What’s Your Watchword?

Definition:

watchword – a word or phrase expressing a person’s or group’s core aim or belief; a word or motto that embodies a principle or guide to actions of an individual or group

Do you have a watchword?

As of late it has become trendy and fashionable to have a “word for the year.” Have you chosen one? Or maybe more accurately, has a word chosen you?

It seems that each year about this time, fall through early January, a word or theme starts popping up in connection with the theme of my life at the time. One year it was live. Another year it was grace. And still another surrender. Each word had to do with something I was going through, and each became the guiding principle of my life that year.

I encourage you to seek the word the Lord has for you. Maybe it’s just one word like mine, but perhaps it’s a phrase or a scripture verse, a guiding principle God is planting in your heart for this year. A word that gives you vision and purpose. One that challenges you.

How do you find your word?

  • Pray.
  • Read God’s Word and meditate on it.
  • Journal some thoughts and prayers, reflecting on your current situation, desires, and concerns.
  • Listen as God speaks in a still, small voice to your heart.
  • Seek the Father.

Proverbs 29:18 tells us that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Do you have a vision, a word, a guiding verse from the Lord? I challenge you to seek out a specific word for this year from the Lord, a word to give life focus and direction. As children of God we need to be arrows that are properly aimed and fly straight to hit the mark and accomplish all God has for each year of our life.

archery-2721785_1280

 

End of Year Reflections

Closing the book on 2018

 “For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 52:12

It has been said that the past is the part of our story that has already been written and set in cement. But today and the days to come are the blank pages of our story waiting to be written. We can’t change our past, but we can change our future. As this, the last day of the year is upon us, may we pause to reflect on this past year, to learn from it, come to grips with it, forgive it, and put it to rest, so that we may march forward boldly living out the story God has for us.

calendar-handwriting-notebook-636246.jpgThis past year some have had the best year of their life! Others have experienced a year of overwhelming trauma, grief, illness, or regret. But to most, it was just another year. So I must ask, are we simply ticking off the years of this one life we possess? Or are we evaluating, learning, reflecting upon, and growing from the things we have experienced?

Things I’m reflecting on? Some major and minor joys, and some major and minor disappointments. A beautiful wedding. A missions appointment. A new son-in-love. Serious illness of those I love. The rapid passage of time. Escalating pain of arthritic joints. A new puppy in the house. Another year of reading through the entire word of God. A daughter thousands of miles away during the holiday. The loss of dear Christian mentors. The year has been a mix of grief and joy, welcomes and goodbyes, hopes and fears, success and failure.

imagesMy greatest joy and sadness are one and the same this year – I have a child who has moved abroad to work and spread the love of Christ. I’m so proud of her, so thrilled with this grand adventure God is taking her on, and yet at the same time so sad that she’s not at home with us and we won’t see her for months if not years.

Our daughter is living in Peru and has shared with us some of their traditions for the New Year holiday. A few seem to correlate with our U.S. traditions. They eat their favorite foods, typically seafood, empanadas and rice dishes, which would equate with our black-eyed peas, turnip greens and ham, and at my house, tailgating food as well for watching the New Years’ Day bowl games. They throw rice around the house encouraging financial prosperity – once again the black-eye peas here in the U.S., where tradition says we’ll get a dollar for every black-eye pea we eat on New Years’ Day. They also wear yellow grapes-typical-rituals-new-yearunderwear, (?!) kind of like the way we wear goofy glasses and hats. And just like we count down to midnight watching the ball drop in Times Square, they have their own countdown. During the countdown to midnight they eat 12 grapes – representing each month of the year – for luck.

But my favorite of their traditions has a deeper meaning. The people of the community all go outside together and burn rag dolls, often dressed up to look like themselves in a piece of their own clothing. The burning of the effigy signifies that all of the past year is done and behind you and it is time to start anew.

What a great symbolic way to end the year! How often do we carry over the pains of last year into the clean slate of the next year – the fresh start that our Father gives us.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, offers us this wisdom on the subject of how to deal with our past:

God is the God of our yesterdays, and he allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. God reminds us of the past to protect us from a very shallow security in the present.…God’s hand reaches back to the past, settling all claims against our conscience.… Let the past rest… in the sweet embrace of Christ.

So I encourage you this last day of 2018, take some time to be alone with the Lord. Read in His Word – His letter to you. Reflect upon the past year. Weigh the good and the bad. Forgive. Let go. Rejoice. Mourn. Then pray to your Abba, offering these hurts and joys, pains, regrets, and hopes to Him. He will do more with the pieces of our lives that we offer Him than we can ever imagine. And this is my prayer for each of you:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:16-21 NIV

2016-concert-december-31-3867.jpg

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God. Philippians 3:13-14

The Gift of the Green Glass – A Christmas Memory

One of my favorite Christmas memories is of my youngest child – who is now an adult, one with a very generous, people-minded heart. He has had that generous, caring spirit from the time he was a preschooler. It’s part of the personality God gave him.

During the Christmas season of 2000, he was a chubby-cheeked little 4-year-old, the youngest of 4 children, and the nearest grandchild to his paternal grandparents. We lived only a block away. So he was the baby, close at hand to be spoiled.

26994101_10213301992496189_3796884010690880513_n.jpgThe grandparents had downsized late that summer. Both were well into their 70s with declining health, and had uprooted themselves from their home town to be near us in case they needed help in their latter years. We talked daily on the phone and saw them, if not daily, at least by the second or third day. On those days I found myself too embroiled in running the house and my gregarious 4-year-old hadn’t seen his grandparents in at least 24 hours, he would begin to beg to go see them “by myself.”

I could see Grandmother’s back door from my house and we lived in a safe neighborhood, so I would stand on the porch and watch him dash across the neighbor’s yard to get to his Granddaddy and Grandmother. It was their joy as much as his. Many times I could hear their robust, joyful greetings echoing down the street when he arrived there.

At 4, he was old enough he’d gotten money for his birthday that year – a $20 bill (from that same set of grandparents if I remember correctly). So late November my little guy announced that he wanted to go Christmas shopping with his own money. I told him sure, and that I would be glad to help him out with the money. But he was determined to “buy it myself.” (He was definitely in the “I can do it myself” phase.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe dashed off to K-Mart one night, just my boy and me. He was determined to buy for Daddy, his brother and 2 sisters, Grandmother & Granddaddy, Meemaw Polly, and me, which he planned to do later with his daddy – 8 people to buy for with only $20. I really didn’t think it would be possible. I explained to him about taxes, and that each gift would have to cost $2.00-$2.50 at the most. I anticipated having to add some cash of my own when we checked out.

First, he found a fishing lure for Daddy for $1-something. Good so far. He got cute socks which were in the $2 range for one of the girls. And on and on he went with his shopping. Before we knew it we had trekked around all of Kmart and gotten everyone a gift that met the requirements, except for Grandmother.

background-boxes-celebration-1303082.jpg

He was very particular. I made suggestions and showed him a few possibilities on the shelves as we walked by, none of which he liked. He finally said he wanted to get Grandmother a beautiful drinking glass he thought, so we headed to housewares. I wasn’t really sure we’d find anything that met his needs, but we looked. Suddenly his face lit up! He pointed a little higher than he could reach to a pretty, green cut-glass drinking glass. As I lifted it off the shelf for him to see, I realized it was light-weight and made of unbreakable plastic that looked like fragile crystal. He took it in his hands and felt of it for a couple of minutes before he declared, “This is it.”

He then started explaining to me why it was what he wanted.

“Grandmother’s hands hurt and she can’t hold onto those slick-sided slippery ones. This one has crinkled sides that make it easy to hold. The heavy ones are hard for her to lift, but this one is light. The skinny ones tip over too easily, but this one is short and round and can’t be bumped over by accident as easily. And it’s really beautiful! She will love it.” And you guessed it – it only cost $1.00. I was thrilled and stunned. He had studied his grandmother and new her needs and was on a mission to find just the right thing for her hands that were hindered by rheumatoid arthritis.

6b5e438dd5f97cb672e1b5f979806b40He had done it. He had generously bought for the whole family with his little $20 bill. At the cash register he had $2.00 and some change left over – just enough to go shopping with his Daddy to buy something for me.

That was one precious Christmas for our family. Grandmother never used any glass besides the green one for the rest of her life at home. It was exactly what she needed! She loved it!

IMG_8019Grandmother and Granddaddy have passed away at separate times in the last several years. And you know what? I now have that cup in my cabinet. I now have achy, arthritic hands and cherish that light-weight, easy-to-grip cup that won’t tip over easily. Are there lessons in this story? Probably many. The lessons I learned from my 4-year-old? Study those you love and get them something that meets their needs no matter how small and inexpensive it is. Use what you are blessed with, no matter how meager it seems, to bless others. You will have the joy of giving and you will give joy that carries on for many years beyond that moment.

And most importantly, just like my sweet 4-year-old, our Heavenly Daddy knows exactly what we need! He studies us and anticipates our every need. For every situation in which we find ourselves, be it a trial, loneliness, or busy-ness, finanacial or relational issues, or having cancer, a broken heart, or arthritic hands, He is there with just what we need. He provides The Perfect Gift. In fact, He has already provided the Most Perfect One – His Loving Son who died on the cross as a sacrifice to redeem our sinful, broken hearts and lives and bring us into His presence for eternity.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17 NIV

manger-3047482_1280

 

Happy Thanksgiving from Priceless!

1 Chronicles 16:8-34

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
11 Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
12 Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
13 O offspring of Israel his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

14 He is the Lord our God;
    his judgments are in all the earth.
15 Remember his covenant forever,
    the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
16 the covenant that he made with Abraham,
    his sworn promise to Isaac,
17 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
    to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
18 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,
    as your portion for an inheritance.”

19 When you were few in number,
    of little account, and sojourners in it,
20 wandering from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another people,
21 he allowed no one to oppress them;
    he rebuked kings on their account,
22 saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
    do my prophets no harm!”

23 Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
    Tell of his salvation from day to day.
24 Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!
25 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
    and he is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
27 Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his place.

28 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
29 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
30     tremble before him, all the earth;
    yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it!
33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
34 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

May you be blessed this Thanksgiving Day! And may you celebrate all your many blessings with a grateful heart!

thanksgiving-3719247_1280

Christ-Followers & Popcorn

Christ-followers are like popcorn.

No kidding.

Maybe I have too much fall festival, fireside, popcorn moments on my mind right now, but I was suddenly struck with some obvious similarities.

So “How?” you ask.

bowl-food-popcorn-37348.jpgPopcorn is not the same thing when it comes out of the bag or pan as it was when it went in. Popcorn kernels are small, hard, unappetizing, and inedible. I think I’d have to be literally starving to eat one intentionally. It’s not that they don’t contain the same nutrients before and after being popped. It’s simply that they have to be changed before they are consumed as popcorn.

Likewise, Christ-followers are not the same after they come to know Christ as they were before knowing Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) we are told “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We may come to Christ as mean, bitter, hateful people, full of selfishness and underhanded motivations, hard nuts to crack as they say. But when Christ begins wooing us and we turn loose of the reigns on our own life allowing Him to remake us, we become gentle, joyful, peaceful people, filled with the unconditional love of God. The fruit of the Spirit is manifested in our lives causing us to become tasty morsels that nourish the world and produce usable fruit in our lives. We become those fluffy white buttery bits, rather than closed off hard kernels.

chef-cooker-cooking-8717.jpgPopcorn has to undergo some heated times to fulfill its purpose and become the yummy, useful thing it was meant to be.  I’ve occasionally wondered how popcorn was discovered. Did a mom in ancient days accidentally spill some kernels into the fire as she was pouring them into the pan, only to have a tasty treat pop out and hit her apron a short time later? Who knows. But I do know that it takes fire or extreme heat. Even in the random 100 degree heat of a Southern summer’s day, I have never had the popcorn in my pantry accidentally pop. It takes REAL heat. Fire.

Fire can be dangerous. Going through a fiery trial of life feels dangerous too. You wonder if you’ll survive. But those fires are useful in our lives, just like they are in the life of a kernel of popcorn. If popcorn doesn’t face the fire, it doesn’t become the crunchy treat it was meant to be. It could never be used for food and would not fulfill its designed purpose without great heat being applied. Just like a silver smith, our Father God uses our fiery trials to fashion us into the vessel He means for us to be.

In fact, He uses fiery trials in many ways. As with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, He uses those fires to display our faith in Him which causes even the unbelieving Nebuchadnezzars of the world to glorify His name. He uses those fires to guide us in the direction our life should take, just like the pillar of fire guided the children of Israel where to go. He uses the fire to burn away the dross, the sin, in our lives and make us pure silver that accurately reflects His image to the world. He uses the fires to change us, refine us, remake us.

Popcorn doesn’t make itself. It takes something bigger and greater than the popcorn kernels to take them and make them into something new. It takes people like you and me putting the popcorn and oil and salt in the pan and taking the time to do the process to transform them into something better.

And so it is with Christians. It takes someone outside our self, someone bigger and greater than us, to transform us. We cannot remake ourselves. How many times have we tried and failed. We read a self-help book and feel like that is just what I need. We then set out to make ourselves better. That may last 2 weeks or 2 years, but ultimately we discover real change on the inside cannot be self-manufactured. It can ony be produced by our Creator God. He is the only one who can make us into a new creation. He changes us slowly, over time as we abide in Him and His word abides in us. He is the Chief Corn Popper, not us. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (3:6-7 ESV)

popcorn-1433326_1280The aroma of popcorn draws people from all around to want it. Just walk into a theater and you’re hit by the aroma. Mmmm! Your mouth waters and you end up with a bucket in your lap and buttery fingers! Walk into a Baptist preschool hall on a typical Sunday morning and you’ll find a trail of grown ups sniffing out which room has popcorn for refreshments that day. It’s an almost irresistible aroma.

As I follow my Savior am I drawing a line of people, and creating a furor by those trying to get what I’ve got? If I’m walking in His ways, spreading His aroma, I will be. Sweet sister, if you find yourself worn out from one more needy soul asking you to pray with them or seeking your godly counsel, a stranger pouring out their burdens to your compassionate heart as you sit on the bench at the park watching your kids play, or a pastor asking you to teach another study, then there is a sweet smell of Jesus attached to you! I’m not telling you to never say No and wear yourself out, I’m telling you keep smelling good! The hungry, needy, perishing world needs to be drawn to the sweet fragrance of Christ in us.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15 ESV)    

alcohol-background-bar-452744.jpgIts saltiness improves its taste. Whenever I eat popcorn, I grieve for people on low salt diets. I would probably never eat it again if I couldn’t use salt on it. It just isn’t good.

Our world is just not good without the influence of Christ-followers. We hear the rudeness, the cursing, the downright mean-spirited comments of the world almost daily through social media and television. Woe be unto us if we are participating in it rather than being salt and light: the peacemakers and spreaders of love, hope, faith, mercy, and the Gospel. Our world is as tasteless as unsalted popcorn when we are not being Christ’s ambassadors and letting Him pour us out of the salt shaker.

So as you sit ’round the fire this fall munching on your warm buttery popcorn, let it remind you to evaluate your life. Are you in the fire in life? Then God will use it to make you who he intended for you to be. Are you spreading the aroma that draws people to your Father? Are you adding saltiness to the world?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 NIV

Seasons of Life

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved too much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. Titus 2:3-5

Several years ago our church women’s ministry held an event in the fall called “Celebrate the Seasons.” It was a wonderful night out to celebrate the seasons of our lives around dozens of uniquely decorated tables representing different seasons of the year. The fall and Christmas decorations were rich and lavish. The winter tables looked crisp and white. Spring tables abounded in flowers and bunnies and such as you might imagine. For the table I decorated, I chose a summer theme, and as part of my decor used tiny lightbulbs in mason jars to remind us of lightning bugs. It was a fun night of celebration and encouragement.

As I write today my mind is stirred up with memories and rather melancholy. Fall is in the air and my spirit is feeling very fall-ish. I’m in the autumn of my life enjoying my empty nest and the pleasures of adult children and grandkids. But this fall season of life seems to scream at me sometimes, “Winter is just around the corner for you.”

A dear friend and mentor of mine passed away mere hours ago. I met her when she was in the autumn of her life, me a mere summer’s child at the time. I have vivid pictures in my mind of moments of wise advice from her, prayers over me when I was worried sick over a teenage child, and gentle rebukes at how I should treat my husband and my own aging mother. As this contemplative mood overwhelms me today I am not discouraged, maybe just a wee bit sad at the rapid pace my life is taking to its final breath. But I am also spurred on as an older woman to take these thoughts captive and try to share them in a coherent way for your encouragement.

Whatever season you find yourself in today, be thankful for it and make the most of it.

beautiful-bloom-blooming-414160If you’re in the spring, plant your habits carefully so that they serve you well through life. Accept yourself & love yourself because God definitely does. Invest your life in the things of God and in people in your life. Love your husband well. Play with your kids and really listen to them. Don’t stress over anything – God’s got this!

“Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,… Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” Isaiah 55:1-3, 6

andaman-sea-beach-beautiful-459252If you’re in the summer of your life enjoy the pleasant pastures in which God has placed you. Put your past behind you and seek Him with your whole heart as He is preparing a new thing for you. Let go of anger, regret, and shame. Confess your sins, make amends where needed, and realize your Father in heaven has truly forgiven you.

“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.” Isaiah 43:18-19

action-bicycle-bike-763398If you’re in a stormy season, hold His hand, trust His great love for you, have faith, and remember that these rains are watering the fertile soil of your life. Learn lessons from scripture: 1) Keep your eyes on Jesus when the waves are high and 2) Your Father is the one who can calm the waves with His voice: Peace be still.

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11

adventure-cold-daylight-416821.jpg

If you’re in the winter of life, I can’t offer help from experience. I have not been there yet. I can say Keep on! Keep on pursuing righteousness! Keep on being an example! Keep on loving others! Keep on running the race! Keep on letting His word offer comfort and challenge! Please keep on, I’m watching you and learning from your example.

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” Jeremiah 16:31

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

leaves-2901684_1280For those of you raking leaves in your life, like I am, it’s not over. It’s time for us to get our second wind. It’s time for us to reach back and give a hand to those coming up the path just behind us. Speak out with the wisdom you have learned. Pray faithfully. Keep learning. Love well. Make it more than ever your goal “To know Him and make Him known.” It’s time to harvest what we have planted and tended for our whole lives.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:7-10

There are so many lessons to learn in each season of life. One little blog article can’t really do this subject justice. But hopefully you’ve been encouraged today. In closing I’ll leave you with a few things Mrs. Joyce taught me through her words and by her actions. Here are just a few that spring to my mind:

  • Be confident in who God made you to be. (I remember her making a “throne” of the chairs for herself to get her seat at the most comfortable position for her.)
  • Be kind. (She was. To everyone.)
  • Offer godly advice or none at all. (She did.)
  • Laugh and enjoy friends and be full of the zest of life. (I’m remembering a women’s retreat to Knoxville when she teased our high school daughters telling them they ought to get a tatoo of Beth Moore’s initials! We rolled with laughter!)
  • Study God’s word diligently and share your wisdom with others. (She modeled this constantly.)
  • Love your family wholeheartedly in word and deed. (She adored her family and shared ceaselessly about them. She also made great vegetable soup and shrimp & grits for them and for those of us blessed to eat in her home.)
  • Pray with people God brings into your day. (This she did for me.)
  • Prayer accomplishes much, so don’t quit praying for that child you are so worried over. (She taught me this at a crucial time in life.)
  • The one who cooks doesn’t have to clean up! (My favorite!)

Take or leave any of my advice. What you really need to do is go to the Word of God and follow every single word. I loved you greatly Mrs. Joyce. See you in heaven when I get there!

pexels-photo-68564 clouds

(In honor of Mrs. Joyce McCombs.)

Perspective from a Dog’s Eye View

So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:26, 29-31

It was first thing Monday morning 4 weeks into my new routine, birds singing their varied songs somewhere in the treetops just off my back deck, a cool breeze soothing the senses, and Pow! The Father dropped a word picture in my life as He often does if I’m looking with spiritual eyes.

I’d come to this new routine by way of a needy, black fur ball, Poppy, a charming little black Markiesje mix that had attached himself to me over these few weeks. A job out of the country for my daughter necessitated finding him a new home. It only made sense he’d come to live with us; he is our “grand dog” after all.

Poppy has quickly trained me to get up as soon as he dances circles on my bed just after sunrise each morning. He yaps and spins incessantly until I roll out of the covers and start talking to him, at which time he bounds to the floor and spins ever more aggressively as I try to throw on some workout pants and a t-shirt. We head to the kitchen with him following me – because one day he went ahead of me and I got side-tracked with laundry on the way to the kitchen – so now he herds me like a sheepdog to the back door.

IMG_7504Mr. Poppy spins ’round by the back door until I open it. When I let him out, he waits looking back at me impatiently, because in a scant 28 days he’s learned my routine: grab a cup and start the Keurig; gather up my Bible, journal, and pen; put cream and sugar in the freshly brewed coffee; and head out to my morning spot at our intricately designed cast aluminum table on the deck.

This particular day I was perched as usual on our deck high above the ground  facing my neighbor’s back yard. Poppy headed down to do his morning business, romp in the wet grass, chase squirrels, and sniff out and dig up moles. It’s a dog’s life!

Well into my cup of coffee, while notating something in my journal, I vaguely noticed a car engine crank up next door. Immediately Poppy sprang to action. Bark-bark-bark! He would eat up whatever the threat was. He dashed to the fence on that side of the yard, ears alert, scampering back and forth trying to get a better view, alarmed and aggressive to protect his domain. He was on flat ground and could not see what was going on. I, however, was 15 feet up with a totally different perspective on the scene. Having a perfect sight line to my neighbor heading out to work, I summed up the scene casually with no worries, while he remained ever vigilant and ever anxious for the next 5 minutes as the neighbor loaded her car and finally pulled out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Immediately I saw myself and my heavenly Father in this scene.

Earthbound as I am, I cannot not see and decipher certain earthly events correctly. I hear and experience alarming things that ignite a fear response or cause me to be perplexed and to not understand what is going on. I run my fence and yap at the “problem” just like Poppy. But all the time my Father is on His Heavenly “deck” and has a totally different perspective knowing and understanding things I don’t. He realizes this will pass quickly. It’s just a part of life. A higher perspective changes everything.

Psalm 55_22 Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken..pngAs much as I call Poppy and speak in a calming way to him when he’s upset, he still runs and yaps and gets anxious. And I am much that way with my Abba Father. I’m anxious, alert, wondering if He understands that something big is going on over there. Do I need to jump this fence and do something God? Are you not aware? Why are you just sitting there? What if this lasts forever? What am I supposed to do? Aren’t you going to do something, Lord?

Nothing. 

Many times that is my answer, just as it is with my sweet Poppy.

Nothing.

Poppy just needs to relax and keep chasing squirrels and having a good doggie day. And me? I also need to relax, to cast my cares on the Lord and just keep doing the things he gave me to do, being the one he made me to be, and walking faithfully through the unknown.

But that is not what we humans like to do.

We like to yap (complain), run the fence (go through life in a tizzy as we say here in Alabama), rankle our fur and perk up our ears (become obsessed with our issue), become alarmed, bark at people closest to us (out of fear no doubt), and aggressively try to protect our domain. All of these are signs of my lack of faith.

If Poppy could listen and understand my ways, trust them, and believe me to be true to my word to love and care for him, he could relax and not rile himself. As can we. The next time you find yourself in the midst of the Barking Dog Syndrome, turn to your Heavenly Father who is on deck, aware, and has it all in hand. Listen to Him. Seek to understand His ways. Trust Him. Take Him at His word that He loves you. He cares for you. Relax! No need to be riled up.

Cast all your cares on him, because he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7
IMG_7434

 

Labor Day: 7 Lessons on Laboring

According to the “History of Labor Day” at the U.S. Department of Labor website, (and in case you are curious)…

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

A quick search on Bible Gateway reveals several verses about labor. The following is a quick and easy reminder list for Christians to make sure we are looking at labor from Our Creator’s perspective.

1. WORK HARD 
Scripture reminds us to work hard, doing honest work, to provide for ourselves and to be able to share with those truly in need.

Psalm 128:2 – “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it  shall be well with you.”

Ephesians 4:28 – “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

2. LABOR FOR THE LORD
Our Father has plans for us, jobs for us to do. Just as the Israelites built the temple and walls under God’s direction, we each have building projects the Lord has for us to do. Are we also willing to work faithfully despite the opposition?

Nehemiah 4:16-17 “And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.”

As long as we have breath, our Father has a job, a purpose for us here on Earth.

Philippians 1:21-22 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.”

Our main job here on earth is spreading the gospel. We may have “day jobs” but this mission should be the focus of our lives once we come to know Christ.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

3. DON’T LABOR IN VAIN
Labors that are not done according to God’s Word, for His glory, and by the Spirit’s  inspiration are useless. We choose wisely when we let go of earthly distractions and focus on God’s purposes and His leading.

Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

4. WORKERS ARE NEEDED
When we came into a relationship with Christ, that relationship came with a mandate to make disciples as we were going through life. Are we doing this job we were given? Are we praying for others that are working with us? Why then are the laboreres few? If the spread of the Gospel totally depended on you today, then how is the mission going?

Matthew 9:37-38 “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

5. WE EACH HAVE A PART TO PLAY AND WE WON’T ALWAYS SEE THE FINISHED PRODUCT.
As we’ve said, our main labor in life is spreading the Gospel of the love of Jesus to a dying world. We can’t let ourselves get discouraged when we share this message of hope and people reject it. An old song examines the idea that it could take 15 times of someone hearing about Jesus before they come to Him. We would do well to keep this in mind. These scriptures point out clearly that we each have a job to do, but the results lie in the hands of the Father.

John 4:38 “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

6. DON’T GET WEARY.
Laboring is hard. It is time consuming. It is not always fun. Some days it seems like a useless, endless task, as moms of toddlers can testsify – toys never stay picked up, laundry is never done, and spills happen endlessly. But it is worth it. Take this challenge from scripture on the days it is ovewhelming doing what God has called you to do.

Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

7. REST –
This busy society values leisure, but the averge person seldom allows themselves true rest. God rested after His 6 days of creation. Likewise, a sabbath of rest each week is important for each of us, and not just a day off to clean house or catch up on projects, but a time to renew our relationship with Jesus, rest our weary bodies, and focus our priorities. A time to lay those spirtual and emotional burdens down before the Father. This is a necessary life skill to learn as we journey through this world and wait for the true rest Jehovah has for us in our immortal life with Him.

Deuteronomy 5:13-14 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.”

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Revelation 14:13 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’ ”

So this Labor Day let’s commit to working hard, laboring for the Lord, not in vain, but being the worker and praying for more workers, doing our part, not growing weary, and learning to truly rest.

 

The Journey: Detours

A persons’ steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way? Proverbs 20:24

auto-automobile-automotive-244822A few years back, when GPS was still in its infancy and definitely before cars had them built-in, we took a long family trip to upstate New York. Quite a ways from dear ole Birmingham, Alabama. Because we’d be traveling so far and through areas unfamiliar to us, we purchased a GPS for our vehicle.

The morning of the trip, we plugged in our destination with great excitement over both  the trip and the new gadget. We settled in for the long drive and enjoyed the novelty of this gadget telling us to take a left or a right on roads here in town that were quite familiar to us. The kids loved the digitalized female voice of this new technology, and they especially enjoyed hearing her peculiar way of pronouncing words familiar to them.  “Field-stone” road instead of Fieldstown. “At-Tall-a” for Attalla, Alabama. We giggled at the “Make a U-turn” and “Recalculating” comments “she” made if we happened to take a familiar road other than the one the program directed us to take. And it was a good diversion seeing our little arrow progressing on the map; it cut out a lot of the “Are we there yet?” questions.

We managed well with our new tour guide through Tennessee and Kentucky, roads with which we were semi-familiar. But somewhere past the state line of Maryland or through Pennsylvania or New York, things got interesting. We were now in totally foreign territory, relying solely on our newly purchased “friend” for directions.

“In one mile take exit #____.”

What? We had believed we would be on Interstate the whole way until within an hour or so of our destination. After a quick, nervous discussion between mom & dad, we road-closed-2698182_1280hesitantly got off the interstate as directed. We immediately encountered traffic, wove our way on a curvy 2-lane road, got delayed by local road repairs, and an hour or so later, found ourselves getting back on the interstate less than 20 miles from where we’d gotten off! We never knew if the path we took had been the best or not, never determined if there had been a wreck or a road closure, or nothing at all that caused our grand detour. We simply trusted the “expert,” the machine, and as my husband likes to say, “It is what it is.”

But now we were back on track! We’d just be an hour or so later than we’d expected. Excitement was mounting, new scenery, new adventures, and we were almost there. Soon we reached our exit and knew we were within an hour of our “home” for the week.

And then… “Recalculating.” What? Again? We had specific directions sent from the place we were staying, but our “expert” was again challenging the path we were taking. This time we decided to go with the printed directions provided by a human rather than trusting the computer voice. This provided a fun ending for the journey as we watched our car icon on the digital map travel through a field and heard the voice continuously telling us to “Return to the road.” We actually were traveling on a real road, it just hadn’t been loaded into the map’s memory. We needed a system update.

We reached our cabin on the Ausable River before dark and had a glorious, restful week of vacation. We’ll never forget the trip. But what does that story have in it for you?

Spiritual Lessons From the Detour:

God has a good plan for our lives. If we trust that He loves us and will see us through, then we don’t have to fear any detour we take. He is on the detour with us. And might I add, He is much more reliable than my electronic tour guide. So relax! Enjoy the journey!

Don’t get caught up in “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Our trip could have been ruined by the seemingly useless, time-wasting detour, but we will never know how much worse it could have been if we had stayed on the interstate. And so it is with life. We must trust that God allows even the tough stuff in our lives for a reason. We tend to react to inconvenience or negative occurrences with a whiny, pessimistic attitude. The thing is we will never know what we were protected from, prepared for, or relieved of by that detour happening at that inconvenient time. So just let it go!

Trust God’s written directions for life – His Word. “Experts” in this world will try to tell us where they think we should be going. Society at large will proclaim “truths” they have determined we all need to accept. Well meaning friends will question our God-given directives because they don’t understand. But as with my GPS friend’s directions, if these words of advice go against the written directions of The One who really knows (The Bible), we need to ignore them and keep following our Heavenly Father on the new road He has made for us, even when non-Christian logic sees us as wandering in a field.

Follow God’s guidance in familiar territory as well as unfamiliar. We followed closely the words of our GPS on those unfamiliar roads, but often ignored it and chose the street we wanted on paths we regularly traveled. The same happens in our Christian walk. We know our desperate need for God in the unfamiliar, scary times, so we follow Him closely. But in the mundane day-to-day life we sometimes cease to walk in faith and obedience. Our attitude is like, “I got this God. Don’t need you right now. I’ll get back to you and your word when the next crisis hits.”

God’s Detours are worthwhile. While they may include hurdles to overcome, pitfalls to avoid, or tension in our chest as we face the unknown, detours are worth it. We meet new people, see new and exciting things, learn to trust our Creator, grow our faith muscle, and come away from the experience with a wealth of new wisdom we wouldn’t have gotten were it not for taking that detour.

Make a U-turn when necessary. Sometimes we need to take a hard look at the direction we’re heading in life, do a little recalculating, and make a U-turn. That’s a spiritual principle. It’s called repentance.

Remember… You are not alone on this journey. Dont worry. Trust His word. Follow Him daily. Embrace the detours. Let’s trust the real GPS – God’s Positioning System – to get us to where He wants us to be, through all the detours of life. Enjoy the journey!

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9

blur-branches-foliage-38537.jpg

A Community of Sequoias

sequoia-trees-53183_1280

Years ago a family vacation out west landed us in the middle of some of the largest living organisms on this earth, the Giant Sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum. They really are an awe-inspiring marvel of God’s creation. (And yes, I know we over-use the word “awe,” but it is indeed appropriate here in its truly unique sense.) These noble goliaths are the world’s largest single trees with a height of up to 279 feet. That’s about as tall as a football field is long! Just 7 yards short. Not only is their heavenward reach staggering, the bole (trunk) of these massive trees can grow to be thicker than the Great Wall of China is tall, having widths of up to 26 feet. Our whole family of 6 joining hands couldn’t even reach around them. It’s really incomprehensible if you’ve never seen them in real life, kind of like Niagara Falls. Standing beside one of these giants, a phrase from an old song sung by The Regeneration came to my mind: “How small we are, how little we know.” (The line comes from a very profound poem written by Earl Wilson, Jr., which you’ll find printed at the end of this article.)

On our trip, following a short car ride from El Capitan to the Mariposa Grove, we were able to stroll among these 500 or so ancient, towering plants. The kids couldn’t control their exclamations and observations, but neither could mom and dad. We read all the plaques placed throughout the wooded hillsides which labeled them with specified height-diameter-circumference as well as other pertinent information, historic significance, and often names given to them by park rangers or visitors.

As you might imagine, 500 of these giants took up many acres of land, so we chose to do the suggested guided tour to see more of the area than we were willing to trek through on foot with our kids. The ride was informative as well as beautiful, not to mention scary, as a thunderstorm rolled through while we were on the tour, but that’s a story for another day. We learned so many more things from the studied tour guide than we had picked up by viewing exhibits and reading signs. The most powerful and memorable fact for me had to do with the sequoias’ roots.

redwood-1798176_1280

Adults all realize the purpose of roots for all plants is to take in water and minerals from the soil. We understand that the roots anchor the tree in storms, and the Giant Sequoias’ roots are no exception. There are some amazing differences in the roots of these gargantuan trees that set them apart from most other trees. They have relatively shallow roots for their size, averaging only 5 feet in-depth underground. The roots are also far-reaching, commonly extending 100 feet from the bole and covering as much as 1-4 acres! Shocking, I know. Especially when you are standing among them or looking at pictures of a grove of these redwoods. The eye observes and the mind contemplates their proximity to one another and instinctively realizes that the individual trees do not stand an acre apart. So what’s going on?

Roots of these massive plant creatures intertwine. Underneath the soil each Giant Sequoia’s roots lengthen and spread and weave their way among other roots branching out and intertwining. Each individual tree’s roots may spread and intertwine with many other individual’s roots spreading out through their plot of growth. They form a subterranean network.

Even more amazing is a natural process they go through called “root grafting.” In root grafting these tangled roots rub against each other, their root bark rubs off, and over time the roots grow and fuse together offering stability in the winds and a sharing of primary resources and secondary compounds produced by the trees themselves. They become interdependent, helping one another out.

As our tour guide gave us his rehearsed description and explanation of the roots of these sequoias, I was overcome with excitement. My mind immediately went to community. To not just this grove of trees, this community, but to community within the body of Christ.

community - a group of organisms orliving and interacting with one another in a particualr environment. The organisms in a community affect each other's abundance, distribution, and adaptation.pngWe toss the word community around these days in an off-hand way. It’s a buzzword for this generation. We’ve trivialized it to the point it’s just a grandiose word for your group of friends, those you hang out and socialize with. We want to be a part of the forest and still be our own individual tree. We want to be accepted and included and involved (when we’re not too busy!), but we don’t want the responsibility of reciprocating that acceptance and inclusion and involvement in the lives and problems of others. We sacrifice relationships and the community that is built when we screen our calls to avoid that difficult encounter or manipulate a social setting to our liking.

But Biblical community calls us to much more. Biblical community is very much like a stand of Giant Sequoias. In Biblical community we are each individuals, but our roots are linked and intertwined by choice. We grow together through the mundane, the devastation, and the wearying, as well as through the joys, triumphs, and successes. We are each growing and using our own roots, but we’re there to sustain, strengthen and hold up our fellows in community during the blustery storms that threaten us. We affect each other. We distribute to those within the community so that needs are met. We help one another adapt and learn and become a stronger tree. The concept of Biblical community is woven throughout the Apostle Paul’s writings, but is summed up nicely in the following verses:

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. Philippians 2:3-4

Biblical community involves looking out for the interests of others. Helping stabilize them when the storms come by praying, encouraging, serving, coming alongside them. Sharing resources from my root to yours and yours to mine, mentoring, tutoring, feeding, financing, hugging, teaching, carrying, loving.

We are small. We are interdependent. We long to be the mighty Sequoiadendron giganteum of the world who stand strong, intertwined, sharing roots and resources, pointing men to God!

 

giant-sequoia-grove-near-auburn-804575_1280.jpg

 

How Small We Are How Little We Know

We laugh, we cry,
We live, we die,
and when we’re gone, the world goes on.
We love, we hate, we learn too late,
How small we are, how little we know.

We hear, we touch, we talk too much,
of things we have no knowledge of.
We see, we feel,
yet can’t conceal,
How small we are, how little we know.

See how the time moves swiftly by,
We don’t know how, we don’t know why.

We reach so high, and fall so low,
The more we learn, the less we know.

Too soon the time to go will come,
Too late the will to carry on,
And so we leave too much undone,
How small we are how little we know.

~ Earl Wilson, Jr. ~