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.
        Disappointments.
          Betrayal.
            Miscommunication.
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,


 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Birthday Thoughts

Tomorrow is my birthday. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. There's nothing particularly significant about this new number, but it's those in-between numbers that seem to hit me harder than the ones ending in zero, five, or nine.


This morning I was thinking that tomorrow my age number changes. The fact of the matter is that I am one day older each day that I wake up. It just so happens that when the day of my birth rolls around I'm "suddenly" one year older. I had to ponder that one a moment. Just because the calendar says I'm one year older does not mean that I suddenly aged one year. No, it happens gradually over the course of a year and there's nothing I can do about that. God created time to move forward.

Hmmmmm. As much as I'd like to stop time and stay at one particular age I cannot.

Another thing I've been mulling over is birthday celebrations. Because my birthday falls in the middle of vacation season I've learned to adapt to whatever is happening around me. As a kid my birthday was always celebrated with family and usually with little fanfare. My mother's birthday is the day after mine so there was usually the shared cake and party.

Those of you with summer birthdays may also understand the angst of not being able to celebrate a birthday at school. I don't know if kids celebrate birthdays at school these days what with all the restrictions and food allergies. In my day, mothers used to bring cupcakes and those cute little ice cream cups with wooden spoons to school on the day of their child's birthday. Everyone enjoyed the treats and the birthday child enjoyed the special attention. In most classes there was usually a handful of us with summer birthdays who weren't able to participate in that fun. I suspect the mothers appreciated not having to worry about it, though.

Over the years I've had many different kinds of birthday celebrations. I've had quiet ones and loud ones. Small ones and large ones. Celebrations with friends. Celebrations with family. Celebrations with coworkers. Parties with karaoke. Parties with bowling. Parties with orange-colored foods. Parties with cake and ice cream. Parties with Italian or Mexican food. Each party has been unique and memorable. And the best birthdays were not because I was the center of attention. (Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not one who seeks to be the center of attention.) No, the most memorable birthdays have been because people chose to share their time with me. We weren't thinking about the age (well, sometimes we did), but we were simply enjoying each others' company and celebrating the connection we have.

I heard a song on the radio yesterday called 39 and Holding by Jerry Lee Lewis. Since I was thinking about my upcoming birthday, I listened with interest. The song is about a man who is trying to hide his age. He's out late every night trying to keep up with the younger crowd, but he doesn't quite fit in. He's still doing the same moves that he did when he was 30 years younger and he's doing everything he can to prove that he's still a man--not an old man. The truth is that he isn't fooling anybody but himself. I think we've all known people like that. Uh-huh..... LOL. For the record, I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to look younger or doing some things that younger people do. But, birthdays are one of those times to write yourself a reality check.

The days leading up to this birthday have been a time of reflection for me. I've thought about the birthdays I've celebrated most recently. All were unique and memorable in their own way. This birthday has also been unique, but not because I have big plans. I don't even know how I will celebrate this birthday yet! I do know that however I celebrate the day that I have a God who loves me more than I will ever understand this side of heaven. I have been blessed with family and friends who love me. And if I ever start looking like an old woman with young hair and clothes.... PLEASE STOP ME!! Hahaha.

Love you all.






Sunday, June 21, 2015

What Are You Waiting For?

It's been quite a while since I've updated this blog. It's been a busy season and it has been challenging to stay focused on any one particular task. So, I do just what I must do to keep going and let extra things like reading for pleasure or writing fall by the wayside. I often use quiet moments in the car or early mornings to think about things, though.

I was reminded this morning about the subject of waiting on God. The song by John Waller called While I'm Waiting from the movie Fireproof came to mind. A few years ago that song and the movie helped me to turn my focus back to waiting quietly on God and to keep moving forward, trusting God to work out his plans for my life (Jer. 29:11). As I reflected on these things, I went back to read a blog post that I first shared three years ago. I think this one is a timeless message worth a repeat. Enjoy!

The Waiting Game

Have you ever played the "waiting game?" Probably a silly question since we spend our entire lives waiting. When we're children, we wait for our birthdays, Christmas, summer vacation. We pestered our parents with that age-old question, "Are we there yet?"

Then as adults we wait for that first job offer, we wait in grocery lines, we wait at the traffic light. I could go on and on. It seems we spend our whole life waiting on something or someone. We get impatient waiting for that light to turn green or for the microwave to ding. I can't imagine a life without a microwave, yet I did live in a time without a microwave and I managed just fine. It seems our society has groomed us to expect everything to happen quickly.

God doesn't work the way the world does. He took seven days to create the world. That seems pretty quick to me since it takes the government two years to finish a short interstate construction project. Nevertheless, God could have created the entire world in an instant if He wanted to. Perhaps there is something to be learned from that? Time means nothing to God. He sees time in a completely different way than we do. We see it in our clocks and calendars. But He knows that we have that limitation to understand time. Maybe that's why God paced himself by creating the earth in the span of seven days. Perhaps He was giving us an example. . . .  Click HERE to read the rest of this blog post.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Is it Complaining?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recent internet posts and conversations have me thinking lately about complaints. A few months ago I was challenged by one post to not complain and to look for the positive in situations and build up others. Great idea! There's so much negativity in the world already, so trying to find the positive in a situation makes sense.

But real life happens and in the course of conversations, someone asks how you are and rather than giving the usual response of, "I'm fine," you share your concerns with someone close to you. Is that considered complaining? 

I've heard it labeled as complaining by some. Others would say no, because they did genuinely want to know and are concerned for your well-being. So which is it?

Someone I know is going through a very difficult time of life. As she relates what's happening in her world she downplays the real story. I don't know the reason why. Maybe she is sparing some of the details. Maybe she doesn't want to worry others. Or maybe she doesn't want to come across as complaining. I honestly don't know. 

As I was pondering these scenarios, I wondered what the difference was between complaining and relating facts about life. The conclusion I came to was it's all about what's in the heart.

For example, I may relate details of a challenging day to a friend in order to share life and to give them a context in which to pray for me, possibly offer help, or give advice. If my motivation for relating these details is to simply relate to those who care about me, it's not complaining--in my opinion. 

Should I be offended or feel uncomfortable if someone close to me wants to tell me about her challenging events of the day? I don't believe so if we have a relationship that lends itself to that sort of conversation and especially if I ask how it's going. Granted, some people politely ask how it's going with no intention of hearing the truth.You can usually tell when someone isn't interested in hearing details and it's best to just move on.
  
By contrast, if I withhold the challenging details of my day from a close friend or a loved one simply because I don't want to appear to be discontent or complaining, how is that benefiting either of us?

I do feel as if there is a fine line between complaining and telling others what's going on in my life. I guess finding that balance is crucial. I should ask myself questions before I speak such as...

      Why do I want to tell this person about my problems? 
     Am I trying to manipulate them into helping me?  
     Do I want to deepen our relationship by sharing my burdens and sincerely 
             look for help or support? 
     If I do need help, why don't I just come right out and ask for help rather 
             than manipulate or guilt others into helping? 


I think the key is often in the relationship and knowing who your audience is. I think our culture--our beliefs, customs, way of life, the people we live around--forms how we handle these types of situations. I grew up in a more superficial culture where people just didn't talk about their feelings and for the most part acted as if everything was fine. After moving away from that culture and into a different one, I've learned that not everyone is that way. I have learned that when one of my friends ask how I'm doing, they truly want to know--every detail, everything good or bad.

I guess my main point in all of this is that we need to be careful not to assume the worst of others when someone shares a concern or a burden. What may seem like a complaint on the surface may simply be someone needing to be heard. If the person speaking is close to you, you should know what's going on in their life so that you can pray for them and offer help, when appropriate. If you are close enough to them, hopefully you know whether their heart and whether what they offer are complaints or concerns. 

And, of course, we should also weigh our words carefully before speaking and ask those questions of ourselves: Is what I'm going to say building up or tearing down? What is my motivation for sharing? 

So what do you think about this topic? I'm curious to know...








 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Life Has No Movie Soundtrack

The scenario: Someone is on a stroll through the woods. The scenery is beautiful, in the background you can hear the padding of footsteps in the quiet peacefulness. Slowly the background music creeps into the scene signaling something is about to change. Suddenly the eerie sounds of music grows louder and a stranger runs onto the path. For those of us watching the movie, we anticipated something was coming because the music in the background prepared us for it. If only life was like that. The problem is. . .

Life has no movie soundtrack!

If life was more like a movie, we would know that something was going to happen because of the music or sounds playing in the background. For example, you are sitting in a restaurant having a quiet dinner and some comedic music begins to play nearby. You feel rather lighthearted for some reason and a moment later the waiter drops an entire tray on the floor. Ripples of quiet laughter erupt in the restaurant.

Or let's use that same setting and play the sounds of the dun-Dun-DUN near the handsome couple having dinner together. A sense of dread comes over the restaurant and everyone braces for what happens next: The woman tells her significant other that she wants to break up. She stands up and throws a ring in his lap while he sits with mouth agape. Cue the sad violin music.

You get the picture. Movies or television programs give us hints about what's going to happen by the music and sounds being played. This music actually manipulates us into feeling a certain way to help propel the storyline.

Real life is so much different. You suddenly find out someone wants to have a discussion with no clue about what's going to be discussed. Since the meeting was not planned, you immediately begin to anticipate the worst and pour over anything that could be wrong. It's so easy to imagine the worst rather than the best. If only there was a movie soundtrack to give you a clue!

I don't have any great revelations to share about this. It's really just a thought that occurred to me recently as I have watched life unfold all around me. Surprises--good and bad--come with nary a clue and definitely no soundtrack hints. Sometimes the blessing is in the surprise otherwise knowing the future would not be good.

I guess as believers in Jesus the best thing to do is to be prepared by staying close to God because nothing surprises Him. We have to keep our eyes on Him. He knows what is coming long before I do and the the Bible is full of examples like: Joseph, Sarah, Job, David, Peter, John, and Paul. Hebrews 11 is a list of people who trusted God when they weren't sure what was going on and God honored that faith.

I may not know what's going to happen in the next minute, the next hour, the next month, or the next year. However, I do know the Lord promises to be with me no matter what--even without the background music!

I know the Lord is always with me.    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. - Psalm 16:8


Monday, February 16, 2015

Beside Still Waters





Sometimes what I look at as an inconvenience or a problem, God means for me to see it as a gift.

Today was a prime example of that. A winter storm blew through the area causing hazardous road conditions which meant many businesses did not open today.

Most schools were already closed in observance of President's Day, but teachers were still supposed to report to work. Government agencies and banks were already closed. However, the majority of businesses were planning to be open as usual. That meant a lot of parents had to find someone to watch the kids while they went to work. Instead, many people got an unexpected day off.

Rather than risk lives and property, officials warned people to stay home and stay safe until roads could be cleared. Many people heeded that advice.

So, families reconnected and played outdoors, watched movies together, or played games. Some worked from home, or rested, or caught up on chores at home because of these unexpected change in routine.

Psalm 23:1-3 reminds us about a shepherd who guides the sheep to rest. Without the guidance, the sheep may not take the time to rest.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: 
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: 
he leadeth me in the paths 
of righteousness for his name's sake.


Our Shepherd occasionally leads us to a place to rest, a place of still waters, so that he can restore us. Admittedly, we occasionally get too busy with life to rest. Sometimes it takes something big to get our attention . . .

a broken leg
a broken-down car
a job loss
an ice storm

. . . to get us to slow down, to rest, to (hopefully) reconnect with the Shepherd and listen for his voice. When the Shepherd says it's time to get up and move again, we can follow--hopefully refreshed and ready to serve. 

Sometimes what looks like a roadblock or a setback, is simply God giving us an opportunity to stop and rest. When we're asked to wait a little longer at the doctor's office it's easy to get irritated or upset. But, who knows, maybe God's giving me a chance to lower my blood pressure before seeing the doctor instead of raising it! 

Just like the ice which formed on the branches created something beautiful, sometimes the waiting, the delays, and setbacks can also create something beautiful: memories!



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What We See Outside Our Window





I woke up this morning and looked outside my window to discover what appeared to be a heavy layer of frost on my car. After seeing reports of snow in the area I soon realized what I thought was frost was actually a very thin layer of snow. I made an assumption without knowing the facts. I did not go out and touch the snow. I had not listened to a weather report. I took in the situation and made a snap decision.


A short time later I noticed someone on a community Facebook page was complaining about the current state of weather. The chief complaint was that schools should be closed because outside her house was snow and ice. This woman's perception of the situation was skewed because there was snow and ice outside her window so she made the assumption that it must be the same way all over town. I do not know whether she had access to a television or if she had gone outside to look around and further assess the situation before making her decision. Maybe she just wanted a reason to keep her child home from school!

These two events got me to thinking about perception and misunderstandings. I was thinking how easy it was to make an assumption based only on what I saw outside my own window. From my perspective there was no problem outside that couldn't be taken care of with an ice scraper or a good dose of sunshine. I went on with my morning without giving it another thought until I was enlightened. Meanwhile, a few people around town were having accidents because of icy roads and schools were closing in a nearby county.

The Facebook woman made the wrong assumption when she saw snow and ice outside her window. Perhaps from her perspective closing schools and businesses was the only way to keep everyone safe. What she did not know was that sunshine was already taking care of some of the roadways and in just another hour there would be no more snow outside her own window. Hmmmm . . . Perspective.

It's so easy to make wrong assumptions about something or someone based on what we see "outside our window." There are times when we will have only the facts in front of us in which to make a decision and we come to a conclusion based on those facts. Sometimes our instincts will be right and sometimes we will be wrong. More than likely we're not seeing everything and taking in the landscape beyond our front door.

I guess it's much worse to make the wrong assumptions when it comes to relationships with our family, our friends, our coworkers. These myopic views outside our windows can put a wedge between two people.

For example: I see a headline on the news about a celebrity and make an immediate assumption based on the snappy headline. The truth is that I don't know enough about the celebrity or his situation to form an opinion. Or, someone reads something I wrote and misunderstands my intention because they can't see the gleam in my eye and the curl of my lip as I type something that I thought might be funny. Instead, that person becomes offended because they assumed I meant harm.

I've just been thinking about these things and how easy it is to be wrong. It's okay to admit that we're wrong sometimes because we ALL do it. We all make mistakes. I make mistakes. We live in a fallen world full of sin and where an Enemy who is always finding ways to help us mess up our relationships with each other. I guess if there is any point to this post today it's to remind me and you that what we see "outside our window" may not be the whole story. Withhold judgment, if possible, until more facts can be obtained. Our heavenly Father extends grace and mercy to us, so maybe it's a good idea to extend grace and mercy to others--along with forgiveness. And above all, pray for wisdom and guard the tongue.