Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hide Our Lights Under a Bushel? No.

It's been almost exactly six months since I've posted anything new on this blog. Life has been keeping me pretty busy. I'm going to do a little stream of consciousness writing.

As we get older, there's this notion that things will get easier and slow down. I guess that can be true, but almost no one I know is experiencing a slow down. Instead, life seems to get busier. Of course, there are ways to say no to those optional events. That helps.

On the other hand, there are other events in life that come around the corner, face us square in the eye, and require our complete and immediate attention. Never mind that we'd already made plans to do something else. This new thing takes priority over everything.

The last six months of my life has been filled with the unexpected. I had to take care of my precious feline companion till his final days on earth. Saying goodbye to this friend of 14 years was difficult, but I knew that whatever was wrong with him was draining his quality of life.

Also during this time I had to closely oversee the needs of my elderly mother. After having lived apart from her for 28 years, I was given several months to visit with her a couple of times a week and make new memories. One of those memories was getting on an airplane together--including the aggravation of TSA delays (grrr)--and flying to Texas where she now lives.

And the best part of the past six, busy, months has been because of a wonderful man who has become such a blessing to me and my family. When I was not tending to the aforementioned priorities, I was spending time getting to know this precious man and making memories with him. He was there for me when I had to say goodbye to my kitty companion and he was there when I needed to move my mother to Texas. He makes me laugh, we have wonderfully deep conversations, and he makes me feel completely safe. He even stretches me out of my favorite comfort zone, encouraging me to try something new. I've tried foods I never would have before and I've even sung in Italian, in public! I've also made him sing karaoke with me in public! I'm so happy that God has blessed me with this man!

Today I had some extra time on my hands so I began thinking about life and how fleeting it can be. This morning I heard the news of how a young woman, a wonderful singer, had been gunned down by some man while she was signing autographs. It's just tragic to see a life taken so quickly. The headlines in the past few days seem to echo this sentiment. A young boy of 7 was killed while sitting in the safety of the back of his family's mini-van. A driver behind him was distracted and couldn't stop in time. Now this family has to deal with the loss of a young life. More tragedy.

I guess if I had to sum up the point of this blog post is that we do not know how much time we have on this earth and what it holds for us while we're here. I suppose it would be cliche to say that we should make the most of our life here on earth. It reads very much like a bumper sticker or a beer commercial. I suppose it is true, however cliche it may sound. I've lived life in the background. It's a somewhat safe place, but often lonely. I'm pretty certain God had bigger plans for me than that. My purpose on this earth is not to try to preserve myself, but to spread myself around and by doing so I'm spreading Jesus around. Since His love resides inside of me, it needs to come out and see daylight. I don't need to hide it in my heart.

All of this reminds me of a childhood song:

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.

I'm reminded of my theme verse for this blog, Jeremiah 29:11. I want to change it up a bit and look at the verse in a different paraphrase. When we memorize it or hear it the same way all the time, there's a tendency to gloss over it. Here's verses 10 & 11 from The Message:

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s 
seventy years are up and not a day before, 
I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and 
bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. 
I have it all planned out—plans to 
take care of you, not abandon you, 
plans to give you the future you hope for.

Just as a reminder, this promise was given to the Israelites from God. God had a plan for His people. During those 70 years they would have to endure a lot. I'm sure they wanted to hide out and wait for someone to tell them when it was time to come out of hiding. Yet, God had a plan. It's an individual plan for each and every one of His own. And it's a plan for His collective people. He wasn't going to abandon His own. He also had a future planned for them. And these promises apply to us. Next time we're ready to give up or hide out, we need to remember God's words. "I know what I'm doing." Even when it looks like the world is going nuts and the election news is worse than the day before, God knows what He is doing. Just hang on and trust Him.

Keep reading this chapter on your own. The words are comforting:

12 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.
13-14 “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Look Up!

Look up into the heavens. Isaiah 40:26a

I was thinking about this verse and it occurred to me that when I am looking up I can see God at work. 

When I am looking down all I see is myself and the world.

I don't know about you, but looking at my own life and the rest of the world has a tendency to bring me down. 

There's a lot of dissension and turmoil on this earth. Most of the time you don't have to look very far to see it. It's in our relationships and it's plastered all over the headlines of the news and social media. 

I can recall a time in years past--before the days of social media--when I felt overwhelmed by the bad news in the world. I felt helpless to do anything about anything. My choice was to remove myself from so much of the negativity for a time.

Look up.

In the past month I kept seeing verse showing up. I took notice of it and then it took me back to a time more than eight years ago.

I was attending a retreat when the speaker felt led to change the topic on which she was planning to speak. The main thing I remembered from that retreat was the feeling that God was telling me when things get rough to look up. The speaker repeated that phrase several times. 

There was nothing in particular going on in my life at that time. Little did I know that within days that my world was going to change due to the loss of a loved one. As I walked through those dark days, those words came back to me.

Look up.

I looked up. I relied on the Lord to carry me through. It wasn't easy, but the load was lighter since I wasn't bearing it all myself. When I looked up I was also able to observe how God was working all around me. I could see the comfort he was providing in tangible ways. I could still see the beauty around me. My gaze wasn't focused downward on myself.

Fast forward to the present. When this scripture kept coming to my attention, I took notice. It reminded me that whatever was coming, look up. 

If life becomes overwhelming, look up.

If I don't know what to do, look up.

If I'm feeling sad, look up.

If I'm feeling joyful, look up.

Just look up.

Where does my help come from? It comes from the Lord. He gives power to the weak. He comforts those in trouble. He never tires or grows weary.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Read the entire 40th chapther of Isaiah here.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Life is Messy

Life is messy. There. I said it.

I bet you're reading this and nodding your head. If not, you are young enough to have not experienced enough of that mess that comes with life. Enjoy this time. I'm serious! Enjoy it!

Most of the messy stuff comes from relationships with others.
     Unmet expectations.
All of these things contribute to heartaches and that overwhelming feeling of . . .

Life is Messy!! Make it stop!!!

We only need to watch the evening news once to see the messy part of life in high definition, full color, and surround sound. There are plenty of reports of lying, cheating, stealing, murder, and the list goes on. Most of these acts are against another human. This brings to mind a B.J. Thomas song: Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song. Country music is full of lyrics about people doing wrong to others.

Yes, I'll say it again, most of the mess comes from relationships.Someone gets angry at a neighbor or spouse and acts upon their anger. Suddenly they have become the subject of a breaking news story. I'll bet in many cases those people would never have thought that would happen.

The truth is that we live in a fallen world. I know. That's Christianese that I'm speaking. So let me define that phrase for those who don't speak church language. A "fallen world" is the result of Adam's sin as recorded in the book of Genesis. Because of that first sin by Adam, we are all born with that nature to sin. And this sin nature continues to come out in each of us. [I don't want to turn this into a theology lesson so I'll stop here, but that isn't the end of the sin story. I suggest reading the book of John in the New Testament to find out about the remedy.]

Now that we've established that our sin nature is behind most of this messy life, what's next? Let me bring this back around to where I started. Relationships are often difficult. People disappoint me and I disappoint others. Relationship woes have been uppermost in my mind over the past few months. These woes have touched every aspect of my life from coworkers and neighbors to loved ones.

There are two things of which I've been reminded through all of this:

  1. We are not battling people, we are battling an Enemy greater than that. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." To put all of this in perspective I must remember when someone I love hurts me, that there is this sin nature at work and Satan is always there ready to tempt me into retaliation. 
  2. Retaliation feels good--for a moment. Ephesians 4:26 tells me, "And 'don’t sin by letting anger control you.' Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry." Why should we not let anger control us? Because, as verse 27 so aptly points out, "for anger gives a foothold to the devil." Yep. As soon as I let anger take over, Satan is right there ready to "help me." His kind of "help" may ease the sting temporarily, but nothing good comes from his "help."

Case in point, someone I love dearly did something so unexpected and hurtful to me. After the shock wore off I began mounting my defense. In my mind I began rehearsing what I would like to say and explain how hurtful those actions were to me. In the midst of my hurt I heard a still, small voice in my heart say, "Be angry and sin not." I realized at that moment that while I was planning my own defense I was about to unleash my anger and do something hurtful in return. Yes, it would have felt good at that moment, but only for a moment. Eventually I would have felt worse for inflicting pain. I don't say this to brag about self-control. I say this to confess my own sin nature. It's always lurking.

I was angry because I cared. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Think about it. If someone we don't know makes a flippant comment that makes us angry, we're more likely to shrug it off. When someone we love makes the same comment to us, we take that more seriously and are more likely to retaliate. It's those close relationships that we need to be more guarded about.

When those hurts come flying at us like arrows, the book of Ephesians reminds us that we should be wearing our breastplate of righteousness to defend against those arrows. In fact, we are to "Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil" (Eph. 6:11).

Whether we are dealing with a colleague at work who has it in for us or simply dealing with a loved one who has seriously disappointed us, those relationships have a way of provoking our peace. 

How did I handle the situation mentioned previously? I prayed about it and the Lord showed me that I had already explained my side of the story, in detail, prior to this distress. For now, I should remain silent. If there's any vindication, the Lord will handle it. In my situation I am able to put space between me and this person, but if you are unable to distance yourself from the one who offended you, I urge you to seek God's help and direction on how to handle the situation.

For His glory,

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings 
condemnation for everyone, 
but Christ’s one act of righteousness 
brings a right relationship 
with God and new life for everyone.
Romans 5:18

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Perspective: Putting on New Glasses

I recently had an eye exam. I'm happy to report there was very little change in my vision for the last few years. I'm happy for one reason in particular--I don't have to spend any money on new glasses!

As we get older our vision will change more frequently. Regular exams can detect these changes and with those changes come those annoying expenses and question. Does anyone else get frustrated with the quick flip of the lenses and the repeated questions? "Which is better...This one or this one?" Sometimes there's a clear difference and other times I can't tell a difference at all! Often my eyes are still adjusting to the quick changes so I just have to take my time and hope the technician is patient.

Regular eye exams can also detect other potential problems in areas of the eye that we cannot see on the surface. It takes special tools and training to see these places in the back of the eye and to recognize the problem.

This all leads me to the topic of perspective. I wrote about Perspective a few years ago but it was in a different context. I was thinking about perspective again a few weeks ago, but I didn't have time to really delve into it. However, since that time I've done some thinking about it and discussed it with a friend. Here's the definition of the way I'm using it:

The origin of this word indicates that it actually means from the "science of optics" or "to look closely at."

When I put on my eyeglasses I can get a clearer view of what I'm looking at. Without the glasses, I can still see but my perspective is different. Things are a little fuzzy and it takes a little straining to see.

The same applies to our perspective on life. We all have these special glasses with which we view life. Our special glasses are formed from the time we are born and continually shaped by our environment. Our parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends all have a hand in shaping these glasses and give us a unique perspective on everything. Therefore, when we look at a particular issue it's always through the perspective of our own special glasses (experiences). In addition to people, our education and faith also help form these special glasses.

In this day and age in which we as a society seem to be offended about everything, it might help us to get an "eye exam" to correct or confirm our perspective. We should ask ourselves are few questions:

  • What lens am I using to look at this particular problem? Am I looking at this problem through the eyes of my family or past experiences? Or am I looking at it through God's eyes? Sometimes I have to ask God to show me what's going on from His perspective. The Bible is one way to find out what He thinks.
  • Should I take off this lens and put on another pair of eyeglasses? Maybe I need to see this situation through another person's lenses to understand or maybe I need a new prescription!
  • Have I looked at this situation so long that I no longer clearly see what's happening? Have you ever driven the same route day after day and not noticed something? Then one day you're in the car while someone else is driving and you have more time to casually look around. Suddenly you notice a building you hadn't noticed before. Then you ask how long it's been there and find out it's been there for three years! Sometimes it takes stepping back from a situation to see what's right in front of us.

Just like my visits to the eye doctor can help detect potential changes or problems, I need to continue to examine my own perspectives on life. I can't always assume that my viewpoint is correct because that's the way I've always believed it to be. I need to be willing to humble myself and listen to other perspectives while always running those through Scripture to find out what God thinks. Sometimes I will find that it's time to put on some new glasses!

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!  
Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. 
Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. 
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  
Then you will experience God’s peace, 
which exceeds anything we can understand. 
His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. 
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, 
and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. 
Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  
Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—
everything you heard from me and saw me doing. 
Then the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9

Faithfully yours,