Sign Post

Sometimes I need a sign. Like a for reals, written on the wall kind of sign. In the moments when I am not looking for them is when they find me and are most beneficial pexels-photo-66100to me. Sometimes I find myself searching for them more than I do the One who gives them. In those times I have to back up and regain my perspective. I have on occasion had a sign intervention. Like the time, when I was 9 month pregnant with a baby that was the fulfillment of a promise to this once barren woman and a sign led me right into such a distracted state that I got to ride in an ambulance for the first time in my life.

That morning my expanding belly had forced me to move my seat back. I buckled my seatbelt and set out on a drive I’d made multiple times. I was on a particularly curvy road when I looked up to see a sign congratulating my friends on the arrival of their new baby. In fact their New baby Girl had just been born and the sign read “Congratulations! Margaret and Larry! It’s a Girl!” About the time I read Girl, inserted her name, and before I could process it all I was sitting in a car full of smoke from airbag deployments. ambulance-2920909_1280.jpgIn a matter of seconds I had managed to wreck my car. In a matter of moments more I found myself on the side of a road with a paramedic placing a giant IV in my bruised arm. And within an hour I was taken to the Emergency Room to check on the baby I was carrying.

Panic and Shock occurred simultaneously. Until that moment I did not know that was even a possibility. I was protected that day. God protected me and the life within me. Despite the force of impact, the baby I was carrying was fine, and so was I. He didn’t wait too much longer after that day to make his appearance. Perhaps he decided to be born lest he risk another near miss resulting from my distracted state. A few weeks later I delivered a baby boy. (Just recently that baby girl whose birth was announced on that sign turned 14 years old. My own baby also recently turned 14.) Conclusion. Be present in the moment, focus on the here and now.

Another sign intervention, with much different results happened some time later. I was overwhelmed and afraid about someone I love dearly. Fear gripped me and I was scared ethics-2991600_1280senseless. I was literally begging the Father to intervene, bargaining with everything I had in me. Every Moment I that was not consumed by other things I was trying to figure a way out of the most certain detriment that was sure to befall my loved one.

I eventually reached the obvious conclusion. Apart from Jesus’ intervention, there was no way out. I begged Him to show me it was going to be fine, and I am honest to goodness not kidding, I rounded a curve and there spelled out in a marquee-like fashion were the words “Everything is going to be OK.” I literally turned my car around and took a picture of those words, After I snapped the picture. I sat in my car and wept because I knew no matter what, everything really was going to be okay. That was nearly a decade ago. Conclusion. No matter the outcome, God is in control, His ways are best and I can trust that it will be okay.

pexels-photo-618955In the late winter to early spring of 2015, I was having a bad day. The kind of bad day that lasts for weeks. I was walking to my assigned task for the day when I happened upon another kind of sign. Painted on the side of a wagon. I speculated on how it had come to be right in my path, right when I needed it. I had concluded, perhaps it was abandoned as a transportation device when its occupant declared “I can walk by myself” or its cumbersome nature proved too challenging to continue the journey onward. Maybe it’s squeaky wheel was too much an annoyance to overrule its functionality. Regardless of the circumstances that rendered it in my path on my way to do what I do, it’s message from My King was a welcome and encouraging reminder. He is indeed with me always…even until the end of the Age. Conclusion: I am not alone, He is with me always.

signs-2949534_1280There is a Pastor I adore that has often said “God speaks to us in the Language we can hear.” I agree. God knows that if the messages I have received from the sign interventions had come in other ways, I likely would not have received them, but because I needed a sign in that moment, He gave me one. He is good like that. The reality is though, I do not have to ride around looking at the marquee for a sign, a word of encouragement or direction to take. In fact He has given me a huge 66 books contained in one big, best-selling book. The Bible, His word is full of direction, a road map of sorts. His word is a treasure trove full of reminders of what I need in the moment I need them. I just need to be looking for them.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

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Back to Basics: Sin

Why do I NOT want to write this article?

I suppose it’s because it heaps correction and conviction on my own head. But I don’t shy away from truth just because it hurts. So here goes…

On an average day I think of myself as a “good” person. Overall I obey the scriptures, treat people decently, act morally, and haven’t broken any laws (except possibly speeding and acting selfishly towards my husband). You probably think of yourself in a similar way. Even people who don’t live upright lives often still look upon themselves as good people. We humans can lie to ourselves and deny reality, deny sin.

Sin is a huge issue in our modern society even though society at large avoids the word and the concept of sin. Just look at contemporary politicians and the scandals surrounding them. But let’s not get to feeling all self-righteous. Though we may not have committed the particular sin a politician is accused of in the media, we have committed our own sin. Don’t think so? Just stick with me a bit.

So what is sin anyway? How would you define sin?

commandments-49012_1280.pngWe would probably all include murder, robbery, assault and such things in our definition of sin. We readily agree that anything that breaks one of the 10 Commandments is sin. But then… we back pedal when it gets to some of the “lesser” of the commandments. You know what I mean. “Bearing false witness” – we justify with the unspoken excuse, I didn’t really lie. I just revealed the part of the story that doesn’t make me look bad. “Honor your father and mother” – Oh, but you don’t know MY father, surely God didn’t mean for me to honor him? “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” – I know it’s supposed to be a day of reverence, but we have to… You can finish the sentence. And I won’t even dig into commands 1 though 3 about no other gods before me, no graven images, and not taking the Lord’s name in vain. These 3 have fallen by the wayside with most of  our modern world. But these 10 commandments only scratch the surface of the “what is sin” question.

A quick search in the new testament brings up 1 John 5:17 which states, “All wrongdoing (or unrighteousness) is sin” depending on which version you read. Well that surely broadens the definition!

Our world doesn’t see an action as sin if it is done in self-defense. In this modern world gone crazy, if you do something to me it’s wrong. But if I have a reason for doing the same thing then it’s not wrong. We see that in our teens – How dare she steal my boyfriend? But didn’t you do the same thing to someone else last month? Well that was different, I loved him. We see it in political parties – we criticize another party for loyalty to a candidate who has displayed corrupt behavior, but excuse those in our own party that we want to believe in. We see it in the riots where people are – sometimes rightfully, sometimes not – protesting over a perceived injustice, and then they turn that around and act unjustly to others by injuring, destroying property, and burning buildings of innocent people. Society excuses itself if it feels it has a reason while condemning another whether there is reason or not. Scripture speaks to this societal phenomenon also, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5) Are you justifying your sin yet accusing another? Let’s get the stuff out of our eyes first so that we can see clearly. Sin blinds us to truth many times.

Our world ignores and belittles sin. Most often these days people simply ignore the idea of sin, unless a wrong is done to them personally they (and we) tend to let it slide. These progressive times have yielded progressive thinkers that see sin as an antiquated idea that does not fit in our society. Have we the church let this tendency subtly slip into our thinking? Do we find ourself thinking, “Well that’s not as bad as ____,” or justifying our actions with our selfish reasoning and lame excuses? Have you and I forgotten the principal of  Ephesians 5 that teaches us that sin is improper for God’s holy people and we are to walk as children of light?  Verse 11 of that chapter warns us to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.”

Our world today tends to only see it as sin if it’s an action. But God’s word clearly teaches that the sins of the heart are just that – SIN. In some ways sins of the heart are worse, because they are like the seed or the root of sinful actions. Thoughts yield actions. Luke 15:18-19 tells us that “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” Do we regularly inspect the depths of our heart and thought life for that root of sin and weed it out? Do we regularly hold our inner thoughts and motivations up to the light of scripture and allow the cleansing of God’s word to flush out our iniquity?

dangerous-1040641_1280.jpgOften in our struggle against any kind of sin we fall into the trap Joshua Harris mentions in his book Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is). While talking about content that we allow to enter our minds he says, “…Instead of seeing how much I can avoid, I spend my energy trying to see how much I can handle.” (page 118) This is so true. Our enemy lures us into thinking we’re strong enough to play around with things that lead us to sin. We’re like people gathering beautiful stones on the rim of a canyon, getting closer and closer to the edge for more trinkets until our foot begins to slide into the abyss of sin and it’s too late to rescue ourselves.

Susanna Wesley, mother of those godly brothers of the 1700’s John and Charles Wesley, is quoted to have said the following:

“Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.” (Letter, June 8, 1725)

Wow! Even allowing myself to speed because I’ve run late looks like questionable behavior with this thought in mind. My breaking a simple law of the road makes my heart callous to being obedient. If I allow myself to break one law it makes it just that much easier to break another, especially a command that God has given us, but people around us ignore.

So where does that leave us? Do we follow the ways of the world? Or do we stand as beacons of light upholding truth and righteousness while still loving and gently warning of the dangers of sin? Do we give in to little sins because everyone else does? Or do we avoid anything that impairs our conscience and obscures our sense of God? Do we participate in things that leave us in bondage to sin? To each of us scripture says it is our choice each day. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) The choice is clear; go with God or not. Choose wisely.

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The Gift of Disappointment

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5

I sped into the gravel parking lot. Tires skidding on the grey rocks. Flinging the door open, I bounded out of my minivan. As I looked across the lot, I stopped. A dull ache began in my chest as my eyes landed on an obviously despondent man standing by his truck. This just-shy-of-six-foot, strapping, strong, handsome husband of mine stood with his head hanging, shaking in disbelief. As I got closer I glimpsed the tears dropping, as he looked up I saw the anguish and pain. He was broken. Crushed. Confused. Angry.

After many moments of holding each other. He finally found the words.

“Things didn’t go like I hoped. I thought this would be the answer. I don’t know what to do next.” Every word tinged with despair and discouragement. Disappointment pic

That day still twinges in my soul. But looking at a distance, I realize that moment, that agonizing, heart wrenching moment, marks a pivotal point in our marriage. It was our “miry pit.” The place where you’re sunk so deep in the dredges of disappointment your mind is clouded and you see no way out. You’re stuck. All your failures and shortcomings and foolish choices playing on repeat. And there’s no one who can hit the rewind button; no possibility of a do over. Stuck.

In the days and months and years after I stood in front of my anguished husband, I slowly began to realize the Lord was giving us a gift. The gift of stripping away everything we thought we knew. The gift of realizing our lack. The gift of desperation. He gave us the gift of disappointment. We certainly didn’t understand or appreciate the gift. In fact, we’re still trying to grasp what a precious gift we were given. It took us years to unpack all the lessons we’ve learned. And maybe, well, likely, we’ll be unpacking those lessons for a lifetime. But here are the most vital gifts we opened because of that awful, wonderful day.

sun-heart-autumn-leaf-39379Set Your Heart on Things Above. Disappointment is the result of unmet expectations. We set our hopes on things that are seen instead of things that are unseen. We crave and we desire and want. We are selfish, stubborn creatures. We think if things would just work out the way we think they should. We live in a world of our own making. Always looking to what we wish we had, what is just around the corner that will make us happy or fulfilled. For my husband, it was a failed business venture. His heart was set on what he thought would be the answer to his questions about provision and purpose. When that venture failed, those dreams were lost. His heart was crushed.

We put our hopes in the temporal stuff all the time. If I could just get this position or this degree or this house or this car, or if I could get the relationship I dreamed of, or even if I could just find deep friendships, or if my kids would just obey, then everything will be better. Then I will be happy and fulfilled.

But anytime, every time, we put our hope in anything but in the love of God in Christ, we will be disappointed. Even the best job comes with the tedious and mundane. Stuff breaks and wears. And anytime two sinners are in relationship, whether it’s husband and wife, mother and daughter, or close friendship, you’ve got a sure recipe for disappointment and discouragement. Jesus Christ is the only One whose love will NEVER disappoint you. His love brings truth and confrontation and conviction, so it might not look like the weak, fickle, emotion-focused love our culture has falsely fashioned. But His love is patient, not jealous, not rude, not selfish, not irritable, not resentful, rejoices with truth, bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. HIS LOVE NEVER FAILS. His love gave you the greatest gift of all. LIFE. Not the fragile, fallen life of this temporary place, but the forgiven, forever love of God in Christ. The love that came at the greatest cost.

people-2604165_1280.jpgSet Your Mind on Things Above. When my husband and I fell into that foreboding pit, the only thing we could do was look up. As our heads turned to the light, we saw one beautiful, nail scarred hand reaching down to us. Jesus was the only One who was strong enough to not only drag us out of our pit, but set our feet upon a rock and make our steps secure. (Psalm 40:2)

While Jesus snatched us out of the black hole of disappointment, we found marking our steps on that firm foundation required daily workouts. We realized our most vital weapon was the Word of God. So we’ve made sure, sometimes not so perfectly, that we daily dig deep in the truth. Filling up our pit with truth was the only way we could avoid falling into the dregs again. We learned, and are still learning, how to take every thought captive and bring it into obedience in Christ. From that truth we learned the secret to contentment was depending on Christ for everything. (Philippians 4: 12-13). We learned that admitting our weakness meant depending on Christ and His strength and power. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) We learned that hardships and trials are meant to grow us up in Christ so we lack nothing, and we can find joy in the struggle if we keep an eternal perspective. (James 1:2-4)

That powerful, painful moment in that gravel parking lot. That moment we were thrown into the pit of despair. That moment was truly one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us. The gift of disappointment transformed our relationship with Christ, which transformed our relationship with each other. It is transforming how we view the world (temporary and transient) and how we view God (eternal and essential). It is a discipline to turn our hearts and minds heavenward. But oh how beautiful, how magnificent is the love of God. A God who loves us enough to let us walk through earthly disappointment so we can rest in eternal hope.

Close up of woman hands holding red gift box for special event

Unwrap your gift of disappointment.

 

 

 

 

Caught By Surprise

Do you ever slow down and just drink in the beauty of what is around you?  Do you stop to breathe in the fresh air and admire the majestic trees and the gorgeous flowers? What about the birds and the happy songs they sing? Have you ever walked in the woods and the only sound is the rustling of the leaves and some small creature scurrying through the underbrush?

As we feel the nip in the air as summer fades to fall, we once again get to see the leaves on our majestic trees begin to turn beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red. A favorite pastor used to say that God takes out his mighty paintbrush and paints a beautiful portrait for us to enjoy.  As the seasons change, I am reminded of the majesty and splendor of God that we see in His beautiful creation.

Andrew Peterson has a wonderful ballad, Nothing to Say that describes how driving through Arizona caught him by surprise.

“And the mountains sing your glory Hallelujah, The canyons echo sweet amazing grace.”

monument-valley-392749_1280My husband and I were able to experience the beauty a few years ago as friends drove us from the flat, cactus covered desert of Phoenix up through the mesas to the beautiful painted deserts of Sedona. As if it couldn’t get any better, we continued north and began to drive through breath-taking mountain ranges and beautiful canyons all the way into Flagstaff where there was snow on the ground. All in one day! Our creator definitely caught us by surprise that day and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears and worship my wonderful Creator as we listened to the song that day.

flower-2659902_1280We can see the greatness of our creator even in the smallest of things. I remember tiny purple flowers, no bigger than a pencil eraser that I used to pick as a little girl.  I love to watch the beautifully painted butterflies landing here and there in the yard on flowers. And honey bees gathering the nectar and pollen so that we can have honey.  Sweet baby calves as they play about with one another in the pasture by my house.

milky-way-1801996_1280.jpgOne of my favorite memories with my older children is when we lay on blankets in the back yard on a cold winter night and watched the heavens declare the glory of the Lord and the sky proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19:1). We watched meteor after meteor shoot across the star filled sky that night. My heart still rejoices in those moments of worshipping our creator as we watched that show and the verse resonated in my mind.

God of Wonders by Third Day is a powerful song that calls us to worship this Holy, Lord of heaven and earth. Our wonderfully creative creator who put together every detail. This creator who spoke the whole world into existence. He gives us glimpses of himself in this creation.

Romans 1:20 – For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

God has made himself evident to us in his creation. We see Him. In this crazy busy life you live, take a moment and see where God is showing himself to you. Remind yourself of the beautiful places that he has allowed you to see in this world. All around He is showing Himself to us and, in our beautiful state of Alabama, you don’t have to go very far to see Him.