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Monday, November 28, 2016

His Ways


This is a good passage to read and remember when bad things happen.  When troubles descend and we have exhausted our blame, we turn to the one who we believe is responsible for it all: God.

We lash out against his decisions, turn our backs to him, and tell ourselves that we are better off without him.  We use examples of the horrors of the world to support our claims that God is a monster.

What we fail to realize in those dark moments is that God does so much good and continues to do good despite our troubles.  He created the sun and the moon and and lives in the kindness of friends and strangers.  His power and goodness supersedes any of the world’s evils.

And he will wait all of our lives for us to realize it.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Accept Your Fate

The phrase sounds like a command to give up. ‘Accept your fate, earthlings’ – I can just hear it in an alien voice just before a beam of light whooshes a crowd of people up into a spaceship and disappears into the night sky.

I may have watched too many sci-fi movies in my youth.

Fate, a predetermined set of events that makes up our individual lives, is an arguable concept. Some people regard life as a random series of events, some think we create our own path, and others believe that our lives are designed for us by a supernatural being.

I believe in God, and I follow this last line of thinking about fate.

For someone who has made plenty of terrible choices in life, seeing my life as a story laid out by the One who loved all of us so much that he gave up his son so that we may live in heaven together is a hopeful prospect. My fate as a Christian is to live eternally in heaven with Jesus. There will be no worry, no sorrow, no disease, and no pain. We will celebrate with pure joy, work with pleasure, and have changed hearts, minds, and bodies.

I believe that we are given certain gifts to nurture and develop throughout life to help us make the choices that best fit the life we are created to live. We are born into circumstances that lead us to God in the way that he set out for us, and he knows when Christ’s love for us will be revealed.

With this in mind, we live and work with this hope that can transform the way we think about the world, how we treat others, and even how we feel. I tried to live with God-less hope – it didn’t work for me. Sorrow and the specter of futility always met me somewhere, no matter how much I tried to be a happy, hopeful person. The world is too big for my own puny power of hope for good things.

Unfortunately, sorrow and pain don’t leave us alone –in fact, the closer we are to God, the more those things peck and gnaw at us. But with God’s power and the belief that my fate lies in him, I can abide the evils of the world knowing that they will end eventually. It’s hard, though, and I fail at this on a regular basis. I am no stranger to complaining and crying when things aren’t going well.

When I think about fate, I think of what Jesus did for us, what he came to earth to do, the lives he affected. He started a series of events that led to millions believing in eternal life through his sacrifice. He gave all of us a chance for that eternal life.

He gave us hope in accepting our fate.


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Monday, November 7, 2016

Two Months of Sundays

For the past eight weeks I have missed Sunday morning service at our church because of kids’ activities. We’re pretty regular attendees, and I knew it was only temporary, so I didn’t think too much about it. Our church offers early Sunday morning and Saturday night services, and I guess I could have prioritized one or more of those times for worship, but I skipped those too. The kids went to service a couple of times, and my husband and I made our regular Sunday school class more than half of those Sundays, and I even taught teen Sunday school twice during that period, but we missed church on the regular.

Church worship service has become my Sunday morning refreshment, and during that brief period I missed the message, the fellowship, the opportunities to feel the Holy Spirit in the room. I missed little chances to serve and bigger opportunities to be a part of our church’s community.

Sitting in church and listening to God’s word in the message, through the voices of the worship leaders, and in the mass prayers of the people – there’s nothing else like it that fills my soul. It’s invigorating, comforting, reorienting. I missed it, and I missed it.

God is everywhere, and I don’t need a pew on Sunday to feel refreshed in him. I need only a moment to regard and acknowledge God’s sovereignty in my life, and pray thanks for his provision and his love. The Bible is always available, ready to pour God’s wisdom into my heart and mind.  But when you’re used to hearing God’s word spoken on a Sunday morning with a crowd of fellow congregants and you take some time off, you really notice that absence.

I have the same experience when I forget about God, when life gets really busy and I fail to rest in him, to pray to him, to meditate on his gifts, to rejoice in his love. I can sit in church every Sunday for a year and if my heart isn’t in it, the effect is the same as when I miss a month or two of Sundays.

The only thing blocking God’s word is me. Setting aside time isn’t difficult, but it is a choice. Just like we chose to take a break from regular church to do something else, listening to what God has to say in each of our lives –  and obeying his commands – these things are choices. Constant and conscientious ones that we miss if we forget about God.

During those eight weeks that we missed church, God still had things to say to me. He revealed some things, held me up during times of weakness, listened to my prayers, celebrated with me, and withstood my complaints. I wasn’t sitting in a church, but he was there.

God is always there. I am thankful for his presence, his provision, for who he is. I am grateful that he shows himself everywhere, even to those who take a break from seeing him in the most obvious places.

Photo credit: RowlandKidman via Foter.com / CC BY-ND
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Photo credit: RowlandKidman via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Thursday, October 27, 2016

#Blessed

It goes so fast, we say to other parents on the sidelines as we watch our kids do whatever activity they’re doing this season. Just yesterday they were learning to walk.

They are so grown up! we say about their school pictures. So beautiful! So handsome! They were just babies.

In a year they’ll be driving; we will miss this in a year, we commiserate with each other as we shuttle our kids back and forth in endless loops to school, to practice, to sleepovers and to parties. After that, college. And then they’re gone.

Gone. Off to live their own lives, leaving us behind with their youngest years. It’s a wonderful, agonizing thought.

* * *

At every stage of life we are given gifts to treasure. If we were born into a nurturing family, there’s one. If we are healthy, there’s another. Have great friends? Another. Time, a job we love, ambition, talent, means to live comfortably, good neighbors, the ability to love, trust, serve, and rest: these all are blessings, that wonderful word that has been given a hashtag to highlight it as the butt of everyone’s joke in recent years.

We are blessed. All of us are blessed in different ways. We might not see it clearly. Sometimes we want more, or something else.

I admit that I don’t always acknowledge what I’m given, don’t always see a gift for what it is. The spoils of a good life (paired with a flawed personality) have led me to struggle with openly accepting my blessings. Sometimes I want more, something else. 

Years ago a friend said that as she went about her daily chores, she reflected upon her life. “I thought life was going to be more glamorous than this,” she joked. I could relate. I’m a dreamer, and my job – raising kids, managing a home – is invisible, unappreciated, wholly unglamorous. I feel the weight of “You should be doing more” around my neck every day. Sometimes the weight is light and easily cast off; sometimes I feel as if I am being strangled with it. I know it’s a lie, but it is there.

The more satisfied among us, the ones with a more positive perspective (dare I say the ones who have it right?)  say “I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I have just what I want; nothing more, nothing less. I am blessed.”

I vacillate between admiring these people and wondering how long they’ve been lying to themselves.

* * *

I believe in God. I believe that he created our world and each one of us uniquely. I believe that he gave us specific gifts to benefit others and ourselves. I believe that he works within us, among us, and through us to teach us exactly what we need to know. I believe that he has a wonderful plan that includes all of us, and that he has created each of us to fulfill a role in this plan.




I believe that God works in invisible ways for good as we slog through the details of life. I believe that God has given me a family to take care of so that I stay in the moment and not wish for other things. The blessings of these people I am challenged to take on are bigger than any dream I can conjure; focusing on their care is my main lesson. 

Sometimes we have to consider that we are where we’re supposed to be no matter what life looks like. We aren’t missing anything crucial. God didn’t make a mistake with us. Sometimes he blesses us in ways that we don’t see, or we have disappointments that cause us to take another path that is richer and more rewarding. 

God is faithful; are we?

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I look at my teenagers through adoring eyes. They are tall and strong and smart. They are good people. Nice kids. Caring friends. They make mistakes and have a lot to learn, and it seems they are now learning just as much from other places than at home. 

I have spent the majority of my time taking care of my family’s most basic needs: shelter, food, clothing. I have spent a lot of time teaching these tasks to my children so that they may take them when they go. I have also spent a lot of time complaining about these tasks, passing them off, running away from them, and dreaming of how my life would be different if they weren’t mine to do. I wonder how many more times I will look upon those tasks in a negative light. I hope it’s not many more.

This life that God gave me is full of gifts. In selfish moments I wish them away. But like everything from God, they are good; they are my blessings.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Giving – And Given – Freely

I saw him on the road most nights after work. He stood at the end of the off-highway ramp that was my exit for home. He leaned against the stop sign, holding a raggedy piece of cardboard with the words “Please help”.

When I first saw the man, dirty and leathery from spending his days unprotected in the hot sun, I felt a pang of sadness and even a little guilt for not stopping to help. I was in my early twenties after all, not able to spare much that could make a difference, and I was scared too, afraid of what a desperate stranger on the side of the road might do to a naïve young woman who opened her window and reached out her hand. I avoided eye contact and after taking that way home and seeing him many times, like so many other commuters, I ignored the man and his message.

One evening after an early dinner with a friend, I exited for home and, my courage buoyed by the presence of my friend in the car, hit the open window button and reached out to the man who still stood there in the fading daylight. He approached the car, and, seeing the container of food that I offered to him from our meal, waved us away disgustedly. Embarrassment and shame rippled through me – I had money to buy my dinner, why couldn’t I have given him some cash? How arrogant of me to expect that he would lap up my leftovers! I could have bought him a whole dinner of his own, even. But he didn’t even say no thanks.

My friend and I talked about him on the way home. Beggars can’t be choosers, we agreed callously. How rude was he, not even bothering to speak to us? Probably a drug addict, only interested in money for his next fix. He probably had a house somewhere, part of a crew of panhandlers on the highway who made their living taking money from chumps. From that moment on I ignored him when I saw him on the exit ramp, but the interaction still bothered me.

Years later, my husband, who travels for work, experienced a period in his life when people came up to him at different places – airports, usually – and asked for money. Money to help for a specific urgent need was the usual request. We talked about the coincidence of him being singled out by random people. Did you give them anything? I’d ask. He did. The people had good reasons for needing the cash. But my husband said that he sort of felt like he had been duped every time and that he wished he knew that they were using the money for the purpose he gave it.

In the Bible we are reminded that God loves widows and orphans, and takes care of those who live among us and who have no family of their own (Deuteronomy 10:18). He commands us to live generously as well, not being grudging with our giving, but give freely as God has freely given to us (Deuteronomy 15:10-11, Luke 6:30, 1 Corinthians 2:12).

It does not say in the Bible “Give freely, but only if the person is grateful and only if they really need it.”


When we give, we are not asked to judge the recipient of our generosity, nor called to put expectations on those to whom we give. We don’t give a birthday gift to a friend and ask them later if they are using it. Our involvement ends the moment the gift is in their hands; we don’t have control over how others use what they are given. If we worry about how a person is using something we’ve given to them, then our hearts weren’t in the right place when we gave the gift anyway. If they misuse the gift, that’s their problem to work through with God.

God could say the same about me. How many gifts have I received from him that I take for granted, refuse to thank him for, see as a burden, ignore, manipulate or squander?

Plenty.

God calls us to give freely as he has given to us. That’s all. It’s freeing to live life in the simple ways he asks us to live. If we can put aside our own encumbrances like expecting thanks or being recognized for a good deed or even knowing that our gift is used well, we can be at peace knowing that we are living the life we are meant to live. The person we help might not thank us, but we are asked to help anyway. This reminder is important for all of us to keep in mind when we give help, time, or resources. The recipient may not receive in the way we expect, but we have done what we were called to do.

And that is enough.

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Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT)

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Luke 6:30 (NLT)

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God,
so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:12 (NIV)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

In Need of a Faith Jump

Faith may grow during a lifetime, but it is not always a steady culmination. Even the most devout follower of Christ may lose interest in pursuing God.

We can blame the world’s temptations, hard times, illness, or plain distraction on this lapse or slowdown of faith-building. They are all valid reasons for a person stalling out on Jesus. It happened to Jesus’ disciples, and they were so devoted that they toured with him (John 6:60-66).

If this happened to people who saw Jesus and heard him speak every day, what hope do modern followers of Jesus have, we who don’t have the benefit of sharing his company? I don’t have lunch dates with Jesus, where we chat about what I need to accomplish the building of my faith. I don’t think I’m the only one who doesn’t know what God’s voice sounds like. Where is that voice that we hear above all others while life’s distractions fill our minds and seep into our hearts?

He is there, of course. He is always there. We feel his presence from the first day we believe. We are taught how to reconnect with him: read your Bible and serve others and pray and get with other Christians and go to church and listen to praise music and talk to a pastor. The Bible tells us to do all of these things and more on a daily basis to remain in The Father The Son and The Holy Spirit.

We each are given the same chance of the gift of salvation. It is offered to all and fits every one of us the same. We are not all given the same environmental conditions in which to pursue him – some people live in places where believing in Jesus can result in death – but the ultimate gift of eternal life is the same for all.

No matter where we are in our faith, we each have a difficult job to keep it up. The world makes sure that our lives are filled with obstacles and distractions. No one person has it easier or harder than another to keep the flames of conviction going; God equips us with custom-made tools to continue building our faith.

Easy for me to say, one who lives in a place with freedom of religion, where my parents practiced a Christian lifestyle and were comfortable inside the walls of a church. Further, my upbringing and subsequent life were peaceful, without regular fear or hardship. Save for a couple of bumps in the road, my path to Jesus was paved pretty smoothly. I had only my own convictions to overcome to see the light.

Sometimes the crosses we carry are invisible, only in our minds. Mental illness, pride, lack of confidence, self-aggrandizing beliefs, even laziness can steer us away from God.

We can all stall out on Jesus. We lag behind and wave our comrades in faith on ahead. Go on without me. Leave me here. I can’t go on any further. It’s taking too long to get there. I’ll catch up later.

Thing is, we can’t afford to catch up later. It doesn’t take any time to derail a person from pursuing faith. It’s too easy to give up – Jesus isn’t physically standing over us with his hand extended, ready to help us up, and when we give up, the world is ready to catch us in its wave and sweep us away.

But Jesus is here. God is here. The Spirit – here. All are here to get us back up and on our way. It might take a faith jump – serving others, a retreat, a new Bible study, making regular lunch dates with a good Christian friend – to get us going, but our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will always be here to give us what they promise.

Forever.


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Friday, September 9, 2016

Rules for Love

The world has many rules for love. They trickle into our relationships, settle into our ways of thinking, influence our behavior, and can even twist and warp pure love into something interpersonally dysfunctional and personally harmful. We have all fallen into this trap of what the world tells us about love, and sometimes we spend our lives grasping at and clinging to an idea of love that isn’t love at all. We run in circles to conform to an ever-changing version of love that we are told matters the most today, and exhaust our emotions and our time and mental capacity trying to achieve what everyone else says is true love. #relationshipgoals

True love isn’t finding a soul mate or still holding hands after fifty years of marriage. It isn’t celebrating every milestone or giving gifts. It isn’t meeting expectations or accepting every behavior. These are just actions.

When love becomes a series of actions or rules or goals, we are chasing a dream instead of the real thing. We are dissatisfied when real love comes our way, and we miss it. Sometimes we’ve been convinced that there’s something about us that makes us unworthy of love, which is an even more sinister lie.

We have lost sight of what love is at its core.

God is love. And all love is from God.

Love is without fear, punishment, or condition. It is kind and strong. It is free and pure and can grow and blossom even in unlikely situations or relationships. It is found between friends and relatives and spouses and strangers. It is the peace that comes from knowing that you love and are loved. It is neither a checklist nor a set of goals to be met. Love can wait. If it is from God, it is on his timeline. No personal goals or demands from others set its pace or timeframe. It can’t be imposed, and it can’t be rushed.

Each of us has to figure this out on our own; the world ensnares all of us in its weird versions of love early and often, and tells us that we make our own rules about love. Eventually we emerge from the trap and can finally learn what love really is.

Love is the example of Jesus – his sacrifice, but also his life.

We can receive it and pass it on. And we can live in it, if we choose.

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Dear God, everything in this world is so difficult. I am grateful that you have provided love to show us the goodness you intend and have made for us to receive. Thank you, Amen.

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Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:7