Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Simplicity of Christmas

Last night I enjoyed a wonderful adaptation of “Scrooge” at my church. There was this one particular scene, Christmas morning, where all the people were gathered outside singing. Scrooge was finally seeing Christmas in a whole new light.

As I watched that scene, I thought about the simplicity of Christmas…or at least how it used to be. Today it has become so complicated.

People argue about whether or not Christmas is a religious holiday. Cities and towns disagree on what to call the tree—a “holiday” tree or a Christmas tree. Some businesses won’t allow their employers to say “Merry Christmas.”

We have lost the simplicity of Christmas. We have lost the simplicity of why we celebrate.

The story of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus is not exactly a dynamic story. It is the simple story of a baby born in a manger. It takes just a few verses in the Bible to tell it.

I think the reason the story of his birth is so simple is because God never meant the “religious” life to be complicated. Even the story of his death on the cross is simple. Like his birth, it can be told in just a few words.

Just as Christmas was never meant to be complicated, neither is the Christian life. Yet we muddy it up with disagreements on things that we place importance on…yet really don’t matter in the long run.

Peace cannot be experienced in chaos and confusion. It is found in the simple pleasures of life. It is found in the simple, yet incredible message of a baby who came to this earth.

I don’t want to make Christmas any more complicated than it needs to be. I want to bask in the simple story of our Savior who humbly came to earth. So simple, yet so profound.

Photo by rightee on Flickr

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Life Doesn't Always Come in Neat Little Packages

With Thanksgiving now behind and Christmas ahead, I am thinking about packages. But it’s not Christmas packages I am thinking of. It’s more along the lines of how life doesn’t always come in neat little packages.

Ever receive a gift you didn’t really like? Some of us are better at hiding our disappointment than others. I always tell my children that even if they don’t like something they receive, they should still show their appreciation.

But that’s hard. I mean, here you are looking at this mysterious packaging, trying to imagine what is inside. It may be wrapped in the prettiest paper or tied up in a beautiful bow. Surely it must be just what you wanted.

After carefully unwrapping it (or maybe you are the type who just rips right into it), your eyes just moments ago that were bright with excitement suddenly dim. Your shoulders droop, disappointment oozes out.

This is how life can be sometimes. It brings packages that aren’t always wanted. It can look good on the outside but once you begin to unravel it, well, you would rather wrap it back up and give it to someone else (White Elephant gift anyone?).

James 1:17 tells us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”

Sure, some packages aren’t as exciting or desirable as other ones. But we have to remember that what God allows in our lives, is sifted through His hands.

Therefore we have to learn to appreciate even those packages that we don’t expect or think we want. It may not be until later that you realize the full value of the gift.

That’s just how life works…it doesn’t always come in neat little packages.

Photo by remind in stock.xchng

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Thanks in ALL Circumstances

As we look forward to Thanksgiving this week, I find myself being challenged. It is to be thankful as we are told in I Thessalonians 5:18, in ALL circumstances.

Circumstances can change day-by-day and sometimes moment-by-moment. When you aren’t prepared, it can feel like you have been blindsided. But even “smaller” moments can take you off guard. Unexpected changes to come or a sudden realization of something not being what you thought it was.

Life is filled with challenging times, disappointments, frustrations, good times, blessings, laughter and so much more. Our lives are a tapestry, weaving together the good and the bad to create a variety of circumstances.

So its not just in the good that we are to be thankful…it is in the circumstances we would rather not be dealing with, that we are to be thankful as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are thankful for the difficulty itself but we are thankful that we aren’t alone.

We know this because I Thessalonians 5:18 then goes on to say, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This puts a different spin on things. Our circumstances are not a surprise to God. It is His will that no matter what we are facing, we learn how to be thankful.

So clearly He is there with us. He knows. He sees. He hears. He holds. He loves.

I don’t know what circumstances you are facing today but know this…none is beyond God’s ability to bring good out of it. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:1, ESV).

Photo by Cieleke on stock.xchng

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Radiance of Christ

Last week I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with a wonderful couple. They were seeking guidance on publishing options.

He has just spent the last year battling cancer, mantle cell lymphoma. Praise God he is in remission. During the past year he has not only kept others up to date on his condition but he has been a real source of inspiration through his Caring Bridge Website. Many (myself included) has encouraged him to turn what he has written into some sort of devotional.

This couple has been through their fair share of trials…job losses, the death of a son and the recent journey through cancer. Yet what I found remarkable was the peace and love of God that radiated from them. I’m not even sure they realize how evident this is.

How do you walk away from such an experience and not feel a deeper appreciation for your life and a desire to demonstrate such radiance? It reminds me of how Moses, in the book of Exodus, had to wear a veil because of the radiance of God upon his face.

As many times as I have chastised the Israelites of the Old Testament, with their constant murmuring and complaining…I have to point the finger back at myself. How often do I fall into the same trap?

Complaining about the silliest things…the driver in front of me isn’t going fast enough. The grocery bagger squished my bread. I didn’t get enough sleep. A light wasn’t turned off.

We can get so wrapped up in the little stuff—falling prey to the murmuring and complaining—that we fail to demonstrate what this couple did…the radiance of Christ.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory…Hebrews 1:13

Now let Him shine through you!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Way We Look at People

Last Sunday my pastor preached about getting out of the boat. Anytime I hear a teaching where the disciple Peter is mentioned, I am especially interested. I guess it’s because I can relate so well to him.

Much of his personality is similar to mine. I have always been rough around the edges but through the years, the working of the Holy Spirit in my life has softened much of that.

It doesn’t mean I have suddenly become this demure, passive and gentle woman. It just means that those edges which were too sharp to touch have become smoother. Oh yes, there is still work to be done.

But the thing I love about Peter is that his boldness and brashness does have a positive side. I try to look for that in myself…otherwise, I can fall into the trap of beating myself up and wishing I were more like so-and-so.

Peter is oftentimes criticized for not having enough faith to keep walking when he was on the water. Here was the chance of a lifetime, to step out and do something that no man has ever done. We tend to look at him as “blowing it.”

I don’t look at his lack of faith. I look at his boldness to even step out of that boat in the first place. There are so many things that Peter does throughout his life in which we can look at through a critical lens. But isn’t that true when it comes to others?

When someone doesn’t act like we do, think like we do or handle certain situations the way we do…we tend to view them critically. We see the lack of and we attribute it to any number of things, including a lack of faith or spiritual maturity.

But God uses all kinds of people. Meanwhile, we put God into this box and don’t believe he can use so-and-so because they do or don’t do such-and-such.

Maybe it’s really just about trying to look for the good in people…

(Photo by namida-k in stock.xchng)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How to Be a Contagious Christian

I watched an interesting 20/20 special Friday night, “Billionaire Secrets: What They Know That Can Change Your Life.” One of the men that Barbara Walters interviewed was the founder of “Zappos” shoes, Tony Hseih.

Let’s just say that the way he runs his company is a little unconventional. His office looks like a party is going on, not a business. People are dressed in weird costumes. They have toy car races in the middle of the office, blow horns, wave pom-poms and well…enjoy working.

It is a stark contrast to the usual suit-and-tie, professionalism you see in most businesses. Yet he is obviously doing something right as his company is worth $1.2 billion. His business platform is built on this, “Great things will happen if you make employees happy.”

I couldn’t help but think how this can equate to the Christian life. Long before I became a Christian, if you had asked me what I thought being one was like, I would have likely answered, “Boring.” To me, Christianity was a list of dos and don’ts…however with many more don’ts than dos.

I’m so glad that I have come to see it otherwise. Being a Christian isn’t supposed to be drudgery. It isn’t even supposed to be about rules. That is Pharisee-like living. Strict, stringent, tight, whatever you want to call it.

I enjoy being a Christian and yes, I actually do have a lot of fun. The great thing is that I don’t have do it by paying a heavy price the next day (like I did in the old days).

Drawing others unto Christ will be better done if you make it fun. I’m not talking silly, crazy stuff. I am talking about laughter and enjoying life. Too many times believers forget how to laugh. They forget how to enjoy the life they have been blessed with. They are so wrapped up in trying to live by the book that they miss out on all the fun.

I can picture Jesus laughing and I imagine He did it often (wouldn’t you, dealing with those crazy disciples??!!). And I also imagine that it was contagious. If you want to be a contagious Christian, then you need to actually enjoy your life. Who wants what you have if it doesn’t bring any pleasure?

Photo by Crystl in Flickr

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is Your Soul Cluttered?

I don’t like living in a cluttered home. In fact, I have a reputation for getting rid of things…sometimes without the other person’s permission. While keeping an uncluttered home can alleviate stress, the same is true for our souls.

Do you have a cluttered soul? When I think of clutter, I think of those closed spaces that we hide things in. On the surface our home may appear to be neat. However, a few feet away there may be a closet that if you opened it, a number of items would spill out.

What has the potential to spill out of your soul? Anger? Jealousy? Greed? Discontentment? Hurt?

When I first came into a relationship with the Lord, my soul was so cluttered that you wouldn’t even be able to fit a finger inside. There was absolutely no room for nothing else, including Jesus.

But as soon as I made that decision to follow Him, items began to get immediately cleared out. However I had so much junk stocked up, that it was a process to get down to where I am.

Is my closet completely void of clutter? Not quite. I think to some degree we will always have clutter to deal with. After all, how else would we come to depend on the Lord’s help?

Think about the state of your soul and begin to ask the Lord to help you de-clutter. Get rid of the things that are holding you back from truly enjoying life and living it to the fullest.

Friday, October 7, 2011

God Will Fight the Battle

Many times throughout the Old Testament we are told to not be afraid. God knows the way fear can play on our emotions. He understands the powerful impact it can have.

One of the first times we hear God’s declaration to not be afraid is when the Israelites, after being in slavery for 430 years, are finally set free from the oppression of the Egyptians.

After God sends 10 plagues on the Egyptians, Pharaoh finally agrees to let the Israelites go. They have been given a death blow; all of their firstborns lose their lives. It is too much and now he can’t get them out of his sight quick enough.

The Israelites are celebrating as they finally break away from the chains of bondage and slavery. Life is looking good. But then…

Pharaoh changes his mind. What was he thinking, letting the people go? He decides to go after them and at the first sight of the Egyptians, panic sets in for the Israelites.

Think about how life can do this. We are sailing along, feeling pretty good about how things are going. But then we see something coming against us and our first instinct isn’t faith, it isn’t trust in God but it is a declaration that we would be better off back in the land of slavery.

What land of slavery have you come from? What has God delivered you out of? What have you been set free from? At the first sign of trouble, do you really want to go back?

For whatever reason the Israelites suddenly thought that they would have been better off as slaves. But Moses says, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do His work of salvation for you today…” (Exodus 14:13, Message). He also goes on to say, “God will fight the battle for you. And you? You keep your mouths shut!” (Exodus 14:14, Message).

Sometimes all we need to do is stand firm, watch God take care of the problem, allow Him to fight the battle and then we just need to keep our mouths shut.

Photo by el7bara in Flickr

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Empty Spots in Your Life

Leaves have already begun to swirl around. It is always so hard for me to believe when a new season comes along. It seems I hardly had a chance to really the enjoy last one.

This is becoming truer as I get older and as my children get older. Just this morning I was updating pictures in these cool picture frames my stepmother bought a few years ago.

They are the kind where you put in a small picture starting with kindergarten and they go all around the frame until you finally reach the middle, where the senior picture goes. I have finally completed a frame. I could hardly believe that I put in the last school picture for my oldest son, now a senior.

I glanced over at my daughter’s frame, the glaring reminder that she only has three empty spots left. So it was almost a relief to then look at my youngest son’s frame and count five empty spots.

There are two ways I can look at this. I can mourn the fact that there are no empty spots on my oldest son’s picture frame or the fact that there is only three left on my daughter’s. I can focus just on that, the emptiness I see. OR…I can instead look at what has filled those spots. I can look at what God has done.

When I take the time to really look at each picture that has been filled…kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and so on…I see God’s hand. So it challenges me to consider where I am going to put my focus.

Are you focusing so much on what appears to be emptiness in your life? Perhaps it is emptiness you feel inside or a loved one you are missing, a relationship that seems impossible to mend, the loss of a job, no money…whatever your “empty spot” is, decide that instead of focusing on that, you are going to put your focus on the spots in your life that God has filled. Sometimes it’s really all about perspective.

Now I can take a step back and not feel sad that my son’s picture frame is complete. I can feel thankful that God has blessed us so much with his life and I can instead; look forward to what God is going to do in the future.

Keep your eyes on what God has already completed, and not on the empty spots in your life!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What's In a Name?

I was just reading this morning in Genesis 5 the account of Adam’s family line, a portion of scripture that I usually gloss over. But this time it was different. I read it line by line, name by name. I took a moment to reflect on each name.

In biblical times the selection of a child’s name was a serious decision. You didn’t just choose whatever sounded good. Today we hear of celebrities coming up with some crazy names. In fact, I found the “top 10” list of the craziest names in Hollywood.

Here they are:

• Bronx Mowgli Wentz
• Pilot Inspektor
• Kal-El Cage
• Moon Unit Zappa
• Jermajesty Jackson
• Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette
• Zuma Nesta Rock Rossdale
• Rocket Rodriguez
• Brooklyn Beckham (actually, this isn’t so crazy to me)
• Apple Martin

How would you like to go around with one of these names?

The thing about a name is that it sets you apart. You are a unique individual who has value. I think that’s the most important thing we can learn about a name.

While it is easy to gloss over the family lines we find throughout the Bible, we have to remember that this was a person whose life had value to it. They weren’t just a blip on the screen of life.

Sometimes we get offended when someone doesn’t remember our name. It can feel like a personal affront, as if we don’t really matter. It can also feel good when you are at the grocery store or the bank and the person behind the counter actually acknowledges your name.

This whole thing with a name is something I have been thinking about for a couple of weeks now. Over the course of the past two months, God has been prompting me to help a homeless man that frequently sits outside the Pick n Save I shop at. Whenever I see him, I make sure to come out with a bottle of water.

But on one occasion the Lord was speaking to my heart, “He has a name.” It was easy to dismiss that…well of course he has a name. But what God was trying to say to me is that he has a name and I need to ask what it is. I need to see him as someone valuable and I can’t really do that until I know his name.

A good three weeks passed in between the time I heard God speaking to me about this and when I finally saw him again. I was walking up to the front doors of Pick n Save with my daughter and there he was on his bench.

I sat down next to him and said, “Hi.” I gave him a monetary gift that God had put upon my heart to give and then I asked him what his name was. Never have I seen that man smile. Even when I have handed him the bottled water, not even a crack. But he smiled and said, “Dan.” I shook his hand and told him my name and then I pointed to my daughter and told him her name. He reached out to shake her hand.

The conversation didn’t go much further. I said my, “God loves you” thing and we moved on.

Names are valuable because the person behind it is valuable. Whose name do you need to learn today?

(Photo by Kevin Walsh in Flickr)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Make the Most of Every Opportunity

Ephesians 5:16…making the most of every opportunity

Every single day is a new opportunity. Each moment in each day offers us the chance to…

do right or do wrong

make a difference or waste time

help or hurt

impact a life or ruin a relationship

give or take

build up or tear down

love or hate

be right or choose peace.

Funny how there are so many choices before us but yet…so few moments in life. May we each make the most of every opportunity we are given.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Replacing Your Sin

Ephesians 4:28 (The Message): Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Even if stealing has not been something you struggled with, there is a lot we can learn from this verse. It is the idea of replacement…replacing what you once did with something new.

Sometimes it’s not enough to stop what you once did before you became a believer. Replacing a bad habit or a sin with something else can be beneficial. It takes what you once did, who you once were and turns it around into something good.

The concept of this is something I saw played out in a book I just finished reading called “The Cause Within You: Finding the One Great Thing You Were Created to Do in This World” by Matthew Barnett. Former prostitutes teaching Bible studies. Former drug addicts providing meals to the homeless. All are giving back. They didn’t just stop their sin. They replaced it with something else.

But it goes even a little deeper than this. Reread the verse above and you will see four important steps. The first step is simply to stop what you once did. “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer…”

The second step is to do something else. “…but must work…” So now instead of stealing, you are working.

The third step is to replace your sin. “…doing something useful with their own hands...” The hands that used to steal are now going to find something useful to do instead.

The fourth step is to share your replacement with others. “…that they may have something to share with those in need.”

You see, living a life that is pleasing to God is not just about stopping those bad behaviors or habits. It is really about positively impacting the lives of others. No matter what your past is, you have something to give back.

Stop your sin, replace it with something good and then use it to impact the life of those around you.

Photo by Studio Cl Art on

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Your Life Is Not Your Own

Yesterday my husband and I met a man from church, who will be heading up a missions trip to Haiti in just a couple of weeks, at our bank. We had to have a couple of forms notarized. One was an authorization form for our minor child to leave the country on this trip and the other was to sign over temporary guardianship to the team leader.

It felt strange to sign over temporary guardianship of my child. What it says is that for this particular period of time, I am relinquishing my rights over my child to someone else. The responsibility of his life for those six days will rest with someone else.

Mothers have a very strong attachment to their children. There is almost a sense of ownership. But the reality is that no matter who has “guardianship” over my child, he does not belong to me. He belongs to God.

As I was reflecting on these things, God reminded me of something else…my life is not my own.

…You are not your own; you were bought at a price… (I Corinthians 6:19b-20a)

How many times at church do I sing songs of surrender? “Lord, I surrender all…I surrender all…all to you my precious Savior, I surrender all.” Yet the truth is I am still holding onto things.

True surrender is a recognition that we are not our own. There was a price paid for our salvation, our new life in Christ. It was a heavy, blood-bought price. How could I expect such a price to be paid for me, yet still attempt to direct my own life?

I came to understand that for me personally, what God was trying to say is that there are some things I am still holding onto…as if I “own” them. At the top of that list are my children.

But for all of us, we have some area in our life (maybe more) that we grasp onto, too afraid to let go. We let fear and doubt prevent us from truly surrendering.

What if things don’t go the way we expected? What if something bad happens? What if it backfires? What if it doesn’t work out? We go into the idea of surrender with only “What if” thoughts. That isn’t true surrender.

The past couple of weeks this has been a real battle for me, as I saw my daughter off to her first year of high school…as the decision was made in our home about allowing our son to take this missions trip to Haiti.

I feel like my children are just growing up too fast and I want to press the pause button. But the reality is that it’s because I don’t want to relinquish them. Yet that is exactly what God is asking of us. He wants us to release EVERYTHING in our life because our life is not our own.

He paid a price for your life and soul that can never be measured. We really can’t even wrap our minds around the reality of this. It’s too divine…it’s too unbelievable.

So with that, I leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, “Unthinkable”:

That God would give His Son for me
I find it hard to believe
That a gift so great could ever be repaid
But the blood that’s flowing from His veins
Has washed away my guilty stains
Death was lost and life was gained for me

It’s unthinkable
But I still believe
It’s unthinkable
But I still believe

I’ve found forgiveness for a life of sin
You bring me healing in my brokenness
You give me purpose for a life unlived
It’s all in your blood, it’s all in your blood

Photo by mmagallan in stock.xchng

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Putting Some Muscle and Sinew in Your Life

After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: “Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.” (Acts 14:21-22, the Message)

Like the disciples learned, life isn’t always easy. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that if we are following the Lord, we will never face troubles. But as it says, anyone who decides to join the kingdom of God will go through plenty of hard times.

So what is the key to making it through? This passage talks about sticking with what is believed and not quitting. How do we do this? In the middle of this passage is something interesting…”putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples.”

Sinew means tendon. And tendons are tough bands of fibrous connective tissues that connect our muscles to our bones. Tendons (or sinews) and muscles work together.

Well here is the thing I learned about tendons; they are able to withstand tension. So when we have muscle and sinew in our lives, we can withstand the tension that life brings.

But here is the thing about tendons, they can also break. It takes force for this to happen. And when the tendon does break (or tear), the process of healing is very long and very painful.

Sometimes tendons, like the Achilles tendon, can even become prone to rupture or injury because of a lack of use. So if we are going to have muscle and sinew in our lives, then we need to use it.

To put muscle and sinew in our lives, we need to do some pretty basic things. We need to be in the Word on a daily basis. Because of technology there is really no excuse to not be immersed in the Word every single day. If you can’t sit down and read your Bible, then you can listen to it. You can pull it up on your smart phone. You can download it on your computer.

We also need to be seeking God for direction every day of our lives. This means spending time in prayer. This can be done in the comfort of your home, while walking, driving…there is no right time or place. He wants to hear from you.

But even this isn’t enough. We also need to be united with other believers. We need to be in church each week, taking advantage of every opportunity to gather with other believers. In my church we have life groups, Bible studies, Sunday school, and the list goes on. Spending time with other believers builds you up. It is a way to encourage and inspire one another. It is a way to hold one another accountable.

Need some muscle and sinew in your life? Read the Word. Pray. Fellowship with other believers. Then you will be ready to withstand the tensions of life.

Photo by perpetualplum in Flickr

Saturday, August 13, 2011

He Works from the Inside Out

Matthew 23:26 (NLT) "You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too."

What would happen if you decided to save time and money on dish soap by only washing the outside of your cups and dishes? You would likely get sick, leaving behind germs that are never washed away. The washing of the inside is actually the most important.

This is true of us as well. So often we focus on changing the outward behavior, failing to see that it’s what is within that motivates our behavior. If we continue to neglect the inner man, the outer man will never experience lasting change.

This is why we fail to curb our anger, stop our overeating, kick the smoking habit or whatever else it is that we want to change. Those are just outward behaviors that are influenced by our inner man. There is something much deeper within that causes someone to lose their temper, eat more than they should or light up that cigarette.

In other words, it is the inner man that needs to be washed. But we don’t have the ability to do that…this is the work of the Holy Spirit, cleansing us from the inside out.

This should cause us to breathe a sigh of relief, yet motivate us to reflect. We can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that it’s not in our hands to make those inner changes. But we should reflect on our relationship with the Lord and how much (or how little) we are allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.

The working of the Holy Spirit is something that happens over a period of time. It comes from spending time in the Word, reading and studying it. It comes from seeking God through prayer. It also comes from taking advantage of other opportunities where we gather with other believers such as attending church, Bible studies, prayer groups, Sunday school, life groups, and the like.

But it doesn’t end there. Simply being a student of the Word or gathering with other believers isn’t enough. We have to live it. We have to be obedient. This many times requires stepping out of the boat and leaving our comfort zones. It definitely requires a complete surrendering of your life.

If you have been focusing on making outward changes, perhaps you need to change direction. Allow the Holy Spirit to begin to wash the inner man and then the outside will become clean, too.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Your Mission in Life

We all have a mission in this life and sometimes it isn’t an easy one. Think of the prophet Ezekiel. He was called to do some pretty hard things. This was not going to be a glamorous job of proclaiming God’s Word to people. He would be met with rebellion.

In fact, God warns Ezekiel that He is sending him to a people (Israel) who were hardened in their sin. They would come back with mean words and hard looks. It didn’t matter whether or not they listened to Ezekiel; he still had to speak to them.

In fact, God would even go on to say that he shouldn’t expect them to listen. Yet he was to go in and not be intimidated or afraid of them.

Or think about Hosea, who was called to marry a promiscuous woman. She would be an adulterous wife that would leave him. But he would have to take her back.

Not such glamorous lives that Ezekiel and Hosea was called to live, huh?

What if God told you ahead of time what you can expect in your life? What if He told you that you would have a bad marriage, rebellious children, money troubles, or sickness? Would you sign up for that mission?

There are many things that have transpired in my life that I would have preferred to be different, had I the choice. But life doesn’t work that way. The question becomes…what will we do with what we have been dealt?

Now I take you to another scene…the Garden of Gethsemane. Picture the anguish and sorrow that Jesus went through, as He prepared for what was ahead. He knew full well what was coming and that it was going to be incredibly painful, not just literally but in the sense that He would have to bear the sins of the world. Imagine the weight…

I know how guilt feels when I have done something wrong. It can eat away at you. But imagine now having to take on the sins of every single person on earth.

We always think about the physical suffering of Christ, as horrendous and sickening as it was. But we have to remember that there was a spiritual suffering that occurred as well. So when Jesus was praying in the Garden, do you not think He was ready to pass on this mission?

Jesus asked for the cup to be taken…He didn’t exactly want to suffer. Who desires to suffer? But He followed it up with “Not my will be done but Your will.” He recognized that while it would have been easy to back out of the deal, He had a mission to complete.

Ezekiel had a mission to complete. Hosea had a mission to complete. I have a mission to complete and you have a mission to complete. It may not be glamorous and it may be hard but we need to respond as Jesus did.

Photo by truebadour on stock.xchng

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Consequences of Sin

I realize that the topic of “sin” is not one that we usually embrace. We would rather hear about God’s love and grace. We don’t want attention brought to something that we would much rather tuck away.

But sin is a reality. It is part of our fleshly nature that we will always strive against. Just when we conquer one area of sin in our life, along comes another that we need to work on. It really is a lifelong process.

The funny thing about sin is that we tend to put it into categories. We believe one type of sin to be greater than another. We even dismiss or defend some types of sin because well, there is always an exception, right?

But let’s face it, when it comes right down to it, sin is sin. It doesn’t matter what level you try to put it at or what category you try to fit it into, no one sin is any worse than another.

I know that some are arguing with me…isn’t murder much worse than lying? No, sin is sin. However there is something to sin that does make it different. It’s not the act of sin, it is the consequences.

Yes, the consequences of sin will vary. Someone who commits murder will have the consequences of facing prison time. Someone who lies will have the consequences of another losing trust in them.

This reminds me of the very first time in my life I was presented with the gospel message. I was 19 years old, living on my own and definitely living it up. I was the party girl. Then one day I was walking through the Grand Avenue Mall in downtown Milwaukee, pushing my little cousin in his stroller when I ran into a guy about my age with the bluest eyes you ever saw.

His name was David and he belonged to the “Good News Messengers.” They were outside the front of the mall with their sign and handing out tracts. I couldn’t believe this guy was “religious.”

Long story short, he stopped me in my tracks and began to share the gospel message with me. He asked if I knew for certain that I would go to heaven if I were to die. I couldn’t deny it…I didn’t know for certain. In fact, I was more than sure that I wouldn’t go to heaven.

So for the next hour I listened to him read passages to me out of the Bible. Then he handed me a New Testament Bible with his phone number written inside. We quickly became friends and he began to introduce me to what I thought was a very strange world. He attended a “church” that met in a home and weekly went to a singles group.

I have to be honest and admit that my interest was strictly in him, not in the good news of salvation. So I tolerated his preaching and his desire to see me saved. I even allowed him to get rid of my music selection, which he said was not good for me.

Then after a few months of really getting to know one another, he threw a bombshell on me. He was going to prison. Prior to getting saved he had committed arson on several large businesses. He never got caught. But then when he came into a relationship with Jesus, he decided to confess his sins.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…why in the world would you admit to something you had never been caught for? Can you see how the message of Christ really hadn’t gotten to me? And then I asked him, if this following Jesus thing is so real, then why does he have to go to prison? Suddenly I didn’t see the “good” in being a follower of Christ. I didn’t understand there were still consequences to his sin.

He did go away to prison for 10 years. We stayed in contact for a short time and then I finally stopped answering his letters. To this day I still have the Journal article that was written about him, how he had admitted to his crimes.

It wouldn’t be until a decade after that I would walk into Oak Creek Assembly of God and experience a change in my life that I have never walked away from…loving and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the real point is that even though he had changed the direction of his life, there were consequences to his sin. And it goes back to my earlier point that no sin is greater than another…it’s just that we will have to face varying consequences.

Photo by Kyle and Kelly Adams in Flickr

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lessons Learned at "She Speaks"

She Speaks Conference

While not everyone who reads this blog attended the “She Speaks” conference held in North Carolina this past weekend, I do know that so much of what I learned could be applied to almost anyone.

In response to another attendee’s blog, I am answering four key questions that will hopefully speak to all readers.

The first question is “What was the best advice you got at She Speaks?” What spoke most to me was this, to let God determine my dream. So often we try to figure things out and decide what the best path for our lives is. We base it on our interests, our likes and those things we are skilled in.

What is interesting about God is that He often chooses to use us in ways we had never imagined or dreamed possible. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are… (I Corinthians 1:27-28)

Do you ever feel that God can’t use you because you are foolish, weak, lowly or despised? Do you feel incapable and unworthy? This is actually the best position to be in, the one that allows for God to really use you. But then you have to trust Him enough to determine your dream.

The second question is, “What was the best lesson you learned in a session?” For me it was when I participated in a peer writing critique group. You had to sit with two other women, whom I had never met, and critique each other’s article. What I learned in that is to be teachable.

The women in my group insisted on using a red pen to mark up each other’s articles. While at first I thought it was too much like being in school, I came to appreciate the red marks that were scribbled across my article. There was constructive criticism and positive remarks made.

We need to be teachable, humble enough to accept correction. Proverbs 12:1 (NIV) is pretty clear: Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. It can’t get anymore blunt than that.

However, instead of a red pen being marked across our lives, we have the blood of Christ that was poured out. His blood points us to a new life in Him and that does mean having a teachable spirit.

The third question was “What are you going to do with what you learned/what is your next goal?” Since for me I received a very favorable response from one of the book publishers, I decided to take my devotional and turn it into my Isaac. I am going to lay it down on the altar and allow God to do His thing. I have the knife over my book, poised and ready to do as He sees fit.

What is your “Isaac?” What do you need to lie down at the altar and completely surrender to God? What difficult thing must you entrust completely and wholly to the Lord?

The last question is “Anything else you want to share? (Good, bad or ugly)?" I wish I could take every single person who reads this blog back in time with me to receive all that I did. Because this past weekend wasn’t just about writing and publishing, it was about surrender.

Surrendering our dreams, our pursuits and our passions isn’t easy. We so badly want to set the course and plan the route. We have our own ideas on how things should work and what should happen next. But nothing can really move forward until we have first surrendered it to God.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Frustration of Sin

Have you ever been told you aren’t good enough? Have you ever felt you weren’t good enough? I’m sure this doesn’t bring up any warm, fuzzy feelings inside you.

So forgive me for cutting you back down but guess what? You aren’t good enough…that is, you aren’t good enough to combat sin.

Sin is an interesting thing. For many believers it is easy to avoid certain sins, or what we might call the “big stuff.” We don’t get drunk, we don’t steal and we don’t cheat on our spouse.

But then we struggle with the smaller stuff…lying, gossiping, jealousy. Actually, this stuff isn’t really small because when it comes right down to it, sin is sin. We are the ones that put sin at different levels. In some ways I think it serves to make us feel better. After all, if we are convinced that we are sinning in “small” ways, we don’t feel so bad about it.

It can be very frustrating when you have a particular struggle with sin in your life. You so desperately want to get it out of your life but you can’t seem to gain the upper-hand. That’s because you are simply not good enough to do it.

It can leave us feeling defeated. We know God’s commands and we really want to follow them but we keep falling back. So what is missing?

Paul explained it best in Romans 7:17-25. I love the way “The Message” version so clearly lays it out. Let’s start with verses 17-20: But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

Can you relate to any of this? The one word that sticks out as I read this is…FRUSTRATING. It can feel absolutely frustrating to try and try and yet you get nowhere. Here comes some more frustration in verses 21-23: It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

Here’s the thing. Most of the time we truly do want to do the right thing. Our heart’s desire is to follow God’s commands. It’s not that we don’t want to…but that is what makes it so frustrating. Why can’t it be easier? I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? (verse 24).

In a Bible study one time a friend of mine was expressing the very same thing. She had tried everything to stop a particular sin. She was praying, reading the Word, claiming scripture…but to no avail. The frustration she was experiencing was so evident.

I really felt for her because that particular sin was one I had struggled with for years. Yet I had finally experienced victory and I couldn’t even point to a particular time it happened. I couldn’t explain the steps I took. It was really a very gradual thing that happened over time. The answer to her frustration…to my frustration…to your frustration is this: The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different (verse 25).

You see, there is no formula to overcoming those sins we struggle with. In fact, later that evening after the study had ended and I was alone with God, I asked Him about this. I had never even given much thought to the fact that I had overcome that particular sin until it was brought up. “When did it happen?” I asked within my heart.

What I felt God speak to me was that it happened over time. It happened as I bathed in God’s presence and His Word. It was like I had to take a really, really long bath to get clean.

You see…we think that overcoming sin should be a quick fix. We pray, we stop sinning. We read the Word, we get instant victory. But it doesn’t always work that way. This is especially true when certain sins have been so ingrained in us, such a deep part of our lives.

Have you been struggling for a really long time with a particular sin? Keep enjoying the bath. Soak in it. Don’t be quick to dash out before you are really clean. Let the suds of God’s Word and God’s presence do their thing. The only real answer to your frustration with sin is Jesus Christ.

(Photo by Dan4th in Flickr)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Travel Lightly

In just 11 days I will be embarking on a trip to North Carolina to attend a 3 day writer’s conference. I have so much left to do to prepare. I will be meeting with two book publishers and attending a writer’s peer critique group.

To meet with these publishers and attend this critique group, I have very specific instructions on what to bring. I can’t miss a single detail. But if that isn’t stressful enough, there is the whole packing thing. I think other females will understand better why this can be such an issue.

Not only do you have to pick out the right outfit for each day but you have to make sure your shoes match, you bring the right jewelry, your makeup fits in with the colors of your outfit…it can become quite a stressor.

I will also have limited time once I get to the airport, find the shuttle I need to take, take the shuttle to the hotel, check in, register and then be in my seat by 3:50 p.m. for the main opening session. So I have decided to travel lightly. I am going to avoid the baggage area completely by bringing a small enough suitcase that can go on board, yet fit everything I need.

I’m sure by now you are wondering, “What’s the point?” Why am I telling you all of this? Because as I was thinking about how much easier it will be to travel lightly, I couldn’t help but think how that is so true in other ways.

Think about your life. Would you rather your life feel heavy and weighed down? Do you like carrying burdens? No, most of us would probably say that we would rather travel through life lightly.

Yet so many of us lug around baggage of regret, guilt, shame, fear…oh, the list could go on and on. What is really sad is that many people could lighten their loads but despite how awkward and uncomfortable the load is, they are just so used to it that they keep trudging on.

I have a pretty checkered past. Was never raised in a Christian home and in fact, didn’t become one until I was married and had my first child. Becoming a believer didn’t completely lighten my load. I was carrying around a lot of stuff…junk from the past, pain, hurts, wrong beliefs, misconceptions…it was as if my heart and mind had been filled with so much wrong stuff, that it has taken years and years to see those burdens be lifted.

But even after serving the Lord for about 16 years now, I know there is still some luggage that needs to go. Just as I don’t want to go to the baggage area at the airport in Charlotte, to have to get a big heavy suitcase and lug that thing around…I don’t want to lug around anything in my life that doesn’t need to be there.

While God has done some amazing work in my heart, mind and life in general…there is still work to be done. But what I have come to see is that even though the weight has been lightened greatly over the past several years of serving God, I have become comfortable with some extra weight that isn’t necessary. It is time to travel lightly.

For me it means joining a new 19 week program that my church is offering that starts at the end of this month. I wrestled with God about this. I had all kinds of excuses and reasons to not do it. But that is when I came to realize that I was comfortable carrying that extra baggage. It would now be my choice…would I continue to or would I decide that I am going to travel lightly instead.

Whatever baggage you are carrying around, it really is a choice. God wants to take it from us. It’s just a matter of how and when. But we have to be ready and willing…His ways are not always our ways. I would much rather not attend this 19 week program to lighten my load but this is what God has chosen for me.

I can tell Him to forget it, I’ll just go back to the baggage area and pick up my big, heavy suitcase filled with…well, that’s between me and God. OR I can skip the baggage area and decide that I will do whatever it takes to travel lightly.

Think about what you need to do in order to travel lightly. Are you ready to shed the excess baggage? Ask God to show you how and when…but then be ready to do your part, no matter how difficult or painful.

(Photo above by brokenarts in Stock.xchng)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

To Notice Jesus in the Eyes of Others

(Photo by Kerry in EveryStockPhoto)

I experienced something pretty incredible last Sunday, all in a simple trip to the grocery store.

I was making my way to the front entrance when I noticed a tall, bearded homeless man sitting on a bench outside Pick n Save. What struck me as I was coming in his direction was the way he was brushing off his tattered pants. It didn’t seem to matter that he was wearing dirty pants; it was as if he was intent on keeping them lint-free. Or perhaps it was the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

For some reason the action caught my attention. As I neared him, he looked up and our eyes met. I really can’t adequately put into words what happened next. It was as if I got a glimpse of Jesus in this man’s eyes, like I could really see Jesus in him. In fact, if Jesus were to be homeless, I really believe he would have looked similar to this man.

It almost took my breath away. It was a glimpse of the divine in a man of flesh and it wouldn’t let go of me.

As I walked inside Pick n Save, inside my heart I asked the Lord, “What should I do? Buy him some food? Give him some money?” I didn’t need to feel led to do something…I just had to do something. Otherwise it would have been like I had literally walked right past Jesus. Immediately this verse struck me, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42, NASB).

So I turned to my youngest son who was with me (and had no idea any of this was going on inside me) and said, “I am going to buy that homeless man a bottled water.” “You are?” he asked with surprise.

As we got to the checkout, my son asked, “What if he’s gone?” I replied, “He won’t be.” I knew he would be there. When we came outside he was still sitting on the bench as I expected. I approached him with the water bottle and handed it to him, “Would you like some water?” He took it, turned it over in his hands as if he was examining it. He then looked at me and said in the gentlest voice I have ever heard, “Yes, thank you.” I replied, “God bless you.” He said, “Yes, you too” and I walked away.

Now here is the real lesson behind this story…I have seen this man a number of times. Many times he was sitting on that same bench. I am pretty sure he lives under the bridge near this Pick n Save. I have walked past him several times…never giving a thought to him. How many other people have I walked past, giving no thought to them and yet I had missed seeing Jesus?

It got me thinking that if only I could see Jesus in others the way I saw Jesus in him…how differently I would view people, how differently I would treat people, how differently I would look at the value of my time (in other words, I would take the time to notice). How much more would I reach out, instead of concentrating on my own agenda?

I will be honest here…the thought of being able to see Jesus in people is not on my radar. I tend to be too wrapped up in my own little world, what I have going on at the moment. I don’t always see the needy, the hurting, or those who just need a simple cup of cold water.

But for one moment in time, I got a glimpse. It was so powerful that for the remainder of the day I couldn’t get the man’s face out of my mind. And later that night when I was on my way to the evening church service, God spoke to my heart, “He has a name.” Yes, he does have a name. He isn’t just a face. He isn’t just a homeless man. He is a person with a name. I don’t know at this point what this means. I don’t know if the next time I see him, if I am supposed to ask him what his name is.

But I do know it has put me on notice…that I need to be ready to notice Jesus in the eyes of others…

Friday, June 24, 2011

If Only Life Had a Rewind Button

Do you ever wish life had a rewind button? You know…so you can go back and reclaim missed opportunities. I was using the rewind button on my DVR quite a bit today as I listened to President Obama’s speech on his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan for an article I am writing. I would have missed a lot of important facts had I not been able to do that.

But life doesn’t have a rewind button, so what we often get stuck with are regrets. Which reminds me of one of those moments that not only do I have regrets about but I will also admit was an extremely embarrassing one for me.

Several months ago I was grocery shopping with my daughter. We were by the meats section and she was patiently waiting by the cart while I looked through the selection of ground beef. I was pretty wrapped up in what I was doing so when I heard someone talk next to me, I didn’t quite catch what they said. But then I heard a male voice say my name and I looked up to see a guy that took me a few moments to recognize.

He was someone I had hung out with in the past. I wouldn’t even say I dated him…more or less went out a few times. Well I was not happy at all to run into a guy from my past with my teen daughter standing nearby. I wanted to end the conversation as quickly as possible but he seemed intent on talking.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the conversation because I could feel my daughter’s eyes on me and I just wanted it all to go away. The only thing that stuck out was when he asked me, “So are you still kicking it?” He honestly sounded like one of those California surfer dudes, you know, like totally dude…sorry but I’m just trying to give you a picture here.

My response was a sarcastic, “No, I’m not still kicking it,” thinking that I’m a 40-something old married woman with three kids…I am most certainly not still “kicking it.” I think he eventually caught on that I wasn’t interested in talking and when we walked away, I could feel my face turn red. I didn’t want my daughter to see that. I didn’t want to explain to her who this guy was.

Of course she thought the whole thing was hilarious and couldn’t wait to tell my husband about it when we got home (don’t you just love kids?). She couldn’t believe I had ever hung out with the guy…frankly, I couldn’t either. But yet…it is still one of those moments that I wish I could rewind back to.

Do you know why? Because when he asked if I was still kicking it, I would have replied, “Well actually now I’m kicking it with Jesus” and I could have gone on to tell him all about the change in my life. But I was so focused on ending that moment, on how I looked to my daughter and wondering what I had been thinking back then…well it was a lost opportunity that can’t be redone.

What opportunities in life have you missed out on? What times in life do you wish you could press the rewind button and go back? While we may not be able to do that, we can do something now. We can determine that we won’t live a life of regrets and instead, we will make the most of every opportunity we have.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Keeping It Real

Last week I had a real heart-to-heart with one of my children. It transpired after hearing a sermon at our church. Obviously conviction had hit big time and I was told of a particular struggle.

If there is one message that I have tried really hard to get across to my children, it is that they can tell me anything....I mean, anything. I told my child that I will try my hardest to never get mad at them when they confess something because no one is perfect. I don’t expect perfection from my children.

In fact, I told my child that if they never did anything wrong, I would be more suspicious. I want them to be real and just like I have things to work on, so will they. It is okay to have struggles. The real issue is what we do with them.

Grace is something I have tried really hard to dispense onto my children. I know the grace of God to such depths that I could offer nothing less. As parents it can be really difficult to navigate those waters, however.

After all, you don’t want your children to think that it’s okay to sin. You don’t want to dismiss the wrong things they do. But at the same time we can’t make our children think that they aren’t supposed to ever mess up.

I have been reading a book that has impacted me greatly. It’s by Craig Groeschel and it’s called “Weird.” The premise of the book is that as Christians we aren’t supposed to be normal, we are supposed to be weird…but not a goofy kind of weird. You would have to read it to understand it.

It just so happened that on the same day I had talked to my child, I later read this in “Weird”: “So how do we become weird (or weirder) parents? Not by pretending to be perfect and have all the answers. Instead, we must let them see our struggles as well as our strengths. Weird parents not only try to mirror God’s character on a daily basis but also show their humanity—their own questions, doubts, weaknesses—in the mix. They share answered prayers as well as the unanswered ones. They lose their tempers—and then are humble enough to ask for forgiveness.”

I love how real the author is (who also happens to be a pastor). He shares some stories that may raise some eyebrows but he is keeping it very real. That is something I have always strived for. I don’t pretend to have all the answers as a parent—in fact; I don’t know that I have any answers. But one thing I do have is “realness.” My kids see the real me and while they see the part of me that absolutely loves God, they also see the part of me that can really mess up.

I guess the point of this blog is really to encourage everyone to keep it real. That we would keep it real with our children, our spouses, our friends, our church and anyone else we come in contact with. But this also includes God. Believe it or not, there are many who try to fool Him.

Sure, we can fool a lot of people around us. We can have the appearance of a real “got-it-all-together” family. But God knows what happens behind closed doors. God knows the real deal. So why bother trying to put on a charade in front of Him? Why not keep it real with Him?

Perhaps that is why I love the Psalms so much, especially those by King David. He kept things real. Sometimes he got angry. Sometimes he messed up big time. But he was called “a man after God’s own heart” and I truly believe that part of it was because he was so genuine.

What keeps some people from being real is a fear of what others will think. They don’t want to be looked at as “weak” or to be viewed as someone who is lacking spiritually. We would much rather prefer everyone to see us as spiritual giants. But we can’t slay the giant until we deal with the little monsters running around inside of us. And yes, we all have them. It’s just that some of them are more obvious than others.

Being real also makes us vulnerable. That is a difficult place to be. But when we make ourselves vulnerable to God that is when real change can begin.

So what about you? Are you keeping it real?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Are You Reaching the World?

Last week I was making a few changes to my blog’s site when I happened upon “Stats.” I have never been one to really care about my blog’s stats. I write because I love it. I write because I believe that whether I have been able to encourage just one person or 50 people, my purpose has been fulfilled.

But being human, my curiosity got the best of me and I was surprised to see how much information was available on stats. While it was interesting to see the number of page views my blogs have received, what really amazed me was that I could see my page views by country.

Imagine my surprise to find that my blog has been read from the countries of Taiwan, Canada, Germany, Russia, India, Iran, Greece, Ukraine and South Korea. I was just completely taken aback from this. I think I was especially shocked to see Iran on the list.

It got me thinking about Mark 16:15 where Jesus tells us to go into all the world and preach the Good News to all creation. I think when most of us read that verse, we kind of gloss over it because we think it applies to preachers, evangelists and missionaries. Or we read that verse and we think, “Well that would be nice but I’m just a wife and mom, or a…whatever else you want to fill in the blank with.”

I have always felt like my ability to “reach the world” has been hindered because of where I am in life. But see…sometimes we can get so focused on “reaching the world” that we neglect to reach those within arm’s reach.

Wherever we are, whatever position in life we have been given, whatever tasks are before us…that is the place we are to reach the world. It starts in our heart, works into our home and then begins to reach “other” places. Those other places may not be another country. It may be your workplace, your neighborhood, your school, or wherever the Lord has you.

If there is one thing I have learned from running into my Stats page and seeing the countries that have visited my blog, it is that you never really know who you are influencing.

The clerk at the grocery store is watching how you interact with your child throwing a tantrum. The neighbor next door is watching how your family talks to each other. Your teacher is watching how you deal with peer pressure. Your co-worker is listening to the language you use. There are so many ways that our lives are speaking to others and we don’t even know it.

You are influencing lives and you are reaching the world to one degree or another…what are they seeing in your life?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Vice of Unforgiveness

Recently I was reading a devotional on forgiveness and this thought struck me…nothing is more freeing than to release another person. It sounds almost contradictory, doesn’t it?

After all, if you choose to forgive someone you are “letting them off the hook” as you release them, aren’t you? They are the ones who are experiencing the freedom and well, sometimes it seems downright unfair.

But the reality is that we get the benefit of freedom more than the person we have released. Why is that? You have released them in the sense that you are no longer holding something over them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are off the hook. There may be consequences for what they have done. They may be facing judgment from God.

As good as that might sound, it isn’t supposed to make us feel better about forgiveness. It should cause us to grieve for them. Haven’t we been in that place where we faced the same, yet Jesus came into our hearts and offered us forgiveness?

The real freedom comes when we can live in peace. Harboring unforgiveness is not a pleasant thing. It often comes with anxiousness, guilt, shame, anger and a myriad of other emotions that can have a death grip on us.

It’s like you are in a vice and the deeper the unforgiveness goes, the longer it lasts, the tighter the grip on us. We are held in this vice and we can’t move. We are stuck. We feel uncomfortable, perhaps even in pain.

But as we begin to go through the process of forgiving, the vice begins to loosen. We begin to feel a release from the pressure. We are so thankful for how much better we feel that we decide we finally want to be free from the vice and so we forgive with everything within us.

It is at this point that we can experience complete freedom from the vice that once gripped us. Yes, that is what true freedom is, to release someone else. In turn, we are released.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Silence Sometimes Speaks the Loudest

I write for a number of sites on a variety of topics, everything from pursuing your dream to raising teenagers and politics. Because I am a writer, I invite (whether I like it or not) opinions and comments from others.

Thankfully most of the feedback I receive is good. But sometimes it isn’t. Anyone who works in a field or a ministry where you are likely to get feedback of some kind, you know that there is always the chance someone won’t agree with you. Or they may not even like you.

With the political site that I write for, I get some crazy stuff. One time I got a very lengthy email that started out this way, “How can I get a hold of a Nazi leader here in Minneapolis, Minnesota?” I don’t think I have to tell you how strange the remainder of the email was.

Then on another site where I write about pursuing your dream, a reader apparently took the time to look into my other work and saw I was a Christian. That person decided I needed an email correcting my views and how Jesus would have been a liberal and so on. The very views this person was declaring I had, were not expressed by me anywhere. He had just assumed he knew what I thought.

The reason I share all of this is because it provides a foundation to the real message of this blog. It’s about turning the other cheek…turning the other cheek when people say unkind, cruel or untrue things about you (or to you).

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the words of others that we begin to dwell on them. Depending on your personality, you will react a few different ways. For some, dwelling on the negative things said about them causes them to begin to believe it must be true. You start looking down on yourself or you begin to question who you are and what you do.

For others you become hurt. The hurt can be so deep that you give up or you allow yourself to sink into depression. And still for others, you become angry. You are ready to lash back at the person and give them a good word whipping.

Can I tell you something? No matter how you choose to react to the negative things said about you, the other person is doing perfectly fine. They aren’t wrapped up in feeling bad or angry or depressed. In fact, they have probably long forgotten whatever they said about you.

This is something God has really had to help me with because in all honesty my initial reaction would be anger. I would be ready for a good comeback, yet 99% of the time I know that I am to remain silent.

Do you know how hard that can be for some people, me included? It is almost gut-wrenching to sit back and not defend myself. It seems unfair and unjust. Don’t I have the right to say something?

All I have to do is think about Jesus. Did He not have the right to say something, yet He remained silent. When He was falsely accused and called names, He didn’t respond.

The only time I have ever felt led to respond to one of the emails I have received was when I got the one about how Jesus was liberal. I can’t recall the exact words but I said something along the lines that I was sorry he had made all of these assumptions about my beliefs but that he was wrong with just about everything he said.

You know how I knew I had responded the right way? I didn’t get a reply. There was nothing to be said. Didn’t Jesus sometimes speak others into silence? Remember the woman the Pharisees were about to stone to death because she had committed adultery? Jesus told them that whoever had been without sin could throw the first stone. No one replied. He spoke them into silence.

However I personally believe that most of the time we are to say nothing. Silence sometimes speaks louder than even the vicious words of others. And even if you see no good come of your silence, you can at least have peace knowing that you are right with God.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Are You Ready?

As I am writing this, I am waiting for the “end of the world.” Well not exactly. I am actually wondering what the people, who are holding signs up forewarning of “Judgment Day,” are going to say when the time comes and goes…

What explanation will they give?

There are two things about all of this that really bother me. One is that scripture is being totally cast aside. The Bible tells us that the Second Coming of Christ is not known by angels or even Jesus. Yet so many are deceived (or prideful) to think that man would somehow have the upper hand, that man would know something that even Jesus doesn’t.

The second thing that bothers me is how it takes away from the truth of God’s Word and how it will actually cause others to be drawn away. Have you seen the mocking of Christians over all of this?

There are many who will think that Bible believers have endorsed this whole May 21st doomsday and so why believe anything that they say?

But I will tell you this…it definitely has me thinking. What would I like to be doing the day Jesus does return? If I were to somehow believe all of this, that He is coming at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. (I hear conflicting times)…what would I want to be doing?

Would I choose to do something that I might not otherwise have done? Would any of us? Would we choose to quick pick up the phone and tell a loved one that they need Christ? Would we dust off the Bible and try to quick get in as much as we can? Would we get on our knees and pray?

Or would we be in a place where none of that is necessary because it has always been our lifestyle? We wouldn’t feel a need to do something that “earns” our way because it has been a choice each and everyday.

Remember the parable of the ten virgins? They had lamps in which they needed to be ready at any time their bridegroom would come for them. But five of them weren’t ready. They had squandered their time. They thought it was taking him too long to come and so they became tired and fell asleep.

I don’t want to be a drowsy Christian. Yet I don’t want to pretend that I know better than Jesus.

I don’t know what is going to happen in a few hours. The reality is that yes, Jesus could come. But it wouldn’t be on account of what man has said. I am ready…would you be?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Your Pain Is Real

This past week was somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster for me. As a mother you never want to see your child in pain, whether it be physical or emotional pain. But that is what we have been going through for nearly a year now, with our youngest son.

He began to have stomachaches toward the end of 5th grade. They would occur every-so-often but as time went on, they began to happen more frequently. Then they got to a point where sometimes they would last for several days. He would be bed-ridden, miserable and in some cases, vomiting profusely.

It was probably the end of 2010 when it seemed like every month he was getting sick. But each doctor visit would leave me without answers. In fact, one of the last times we went to our family doctor, after running blood work and taking an x-ray, we were made to feel that either our son was exaggerating the pain or it wasn’t real.

I know that was very frustrating to my son and it was certainly frustrating to me as a mother. Long story short, this past week we finally saw a specialist at Children’s Hospital who works specifically with abdominal pain. It was good timing because my son was symptomatic at the time. He had been sick for nearly 6 days by the time we saw the specialist.

As the appointment unfolded and the doctor spoke, I began to feel such a sense of peace wash over me. We were finally getting answers and a diagnosis but quite honestly, what gave me the greatest hope was to hear him say, “The pain is real.” Those words wouldn’t leave me. They were comforting because they meant yes, what others thought wasn’t real actually is. I’m sure it was comforting to my son as well.

All week those words reverberated inside me. It got me thinking about those who suffer from conditions like fibromyalgia. To others who don’t understand it, we can question the reality of their pain. While they cry out from within, “The pain is real!”

What about the pain we feel emotionally? When we lose a loved one, when a marriage ends, when a disappointment comes our way? Others, in an effort to try and make sense of it all, will say things that almost dismiss the pain. They are things like, “God will make a way.” “It was his time.” “Joy comes in the morning.” “This too shall pass.” “It will all work out.”

The intentions are well and good but who, after losing a loved one, wants to hear that “God must have needed him”? Because inside they are crying out, “But I needed him!” We almost dismiss the pain of others when we try to lather them with Christian phrases or even Bible verses.

I know to some that might sound “un-Christian.” Aren’t we supposed to throw Bible verses around? Not necessarily. There is a time for everything and when someone is in the midst of pain, all they really want to hear is that their pain is real. They want it acknowledged. They don’t want it glossed over.

Eventually you get to that place where you are ready to hear the Word of God. You get to that place where true healing comes through it. However in the midst of pain, in the midst of being so very human, you just want someone to understand that your pain is very real indeed.

I don’t what pain you are feeling today but I do know that what you feel is very real. Remember this the next time you see someone else hurting or struggling…then acknowledge to them that you understand how real their pain is.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

When Will It Be My Time?

Have you ever thought to yourself, “When will it be my time?” As a mother it seems like all you do is give and give and even when you are running on empty, you have to somehow muster up enough to give even more.

But one day…it will be our time. It will be our time to no longer hear slamming doors, loud music or arguments about who gets to ride in the front seat.

You will walk past those bedrooms that used to make you shudder inside and you will no longer see clothes all over, toys in the wrong bins, empty cans of soda or your favorite lipstick sitting on your daughter’s shelf.

You will get to enjoy a quiet meal because there will no longer be sounds of, “Ewww, I don’t like this” or who can burp the loudest.

There will be no more Hot Wheels to step on or Barbie doll shoes to look for. No more DVDs out of their case and no more missing scissors. You will have all the batteries and Scotch tape you could ever want and you will always know where to find it.

No more scheduling your days around your children’s schedules. You will be able to go where you like and do what you like with no football practices, dance lessons or orthodontic appointments.

No more getting gum out of hair, untying knots, sewing on patches or mending a broken heart. You won’t have to worry about attending any more PTA meetings, parent/teacher conferences or soccer games.

You won’t have anymore late nights of waiting to hear your child come home. No more middle of the night thunderstorms that land your kids in bed or tummy aches. Fevers, coughs and scraped knees will all be a thing of the past. And then guess what? It will finally be your time.

So in my quest to search for “my time,” I have discovered that my time is right here, right now…as a mother to my children.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Your Shame Has Been Erased

This past week I watched a movie based on a true story. It was called “Beyond the Blackboard” and was about a first year teacher who finds herself in a setting she had never imagined. She is hired as a teacher for homeless children.

While she is getting over the shock of the type of job she has just accepted, she meets the substitute teacher who she is to replace. The sub is providing her some tips on how to deal with the children and then points to the blackboard where she has a few names written. She has written “Shame Names” and underneath is the names of students. She comments about how the children don’t like to see their names up there.

Once this new teacher recovers from the shock of what she has just walked into, the very first thing she does is erase the board. The shame names are gone forever, never to return.

I couldn’t help but think about how this relates to what Jesus does for us when we ask Him into our hearts and lives. It’s like we had the word “Shame” chalked across our life but as soon as we surrender it to Him, He erases the word completely…never to return again.

However sometimes we write our own name back up on the board. Even when God has forgiven us, we can struggle to forgive ourselves. We can think about our past mistakes, the things in life we have done wrong and even though Jesus has erased the shame of our past, we put our own name back up on the board.

My past is not a good one. I have done a lot of really bad things and although they may have been shameful things, I know that my name is no longer on the blackboard. My name has been erased and Jesus will never put it back up there again.

Has Jesus erased your name? Your shame is gone…don’t allow yourself to get trapped again by writing your name on the blackboard.

“I can’t wait until that day where the very One I’ve lived for always will wipe away the sorrow that I’ve faced, To touch the scars that rescued me from a life of shame and misery, this is why, this is why I sing.”
Jeremy Camp’s “There Will Be a Day”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dealing with Selfishness

I have a confession to make, I can be very selfish. But my guess is that I’m not only the only one…just the only one foolish enough to admit it in a blog. But I think recognition is the first step toward change.

After all, if you can’t recognize your own faults then how can you ever change them? So when I receive these painful but enlightening spotlights on my character flaws, I actually feel pretty thankful.

I started thinking about why I can be selfish. Is it just my sin nature or does it go deeper than that? When I know the right thing to do but I don’t “feel” like it or I am not thrilled with the idea of going out of my comfort zone, is this something that is so deep rooted it’s going to take spiritual surgery to correct it?

I would like to say yes, that this is something God is working on and it will take some time before I see victory. But the reality is that this is something that can be changed in an instant.

There are some struggles that truly are deep rooted and will require time and other work before we can ever see victory but there are also some things that we know victory is around the corner…it’s a matter of whether or not we will embrace it.

This past week I spent a few hours in my kitchen preparing a meal for my friends. One of them went through bypass surgery and is home recuperating. When the request came through to serve them a meal, there was no hesitation. These were my friends and I cared about them.

But I have to admit, that in times past when I have received similar requests I have turned them down. Why? I didn’t really know the person, so I wasn’t willing to be “inconvenienced.”

I’m not a fan of cooking. So to do something for someone else that I normally don’t enjoy doing for my own family is not my idea of fun. But that is very selfish and although in the past I failed to recognize that…I do now.

What is the point to this? Not just to point out my faults to you but to encourage others to examine their own heart and see if there are any areas of selfishness that you need to work on. I know that it’s not the desire of God for this to be within any of us.

Selfishness can take on all different forms, from insisting that you are always right in an argument to seeing a need and refusing to do your part. Selfishness is generally an issue for most of us but it is something we can change.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jesus Never Defended Himself

It is Good Friday and I have such a “heavy” feeling inside me. I think I haven’t quite recovered from watching “The Passion of the Christ” last night. It always leaves me emotionally drained.

While I always gain something new every time I see it, one particular thing that really stood out to me last night was how Jesus never defended Himself. It started in the Garden when they came to arrest Him. It carried on when they began to beat and mock Him.

Then on the cross they called out that He should be able to save Himself. He couldn’t possibly be a king, could He, if He wasn’t able to come down from that cross.

All I kept thinking to myself was how often I try to defend myself. I hate when people think something of me that isn’t true. It’s something I find impossible to let go of.

A couple years ago when I was working as a preschool teacher, a 4-year-old girl accused me of roughly pulling her by the arm. I was absolutely horrified that she had said this. I knew she had it wrong and that if it even did happen, it was at the hands of someone else. I knew that I never touched her.

But when my boss came to me and told me about the accusation, I immediately went into defense mode. When it appeared as if she didn’t 100% believe me, I got upset and started to cry.

In the end, I think my boss did come to realize that I didn’t do it. But the mom, who refused to discuss it with me and had her daughter transferred to another group, obviously went on to believe I had done this.

Oh how I wanted so badly to declare my innocence to her face. It bothered me so much that I lost sleep and felt sick to my stomach. The idea that I would be accused of something untrue was just sickening. So because I couldn’t defend myself to the mother who chose to ignore me, I went around defending myself to others.

You know sometimes that almost makes you look worse. It draws more attention and well, as I thought about the humbleness of Jesus and all that He endured, I realized how much I want to be like that.

Some things we just need to keep silent and know that if we are right with God, then all is well. When all is well in our soul, then we don’t need to defend ourselves.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Our View of Sin

Many years ago I used to attend a home fellowship group and we were having this discussion about sin. A guy in the group was talking about a hobby he used to have, fixing up old cars and how God had directed him to give that up. He said that for him to continue to indulge in that hobby would be sin.

I remember thinking at the time, as I was a pretty new Christian, how strange that he would call something like fixing up old cars a sin. I didn’t really understand the correlation. To me sin was about the obvious stuff—murder, lying, adultery, and so on.
So how could an innocent hobby be sin?

But he had also mentioned at the time that he put that hobby before God. In other words, it had become an idol in his life. Anything we put before God can become an idol in our life, therefore it is sin.

Yet I am thinking about how Christians get so wrapped up in pointing out sin. We look at someone standing outside the church building smoking and we think, “They’re in sin.” We see a pregnant teenager, so we cluck our tongues and say, “She sinned.” We see a mother harshly grab her toddler by the arm and drag him away and we think, “What a sinner.”

Yet some of us have sin that is behind closed doors. Our sins may not be as obvious. In fact, we may be engaging in an activity, such as fixing up old cars and God has told us to stop, yet we continue.

Or we may be in the comfort of our own home, late at night and we are watching something on television that we know we shouldn’t be. We are married and yet we are chatting online with a person of the opposite sex. No, others can’t see what we are doing so we tend to think we are safe. At least our sin isn’t as obvious as the smoker, the pregnant teen or the mean mother.

We don’t always know the whole story behind a situation. We don’t know that the man who is smoking has been trying for a decade to kick the habit but it has a vice-like grip on him. He doesn’t want to smoke and he has tried to stop but it pulls him in.

We don’t know if the teen girl allowed a moment of weakness (as we all have them) to overtake her. Now she carries a new life and she has determined to get right with God and raise this child to love the Lord.

We don’t know if the angry mother was raised in an abusive home and although she hates the way she blows up so easily, she has been trying so hard to stop. She cries out to God every morning to help her make it through the day without losing it.

You see, we only look at the obvious. We don’t know what goes on in the heart. We don’t know about the tears, the pleading to God or even what the real story may be.

A few years ago my husband told me that we had been walking through the church’s foyer when someone in front of me dropped her pack of cigarettes on the floor. Because I was directly behind this person, to another person it looked like those were my cigarettes. So this other person who thought I was the one who dropped the cigarettes gave me a nasty look. How nice.

She had no clue that first of all, they weren’t even mine. But secondly, what was the nasty look for? When for all I know she could have gone home right after church and given her a husband a tongue-lashing. Yet I wasn’t there to see her “sin” as she thought she had seen mine.

I think we have to be really careful about the way we view people. We don’t know everything about a situation and even though someone else’s sin may appear to be obvious, we need to remember that we have our own issues. As I was reminded this past Wednesday in Bible study, judgment is not for us…that is God’s job.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Keys to Overcoming Temptation

It seems like temptations are always there. It’s almost as if you can never get away from them. They are like the old school bully, lurking around the corner…waiting…ready to pounce on you.

Overcoming temptation—whether it is guarding what comes out of my mouth, turning the television off when there is something on I shouldn’t watch, or even saying no to an extra helping of food—can feel like a constant battle.

I used to wish that the temptations wouldn’t be there. “It would be so much easier God, if You would make them all vanish.” While that is certainly true, it would do nothing for my spiritual walk. I could never learn how to mature in Christ. I would never understand what real dependence upon God means.

Now I see temptation differently. I view it as an opportunity to be more like Jesus. I am reminded of the time that Jesus stood in the face of temptation. There is something really powerful, yet quite simple about the way He handled temptation.

Remember that Jesus was taken into the wilderness and was tested. I used to think this was all about Satan’s attempt to deceive and trick Jesus. But it isn’t. Matthew 4:1 tells us that “Jesus was led by the Spirit” into the wilderness (NIV).

The Spirit was the One leading. He wasn’t being led by the devil. The devil didn’t have any control over Jesus. He was not alone and He had the help of the Holy Spirit. We are never led into temptation by the devil. He doesn’t have that kind of power over our lives. He makes himself to be more than he is and so we give more credit to him than is due.

He might dangle a carrot in front of us (or a piece of chocolate cake or that need to set someone straight) but the Spirit is over us. We have the ability to take the help the Holy Spirit offers us. This is the first key to overcoming temptation, remembering that no matter what we face, we are being led by the Holy Spirit.

The second key to overcoming temptation is to understand when we are most vulnerable to give in to temptation. In “The Message” version it says that “the Devil took advantage of” Jesus’ extreme hunger. Jesus was in a vulnerable position when the devil offered Him the opportunity to turn stones into loaves of bread.

Recognize your most vulnerable times—that “time of the month,” when your schedule is overloaded, you haven’t been getting enough sleep, the kids are driving you crazy—and know that this is when the devil will try to come in and get you to fall for his tricks.

How did Jesus respond to this test? He responded with the Word. You can’t respond with the Word unless you know it. So read it daily and get it down deep inside of you.

The third key to overcoming temptation is to counter with the truth of God’s Word when the devil tries to twist things. The devil knows Scripture and he tried to use it but he twisted the truth of it. Jesus brought it all back to reality when He countered with the undeniable truth.

One of the last ways that the devil tried to tempt Jesus was to tempt Him with the things of this world. Now we know that He really holds the world in His hands but for a time, the devil has been allowed free reign. He had a tempting offer for Jesus. Don’t we just bask in the possibility of fame, fortune and power?

When you are tempted with the things of this world, the last key to overcoming temptation is the way Jesus responded. He rebuked the devil…put him in his place and then once again, used the Word to speak truth.

I love the way this all ends in “The Message” Bible. “The test was over. The Devil left.” That was it. No more testing. Jesus had done all He needed to do. Simple, yet powerful. The real key is in the Word of Life.