The Blessing

What does it take to be a blessing?

How beautiful it is to be blessed. We can receive a blessing from the most unexpected places.

A very dear friend of mine has recently gone to be with the Lord. His wife, Sandra, is one of my dearest friends. Vernon had a stroke several years ago and his speech was affected. Sometimes he could be understood and sometimes I could not understand anything he said. Vernon loved to tell stories. He was a big talker and always had a story to tell. I loved to just listen to him talk so when the stroke took away most of his speech, it was difficult. Many times he would talk and no words could be understood.

One of the last times I saw him before he died will always be a special memory for me. I took his favorite soup, Panera’s broccoli and cheddar soup, for Vernon and Sandra to have for lunch. Sandra put the meal out on the table and helped Vernon get to his chair. As she sat down, he looked at her and said, “Blessing.” That word was so clear. Sandra began to pray and ask God to bless their food. Then Vernon prayed. The prayer went straight from his heart to the ears of the Lord. He prayed passionately and joyfully. Even though I did not understand any of the words he prayed, I know that God did. The God who created Vernon heard and understood each and every syllable. The God who loved Vernon before he was even born, understood the prayer of his heart and his thankfulness for the food.

The God who knew the number of Vernon’s days accepted Vernon into heaven a few short weeks later. How beautiful that greeting must have been. Vernon was completely healed. He was able to worship his Lord and Savior not only with his heart but with his words. He heard Matthew 25:23, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

I will never forget hearing this blessing. I will always be blessed by a blessing heard only by God. Thank you Lord for Vernon. 

Love Transforms

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today as we celebrate life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are reminded of the battle of good against evil. By the message he spoke we are challenged to rise up and live as Christ would have us, to be morally upright, impartial to all men, defenders of right and of our fellow man, and wholehearted followers of Christ.

This would be a good day for contemplation, prayer, and submission to our Lord. It is a day to recommit ourselves personally to living lives that give and serve others rather than living self-serving lives. It is a day to remember how small we are and how little we know, but how great is our God and how He will accomplish His plans in our world.

Dr. King said,

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

Such deep truth is held in that statement, especially in light of scripture, specifically from the book of 1 John where it states

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 1 John 4:7-14

Love transforms. Love transforms because God is love. God is a transforming power in individuals, in relationships, in societies, and in the world at large. For love to transform us, we have to know love – to know God. Then we allow Him to work first in our personal life to transform each of us. After that love grows and spreads and God transforms our relationships where enemies become friends. then from those intimate relationships God transforms societies and the world. It is a process. It must begin in my heart and yours as we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. ” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is our choice in life whether we allow God to do His transforming work in us. Will we walk in destructive selfishness today, or will we walk as men and women of God imitating His benevolent love, kindness, goodness, mercy and grace to the world? Let us contemplate our life today in light of God’s love and His expectations for how we treat humanity.

Finding Joy

In some moments, joy grabs you! The day your toddler discovers bubbles with laughter and delighted eyes, and you find yourself bubbling over with joy in the moment. The first snowball of winter that smashes with a thud into your back and elicits a joyful romp through the snow to pay your friend back in kind. That moment of sunrise with a steaming cup of coffee when all the worlds ills are far away and joy is near.

Other moments, days, or weeks, joy can seem elusive, like one who is a bit too good at this game of hide-and-seek. In those times depression and despondency can overtake us making joy seem like something lost, never to be found again. The desperate waiting at the bedside of a sick loved one. The important person who walked out of your life… permanently it seems. The wandering child lost in the fog of addiction. The unknown.

How is it our joy seems tethered to our more transient feelings and situations?

The world equates joy with happiness, and there is happiness in joy. But for the Christian joy is so much more. What is it? How do we find it? How do we keep it and not let it escape with every perceived tragedy?

For Christians, joy is a deep-rooted, inspired happiness inside us that flows from being in relationship with a good, good God. Scriptures make it clear…

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord, And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken. Psalm 21:6-7

O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God. Psalm 43:3-4

Apart from a relationship with Jesus and our Heavenly Father, joy will remain elusive. He is our source of joy. He plants joy in our hearts by His Spirit. Galatians 5:22 tells us “the fruit of the Spirit is… joy!” That section of scripture talks about our walk through life, either a walk by the Spirit or a walk in the flesh. We have a choice. The former brings joy. The latter brings disasters: “… strife, jealousy, anger, disputes, dissension, factions… .” So we who are His, “… those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-26) And in that we find joy.

Finding joy is not nearly as complicated as we make it. We manipulate, control, buy, eat, drink and try to be merry, all to find joy. But in reality it takes just one thing. Mary knew that “One Thing” – to sit at Jesus’ feet in humble, loving relationship with Him. But we run, chasing after more, and leave Jesus and joy sitting behind waiting for us to come back to the relationship. Nehemiah 8:10 tells us “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Today, let us seek Him and be strengthened. Let us listen to Him and find peace. Let us hear His voice through His Word and find hope. Let us sit down at His feet and rest our weary, tortured souls and find joy in relationship with Our Creator once again.

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord. Jeremiah 29:12-14

A New Thing: Forgetting & Remembering

This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. Isaiah 43:16-21

FORGETTING

As this new year dawns fresh, it’s time to put away the past. We humans too often live in our thoughts. We rehash old hurts and wounds. We plot scenarios and think “If I’d only said this.” We want to redo the past and make it right. But that is not possible. We are time-bound creatures, not yet the immortal souls who live outside the bounds of time with The One who created time itself. This can weigh heavy on the minds of people filled with regrets. But there is also a freedom in having to let go of the past.

Here in Isaiah 43 the Lord tells His people, Israel, and also us, to forget the former things. Put them away. Quit dwelling on them. Do not let them take up precious thought time in your brain which in turn uses up precious energy and creativity God wants you to use to move forward this year in carrying out His will for you.

This morning as I read a Navigators’ devotional by Jerry Bridges called “Holiness Day by Day,” one that I read every day, this thought grabbed me. “I’m dismayed at how little we Christians pray for the success of the Gospel among the nations. If we honestly examine our prayers, we find that we give the greatest priority to our own earthly needs.” I was instantly convicted of how often I allow little hindrances, annoyances, hurts, or disappointments control my thought life, to keep me from praying for the Gospel to go forth with power. When I can’t, or won’t let go, those little things dominate me and I become self-focused rather than God-focused, my selfishness is evident even inn my praying. This morning I realized that if I can’t turn loose of these former things I will not be ready to see and understand and participate in the “New Thing” God is doing all around me to make His kingdom come here on earth – those things He is wanting me to be involved in.

How do we “forget the former things? Especially those things that seem like giants in our lives?

  1. We pray. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) When we are able to pray this way we give God access to convict us and change our hearts and our thinking patterns.
  2. We seek keep in step with the Spirit and allow Him to produce His fruit in our minds and souls. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:22-26)
  3. We control our thoughts. We make the choice to do our part to work at not allowing Satan to control our thought life. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

REMEMBERING

“Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ Isaiah 46:9-10

Just 3 short chapters after the Lord through Isaiah commanded the children of Israel to “Forget the former things,” He now tells them to “Remember the former things.” What?! Lord which is it? I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have, that God is often paradoxical in the way He works, and frequently He says things to us that seem like opposites. Such is the case here.

While we are to forget past hindrances and let the emotions connected with them die, we are also to remember the former things God has done in our lives. What are we to remember? The answered prayer. The trials He brought us through. The miracles He performed in timing and answers and healing. Those “God moments.” The enemy of our souls will make us forget these things so that when we face difficulties we will doubt and worry and fret – all things the scriptures instructs us NOT to do. If we do not consciously keep ourselves aware of the mighty ways God has worked in our lives we will become despondent and lose hope.

So I encourage you this year to keep a journal. Write down God’s miracles and answers and perfect timing in black and white so that you can go back to it in the dark times and see the facts and be encouraged. Write down your doubts and fears and questions and prayer requests so you can go back and later and see how God has moved in your life. You may even find God answered with a “no,” but that now you are glad He did.

This year I challenge you to look for the “New Thing” God is doing in your life. Be patient. Go with the flow, even when it doesn’t seem the way you planned it. I challenge you, and myself, to forget the past as it weighs us down and to remember the past as it speaks of God’s mighty works. Let us join God in the things He is about and let our wishes move to the back burner.

Have a blessed and growing 2021!

20/20 Vision: I Am Becoming My Mother

Making cookies has always been fun for me. My Mother and I baked many different kinds of cookies. She never needed a reason to bake cookies. I now enjoy making cookies with my granddaughters. They do not want the kind of cookies that have premade dough. They want to actually “make” the cookies. It is amazing how big of a mess two little girls can make while making cookies but that is part of the fun.

Recently, we were making cookies, and I was trying to read the recipe off of the chocolate chip bag. The print has been getting smaller and smaller on those bags. I was trying to read how much sugar was supposed to go in the recipe. The fraction was printed so small that I couldn’t read it. I knew my choices would be ¼, ½, or ¾ but I just could not see enough of a number to figure out what it was. I took my glasses off and still couldn’t read it. Then, I put my glasses back on and tried to adjust my glasses through all the progressions that my glasses have. I finally found a tiny area of my lens that could read the fraction. The recipe called for ¾ of a cup of sugar. Note to self: buy a magnifying glass for the kitchen. I was reminded of the first time my mother had to ask me to read a recipe for her. I thought it was funny and started laughing. She told me to stop laughing and tell her what the recipe was. I know my Mother would have gotten a big laugh from me struggling to figure out how much of the sugar I needed.

What is an area of your life that you cannot see clearly? Do you need spiritual glasses to help you to see?

John 14:6 (ESV) Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If you need clarity in your life, look to Jesus. He is the way. Even if you cannot see clearly, look to Jesus and your vision will clear for him to help you to see the way he has prepared for you. 

If You Give a Pig a Pearl

It’s gotta be my overactive imagination that gets me where it does sometimes. One shining example is when I was five years old, it was late summer, and I was starting Kindergarten that fall. I was outside swinging on my swing set and playing with my dog Suzy Q. She was to be my trusty steed and I was to jump out of my swing onto her back whereupon we would ride off into the sunset, carefully avoiding Mama who was cutting the grass in the backyard. I had outlined the plan to Suzy just as I had seen it played out on a black and white Western television show. I had explained in great detail the trajectory of my five-year-old body arcing and coming to rest upon her back; I had taken great care with explaining at what point my trusty steed was to ride away. Suzy was half a saint Bernard and half a basset hound dog. She was low and slow, perhaps riding straight, tall, and briskly off into the sunset was not to befall us, but ride we would. As I pumped my legs and gained altitude, ready to exit my swing onto Suzy’s back, tensions climbed. I closed my eyes and leapt from my swing. My trusty steed, low and slow indeed, stupid…no.

Suzy saw me, gravity pulling me to the ground like opposite poles on a set of magnets, and she moved. I hit the ground squarely on my right arm. I cracked my wrist just before school began, and as I am right hand dominant, Kindergarten proved to be a difficult, cumbersome, and itchy task. That plaster of Paris cast weighed more than half my scrawny body weight, and I felt like I leaned to the right all of that fall. It was my overactive imagination and expectations that got me there. I see it now. In hindsight.

So it should come as no surprise to me or anyone else when I heard this verse,

Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

that I imagined a pretty pink pig wearing a pearl necklace. I imagined that the King was saying, you can’t pretty up a pig… it’s still a pig, albeit one wearing an expensive accessory, a pig nonetheless. 

For years that has been my mental picture, my imaginative interpretation of that scripture and for years, much to my dismay, perhaps I have been wrong. 

I read the verse again, lined the words up in my brain, and realized that the King was speaking plainly, I had just not seen it. Pigs are notorious for being… well pigs. They eat a mess of slop without regards to their origins. They are dirty and love to roll in the mud, and while pigs serve some purpose, they are not known for their genteel disposition. To be called “a pig” is not a complement. 

Pearls can not be eaten, not by pigs anyway, and despite the value of a pearl, a pig has no way of understanding that a single pearl could purchase him scrumptious slop for a lifetime. A pig doesn’t pause long enough in his gustation to ponder and examine such things. If you give a pig a pearl he will turn and attack you. Throwing your pearls before swine has nothing at all to do with a pretty pink pig in a pearl necklace. 

The reality is pigs were not domestic in Israel, and if you threw them pearls, something not edible, they’d turn around and attack you for it. Be discerning to whom you toss your pearls, and trust Jesus to give you the wisdom to do so.