside out. 
The work God has to do in us to change our shape won't be painless. Sometimes it will be uncomfortable. It won't happen overnight. We won't be able to simply slide on this new shape like a fresh pair of Spanx. The work of the Holy Spirit comes through trials and challenges, requiring patience and a building of faith. 
But God never told us that our walk with Him would be as effortless as putting on shapewear. To the contrary! He warned that we would have tribulation and hardship. Yet, in all of the difficulties there is a miraculous change of spiritual shape taking place.  Thanks be to God as He sculpts and molds each one of us into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A healing crisis

Webster defines crisis as "the decisive moment."
I like that definition. It speaks of the great significance of a crisis.
In a crisis there comes a turning point, either for better or worse. There is a change on the horizon, the question is what will the change bring?
In Acts 9 Saul encounters a situation of crisis proportions. He is traveling along the road headed to Damascus when he is literally brought to the ground when he encounters the voice of God. There was a great light, a thundering sound and Saul heard God speak. When Saul was able to stand up again he was faced with a sudden crisis of sight. He was left completely blind.
Just moments earlier he had been capable of seeing. He had been walking along with his traveling companions on a journey to continue spreading murderous threats to Christians whom he had a reputation of persecuting. And then, in an instant, he was brought to his knees and rendered blind.
I would call that a crisis.
Saul was at a critical point in his life. He had to choose whether or not to follow the directive given to him by God“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6). In the climax of his crisis he had to decide if he would get up and rely on God to provide direction for his next steps. 
Saul listened and got up. For three days he was blind. But then God sent Ananias to touch Saul's eyes and bring restoration to his sight. 
Immediately following his healing Saul "got up and was baptized" (Acts 9:18). Through his obedience to God's command given in crisis Saul was brought to repentance and given miraculous healing of his soul. It was through the acute trauma of his crisis that he was brought to his knees, literally and spiritually, before the Almighty God. 
Saul's conversion is a powerful display of God's ability to use crises to claim His lost children. He uses crises to restore and renew. He uses crises to heal and repair. He uses crisis to save wayward souls.
God still uses crisis to redeem His beloved. I know because He's done it for me.
I've had crises of faith and crises of the physical nature. Sin has sent my world crashing down around me, leading to a critical decision point in my walk of faith.
More recently I've been faced with a health crisis. The faltering state of my physical being has put me into crisis mode. In all of the pain and suffering I know that I am at a turning point. This is my cross roads, my decisive moment.
I have a choice. I can rely on God, trusting that He has a way out of the crisis already plotted and planned for me. Or I can turn from God in anger and frustration, losing patience with His process and doubting His omnipotence.
Saul was faced with a similar predicament. He was left blinded on the road. His options were clear. He could continue to scorn and mock God or he could stop persecuting God and submit to His will, trusting that God would provide the directive and steps to take on the road ahead.
Saul got up.
At the most critical moment of his crisis, Saul got up off the ground and followed God.
That decision changed everything for Saul. It led to his physical healing and, more importantly, it brought about repentance and a rebirth of his spirit.
When I am faced with a crisis I need to remind myself of Saul fallen on his knees on that rocky, dusty road to Damascus. I need to remember God's words that commanded, "get up."
In a crisis it can be tempting to stay flat out on the ground, paralyzed by fear, frustration, impatience and confusion. But God has shown that when we get up and follow His guidance He will lead us out of our crisis into renewed healing and salvation! He uses the crisis to restore us, better than we were before. Saul had once been a persecutor of Christians, threatening and jailing those who proclaimed Jesus Christ as their Savior. But God used a crisis to break Saul's sin and bring him to repentance and salvation. He used a crisis to bring about healing for his sight and his soul.
I needed reminded that God can use my most dire of circumstances and critical of crises to save me and renew me. There are times I want to curl up in a ball, refusing to get up and face the difficulty of the crisis. But if I will allow God to use my crisis He can use it to bring about glorious redemption and restoration.
God has the power to touch this broken and weak physical body, making it strong, beautiful and whole! He has already shown His healing power by saving my soul that was deep in sin, lost in a sea of evil and corruption. He took me through a crisis of faith so He could bring about my rebirth. His power to heal is still just as powerful today as it was then. I know that God can use the crisis in my physical body to bring about glorious healing for His name's sake.
Beloved, if you are faced with a crisis today I urge you to get up. Follow God. Give Him the glory in the midst of your crisis. He has the power to do a miraculous work in you through this decisive moment in your life. Give Him that honor. Submit to that power. Let God have His way in your life through the work of your crisis.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Till there was you

I love The Music Man. It is in the top fie of my absolute favorite musicals of all time. The show is tied together with a heartwarming plot, lovable characters and list of songs that are stand-outs in their own right. It is the songs that often pop into my head. The tunes are easy to hum and the lyrics are flowing and poetic. The particular song that played in my mind this morning was "Till There Was You." 
For any reader that may not be familiar with this classic I encourage you to find a rendition of it on Youtube. Before you click play consider yourself warned: you will be unable to get the tune and lyrics out of your mind for the rest of the day. But don't worry, you won't want to. The words are so beautiful and the notes so peaceful that you will be pleased to be stuck with such a melody playing on repeat. 

As I walked outside on this brisk morning I began to sing (to myself, I'm not so crazy that I sing out loud as I walk!), "There were bells on the hill, but I never heard them ringing. No, I never heard them at all, till there was you… There were birds in the sky, but I never saw them winging. No, I never saw them at all, till there was you." At that last refrain of "till there was you" I suddenly realized the beauty of my surroundings and the glorious notes the birds were singing. I hadn't noticed them before.
I was ten minutes into my walk before my ears and eyes were opened to the marvel of creation that was bustling all around me. All winter long the birds haven't been out singing, they've been tucked away, huddling for warmth. 
But this morning that had all changed. The birds had ventured out, uniting their voices in song. 
I instantly became aware of how God alone gives us the ability to see. And I don't mean physically see. Sure, God does that too, but the sight I was mediating on this morning was that of the spiritual nature. Before Christ enters into our hearts we are unable to see. We don't see truth. We don't see grace and mercy. Our eyes don't take in the works of God and His marvelous ways. We are spiritually blind. 
But when we surrender our lives to Christ - that is truly surrender, holding nothing back - we are able to see the truth of God and all of His attributes. We are able to see His love at work in our lives. We see how He orchestrates circumstances and situations for our good. Sometimes His ways are beyond our understanding but even then we see that He is all-powerful and all-knowing. 
Until Christ becomes our Savior we don't see any of this. God is a mystery to us. His ways baffle us. And His truths eludes us. 
By coming to salvation in Jesus Christ and experiencing a new birth our eyes are given a whole new view. Till there is Jesus there is no way in which to receive this new sight or understanding. But, just like in the lyrics in that classic from The Music Man, with the entrance of that one special person, Jesus Christ, everything changes. 
The redeemed is graced with opens eyes and ears. It is as if bells that had tolled unheard are now bursting with glorious sound. Birds that were fluttering about unseen are now on full display in bold, brilliant color. 
Without the saving work of Jesus Christ all of the beauties of God remain unseen and unheard to you and I. It is through Christ that we are able to see our mighty God, how He works and all that He has created. He brings the reality of Himself into full view when we become His children through the saving work of His Son on the cross. 
The last verse of "Till There Was You" says, "There was love all around, but I never heard it singing. No, I never heard it at all, till there was you!"
Isn't that the truth for all of us? Love is all around us. God is all around us. He is alive, intimately involved in our lives and world. Yet we will never see Him or hear Him until we surrender to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Until we put our faith, hope and trust in Him we'll never hear the bells, see the birds or feel that love. But when we come to Jesus Christ our spiritual eyes will be opened so that the overwhelming and all consuming power and love of our Almighty Father will be revealed to us, giving our lives a whole new view and our ears a whole new melody. 
Till there was you, Jesus Christ, I never knew such marvelous Love! Yes, till there was YOU. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Perfect Harmony

Paul's words to the church in Corinth might have been on Pippy's mind this morning as she lay peacefully next to Patches on their cushioned, community "pet" bed. 
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:10, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought." 
I assume that Pippy and Patches were heeding his direction given their relaxed, comfortable positions. Their thoughts were clearly united: sleep. 
I don't know how they came to this mutual agreement. Pippy was alone on the bed to begin with but then Patches entered the room. Normally Pippy flies off her bed to greet Patches but this morning was different. Somehow she must have known that Patches intended to snuggle up with her if only Pippy would remain still enough to enjoy the companionship. 
Pippy didn't leave her bed. Instead she lay perfectly still as Patches stepped onto her side of the large cushion, walked in a small circle and then proceeded to curl up into the shape of a cinnamon roll. Pippy never disturbed her process of finding the perfect resting position. Pippy also didn't stretch out on the bed to ensure that Patches wouldn't have room to curl up on the comfy cushion. Pippy stayed on her side and let Patches enjoy the rest.
I must hand it to Pippy, she is forgiving and welcoming despite the fact that Patches has not always been friendly, to say the least. Pippy doesn't hold that against her cat companion. She lets Patches be her cynical cat self while Pippy remains her congenial doggie self. 

I, on the other hand, am not always so agreeable. 
Unlike Pippy, I don't always heed the words of Paul and live in harmony with my fellow life travelers. I allow division to grow and fester because of past hurts and human shortcomings. Instead of choosing forgiveness, I choose to let resentment and hostility fester, creating a great divide. 
Pippy isn't so flawed in her love and acceptance. Patches has hissed at her. Patches has shown her plenty of disgust and antagonism. And still Pippy doesn't push her off the bed! 
If I were Pippy I'd be telling that cat to go find her own over-sized cushion. You want to share? Then be nice, you big lazy cat! (I would not be as sweet a dog as Pippy, can you tell?) 
But Pippy doesn't demand that the cat change her attitude or offer up an apology in order to share in the comfort of the pet bed. Pippy just accepts her for who she is and then lives her life peacefully and harmoniously despite how the cat might be acting that particular day. Is the cat hissing? Pippy still loves her. Is the cat hiding from Pippy's affection? Doesn't matter, Pippy will still welcome her back onto the big cushion when she reappears. 
Pippy doesn't treat Patches a certain way because Patches deserves it. She doesn't choose peace and happiness and harmony because Patches is so darn easy to get along with! No, Pippy is going to be a content, joyful, peaceful dog no matter what little funk Patches is in that day. Patches can be rude and mean yet Pippy won't let it divide her unity with her fellow pet companion. 
I could learn a thing or two (or three or four) from Pippy. It doesn't matter how other people treat me. I decide whether or not I am going to forgive them, move on and live in united peace with my offender. Holding hostility and resentment in my heart doesn't do anyone any good. It doesn't change that person's behavior and it doesn't bring me joy or contentment. The resentment just simmers, souring my attitude and ruining my witness for Christ. 
Paul made the point clear: live in unity. Pippy appears to have mastered that command. Now it is my turn by choosing to forgive others - choosing to live in unity and harmony.