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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This Is Happening

Jesus is coming – there is no question.

Or is there?

I am so impatient.  So skeptical.  I doubt all motives, doubt that anything in the world will ever get any better.  Ah, I’m even doubtful that I will have anything worthwhile to say here.

It’s how I am.  Is it how God made me, or how I’ve twisted and warped my view of everything in the world?  I crawl into the rabbit hole of my thoughts and get lost at the first turn.

I think about all the hurt in the world and get sad thinking about suffering and the hopelessness of some situations.  I lose hope that some people – whole populations – will ever get to know Jesus.  Who is out there to show them, to teach them God’s word?  That guy in the mountains of Iraq, hiding out from his enemies, his only possession an old machine gun, always ready to kill.  What are the odds that he will ever come to know Jesus?

I think about the woman who has had yet another miscarriage, and how much she wants a child, thinking her only option is to get pregnant over and over and over, to receive nothing at the end of each ordeal but pain and grief.  How can she come to know Jesus through this heaviness?

We will all be hurt someday.  Someday, our troubles will shadow every aspect of our lives for a period of time.  It makes me feel like I am not ready for a test of faith.  It makes me think that my skeptical nature could win and I will run from God the minute things get hard.  It’s an option for me.  It’s an option for all of us, no matter how strong or faithful we think we might be.  I worry that I will become the next Job.  I don’t want to be Job. 

It bogs me down to think about troubles that I may have.  It clouds Jesus’ light if I allow myself to dwell there.  Just toying with it here makes me sad.  I am disappointing God by having these doubts.  I’ve learned that a degree of doubt can be helpful in growing faith, yet I think I’ve gone too far.

But.

So far, in this period of life, God has not allowed me to dwell in that place for long.  He gave himself in his Word, his Son, and his Spirit, to pull me along and to carry me through when things get hard.   These three things are simpler than the world’s troubles, and they push the doubts from my mind.  These things do not allow doubt to plant itself.

The Holy Spirit gets a workout in dealing with me most days.  It guides me and leads me to places I would never go on my own.  It prompts me to act, to speak, to write, to pray.  God’s word is a comfort to me, a place of peace that I can rest when things threaten my faith.  The old saying that no matter where you open a Bible, it lands on the spot that you most needed to read right then?  I do this often.  God never fails me.  Jesus is my role model and mentor, the prime example of how to do life on earth.  I may get frustrated that I will never be as bold as Jesus and will never perform miracles like him, but that is just empty comparison.  I can be Jesus’ hands, his light, his love.  And in Jesus is the hope of the world’s troubles to end, of eternal life in heaven.

All of these things help me to grow my faith.  All of these things bring me closer to God, our Creator and Father.  They transform me into a person who is trying to live this life more intentionally, whatever that looks like today.  They tell me that eventually truth will win out over doubts.  Someday skepticism will fade completely; the light of God will never again allow its shadow. 

It’s happening for me, and it’s happening for you, too.  For all of us, no matter where we are.

*******

The Angel said to me, “These are dependable and accurate words, every one. The God and Master of the spirits of the prophets sent his Angel to show his servants what must take place, and soon. And tell them, ‘Yes, I’m on my way!’ Blessed be the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

“I, Jesus, sent my Angel to testify to these things for the churches. I’m the Root and Branch of David, the Bright Morning Star.”

“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.

Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”

Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!

He who testifies to all these things says it again: “I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!”

Yes! Come, Master Jesus!

Revelation 22:6-7, 16-17, 20 (The Message)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Growing

Growing is tough business.  Physically, growing is hard.  Growing plants require the right amounts of sun, space, water, and food.  If one of those things is off, the plant dies.   Growing from childhood to adulthood causes changes that can be embarrassing or problematic.  The kind of growing which results from eating too many calories over a period of time is easy to achieve, but the consequence of weight gain takes its toll on a body.  Not one person in the world who carries a significant amount of extra weight feels good getting out of bed in the morning.

Staying the same isn’t easy, either.  I’ve been struggling with communicating to my friends and family members via text messaging for a while now.   It takes twice as long for me to text as it does for me to call, so I don’t text regularly.  As a result, I miss a lot of interaction, and that hurts.

Imagine a woman who is still wearing her hair in a 1960s beehive.  I think how much harder it will be for her to find a hairdresser who knows how to do that particular hairstyle as the years go by.  She will have to search long and wide to find a person who knows how to tease and comb that hair just right, when fifty years ago any salon on the block could accommodate her.

Staying the same in a changing world and among changing surroundings and people causes us to take one step back or forward and twist and arch just to keep a footing in our space.  After a while we might not even notice that we haven’t changed, but our aching body and soul are good indications that adaptation is pushing on us.  Moving beyond where we are is scary and uncomfortable, and we will get it wrong more times than right at first.

It’s the same with faith.  Staying the same in our faith instead of growing and adapting to God’s word will cause each of us to become stuck where we are, and eventually his leaning and tugging will cause our hearts and souls to ache from all the bending we do to avoid being changed.

Having an open mind and a malleable heart for God’s lessons to enter our lives is necessary for us to change according to God’s will, but an even greater struggle may be to keep our hearts and minds open and malleable.  We may say “I received Christ’s gift,” or “I want God’s will,” but are we continuing to be open to growth, as only given by God?  Or are we just saying the words?

It can be confusing, can’t it?  I can say “I am a Christian; Christ lives in me” but if I continue to rebel against God, if I continue to go down my own path instead of his, I’m not growing.  The result can be more pain than any I might imagine that results from changing according to what God wants for me.  I will be hacking a path through the tangled woods alone, instead of being gently guided down the one God has prepared.  As a result, I ask him “God, why is this happening to me?”  God may keep silent, waiting for me to find my way back to him.  The growth is hard, but it was my decision to make it happen this way.

Having an open heart to God’s truth has been the greatest pleasure of my life, and the greatest onset of growth for me.  It is a difficult time of change, truly.  It caused me to admit that I was wrong all the years I adamantly refused to listen to God’s lessons, the years that I so surely knew what life was all about.  And it continues to be hard.  I don’t always want to do what I know God is asking.  When I stop growing spiritually, my soul aches and I am filled with sorrow.  Sometimes I don’t even realize that my own refusal to grow is the cause of my pain. 

But God always leads me back to the path he has for me.  And I willingly take his hand and walk it, because the alternative is so much more difficult, and the rewards are beyond my imagination.

*******

On that day after Jesus went out of the house, he sat by the lake. And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. The one who has ears had better listen!” Matthew 13:1-9 (NET)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do As I Say

Kindness is kind of my thing.  I preach it to my kids, employ it online, look for and encourage it in the world, strive to show it in my relationships.  But there is one place where my kindness has a long way to go: within me.

Isn’t that cute how we can be all in for a cause, then when it comes right down to it, we’re not really about it as much as we say?  I think they call this hypocrisy, don’t they?

At home, where space is shared and habits grate and patience wears thin, kindness can be hard to find.  On any given day you may hear me snapping back at my husband, sigh in audible exasperation at my daughter, and raise my voice in a shout against my son.  My temper flares and I lash out, and like the flame of a match blown out, it’s over as soon as it begins.  But like the smoke of a match, the effects linger; unkind words and behaviors sting, the consequences of my rashness written all over their faces and in their reactions to me for a long time afterwards.

Now, look.  I am not a monster.  I’m not quite Mommie Dearest, raging against my children over wire hangers.  I am not planning my husband’s demise when he tosses his dirty clothes to the hamper and misses.  But still.  Unkind thoughts often spill out of my mind to my lips, and they would be better left unsaid.

It’s a difficult thing, to keep unkind words inside.  I feel impelled to voice my thoughts, say what is on my mind.  Being heard is one of my biggest desires.  But I need to choose my words more carefully.  We all do.

The problem is that sometimes I don’t feel kind.  Sometimes I feel like things are stupid and I want to say, “That is stupid.”  Or “I don’t care about that.”  There’s a magnet on our fridge that says “I just please need you to shut up for one minute.”  I love it - it says what I think.  But I think that too often – it is unkind.  To tell another person to shut up stops her from sharing, tells him that his thoughts are not important, puts my wants above theirs.

And it’s not really what I’m preaching when I say “Be kind” to my kids, nor what I’m after, ultimately.  It’s not what Jesus taught me, nor how God wants me to act.  So why do I rebel?

Emotions can be hard to handle, especially when they are in response to negative events and actions that go against what we want.  When those emotions threaten to spill over into our behavior, we have a choice: we can add to the fire by lashing out and being unkind, or we can snuff the flame by covering it with love and kindness.  Kindness as love is so powerful.  It can douse a mighty flame of hate and negativity.  There’s a reason for the cliché “kill ‘em with kindness.”  Kindness works; it disarms.  In addition, it transforms our hearts.  I can’t tell you how many tears I’ve cried over words I’ve said that have hurt another person.  Some things are unintentional, but still.  Some things I recall saying cause me to wince – I can’t believe I said that.  My heart is being transformed.

Kindness is in short supply in the world and in our own homes sometimes.  But we have a choice to let it overflow from each one of us.  It’s what Jesus preached and taught; it’s what God wants for us.


*******

I looked up “kindness” in a couple of different Bible translations, and the following are only a few verses about kindness that came up.  Clearly, God wants kindness for us:

You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.  Job 10:12 (NIV)

Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you. Proverbs 11:17 (NLT)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.  Isaiah 63:7 (NIV)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18 (NIV) – this one didn’t come up under “kindness” – but it’s my favorite, so I had to add it.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness… Galatians 5:22 (NLT)


Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Be Confident

The first thing my daughter said after school yesterday was this: “I love my outfit.”

It was a cute top, pants, and booties that she and I had thoughtfully selected earlier in the school year, when parents and kids shop for back-to-school in the heat of summer, buying up jeans and long-sleeved shirts for winter weather, only to have those articles of clothing languish in drawers until the cool air of fall blows in.  Amused by her simple, spontaneous profession, I asked her if she got a lot of compliments on it.  I was hoping she had, because the girl hasn’t recently met a pair of pull-on knit shorts or a school T-shirt she didn’t like.  She of the daily princess dresses and tiaras of yesteryear has transformed into a Converse-wearing, straight-hair sporting, hoodie-attired tween whose only rule of fashion is that clothing must be comfortable.  I hoped a compliment would make her feel like putting a bit more thought into looking presentable for school. 

Her response:  “No.  I just complimented myself.”

Her confidence floors me sometimes.  I was proud and yet envied her of it.

Confidence is not my strongest characteristic.  I don’t know why or how; I come from pretty confident stock.  My parents are small business owners, boot-strap people who believe in working your tail off and that nothing is impossible.  They love life and try everything, have traveled extensively and don’t worry about much.

I rode through life on their tails, and grew up into a person afraid of my own shadow, selling myself short in every situation, fearing that if left to my own devices I would ruin everything and combust, bringing those close to me down with them.

I’m still not sure what happened there.

As an adult I have accepted that I struggle with confidence and work hard to build it up.  On a bad day I can’t do anything right.  On a good day I can do a few things right.  I want to have more good days.

The love of family and friends helps.  So does age –angst at 40 causes bad health and wrinkles, and no one needs that noise.  But the biggest confidence booster of all?  Knowing God and what he does for me, for all of us.

It took me a long time to get there.  Some days I forget and go back to my old ways: I mope around, feeling unworthy, helpless.  But then I remember.

Be confident in God.  He is the creator and sustainer of this world and each one of us.  His word is truth, and his promise is forever.

Be confident in what God can do in your life.  You can’t do it all on your own, but God can.  He can help you do all that you’re meant to do.  First you have to trust that he will help you, and give your will over to him.

If you stay in relationship with God and keep his word in your heart and in your mind, you will come to seek his will in time.  Your transformation will be sure, and he will grant you anything you ask, and you will do amazing things for God’s kingdom, which brings glory to God.  

If there’s one thing that I’m confident in, it’s that God is with me, and that he wants the best for me.  It may be only to admit to myself that I love my outfit today.  My daughter has that confidence today.  I pray that she, along with me, will grow in relationship with God and that our confidence in him will build, and that we will do amazing things for God’s kingdom.

And I pray that for you, too.



*******

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!  When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.  John 15:7-8 (NLT)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Share Nice

When the kids were small we pounded it into their heads to share. 

Let your sister have a turn.  Give your brother one of your toys.  It’s okay if she wears your hat this time.

We still harp on them to share.   It’s a daily thing.

Let him look at your new app.  One of you clears the table, the other rinses the dishes.  Split up the cookies evenly.

It’s maddening, how much I’ve heard myself reminding them to share over the years.  It’s maddening for them to be expected to share so much.

It’s the same with me.  I can be selfish.  I cringe when my husband uses my toiletry items.  When he sits next to me on the sofa, sometimes it’s too close and I have to move.  At dinnertime, I notice that he took the piece of meat that I wanted.

My husband is better at these types of sharing than me.  He is more generous with himself, his space, his things at home.  But he is more selfish than I am in other ways.

We tell each other to be more generous.  For instance, he reminds me that we have to share the furniture sometimes.

The message of sharing is that relationships are more important than things; things are temporary, consumable.  Relationships must be nurtured, strengthened, cultivated.  We shouldn’t be selfish with things, because they will go away.  They are not meant to survive forever.  We will always have things to share, so you might as well get used to giving them away.  People are worth more than things; behave accordingly.

God has shared his whole creation with us, including his people and his son.  He promises to share his home with us after this temporary one has gone away.  His is the ultimate example of sharing, of showing that relationships are far more than mere things.  He has so much to give, infinitely more than we have to give to our loved ones and even strangers.  And he gives it away freely, without a thought.  His sharing shows us that we are worth far more than things.  We are made in his image, so we are meant to share in all things, too: our toys, our time, our spot on the sofa. 

I don’t think it’s maddening for God to share with us.  I think he loves to share what he has, and what he has done.  He created this beautiful world for us to enjoy and to use.  Furthermore, he loves it when we share with others what he has given to us.  It’s his plan, this spreading his gifts and his wealth among people.  He wants everyone to have all of his gifts, right up to the gift of salvation through Jesus’ blood on the cross.  Ultimately, he wants to share his home with all of us.  All.


And somehow, knowing this makes sharing my spot on the couch just a little bit easier.

*******

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32 (NIV)

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 3:6 (NIV)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Finding Tme

Several times recently I was forced to analyze my time and create a new schedule for how to spend my days.

Okay, I wasn’t forced so much as I jumped at the chance to create a routine for myself.  And tweak it as needed.  Because I am one of those.  I enjoy a schedule.

A change in season does that to us.  The weather changes and new chores reveal themselves.  Kids return to school and more hours are found in the day to do things, to get things done.  Projects left idling in the last season become priorities.

My schedule is loose, but includes some of the same things every day.  Chores and meal prep.  Exercise.  Devotions and Bible study.  Reading.  Writing.  Kids’ activites.

It is a full schedule, one that keeps me busy but that which has room to wiggle and move, add and take away as needed.  Eventually I am going to have to do some Christmas shopping.  Someday I will have to get my hair cut.

For the most part, the days are filled.  And mostly, I am sticking to the schedule.

But something is missing.

Do you see it?

Time with God.  I am not praying.

I don’t know how that got away from me.  Any good Christian worth her soul knows that prayer time is essential to growing in faith, to spending time wisely, to getting deeper with God.  When we honor God, he honors our lives.

That is not to say that God isn’t honoring my life.  I believe he works through me just as he worked through Mother Teresa.  My activities might not be as well known, but his power in me is there just the same. 

But I haven’t been thanking him.  Praising him.  Asking him specifically for guidance on a regular basis.

When people say “Pray for me,” I do.  When someone shares a difficulty with me, I give that to God right away.  I tell them that I’m praying, and I mean it.  But I don’t do a bang-up job of amassing all those prayers together in one big prayer pile.  Mainly because I have a horrible memory and know that I would miss the opportunity to help others through prayer if left to my own devices.

But also because I don’t carve out enough time to spend with God in prayer.

I believe that I need to.  I believe that God is telling me to do this.  He is leaning on me.  He is showing me the times that I can do this.  I have minutes all day long to do this.  He is reminding me that prayer time need not be hours on end, doing nothing else but meditation in those hours.  I am not a monk.

Although I have to admit that lifestyle appeals to me a little.

So today, I will pray.  And hopefully tomorrow, too.  God is telling me to put that in my schedule, between and among all the other things I have deemed most important this season.  I’m not sure what that will look like.  Likely it will not be hard to fit those minutes of prayer time in.

But I am confident that the result of finding that time will be apparent in my life, and it will be amazing.

*******

Dear God, thank you for revealing to me my need for prayer.  Please help me to make time spent with you a priority.  Thank you, Amen.