Construction Zone: Needed Repairs

As we continue our Construction Zone series, it’s time to take a look at something we all need at one time or another – Repairs.

Repairs to a home are often costly and time-consuming. We can’t believe the heat pump is already 10-years-old and out from under warranty. We wish we had paid a little more up front to have better quality flooring that wouldn’t have gotten marred so easily. We blame ourselves for the problem, if only we’d taken time to do some touch-up paint then maybe that wood wouldn’t have rotted.

board-broken-brown-2273477Likewise, needed repairs will come to our spiritual life. We can’t believe we slid down the slippery slope of sin so easily and got ourselves and those around us in a fix. We wish we had invested more in our faith, because at the moment we feel broken and messed up. If only we had taken time to go to church weekly, to pray daily, and to keep our spiritual life in repair.

I have good news. Your life can be repaired! That catastrophe is not impossible for God to fix. We serve a God of second (and third and fourth,…) chances. He’s the perfect Father who never tires of drawing us back to him as we toddle off into sin thinking we know best. Nothing is too grievous to forgive. Nothing is the final straw against us. As long as we have breath in our lungs we can call out to Him to repair our souls and our lives. All we have to do is make the call.

Seriously, all we have to do is to call out to Him in prayer.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

The call to the “repairman” is in. Now the work begins. Scripture tells us

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

builder-carpenter-close-up-1251176This is where Christ comes in and tears out the old and puts in the new. Demolition and remodeling can be a longterm and often uncomfortable project. Allowing Him to remove the old rotten sinful boards that make up our spiritual house is necessary but painful. We apprentice Him in this venture; we work alongside Him helping to pull out the ruined parts and replace them with new, God-ordained habits and choices and plans.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

adult-blur-close-up-1260312The process continues by taking in scripture daily to teach us to make new choices, to rebuke us when we sin, to correct us and get us back on course, and to train us in righteous living. When we seek Him through prayer and reading of His Word our life begins to be repaired and we become equipped, made usable for the task He has put before us.

If today, you find your spiritual house in shambles, your life teetering on the brink of utter devastation, turn to Him. Call on Him to repair the rotten places. Allow Him to mend the old and make it new. Choose to work side-by-side with Your Creator to remake your spiritual house based on the Word of God.

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Construction Zone: Doors

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9 ESV

Wouldn’t it be strange to walk up to a house being built and find it has no door?

I recall a history field trip with my children to a re-creation of an Indian village in Alabama. As we did the walking tour, we approached a walled structure that seemed to have no door. The kids were quite puzzled, and I myself was unfamiliar with this kind of construction and not really sure what to do. It was a circular structure made of straight tree trunks standing side by side to make a near-perfect wall. The trunks were 10-12 feet tall, each sharpened to a point making them look as if a giant had planted all his pencils in the ground eraser end down. As we circled around the wall we finally came upon a way in. The design was ingenious. The circular wall spiraled inside itself so that there was no actual closing door, yet it was very secure since it was close to impossible to know where the entrance was without intense searching.

Doors into structures are important. Open doors specifically. A closed and locked door offers no help to those seeking to gain entrance. An open portal allows entry. And what is more welcoming than an unlocked door?

I will never forget my grandmama’s house. She never, ever locked her door.  In fact, the tarnished old skeleton key stayed in the door all the time just in case she ever needed to leave for a long time and lock the house – and by long, I mean weeks. I’ve gone to her house many times and walked right in with a “Yoo-hoo! We’re here!” Sometimes I’d get a response from back in the kitchen, but other times I’d search for her like a grown-up game of hide-and-seek only to find her out back in her garden with an apron full of garden vegetables. Still other times I’d search house and yard only to determine she wasn’t home, and then I’d leave her a little note telling her I’d dropped by. Those welcoming, unlocked doors were just as important as any locked door ever has been.

Locked doors keep things out.

Unlocked doors allow entrance.

abbey-arcade-arch-157391Have we gotten so used to locking our physical doors in life that we have begun to lock out others from our lives in relational, emotional, spiritual ways as well? Has technology created distance in relationships or enabled us to retreat from others and become like hermit crabs, safe in our shell and all to ourselves? Research is telling us that this i-phone generation is among the loneliest in recorded history. They have many online “friends” and “followers,” but socialize face-to-face more rarely than any generation before. Consequently, depression, suicide, and broken families are on the increase.

As children of God, we are called to be His ambassadors – His liaisons to this lonely, hurting world. How does that tie in with our focus this year on constructing our homes and lives in a way that pleases our heavenly Father? Today, let’s examine the access we allow others to our lives and how God might view our behaviors.

architecture-door-exterior-162057Jesus said, “I am the door.” As “little Christs” we are to be little doors as well. Doors that open to reveal the heart and home of Christ to the world. Doors that open and welcome others. Not self-protective doors locking out the “evil” world.

I must ask myself, is my life and home a portal through which others can come to meet the Christ? Is your life an open door?

Think through these questions honestly and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you.

» Do you react to others receptively? Lovingly? Openly? Willing to help?

» Do you regularly invite people into your life to listen to them, encourage them, and pray for them?

» Do you invest in the lives of other women?

» Do you regularly share Jesus with people the Holy Spirit brings across your path?

» Does your home and life say to others, “Come,” and point them to Jesus?

– OR –

» Do you find yourself mainly secluded in your own home and family life?

» Do you socialize, but not broach spiritual discussions nor pray for those you encounter who need Jesus?

» Are you fearful of certain types of people? Do you allow this to keep you from being an open door to them?

If the Holy Spirit has spoken to you through this little evaluation, take a moment to journal a prayer to your Father. Your construction assignment this week as you work to build your spiritual home: Make sure you put a door in. Anything else would be unnatural. Humble yourself to be willing and obedient. Be that open door that invites others to Christ in word and deed.

 

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In-Dependence Day

This 4th of July you’ll probably go to the lake or cook out, ski or swim or sit out in the lawn chairs and celebrate wholeheartedly the birthday of our nation. We Americans will enjoy patriotic music, watermelon, and fireworks as we think of the independence we have because of the fight for freedom back in 1776.

As children of God let us also celebrate our dependence.

Dependence on a loving Creator who provides not only our basic needs, but many things for us to cherish and enjoy.

Dependence on Jesus as our Savior and Rescuer. The knight in white armor riding to our rescue.

Dependence on Him for our future, not only our eternal home in heaven, but for our daily struggles tomorrow and the next day and the next…

Dependance on the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Teacher.

This word, dependence, is not a word we like. From a very young age we each chomp at the bit for independence. Freedom. But as we grow in Christ we learn that true freedom comes only through submitting our lives to Christ. In God’s world of paradoxes, the first is last, the servant is the greatest, the impossible is possible, and freedom comes in daily choosing death to our self-will. So today as you say a blessing over your barbecue and potato salad, whisper a prayer to your Father and offer up that independent spirit as a sacrifice, and begin to live “in dependence” on Your Abba.

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Practical Peacemaking

A Hoscotch Approach: 10 Hops in the Right Direction

Our most recent “Construction Zone” article touched on peacemaking. We asked you to coment your practical tips that would help us all in this area. Today we continue with a few practical tips of our own. Feel free to add other tips in the comments at the end of this article. We said that peacemaking started with loving God and loving others. Today will focus on that latter phrase: loving others. In particular, loving others in the midst of conflict.

1. Listen. Really listen. When you find yourself in a difficult discussion, allow the other person to fully express their concerns and fears. Listen to understand. Too often we listen just waiting our turn at replying and therefore we never truly hear what is being action-adult-advice-1120344said. In fact, we may be planning our next volley of words in our own minds and therefore we literally do not hear a word the other person says; we only hear our own inner thoughts. Listening is our God-given way of taking in the facts. Use this gift.

2. Try to understand the reason they are upset. Often the reason they say they are upset is not the true reason. Are they operating out of fear? Guilt? Anger? Hurt?  Revenge? Jealousy? Insecurity? Ask questions to try to get to the root cause. Once again, listen carefully. Be discerning and trust your intuition. Notice what escalates their strong responses, this will lead you to the real issue; it shows you’ve hit a nerve with them.

3. Examine the anger being thrown at you. If they present with anger, you can usually be assured that there is more to it than that. Anger is generally a secondary emotion displayed instead of a primary emotion that is harder to deal with, such as hurt, fear, sadness, etc. Anger feels powerful, while hurt and other emotions a person has can make them feel vulnerable and in a weak postion. Anger can also ignite within a person the fight or flight response, a physiological response to what they feel is threatening them. Thus, they may lash out at you and attack you verbally or physically (fight) or hang up on you or run away from the challenge of dealing with the conflict (flight). Another form of attack is a more passive-aggressive approach where they do something covertly that is detrimental to you. These things will never bring resolution to a situation. They stall bringing true resolution and healing to a difficult situation.

4. Choose not to allow others to incite you to anger. You are in control of your feelings. Exercise self-control. Many things a person in conflict with you may say or do will feel like bombs being lobbed your way. Whether their behaviors are aggressive or their words are hurtful, cruel, or alarming, choose to remain calm: take deep breaths, follow scriptural principles, realize your fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, powers, and spiritual forces of evil.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12 KJV

5. Try to diffuse a voltile situation. This will include things like:

  • Speak calmly and gently.
  • Talk with them in person if possible.
  • If you’re talking in person, maintain a non-threatening, open body language.
  • Rephrase and reflect their words back to them to make sure you understand correctly.
  • Even if you don’t agree with their point of conflict, try to understand why it is important to them.
  • Express your understanding and willingness to come to reconciliation.
  • Don’t belittle or speak down to others.

woman-1708105_12806. Ask for God’s wisdom to understand the meaning and what is often left unsaid behind their spoken words. Pray, pray, pray. As you find yourself in this type of situation begin immediately to pray asking for wisdom, for eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to understand and a will to obey. Ask God to give you clarity and understanding.

7. Allow God’s love to flow through you to the person opposing you. Human love is imperfect even with our best efforts. God’s love is perfect. Through prayer and putting our own self-will aside we can allow His love to flow through us. Through His love we can love people who would otherwise trigger us to hate them.

8. Keep the lines of communication open even if you are rejected. If you are hung up on or abandoned in the discussion, pray for and seek ways to continue reconcilation: a gentle non-threatening appeal, a call or kind gesture, enlisting the help of a pastor or spiritual mentor. (Note: Texts and emails are too easily misunderstood. Tone and individual differences in word meanings often make these written approaches more harmful than helpful.) 

9. Go the extra mile. Do everything within your power to bring peace and resolution to the situation. Operate in the fruit of the Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.   Romans 12:18

10. Don’t post anything on social media. Period. (We shouldn’t even have to say that.)

What are your thoughts and tips?

Nathaniel Mckenzie

Construction Zone: Thermometer or Thermostat?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Matthew 22:37

When building a home in the sunny South, a great Central HVAC unit is ultra important. Folks in our state sometimes die from heatstroke in the summer or from exposure to the extreme cold in winter. So air conditioning and heating are more than a luxury and are just short of being a necessity.

Years ago I heard the analogy that people are either like thermostats or thermometers. Thermometers simply measure temperature. They are gauges that display what the current temperature is. They do not affect the temperature or change it. Thermostats on the other hand are change agents. They are the devices that regulate the temperature within your home, office, school, or car. They cause your heat or air conditioning unit to come on when the house is too hot or too cold. As an Alabama girl, I must note that thermomstats are my favorite modern convenience on a humid, 97 degree summer day.

So if people are either thermometers or thermostats, which are you?

We have probably acted as both at some point in our lives. I tend to get stuck being the thermometer and telling everyone “its too hot in here” without doing anything about it. Our society has enough thermometers at the moment. We need some thermostats who will activate and bring change for the better.

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Think with me for a moment.

In our day we find the world to be polarized. It is as if people around us are just waiting for us to speak one wrong word or turn a phrase in the wrong way so that they may react and unleash some of their inner turmoil and anger. Sometimes, we are the ones waiting to jump on the person next to us. At other times we are blind-sided by venom spewed our way over an innocent comment. Our social media postings become 4th of July fireworks shows within seconds, and I’m sure many of you, like me, have found yourself deleting a post because it ignited such fireworks. Even typing this blog I find myself second-guessing and praying that my words are taken well.

As Children of God we are called to be peacemakers. Romans 12:18 instructs us

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

And John 13:35 reminds us of how the world will recognize us as God’s people.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

In fact, to even be called Children of God we must be peacemakers.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9 NIV.

And our peacemaking will not be useless, although I imagine it will feel that way at times. But we don’t trust our feelings. We obey scriptural mandates and leave the rest to our Abba. In His word He tells us

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18

So how can we live in this world as peacemakers? How is this practically accomplished in everyday life? As we build our spiritual houses, how can we express our beliefs, stand firm for what is right, and be agents of change in the world while at the same time being peacemakers instead of firecrackers?

It boils down to a simple New Testament mandate of Jesus:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Matthew 22:37

The 2 greatest comandments, which sum up all of the Old Testament commandments:

  1. Love God.
  2. Love Others.

Simple. Yet not easy.

How do we love God?

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) Just as a tiny baby learns to love as they grow and develop under the loving care of their parents, we learn to love from Our Father. We spend time with Him absorbing His character. We dig into his word every day to learn how to love well by 1) obeying His written commands, 2) examining the scriptural example of how Jesus lived on this earth, and 3) letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly and teach us God’s love. (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 3:16-19) God IS love. The more we allow Him to permeate our hearts and teach and strengthen and grow us, the more we will learn of love: love for God and love for others.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:16-21 NIV

How do we love others?

We get to know those different from us. We engage in open discussion, actively listening to try to understand, not just waiting to respond from our point of view. We stamp out that fear within our hearts of the new and the unknown – because perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18) We allow the compassion of Christ to permeate our hearts so that we overflow with love, grace, mercy and truth spoken kindly to ALL those we encounter. We give up the “us and them” mentality and view every man, woman and child as an image-bearer of Christ, no matter where they come from, what they look like, what political affiliation they hold dear, or whether they are like us or not. In short, we

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Phiippians 2:3-4 NIV

This is a high calling. It is much more easily said than lived out. It takes forbearance, patience, and restraint of our tongue (or fingers on the keyboard!). It will take the power of Christ to calm our self-centered hearts and strengthen us to live this way daily. But we CAN do it. Are we going to be satisifed being only a thermometer who spits out info on the temperature of the world around us, or will we allow Our Creator to make us into thermostats that bring His cool, refreshing winds of mercy, peace, love, grace, and truth to the scorching heat of the society in which we live?

Let us learn from each other. If you would, respond in the comments and share practical ways you are building your spiritual house, ways you live out the mandate to “Love God and Love Others” in your daily life.

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Construction Zone: Wiring

Knob and tube wiring – uh-oh.

Your breaker box isn’t up to code – uh-oh.

If you’ve ever watched an HGTV home remodel show of any sort you’ve heard these terms before, and you realize that they always mean spending lots more money to get a home in working order.

architecture-cherry-blossom-daylight-1134001Physically, our wiring is the thing that provides our home with a source of power. It’s the conduit that allows Alabama Power Company to share their product with us. Can you even imagine trying to run a modern home without electricity? Watching a couple of episodes of a reality show on off-the-grid living makes that possibility very unappealing. We are a bit spoiled here in America where available electricity seems like a right and a necessity, while being without electricity for 2 hours during a storm upsets our evening.

Spiritually, we are also dependent upon a power source outside ourselves. We have no power on our own to manufacture the spiritual power we need to triumph over our sinful flesh, defeat the enemy’s fiery darts, or become righteous, Spirit-filled children of God. We don’t even have the power to make ourselves keep our promises, follow through on good habits, or control that tiny, destructive organ in our mouth called the tongue. Without a holy infusion of power from on high, we are left to our own devices controlled by faulty human flesh.

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So what are the wires that connect us to our power source spiritually?

 

First, God’s Word. He gave His Word to us. It is His direct communication to us. He reveals Himself and His ways to us through His written Word.

  1. It is truth. “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” Psalm 119:160
  2. It illumines. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105
  3. It is alive and active. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.
  4. It is useful in our everyday life.All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16.
    • It teaches.
    • It reubkes
    • It corrects.
    • It trains us.
    • It equips us.

Second, Prayer. James 5:16 tells us “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”outlet-1329193_1280 Prayer is powerful because it “plugs us in” to the source of all power, our Omnipotent Heavenly Father. If He is truly omnipotent (all-powerful) then any power we possess ultimately belongs to Him. When we feel desperately low and needy, longing for a burst of energy to restart our lives, He is that source. We must train ourselves to connect to Him through prayer. How?

  1. “Pray continuously.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
  2. Don’t worry, pray! “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
  3. Pray for His will for our lives.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10
  4. Pray for the needs of your life. “Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11
  5. Pray for forgiveness and the ability to forgive others. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
  6. Pray for deliverance. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13
  7. Pray for others. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
  8. Kneel/bow to pray. “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray…” Ephesians 3:14-15
  9. Cry out in prayer.Will not God grant justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay helping them?” Luke 18:7
  10. Pray for strength.I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit.” Ephesians 3:16
  11. Pray for faith. “Immediately the father of the boy cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!’ ” Mark 9:24 “I pray that… Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Ephesians 3:17
  12. Pray with others. “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:19
  13. Pray for others. “I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:18-19

Are you connected to your Source of Power? Or do you have faulty wiring? Are you accessing His strength daily through His Holy Scriptures and through praying? Or are you trying to live off-the-grid spiritually? Do you find yourself spiritually “out in the cold,” wandering without illumination, sitting in the dark disconnected from the “power company?” Has your breaker flipped? Or perhaps you’ve lived without those lines ever being connected and it’s time you turn to the true all-powerful source, The Living God and Creator of the universe. Seek Him today – it’s time to get your wiring up to code.

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Construction Zone: Illumination

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. Proverbs 24:3-4

The focus of our women’s ministry this year “Rooms Full of Riches,” is based on the verse above from Proverbs. The purpose is to equip us to build our lives and homes on Biblical wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In our winter session we dug into the wisdom of Proverbs, applying God’s Word to building our homes and lives. (In fact, that concentrated study on home-building is what prompted this series of “Construction Zone” blogs.) So, if you are reading this and find yourself desperate for wisdom and instruction in your day-to-day life, the collection of wise truths from the book of Proverbs will most likely have something to illumine your situation. scripture tells us in the book of Psalms that His word is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path. (119:105) dark_street_195913

According to dictionary.com, a proverb, in general, is “a saying popularly known and repeated, usually expressing simply and concretely, though often metaphorically, a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of humankind.” The book of Proverbs from scripture does just that, it expresses God’s truths simply and concretely. And since we Believers accept God’s Word as The Truth, sayings from the book of Proverbs carry much more weight than secular proverbs we hear in life, such as “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

The introductory words of the book of Proverbs explain its purpose this way: 

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:1-7

 

I want to gain wisdom. I need wisdom. Life is hard, and sometimes I just don’t know what to do. I need insight and understanding. I want to receive instruction for how to know what is right and to help me figure out how to live in this fallen world. Don’t you? And I want the real stuff – real wisdom – not the “wisdom” we get from well-meaning acquaintances telling us what we want to hear that’s not necessarily the truth. Wisdom that will help me dig out from under my junk and really deal with life instead of adding more confusion or complications, that’s what I want. You know what I mean?

Currently, I’m reading through Beth Moore’s Portraits of Devotion each morning this year, and this verse from the book of Proverbs popped up:

light_lamp_196504For a command is a lamp, teaching is a light, and corrective discipline is the way to life. Proverbs 6:23 HCSB

That’s what I want: instruction that lights my way as I journey through life. The kind of wisdom that comes from scripture and is lived out in those obedient to His Word. We can have that wisdom! How? James 1:5 tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. If we do that wisdom will be given to us. Have we asked for wisdom lately? Or are you like me? Are you more apt to ask God to rubber stamp your opinion of what you wish would be done in a situation? If we get to the point we really want what’s best more than we want our way, all we have to do is ask, because “The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)

Have you ever prayed, “Lord just write it out on a sign and tell me what to do?” I have. But I’ve never had a real billboard show up with it spelled out for me like my friend Amy has. What I have experienced most often is one of those Proverbs 6:23 flashlights shining on a dark, scary path and illuminating only about 3 steps in front of me at the most. But guess what? When I take those three steps, the illumination spreads on ahead of me to show the next 3 just like our verse above talks about! And it doesn’t just shine light for that path, but it teaches me and corrects me so that the next time I’m on a dark path I’ll remember the lessons learned and walk through that path with more peace and strength. So maybe it’s best for me NOT to get a road sign. Maybe I learn more how to live. Then it’s not just a temproary fix, but a teaching, growing experience.

dark-forest-landscape-1.jpgI’ll never forget one particular family trip to Virginia. We had left Alabama in the wee hours of the morning and found ourselves exiting the interstate at dusk. Darkness came on us quickly as we drove up the winding road to the cabin we had reserved online. There were other cabins along the deserted road, but they were spaced far apart on mountain peaks just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. By the time we reached the gated, dirt road to our cabin it was near 9pm and pitch black. My husband jumped out, unlocked and jumped right back in the car, the thought of bears and rattlesnakes unspoken between us so as not to alarm the kids. A mile of steep, bumpy clay “driveway” and we were at our destination. No lights. No moon. 4 kids. Luggage. The unknown. The fears. We managed to get all of us, and items necessary for the night, into the cabin and collapse into bed within the hour.

Next morning, we awoke to the sun streaming in. The cabin was delightful. The view was amazing. The fears were gone. Nothing had changed about the cabin and its surroundings, except that it was now illuminated by glorious sunlight. That week was one of our best vacations ever. The funny thing is, after days full of vacation fun, every night we came back to our home-away-from-home about 9pm – in the dark! But guess what! It wasn’t scary any more. Once the dark road had been illuminated, the fear was removed.

As you travel through dark times of life, seek illumination from God’s Word. Proverbs is a good place to start. The book of Psalms works too. The Gospels, Paul’s letters, it all brings light to our life. It instructs. It illumines. It reassures. We are reminded of Jesus the Light of the World, who has conquered darkness.

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Tax Day

As we in America file our taxes today, I’m reminded of a story in the bible of Jesus’ encounter with a tax collector.

It’s summed up in a cute little kids’ song that goes something like this

Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the savior he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree,
And He said, “Zaccheus you come down.
For I’m going to your house today.”

How often have we felt like the wee little man – the unimportant, unwanted, or left out one? We may feel despised for the job we do, the past we have, or the choices we’ve made. We see ourselves as unacceptable in the society. We believe we’re judged by those eyes looking at us everywhere we go, even church sometimes.

If we take time to think about the words of the song or to read this story from scripture, the heart-touching part of this simple story shines through.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

IMG_8499Zaccheus’ innate curiosity led Him to encounter Jesus. You too have been given a personality with certain traits and God will use those to lead you to encounter Jesus.

Zaccheus’ height may have felt like a handicap at times, especially in a crowd like this where he wanted to see what was going on. Father God already had the tree growing there that Zaccheus needed – God had made a way for Zach to come to Jesus even with whatever perceived handicap or weakness he had. And God has already made a way for you as well.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

Ole Zach didn’t have to seek out Jesus, Jesus sought out Zach and ended up right at his tree. And what was Zach’s response? He was glad! He jumped down at once because he was ready to welcome Jesus. Are we glad when Jesus meets us? Do we see Jesus as a desired guest coming to our house or as a hard task-master critiquing our every failure?

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Others talked. And they will. Others will talk about us when we begin hanging out with Jesus. “Doesn’t Jesus know who she used to be?”

But Zaccheus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Zaccheus’ heart was changed forever when he encountered Jesus. Though he had most likely been a greedy, money-focused person (and we know that because of the reputation and requirements for how tax collectors conducted their business during those times), Jesus changed him. Money was no longer his focus. Jesus Gave him a new heart, a heart of generosity and repentance.

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10

Zaccheus experienced salvation that can come only through Jesus. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He sought out and saved ole Zach. And He is seeking you and your loved ones who do not know Him. He seeks to find us and rescue us and pull us out of our old life of walking in darkness to a new life walking in the light of His love.

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Construction Zone: Is Your Plumbing Working?

Stepping in my basement door I was greeted with a “splash.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. That had never happened before. Our oatmeal colored Berber carpet looked like a layer of sand under an inch of water, as if a wave were retreating along the shoreline. If you’ve had the misfortune of finding yourself in a similar situation, you no doubt understand the importance of properly working, well maintained plumbing in your home. When plumbing is working correctly we never notice it, and we take it for granted. But faulty plumbing is noticed with alarm and taken seriously.

Piping in our homes has flow coming in and flow going out. It is designed to be a channel  for water to come in, be used, and then leave. Spiritually we are designed to operate similarly. Just like empty pipes would be useless, our lives devoid of the Spirit flowing through us would be of little use in God’s kingdom. We are designed with a capacity for the Holy Spirit to come in and fill us. But just like the piping in our house, we are also meant to have the filling of the Spirit pass through us in ways that are useful and effective in the lives of the world around us.

Spirit input. We should be constantly seeking more of the Spirit’s filling. A steady intake of the Word of God each day and seeking His heart through prayer keeps us constantly being filled. It prepares us to let the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – flow through us whenever and wherever.

mixer-tap-413745_1280Quenching the Spirit. We’re instructed in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 to not quench the Spirit. If we are seeking to be a part of God’s kingdom coming here on earth and His will being done in society around us we must be aware to nurture His Spirit within us, to listen to it and obey it and not to quench it. Quenching the Spirit in our metaphor is very much like cutting off the water supply valve to your whole house. You leave yourself unprepared and empty of the very thing you need the most.

Outflow of the Spirit. When we turn on a water faucet in our house we expect the water to flow out. In our lives, we expect the Spirit to flow through us in all his varied and glorious ways. Acts 4:31 tells us of those who were filled with the Spirit and spoke the Word boldly. In other places in the New Testament we see a variety of other things coming from those filled with the Spirit: wisdom, faith in the face of imminent death, healing, ministering to needs, and an outflowing of many other gifts of the Spirit. Are we so filled up with Him that the Spirit’s power is able to flow through us at a moment’s notice just as water would flow when we turn on a faucet?

In Genesis 12:2-3 God told Abraham, “I will bless you;… and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” We too are blessed to be a blessing. The blessings of that Spirit that flow into us are meant for us, but they are also meant for others. We are not to be a stopped up pipe. We are to allow the Holy Spirit’s power to flow freely into us and out of us. John 7:37- 39 puts it pretty plainly:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

There is a thirsty world all around us. People are in desperate need of a drink of the living water we possess. Is your plumbing working? Is the living water flowing from within you? Or have your pipes backed up? Be a conduit of the myriad of gifts the Spirit has to offer the world around you. Allow the fresh, living water of life to flow forth wherever you go.

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Construction Zone: Studs

Studs.

Yep, you read it correctly.

No. Not a horse, nor the handsome guy in anatomy class, but the two-by-fours within your walls.

My husband is a fantastic handyman who has saved us many a repair bill through the years. I find paying in Yankee dimes much preferrable to ruining our budget by paying an exorbitant bill from our checking account for home or car repairs.

My husband is also quite the kidder. His favorite handyman joke when working with walls or hanging pictures for me involves a stud-finder. In case you don’t know, a stud-finder is a large matchbox sized, battery operated gadget that can detect boards within a wall so a person will know where to hang heavy objects. As you move it across the wall it beeps when it senses the more dense area where a stud is located. My Sweetheart’s joke is to sweep his stud-finder around him and finally across his body, and at that moment hit the test button which causes it to beep. He does this with a flirtatious grin, and of course I reward him with a quick kiss and “That’s my stud!” or laughter and eye rolls, depending on my mood. Even after years of this same joke, it never ceases to bring joy to our days.

post-2232962_1280Through all our years of marriage I’ve learned many things about studs that I did not know as a young bride of 21. I knew there were boards within the walls of buildings. And I knew they were needed to support the roof. But that’s about all I knew those many years ago.

Since then I’ve learned that studs have to be at the right distance apart to make a structure strong and stable. Studs need to be placed “16 inches on center” for THE best stiff, strong wall. This doesn’t mean there are 16 inches in between the studs, but that measuring from the center of one board to the center of the next will give you 16 inches. Some buildings don’t measure up to this standard. Older homes, or ones constructed by someone on the cheap or in a haphazard way may yield other results. Twenty-four inch centers is common, but not nearly as strong.

Secondly, I learned that studs need to be certain dimensions, not just any ole board will do. Two-by-fours are the standard stud size. That means that when they are cut, they are 2 inches thick and 4 inches wide. After that they are kiln dried which causes them to shrink as the moisture evaporates. Then they are further reduced in size when they are planed to make them a uniform size for building (usually about 1 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches).

wood-690402_1280I also learned that studs are usually made of particular kinds of wood. Softwood is generally used behind the walls for construction projects, whereas hardwoods are used for the beautiful furniture and embellishments we see in the rooms of our homes. Softwoods are generally coniferous trees such as pine and cedar, those that grow quickly and do not lose their leaves in the fall. While hardwoods are deciduous trees, like oaks, which lose their leaves. Softwood is preferred because it is easier to saw, plane, bore, and nail because of the structure within the wood, and I wonder, if not possibly because it grows more quickly and trees can be replaced within a few years rather than decades.

So how does our woodworking lesson relate to life?

1 – The unseen supports inside us are very important. I may look like a happy-go-lucky, got-it-all-together kind of woman on a random Sunday morning where your local God-fearing congregation is meeting. But on the inside I may be a sinful mess, a doubting mess, a fearful mess, a depressed mess, a burdened mess, a prideful mess, or any of a number of other messes. You don’t see the real me. Only God does. And I don’t see the real you. I’ve learned through years of walking with the Lord that the scriptural principle is, what’s on the inside is going to eventually come out. We are to be more inwardly concerned with pleasing God than pleasing people.

A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. Matthew 12:35 KJV

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 NIV

2 – Your internal “studs” must be made of the right stuff. This is obvious. Heaven knows those cardboard houses I built as a kid couldn’t even withstand one rainy day. Yet we try building our inner man based on popularity, acceptance, the world’s opinions, and even our own feeble human wisdom. Softwood such as this won’t work for a stable life. While soft wood may be best for building physical structures, we want to build our spiritual homes on the hard truths of the Word of God. God’s words from scripture, when taken in daily and applied to building our lives and homes, will build in us the character, faith, submissiveness, patience, love, and a host of other things that are required to live a life of love as Christ commands us in the New Testament. When we seek Jesus first and follow His commands we are building with the right materials.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NIV

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 NIV

wood-877368_12803 – Your “studs” need to be the right size. If I tried using a 1×4 within the walls of my home I would find them collapsing under the weight of the roof. If I used 1/4 inch plywood it would be even worse. If I cut my studs too short, I’d find myself having to duck my head when I entered my home. We would never do that, and would consider it shoddy work if a builder we hired did such a thing. However, we frequently build this way in spiritual matters. We take shortcuts and don’t measure up. We grasp onto one verse and use it as a proof-text for what we believe. We ignore the harder teachings of scripture because they are too challenging, they convict us too much, or because we haven’t read enough of His word to know better. We need to be students of the Word on a daily, methodical journey to learn all we can of God’s ways and the nature of the world through His Word. Anything short of observing the full counsel of the Word of God, is taking shortcuts and not measuring up in our building materials.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24 NIV

Those [seeds] on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. Luke 8:13 NIV

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 NIV

I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Psalm 119:15-16 NIV

4 – “Studs” need to be on at least 16 inch centers. We may be firmly grounded in scriptures about “honor your parents” or “thou shall not covet” or “for God so loved the world” or other basics we’ve been taught since childhood. These are not unimportant, but they are few and far between as far as strong support for our spiritual house goes. These represent lives built on 24 inch centers or worse. As we’ve grown physically older, have we matured spiritually too? Have we studied His Word deeply and participated in Bible studies and classes that have added deeper truths and more complex theology to our walls? Have we gotten to know the Father personally from His word rather than just religiously? Have we added teachings on spiritual gifts, grace, wisdom, and other matters to our lives? The deeper teachings of God’s word grow us stronger. With each new revelation from the Word of Truth we add more studs to our walls constructing stronger Godly houses with numerous 16 inch center studs.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:1-3 NIV

Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. Hebrews 5:12-13 NIV

So as we evaluate our spiritual house, I must ask – If I run a spiritual stud-finder across you, will it beep or will you have to mash the test button? Will it be just one, or many studs, spaced closely, offering strong support, cut to the right dimensions, and made of appropriate materials?

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