Sunday, December 29, 2013

Testing: A Parent's Perspective

A friend was once describing to me the time in which she took her child in for a medical test. The child was young enough that she didn't understand what was going on. Although the test wasn't painful, it did involve some momentary discomfort. You see, the procedure was necessary to determine whether a problem the child was born with still existed and required additional treatment.

This parent described the scene in which she had to place her child in the hands of others for the test, but was able to remain in the room and nearby the whole time. During the test, the child looked to the mother for reassurance and asked to be held. In response, mom had to look confidently at the child and reassure her with a smile and encouragement. However, mom's heart was breaking the whole time because all she really wanted to do was remove the child from the test and hold this child who desperately wanted and needed her. Yet, mom knew that the test was necessary and that it wouldn't last long, so she hung in there.

After listening to this description, I immediately got a picture of how my heavenly Father might feel when I'm going through a time of testing and gave me a different perspective. He knows a test is necessary to prove something. The test may be unpleasant and may feel like it's never going to end. But tests always serve a purpose and ultimately they bring glory to God.

Although I've written about this topic of testing several times before, I've never viewed it from this point of view. It gives me another perspective of God's love for me. Even if my circumstances aren't pleasant, my heavenly Father hasn't abandoned me or forgotten me. He's right there at all times. He's watching carefully. He's reassuring when I look to Him and whispering words of comfort when I need it.

Yes, our heavenly Father loves us...

"We love, because He first loved us."1 John 4:19 

"Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; 
just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
John 15:9-10

and allows us to be tested...

"The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him 
with all your heart and soul." Deuteronomy 13:3b

"O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, you test those who are righteous,  
and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets." Jeremiah 20:12

  • to prove that God is working in our lives
  • to prove that our faith is genuine
  • to purify us
  • to demonstrate His love and power
  • to produce Christlike character in us
  • to equip us

But, He's always there for us. What a comforting thought!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pat Benatar Was Right

Yes, love IS a Battlefield. These are the first few lines from the song made famous by Pat Benatar...

"We are young, heartache to heartache we stand. 
No promises, no demands. Love Is A Battlefield."

If you're an 80's music buff, like me, you'll immediately recognize this song and recall the music video.

The music video for this song depicts the messy life of a teenager. It begins by demonstrating the volatile relationship with her parents and ends with the teen living a tough life on her own. But, in the very end she chooses to help others--to be the strong one--by leading them out of a bad situation.

It could happen like that in real life, but more than likely your life will be a little less dramatic. Mine is certainly less dramatic. However, when it comes to relationships, it seems there is always some sort of drama involved.

Loving others may involve stepping in a minefield (hurt feelings) or some verbal sparring (think flaming arrows from the tongue). There may even be an occasional sneak attack (I didn't see that coming!) or confrontational in-your-face attacks (finger pointing or accusations). Then there are the responses from the previously wounded soldier who is heavily armored and fearful (I've already been hurt) and those somewhere in the middle running interference (can't we just all get along??). It's my guess that every family get-together includes one or more of the above scenarios.

No matter how hard we try, relationships are often messy and it's not always easy to love others. It will be that way because we are imperfect, sinful people who are prone to be selfish. Me included! That self-interest causes us to turn inward and suddenly we're like a porcupine. The quills come out and hurt anybody who comes near.

Frankly, love isn't safe.

"Loving someone selflessly is often simple but rarely is it easy."  
~ Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages 

I've been mulling over these thoughts for a few weeks and it's been interesting to see how the Lord has placed biblical teaching about love and relationships in my path. Here are some things I've learned and they apply to any type of relationship:

Feelings come and go and are very unpredictable. We can't always trust our feelings when it comes to love.

Our emotions and circumstances can influence how we love others. But, if we decide ahead of time to love with that agape kind of love and we've decided ahead of time that no matter what someone does or says, no matter how we feel at the moment about that person, we will continue to love them. Trust is built when we love consistently.

So, what does agape love really look like?

It's choosing to love that person who rejects you.

It's choosing to love that person who made a thoughtless remark that offended you.

It's choosing to love the person whose choices are very different from your own.

Please notice I didn't say you had to approve of the thoughtless remark, the rejection, or the choices made by others. Approval is different than love.

I don't know about you, but I'd prefer to be loved by choice and not based solely on an emotion.

After all, God's love is not based on emotion. God's love is consistent. I am so glad for that!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, 
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
 - John 3:16

But God shows his love for us in that while 
we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Maze of My Life

This is the longest I've gone without posting something on my blog. I've taken short breaks before, but those were intentional. I've had a few blog ideas and even started one, but haven't had the time to really flesh it out. So, it just sits here. Frankly, there's probably not that many people who regularly keep up with it anyway. But, today I'll just do a little stream of consciousness writing instead. So the writing may be a little different.

Life--the maze of my life--has gotten a bit crazy lately. I won't go into the details here. Those closest to me know what some of those details are and that's enough. Suffice it to say, I've had some challenging days in the past few months.

When I first chose this blog name, I thought it was kind of a cute word play. But, life is often a series of mazes. Mazes are places that force you from one end to the other. Sometimes you find yourself crossing the same path time and time again. Other times it looks as if you've finally found the way out only to discover that you've run into a dead end. I hear people have gotten lost in corn mazes. Put a mouse in a maze and it sniffs its way to the end where there's a reward for him.

The only thing that remains constant through it all is Jesus. I may not see Him with my eyes, but He's there in the maze with me. John chapter 16 tells the account of Jesus talking to the disciples before the crucifixion. Jesus reassures them and tells them not to be afraid when He had to leave because the Holy Spirit would be here for us. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, our "come alongside."

If we believe Jesus to be our Savior, when the road gets tough and the path is dark, we have someone alongside us to show us the way.

I'll leave with a few verses of Scripture...

Proverbs 3:6
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take. (NLT)

Isaiah 45:2
I will go before you
    and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron. 

Exodus 43:14
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

On that day David gave to Asaph and his fellow Levites this song of thanksgiving to the Lord:
Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Israel,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.
(1 Chronicles 16:8-13)

This small portion of a song of thanksgiving to the Lord was sung after King David had the Ark of the Covenant brought back to Jerusalem. It was a time of great rejoicing for all of Israel.

I may not be celebrating the return of something precious. And, if I look at my life through the world's eyes, I might actually feel sorry for myself. Life hasn't worked out the way I envisioned when I was a teenager. I never had specific goals in mind for my life, but I had envisioned something much different than what I'm living right now. 

I can still be grateful because God accomplishes His purposes and His plans for my life. 
      Even when I step off the path. 
            Even when I grumble or complain. 
                  Even when I compare my life with someone else's.

Just like the children of Israel, I can continually seek Him, I can remember His signs and wonders and miracles, and I can know that before I was even formed that God thought so highly of me that He had a grand plan in mind.

I was reminded yesterday about God's timing in all things. He can be trusted. Just as surely as the sun will rise in the morning, I cannot rush it to rise sooner nor can I delay it. The sun will rise at its appointed time. 

So, I can be thankful that God is in control of it all. He only has eyes for me and is so focused totally on what I need and care about, yet amazingly God is also focused totally on you and your needs. That's something I cannot fully wrap my brain around. 

This was sort of a stream of consciousness writing this morning as I process some of the things the Lord has been teaching me lately. He keeps reminding me to LOOK UP! To sing my praises to Him! Be thankful. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Grace, Grace, God's Grace

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

I've been thinking about the word Grace for the past few months. Having grown up in an evangelical church, I heard about grace all the time. We sang about such things as: Amazing Grace, Marvelous Grace, Matchless Grace, and so on. The song above is one of those wonderfully rich hymns I recall about grace. I also remember hearing teachers speak about grace a few times. And as a believer, I understood how grace through Jesus Christ redeemed my life.

A while back someone mentioned getting so caught up in trying to always do the right thing that she forgot to live life (my loose paraphrase). Essentially, it paralyzed her confidence in being able to make big decisions.

Now, don't get me wrong. Striving to live a "perfect" life (being like Jesus) and doing our best to make the right choices is a good thing. But if we live in fear of making the wrong choice and it keeps us from living life, that's not a good thing. It might actually keep us from serving effectively as a believer.

In reference to the person mentioned earlier, fear of doing the wrong thing was preventing her from stepping out in faith and trusting God. She almost missed an opportunity which eventually resulted in a great blessing. For the record, this was not a good vs. evil choice.

So, I've been pondering this idea of GRACE sometimes defined as...
God's undeserved, unearned favor, goodness and love.

I know it's there to cover me when I inevitably do the wrong thing (sin), but that grace (God's love) also prevents me from testing Him. I don't want to take advantage of God's grace by knowingly doing something wrong with the idea of asking for forgiveness later. Yeah, that's just wrong any way you look at it.

But it has gotten me to thinking about missed opportunities and those moments when I wasn't sure what the best choice was so it kept me from making any choice for fear of making the wrong choice.

I'm also reminded that I WILL make mistakes. God's grace is big enough to handle my sins when I confess. But, God's grace is also big enough to handle those times when I make the wrong choice, I open door number one and find out I've just stepped into quicksand. His grace can use those opportunities to demonstrate His love, to use it for His glory, and to teach me something in the midst of it all.

Grace is a big subject. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of it, but I am enjoying learning about it.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thoughts About Life

Just a few thoughts to share this week...

1.  Life is fleeting.

2.  Love others.

3.  Let God have control.

Point #1:

I mourn with friends this week who lost a loved one—a beloved patriarch of the family. It was a sudden death that came a few days after celebrating his life.

It reminded me of the loss of my own father several years ago. There was no warning. No last-minute goodbye. He was on this earth one moment and in heaven the next. However, I wouldn't have changed a thing in how that transpired in my life.

Even though the deaths I have mentioned were sudden, both lived full lives and were men after God's heart. In His sovereignty, God made the choice of when it was time to bring them home. For that I am personally grateful.

Yes, life is fleeting. We don't always understand God's timing or God's ways. But, I do know that God is still good. He was with me through that time and will be with my friends as they walk through this, too.

Point #2:

I was reminded several times this week through scripture that God is love. He loved us first. And, we should love others, even though they might not love us back. Why should I expect love to be returned? It's easy to love those who love us back, but it's not so easy to love those who resist our attempts at showing care and love. Or worse, what about showing love to those who don't like us or persecute us?

I really like this quote:  "God’s intent is that the people who receive His love will become the conduit of His love to others." —Julie Ackerman Link

I'm asked to be a conduit of love, not simply a receptacle. After a while, a full receptacle will get stagnant. You have to keep pouring the water out and adding fresh water or it gets nasty.

Point #3:
I sat back and watched God go to work this week. There were a couple of situations that came up in which I felt as if I should "do something." But, this is an area of my life in which God has been teaching me a lot. I did do something. I prayed about it first instead of trying to fix it myself. Then I waited on the Lord (because that seemed to be the right thing to do in this instance).

The peace that I had as I surrendered those things to the Lord was incredible. Then as I saw answers to prayers come through, it was so evident that God's hand was in it. That's when things started falling into place.

When I try to do things in my own strength it's a lot like pushing a boulder up a mountain. It's exhausting!

To be fair, this doesn't mean that life and problems will always be effortless if we turn to the Lord first. Scripture already tells us we will have problems, but it also tells us that the Lord help us bear these burdens.

For His glory!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Week in Review: Faith Testing

I try to stay consistent about posting on this blog even if it's only once a week. Last week was different. It's not that God wasn't teaching me anything--au contraire! Sometimes it's better for me to "Be Still" and just listen rather than write.

The past few weeks have been challenging in many ways. I won't go into all the details, but suffice it to say that we all have seasons in our lives that push us out of our comfort zones and stretch us in the faith department.

This morning I was working on a Bible study about faith and immediately realized that God used some of the events of the past few weeks to stretch me in the faith department. I wish I could say that I got an A+. Not even close! I had good moments and bad moments. There were times when I reacted to circumstances through my flesh by saying or doing things that were not so Christ-like. And then I had some Spirit-filled moments when I desperately prayed for God's help and turned to Scripture.

As I look back over the week, I can see that those moments when I turned to God and the Word were some of the most peace-filled moments of the week. Did my circumstances get better? No. Not really. But, I did feel peace that passed all understanding...

And the peace of God, 
which surpasses all comprehension, 
will guard your hearts 
and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
Philippians 4:7

...and when I did go to God and Scripture first, I found that things fell into place a little better than if I had tried to do things in my own strength.

Fear not, for I am with you; 
be not dismayed, for I am your God; 
I will strengthen you, I will help you, 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

There's one other thing I learned this morning about my faith: It's been getting stronger over the years. I can now see how my faith has been shaped by my environment and other people since I was a child. My belief system has been rather limited in the past. My knowledge of Scripture was limited and therefore my knowledge of who God is and what He can do was limited. 

As I've spent more and more time in Scripture, I can see how my perception of who God is has been changing. The God I know right now is not the God I knew 10, 20, or 30 years ago. He's much bigger, He's much more loving, He's much more personal, and He's much more awesome than I would have thought a few decades ago. These are the kinds of things we learn only after spending years getting to know someone.

If you need a faith boost, read the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Faith is the confidence we need when we cannot see anything happening and it is by faith that we trust God, knowing that He is able when we are not.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pop Quiz: Are you Ready?

Tests. They were the mainstay of our school years. We studied a subject for a period of time and then the teacher would give a test to gague how well we've learned. Most of the time the teacher would tell the class a test was coming. It gave us time to prepare. It was nice to have one last time to study the material before test time.

Inevitably I would have a teacher or two (or three) who enjoyed giving a pop quiz. Oh the groans that rippled through the room whenever a teacher greeted us with those words! Those were tests you didn't know were coming. If you didn't know the material, you were sunk! However, the teacher used these pop quizzes to learn how well we were retaining what he or she was teaching.

Spiritual life is not really that different. My Teacher often allows those tests to come along to see how well I am learning and growing in a particular area of my life.

I recently had one of those "pop quizzes," although I didn't realize it at first. I was going down the road, in a place which I had been a few times before. On this road I had the option of reacting the way I always had in the past. In church-speak some would call this "reacting from the flesh." Simply put, I wanted to react the way I always had in the past which is just jumping in and doing what I wanted to do--to take control.

However, because this is a place which God (my Teacher) has been teaching me for a while, my reaction this time was different. My initial reaction was the same as always (what can I do?), but I did not pursue that thought for long. I immediately began to ask God what I should do.

When I had gone down this path before, I asked God what to do and He put up a literal roadblock. I was kind of expecting to see the same response again. A closed door is kind of comforting, you know what I mean?

Well, do you know how teachers just stand by and watch you as you take a test? That's how I felt God was with me at that particular moment. He was there and I knew it, but He was not giving me the answer to this test. Instead, God did give me the kind of responses which made me think, "What's this got to do with it"?
This time I needed to figure it out based on what I've learned.

After much consideration and prayer, I felt that either choice I made in this situation would have been okay and covered by His grace. There was no wrong choice to be made because nothing I was considering would have been sinful or immoral. But there was an obvious choice--my way or God's way. One choice more closely fit with my resolve to allow God to control instead of me trying to control. So, I turned left instead of right.

It was shortly after that decision was made that I sensed a confirmation from God that I'd made the better choice. It was then my Teacher began to instruct again and that's when I realized I'd just been tested.

I've written about this area of control before. One of my first posts on this blog was called God's Timing. So this is not the first time I've been tested in this area of my life and it certainly won't be the last.

This pop quiz came up so suddenly that I didn't have a chance for last-minute studying, but alas... I have been a student all along. I've been learning from the Master Teacher.

Psalm 66 tells of the Israelites praising God for his mighty deeds and answered prayers. In the middle of that Psalm is verse 10 which says...

You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.

Hmmm. Purufied like silver. Reminds me of another post I wrote a while back about the proofing process.  Proofing is a phase that reveals flaws and errors in the metal. 

Tests can come at any moment. I need to stay in the word and connected to God, learning at all times. I also need to seek God's will.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on 
your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do,  
and he will show you which path to take. - Proverbs 3:5-6

There's a conditional promise in this verse. If I trust in the Lord, He will guide me to make the best choices. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Your Will Be Done

Are you familiar with King Hezekiah? A number of years ago I recall studying Hezekiah of the Old Testament. He was one of the few good kings who ruled over Judah. The story of Hezekiah made a lasting impression on me. I think about his story occasionally and was once again reminded of Hezekiah's story. 

Hezekiah followed the Lord, but he became ill and was told by a prophet that it was time to set his affairs in order. Hezekiah was told that he would not recover from the illness and would die. Imagine knowing that!  

Hezekiah did something bold--he prayed fervently for his life to be spared. He reminded God of his faithfulness to serve the Lord and how he always tried to please God in everything he did. 

So, Hezekiah was a good guy who loved God. He prayed for something he really wanted, asking God to change his mind and allow him to live. Then he wept bitterly. What Hezekiah was asking for was not really a bad thing (it wasn't against any of God's laws, it wasn't immoral, etc.). In his mind, Hezekiah wasn't ready to die and would like to continue leading Judah on the Lord's behalf.

God heard his prayer and extended Hezekiah's life by 15 years...

‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David’” (2 Kings 20:5).
But (wouldn't you know it) during those extra years bad things happened. Hezekiah allowed people from other countries to see all the treasures in Judah (the Babylonians would eventually come back and take all the treasures). This time also ushered in one of the worst kings in their history to take over when Hezekiah finally died--his own son, Manasseh. 

The sovereign God knew that it would be better for Hezekiah to die the first time he became so ill, but God allowed him to live. He answered Hezekiah's big prayer.

I think of this scenario sometimes when I pray those big prayers. In my hurt and suffering, when I ask God to change my circumstances--or those of others--I wonder if having my way will result in relief now, but more pain later? It always gives me pause to ask for God's will to be done.

The thing that I am learning is that it's okay to ask God and pray those big prayers. It's okay to believe God for big things, to have faith in a God who can move mountains and creates life.

God wants me to talk to Him about these big things and the little things that concern me. But, I also understand that when I ask, I should keep in mind what Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:10 says,"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Keeping Our Eyes on God

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Wax On, Wax Off which was inspired by the original Karate Kid movie. As I was watching this movie, I discovered some interesting spiritual applications and wrote a post about it.

I didn't have time to watch the entire movie that night, but I recorded it on my DVR to watch later. I finally watched the rest of the movie, and was once again inspired by the words of Miyagi.

You see, Daniel was in training. Whether he realized it or not, all the hard work he was doing was giving him endurance and teaching him skills. Evenso, Miyagi had to continue to correct Daniel.

At this point in the movie, Miyagi finally shows Daniel how all the hard work he has done prepared him for what will come next.  Each chore--waxing the car, sanding the floor, and painting the fence--taught Daniel basic karate moves.

Then at the end of the first real karate lesson, Miyagi bowed. A stunned Daniel mirrored his teacher's move and bowed, however he looked down at the floor. Miyagi quickly grabbed Daniel's face, he pointed to his own eyes and said, "Always look eye."

This isn't a perfect analogy, however it did bring to mind that I should always keep my eye on my Teacher (God) and His path for me. It also reminds me of Solomon's wise advice to his son in Proverbs 4:25-27...

Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Give What You Have

I was reading this VERY FAMILIAR Bible story last week. Some Bible stories are so familiar to us that we have a tendency rush through them with the "been there, done that" mentality. Really, the feeding of 5,000 is one of those Bible stories we learn as children and hear over and over and over. It's a great story of a miracle, but often the focus of the story is about the miracle of Jesus.

For your reading pleasure, here's the account of this story from the passage I was reading. Go ahead, I'll wait until you're done...

Jesus Feeds Five Thousand - Matthew 14.13-21

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. 
But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot 
 from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, 
and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, 
and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go 
to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

“But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

“Bring them here,” he said. Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. 

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, 
and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, 
he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people.  

They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up
 twelve baskets of leftovers. About 5,000 men were fed that day,
 in addition to all the women and children!

So, did you see anything new in this passage? When I was reading this story last week, I suddenly noticed something I hadn't seen before. I don't know if it was the translation I was reading (NLT), if it was the Matthew passage instead of another Gospel, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit teaching me. Perhaps all three!

Here's what jumped out at me while reading it this time...

The disciples had this extremely practical idea: Let the people go home before dark to eat. I'm sure the disciples were shocked when Jesus told them, "You feed them" (verse 16). I'm imagining the disciples were a bit puzzled by that response. They already knew they did not have enough food available to feed that many people. Jesus asks them to bring what they have.

Just bring what you already have...

What you already have is enough...

Whatever God is calling me to do, I have enough. Just bring it.

You and I may not feel we are fully prepared, fully trained, or fully funded, before setting out to do something the Lord has called us to do. I know I often feel woefully inadequate, but actually that's probably a better place to be because God gets the glory in whatever happens instead of me.

There may be times when we are fully prepared. But, more often than not, we may be called to give from our weakness--inadequate as it may be.

By bringing what we have, Jesus blesses it and multiplies it--for His glory. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Recommended Resource for Singles

Another website I subscribe to recommended this short video and was intrigued by the title: Dealing With Disappointment When You're Single. Steve DeWitt recorded this video; he's a pastor and was single into his 40s. This guy knows what he's talking about. I truly appreciate where he's coming from and his sound, biblical advice in this video.
Click Here to watch Video

I also appreciated hearing Steve say, "Have you noticed the real "experts" on singleness are married people? They say things like, 'Surrender this to the Lord, because until you do God's not going to bring you a wife.'"

In other words, Jesus needs us to jump through certain hoops and follow these seven or ten steps before a mate will be given to a Christian. Huh??? I don't think so.

The "expert" advice we singles often get are from well-intentioned people who simply want to help, but sometimes they just don't get it. I remember being told once that I didn't market myself well. (Hellooo...I'm not a commodity.)

I think this is a good reminder to all of us--me included--that we can't hand out advice like Tic-Tacs. If we really don't know the answer, say so. Let's be careful not to make something up to fill the silence. Sometimes people just want to be heard--to know that someone understands. But, I digress... 

Ultimately, if we have Christ, we have all that we need. Watch this short vlog on the subject of Dealing With Disappointment When You're Single.

(in)Joy! -- Encouragement for Single Women 

Join me at (in)Joy! an online community of single, professional women who desire to grow in God's truth and discover what it means to daily find our joy in Him.

I will be co-leading the group this session as we do a book study, share prayer requests, and encourage each other. This group is part of the (in)courage community of women who meet on Facebook. I joined this group one year ago as a participant and enjoyed having like-minded women to communicate with on a regular basis. It's been interesting to see how God has opened the door for me to go from being a regular member to now leading this group.

Groups will be limited to 30 participants. The Fall session begins September 23rd, 2013. Please register today at (in)Joy!  Hope to see you there!!

P.S. If you're not a single, professional woman, no worries!  (in)courage has 70 different groups of women with common interests such as creative writing, empty-nesters, stay-at-home moms, and support groups for caregivers. Check all the groups out today!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Wax On, Wax Off

I was watching the 1984 version of The Karate Kid and a spiritual analogy came to mind. Daniel wants to learn to defend himself so he asks Mr. Miyagi to train him in karate. Miyagi finally agrees as long as Daniel agrees not to ask any questions. "No questions," says Miyagi.
"Wax on, wax off" Karate Kid 1984.

Daniel shows up ready for his first karate training session and ends up washing cars instead. This is where that famous "wax on, wax off" scene happens. Daniel is a bit confused, but follows orders. He's trusting Miyagi will get around to the real karate training eventually.

The next day Daniel shows up and is shown how to "sand the floor" which he proceeds to spend the entire day doing. This process continues day after day with similar chores of "paint the fence" and "paint the house." By this time, a very patient Daniel is finally getting worn out, frustrated, feeling used, and is ready to go back on his promise of "no questions."

Daniel gets angry with Miyagi and is ready to give up and walk away. Miyagi says, "Ah, not everything is as seems."

What Daniel did not understand was that all the chores he was doing which seemed like busywork, was really his training. During this time Daniel was learning to trust his teacher, he was learning to focus, he was building up strength and skills in his arms. Miyagi's method of teaching was vastly different than the training the other boys at the dojo were getting.

Have you picked up on the spiritual analogy already? Sometimes we ask God for something--a ministry, a new job, a family--and then we find ourselves a million miles away from what we had in mind. Now, we'll assume that whatever we've prayed for is something good, legal, moral, and fits in God's overall plan for our lives. If that's true then it's entirely possible that God will give us that ministry, job, family at some point in the future. However, while we may think we're ready to tackle that dream now, God knows better so He puts us through some training.

In this training time God asks us to trust Him implicitly. We must rest our faith in whatever God is asking us to do right now. And, unlike Miyagi, God doesn't mind if we ask questions (and He's patient when we do!).

We may be waxing cars or painting fences and somehow all of that just may translate into an answer to our prayers later. Ah, not everything is as seems.

Hmmm. Just something to ponder next time we feel as if what we're doing now doesn't really matter.

For we walk by faith, not by sight. ~ 2 Corinthians 5.7

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Forgetting Can Get Us Into Trouble

They say an elephant never forgets.
I've been reading through the book of Deuteronomy lately. I know... Visions of page after page of Do's and Don'ts are probably dancing around your head about now. Truthfully, there are a lot of those. They might not seem important to us now, but they were very important instructions for the Israelites. And there is always something for us to learn by reading these records.

You see, the Israelites had been in captivity by the Egyptians for many years. Then they were rescued and led to the Promised Land by Moses. They took quite a long time to finally get there. Time passes and things change, including their memories. So, before the Israelites were to go into this new land, God wanted to prepare them. Hence, all those lists of what to do and not to do.

During all those years away from their homeland--and even on the return trip--they forgot a few things. They forgot the many ways that God helped them.

I've also been reading through the Psalms and recently read this related passage:

Our ancestors in Egypt were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds. They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them. Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea. -Ps. 106:7

The Psalm continues to tell the reader how God went ahead and rescued them anyway--miraculously. But... quickly they forgot what he had done! They wouldn’t wait for his counsel! -Ps. 106:13

Then the Psalmist reminds us that on their journey home, God was simply having them wait while Moses was being given the Ten Commandments, yet again...

They forgot God, their savior, who had done such great things in Egypt. -Ps. 106:21

If you keep reading this Psalm, you'll notice that this pattern continues. Before we start beating up on the Israelites, we'll extend a little grace. All of us have pretty short memories. Several months ago I wrote another post about the importance of Remembering. I've been guilty of forgetting too.

Their forgetfulness is what got them into trouble. They lost sight of what God had done for them in the past. So, they fell back into their old ways and they tried to rely on their own resources. They got a little scared and decided to build a golden calf.

Our forgetfulness can get us into trouble, too. We will fall back into old ways and habits to get us by in life. We'll use the world's wisdom to get answers. Maybe we don't build a giant golden calf, but when we get scared we use money to buy some comfort; we put our trust in a job or another person instead of God. This is especially true if we think God is being too slow to answer our prayers, so we'll "help God along" by manipulating circumstances.

The bright spot in all of this is what verse 44 of this chapter says: Even so...

Even so, God remembered his covenant with His people. (He did NOT forget.)
Even so, because of His unfailing love, God continued to save His people.

Yes, the Israelites still experienced the consequences of their sin. That applies to us as well.

Forgetting the past can get us into trouble. So, it behooves us to remember how God intervenes on our behalf, even in all those little ways that we may dismiss as happenstance.

Another point to not gloss over here is that God keeps His promises and God loves His people--unconditionally. That truth extends to us as well. Isn't that great!

Because I have a short memory, I've taken to recording some of these things in a journal. It's amazing when I go back and read about some of the things God has done on my behalf and I'll think to myself, I forgot about that!

Preserve these memories for yourself and for the next generation. The next time you face a difficult decision or situation, go back and remind yourself of what God has done before.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Futility: What's the Point?

Futility. By definition it means useless acts. The Hebrew meaning is breath or vapor. Essentially it's something that is here one second and gone the next. It's also a word used by Solomon many times in the book of Ecclesiastes. In some versions of the Bible you may recognize the use of the word vanity

Personally, I have a harder time identifying with that word in this context. My mind immediately goes to someone who spends a lot of time trying to look good for others, a cabinet in your bathroom, and the song, "You're So Vain." So, I prefer futility or meaningless as a word substitute.

I've experienced a lot of that futility myself. My flesh often sees life through the world’s eyes. I think, What’s the point? It seems the harder I try, the more things stay the same or worsen. It's very much like that addage of taking three steps forward and two steps back. You just can't seem to get any traction and haven't a lot to show for your efforts.

I recall as a teenager studying through the book of Ecclesiastes with a church class. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really understand it and it was a real downer! I just couldn’t identify with Solomon. As I look back on it, I now understand why. I had not lived a lot of life yet. The idea of futility probably never entered my mind. My whole life was still ahead of me and I had few responsibilities since I was still living in the shelter of my parents.

After living a few more decades (ugh, that sounds old), I've lived through many more experiences--both first-hand and by observation. Life does have a tendency to look futile. But, of course, by whose standards? Are these my standards? The worlds' standards? Or are these God's standards?
Yes, I need to see things through God’s eyes. I need to have that heavenly perspective on things and put the measuring stick up against the Bible instead of the world's idea of success. 

Romans 8 reminds us of a different perspective. The things we suffer now will be nothing in comparison to future glory. This earth has been subjected to sin and that makes life pretty icky sometimes (my paraphrase), but we do have hope
Solomon's advice was to enjoy things we have rather than desiring those things we don't have. It's not that we cannot desire good things or pursue a better life, but how much time we spend focused on those desires or how much energy we use chasing those dreams can be futile. And, it may not be what God has in mind for us. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 16:9, "The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps."

That's what I've been thinking about this week.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Washed Up on Gilligan's Island?

Okay, so life is not exactly going the way you planned it. You're not in that career you want, you're not living in that house you'd rather be living in, or maybe you're still looking for Mister or Miss Right.

Sometimes it feels as if you're just being pulled along by the currents of life and you've washed ashore on Gilligan's Island. You set up a hut on the island and keep looking for a way to get off--a way of escape. Now what? What's the purpose of this island experience? I mean, seriously, what good is a formal gown and a suitcase full of money on a deserted island? (That was a Gilligan's Island reference in case that one zipped by you.)

Suppose, just suppose, that where you are right now is part of God's calling--or ministry--for your life? (Say what???)

Yes, that dead-end job or unemployment may be part of God's plan. That neighborhood you're living in or your singleness may very well be part of your present ministry. None of these situations are necessarily permanent. Like any other calling or ministry, it's for a season. Some seasons are just a little longer than others. For example, I could borrow the book title for my singleness season from Laura Ingalls Wilder and call it The Long Winter. Yeah, it's been one very long season. But it is just that--a season. It's not necessarily forever.

However, I do know that in my season--or whatever season you find yourself in--there is purpose. I was listening to a message by Tony Evans recently and he made a few suggestions:

  •  Ask God how He wants to use me in this present state that I am in.
  •  Suppose God wants to use me in this present circumstance, but I might be so distracted by my circumstances that I am not ready or available to be used.
  • Use this time to prepare for what lies ahead. (If you want a better job, train for it or study. If you want a mate, become a student of godly marriages and make sure you're ready to be a mate. If you want a better home, start saving up for it.)

In this season I need to be available for God to use. If I'm spending all of my free time chasing after what I want, I may miss those opportunities of ministry. It could be some of those opportunities are part of God's plan to prepare me for what's coming later. All of it becomes part of God's plan. And that circles back around to the theme verse I have chosen for this blog...

For I know the plans I have 
for you,” says the Lord
“They are plans for good 
and not for disaster, to give you
a future and a hope.  
~ Jeremiah 29:11

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Worship Music: Who Are We Really Worshiping?

Worship Music: How much of what we hear and sing is truly directed toward God?

I was in my car running some errands and turned on a talk radio program. I'm not even sure what program it was. The program was more than half over and the host introduced a young woman. She said something that struck a chord (no pun intended) with me. She said something to the effect that most of the Christian "worship" music we hear on the radio is all about what God can do for me.

Ouch! Sadly, that is true. Also sadly, I've been such a needy child of God for the past year that I really have been guilty of spending more time focused on my needs and neglecting to send back that thanksgiving and praise to Whom it belongs.

Heal me. Make me feel better. Take away these hurts. Show me what You want me to do. Help me understand. Protect me. And the list of needs goes on and on...

Don't get me wrong. All of these are legitimate needs and sincere requests to be made of God. But, they can definitely get us "out of balance" if it's always one-sided. (FYI: I'm not condemning modern Christian music.)

Someone once pointed out that very few songs are written with the singer giving direct praise to God. Most are written with a "let's all praise God together" focus. Even the Doxology, "Praise God to Whom all blessings flow," is all about us telling each other how great He is. Corporate worship is great, needed, and Biblical. I also need intimate worship where I am directly telling God how much He means to me. This also put God back in the throne where He belongs. Singing "How Great is Our God" together is fabulous. But sometimes I need to turn that into "How Great are YOU, God!" By the way, I can do this corporately or alone in the car!

If you begin reading through all the Psalms, you'll notice that most of them will include a good balance of all these things (Psalm 109). And some are strictly all praise focused toward God (Psalm 104).

I realized today that I need to be more intentional about worshiping God directly, praising His name, and exalting Him because... "It's all about you, Jesus." This means in song and in prayer, "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." Psalm 19:14.

The speaker on the radio said something else that was very interesting. She sometimes likes to listen to Christian rap music. Why? Because with that type of music she is unable to sing along with it. It forces her to listen to the words. Hmmm. Interesting.

That got me to thinking about my own life. I'm a singer and help lead music at my church. I've been doing it for a long time and truly love singing. However, last fall I sensed God was leading me to make a few changes. I simply did not feel like singing any longer, so it was time to step down from my leadership position and take a sabbatical.

I did just that and an amazing thing happened: I listened. I tried to sing, but could not bring myself to do so most of the time. So I really listened. However, I did sing inside my heart and mind. I paid close attention to the words and I still worshiped. I particpated even though my mouth wasn't moving.

This listening was not limited to church services. The same thing happened to me when I was in my car. Instead of singing along with songs on the radio (which I always do), I listened. All of this listening was part of the long process that God was taking me through to give me rest, but it was also a time when He wanted to teach me. In the process I was being spiritually renewed. (I'm slowly going back to singing and serving again.)

Well, just wanted to share these things that I'm pondering in my own life. What do you think about all of this? Or have you ever thought through any of these things?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Waiting, Waiting, and Waiting Some More

I've posted about the topic of waiting several times in the past. If you've ever noticed my "topic cloud" on the right side of this blog page, the topics I've written about most often appear much larger than others. The subject of waiting is not in the top five, but it's definitely been visited a lot on this blog. And, if you're curious about those other posts, here's a link to them: Waiting.

I've been trying to think of something to write about for the past few days. I've listened to some great sermons, read some very interesting devotionals and blogs. However, the thing that is uppermost in my mind is this topic of waiting. As a matter of fact, I went back to a book that I read last year on this topic. It's called Waiting On God by Cherie Hill. I've marked it up quite a bit and went back to read the highlighted portions. I was in need of some encouragement and it helped. (There's a link here directly to the book if you're curious about it.)

Then today I was checking Twitter during my lunch hour and saw a tweet from a fellow writer that really got my attention. It was "I'm Tired of Being Single." Dun-dun-dun!!! GASP! That's exactly why I was tired of waiting. Tired of waiting for a mate. Tired of being alone. Just tired of it all--plain and simple. [I included a link above if you'd like to read his article.]  That article pretty much sums up my feelings.

I'm a very patient person. Seriously! Once I got out of my teen years, I managed to live and wait three decades for a mate. THREE DECADES! And I'm still waiting as I enter decade #FOUR.

Now, before you think I'm just ranting and raving like a lunatic (she's lost her mind and we'd better have an intervention), I'm mostly okay with the waiting. I mean, I have a good--very blessed--life. I have wonderful friends and family. I have meaningful work and hobbies. I do my best to glorify God in whatever I do. The key here is the word mostly.  I do have days--sometimes weeks--in which I'm not really okay with the waiting.

I do understand that "the other side" is not a bed of roses and won't be the answer to all my problems. Life doesn't suddenly get better simply because of a relationship. In fact, it probably gets much more complicated. None of that still takes away that desire to share your life with someone who's closer than a roommate or good friend.

So I continue to wait on God's best for me. I wait for God's timing. And I pop the waiting Bible verses like tic-tacs after a spicy meal. Yes, I've got a list. And then I devour books like Cherie Hill's. In parting, I want to share a few of her thoughts on waiting:

"While you’re waiting, God wants you praying, 
drawing nearer to Him, and resting in the peace 
that He provides in the midst of a raging storm. 
As you wait, God strengthens you because you begin 
to realize that God IS at work . . . He’s growing 
your faith and He’s purifying your heart. And faith
is rarely grown with anything other than 
overwhelming circumstances, and typically not 
found in any place other than the 'waiting place.'"
~ Cherie Hill

"You can’t say that you’re praying for God’s will 
and trusting in His timing if you’re not willing 
to 'wait.'"  ~ Cherie Hill

This is a paraphrase of one of her thoughts: The waiting place is where God tests our faith. But, we can know that God will not leave us in that waiting place any longer than absolutely necessary to accomplish His purposes. 

" eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him!"
 Isaiah 64:4b

Just being real...