Running This Race of Life

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

A recent podcast by author and speaker Andy Andrews told the story of a long jumper named Bob Beamon. According to Andrews, Bob Beamon was just an average long jumper, as far as world champion competitors are concerned at least. In the 1968  Olympics, held in Mexico City, Beamon broke the Olympic and World records by – get this – almost 2 feet! Twenty-one and two-thirds inches to be exact!

Can you even imagine? Olympic records are broken by fractions of seconds or inches, not by feet! How did this young athlete break the record by such an extreme?

As the story goes, a fellow competitor and world record holder, who usually out-jumped Beamon, came up and whispered an encouragement in Bob’s ear just before he started the run to jump. He said, “Give ’em 2 inches on the front…take 2 feet when you land.” And Bob did just that!

Often in our lives we face challenges. Not insurmountable challenges, but challenges that  overwhelm us and leave us feeling defeated. Perhaps we can learn something from this record-breaking athlete.

1. Prepare as if it all depends on you. Olympic athletes train diligently for months and years. Are we living our life as if we are in training for the purpose for which God has put us here? Are you growing in the Word, in faith, in prayer, in service to God and men, in love? Are you growing in your talents, skills, and field of expertise?

2. Live fully. Immerse yourself in this race of life. Bob was in the race. He competed with varying degrees of success. Today we often view challenges as win or lose. I’ve heard kids’ coaches say “second place is first loser.” But that’s a lie. Second place to Bob Beamon in that Olympic event could have broken a previous world record; Bob just broke it by more. We must quit viewing life’s challenges as “all-or-nothing” and should instead take the advice of Hebrews 12:1-4:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.

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We must choose to run this race with purpose and endurance without giving up.

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3. Listen to uplifting words. Surround yourself with people who speak God’s Word and grace and truth into your life. We must choose not to listen to the negativity and ill-will  of the worldly society, nor even the pessimism and humanistic tendencies of well-meaning church friends. The words spoken into Bob’s ears spurred him to go beyond what he had ever dreamed possible. That is what God’s words of truth and grace do to our hearts.

4. Run the race believing that you can do it. We are capable of so much more than we believe we are. But we have an enemy that whispers lies into our ears. He tells us we are failures, that our desperate situation will never change, that we have sinned too much, that we’re dreaming too big, or, more subtly, he tells us just to give up, it’s useless. But I say – Believe God! He has a plan for you; it will succeed. For with God nothing is impossible! (Matthew 19:26)

Bob_Beamon_1968bThis week as you face the “im”possibilities of life, take a moment to recall Bob Beamon. If no one is around to speak those words of encouragement to you – speak them to yourself! Do as the psalmist David did – encourage yourself. Speak scripture to yourself. Play praise and worship music. Tell yourself the truth of God, don’t repeat the lies of the enemy even in your mind.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:11

 

Check out pictures of Bob’s famous jump here.

 

 

 

What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Part 2

Today, as we continue our look at the hopes and reality of a Christian marriage, prompted by a look at the married couple in the movie Overcomer, we have a singular focus:

Prayer.

One really sweet thing about the movie Overcomer is how it portrays the couple praying together. We see them as people who pray for their own heart and for each other, but also as intercessors for others God brings into their lives. The example set by the movie in this regard is both encouraging and a realisitic example of how to live – if a couple takes the personal initiative and follows the prompting of the Spirit to live this way.

Prayer is a paradox. It is at once an elementary thing, simply talking to God, yet, at the same time it can feel extremely complicated. Any 3-year-old can offer a genuine prayer on behalf of one they love, while we mature, educated, Christian adults often stammer and stall when trying to voice a prayer. At some point in our life, most of us have dreaded praying out loud, probably because of a fear that others listening will think we’re not doing it correctly. But even in our personal prayer life, in those unspoken heart prayers, we may struggle. We may feel at a loss for what to even pray. Our desperation, fear, and need may leave us without words. We may grow weary and give up while waiting for the Father’s timing of His answer. We may pray words in doubt and worry, rather than in faith. We may feel as I’ve often heard others express, that “my prayers didn’t seem to be getting past the ceiling.” The good thing is that they don’t have to get past the ceiling! God is not “up there.” His Holy Spirit is in your heart. He hears.

In the early years of my marriage I felt awkward praying out loud with my husband. I’d been raised a Christian, but prayer had always been private. I struggled to know how to open up to that deep intimacy with God and my husband together. I guess I worried that my husband would see the real, sinful, selfish me if he heard my earnest prayers to the Father, because folks I just get real and talk with God. None of the thees and thous and have-your-own-ways. I just talk like it is my real, fleshly daddy I’m talking to. I have been known to ask God to straighten that person out, to tell the Father how mad I am at someone, or even to gripe about my disappointments with my husband! Not the kind of talk that I wanted my young love to hear. Therefore, I would typically allow him as “the spiritual leader” – at least that was my excuse – to pray first and then I would rubber stamp it with a “me too Lord” kind of prayer.

But through the years as my husband has gotten to know the real me and not just the facade I put up so he would want to marry me, I have opened up in praying aloud with him. And what a blessing it is! He hears my heart’s desire poured out to the Father and joins me in agreement. He is strengthened by hearing what I pray for him as he heads out to work or faces a tough decision or struggles with change. I’ve learned to pray for him just like I pray for myself, and he encourages me when he does the same. We’ve prayed through many a family crisis with tears pouring. We’ve prayed and fasted together for spiritual changes in our children, and we’ve seen God move dramatically. We’ve prayed joyful, laughter-through-tears prayers of celebration and rejoicing. We’ve faithfully interceded side by side for our church body and leaders, our friends and family, and many, many sick, grieiving, hurting, broken lives that are dear to us. Our prayer life has become a rich, valuable facet of our marriage. I treasure it so much that I didn’t even grouch at him this week when he woke me up at 5:20 before going to work to pray over some things going on around us.

arabic-belief-black-and-white-1487953Below are a few concepts to keep in mind about praying with your spouse and 4 powerful portions of scripture that have been the foundation of my belief in prayer as a key component of a healthy marriage.

1 – Intercede for your spouse. Pray for him on your own. In depth. Specifically. Pray scripture. I daily pray Proverbs 3 for my Sweetie. (Praying scripture is a powerful way to pray for your husband, because God’s word will accomplish what He desires and achieve His purposes! Isaiah 55:10-11) Pray for his work, his walk with the Lord, your home, his health, his success, his friendships, and anything else you can think of.

2 – Pray in all situations. Pray when you’re worried, in doubt, sick, fearful, needing answers, seeking the Father to act on your behalf or when you’ve sinned and need to come clean and be forgiven. But also pray when you’re happy, thankful, praising Him, and celebrating His goodness. And especially when you are trying to forgive your spouse.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore 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. James 5:13-16 NIV

3 – Intercede together for others. There is no better feeling than praying together for God to move and then seeing Him act! You celebrate together and can’t quit talking and reveling in the mighty acts He performed that you got to be a part of together. It is much harder to be selfish and see your spouse as an enemy if you have experienced tangible answers from the Lord to your humble prayers.

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:16-20 NASB

4 – God’s power and presence are multiplied in your marriage when you pray together. God’s ways are not ours. For some reason there is added power through agreement in prayer. And the bonus as we see in the verse above is that He will be “in their midst” – in the middle of you two as a couple. But His presence isn’t there just to keep us from being a meany as a spouse, Ecclesiastes reminds us of the practicality of including God in our marriages.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NASB

5 –  Pray when you don’t have the words. At some time in your life, you have been so broken hearted or confused or desperate that you simply had no words to pray. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will at some point. My first experience with this came through a heart-rending, emotional circumstance with one of my children. My deep grief overwhelmed me. All I could do in my prayers was to call out to Him, “Lord!” My husband was in the same place. When we needed to pray the most – nothing. Looking back on this I learned 2 things.

First, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t pray or don’t know what to say. Romans 8:26-27 tells us,

“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

We don’t have to have human words. We have a translator for those heart prayers that can’t be adequately expressed.

Secondly, we need a community of believers around us. The Christian man and wife are not a self-sustaining island. We are a unit. But we are members of a greater unit – the body of Christ. As such, we need to have our close community who is willing to know us and pray for and with us. (James 5:13-18) I’ll never forget at that crucial point in our life when I couldn’t pray, I went to a ladies meeting where a godly woman prayed a prayer over our family that I didn’t even like. It was one of those whatever-it-takes kind of prayers. Scary! But that prayer of a righteous woman was powerful and effective and was the turning point in our situation. So I encourage you, wife, have your people to pray with. Husband, have yours as well.

Prayer is powerful and effective, not only in the life of an individual Christian, but also for a couple and a family. Our enemy wants to keep us from the work of prayer to make us ineffective as a family unit. Remember his goal – to kill, steal, and destroy. Your emeny is seeking to destroy your marriage, your home, your kids, and the image of Christ your marriage presents to the world. Besides having our Creator in our marriage acting on our behalf when we pray, another benefit of praying together is that we are strengthened as individuals, as Christians, as husband and wife, and we are woven together with God, that third strand to our rope of marriage that makes it strong!

Take time to pray together today. You can’t take the risk of not praying together.

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What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Our life group went to see Overcomer this week. (It’s a really uplifting movie by the way! You should see it.) Although the movie is not about Christian marriage per se, two of the central characters are Christians who are husband and wife. As the storyline has the characters face challenges and oppostion, the audience gets a glimpse of the producers’ concept of Christian marriage, a glance at how this fictional couple interacts and how they handle their family and the stuff of life. Scenes that touched the heart and drew out the tissues. We all left the theater declaring it a great evening out.

But that was not the end of my evening. The 7:15 movie start time got me home way past bedtime for my 58-year-old body. As I was settling in for the night, a random question popped up on my phone. A sweet younger mom who had been at the movie asked, “Is that what a Christian marriage really looks like or is that just Hollywood fluff?” Woah! A valid question, but difficult to answer in a quick text. I told her I’d have to think on it a bit and get back to her. I still haven’t answered. It’s been a couple of days. I guess I’m trying to process it here.

As I viewed the movie, I had identified with the married couple. I laughed at the little mistakes they made that hit too close to home and teared up over the tender moments I could relate to. I identified with that Christian couple on screen. But was it realistic? Or was it more an ideal of what we hope to be as spouses but rarely live up to? Did it project a healthy view of marriage for this younger generation, many of whom haven’t grown up in a home with both parents and therefore don’t have first hand observations of what a Christain marriage is supposed to look like? Or was it sugar-coated and overly idealistic? I won’t make a judgment on that.

But focusing on real life because of my friend’s text, I realized something. More important for me than the movie’s depiction of the marriages of believers was my recognition that I was now the “older woman” of Titus 2:3-5, and I was failing in my God-given role to teach the younger women what I’ve spent my whole married life struggling to learn on my own. Wouldn’t my pain and wisdom learned through the montains and valleys of married life be made somehow more worthwhile if other people benefitted from it without having to go through those same tough mistakes themselves?

What does a real Christian marriage look like?

I realize that this topic cannot be conquered in one short blog, but perhaps this will be a first in an ongoing look at strengthening marriages and families. It surely goes hand-in-hand with the idea of homebuilding and constructing our lives on the principles of God’s Word that we have been discussing at GFBC this year. For today, let’s touch on a couple of the more important “looks” of a Christian marriage.

 1. Selflessness.

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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:3-8

I struggle with this verse in my interactions with society in general as I guess we all do. Could I be selfless and let that other person have my parking spot at the mall? Could I rejoice with a co-worker who got the promotion I wanted? Could I let go of my one-upmanship tendancies when hanging out with my girlfriends and bragging about what our 18-month-olds are doing, or not doing? Could I let the other person break in line or cut into traffic without it igniting my anger or road rage? Yep, those times are difficult to learn to lay down our self-will.

But those things paled in comparison to learning to lay down my selfish will to my husband! These verses destroy me because they relfect to me the sinful, self-serving wife I really am! I’m more concerned with what he didn’t do than with my own failures. I speak angrily and harshly to him, worse than I would ever speak to my friends. I want my way in the household, and often berate him for NOT doing it my way. Instead of being a humble partner in life, I come at him as bossy and controlling. I must say that in the middle of an argument with my husband I rarely even consider having the mind of Christ. And to humble myself to the point of death for my “Sweetie”! No thank you! Not when I’m in my selfish frame of mind. Now when I’m in my loving mood I might say I’d do anything for him, but that’s a lie. Because when I’m living in my selfish, fleshly state I won’t give an inch!

I truly believe I could spend my whole life working on trying to live out just these 6 verses in my relationship with my husband and never conquer it. I’m to do nothing towards my husband out of selfish ambition or conceit! Nothing! Do I humble myself and value him above myself? Do I put his interests before my own? What a generous way of relating! Do I have the mindset of Jesus when I interact with my husband? Do I serve my husband as Christ served the world, humbly and gently, laying down my life for his?

It takes this selflessness to be able to love unconditionally, and it takes unconditional love to be able to be truly selfless.

Unconditional Love.

beautiful-blur-bridal-256737Our notion of love in American society is often based on movies, books, or Disney fairytales. Outside of the Christian community there is a lack of understanding of what love truly is. Romantic love hyped by Hollwood is seen as true love. Sex is viewed as love. Rarely in modern secular society do you see the idea of laying down your will and your life as a crucial component of real love. Conversely, you often hear, “I just don’t love him anymore; he’s not meeting my needs.”

When it comes to modern examples of agape love (God’s true, genuine love) we have few to none. People want to be served not to serve, we want things our way, we love others as long as they do what is desired, and we get angry when others dissppoint or let us down. To have a healthy marriage based on unconditional love we have to go against the flow of society and grasp the teachings of Jesus that seem so contrary to life these days. Ideals that tell us the least will be the greatest, the last will be first, a leader must be the servant of all, to save our life we must lose it, and a man must lay down that life for those he says he loves. A thriving marriage must become an incubator of this kind of authentic, agape love.

We must first, as two autonomous individuals, each choose to love well. We must work on it, practice it, and pray for more of it. As we grow individually in this respect, we will also begin to live that unconditional love out to others: our children, our extended family, friends, acquaintances, and those who have wounded us, our enemies. When we each allow God to work in our hearts to make us love more unconditionally, we will see our marriage becoming a sweet reflection of the sacrificial love of Christ, and it will be a testimony to the world around us and will draw others to Our Savior. The world is looking and longing for that unconditional love of Christ. We as His image-bearers must be vigilant about the picture we are painting of God the Father and His great love for humanity.

Check out what Ephesian 5 has to say about love and marriage:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality,… Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord…. 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, … 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. … 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5 NIV

  • Imitate Christ.
  • Walk in love.
  • Give your self up as a sacrifice to God.
  • Be light, not darkness.
  • Please the Lord.
  • Be careful how you live.
  • Be wise.
  • Make the most of every opportunity.
  • Submit to one another.
  • Love each other.
  • Respect each other.

These things cannot humanly be done. But a heart fully given to Christ is filled with His Holy Spirit and thereby made able to conquer the unwilling flesh.

I challenge each of us this week to love our spouse unconditionally and walk selflessly, putting the interests of our spouse ahead of our own self-interest. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fun. The cross wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. As we follow in Jesus’ humble servanthood and self-sacrifice, we will be a light in a dark world and an encouragement and role model for those younger women needing to see how Christian marriage works. We will become a living picture of Christ. In today’s cultural lingo, let’s be the icon, the avatar, the meme, or the GIF that diplays a glimpse of Christ for all to see.

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Labor Day

As families get back into the school routine and summer draws to a close with a last trip to the beach, lake, or pool for Labor day, let us take a moment to focus on labor. Work.

Scripture encourages us to

  • Be hard workers. Colossians 3:23, 2 Thessalonians 3:10
  • Be Fruitful Workers – Philippians 1:22, Colossians 1:10
  • Balance work and rest – Ex. 20:9-10
  • Pursue the kind of labor that is not in vain – 1 Corinthians 15:58
  • See the purpose in the labor God calls us to do. 1 Corinthians 3:8 He will reward us for our labors.
  • Build on the work of others. John 4:38
  • Don’t worry. Luke 12:25-27 Do what God created you to do and trust Him to provide what your labor may have seemed impossible to accomplish.

Let these verses encourage you. Remember how blessed you are that you GET to do the work He has provided for you – you have the health to go and you have the job that others may wish they could attain. Also keep in mind that God has allowed you in that job situation (even if it is a tough one) for a purpose! Who knows but what you may have been put there “for such a time as this” as Queen Esther was. You may be there to give encouragement, prayer or help. Or you may have been put there to learn or to develop business or personal skills – even if that is how-to-get-along-with-difficult-people! Hang in there and know you are blessed!

 

 

 

Unknown

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It seems that everywhere you turn lately there is a women’s book or article that touches on the subject of being unknown or unnoticed. In this world of heavy media bombardment where everyone clamors for their 15 minutes of fame, it seems we Christian women have bought into that idea and are nurturing an unhealthy compulsion within our hearts for having our moment in the limelight. Perhaps it’s not totally unhealthy. Our Creator fashioned us to have a longing to matter, but have we let sinful self-focus cause that balloon to become stretched beyond recognition? Have we allowed a legitimate, God-given desire to morph into an ugly, self-gratifying longing?

Our society has moved to an unhealthy place in how we relate to one another. We have fewer deep relationships. We allow communication by technology rather than face-to-face to dominate our existence. Depression is widespread among us. We tend to throw up walls and hotly debate our positions rather than having true discourse or dialog that allows us to understand one another. This, as well as families living further apart, leaves us feeling lonely, longing for a personal touch from someone. This desperation can draw us to find unhealthy idols (such as that tendency toward grasping to be known) to fill our lonely, depressing lives.

But what if we allow these negative feelings to draw us to the Father Himself to fill those empty places within us?

What if our lust for recognition, fame, and glory is stealing that glory from God Himself?

What if God will be glorified by a person being unknown?

Are we willing to be obscure? Overlooked? Forgotten? Unknown? Lonely?

What if living a simple life, obedient to Christ and hidden from public praise is what God will use to make His Son Jesus Christ known to the world through me?

What if?

Allow me to share what prompted this train of thought in my heart…

Have you ever heard of Charles Gaillard? No? How about Lough Fook? No? Me neither. I’d never heard of either one of these men until 3 weeks ago.

At my daughter’s house I picked up a book that introduced me to these 2 amazing men. Charles Gaillard has 7 pages written about his life, and Lough Fook only 6 pages. These men lived around the time of Abraham Lincoln (in other parts of the world). They are virtual unknowns to us today, but they had a profound effect in the kingdom of God.

avatar-159236_1280.pngGaillard was a missionary to China in the 1800s whose soul desire as he stated himself was this, “When I go to heaven, I do not want to go alone, but to collect a whole army of this people to go with me.” But that was not God’s plan. He ended up facing many difficulties: struggling with the Chinese language, armed conflicts within China that drove him from his home, the death of a child, and finally, being crushed to death in his own home during a typhoon. From our perspective, his ministry was short – only  8 years there – due to this untimely death. And although he preached a sermon nearly every day and faithfully trained his church members in the Christian disciplines, he had very few converts to show for all his years of service in China, not the “whole army” he had hoped for. Gaillard did not live long enough to see how his ministry would continue through one he discipled. That disciple? Lough Fook.

avatar-159236_1280Lough Fook was a Chinese orphan who’d had a hard life. During the 1860s many Chinese men were selling themselves into indentured servitude to British colonies in South America. These men, called “coolies,” were transported to the other side of the world and would work for 5-7 years to pay off the cost of their emigration before they could earn their freedom. Lough saw this as an open door to share the gospel. He sold himself as a coolie, a laborer on a plantation, to be able to evangelize his own people who were moving to South America. He began sharing the gospel on his ship and continued it when he arrived. He started the very first Baptist church in South America, led worship services and taught the Christian disciplines that he had been taught by Gaillard. Many believed. Four different congregations were formed from these believers who all exercised a disciplined faith in living holy lives and spreading the gospel themselves. At Lough’s death there were 200 Christians in his congregations, who gave more than $2,000 each year to missions and actually sent missionaries from among themselves back to China. Lough fook died at the early age of 43. He had come to Christ at age 16, and was a faithful servant of the Lord for 27 years.

Two men. Leading obscure, short, but faithful lives for Christ. Their lives are still having an impact to this day.

Your life as well, lived sold out for Christ, will have meaning and purpose. Whether you stand before adoring crowds or faithfully serve day in and day out unseen and seemingly unappreciated doing menial work, know that you were created by our loving father with a plan and purpose for your life.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 NIV

He has great plans to use us for His glory, but He doesn’t do it our way. He doesn’t necessarily use the brilliant, the popular, the polished, or the expected ones. In scripture, he used the unexpected persons: the stutterer, the shepherd boy, the hothead, the one who ran away, the discouraged, the doubter,the hated tax collector, the young teenaged girl, and on and on I could go. God has His own ways.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord“As the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV

So your assignment, my assignment, in this life is to empty ourselves of our will and allow His plan for our lives to unfold in His way, at His time, even if we feel overlooked and forgotten. At those times of obscure loneliness, we seek His face, wholeheartedly, and find our source of joy and fulfillment in Him alone. We trust Him with the results! David Brady says it well, “God is weaving together the threads of our faithful service. His plans stretch far into the future beyond our wildest imagination!”

Be brave! Be patient! Be faithful! Be unknown if Our Lord so dictates! He will bear fruit through you!

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Editor’s note: We do need to be aware of this societal trend towards feeling unnoticed. However, we must let this realization spur us to fulfill God’s 2 great commands to us – to love God and love others – rather than allowing it to make us more self-focused than ever. This idea should prompt us to go out of our way to reach out to the new folks in our congregations, to listen to the lonely, and to acknowledge and befriend the overlooked. This mindset, like that of Christ Jesus that we see in Philippians 2:1-8, will propel us to humble ourselves instead of grasping for recognition and to lay down our self-will, our very lives, for people – people whom the Father loves.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:1-8

Today’s “To Do” List

from Psalm 37

TO DO:

1) Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

2) Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

3) Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

4) Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;

5) Do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

6) Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

7) Do not fret–it leads only to evil.

8) [Hope in the Lord.] For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. (9) And vs. 34 – Hope in the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

9) [Remain meek.] But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.

10) [Don’t be wicked.] The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.

11) [Be righteous.] Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous.

12) [Be blameless.] The blameless spend their days under the LORD‘s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. But the wicked will perish: Though the LORD‘s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.

13) Give generously & repay your debts. The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the LORD blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed.

14) Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. (27)

15) Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no futurfor the wicked. (37-38)

Graduation!

Mom of 4 here proudly proclaiming the college graduation of “the baby!” Those of you who have been there know the feeling. I don’t say this with pride. I say it with relief. Whew! We got through it. Finally the last child will be “off the payroll” as their dad likes to loudly proclaim.

Graduation has become a huge thing in our society. When I was a kid all I heard of was high school graduation. After heading to college I realized there was a college graduation too. These landmark events have become so popular that we now have Kindergarten graduations, elementary graduations, junior high graduations, and who knows what other graduations I am blissfully unaware of. We do these to mark accomplishments and rites of passage into the next phase of life, a worthwhile thing to do.

But what about spiritual graduations? Not something we hear of unless we have a freind or relative studying for the ministry and headed toward a seminary graduation. Perhaps we should consider marking the spiritual milestones of development in a more concrete way?

UnknownYears ago I read a book called Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis. It made an impact on our household. The book embraced the idea of marking and celebrating those spiritual developmental mile markers in the lives of our children. While being focused on dad’s and sons, and describing the age-old customs of knights and pages and squires, the book offers insight that can be applied for parents of girls and for Christian mentoring situations as well.

Our family decided to embrace this idea of honoring important spiritual life events, and we chose to mark the age of 13 as an important developmental stage and the launching pad for our children to begin to develop their own spiritual disciplines and start on the road to spiritual adulthood. My husband and I thought through what we perceived as the building blocks of our Chrsitan lives and honed this down into a family creed so to speak. We completed the noble aspect of it all by designing a family crest, a family ring, and a celebration to launch each child as they turned 13 years old.

Here’s what we came up with. For you it could be something different.

The 4 corners of our Christian foundation we decided were: love, faith, purity, and God’s Word. (Those may not make sense for you – but they were very specific to the path God had led us on through our lives.) We chose symbols to represent these four pillars and used those symbols to make our family crest. We then chose 4 colors that represented these 4 traits, used those stones to design a family ring, and found a jeweler who would make what we wanted. In our research to determine our 4 prime characteristics we wanted to see in our kids and in our own lives, we had uncovered many scriptures. We typed these up in a document. At each child’s 13th birthday we held a celebration – a dinner out or a friend group and dinner at home – and gave each child their ring, their family crest, the document of scriptures, a challenge by Mom & Dad, and a prayer over them that they would grow in Godliness.

Love – We chose love because we realized that God is love, we love because He first loved us, and loving God and loving others are the 2 great commandments of the New Testament. We understood that we were to love others as we loved ourselves.

Faith – Scripture reminded us that without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) We desired for our family and each child individually to be God-pleasers. We knew that salvation is by faith and we longed for each child to come to Christ and live their life with Him as their Savior and Lord.

Purity – Matthew 5:8 says blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Old Testament scripture reminds us that obedience to God to live His way is better than sacrifice. (1 Samuel 15:22) Our parental desire was to have children seeking to live a pure life that flows from a heart so in love with God that it wants nothing else.

God’s Word – This last one is not a personal characteristic I know, but it is THE key to growing in Christ and developing His character. Early on in our Christian walk both my husband and I had been discipled/mentored in a very methodical way. We had been taught to dig into God’s Word and apply it to our lives. We knew this was a must for raising the next generation to be sold out for Christ. Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16 speak to the power of the holy scriptures to work change in our lives.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

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

So what is my point today? To challenge you to think. Think about ways you can acknowledge and celebrate spiritual milestones with family, kids, and friends. The Old Testament is full of celebrations that God instituted for Israel to keep for all generations. These celebrations reminded them of their spiritual heritage, the faithfulness of God, and  their purpose on this earth. Let us give our kids the gift of “graduation” celebrations as they develop in their Christian walk and in life.

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Go!

My bouncy, black dog, Poppy, is a 12-pound ball of fur with a plumed tail and butterfly ears who loves to go. My simple question of “Poppy go car?” elicits a whirl of spinning in circles, his way of saying “yes.” When he sees me pick up his harness and leash, he eagerly sticks his head in and impatiently waits for the harness to be adjusted. Then he fidgets in excitement right beside me wherever I walk until I head out the door. “Poppy go dog park?” gets the same response, as does any phrase that begins with the words “Poppy go…” In fact, he loves going with me so much that when he sees me putting on my walking shoes he begins spinning, and if I’m not going anywhere he can go I have to tell him, “No. Poppy stay.” He loves to be on the go with his Master – me.

I wonder if I am as willing and eager to go with my Master? Are you?

Matthew 28:19-20 NIV says “Therefore 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Our Master has given us a go, are we spinning with delight answering “Yes” followed by fidgeting excitedly waiting for Him to send us on?

Not usually. Often it’s more like…

 

Go ask that lady if she’s ok and pray with her.

What Lord? Me?

Go tell that person how much I love them and share my Good News.

I’m embarrassed to go up to her.

Go on that mission trip.

Me? I don’t think I could do that.

Go teach a youth small group.

Not me. I don’t know how to explain things well enough.

Go take dinner to your neighbor.

What? I don’t know her that well. That would feel awkward.

Go make disciples.

How Lord? I’m not ready.

Go live in another country for years and minister there for me.

And give up my normal life?

 

We fear we’re not enough, so we don’t. We fear we’ll fail, so we don’t. We fear people’s reactions, so we don’t. We fear walking into unfamiliar territory, so we don’t. We fear what we will have to give up to obey Jesus, so we don’t. We fear. And it stalls us out in our Christian walk. Fear is our enemy’s native tongue. He speaks to us in that language hoping we’ll fall for it.

But God enables us to stand firm in the face of fear. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel because he has come to his people and redeemed them. to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:68 & 74) Without fear! Don’t you want that? If you are like me and often live with fear hanging over your shoulder, this sounds like freedom. It is freedom. 

636147316239078650-32332206_636018622516705215492689983_faith_1In a terrible storm, the disciples’ fear of death overwhelmed them. Jesus’ response? “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement, they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’ ” (Luke 8:24-25) He shows us that the antidote to fear is faith, and He demonstrates His power to handle anything we fear. Yet still, fear triumphs over our faith and makes us hesitate. Take heed, His Word tells us “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Let’s make a choice to put fear in our rearview mirror and go forward with God. We are willingly submitting to Satan’s fiery darts of fear if we let that fear keep us from picking up and going when the Father says “Go.”

Let our love for our Master and our desire to be with Him so overwhelm us that we joyfully spin in circles answering “Yes, yes, yes!” whenever He says “Go.”

Let us wait in anticipation and go forth in faith knowing that He will equip us, protect us, and give us all the wisdom we need.

Let us trust as simply and honestly as my little pup, having faith, believing, knowing that He will take care of us.

Let us all be like Isaiah:

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this people…’ ” Isaiah 6:8-9

 

 

 

Those Held in Slavery by Their Fear of Death

I am afraid to die.

Anyone else in my boat?

I know it’s not the correct thing for a growing Christian to admit. We have a wonderful Savior, the promise of a glorious future, a home in heaven with our Creator for eternity, what could there be to fear? But I am. Fearful, that is.

You see, my life story includes experiencing death first hand as a child. On Valentine’s night 1972, 11-year-old me sat at our kitchen table with Daddy, Mama, and my little brother. We were making Valentines for each other. It is a sweet memory. Three days later, after being admitted to the hospital for some pain, my dad suddenly passed away from a massive heart attack… He was there… Then he was gone.

I don’t understand the psychology of what that does to a child’s mind, but I do understand the ramifications of how those experiences are lived out as a child growing into adulthood. One of the results in me was a feeling of abandonment by my father. Loss so great that I had a physical feeling inside my chest of emptiness. From that time on I have grieved and feared and dreaded any and all death: family, friends, pets, relatives of friends (people that I don’t even know). Death impacts me deeply. It may do this to many people. I don’t know.

I don’t fear death because I don’t have faith of heaven to come or salvation. I fear death because I don’t want to experience that loss again. And I don’t want anyone I know to have to experience that feeling. I sometimes cry to think of what my family will feel like when I pass away; I cry for them and their loss and emptiness.

Recently I found myself in one of those normal stressful times of life where it seemed that each of my four children had something serious occurring in their life at that moment. None of their situations had anything to do with death or illness. Yet, through that time I found myself waking up in the middle of the night with anxious feelings of dread, feelings that stirred that fear of death within me and made me fretful for life.

Early one morning on my deck as I was doing my normal routine meeting with the Lord, I began to journal furiously. My watchword for this year has been surrender. It’s obvious I was not surrendering. I wrote that morning, “I must let go and turn my fears over God.”

That day Hebrews 2:14-15 came up in my Bible study. Now I’ve read the Bible through from cover to cover several times in my life, random years throughout my life and every year for the last 4 years, and I had never “seen” this verse before. Ever had that happen to you? It’s when something so relevant and so profound springs out from the Word of God in your reading and you are shocked how you could have ever missed it. Here’s what those verses say:

black-and-white-cemetery-christ-208315“He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” 

Jesus himself, by His death, not only saved me and broke the power of death that Satan has, but can free me from being enslaved to the fear of death!

The words overwhelmed me. My Father met me on my deck at that moment with a very specific word for my very specific situation. What hope! What relief! The Father had breathed these words into the author of Hebrews hundreds of years ago as he wrote the first manuscript. And today My Abba brought them to my attention the very moment I needed them!

That verse. That day. That sunny deck. My dark, fearful heart. All those things converged to cause the key to turn in the lock of my heart. The door inched open that day and a crack of light shone in. It has been almost 2 weeks now and my Father God is still holding my hand pulling me out of that dark place into growing freedom.

My childhood fear of loss may always shadow me as long as I walk this earth, but I have a Savior who died to set me free. Free from slavery to sin and free from slavery to my fear of death. Today I choose to walk in freedom, in hope. In the future, when fear rattles at my door and tries to shut me in and chain me up and enslave me, may I remember to claim my freedom from slavery and walk faithfully on.

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Rain

I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Leviticus 26:4

rain-raindrops-water-110874.jpgThe view out the window is a rainy drizzle here. That got me thinking. We haven’t gotten much rain lately, so this little drizzle is considered a blessing. Right now the Midwest is swamped with days of floodwaters that have overwhelmed and destroyed. In other parts of the world people are experiencing famine due to severe drought. So, is rain good or bad? To a parched, hungry land rain is desperately desired. To the deluged states any precipitation is a curse at the moment.

Now let’s think metaphorically. We Americans tend to think of rain as difficulties coming our way – storms. Storms in life have a negative connotation of trials we don’t want to face. But what does scripture say?

In Deuteronomy 11:17, lack of rain is seen as a punishment from God.

Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain, and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.

While in Deuteronomy 28:12, the pouring rain is representative of blessings coming straight from the Lord.

The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

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Let’s challenge our thinking on those metaphorical rainstorms of life. Can we begin to see even the scary lightning and thunder as signs of blessing? Can we allow ourselves not to fear in the midst of the storm, but to trust that this too will be used for our good? (Romans 8:28)

When my Daddy died while I was a child it did not feel “good.” But because of that we moved to the town where I dated and married my husband of now 38 years, where I was mentored in the Christian faith and given a firm foundation, and where I formed lifelong friendships.

When my husband developed leukemia at age 36, it did not feel “good.” With 4 small children, one a newborn, it felt frightening. I wondered how God could in any way use this horror for good. But over the next 9 months of chemo and healing, I saw that this storm drew me closer to the Father, taught me valuable lessons, and instilled in me a passion and understanding for others.

When a child rebelled, it did not feel “good.” It felt devastating, empty, and overwhelming beyond my ability to bear. But through it I learned the power of prayer. I grew to see the “sinners” and the “least of these” as someone’s child, beloved of God, and not beyond hope. My compassion for those bound up in sin surpassed and killed my judging, legalistic spirit.

May I challenge you to choose to see your storm as a means through which God teaches and grows and blesses you! He uses our circumstances, no matter how tough they seem at the moment, for His good purposes.

Ephesians tells us

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!

If we believe these words of Ephesians 3:30, that He can do “immeasurably more” than all we ask or imagine, then we can trust that He will bring good through our rainstorm. I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good imagination. And He can do more than that! More than my simple expedient solutions to my stormy times. He provides abundant life kind of solutions!

girl-690327_1280.jpgAs we move through this rainy day, let us look upon these drops as blessings! Even when the flood waters seem to threaten our existence, they are still a blessing! Isaiah 43:2 comforts us with the promise that

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

So, what do we do to learn this perspective on storms? We immerse our minds in scripture. Deuteronomy 32:2 instructs us

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.

Are we soaking up the water of the word while the floodwaters swirl round our feet?

Isaiah 55:10 reminds us of the usefulness of scripture to our lives.

As the rain and the snowcome down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

bright-environment-flora-1463530.jpgIt tells us that God’s Word provides us with 2 things: seed and bread. Bread for our present daily needs, and seed to plant and grow and bear fruit in our future. Rains cause us to yield fruit and to grow.

The storms of rain we face are God’s provision for us. Those deluges are His classroom that teaches, trains and prepares us. The floodwaters are our faith-tester and at the same time the weights we lift to grow our faith muscle. Heavy rains free us from spiritual dryness, drive us to our knees, and open our hearts to be compassionate toward others. While we may not want to go through stormy trials in life, they are beneficial; they are for our good. Let us seek God’s blessing whatever form it comes in, and clearly see the Biblical picture of the devastation and cursing represented by no rain in our lives.

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.         1 King 17:7

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