Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A String of Things to be Thankful For

The piece of twine stretched loosely across the wooden mantle, fastened to nails at either end. Along the expanse were clipped photos of the parents-to-be and single shots of the expectant mother in various stages of her pregnancy. More than just a clever room decoration for a baby shower, it changed the focus of the party from presents and cake to thanks for a healthy pregnancy and the joy that would accompany the birth of this long-awaited son and already much-beloved boy.

Sometimes we treat Thanksgiving like the baby shower before The Birth on Christmas Day... an excuse to eat turkey and watch football with family and friends... maybe a chance to grab a quick nap before the last dash to the Big Day begins. We need the reminder to stretch a string across the breadth of our days and deliberately clip mental pictures of all we have to be thankful for along its length - to turn our attention away from the party foods we're preparing and presents we're planning to buy and focus on the gifts we've already been given.

There are any number of ways to do it. An easy one is to simply review the pictures you've taken of late on your phone, thanking God for the people in them, the places you've been together, the laughter you found there... the love shared. Another is to make lists, deliberately naming your blessings in Ann Voskampf style, counting them as you write them down. Lately I've taken to picking a different letter of the alphabet each day and being especially mindful of blessings beginning with that letter I come across in a 24-hour period. I've been surprised at the things I hadn't thought to thank God for lately - the colorful beauty in a Peacock feather... the fun of a trip to the Zoo... a toasty sandwich at Quizno's. There is no such thing as a "hard" letter when your heart is full of thanksgiving. Sometimes we just need the reminder to let it overflow into the busy days that follow the holiday and lead the way in our celebrations as we await the arrival of the Birthday Boy Himself.

"In every thing give thanks..."
(1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Cup of Kindness

“I hate to admit it, but I'm thinking of putting up my Christmas tree”, a customer confided to me yesterday. On November 10th? My eyes bugged out in response.

But he is not alone. It appears that Christmas is intent on coming early this year, in our thoughts, our shopping trips, and our decorating ideas. Maybe the most certain sign of Christ's premature birth this year is the controversy in our conversations online. From biblical days on, just the mention of His Name has caused kings to kill babies, scholars to squabble over how best to suppress His influence, and the faithful to fight over detail in doctrine. For a Man who came to give us peace, His presence sometimes seems to bring anything but.

While Christ was on earth He delighted in challenging conventional thinking, attacking apathetic attitudes and raising spirits (as well as bodies) from the dead. From His question to Peter in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say that I am?” to His actions in our lives today, He is constantly challenging us to rethink our view of Him, examine the motives behind our actions, and consider new ideas about who and what He wants to be in our lives. And if He can do so with something as simple as a coffee cup, who's to say He's not in Heaven drinking a peppermint mocha and laughing with delight at the latest brew-ha-ha He's stirred up?

None of His actions were without purpose, however, and perhaps the current hysteria has one, as well. Christians have long decried the seeming removal of Christ from Christmas, from the elimination of nativity scenes in civic holiday displays to the change in our holiday greetings to the absence of religious carols in school Christmas concerts. Starbucks' change from a “Merry Christmas” message to a generic red background on their holiday cups seemed to be one more instance in a long line of the same. And so when asked by a barista what name to write on the cup, some folks are coming up innovative monikers in a effort to get His Name back where they think it should be.

Except that Christ doesn't want to see His Name on that coffee cup; He's looking to see yours as the Christmas message of the season this year. His was born in a stable initially to be born in our hearts eventually, and if He lives there now, then He can't be removed, no matter how the holiday celebrations around us play out. His name is proclaimed in your every generous action, every kind word, every holiday hug and in the abundance of love you give away everywhere you go and in everything you do this holiday season. You are the light of the world; Christ in you is His message this year.

Maybe we're rushing New Year's too, but at the risk of celebrating all the holidays at once,let's “take a cup of kindness yet” and offer it to a thirsty world, letting our actions and love rather than a pen write Christ's name on our expressions of holiday cheer.

You are the light of the world...Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:14,16 NKJV)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Through Fire to Flower

You can learn a lot from a little bump in the road.

After dealing with the washouts and snow removal problems of a gravel driveway for thirty years, we finally got ours paved. It was a multi-day operation with lots of trucks and noise; the lane had to be first graded, then rolled before a thick layer of road-quality asphalt was laid on top. Once completed, however, we were thrilled with the end result.

But the other day as I was walking up it to the mailbox at the side of the road, marveling again at the thick blackness that was going to make our lives so much easier in future storms and snows, I suddenly noticed a series of bubbles that had risen in the previously smooth surface! Intrigued, I leaned down for a closer look at one, and was shocked to see that a plant was pushing its way through the black tar on top of it! Further inspection revealed that the same was happening in various spots all up and down the length of the lane. Somehow there were seeds in that soil that not only survived the scraping and pressing operation, but also the heat of the oil and tar mixture that had been laid on top of them. They simply pushed through the obstacle to grow as they had been made to do.

Our journey through life is rarely without its difficulties, and sometimes the number and timing of the same can be such that we are simply overwhelmed. Our faith can feel a little like the seeds in my driveway – hard-pressed by circumstances that are out of our control, and buried in layers of suffering that the devil hopes will stop us from believing and becoming all God created us to be and do. The good news is that if He lives inside of us we can not only survive this current firestorm but thrive in the season which follows.

In the springtime that follows fall wildfires, the southern California mountains come alive with new blooms that aren't normally seen in the wildflower mix of other years. There are seeds in the soil that actually need the heat of a fire to germinate. The resultant plants, called “fire followers”, produce blooms that are strikingly more beautiful than their more common soilmates.

It's my prayer that the same thing happens to us...that God gives each of us the fire-following faith and strength of mind and body to push through the current difficulties and display a whole new level of beauty and grace for His glory on the other side.

...we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectation such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary – we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
(Romans 5:3-5 MSG)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rib Tickler

“You're doing a demo in deli today,” I was told after I'd clocked in to work. “Giving out samples of ribs.”

Thinking it a pleasant change of pace from my regular cashier duties, quickly I headed to the back of the store where I found a table set up with all the necessary supplies and a deli cook already cutting up the racks of ribs she had just pulled out of the oven. It was the start of Labor Day weekend, and many people would be gathering with family and friends to bid farewell to summer. Offering the shoppers a taste of the store's pre-cooked baby back ribs alerted them to the possibility of eating such great summertime fare without the work of cooking them up themselves. Many tossed a half-rack or two into their carts before continuing on.

It wasn't your usual shopping sample, to be sure. A hot piece of meat covered with barbeque sauce, it took the sight of the nearby napkins to convince many to accept the treat and give it a try despite the accompanying mess. But one by one, as they returned to discard the bones and waste in my trash basket, they uniformly declared them to be delicious.

Soon the deli cooks had trouble keeping pace with the rate at which the shoppers were gobbling up what was offered to them, and I was told to be a little less aggressive in getting the customers to sample our wares. Thus “repeat samplers” began to be a problem. Most people were reticent to ask for another sample; others not so much. One little boy in particular stole my heart. After tugging on his dad's shirttails repeatedly to get his attention and let him try one of the ribs in the first place, he was soon standing before me again, a happy smile splitting a round little face that was covered in barbecue sauce from ear to ear.

“Can I have another?” he asked. Totally unable to resist him, I handed him what he wanted and he ran off to rejoin his dad.

Some of the adult customers were less appealing, and I had to remind myself repeatedly that I was just there to hand out the samples, not judge people on their manners. And I certainly couldn't vocalize my disdain. So I kept my mouth tightly closed when one particularly annoying man came by for a third time with his hand extended for more...until he complained that the shopper before him had received a bigger piece!

“Isn't this number three for you today?” I asked in reply. Embarrassed, he laughed guiltily and walked away, rib in hand, and I knew I had broken the cardinal rule of not alienating a customer in any way, shape or form. It was one I had struggled with repeatedly with this particular man, an aggressively social shopper who regularly halts the checkout process completely while he tells jokes and strikes up conversations with total strangers. I groan inwardly whenever I see him headed my way. 

God doesn't, however. As if to prove the point, He immediately sent the little round-faced boy back to likewise ask for a third sample, his bright smile and sparkling eyes his bargaining chips. I folded completely, handing him a juicy hunk of meat with a smile to match his own and not a word of condemnation. Noting my response to the little boy, God nudged me and said, “That's how I feel when I see the other guy you so dislike.”

In that moment I was forced to admit that my response to people is based at least somewhat on their behavior, their looks, their personality and my personal preferences in those areas. God simply sees everybody as His precious child. It's not that He is blind to our imperfections; they are simply covered up in the blood of His Son. Thus He responds to us based on that relationship, rather than the right or wrong in our actions. And it is the overwhelming love He has for each us that works in us to bring those actions in line with the “good” that He proclaimed over us at creation.

And so I smile now when I see that particularly annoying shopper coming towards me, because I know God is doing the same. Funny, it is me who was changed as a result of our last encounter, while I thought it was he who needed the work! God reminded me with a chuckle of His own that He can still do a lot with a piece of rib...

Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman...”
(Genesis 2:22 NKJV)

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Gray Day Challenge

The first of March was drawing near, and I could feel the rising joy in my soul that the anticipation of Spring always brings. Having spent most of the winter recuperating from a broken elbow and multiple surgeries to correct the damage, I was more ready than most to get back to work and get on with the life that my injury had so interrupted. But instead it was my line of thinking that was suddenly interrupted as I walked through the kitchen one morning and spied a bag left on the table at the end of a long evening. Across the front were the words “GRAY MATTERS. Did you know?”

The question stopped me short for some reason. I was intrigued enough to look up the website listed under the phrases that had grabbed my attention. Apparently they were merely a reference to the store's recycling efforts and had nothing to do with anything I was going through. Or so I thought.

Any of us who are going through a difficult period in our life experience, regardless of the season or time of the year, are ready to celebrate a time of new beginnings, fresh hope and warm and gentle breezes across our souls. We are quick to discard the current “winter” months as disturbing and distasteful...a time to hurry through. Yet a difficult journey is made bearable by the knowledge that God knows exactly where we're at, has our situation under control, and will be with us through all the days that lie ahead.

That's what we need to know, isn't it? That God sees ...that He hears our prayers... that He cares about what we're going through.

The devil would like us to think that God has abandoned us in our times of trouble, that He took flight to warmer climes like a supernatural snowbird and left us to wander through the cold of our current experience alone. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. And so, as if in rebuttal, God poses the question that I ran into this morning.

Did you know...that what matters to you, matters to God? That He promised to never leave us nor forsake us? While we would be quick to change our circumstances, God is more interested in changing the way we think about them, working with the gray matter between our ears in the hope of getting us to see our lives from His perspective. The only thing that really matters is God 's presence in all our they sunny, or cloudy with trouble or pain. And often it is in the most difficult days of our lives that His nearness and love can be felt as never before.

In the physical world, it is in the cold and dark of the winter months that changes invisible to the naked eye are happening in seeds and bulbs underneath the ground that produce the flowers in the Spring which so delight us. And likewise it is in the difficult months of struggle and hardship that change occurs in our spiritual makeup, the evidence of which in subsequent seasons brings tremendous joy to the heart of God.

If our gray days matter to God, then they should matter to us as well. So don't discount them. Look for and learn the lessons they provide, and give thanks for the subsequent gifts that come into your life that you would likely not have experienced any other way.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
(James 1:2-4 MSG)

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Hallway of Heartbreak

A phone call received, a question posed, and suddenly I found myself seated in a chair in the livestock auction shed on the last day of the local county fair. Livestock buyers had been given tickets to trade for a free box lunch ordered from the deli department in our grocery store; I had been asked to deliver the initial load of lunches and stay to aid in their distribution.

Having stacked the boxes in the cooler, there was little to do until lunchtime arrived and people started coming to trade their tickets in for their meal. My attention drifted to the action happening on the other side of the wall where the auction was in full swing and buyers were responding to the auctioneer's call. I peered over the wooden boards beside me, peeking between people seated on the highest row of bleacher seats, and watched as one by one, first steers, then sheep, then goats were paraded in front of the crowd, each young owner standing at their animal's head, watching as various buyers in the crowd raised their numbered paddles to place a bid. Once sold, the animal was led off to the side of the barn in which I was seated and led back to a holding pen; it was in this narrow hallway that the real drama of the day took place.

The animals had been raised for sale, after all, and all who participated knew well in advance that this moment of separation was coming. It didn't seem to bother the older boys with their steers nor the younger kids with their goats; it was the teenage girls with their sheep who had the hardest time saying goodbye to the lambs they had raised. Despite the nearness of the crowd and the loud and incessant babble of the auctioneer, it was a silent and private moment in which tears flowed freely and broken hearts were comforted by the parents who had guided them for months and now waited to hug and help them over this final hurdle. I felt guilty to be watching and repeatedly turned away, even as my own eyes filled and my throat choked up in response to their sorrow. For them the moment soon ended, but seated where I was, I witnessed the scene over and over again, one animal after another, until I thought I would surely have to move my location to one where my sympathy tears didn't interfere with the job I was there to do.

One image in particular stayed with me out of the many I witnessed that day, that of a crying girl being comforted by her father as he held her close with one arm and held her lamb by the halter with the other. It came back to me a few days later when I was writing a note to somebody struggling with a recent death in the family, and reminded me that however unprepared emotionally we are to deal with such a moment, God stands at the ready to help us through it.

All of us know that our loved ones, like ourselves, are born to eventually die, but we avoid thinking about the far end of the life experience during the earlier days of joyous togetherness. But like the parents of these youngsters at the fair, God knows that the day of parting is coming, and so He deliberately positions Himself to hold and hug and share the tears of those who finally have to say goodbye. And perhaps it's because God's own Lamb was sold to pay for the privilege we have of sobbing our heartache into our Father's shoulder that He holds us especially close in our times of sorrow. He knows and understands the pain of loss and loves us enough to ensure we are not alone in it.

My day at the fair thus ended on a much happier note. When the lunches had all been given away I was told to walk around the grounds for a while and enjoy the sights and sounds (and food!) for a bit before heading back to the store and clocking out for the day. I did so with a comforted heart, knowing that God wants us to live our lives in much the same do the job He sent us to do and enjoy ourselves along the way, knowing that He is with us whatever we face, to laugh with us, to love on us, and eventually to lead us all safely Home.

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJV)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Covetous Condition

I read about myself recently in Ann Voskampf's bestseller, One Thousand Gifts. Oh, she didn't mention me by name. Instead she talked about Adam and Eve, who weren't content with being able to eat from all of the trees in the Garden of Eden but one, and brought destruction upon themselves and all the generations to follow by simply lusting for more. Ann states that man's greatest sin is ingratitude; we are simply never satisfied with what we have. And maybe it took the breaking of the arm I reach with to make me realize that I, too, am always grasping for more.

An example is in order. I've had a love affair with Skechers, the shoes with the bumpy bottoms, for several years now. I once tried a pair on and fairly danced up and down the aisles of the store, so great did they feel on my feet! But then I looked at the price, and resolutely put them back on the shelf and headed for the cheaper footwear farther down the row. But I eyed them longingly every time after that when I found myself in that area of the store. Then while shopping at an outlet mall recently, God unexpectedly provided me with them! Again I danced! But I was barely out the door of that store and into the next when I saw a short-sleeved shirt on sale that caught my eye. With my arm in a bulky cast, my clothing options were few, and shirts that I could slide my arm into were hard to find. With the newly bought Skechers still in the bag in my I hand and my budget preventing me from buying both items, I suddenly wished I'd seen the shirt first! After being blessed with the Skechers I'd wanted for years I was suddenly wishing I could trade them for a shirt I saw two minutes later and would only wear for another month. The depth of my ingratitude alarmed me and I hurried home.

The same scenario occurs time after time in restaurants. I agonize over the choices offered on the menu, and finally narrow the list of eye-popping temptations down to one. Having ordered, I wait in eager anticipation of the meal I'm about to consume...until I see the plate set in front of my husband. Suddenly I'd trade the meal I'd been salivating for in a heartbeat to eat what he's got.

There's a word for the condition I suffer from, and it's covetous, defined as an inordinate or wrongful desire for possessions or wealth; greedy. There's nothing wrong in desiring nice things; the error in the condition comes from a lack of appreciation for what one's already got. And its a temptation that is never going to go away. Until the end of time the enemy of our souls will place before our eyes one treat after another to steal away our joy and contentment and lure us into a lifestyle of endless self-seeking and greed.

The good news is that we can fight back. Because we know that the problem exists, we can choose ahead of time how to respond. We can learn, as did the apostle Paul, how to be content in all situations. We can train our eyes to see blessings in things we took for granted before, as did author Ann Voskamp mentioned above, and to give thanks in everything. As our thanksgiving increases, so does our joy in life, and the overflow of our hearts leaves little room for lusting after whatever our eyes might see.

And yet we can take it even one step farther. Surprisingly, the opposite of covetousness is not's generosity. And surely when we put our focus on giving, we have less time and energy to think about getting.

My beloved Skechers are my footwear of choice these days, for more reasons than one. They simply remind me to walk in gratitude and generosity, everywhere I go.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have...”
(Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lawnmower Lesson

It was a morning in early spring, a time when new grass was growing thick on lawns all over the neighborhood, begging to be mowed. The dad on the riding lawn mower was making his first pass across the burgeoning green expanse, and following ten feet behind him walked his little boy, pushing a toy lawnmower in his wake. It was the cutest father/son moment I'd seen in a while, and I wished I could stop the car I was driving and simply watch the two of them work together to bring beauty to the overgrown mess. But with my job calling my name, I simply tucked the picture away in my heart and pulled it out repeatedly during the rest of the day when I needed a smile.

Kids are ever imitating the actions of their fathers. They look to their dads to learn how to function in life successfully - how to act, what to say, how to treat others, what to do with their lives. Dads are continually teaching their kids, even unconsciously, simply because their children are always watching them and then imitating what they see acted out before them.

God tells us repeatedly in His Word to live like little children, and Jesus modeled this behavior; He was constantly watching His Dad. He told His disciples that He did only what He saw His Father doing. And to live successfully in this world we simply need to do the same.

Many among us have earthly fathers who are absent or poor role models. Although God promises to be Himself a father to the fatherless, the question persists: how do you imitate a dad that you can't see or touch or hug? God's answer to them is the same as Jesus' answer to His similarly confused disciples in John 14, that if you have seen and know Jesus, then you have seen and know His Father, because God was alive inside of Him. Jesus' words were His Father's words; the miracles He performed were His Father's actions manifested through Jesus' flesh. Everything He did was a reflection of His Dad. His words and His actions are laid out in the Bible for us to see.

So what do we see the Father doing through the actions of His Son? The Bible says that Jesus went about doing good. He comforted those who mourned and brought new life into dead situations or all kinds...cold bodies, hopeless hearts, lifeless spirits. He didn't judge or condemn, rather He offered a different way of living to those who were in bondage of one type or another; He set people free from physical chains of sickness and disease and loosened the bonds of wrong thinking and unbelief. He served the people around Him, He loved with a pure heart, He laughed with His friends.

Be inspired by the example of the little lawn-mowing boy above and deliberately follow in your Father's footsteps. If you've had a great earthly dad, be quick to give thanks. If instead you had one you had to run from, don't make the mistake of transferring your earthly father's failings on an infallible god. Instead let God be to you all that your birth father was not. Let Him erase the mistakes, wipe away the tears and replace the lost years with an unimaginable future together. If you truly seek His Face, you will see that He is ever leading the way and smiling back at you today.

Jesus gave them this answer: 'Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.'”
(John 5:19 NIV)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Conversation Connector

“Remind me to do that,” my husband requests.

“No problem!” is my standard reply. “I've got an app for that.” And then I add his request to the multi-page list, grateful that my phone's memory is so much better than mine. We use that app for everything in our lives these days, from telling us where we need to go and when, to what to bring, to even what we wanted to say to each other along the way!

If my phone is my memory in the physical realm, it's the Holy Spirit's job in the spiritual world to bring back to my remembrance all the things I tend to forget. Some items on the list are indeed things God wants me to do, places He wants me to go, and words He wants me to speak. But mostly the Holy Spirit's job is to remind me of what God has already done. Psalm 103:2 tells us to “forget not all His benefits.” And then it lists just a few of them...forgiveness, healing, redemption, compassion, provision, a list even longer than the one on my phone.

The list of what God has done for mankind as a whole is enough to inspire an outpouring of praise. But it's the things He's done for me personally that pull at my heart and draw me into a closer embrace with my Creator. Answers to prayers that only His ears have heard, desires of my heart still unspoken yet granted, jokes we've shared, and experiences we've been through together...these are the moments that make up a loving relationship with God. And yet it seems that they are unintentionally dismissed from our memory almost as quickly as they happen. We need that Holy Spirit nudge to suddenly see God's face turned our way, His eyes meeting ours as He says, “I remember the conversation we had about that – do you?”

We tend to forget that there is another Kingdom in operation in our lives. So much of God's goodness and His many answers to our prayers – the evidence of His care - we attribute to mere coincidence, and in doing so we lose more than just an opportunity to give God the glory and praise He deserves. We steal from that moment its power to transform our lives with the acute awareness of God's love.

Recently I saw a video of two little kids who apparently had long begged their parents for a dog. One day as they worked together on their homework at the kitchen table, their father walked through the room, setting a box down on the floor beside the table in passing. The kids continued talking and working without noticing that a puppy was peeking up at them over the edge of the box. Suddenly the little girl caught a glimpse of it. She froze and stared at the dog for the longest time as she tried to process what she was seeing. Then she turned to her father and said, “Is that for us? You bought us a dog? It's really for us?” Surprisingly, she then covered her face with her hands and broke out in tears. She didn't initially go near the dog, instead she simply stood there crying, repeatedly lifting her face from her hands to choke out the words, “Thank you! Thank you so much!” Even when she was seated on the floor with her brother, the puppy between them, as she reached out to touch it for the first time, she stopped and was overwhelmed again, her heart and eyes overflowing with grateful tears. Clearly the moment wasn't about a puppy at that point; she was simply overwhelmed by her father's love.

I want to be that girl. And so I look to the Holy Spirit for help in transforming me from my thoughtless and greedy self into the thankful and grateful girl I long to be. “Remind me!,” I plead, and He does so, over and over again through the course of the day, that God is thinking about me, loving me, and blessing me in more ways than I ever thought possible.

The girl in the video had yet to even pet the answer to her prayers when her dad came over and enveloped her in a loving hug, so touched was he by her response to his gift. Maybe God has the Holy Spirit connect the gifts He gives us with our past conversations, not so much because that remembrance brings us joy...but because of the joy those connections bring to Him.

But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them...”
(John 16:4 NKJV)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let Him Clip the Chip

For eight weeks I held my broken elbow close to my heart. I held it in front of my chest for the first few hours after my late-night injury, waiting for the snow to stop and the morning to start so I could get to the emergency room and have it examined. For weeks after my resultant surgery it was first a cloth sling and then a metal brace locked in one position that me no choice but to hold my arm in similar fashion. And yet it wasn't the physical restrictions that kept me from using my arm so much as it was the words I heard whispered in my ear repeatedly during that time, telling me that my ability to do the things I most enjoyed had been stolen away by one misstep on an icy parking lot.

I didn't just listen to those words; I believed them.

My mindset became one of inactivity in the physical realm. Repeatedly when my husband asked my to do even simple tasks my first reaction was to express my inability because of my injury. But God was having none of it. Before I could get the whole sentence out He would stop me in the middle of the second word. Thus my “I can'ts were trimmed to the “I can” response God knew to be true. Still disbelieving, I reluctantly gave each task a try and was usually surprised at the result...all because God didn't allow me to voice the lie that was waiting on my lips to defeat me.

How often have we likewise allowed an emotional injury of some kind prevent us from working in God's house? There are those who have suffered incredible blows in their walk through life, the magnitude of which has simply taken their spiritual breath away. But others of us have taken even little irritations and petty aggravations to heart and listened to the enemy's lies about lost love and purpose in the spiritual realm. We have allowed a chip on our shoulder to put us on the shelf, spiritually speaking, when God has the power to turn our situation around for our greater good and the good of the Kingdom, if given the chance. His ability is limited only by our belief in His desire to do so and His power inside of us.

Even once freed from external medical hardware, my arm remained bent in a frozen and locked position. When weeks of physical therapy failed to release it, it seemed to me to be time to be getting back to work, despite the fact that my arm remained locked in a ninety-degree angle. Surely I could just make do. But my doctor refused to sign off on that. He said there was no way I could function in my post with such a limited range of mobility. When additional x-rays revealed that a small piece of bone had grown up behind the elbow joint, he scheduled further surgery to clip the bone chip that was preventing the full extension of my arm.

The Great Physcician says the same thing when we are tempted to cut short our spiritual recovery times and simply get back to work in the Kingdom. He knows when there's further work to be done, however anxious we may be to avoid going deeper into issues that are painful. He writes His prescription in His Word: “let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing” (James 1:4 AMP). God simply doesn't want us to come up short in any area of our existence. He wants us to be all that He knows we can be.

But there is more to it than that. I had already been feeling strain in my shoulder as it struggled to take up the slack for my limited reach. And likewise the church struggles as a whole when some parts of the body have to function outside their skill sets to cover for those who are currently unwilling or unable to function in the gifts they were given. Every piece of the puzzle is necessary, every member of the body has a place and a part to play if the church is to minister effectively. Simply put, you have a job to do, and nobody else was given the exact tools to accomplish it but you. The Kingdom of God needs you to be fully operational in the tasks you were assigned.

And so God works with our words, as He did with mine. A huge part of our problem is simply unbelief in His ability to overcome our obstacles. He stops us short in our “I can't”s by replacing them with His “But I can!” And when our I-won't-believe-it-till-I-see-it attitude gets in the way of our own recovery, He offers us the Cross as His ultimate proof.

We're not the first to struggle with issues of unbelief. Perhaps Jesus had doubting Thomas touch His scars so we too would believe He has the power to work through ours.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me.”
(Philippians 4:13 NKJV)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Raise Your Praise

Maybe it's because I've raised a family of poker enthusiasts that references to the game have come up a lot in my conversations with God of late. While not a gambler in any sense of the word, I'm willing to bet it hasn't happened by chance.

On a recent morning I was driving to town, and spread before me was a scene of magnificent beauty in the skies. The dark clouds on the horizon were pierced with shafts of light that spilled sunshine through the gray curtain that still hid the sun from view. A huge fan of sunbeams, I delighted in the sight, and knew that God was waiting in the wings of His stage in the heavenlies to see if I noticed the gift He had placed in my way.

I wonder if my response surprised Him as much as it did me. I said, “I see You, God, and I raise You five.” Then I lifted my left hand off the steering wheel, raised my hand high in praise and waved my five fingers before Him in worship.

What?! We both laughed. It was simply a wonderful way to start the day. Since then it's become a catch phrase between us, a way to tell God that I have seen and received a particular grace or gift from His hand, a personalized way to simply say thanks.

Saying “I'll see you and raise you” in response to a poker hand means that you accept the bet that is on the table and are raising it a stated amount. Outside of the game, the phrase is used when attempting to one-up a statement made by someone with a response of one's own.

Surely there is no way to match what God lays on the table before us each day, let alone improve on it in any way. All we can do is respond to what we see around us by calling it out specifically before Him and responding with praise and thanksgiving for the offering. Of course, it's easy to see God's hand in moments of beauty as described above; much more difficult when the goodness of God is hidden by difficulty or trouble of some kind.

In sending a card to a friend recently, I wrote that our hopes for the early Spring now seemed buried in a succession of February snowstorms, as surely as the crocuses she said were blooming in her backyard were now covered in a blanket of winter white. And likewise sometimes our hopes for seeing God come through in the serious life situations we are dealing with get buried in a barrage of in circumstances beyond our control. Hope, faith and belief in the goodness of God are lost to sight in the snowdrifts of doubt the devil loves to dump on us. We spend all our time trying to dig our way out, when our hearts should be looking for the Son to rise in their midst and simply melt them all away.

The answers we need come easy to an almighty God. It's the believing Him for them that is hard. Holding on to our faith in the goodness of God when there is no physical evidence in of the same in the circumstances surrounding us is immensely difficult. How awesome it would be for God to see me raise my hand in praise on a day when I didn't see the sky lit up with shafts of lights...when the dark clouds around me were instead just gray and heavy and menacing. What if I picked the moment when trouble is pressing in to say, “I'm raising my praise and my level in faith in You, because I know my troubles are no match for Your power”? Faith like that shoots light through the darkness and causes God to see and raise His hand in action, blessing us beyond our wildest imaginings. the point that we don't even care about the situation at hand anymore, so taken are with by the new level of relationship we've found through it with Him.

As I slipped the card I was writing in the envelope, my eye caught sight of the the word “Spring” in the embossed DaySpring logo likewise just barely visible in the surrounding white paper. May the springtime my heart is longing for likewise be ever visible to the eyes of my spirit, despite the white of the current snow, causing my lips to say, “I see You, God, and I raise my praise.”

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
(Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Those Moses Moments

I laughed the minute I realized it: I was setting about to touch up my hair color on the very day my filmmaker son was beginning work on a new movie called...Showing Roots! Because we have had such discussions before I knew what he would say if I told him what made me smile: “Wow, what a coincidence!”

For my part, I've quit using that “C” word. I've lost faith in it, no longer believe in it, and don't want any part of it.

The dictionary defines coincidence as a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time, apparently by mere chance. Because I believe that nothing happens by chance, I don't need a word in my vocabulary that suggests otherwise. In my book, labeling an occurrence as a coincidence is simply an excuse for not looking more deeply into it to find out what God might be trying to say.

For surely God is speaking to us all the time, wooing us, warning us, offering words of wisdom to help us get through our days. But our senses are so tied to the natural word in which we live that our attention is assailed by all the visible details surrounding us that demand our notice. God's voice is lost in the cacophony that surrounds us on a daily basis. But the very world that distracts us away from Him is at His beck and call, and so He uses it to call our attention back to Him.

What jumps out at me in the definition above is the word striking. God has to arrange something out of the ordinary to get us to notice one detail above the rest. The most famous example in the Bible, perhaps, is the bush He set on fire in the desert to catch Moses' attention, a bush that surprisingly wasn't eventually consumed by the flames engulfing it. It was when Moses stepped near to investigate this strange occurrence that God spoke into His life and directed his future.

He simply does the same with us. When I look back at some of the events I have labeled as coincidence in the past I see situations at least as amazing as flaming tumbleweed! And while they worked to catch my attention, too often I shrugged them off after a moment or two of amazed reflection as just one of those things that happen from time to time. Yet it wasn't enough that Moses saw the burning was his further investigation of the incident that changed the event from a seemingly chance happening to a moment of great significance in his life.

Could it be that the same thing would happen in ours? And why does it matter?

Seated in the back seat of the car one morning recently on the way to church was a man who has the unusual name of “Chance.” My attention was drawn to his name when I mistakenly called him “Chase” and he was quick to set me straight. “It's Chance,” he said.

Since then I've wondered how he came by that name. Was it short for Chancellor, perhaps? Or was it maybe a nickname? Finally I had to ask. He told me that when his mother was pregnant with him she was just learning how to play the game of poker. A friend was explaining to her that when it was her turn she would have the chance to match the previous bet on the table, raise it, or fold the hand. The word so intrigued her that she left the table that evening at the very least with a name for her unborn child. The fact that chance can be synonymous with opportunity is what makes it important in our lives, as well.

Those “Moses Moments” that God uses to get our attention likewise seat us at an imaginary poker table. He has dealt the cards, and the bet is on the table. Now He's waiting to see how we'll play the hand. Will we simply call the situation a coincidence and walk away, or gamely enter into the fray, invest ourselves somehow and turn the next card to see how the situation plays out?

Some are content to go about their days without giving God a second thought. But it mattered greatly to the children of Israel that Moses didn't just walk on by. And similarly there are people in our lives who could be favorably impacted by a decision on our part to delve a little deeper into the seemingly random occurrences that get our notice. I am surrounded on a daily basis by people bound by addictions and lifestyles that they are powerless to escape from on their own. Perhaps God is wanting me to get more involved in somebody else's battle. Like He did with the children of Israel, He will simply do whatever it takes to set His people free. Sometimes those actions begin with ordinary people like you and me. We can shrug off the offer or respond with a willingness to see what God has to say. It's our choice...but also a chance to make a world of difference in somebody else's life.

Maybe that moment is worth another look.

...Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush...”
(Exodus 3:2-4 NIV)

Friday, January 30, 2015

For the Love of Lefty

It happened as quickly as the briefest space between words. One minute I was chatting amiably with my coworker, John, as he walked me out to my car, and the next I was flat on my back on the parking lot, wondering how on earth I managed to slip on snow that yet barely covered the ground.

We'd been thinking about the weather all evening, my friend Tracy and I, both of us having landed late-night shifts that day. The storm was supposed to start just before we'd be clocking out, and we wondered what the roads would be like by the time we were ready to leave. Since neither of us are very good at bad-weather driving, we encouraged each other as best we could, pushing aside the negative vibes from customers who told us the snowflakes were already starting to fly. “We're going to be fine,” I told Tracy repeatedly, and she nodded her head in agreement each time.

Later we laughed at the fact that getting home hadn't been the problem at all; for me at least the issue was just getting to my car. After John had helped me up, brushed me off and safely deposited me and my grocery bags at my vehicle, a quick evaluation revealed that my right elbow was not functioning properly, yet somehow I drove one-handed through the increasing storm on snow-covered roads with no problem.

And so began an adventure into left-handedness, a journey I never imagined I'd take, but one that has surprised me with unexpected blessings. My left-handed husband was almost gleeful as he told me in the emergency room a few hours later that I was finally going to learn to see things from his point of view. The registration clerk smiled in agreement as she wrote notes on a pad, likewise with her left hand.

My own left extremity has gamely entered into the fray, accepting the challenge and excelling in its execution. It has conquered a variety of tasks, accepting help from other body parts as needed. From flip-top cans to tightly screwed-on lids to spreading butter on bread to cutting food into bite-sized pieces to safely depositing them into my mouth instead of on my by one it has accomplished them all. Finding itself responsible for personal hygiene tasks it once sat idly through, it can now squeeze toothpaste onto an unsteady toothbrush, then brush teeth, comb hair, and wash and dress the body like it had been doing so for years. The dogs are still fed, the cat's litter box is clean, sheets are changed, and floors are vacuumed, just as before. As we come to the end of the second week after my injury, I look at my left hand with new-found pride and appreciation.

Funny, I've been looking at my husband the same way. He, too, has stepped into roles he hasn't had to play in the extent of our 34-year marriage, but he has done so with willingness and grace, despite an already busy schedule and full plate. He has sat in emergency rooms, by hospital bedsides and in doctor's offices, despite a distaste for medical procedures of any kind. He canceled meetings, worked on his laptop from home and made up work hours on weekends that used to be spent on his to-do lists, rather than mine. In recent days he's become my chauffeur, personal chef, and fashion advisor, even digging through his own closet for old pajama tops and button-up shirts that could be altered to accommodate a bulky cast. The kicker came when he volunteered to help me curl my hair...not because my looks bothered him, but because the inability to do it myself bothered me. For two weeks straight he has barely given a thought to himself in his efforts to make sure I am safe and supplied with everything I need. Because he has had to step into roles he's never had to play, I've seen sides of him I hadn't ever seen before, and have simply found new things to love about my left-handed man as a result.

Perhaps that is the silver lining to all the difficulties we face; the change in perspective they offer us. We go through our lives on auto-pilot much of the time until something happens that suddenly changes life as we know it and forces us to re-examine that which we formerly took for granted. The blessing of unexpected difficulty is the opportunity it provides to see life in a new way and grow somehow as a result. I've heard it preached many times that if our first instinct is to ask God what we can learn from the situation when trouble strikes, what was a challenge becomes instead a chance to improve ourselves. Suddenly we are faced with a choice as to how we are going to look at the days to come. We can either just survive the situation and strive to get back to where we were, or we can instead use it as a stepping stone to a life of greater victory and happiness on down the road. Every need in our life simply gives us a new view of God as He responds to it and another reason to love Him more. The wisdom behind the Bible's admonition to give thanks in every situation lies in the fact that blessings surround every difficult happenstance if we just have eyes to see them and avail ourselves of the opportunities they present.

Initially I was going to wait till the fast-approaching Valentine holiday to tell my husband how much I love him and have appreciated his care and help in recent days. But that's yet a few weeks away. By then my right arm will be quickly taking on its old tasks and resuming its former dominance, and I don't want to forget the lessons I'm learning along the way. The proper response to any challenge is to first give thanks for its hidden blessings... today.

God loves to crown difficulty with blessing. He works everything out for good. Our part is to abide in the beauty and power of His love and remain firmly on purpose.”
- Graham Cooke

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Labeling Christmas Love

On the day after Christmas I arose at my pre-holiday wake-up time of six a.m. The family all gone, my seasonal duties done for another year, I was eager to get back into my regular writing routine, a pleasure I'd set aside out of necessity during the hurry and fuss of the holiday season. I signed onto my blog ready to finish the story I'd written and lived out during the holiday season but had been too busy to publish. Quickly I copied the text into the blank space waiting for the words, typed in a title, and selected the appropriate picture to go along with the post. Last on the list was the selection of a couple of labels, words that encapsulate what the message was all about so that others searching for stories by subject can easily find those that fit the bill. I limit the number of labels I use to three, both as an exercise in summarization and to reduce the length of the list of the same that scrolls along the right side of my blog. Done, I hit the button that would publish the work and then viewed my blog to see the finished result.

For some reason, the labels list caught my interest that morning. It takes some perseverance to find it, as it appears last on the blog screen, buried under the snippets from other blogs I follow. It's interesting that the labels are listed in a font size relative to the number of posts pertaining to that subject, making it easy to see at a glance what subjects are the passions of my heart. I laughed as I looked at the list; the words Christmas and love jumped out at me as having been the most popular themes in my writing.

Christmas and love. How fitting, I thought, that those two should appear together and be foremost in my thoughts regularly, but particularly on this morning just days after the holiday had ended. We make Christmas about so many other things. I reflected on what I had been busy with in the preceding thirty days, a list that included the words cookies, parties, presents, decorations, shopping, money, time, and traditions...entries that seemed empty and lifeless without the love that wound through them, binding them all into one glorious whole of treasured time spent with family and friends.

Days later we were giving a friend a ride to church after having not seen him in a couple of weeks. When asked how his Christmas was, his soft-spoken reply was at first difficult to understand. “It wasn't,” he said. Noting our confused silence, he said, “I don't have family to spend it with anymore. I have one son, but I'm not involved in his life in any way. So I just try to sleep through the holiday.” The short discussion seemed to emphasize the point that Christmas and love were inextricably linked. If he didn't have the latter, the former was meaningless to him as well.

But perhaps we're looking at it from the wrong perspective. Maybe the point is that if we truly understand the meaning of Christmas, we will always have love, whether we have friends and family around to celebrate with or not. Christmas is a celebration of the fact that God loved us so much that he refused to leave us to live apart from Him any longer and so sent His Son to pay for our sin in our place. Suddenly we have the incredible love of a heavenly Father to celebrate, and our joy overflows into words like cookies and parties and gifts, when earlier they were just the empty trappings of a hollow holiday without the birth of Christ to give them meaning and life.

It seems odd to still be writing about Christmas when we're now past New Year's and making a sizable dent into January. But somehow that, too, is fitting, because the birth of Christ in a heart and life isn't solely a December event. It can happen on any day of the year when some lost and lonely soul opens the door of their heart to the Love that is longing to come in. The “Christmas in July” (or May or September) slogan suddenly has a whole new meaning! Let the celebrations begin!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
(John 3:16 KJV)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Patched, Not Perfect

For some, it's the lighted Christmas tree in the living room that says the Christmas season is underway. Others feel it when they first hear carols coming out of the stereo, see lighted displays on the nighttime drive home from work, or smell gingerbread baking in the oven. But nothing puts the holiday happiness in my heart like seeing my Christmas decorations on top of my kitchen cabinets once more. Twinkling colored lights twisted through a lengthy garland edge a display of stuffed Christmas characters interspersed with decorated shopping bags and holiday-themed plates. In the course of the nearly thirty years we have lived in this house, certain items have laid claim to their own positions in the display. Stuffed versions of Rudolph and Clarice insist on being placed directly over the oven, their noses almost touching as if kissing under invisible mistletoe, while the Abominable Snowman roars menacingly from a nearby corner. A lamb sleeps in a lion's arms at the other end of the cabinetry, representing the peace of the season, while penguins, snowmen and gingerbread people wave merrily at any who happen to look in their direction. As much as I love each of the individual elements of the display, it's the lights that make it special to me.

Nothing speaks hope in a darkened world like a string of brightly twinkling lights. That's why I was devastated to look up one day early in the season and see that a section of the garland in the center of the display had gone dark. Everything else about the display was still in place; the reindeer still posed, the snowmen still waved, and the Christmas bags still displayed their messages of goodwill. But it seemed meaningless and joyless somehow without the lights winding through it all.

Some of you know exactly what I mean. The light has gone out of your Christmas this year and you find yourself just going through the motions without the joy that makes the holiday season so bright. It could be a break in a relationship with a loved one that has dimmed your delight; a death in the family, an absent face and an empty place at the dinner table. Maybe the loss of a job or your health or your home has robbed you of the means to celebrate as you have done in years gone by. Whatever the cause, you have lost your hope of a happy holiday season this year.

Some of us deal with these difficulties by just opting out. We decide to just skip Christmas this year. We vow to celebrate as usual again next year when we feel more in the spirit of things. And in doing so we miss the chance to have the most precious holiday season of any that's gone before...because never have we needed it more. Christmas is fun when things are going well in life. But it's true meaning is discovered when things are not going as planned...when life is interrupted by some unexpected darkness.

The message of Christmas is that God is with us in the midst of our trouble. Even when we feel most alone, He is aware of our situation, collecting our tears, and counting the days till the culmination arrives. Surely God was with Mary long before the actual birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. She physically carried the Answer to her prayers during the days of her humiliating pregnancy...on that long jolting ride on the back of a those painful hours of delivery in the hay of a stable floor. It was at the height of her distress that Hope was born, and she was suddenly able to see and hold the baby whose very name spoke the Christmas message: Emmanuel, “God is with us.”

And so it can be for you. The wonder of a difficult Christmas is the opportunity to learn anew that though your circumstances might be challenging, you are not alone in them. Hope is longing to be born anew in their midst. As you travel the difficult road to your own personal Bethlehem, know that there is help available to those who are struggling to find their way. What a lesson there is for us in that even the wise men searching for Jesus had to stop and ask for direction, not once but multiple times. There is an often overlooked Christmas gift tucked into the paragraphs of the Bible describing the event. Hidden in the story are the words, “And receiving an answer to their asking, they were divinely instructed...” (Matthew 9:12 AMP, emphasis mine). They asked what to do, and received an answer. We can do the same.

My kitchen garland is shining brightly again now. My husband had bought extra short strings of lights at the end of the season last year, and offered one to me. I was able to weave the new strand in with the old to get me through this year until I can buy a new garland at a later date. And so it is with the more serious aspects of this holiday season. If you're struggling in any way, ask for help, especially of God, and receive with joy and thanksgiving the assistance that comes in a wide variety of forms. Your Christmas may be patched rather than perfect, but it can be perfectly wonderful, just the same.

Direct my footsteps according to your word...”
(Psalm 119:133 NIV)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Timing of Thanksgiving

It's the nature of the film industry that employment on any one job is of limited duration. A movie is budgeted, the crew gathers together for a few weeks or months of active shooting, and then scatters once more to wherever the next project takes them. While boredom is rarely an issue, neither is there any such thing as job security, as plans can be canceled on short notice when financing falls through or there is a relationship fallout between some of the key people involved. As contacts are made and reputations are built, the job offers come more readily, but the pursuit of a paycheck can be a constant struggle for those just starting out.

As a worry-prone mother of an electrician/lighting technician in the industry, I long ago committed my son's employment and financial status to God. My job is simply to thank Him in advance for taking care of the issue and for building in my son the skills set and personal character needed to be successful. Therefore, I was delighted with the news that his November bills would be covered by a three-week stint on a short film in at the start of a traditionally slow season of the year. Additionally, there was the hope that he might jump onto another movie after Thanksgiving. When telling a family member that we were keeping our fingers crossed that this would happen, it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't need to cross fingers on hands already clasped in prayer.

Two words in the situation I was relaying suddenly caught my attention: the job he wanted would start after Thanksgiving. More than a suggested start date, the combination refers to the timing of any expected answer to prayer. Truly the key to unleashing God's bounty in any situation is to thank Him for releasing His answers and gifts before they are received. The traditional celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday is to look back on the year just past and give thanks for the good things that have occurred in the preceding three hundred and sixty-five days. But if that's all we do, we stop short of receiving the full blessing that God has packed into that twelve-letter word.

I'm approaching the Thanksgiving holiday a little differently this year as a result. As usual, when our family gathers around the dinner table and looks at the platters of steaming family favorites set before us, we'll go one by one around the room and tell what we're especially thankful for this year. When my turn comes I will certainly thank God for His faithfulness in the year just past. But this time I will also thank Him for the same in the year to come, thanking Him in advance for His answers to the specific situations I've laid at His feet.

Too often we pray with the attitude of a quarterback who throws a pass deep and just hopes that a team member will catch it downfield. It's a last ditch effort to save a situation that we deem hopeless in the extreme. Yet God wants us to realize that He is on the receiving end of our prayers and He never drops a one. He honors hands raised in praise, those signaling victory before the end zone has actually been reached. In my son's situation it is that praise and thanks in advance that will turn the possibility of a job offer into a check deposited in the bank. The job may start after the holiday, but not before the thanksgiving – I've made sure of that!

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;”
(Philippians 4:6 NKJV, emphasis mine)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Promise Keeper

(2 Corinthians 1:20)
“But you promised...!”

Few three-word combinations express more heartbreak, despair, and betrayal than those above. We've said them as kids to a parent who didn't come through on some promised treat. Some of us have said them to spouses who've walked away from the vows expressed on a wedding day. They've come out of our mouths in all manner of situations when we've felt wrongfully let down or betrayed. Some of us have even said them to God.

We likewise hate being on the receiving end of such an accusation. The words speak failure...even when that wasn't our intent. Most of us mean well when promising actions of one type or another. Sometimes, however, we find that we are unable to come through as expected for any number of reasons. Perhaps the words were spoken in haste or when under extreme duress. Life circumstances sometimes intervene and physically prevent us from accomplishing what we said we would do. And surely we are fallible human beings who sometimes lie, fall to temptation or otherwise fail to live up to the expectations placed on us by ourselves or others.

But God is infallible. So how does He feel when we accuse Him of failure? Surprisingly, He wants us to come to Him when the circumstances of life don't line up with what the Bible says is ours through Christ, and the three-word combo above are words He loves to hear! What makes all the difference in the outcome of things, however, is the tone in which we speak them. Do we say them in an accusatory fashion that suggests we tried things God's way and are in trouble as a result? Or do we say them as a declaration of faith in the One who keeps His promises, no matter what the situation looks like in the flesh? It's the latter that turns the promises of God into actuality in our lives.

It's okay to be honest with God about the way things stand in whatever issue we're dealing with. As our loving Father He wants us to come to Him and truthfully communicate our feelings and concerns about what we're going through. But what changes the discussion from a pitiful recitation of problems to productive prayer is when we end it with the only words that make a difference, and the ones that God is waiting to hear: “But You promised...”, followed by the words He has given us concerning the situation spoken back to Him in faith, despite how things may look in the natural.

Of course, this only works when you have a promise to declare! As believers we have a Book-ful of them, as all the promises the Bible contains are ours to claim as a result of Jesus' death on the cross. But there is nothing more wonderful than to have gone to God with a problem and to have received a specific word on the situation directly from His heart to your own. It could be a Scripture verse that jumps off the page at you, a word of prophecy specifically spoken about your future, or perhaps a line from your pastor's sermon that you simply can't forget. That then is a rhema word from God, a promise from His heart that is yours to believe, recite, and claim as your very own. God is simply waiting to hear you voice your belief in what He has to say, no matter what things look like in the flesh.

Nothing expresses to God your belief that He will come through as promised like thanking Him in advance for doing so. Giving thanks before you see the answer you seek changes its progression from the need for a the seed of one in the finally just a matter of time.

Abraham...didn't tiptoe around God's promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said...”
(Romans 4:19-25 MSG)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Midnight-hour Miracles

My sports loyalties have always been determined by factors other than the skill of the players on the team. The color of the uniform, the city in which they play, even the font of the numbers on the jerseys have all been known to sway my affections one way or another. Having decided on this particular evening to watch the one-game baseball division playoff between Kansas City and Oakland, it was a selfie my son posted on Instagram of himself in a hometown t-shirt that suddenly had me bleeding Royal blue.

I followed the game for awhile, but when the score was lopsided in favor of the Oakland Athletics after the sixth inning, I willingly followed my husband to bed. As I plugged in my phone and set my alarm, I said to him, “Wouldn't it be great, though, to wake up in the morning and see that the Royals had come back and won?” We smiled at the thought as we let sleep overtake us.

And it was morning - even if just the wee hours – when our phones started buzzing and lighting up like crazy. Positioned together near the head of the bed, the tandem twitter notifications alerted us to the fact that one of our sons was still very much awake and excited about something. Normally we roll over and catch up on the news in the morning. But mother instincts die hard, and knowing that another one of my boys was driving home from a distant state that night, I picked up my phone and gave it a look, just to make sure all was okay.

To my surprise, I discovered that Kansas City had indeed come back and had tied the game up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning! Their desperate do-or-die efforts had excited loyal Royal fans everywhere, all of whom it seemed were tweeting the news like crazy as the game moved into extra innings. Delighted myself, I mentally wished them well and set the phone down to go back to sleep.

That turned out to be an impossible task. The excitement proved to be contagious, and my mind simply refused to let go of the game. So I picked up the phone again, clicked on the SportsCenter app, and started following the action again, pitch by pitch. Trying to keep my growing exhilaration as well as the glow from my phone from disturbing my husband's repose, my belief in the possibility of a comeback win grew with each passing moment. When the seemingly impossible happened and the Royals took the game in the bottom of the twelfth inning, I was screaming in my spirit, if not out loud, rejoicing with Kansas City fans everywhere, just as if I hadn't turned the game off and given up hope for a victory a couple of hours earlier.

How many times have I done that before...not in baseball season, necessarily, but in any difficult season, when the odds of victory in a situation were stacked against me? How often have I put my hopes to bed and resigned my expectations of victory to nothing more than just a delightful dream, and nothing more? Sadly, I've done it more times than I care to count.

The next morning I told my son how his excited tweets had awakened me in the night and led me to tune in to the end of the game. He immediately apologized for disturbing me, but I told him how thankful I was that I hadn't missed that moment, but was alerted instead to the fact that something exciting was happening, and how thrilled I was to feel a part of the joy that abounded in his hometown, when the game was over.

Don't we need that? Don't we need to be disturbed in the middle of our spiritual slumber to the fact that God is awake and moving and doing incredible things on behalf of those who believe? I want to be notified while there's still time to be a part of the rejoicing when God wins, as surely He will, despite how it looks in the dark of night. As a child of the King, I long to be a loyal believe in the One who determines the outcome despite the circumstances surrounding me. I want to hold on to my belief in victory even when defeat seems certain. I want to expect late-inning comebacks and midnight-hour miracles. Change me, Lord, from a fair-weather fan to a full-fledged believer, that I might be done with doubt forever.

You make my heart sing
You lift me on eagles wings
Just when I thought that my heart it would faint
You take the darkest night and turn it to shining light
Just when I thought that the night had won...”
(Laura Hackett “You Satisfy My Soul”)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Photographic Faithfulness

They promised to post a picture a day.

Heading out on a two-week long road trip to destinations west, my two youngest sons, Mark and Kevin, acquiesced to my request that they keep in touch by social media while away from their respective homes. I explained my need to hear from them with a favorite quote from Elizabeth Stone: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” They agreed to take good care of their respective pieces of my heart and to bring them safely home. Yet little did I expect that they would photograph its journey so accurately all along the way.

True to their word, they sent pictures of themselves in various spots, as well as specific shots of incredible beauty or special interest to the family and friends they knew were following their adventure online. But I found that there was more than just their daily photos for me to see. Their hearts were on display in the captions they put with their postings. Even more than the visual delights, it was these heartbeats I saw that so touched my own.

In the early stages of the trip, the pictures that most intrigued me were photographs of patience. With the pressure of a short time frame and a lengthy must-see-and-do list weighing heavy upon him, my older son's postings were yet of his younger brother stopping (repeatedly!) by the side of the road to photograph mountains in the distance or kneeling in the dirt to capture the lengthy shadows cast by a rock, revealing his willingness to indulge his younger brother's photographic passion.

A picture taken at a local restaurant likewise had little to do with the eatery of choice or the food on the table. Instead it showed that while they bypassed the chance to visit with lots of relatives in the interest of keeping to their destination schedule, they made the stop to chat with their grandparents a priority because they knew how much it would mean to their dad as well as to his folks.

And similarly the caption posted with the picture of some dusty bottles on a shelf revealed that the photographer saw the treasure in the man who proudly displayed them rather than in the collection itself. Over and over again, the entries in my sons' photographic journals reflected the heart of the photographers more than the subject the camera was aimed at. It was as if the lens on their cameras had been permanently reversed and they went about taking selfies of their souls.

Unintentionally, we are doing the same.

We, too, are on a journey to a distant land, excited about the road ahead and the adventures to be had. The words that come out of our mouths and the actions that fill our days are likewise posts to a watching Father, reflecting the state of our hearts at each stage of our lives. He was the first to decide to place His own heart within His children, and now He looks to see if we will use or refuse the treasure He's placed within us. May He see us exhibiting love and patience with those around us, keeping His desires a priority in our choices, and appreciating the treasures He has placed all around us until we all make it safely Home.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”
II Corinthians 4:7 NKJV
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