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

The Unending Journey

“Are we there yet?” – the whine of any child who has ever been on a car trip.

While adults may not whine about it, we’ve all experienced that feeling of the never-ending trip. Will we ever arrive? When we left home we didn’t realize it would take this long, nor have this many twists and turns.

volkswagen-569315_1280.jpgOur journey with God is a lot like a road trip. As we pull away from our old home to journey forward with God, we often believe it will be a short trip too. He’s going to do a quick remake of our life and we’ll have a happily ever after. But as days become weeks and years we realize it is a slow and constant process – this life is the never-ending journey. We will never arrive as long as we live.

How many times in our journey with Him do we come through a trial and pruning with the unspoken feeling that God must be through remaking us into His image because we can’t imagine what else He could possibly prune out of our life? We feel as if we are an onion that has been peeled to its very core.

In a short amount of time, however, we sense another layer of our “old man” being peeled away.

The day we set out to follow Christ, whether we were 8 or 38, we began a journey that will never end. He will chisel off the rough places, sand out the flaws, shape up the imperfections, and patch the holes until the day we die. That’s what regeneration and restoration are all about. It’s an ongoing process of remaking us into His image.

God’s got a grand adventure planned. God’s attitude toward us is not slap-on-a-new-coat-of-paint-and-send-her-on-her-merry-way. His mindset is apparent in Genesis 12:1 (MSG) “God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.” He had in mind to take Abram to new places, unknown places, places of adventure and scariness I’m sure. Places that caused Abram to grow a faith that was later credited to him as righteousness!

The destination and the route we take is in God’s hands. As He did with Abraham, God does with us. He calls us to go to a land He will show us – an unknown destination. We don’t know where the road may take us or what may happen along the way. We imagine there will be joys at the right hand of God. We fear that he will take us somewhere we don’t want to go. But do we realize that He will be beside us every step of the way?

accident-car-communication-2224He doesn’t send us off on the journey alone. The last phrase of verse 1 is the icing on the cake – “for a land that I will show you!” Girls, he’s not sending us away on a journey all by ourselves. He’s going with us! The only way my husband can show me the way on our road trip is to be in the car with me. That’s where our Father God is – in the seat beside us, taking us on this grand and sometimes scary adventure, trying to give us directions to this “land that I will show you” if only we’d listen to Him.

The journey is life-changing. We never stop to think of the inner impact the journey will make on our lives and the changes that will take place within us. As we journey with Christ, externally we may change our location, those who accompany us, or the job we do. But the greatest change is His molding of our inner man. He is transforming us into the image of Christ from the inside out. So I pray for you, and for myself, the words of Paul:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. Ephesians 3:16 

 

We weren’t created as statues. We were created as flesh and blood people that change from day-to-day, year-to-year, minute-by-minute, endlessly, until we pass from this earth.  The change, the re-making is intentional on God’s part. Scripture tells us:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians. 4:22-24

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Transformed. Made new. Renewed. That’s us.

On this never-ending journey of life with our Beloved, let’s embrace the word change. Let’s be pliable clay in His hands, willing to be mashed down, re-formed, made into something new! Even in the painful circumstances that try our faith, let us desire the touch of our Master Creator who isn’t finished with us yet.

The breaking and re-making. The new places on the journey and the hard places that tax us to our limits. These are part of the journey we signed up for. Let us be willing, not weary, travelers. Coming to know God and allowing Him to mature us in His ways is lifelong. We never arrive as long as we live. We are always “becoming” until the day we die. Becoming more faithful. Becoming more Christlike. Becoming more patient. Becoming more loving. Becoming more joyful, peace-filled, kind, gentle, self-controlled….

When we feel He’s shown us our deepest core, there are still other layers below. The journey is never over Girls! Enjoy the adventure of it all!

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Graduation

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Ah, May! Such a beautiful time of year, yet moms everywhere are teary and struggling. Their baby is graduating and leaving home!

Graduation is a time of great joy and excitement. It’s a beginning, not an end. The term for the graduation event is a “commencement” ceremony. Commencement means beginning. So why do parents moms everywhere see it as an end, a devastating loss?

It’s interesting that dads (for the most part) don’t have the same emotional reaction that many moms do. Dads grasp the idea of sending that 18-year-old off on a big adventure. They look forward to what’s to come for that young adult and for their own life. Common conversation among dads of graduates includes phrases like “one more off the payroll,” “if I can get this one through college…” or “just me and the bride in the empty nest.”

accomplishment-ceremony-daytime-1036626.jpgAs the emotional heart of the home, many moms get caught up in the feelings of discouragement, sad reminiscence, or finality. While not all moms react so sentimentally, for those that do it can bring on a period of grief and an awareness of loss. Loss of a dear relationship with that child as they move miles away. Loss of an identity as a mom. The loss of one’s own life – time has passed as the child has grown slowly, and now suddenly moms of graduates have a keen awareness of mortality and the shorter amount of time ahead on the timeline in comparison to what has gone before.

Our comfort and instruction for moving on and living is found in Philippians 3:7-14.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

It’s time to put these truths into practice.

  1. Count all things loss for the sake of Christ.
  2. Press on to lay hold of that which Christ has for us.
  3. Forget what lies behind.
  4. Reach forward to what lies ahead.
  5. Press on toward the goal – go after the prize!

Sweet mom of a grown up child, rejoice! Rejoice in this new beginning for your offspring.  Rejoice in the new phase of life Jesus is bringing to you. You are blessed. Shed a sentimental tear or two if you must, then put it behind you and Press On! The best is yet to come!

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Changing Your Perspective

A few weeks ago my GFBC BFF lifegroup got together to paint wooden front door hangers. Our instructor was Tammy Westbrook of Two T’z in a Pod. She provided us with everything we needed to complete our project. Our only effort was to paint our chosen door hanger, either a bird or flower arrangement. As about 30 of us got together that night to work, the constant theme was “I am just not good at this” or “yours is a lot better than mine.” We each were judging our piece based on how the other artwork around us looked.  We were in the comparison mode, but the truth is we all left there with a finished hanger, and they all looked great. It was just when they were being compared to each other we all felt like ours lacked in some way.

Comparison is a constant theme I am hearing and studying about lately.  I have been reading a book by Nicki Kozariz titled “Why Her? 6 Truths We Need to Hear When Measuring Up Leaves us Falling Behind” along with doing the Bible study she wrote on “Rachel and Leah: What Two Sisters Teach us about Combating Comparison.” (You can read Rachel and Leah story for yourself in Genesis 29-30.) Since I have not finished either one I will refrain from giving a critique; however, it has gotten me to thinking about how many times a day I compare myself to those around me. I have to say it is a constant stream of thought going through my mind. I want to share with you some insights I have gained.

I looked up the definition of comparison on dictionary.com and found the first two definitions were: the act of comparing and the state of being compared. Or another two words are envy and jealousy. Isn’t this so true during our day we are either constantly comparing ourselves or being compared by others. So how do we break this act of comparing?

belly-black-and-white-body-42069.jpgFirst, we have to be aware of the comparison. I am constantly comparing, grading and measuring myself against other people. Comparison is not something we can avoid in life, but it is something we can be aware of and take note of how we act and react. Social Media is our worst enemy in the comparison game.  I look at other people and judge myself against what others post. I am sure you have all heard something about someone and thought or said “well it must be nice,” and the comparison, envy, jealousy, and coveting begin popping up again.

A year or so ago my friend, Debbie, started posting about the realities of life.  I have another friend that posts Marriage Chronicles of the things she is discovering about being a newlywed. When we stop and really look, things are not really how they seem. Not everyone I know is always hopping off to a great vacation somewhere or buying the latest and greatest thing.  I have to change my perspective and see things like they really are. Others’ lives may have some good things happen in them, but the reality is, most of them have junk in their lives just like me.

Secondly, I have to learn to combat the comparison and realize I have done nothing wrong.  When the coveting and comparison rears its ugly head, be it a friend getting married for the second or third time (and I am still single), or those having babies or grandbabies around me (and I am still Single), or a husband and wife celebrating a wedding anniversary (and I am still Single),  or going on dates (and I am still Single), I have to learn to focus on what is truth in my life. I have done nothing wrong. It is just not God’s timing for me to be married. Will it every be? I don’t know, but I’d rather be single than be in a relationship not ordained by God.  Then I’d just put myself in a mess and the comparison would be worse. Cause I would be wanting to know why my marriage was not like hers. One of the quotes in the book Why Her? is “We have to find contentment with who we are without becoming complacent in who we are becoming.”

We have to find contentment with who we are without becoming complacent in who we are becoming.

Thirdly, I haven’t loss anything, by those around me gaining something and I can’t become discourage by the success of others. Just like in the story of Leah and Rachel. Rachel had not lost Jacob’s love even when Leah was having babies. 2 Corinthians 10:12  (CSB) says, “For we don’t dare classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. But in measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves to themselves, they lack understanding.”

Nicki has the “Bless Her” Prayer in the book Why Her? She says that “anytime the enemy starts to slip in a lie of lack in your soul as you’re looking at someone who’s gaining, as you’re beginning to feel like you’re losing, there is something you can do” pray for both you and her. Her gain is not my loss and I have to keep doing what God has called me to do.

So the next time you are struggling with comparison, try to say the “Bless Her Prayer” and change your perspective.

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God, today I’m praying for _____ (insert their name).   I am grateful You have gifted her with the ability to _______ (insert their gift/opportunity).  You are a good God who gives each of us good gifts.  I pray that today would be a good day of increase with the ability to use those gifts in her life.   Help _____ (insert their name) to use her time, resources and gifts wisely today.  Surround her with what she needs most.  And bless her greatly.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

“Bless Her Prayer” by Nicki Koziarz.  Excerpt from Chapter 9 of Why Her? 6 Truths We Need to Hear When Measuring Up Leaves Us Falling Behind. Find her book at you local bookseller or on Amazon.

 

 

Good Medicine

A joyful heart is good medicine,But a broken spirit dries up the bones.

 

Sometimes I go through life so distracted that I hardly notice the world around me. Sometimes my mind is so far from my body, it’s a wonder I stay in one piece. I am not consistently that way though. Sometimes I notice such small details that they serve to bog me down and overwhelm me. I find myself perseverating about those details and become so distracted and weary I feel like I am moving through molasses in December.

This recently happened on a trip to the doctor. It was pouring down rain outside, I had been running late, the parking was terrible, the waiting room filled. I appeared to be the youngest patient that afternoon. I was weary to my bones and found myself sluggish and overwhelmed.

maxresdefaultA bright pink scrub clad young lady was steadily opening the door that led to the back, calling names and waiting patiently for her elderly patients to rise and make their way toward her. I noticed that many of them had names popular for infants. Names like Eleanor, Everett, Henry, Sylvia. It tickled me as I recalled the King’s Word that says there is nothing new under the sun.

As the waiting room emptied I found myself alone. Seated amongst tattered magazines, a clearly outdated one boasted a new Baby Princess, per my recollection that Princess is now somewhere around 3 years old. There was a tool magazine “where good tools come first.” “Versus what?” I wondered, “where Bad tools come first? Or maybe last?”

As I reached for the outdated Princess magazine my hand felt something wobble beneath it. I hadn’t even noticed. I took a second glance to see what I had touched, and noticed an ant farm. I shook my head. Was this my overactive imagination again? Had I just imagined next to the tattered magazines, pages softened by mindless flipping in an effort to pass the time… had I just imagined an Ant farm? Surely not. What would an Ant farm be doing in a doctor’s office?

I looked again, ant farm presence confirmed. I had a mental image and thought predictively, “This is not going to end well.”

ant.farm.14Taped to the top of the Ant farm was a small piece of paper, it read , “Press the lid down firmly all the way to avoid ants escaping.”

Suspicion confirmed. That sign was there for a reason, it hadn’t ended well. Ants had indeed escaped previously, someone or someones needed a written reminder to keep said ants contained.

I started to laugh. The kind of laugh that used to occur whilst I was in church, the kind of laugh that one absolutely can not control and will result in a pinch on the right shoulder from one’s disapproving Mama. The kind of laughter that occurs when one’s 14-year-old cousin has just stuffed the nostrils of Mrs. So-and-So’s “for real fox stole” with paper balls. Every week that foxes nostrils would be cleared of the white occlusions, just so said 14 year old cousin could send one into hysterics yet again. It was a vicious cycle that yielded unrelenting laughter. The kind of laughter where a whole body shakes and tears come to one’s eyes, the kind of laughter that can not be stopped no matter how much one desires to do so. That kind of laughter simply has to run its course and will often give way to side pains and a stomach ache.

Proverbs 17:22 says “A joyful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

I can say honestly as I went to the doctor that day I went in search of feeling better, good medicine as it were, but in His goodness the King allowed me to see the very thing that would lead me to the medicine to my soul. Laughter. After that hearty giggle I felt better already and I hadn’t even actually seen the doctor yet, but the Great Physician had seen me and brought joy to my heart and laughter to my weary soul.

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Woman! You Are Loved!

woman-1195276_1280.pngFrizzy hair.

Stretch marks.

Overweight.

Lost a job.

No ring on the left hand.

Rebellious kids.

No kids.

Sin.

Financial ruin.

Failure.

We women tend to be hard on ourselves. Most all of us have considered something in our life an Epic Fail.

Oh Sweet One! You are not the sum of your physical flaws, your relational stumbles, your sins and failures, your finances, and your children’s mistakes.

You are created in the image of God! You are a cherished daughter of the Creator of the universe, a unique soul made for a unique purpose here on earth. You are THE ONE Christ died for; if you had been the only one, he would have gone to that cross just for you. You are a rare jewel with unique assets and flaws.

As we celebrate and honor all Mothers today, celebrate yourself as a woman.

God loves you.

He chose you.

He knows you and accepts you despite those things you don’t love yourself for.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

I challenge you to choose something good for today… to relax… to let go… to forgive yourself or another… to talk kindly to yourself as you would speak to a cherished friend… to not compare yourself to a soul on earth… to count your blessings… to immerse yourself in God’s word… to serve someone out of love… to live fully and bask in God’s love… maybe even to stay off social media – give yourself a positive break!

Enjoy something just for yourself for 15 minutes be it music or a bubble bath or a phone call to a friend, a walk or a cupcake or some flowers.

Celebrate your unique life handmade by Jehovah Himself

and loved by the Father!

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A little video to remind you of how to look at yourself!

The God Who Runs

by guest author Joni Shankles (Reposted from Joni’s blog with permission. Read more from Joni here.)
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Rebellion.

Selfish demands.
Surly words.
Shameful choices.

We’ve all played the rebel, rejecting the rules to get what we want, to experience something new.

Regret.

I was so stupid.

We’ve all suffered the consequences of rebellious choices, finding ourselves in a mess we can’t escape on our own.

Rejection.

I’m no longer worthy.

And sometimes, we fall into despair, feeling ashamed and blaming ourselves again and again.

What can we do when we’ve failed, when we feel cut off from the good life we knew before, separated from God and those we love?

Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Son to show rebels like us what to do.

When you’ve chosen your own way, when you’ve suffered the consequences, when you don’t even feel worthy to be called a child of God….

Get up.
Turn around.
Go back to your Father.

I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father.
Luke 15:18-19 CSB

Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Son to show us how love responds.

Love sees.
Love runs.
Love forgives.
Love restores.
Love keeps searching.

But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24 CSB

God is not a father who writes us off.

God is the Father who sees.
He is watching for the moment our hearts turn toward home again.

God is the Father who runs.
He closes the gap to embrace us as dearly loved children, not hired workers.

God is the Father who forgives.
He is filled with compassion and shows us mercy when we repent.

God is the Father who restores.
He celebrates our return, welcomes us home, and demonstrates His love, providing more than we could ask or imagine.

God is the Father who shows us that our worth is not earned, but inherited. Our worth comes from our relationship, initiated and sustained by the Father.

We need to remember that when we’re not playing the rebel, we are easily tempted to play the judge. The rebel demands his own way. His judgmental brother demands he pay for it.

The Father loves them both.

So his father came out and pleaded with him…“‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:28, 31-32 CSB

God is the Father who keeps searching.
He invites the self-righteous to trust His judgment and join the celebration.

God is a good Father.

He sees.
He runs.
He forgives.
He restores.
He keeps searching.

We are God’s children.
We belong to Him.
When we fail or when we have it all together, we can trust His love.
And His love never fails.

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! 1 John 3:1 CSB

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Imperishable!

Aritcle #3 in April Kyle’s series on 1 Peter.

Thoughts on 1 Peter…

“…not with perishable things…”

Milk BottlingThe milk in my fridge has an expiration date. The loaf of bread in my pantry has an expiration date. Even the bag of tortilla chips that I must purchase with the necessary jar of salsa has an expiration date. These things are perishable. They’re going to go bad. They’re going to grow moldy or stale or clumpy or…well, you get the picture. And quite frankly, that is not shocking to me…these things will not last forever. They will – and are – perishing. Heavens knows if some of them will not perish by the end of the week.

Think of the things in your house that are fading and perishing. Books on the shelf with covers faded and pages torn. Photographs of little people who are now taller and hardly recognizable; or photographs of loved ones who have passed on. Old t-shirts and ripped jeans; faded wood flooring striped by sunshine pouring in through the window. Even looking in the mirror, there’s a whole lot of perishing going on there…! All these things we live in and around from day-to-day. Our stuff is fading. Expiring. Perishing. And yet, truth be told, this is not too shocking really. We know our stuff is getting old.

In contrast, I checked the inside of my gold wedding band and it does not have an expiration date. There’s no timeframe of when I should expect it to crumble off my finger. I don’t anticipate the perishing of my gold wedding ring or the perishing of the diamond sitting so sparkly on my left ring finger. I think of these things lasting forever…as I fully anticipate my marriage doing, but that’s a sermon for another day. I would be all-together shocked and very upset if my diamond stud earrings were to somehow dissolve or disintegrate. They’re made of gold! The real stuff…in my earthly vernacular. I do not think of my gold jewelry as perishable!

Good o’ Peter sets me straight however. He uses this word perishable to describe the silver and gold of this world. He sets my perspective aright. He says my inheritance was not purchased with the perishable stuff like silver and gold. He says my living hope was not established by the acquisition of mere silver and gold. He says my sanctification is not achieved by the trading of cheap metal like silver and gold. He says that what I have in Christ is not going to perish – not like bread and milk – but it’s not going to perish like silver and gold perishes.

Somebody better shout Glory! Amen.

food-3190171_1280The Word of God has a way of setting our priorities straight, does it not? So often, I’m caught up in my perishable stuff. I lose sight of the imperishable things of Almighty Eternal Creator God that are a part of what makes me His royal kid. I forget that this earthly home is fading, expiring, crumbling. That it is in reality perishing.

Peter tells us the inheritance that belongs to the child of God is imperishable and is being kept in the un-expiring all-glorious ever-preserved Heaven. This non-perishable item was purchased by the raised-back-to-life-pouring-out-mercy Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Peter says that I no longer exist in an “empty way of life” but that I have a new way of living that was redeemed with non-perishable items. And again he compares this to “things like silver and gold.” I mean, Peter, what could possibly be more imperishable, more non-perishable than silver and gold…??? Peter, I have to question your knowledge here! Silver and gold. That’s the good stuff.

Peter says that I have been born again of imperishable seed. The life I now live is no longer perishable. He even says my faith, my character is being refined into imperish-ibility!!! (yes, I made up that word…) I no longer live in a fading, expiring, crumbling existence. I’m called to, established into a non-perishable, imperishable life.

This world can get my attention off these truths. This earth is so…crumbly.

The gold of my ring – hardly 19 years old – is already scratched and bent. It will fade away one day. The milk in my fridge needs to be dumped out.

But my inheritance, not expiring.

The living hope I live in, not fading.

The faith I hold is being made more valuable.

My eternal home has no cracks in the walls.

The fountain from which I drink deeply will never run dry…or sour.

The position I hold is imperishable.

Praise be.

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Hold Fast to the Work for Which You Have Been Created

PHOTO: By Bob Key – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=757094

 

“Say, any of you boys smithies? Or, if not smithies per se, were you otherwise trained in the metallurgic arts before straitened circumstances forced you into a life of aimless wanderin’?”

Scott Martin and I often speak in a language of movie one liners. This here is one of our frequent and favorites. It was the first thing I thought of when I was looking at the television at 3:00am for the 6th day in a row.

I am not unaccustomed to seeing the middle of the night. My older and less flexible body these days doesn’t choose to see 3:00 am if it can help it. Back in the olden days I was likely to hit the wall at 4am way back when the night shift was the work requirement. Work that would yield naps in the back of a minivan while kids were at a mom’s day out, naps in a bedroom sleeping in front of a door so no one escaped. Hours of sleep in increments more than a few hours were more valuable than the gold backed dollars that said sleep deprivation was yielding.

Anxiety Sickness and a persistent cough had gifted me with my old 3am foe. As I sat wide-eyed and hacking on the sofa I was clearly perturbed. I thought about the last time I had been this sick, when Shelton and I were marooned on a sofa island amidst quilts and pillows. In between his feverish episodes he would declare frequently how much he loved me. As difficult as they were, those days were some of my most treasured.

This time I found myself alone on the couch, the lone sick one. The other Martins had yet to succumb to the infirmary that I’d met first. As I sat on the couch I’d made my way to a random PBS channel. In the middle of the night a woodworking show was on featured a blacksmith. I was vaguely familiar with the show as I have caught Scott Martin watching – not because he’s skilled or fond of woodworking but because he likes the music featured on the show, a throwback to old-time sound likely played by misfit bands. Instruments made of strings and harmonies carried over from home countries. It is highly probable the music accompanied a coming together of neighbors for a barn raising or work day, women scurrying about with food preparation, a variety of kitchen delicacies meant to be shared. A buffet of foods all homemade, for the Publix deli was years from invention, kids playing with sticks and dirt, cellphones and electronic entertainment centuries away… Perhaps not. Perhaps my overactive imagination combined with sleep deprivation and a longing for simplicity and fellowship yield such assumptions. I digress…again…

hf7-1356The smithy was crafting a “hold fast,” an L shaped tool meant to hold a wood working project in place, a tool of old when smiths and metallurgic arts were part of the everyday. My mind wandered to a verse with a keyword of the same name,

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23 English Standard Version (ESV)

Hold fast, to hold firm. I watched as intently as my sleep deprived eyes would allow. I noticed the difference in the shape and size of the French and English hold fasts. The English hold fast not as curvy and weighty as the French inspired holdfast.

The host would occasionally comment to the Smithy as he would “strike while the iron is hot.” I had heard that phrase many times, maybe even said it. I googled the origin of the phrase and was informed via the internet,

“This old proverb clearly alludes to the imagery of the blacksmith or farrier at his forge. If he delays in shaping the iron when it is hot and pliable, the metal soon cools and hardens and the opportunity is lost.

The expression is recorded in Richard Edwards’, “The excellent comedie of two the moste faithfullest freendes, Damon and Pithias, circa 1566.” (Phrases.org.UK)

The expression becoming appreciated more and more as the metal piece was more malleable, able to be shaped into the desired shape, while it was the once straight pieces of steel taking shape into L shaped pieces of useable metal that were designed for a specific purpose.

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If those fired pieces could speak and feel I reckoned they would say the shaping was painful, but once fired and made, the soft metal could be shaped so much more easily than the cold metal would have been. In essence that suffering led to shaping those pieces into an object that could be used for its intended purpose.

When used, the holdfast was so strong the entire workbench could be lifted, the holdfast acting as a handle. The holdfast was essential in the art of woodworking, planing, and all other manner of terms used to which I am not even vaguely familiar.

I wondered if in the Kingdom, I and those I know, weren’t holdfasts of sorts. Those who have endured sufferings that shaped who they were, those who feel that they aren’t all that important in the Kingdom, they aren’t famous, or clergy, missionaries or those on the front lines of ministry. Those have had moments of thinking they aren’t all that important in the kingdom, those thoughts followed up with “I’m not all that important, I just (insert seemingly unimportant title here).” In the case of the holdfast, “I just hold down a piece of wood.” Maybe in the Kingdom you (and admittedly I) feel just like that.

The reality is that a holdfast is crucial in shaping those pieces of wood into grooves and curves, beautiful trims and flooring, the things homes are made of. The pieces of architecture we take classes in college to appreciate. The “craftsmanship” the Antique Roadshow folks get giddy over. The items that cause experts to do their dead level best to remain composed, but when pointing out such “details” and “workmanship” their voices go an octave higher and they interject adjectives like “phenomenal” or “amazing” statements like “simply incredible” or “I have never seen another one like it.”

I’ve watched that show a time or two and they have never said, “This woodworking master must have had an incredible holdfast, for without it this beautiful piece would not have been possible for the craftsman to create. Your prized piece is worth a gazillion dollars because the holdfast was in fine working order.” Nope they NEVER say that. They, to my knowledge have not acknowledged that crucial tool. That L shaped piece of steel whose job it was to hold-fast. Yet so seemingly unimportant but when confronted with the bigger picture, the value of hindsight one can see clearly how important that seemingly unimportant item was.

The smitty in the show had a replica of a third type of holdfast, an American model. He made a statement that it was thought to have been from the 18th century, discarded in the early days of our country. It had been unearthed somewhere in what was one of original 13 colonies. The American model looked different from the English and French models but the overall shape was the same, purpose the same.

Some of us, some of you are the holdfasts of the Kingdom. The Master Craftsman, the Creator having used our sufferings to shape us into useable pieces, those who do the unseen jobs that without, the frontliners, those fine seemingly more important pieces or workmanship, would not be possible.

The Kingdom needs holdfasts, those willing to do the unseen, the not so glorious, those created for just that purpose. On the days when I am tempted to believe what I am doing doesn’t matter, that if I weren’t doing that (insert seemingly unimportant or menial task here) it really wouldn’t matter, I am going to think of those holdfasts and remember that I am the King’s workmanship and that as long as I am doing what He has called me to do, created me to do, there is no unimportant or meaningless task in Kingdom work.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

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The Journey: Wheelbarrow Rides

Squeals of fear and delight erupted as my husband pushed our grandkids around the yard in the wheelbarrow. It was a simple, spring Saturday, reminiscent of those I’d had myself as a child – the kind of day that is becoming scarce in the busy-ness of 21st Century life. The smiles were ear-to-ear one moment followed by tight lips, big startled eyes and death grips the next. It was a great day full of fun! After baths, we were all  worn out and settled in to sleep by 8:30pm. Life the way it’s supposed to be.

Isn’t that how life is on this journey with Father God?

One moment were squealing with delight, pure joy, thrilled at the ride Our Lord has taken us on. Then in a heartbeat we’re gripping tightly onto anything around us, caught off guard, feeling as if danger lurks around the next corner, not liking it at all that we are not in control.

We adults need some tips for our wheelbarrow ride with Jesus!

  1. Hang on tight – You’re not in control! Hanging on is fine as long as we grab onto the right thing. “You, God, are my God,… I cling to you;” (Psalm 63:8) Our job in any of the thrills or chills of life is to cling to the Father. Hang on and trust Him. He’s got it! It doesn’t seem like it sometimes. That wheelbarrow may seem like it’s about to tip over. He may not always take us where we want to go. He’s in control. And he’s got a great ride planned for us, if we can relax and trust him.
  2. Praise the Lord! Squeal out loud! Tell everyone around you in loud, excited tones. Don’t hold back. We adults tend to fret over being too exuberant, sounding arrogant, or looking weird to others. Get over it! Psalm 63:3-4 says, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” The psalmist was unafraid to declare the blessings, joy, and praises of his life. We should be as well.
  3. Remember God’s omnipotent power & majestic glory! Psalm 63:2 “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” When we feel we’re about to “tump” over in that wheelbarrow, fear is a natural reaction for a moment. However, that fear should spur us to dig in the Word and pour out the prayer. In His Word we’ll see His power over illness, nature, demons, even death. We serve a powerful God who can do what He says in His word He can do. With Him NOTHING is impossible. As we read and pray and allow ourselves to fully believe, our faith is strengthened, the anxiety subsides. We’ll be able to say through the tears “I really don’t like this Lord. But I love you and trust you. I know you’re strong enough to handle this. I’m just afraid you’re going to allow something painful in my life. I’m yours. Lord. I love you no matter what.”
  4. Enjoy the ride! Be satisfied in what the Father has provided for us! Psalm 63:5-7 “I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” The night after the wheelbarrow ride we had a yummy dinner on the deck. PapaSto grilled hamburgers and hotdogs on the deck. And the boys did go to bed with singing on their lips. (It was the PJ Masks theme song as they lay down watching it before they went to sleep – but still… their was joy in their little hearts.) And we adults can feast on what He provides for us and lay down in joy to sweet sleep as well.
  5. Long for those precious times with Your Father! When “Da Boyz” – my grandkids as my husband calls them – are not with their Granddaddy, they miss him. They miss all he does with them and for them. They miss his love and hugs. They miss his Saturday morning breakfasts and grilling out and ice cream sandwiches. They miss bike rides, mountain climbs, camping trips, and wheelbarrow rides among other things. When we see them during the week and it’s not a night they are coming to spend the night with Gigi, they always beg to come over. They know PapaSto will have something good planned. And we should have that hope and joy in our Heavenly Father! Verse 1 of Psalm 63 says, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” Just as we long for those simple, sweet days of childhood past, a part of us longs for what was lost back in the Garden of Eden through the curse of sin. We long for joy without pain, the knight in shining armor to sweep in and rescue us, and a life of beauty and peace instead of the chaos and the mundane that mark our lives. I sometimes find myself retreating from these thoughts of What if sin had never entered the world? and What if life were beautiful and uncomplicated as when God first created the Garden? Somehow those thoughts seem sad to think. But in reality we need to hope for life the way it was meant to be. We need to dwell on the promise of a New Heaven and New Earth. Hope in a forever with Jesus strengthens us to walk through this life, so spend some time contemplating your future hope. Allow yourself to long to be with your Heavenly Daddy, to long for Paradise Lost to be regained!
  6. Remember that our Father will protect and defend. Psalm 63:9-11 says, “Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.” When those little munchkins are riding with their Granddaddy, they are never afraid of strangers or robbers or bad guys. They have no doubt that their Papa would defend them, lay down his life for them, and keep them safe. We can rest in our Daddy in the same way. God is on your side.

We often feel we have to push and strive and make our way in this world. But really we are God’s own children riding in that wheelbarrow. He’s the one directing us and doing the work to get us through. So as you ride through the joys and terrors of life, never forget who is pushing the wheelbarrow.

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The Power of Words

Proverbs 25:11 – A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

How are your words lately?

Kind, loving, true, hopeful, healing, affirming? Intentional, inspiring, uplifting?

Hateful, hurtful, spiteful, careless, mean? Stinging, abusive, discouraging, destroying, judgemental?

close-up-colors-face-925350.jpgWords are so important. There are gentle and encouraging words. Life-giving words. And there are crushing and unpleasant words that tear down and even alter the course of a person’s life. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Another verse in Proverbs says that a soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Wow! What power there is in the words that we speak to others.

  • Words impact our children

I read once that if you tell a child they are mean or rebellious, they will set out to prove it is true. Make sure that you are speaking words of truth and life into them so that they will want to prove the positive rather than the negative. I used to tell my kids that they were driving me crazy. That phrase was mostly said in jest, but one particularly rough day, my little girl apologized for driving me crazy when I didn’t even say it.  I didn’t want my kids to believe those words, just to stop whatever it was they were doing. Words of correction and direction need to be loving no matter what the situation.

  • Words impact our spouses

model-2748342_1280Oh, how our husbands need our affirmation and encouragement. Even if they aren’t the best at something, or if they may not be what you thought they were when you married them, don’t let them hear you tear them down or compare them to others. Maybe the kind and affirming word you speak to them will dispel the negative things they have believed about themselves from someone else’s ugly words. Marriages are torn apart by careless words. Good marriages are strengthened by words of respect and love and forgiveness.

  • Words impact everyone around us

There are people all around us, every single day, who never get a word of affirmation or love or affection. They never hear that they are cared for or loved or that they are important. Or that they are beautiful and that they matter. Be intentional in what you say to people you encounter as you move about your daily life.  It only takes a few seconds to smile and speak to someone. Don’t you just feel so good when someone else just smiles at you and tells you to have a blessed day?

We should be careful with our words because Jesus takes our words very seriously. In Matthew 12:36, he said that on the day of judgement, we will give an account of every careless word. That tells us that we need to pay attention to every word. Speak words of truth to people from God’s word. What better words are there than the kind and loving words that our gentle Savior speaks to us through HIS WORD? Even when we disagree with someone, our words need not be harsh and hateful. I’m so thankful for our sweet Savior’s love and mercy and forgiveness when I think about the times my words have wounded another.

bow-box-candles-238467.jpgMany years ago I heard Florence Littauer share about the impact of the words that we speak. She said that our words should be “like a little silver box with a bow on top”. That’s how I want my words to be. Encouraging and true. A gift.  I don’t want my words to cause pain for others. Once the words are spoken, they can’t be taken back.  Florence’s words had an impact on me all those years ago and I still tear up to this day when I hear her message. You can hear her powerful “Silver Box” message here.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29