Seeing Through the Obstacles

A lake retreat brings God’s lessons.

The house was beautiful. Decorated like those in a magazine with the latest touches from the Pinterest boards. Plenty of bedrooms, windows overlooking the lake, and a dock perfect for jumping off of into the refreshing waters. But my favorite part was the huge deck that stretched the length of the back of the house. And being a writer, my favorite place on that deck was at the charming wrought iron bistro table with my back to the windows, my Apple in front of me, and a panoramic view of the deep green waters. There, each day, I spread out God’s word and my journal and leisurely visited with my Abba.

Almost immediately there was a fly in my ointment so to speak. (But even those flies carry lessons!)

My table, appropriately located in a cozy nook beside the door and just outside the kitchen window, had one drawback. A large red oak had, years ago as a little acorn, made his home about 8 feet from me, directly in front of my favorite chair looking off the deck toward the lake. Now he was a big old boy, probably 2 feet in diameter, that blocked a large chunk of my lake view. With the door and porch railing hemming me in, there was really no place to move the table that would make a big difference. Adirondack chairs had their place on the other side of the door, so it was my opportunity to enjoy the blessing in spite of an imperfection.

As I sat watching my kids jumping off the pier that second afternoon, leaning this way and that to see them well around the tree as they floated off on tubes this way, or kayaked around that way, enlightenment came. God did what He so often does with me, He made a lesson out of the mundane and the annoying.

As I stood up and moved toward the railing to call to them for some reason, I realized a truth: the closer I was to that obstacle (the tree) the more of my view it blocked. And the antithesis of that: the further I drew away from the obstacle, the more clear my view was of the reality around me.

My spirit stirred. I suddenly was aware of the spiritual ramifications of this lesson from the physical world. We humans frequently have obstacles come into our lives. Whether it is the relatively minor getting a head cold the day you have a big presentation at work, a larger obstacle like having your taxes audited, or a really huge life issue such as a serious illness or tragedy. We tend to see these obstacles as material, physical world problems, but they greatly impact our spiritual walk.

As we face the larger obstacles, we become just like I was with my tree. We are consumed with the big thing in front of us, and not with the rest of God’s plan being carried out beyond that. We can sit in a ladies Bible study, so inwardly focused that we miss tuning in to God’s great plan going on around us. We can stay cooped up in our homes staring at that “tree” of grief in front of us and not be aware of the beauty of the “lake” just beyond us. We may verbally gripe so much about our current obstacle tree, that the only words that escape our lips are negative, bitter, sour words of disappointment and fear. And we may even hide behind our obstacle tree, because we are so used to that ongoing obstacle in our lives, it becomes easier just to live hidden behind it than to make the effort to reach out to the world beyond, despite our obstacle.

So what’s a girl to do? We all have problems.

First, get some distance on that tree whenever possible. When you are staring down that problem a foot away from you every day, it looms huge in your line of vision blocking the majority of what you see. Granted, we have huge obstacles crop up, but we don’t have to give them the central place in our lives and cozy up to them. Just as when I stepped back on the porch I could see more of the lake, when we step back from those obstructions we see more of the world beyond our difficult situation. A rebellious teen in the house? Accept the husband’s offer of a get-away. Finished that chemo and waiting on results of scans? A family celebration or second honeymoon trip might be a good choice. Your best friend is in financial crisis? Offer them your home free for the weekend for a romantic vacation while you are on that road trip to visit the in-laws. Find creative ways to give yourself (or others) a bit of distance from those besetting hindrances and the perspective and refreshment that come with distance.

Second, look beyond. God is carrying out a good plan all around us. If you can’t pull away for a while from troubling issues to get some perspective, then refocus your outlook, and start looking at the part of that view beyond that tree that you can see. The world is carrying on around you, and God has a role for you in that world as long as you are breathing – problems or not! Invest your life in God’s plans beyond your problem. When we invest in others, both are blessed.

Third, examine that tree. It’s just a tree. One with dead leaves and bark and ants crawling on it. It may be a 100 foot tall, 2 feet in diameter tree, but it’s still just a tree, a created thing. It’s just an obstacle. Nothing is impossible with God. Because of fear maybe, have we mentally made that obstacle more mighty than the Creator? He is still in control. He is not surprised by that tree being there; He saw that little acorn fall there and plant itself before we ever had an inkling we’d even be in the same neighborhood as that tree, maybe even before we were born. The good news: He has the axe necessary to get rid of that tree!

Fourth, move to one side. Look at your tree from a different angle. Could your parent’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s be a blessing to draw you two to spend time together in their later years? Could your broken heart over that rebellious teen prepare you to minister to other broken hearts you encounter along the way? Could that car wreck bring a hidden blessing? Could this trial be drawing you back to prayer? Obstacles, in some way, have God’s hidden blessing and glory tucked behind them. He is active in your life. So get a different perspective on that tree and see what good God may be bringing along with it.

Fifth, pray in faith for God to chop it down. There’s never harm in asking God to remove obstacles from our lives. Jesus did that the night before He was crucified; ” ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV) That last statement gets us! Are we willing to live with that obstacle always there if God chooses NOT to remove it? He’s got a good plan for us. And He’s got the axe… remember?

IMG_5875And last, see the good in that tree. Count your blessings. My tree has a cheerful little squirrel who chatted with me every day of my vacation and a gorgeous green canopy that shaded me from the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s massive presence reminded me of the strength and stability of the Father, and it’s leaves offered pleasant whispers in the breeze. Your obstacle has hidden blessings too. Maybe it restores a broken relationship, brings a new friend into your life, humbles you, makes you sit still and enjoy the moments more, changes the direction of your child’s life, or causes you to listen and understand new life lessons. God is using it in your life.

So let us not grow so focused on the negative. Yes, bad things happen, but like a diamond, they are many faceted, and may have hidden treasures bound up with them. Are we embracing the spiritual lessons that come our way through the pain? Are we consumed with the Father, or are we consumed with the fear, dread, confusion, doubts, and what ifs of this obstacle? Are we angry or tender-hearted? Let us look with spiritual eyes to really see – to look beyond that obstacle!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

On Nation Under God

Fireworks, watermelon, American flags, cookouts, and patriotic music – these are just some of the things that make up the Fourth of July for many Americans. As we prepare to celebrate, my mind wanders back to those Independence Day celebrations of my formative years….

I recall the warnings to be careful with sparklers and firecrackers and the cold refreshment of hand-cranked homemade ice cream at the end of a sweltering July day in Alabama. I also vividly remember as a kid the first time I heard the joke “Do they have a 4th of July in England?” After thinking No, of course not, and then Why would England celebrate our independence from them; I finally realized Oh yeah, July 4th is just a date on the calendar. (I’m slow. I know.) That little moment woke me up to the rest of the world. Suddenly, I was a child of the world, not just an American. In a similar way, we as Christians in America need to wake up to the world.

As an elementary school kid, patriotism and love for our “dear ole USA” was encouraged. And as a Christian, honoring and respecting our country and its laws went hand in hand with the godly values taught. Prayers were said at school (back then) and the pledge of allegiance to the country was recited at the church Vacation Bible Schools. It was all meshed together in my mind – the whole “being an American and being a Christian” thing. Somehow faith and nationalism became mixed in the minds of many. And now we find ourselves as adult Christians who serve up Western culture right along with Christianity at times.

This Independence Day as we ooh and aah over fireworks displays set to our favorite patriotic tunes, let’s plan to do some self-evaluation.

  • Let’s separate those expectations based on American traditions from expectations based on the mandates of Scripture.
  • Let’s realize that respecting our country is good, but honoring God is best.
  • Let’s be more concerned over the fact that the people we encounter each day are lost souls rather than that they are Democrats or Republicans – foes or friends it seems these days.
  • Let’s exercise our freedom to pray and speak about Christ more than we lament how we feel those freedoms are being threatened.
  • Let’s fight against those inner tendencies to buy into the American dream more than we sell out to Christ.
  • Let’s respect all nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues, and develop a hunger to pray for them, relate to them, love them with the love of Christ, and reach them with the Gospel.
  • Let’s treat every man, woman, and child we meet – no matter where they come from, what they look like, how they are dressed, what color their skin is, or how much the media tells us to fear them – as they truly are: men, women, and children Christ gave His life to save.

Enjoy celebrating America’s birth! Examine your perspectives. Let’s live out Scripture even when our walk is oddly out of sync with American culture. And take some time this holiday to demonstrate Christ’s love to all the folks you encounter at the fireworks display!

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A Story of Mercy: The Six Licks

When the kids were little, my husband and I decided early on that a spat on their bottom was acceptable for us. (Please don’t judge!) We came to consensus on some basic rules to make sure we treated the kids well. Rule 1: Never spank in anger; cool down before you administer any punishment. Rule 2: Always spat on the padded bottom – plenty of fatty tissue, clothes, and diapers! And Rule 3: Never more than 3 swats at a time. We loved our children and wanted to discipline them without hurting them.

But this is NOT a blog about corporal punishment. 

This is the story of a simple, ordinary spring morning. But that day the usual routine of motherhood took a turn that would bring tears, create a memory for years to come, and teach a precious spiritual truth.

The setting. The third bedroom/nursery of our home. This was the “school room” for our three oldest children and lessons were churning away slowly as I held baby number four and worked with the younger children on their lessons. As I turned to check on the eldest, bliss was shattered. What his particular infringement of the day was is lost to me in the shadows of my memory, but I do know it was important enough that it warranted a, “That’s one lick. You know better. Now get back to your school work on your own until I finish with the girls.” Most days this would’ve been enough and school would have continued on peacefully. This particular day, it was just the beginning.

As I got up to change a diaper and my presence was removed from the vicinity, more chaos ensued. My return and awareness of the childish disobedience going on necessitated the promise of more licks “as soon as I get through taking care of the baby.” But this was still not the end.

Over the next half hour, after a string of other misbehavior, including being aggressive and mean toward his sisters, my firstborn had accumulated a total of 6 promised licks! Six! What would I do?!

While I finished nursing the baby and listening to the reading of the girls, my mind raced trying to figure out how I would handle this. I don’t give more than three licks! Why had I kept promising more? I was so busy with the other three children the situation had snowballed on me. I couldn’t break my word. But I couldn’t give 6 licks either! I had to exercise consistency. I had to teach that I kept my word and that actions have consequences you can’t worm out of, while still maintaining my own convictions that protected my children.

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’ ” Zechariah 7:9

The girls’ lessons were finally finished and the baby put to sleep. As I called my son to lunch, I knew the punishment had to happen right then. So I flung an emergency prayer up to heaven, “Lord, help me know what to do! I’ve gotten myself in a fix.” Should I overlook his mistakes? Punish his mistakes? How could I love this little sinner without endorsing his sin? Because endorsed sin becomes repeated sin.

My son walked into the room, and I sat down before him eye to eye to talk about what he had done before I gave him a spanking. As I took his little hand and gazed into his eyes, the answer to my prayer came – a God inspiration at that very moment! I reminded my child of what he had done wrong and why it was wrong. I told him he deserved punishment, and that I was going to have to give him 6 licks today even though my rule was only 3 licks. He looked at me a bit puzzled. Then I took his hand and began to actually lick his hand with my tongue, counting “One – two…”

black-hair-girl-showing-tongue-13316972I didn’t get any farther before the wails started. You would’ve thought I was physically beating him. He squirmed and cried and begged, “Noooo, Mommy! Don’t lick me!” I managed to give him all six licks, just like I was enjoying a Tootsie Pop, even amid the squirms and tears. When it was over he ran to his room crying as if his heart was broken.

Just recently I asked him if he remembered that event, and his response was a hearty, “Oh yes!” even as a 30-year-old. It was a lesson that stuck, with him and with me.

The lesson I saw in it was a lesson of God’s mercy.

When we sin, we put God in the same position I was in as a mom. I was trapped between owing my son justice, but loving him so much I desired to offer mercy – having to uphold the truth I had spoken, but desiring to show kindness to my beloved little one. And ladies, is that not a glimpse of how God is with us?

God was faced with two equally unappealing options – to be just or be merciful. Be true to His word or be kind. Overlook or punish our sin. How could He redeem the sinner without endorsing the sin? And just like He inspired me to do, God also found a third option, a way around the problem, and it is called The Cross of Christ. By placing the punishment we deserved on the shoulders of His own son, He could obtain justice and still show us mercy at the same time.

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:3-7

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Colossians 1:21-22.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

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“He paid a debt He did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”

Being

Who of you is a night owl? A choc-o-holic? A shoe girl? Who’s a worrier? Flamboyant?Easy-going? I can almost see some of you waving your hand and calling out “I am.”

I am.

The shortest phrase in the English language.

It only has 3 letters – I – A – M. Yet it carries great meaning. It shows existence. It allows us to define who we are and what we’re feeling. And Yahweh, the Almighty God, claims it as His name.

We relate people’s characteristics to their name. Maybe you have a name that you adore because you loved a person who had that name, and their characteristics will forever be attached to that name for you. Or just the opposite, maybe you swore you’d never name your son a certain name because a guy with that name was a jerk to you.

In the Bible we frequently see this concept of a name representing a person’s character. The names of the people exhibited their nature. Think about it Jacob – the deceiver, Jabez – pain, and Abraham – father of many. And while we may not name a daughter Rahab, we look upon that name kindly because she helped the Israelites, stood up for her family, and was in the lineage of Jesus.

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In Exodus 3:13-14 God reveals His name to Moses as “hayah,” a Hebrew word which literally means “I AM” or “to be” or “the self-existent One”  From this Hebrew word we get God’s Old Testament name, Yahweh. The letters “YHWH” with no vowels. This is referred to as the Tetragrammaton (tetra meaning “four” and gramma meaning “letter”.   Simply – “the four letters.” The Jews wrote God’s name this way because they considered it too holy to be uttered or to be written out entirely. This Tetragrammaton for God’s name is what is translated in scripture as Yahweh or Jehovah, and is written in our current translations as “LORD.”

This is NOT a name people chose to call God. This is THE NAME Father God called Himself. Father God could have revealed Himself to us in any way He chose and could have given Himself any name He wished. Therefore it is significant that He chose to tell us His name was I AM.

He was showing His eternality by stating His name as “I am” – the self-existent One. He is always I AM. He is not here today and gone tomorrow. He is not “I was, but am no more.” And He’s not “I will be, but not right now.” Every moment is now to Him. He is the creator of time, so He is outside of time. “He is” in every moment. That’s why He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) God is dependable.

Why would He choose this for His name?! If I were Him I would have named myself “Creator of All” or “ Mighty King” or “ Ruler of the Universe.” I would be saying “look what I’ve done!” But He was interested in revealing His character NOT His actions. b0b1e9e459f6d3d80df018e153c9ec6cHere in Exodus 3, He is making Himself known to us by who/what He IS rather than what He DOES. He is defining Himself for us with a “being verb” not an “action verb.” Now I’m a teacher. And I love English. So I really get into this. Action verbs show action. Duh? Words like run, play, create, read, serve, pray, witness… Whereas “being” verbs are words that relate what something is. There are 8 of them: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. And by using this kind of verb He is identifying Himself as He hopes we will identify ourselves. By who we are more than by what we do. That’s what He wants from us. He wants us to “be” His, to “be”-come more like Him internally.

So… How about us? Do we define ourselves by what we do or by who we are? Are we evaluating our Christian walk using action verbs or being verbs?

We all know that there is action/work/doing necessary in the Christian walk. We are told in James 1:22 – “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” In other words, if we go to church to hear all great sermons, but we don’t start applying the lessons to how we live our life, we are deceiving ourselves. Our Christian faith involves action: ministry, serving, self-control. When we truly follow Christ we will be doing things. We will be busy. Our time is not our own, it is His and we must consult Him with how we use it.

BUT…

pen-calendar-to-do-checklist.jpgThe “Be”-ing should come before the “Do”-ing. Look at James 1:22 again. It says we are to “BE doers of the word.” Many of us sacrifice time alone being with the Lord in a quiet time and becoming who He wants us to become in order to do, do, do. We read this verse and believe God wants us to “be a doer.”  We teach, take meals, sing, act, study, perform,… all the while being stagnant in spiritual growth.

But now read James 1:22 and let the Lord stop us on the first word. “Be…” Be. Period. Realize, the “Be” comes before the ”do” in that sentence. To me this verse, that is a command for us, insinuates that I have first sat and heard or “been” with the Father. And then I become a doer. It presents to us a 1st thing (hearing and being) and a 2nd thing (doing). That was His plan for us. We are “to be” before we are “to do.”

From the first time God tells us His name in the OT, He introduces Himself by what His nature IS, and NOT by what He has done or can do. Now all through scripture we see God called by names that emphasize what He does, but here in Exodus 3:14 God simply called Himself “I AM.”

While the Christina life involves both being and doing, I encourage you to let the Great I AM release you from doing and draw you to just BE. Be immersed in His Word and prayer. Be with Him. Be holy. Be ready. Be yourself. Be all He made you to be. Be all that you can be. Be like Him, then the doing will come.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only – James 1:22  

Message to a Young Mom

Today my mind is on life, work, and purpose. As a semi-retired, stay-at-home wife right now, I wonder, Am I contributing to the world? What is my purpose? What do I have to offer? Am I where I need to be? Am I doing what the Lord wants me to do?

So today I write to you, the Me of 20-30 years ago, to encourage you. You are in a similar, yet totally different, situation right now, but you are having some of those same type5319000-pile-of-dirty-clothes-for-the-wash-stock-photo questions. The constant stream of laundry – Mt. Never-Rest, as my friend Susan calls it – is a major feat to be accomplished in any given week. Rocking babies, clearing the toys away, rushing to t-ball or gymnastics or whatever, cleaning house, and the constant cooking and dish-washing go hand in hand with the laundry to use up many of the hours in your day. Been there. Done that.

As a young mom with your hands full of babies and dirty diapers and a messy house, you may wonder How am I really contributing to the world right now? You know your husband and children need you, but that seems like such a small thing. Comparing that to working to save the lives of critically ill people or living in a mud hut in central Africa ministering to an unreached people group or keeping a huge corporation running as you click around in your high heals meeting pressing needs and brushing shoulders with other important people or teaching and training the next generation’s leaders, your life may seem simplistic and full of repetitive busy tasks that have to keep being done over and over with no apparent progress made. After all laundry and dishes and the house just get dirty again, and cooking and bathing and dressing have to be performed over and over each day.

baby-child-kid-girl-161593If you are at that stage of life where spit-up on your shirt, puffy eyes from little sleep, and day old ponytail hair seem to be the hallmark of motherhood, take heart! It won’t always be this way, In fact, these days pass much too quickly, taking their joys and wonder away with them. But what do you do in the meantime, in this phase of life where purpose and meaning can feel lost or we can feel insignificant?

Well, dearest Me, let me offer some thoughts for perspective – things I wish I had been told or was told, but didn’t allow myself to believe when my babies were young.

  1. Cleaning and scrubbing really CAN wait til tomorrow!

I had this little poem by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton posted in my children’s nursery, but I couldn’t allow myself to fully believe it:

“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait til tomorrow,
For babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow,
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,

I’m rocking my babies, and babies won’t keep!”

A former pastor’s wife used to say, “The days are long but the years are short.” And now that my “babies” are 30, 27, 24, and about to turn 20 years old, I realize how right she was. Where did the time go? When I call my grandson by his daddy’s name, it’s not because I’m old and senile, it’s because my mind can’t grasp that my baby is old enough to have his own baby. I remember the day that I realized I wasn’t a young mother any more. It shocked me! I thought, “How did I get to this point? I was so busy doing all my required duties as a young mom and suddenly I’m out of a job!”

So if I could go back in time, I’d tell Younger Me – Savor the moments! Welcome the distractions! Sit down and play. Hug and love on those little ones. One day you will wish you could again. Supper burns – oops! Laundry is piled high – who cares. You eat PB&J sandwiches again – so what! Your house isn’t a Southern Living showcase – there’s another season for that. In years to come, what your heart will rejoice over or regret is the hugs, kisses, moments of joy, and memories made with your family – or the lack of those.

2. Image doesn’t matter. Who you really ARE does.

But as a Mom of littles, society sends us a different message. We get this message from society at large as well as from well-meaning friends, parents, husbands, or from media, movies, and magazines full of pictures of perfect houses, gourmet meals, and beautiful people.  Satan shouts lies to us through posts on social media. Over and over we hear “You’re not enough, you don’t measure up.”

When we get caught up in how we appear to others, we lose sight of those little hearts being formed under our command. In other words, the more we look at things through the world’s glasses, the less we truly see our lives as they really are. We’re in a rush, so we don’t see with compassion those sad eyes full of tears; we see them with annoyance. We greedily look forward to those “free” moments where we can escape to TV or friends or Instagram or even alcohol, possessively guarding them because we tire of being self-sacrificing. And we waste our time trying to live up to some vague standards, rather than investing our time in the eternal work of loving, guiding, teaching and nurturing these tiny souls.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

3. Take time to renew.

We moms are a paradox. For all our whining, wanting OUR time and being irritated that we are in constant demand, we will turn around and label ourself “selfish” for taking some alone time to renew and do what’s truly good for us. That’s crazy! Jesus, with all he had to do on earth, took time to be alone. So plan for those essential personal moments to exercise, nap, be with your husband, go on a date, read God’s word, think, grow, and refresh your spirits.

4. Time with the Lord in His Word and prayer are essential.

What we really need… is time alone with the Lord to bathe in His love, see ourselves clearly, get correction from His Word, have our worldview aligned with scripture, grow as Jesus did – “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) and to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” (Romans 12:2) Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “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.” And James 5:16 reminds us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We see that scripture is useful and prayer is powerful and effective. instagram-cell-phone-tablet-device-163148Those are the worthwhile things to invest our time in that have eternal consequences. In the down moments you have between the demands of motherhood, do you reach for God’s Word or for the smart phone?

5. Being a mom is not a small thing! You ARE contributing to the world!

Raising kids is a thing of great importance. Just glancing around at the selfishness and lawlessness of our world a person can readily see the significance of raising kids full of godly wisdom and character. Training children can be tedious. It is repetitious. A mom doesn’t always see any fruit of her efforts. But you are doing a job that will bear fruit for generations to come and one that will bear far greater dividends than any Fortune 500 CEO could ever hope to achieve.

Will your child be an average responsible citizen, a rebel, or the next Billy Graham, who knows? Only God. But Sweet Mother, you DO have a purpose! To follow God faithfully and seek Him every minute of every day. You DO have something to offer! Little Mommy, you give every ounce of yourself every day for those you love. You are right where God wants you! Don’t let Satan cause you to doubt. You are doing EXACTLY what the Lord wants you to! He gave you those little charges to love and to teach and to cherish.

Now you’ve been told. Believe it!

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Colossians 3:23 

He is God (And I Am Not!)

A phone call with my sisters-in-law over some issue of family life often gets dramatic and opinionated. But at some point in any given phone call, you’re likely to hear one of us say, “Your omnipotence is showing.”

person-sunglasses-woman-smartphoneThat little phrase sprang out of a similar conversation years ago. One of us (most likely me, I’m the whiner – my sisters-in-law the wise ones) was lamenting over a “creative opportunity” (problem), and explaining what we thought God should do in the situation.

The other person commented that the real issue was a matter of wanting to control the situation. But THAT is God’s job, not ours. We are not omnipotent. He is. In that moment the phrase was born. And boy does it come in handy! We’ve used it dozens of times since then to remind each other that as much as we would like to be omnipotent – having all the power and all the answers of God – we don’t. We are limited and imperfect human beings.

We have a God complex. We like to control things over which we have no power or authority. We’re trying to BE God in those situations. We pridefully put ourselves in the driver’s seat, expect to be in control, and demand it be done our way. And that’s scary! Because this was Satan’s sin – putting Himself equal to God. Pride.

pexels-photo1Each of us has control issues. We think we know best, and if the rest of the world would just listen to us things would be ok. We believe we sit at the control center of our own lives. Occasionally, we will let loose of our grip on the reins of control – after all, we’re generous people – as long as what the people around us do is tolerable to us. But when things begin to rub us wrong, we jerk those reins right out of the hands of our husband, children, friend, whoever dares to have a differing opinion on an important issue. At that point our pride and selfishness and sin nature kick in. We all need someone there to tell us our omnipotence is showing.

Remember the story of Job? He thought he was thinking wisely, until He was brought up short with no answers when the God of the Universe questioned him. In Job 38:4 God asks him, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” And in 38:12 the Father asks, “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, And caused the dawn to know its place?” And then in verse 19 of that chapter God inquires, “Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place?” If we could put ourselves in Job’s place I imagine we’d be trembling a little bit at that point.

God’s questions to Job aren’t really asked to be answered; they are rhetorical, questions used to make a point. These would definitely get a person to think. Me? They remind me how small I am and how little I know. It’s easy for me to feel like I am oh-so-wise when I’m measuring myself against another fallible, sinful human. But when God is showing His knowledge and power, wisdom and dominion, my measurement shrinks to an infinitesimal size! I suddenly become an absolute zero in comparison to Almighty God.

Years ago there was a song that many of our kids learned at Centri-kid camp. It’s called “Absolutely Zero.” The song is a conversation really. At different times, the lines are sung to different people. Hope it comes across clearly.

[To the crowd:]
“You’re absolutely zero when you count on fitting in this earth.You’re absolutely nothing til Jesus gives you worth.

[To God:]
For You are God and I am not, so give me understanding. To know your will and seek your way

[Pointing to those around you:]
For you are God – No you’re not!

[Pointing to God above:]
You are God! Yes you are!

Ladies, we are not the creator of the universe. We are the created. We do not know the best way to handle things, although many times we think we do. We are not Father God, full of perfect love and perfect wisdom. We are not the one who created time, has all power, and knows every thing there is to know in any situation. We are finite creations, limited in our wisdom and our ability to love purely. Limited in knowledge and power.

As we fight that daily struggle with our flesh, from inwardly judging a friend because they chose a path we think is unwise, to wanting to tell our husbands what to do because we know best, to controlling everyone and everything around us, let us check up and put ourselves in our places at times throughout the day. Let’s do some self-examination of the heart.

Many times since I first learned that little song at Centri-kid Camp, it has drifted into my mind to put me in my place. Often I’ve been worshipping in church singing a song with the phrase “You are God” and I’ll immediately think – “And I am not,” and the Father will begin to open up my mind to ways I’m trying to take on His role in my life. I have to repent of that self-sufficiency and controlling attitude.

Humility is hard. Dying to self is hard. Giving up wanting to have our way is hard. But I want to be whole-heartedly His, don’t you?

So let’s give up our faux-omnipotence, repent of that God-complex, and allow Him to have His way! He is God! And I am not!

And He [Jesus] was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25

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Blessed to Be a Blessing!

A friend whose husband had passed away several months ago recently got an amazing blessing. Distant (and well off) family members were looking to invest in property in her area, and they offered to purchase her a home for her retirement years. No cost to her at all! What a blessing! She now has no financial worries for her retirement.

Blessings! Aren’t they great? I imagine you’re like me and the idea of being blessed – period – appeals to you. I love it when people buy me a Christmas gift no matter how large or small it is. I adore it when someone remembers my birthday and blesses me with a visit, a gift, or going out to lunch together. I get a warm feeling inside when I am blessed with any kind of special delivery – cards, flowers, or a surprise UPS box!

However, all of this seems small compared to my friend being blessed by her relative!

But even THAT seems small compared to the thought of being blessed by our Creator – the God of the universe. Now that would be a blessing!

All through scripture we see examples of God blessing people. He blessed them for their obedience. He blessed them for their faith. He blessed them because someone prayed for them. He blessed them because they prayed and requested it of Him. He blessed them because of their heritage – their parents or family line. He blessed them for no reason at all – simply because He chose to.

So my question for you to consider is
What is an appropriate response to a blessing?

Now, if a 4-year-old responds to a birthday gift at his party with, “What? I already have one of these. I don’t want it,” the parents are mortified and realize they haven’t managed to teach that child gratefulness just yet. Not an appropriate response to a blessing. If your dear 90-year-old grandmother responds to your gift to her by putting it away and saving it for later, and then you find it still with the tag on years later, you realize – not an appropriate response to a blessing. But those type of responses are forgiven and understood as errs due to their age.

But what about you? What about me? When I am blessed by my Heavenly Father, do I sometimes act ungratefully? And how about those moments I grumble about what I don’t have rather than appreciate the blessings I do? Do you sometimes put away the blessing that God gave you and never manage to get around to getting it out, using it, sharing it, and blessing others with it? Do we hoard our resources God Has blessed us with? How about times we hoard the Gospel (our greatest blessing) and don’t bother to share it because it’s inconvenient in the moment, or we’re a bit embarrassed, or it’s awkward to know how to start talking to another person, or    (insert your excuse here)   .

In Genesis 12:2 God says to Abram, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” In these words we see one of God’s purposes for blessing. He blesses us in order for us to be a blessing to others. In God’s economy, He blesses us for a reason. God has a trickle down economy. Contrary to popular politics, a trickle down economy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least God’s kind isn’t. He blesses us to bless others. Cause and effect. We benefit. Others benefit. All benefit.

We don’t always see the reason we’ve been blessed. We won’t always know what is going to occur when we in turn bless others. He doesn’t always tell us as He did Abram. When we receive a blessing with open hands we may be a blessing to just one other person, or like Abram, we may be that channel of blessing to a huge group of people. We may never know exactly what will become of it when we bless others. A pastor once explained that it’s like a pipe that God keeps pouring into as long as we keep pouring out the other end and into other people’s lives. Let’s not allow that conduit to get stopped up!

So is your pipe flowing? Are blessings flowing from you to others?

I have seen this pipeline at work many times. Here are a few examples off the top of my head. God blessed a friend at church with financial wisdom that he uses pexels-photo-302544to teach others how to handle their finances wisely. God blessed my sister-in-law with a seminary degree that she uses to bless preschoolers and their parents. He blessed my husband, myself and our children with a run-in with Leukemia which taught our hearts more in one year than I had learned in the 36 years before, and allows us to bless others in similar circumstances with compassion, prayer, and help in their desperate times. He blessed a retired lady I know with time on her hands to go to doctor’s appointments with people and take them meals and be a help in many ways. He blessed my friend Fran with an excellent job and she in turn blesses servers at restaurants with 100% tips. Yes, I said 100%!

What has God blessed you with? And what are you doing with it?

I would challenge you to seek to react to your blessings in a few specific ways.

1) Bless God – Be Grateful. Don’t just take it all in with an attitude. Enjoy. Thank. Be grateful in your heart. Even for the little things. The gas in your tank lasted until payday. Thank you Lord! You got a chance to work on that special project at work you’d hoped for. I’m grateful, Lord! The scholarship came through; you can go back to college. Yes Lord, you are good to me even when I don’t deserve it. Practice the habit of gratefulness and you will find yourself happier in life.

2) Bless Others – Don’t hoard your resources; use what God has blessed you with. Don’t put it on a shelf and save it for a better day. If you have an artistic talent, use it for God’s glory. If you have material resources, spread the material blessings to those who have need. If you have intellectual or writing talents, write Bible lessons or encouraging articles or a book even. If you can sew like my friend Kathy, you give of your free time  making special stitched gifts for breast cancer patients.

3) Bless Others – Don’t ignore opportunities; do good whenever it is within your power, even if it’s inconvenient. Things aren’t nearly as accidental as people believe. A person with a need is a divine appointment. Seek the way the Father would want you to respond. My very mechanical husband has a knack for this; if you’ve ever had car trouble within his range of vision, chances are you have been helped, often to the delay of family plans. But that is not bad. Share the skills with which you’ve been blessed. 

4) Bless Yourself – Don’t focus on what you don’t have; rejoice in your many blessings. It’s too easy to bemoan what you don’t have and wish you did. This negative, cynical mindset keeps our mind off of the things of God. Break this habit. Change this mindset. When you find yourself thinking or speaking “if only” or “poor me” thoughts and words, replace them with a run down of your blessings! Count your blessings name them one by one!

5) Bless Your Heavenly Father and the World – Get past the awkwardness and share the gospel. Your best gift to the Father is obedience. When you are grateful for His blessings to you, let that be a trigger for you to obey Him. Obey His great commission and “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Don’t hold back. Be a blessing.

So this evening, as you are settling in for bed and spending a few moments counting your blessings before the Lord, remember to thank Him. Ask Him to show you how you can use what you’ve been blessed with to bless someone around you. You are blessed to be a blessing!

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You are blessed to be a blessing! Shower it on others!

Will You Face Your Giant with Fear or with Faith?

by Debbie Stovall

Sitting in the waiting room, staring at all the terribly sick people around us, my first thought was, “We don’t belong here.” But we did belong there. That hematologist’s office was just where we belonged. maxresdefaultOver the next few months we would be so grateful to be there to receive answers, healing, and life-saving treatment.

You may have been in that same place. You may have found yourself face-to-face with a life-threatening diagnosis. At that point your emotions are high and you start really evaluating what you believe. It’s not a fun place to be. I would never choose to put myself back there, but I would also never give up that period of our life because of the lessons learned through that journey.

If you are just stepping onto that path you probably feel afraid. You are probably wondering if this will be the end, or if the treatments will cause much pain and discomfort, or why did God allow this? But there are no answers. It is a walk “not by sight” whether you want it to be or not.

But whether it is a walk of faith… now that is your choice.

When my husband was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 1997, all I knew was there was no cure for this blood cancer. I didn’t know if he would live to teach any of our 4 children, then under 11-years-old, to drive. I didn’t know what ramifications it would have for our children or how I could ever live and raise a family without the love of my life and our financial provider. I didn’t even know what a hematologist was until we ended up in that waiting room. It came out of nowhere and I was caught totally flat-footed.

pexels-photo-e1492726890993.jpgI would love to tell you that I handled the physician’s diagnosis that day with faith, totally depending on God, but that wouldn’t be true. My first reaction to this news was fear. I danced with denial, tried to brush off reality, but finally came up against a wall in a hematology office. Cold fear gripped me so much that it was a physical sensation down in the depths of my stomach. I lived for weeks with fear as my constant sidekick. I cried. I prayed desperate prayers. I freaked out to any friend who would listen. I lay awake in the night staring at my sweet husband trying to memorize his face in case he died. I kept going to church regularly, sitting in the back weeping the whole service. But sadly, what I did not do was I did not choose the path of faith right away. Over those months I learned that when we can’t see what lies ahead we have a choice to make: to walk by faith or by fear.

Jesus replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” John 8:26

One morning, alone in my living room, I cried out to God. Literally. I vocally shouted out to God, “Please don’t let my husband die!” At that moment God began to work in my heart. He confronted me with my fears. He made me acknowledge that I didn’t know what was best for my life, but He did; and even if that meant losing my husband, that He, Father God, would be with me every step. He opened my eyes to see the reality that He loved me and cared for me and would be with me through every hard and horrible situation I would face in life. Did I have the faith to grasp onto that and let go of the fear?

1After that day we faced chemo, neutropenic fever, hospital stays, bone marrow biopsies, blood tests, isolation rooms, doctor visits and all the other not-so-fun things that go with cancer treatment. It was a long, tiring, often emotional journey. But we learned what mattered in life and what didn’t. We learned to walk by faith, not fear. We learned how deeply the Father loved us. We learned that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us was our treasure.

“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” – Jesus questioned the disciples on their fear. Their fear was seen as a direct response to their lack of faith. Here’s the whole story:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calmThe men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” John 8:23-27

How often do we find ourselves alone in a storm? Or maybe not totally alone, maybe we’re going through that storm with our family who are also Christians. But among all of us, just like among the 12 disciples, we find we can’t muster up the courage to face it. We’re overwhelmed with fear of death, destruction, and devastation. We feel like we’re drowning. This passage reminds us of how the disciples dealt with their fear: they went to the Lord. “They woke him,” it says. God is not asleep on us, but sometimes we feel so afraid and alone we feel like saying, “Hey Jesus, wake up. Are you there? Do you see what’s happening to me?” And that’s ok. Just like with the disciples, Jesus will get up, ask us why we “of little faith” are so afraid, and will handle the situation. We then find it is suddenly completely calm. We find the “peace that passes understanding” that Philippians 4:6-8 talks about, and awe and amazement of Him overwhelms us!

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It’s now been 20 years since our leukemia journey started. Randy is still alive, and yes, he taught all our kids to drive! We still face the yearly blood test to see if his numbers are good. We hold our breath for a few days. And his segs and bands come out normal again. (Praise the Lord for being average!)  I know not everyone gets those results and I’m grateful we have. But even if we hadn’t, God would still be good and still be in control. I’m grateful that we learned to walk with God the Father through every valley. (And we have faced several serious valley’s since 1997.) What we went through with leukemia is the thing that built our foundation in Christ and gives us the will to walk by faith not fear when we can’t walk by sight.

As you face your giant, whatever it is that is in front of you igniting that fear reaction, pause and take time to think. It is your choice whether you fight that giant everyday. But it is a wearisome battle. You cannot know the future. But you can know the God who will get you through it. His Word will reveal Him to you. He is loving. He is caring. He is faithful. He forgives you. He will fight for you. He is on your side. He has plans for your life. Though bad things come, He has no intention of harm to you, but rather works things out for your good. And so you have two choices, A) to walk this unknown path with fear gnawing away at you every day, or B) to walk this unknown path with faith in this One who is a good, good Father. You don’t have to fight that giant; have faith in the One who fights for you!

Will you walk by Faith or Fear?

Bent But Not Broken

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Have you ever seen trees after a hurricane has hit?

Many years ago we lived in Mobile, AL, when Hurricane Elena came through. Upon returning home after the storm had passed we found pine trees the diameter of man’s bicep were bent over at a 45 degree angle! Not uprooted, but bent. This sight was rather shocking for me, a novice to hurricanes. Shocking because they didn’t break – they bent!

You may remember a research project called Biosphere 2 where scientists built a contained small-scale environment to study ecological processes. bio2Within the oversized greenhouse, conditions mimicked those of earth. One unanticipated thing researchers found was that the lack of wind within the enclosure had a negative effect on trees. Trees in the biosphere couldn’t reach maturity because of the lack of wind! If trees didn’t have wind, they wouldn’t develop the inner strength of the wood to grow to maturity. While we think of hurricanes, tornadoes, and violent winds as destructive things, wind can also be very important in the life of a tree. There are several ways wind helps trees.

First, wind causes trees to grow “stress wood” or “flexure wood” that is of a different make up than what is grown under non-windy, non-stressful conditions. This stress wood developed in the smaller winds of life help the trees to withstand the force when a major storm comes through. This stress wood grows only in certain areas, it grows thicker, and it has different cell structure. The mechanical properties of this “reaction” wood is different because its purpose is to resist bending or failure in the wood in order to protect the tree from breakage. That flexure wood allows the tree’s branches to bend and sway in ever more violent winds as the tree grows and develops through each stressful wind situation. This “scarring” from stressful events protects the tree from losing branches or breaking in two.

Contrary to what I would have thought, trees growing in dense forests tend to be more susceptible to wind, wA004_C006_0824N5hereas a single tree growing in the open tends to be most apt to withstand winds. Most likely this is because the forest trees are sheltered from the force of  winds and therefore never have the bending in the everyday blowing winds that cause the growth of stress wood. Thus, these sheltered trees are not strengthened to withstand the  winds that will come when the trees around them fall or are removed.

Another benefit of wind on trees is seen in their roots. Root systems of trees tend to develop more mass on the opposite side of the tree from persistent prevailing winds. This makes the tree less apt to be blown down. I’m not a scientist here, but it makes sense that they would plant their foundation firmly to “lean into the wind.” They have to dig down deep to weather the storms they face.

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Just like those trees weathering the storm, we humans face winds of adversity in our lives. Wind strengthens a tree and helps it to mature and not fall down from its own weight. Adversity strengthens us too when we face it with the Father and allow Him to mature us through the storms we face. If there’s no wind the trees end up being much weaker and aren’t able to survive for long. Likewise, the strength of our faith grows with every squall we weather with the Father. Stress is what makes a tree strong enough to sustain the wear and tear that it will face later in life. And so it is with us. When we face stresses, we are prepared for what comes next. So what should be our response to the tempests of life?

When the winds come, allow them to develop your inner strength.

1) Let that wind of adversity cause you to cling to the Father like those roots of the tree clinging desperately to the rock below the ground. Let Abba God be your foundation. Wrap your roots tightly around Him no matter what comes. Then you can lean into the wind and weather the storm, possibly being bent, but never destroyed or uprooted.

2) Don’t run to other people in the stormy times, run to the Word of God for insight and answers. Be that lone tree in the field. Let those winds blow and strengthen you as you immerse yourself more and more in His words and His wisdom and His ways. Let the lessons and the love from scripture teach you, heal you, and prepare you to stand on your own rather than sheltering yourself within a forest of other trees that may not be there when the next storm comes.

3) Allow the force of that raging storm to cause you to bend and hit your knees in prayer. It may feel like you’re going to break, but we don’t trust our feelings. We trust the One who created us to bring us through unbroken and still standing however bent and humbled we may be. Prayer is key. Honest, open, humbled, broken, crying, singing, complaining, begging, asking “Why?” – we pray.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house [or planted his tree] on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

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He Is Risen Indeed!

3072b55082eae3f90ff3cd4ced1d615dMay you have a blessed Resurrection Day! Enjoy your loved ones. Spread God’s gospel of grace and hope. Focus on the great sacrifice Christ made because of His love for you and the redemption offered by Father God in giving His son for our sins.

Blessings! ~ The Priceless Team