Construction Zone: Needed Repairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unexpected Dividends

I’m not much of an investment banker. One would think one must have something with which to bank and to invest to be an investment banker. I am of the lower economic echelon, therefore I get a bit confused on how all that works. I think the general idea is to take some money, give it to an organization, said organization makes a copious amount of money and gives you your money back and then some. If said organization loses money, then so do you. Nothing gained, everything lost. I could be way off, and that process may have another name, like scratch off lottery, but I kind of think that’s how it works. Keep in mind I am the same person who will frequently lose a bet over a simple math calculation to Scott Martin.

I do think on a day to day I am making investments, but they are of a different nature.
Included are, investments of my time, my skill set. Investments of words, investments of money (albeit small amounts), investments into friendship and other people’s lives, but investments nonetheless. Some of the investments I make, I don’t see the payoff. Sometimes, well lots of times, that is frustrating for me. I’m not known for my patience. Several years ago I made the widow’s mite kind of investment, or at least what I thought was.

My heart was hurt and broken to bits, my vision skewed by the world around me. The King’s people especially frustrated me and I wanted nothing more than to not invest in them, despite being a them. I just wanted to crawl into my bed of hurt and pull the covers of disappointment and cynicism over my head and sleep. As I pondered putting on the pj’s of self pity the time-consuming practice of Bible study came up. I had always enjoyed knowing about the King’s book. I’d read it and occasionally studied it, liked it, found it fascinating. I certainly didn’t love it, not even close.

bible-christian-christianity-272337So on a warm September morning one who knew me well insisted I drive across town to the Bible Study where I was sure to find out where in the King’s book my dinosaur questions could be answered. I went reluctantly.

Over the course of time, something happened, the investment of others began to pay off and I was reaping the benefits. I was beginning to see how the King’s economy works. I grew to love that book, and now the thought that I haven’t always makes me sad inside. Eventually the need to drive across the town would not be necessary and not only did I figure out the Dinos, I began to appreciate the King’s book a bit more. As I meandered around in my pjs of hurt I was asked to pray, to pray about making an investment, an investment I viewed as one of epic proportions, for it would take all that I had to give, and the payoff wasn’t guaranteed.

I wasn’t sure if I were willing to risk it. I’d have to think about it. A few weeks later I received the go via the TV weatherman. Give it everything. Blindly. Stand back and reap the dividends I’d never even begun to consider. For several years now, during the school year, I’ve invested in Wednesday.

Wednesdays have been aptly named by a friend of mine as “Wipe out Wednesday.” At the end of each Bible Study Day, I’m exhausted.

Over the course of time, I’ve counted snacks and crafts, I’ve sparkled, sorted, and separated and herded Sheeps of all manner to and fro. I’ve disciplined and discipled, and doctored boo-boos. I’ve hugged, now I’m both the initiator and receiver. I’ve pondered, cried, and laughed so hard my body has physically hurt. I’ve surveyed a room full of women seeing each one as absolutely stunning, convinced this is how the King must see them. I’ve prayed with, cried with, and have just been present with women from all walks of life. I have seen prayer after prayer answered and over time healing has come.
This weekly investment though can cause one to grow weary. During the summer months it isn’t as easy to see a payoff. During the summer months when one is not in the thick of it, the encouragement to press on is difficult to distinguish as well.

This brings me to a dividend I never expected. I had the privilege of glimpsing into that in the most unlikely of places.

best-friends-blond-hair-bonding-1574650It looked something like this. Recently, when asked what she wanted for her birthday Charlotte told me 2 things, a set of colored pencils and time with her friends. After some text messages and such, the plan was in place. Despite not realizing it until well into the evening, the friends all had a common denominator, their Mamas were made up of Wipeout Wednesday Workers. I observed them as we traversed the roads picking up and meeting and such, one-by-one the meeting of the last just as giddy as the seeing of the first. Their conversations tickled me and I inwardly laughed, remembering those years when I was their age.

They talked comics and Marvels and DCs and mission trips and church and music and snacks and oh how they’d missed one another. They captured a “night butterfly” known to the rest of the world as a moth and tormented the hater of winged creatures of the group until I confiscated said night butterfly. They ate more than a swarm of locusts and my picnic bag looked like it had been merely a light snack. They giggled and shrieked over the thought of a port-a-potty and oohed and ahhed over a fireworks display. They circled up and every time I said “Girls, we’re prayin’!” they dutifully bowed, and immediately quieted and it hit me none of them was unfamiliar with the act. As they giggled late into the night, talking and shhhing and talking again I clearly saw the payoff. The King’s book says as metal sharpens metal, two King’s kid friends will do the same (Paraphrase Amy Martin style).

I am thankful that once again the King’s economy means investment from me, dividends for my children. My imagination wandered that night and I saw each one of them grown, sharing that common denominator of friendship and Bible study, and I wondered where it would take them. Among them they are sure to change the world. The possibilities are endless: artist, comedian, athlete, missionary, nurse, spy, administrator, teacher, mom, wife, writer, pharmacist, doctor. At the heart of them all is a love for the King. And as the Mama of one of them, I can say confidently, that is what I desire most.

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Living in Exile

On these temporary shores, followers of Christ often feel out of sorts, out of place, out of step with the culture around us. There’s a simple reason. We are not home yet.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:11-12

This fall my daughter is living and studying in the Middle East. She’s traveled quite a bit, but never to a culture quite as foreign to her American Deep South sensibilities. It’s such a dynamic shift, her professor asked her to devote an hour of college credit to a class that would solely prepare her for this new world. She learned everything from how to walk down a street to how to dress to how to buy groceries at the market. Everything about this place would be strange and unfamiliar. It invites lots of potential for embarrassment and awkwardness, and the possibility of conflict and danger if she doesn’t abide by cultural norms. Norms that don’t come naturally to her experience and instinct. Norms that make her feel uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. There’s also a spiritual weight to this place; a heaviness; a darkness; that already feels weighty. She is a stranger in a strange land.

What she is experiencing is a small reflection of what followers of Christ often feel in this world. It just doesn’t feel quite right. Our souls tell us there must be more, and the Word assures us there IS more for those who recognize their sin and accept the gift of grace and forgiveness offered in Jesus. (Romans 10:9;13) But what about the here and now? We’ve been exiled in the desolate place, but, if we’re in Christ, we’re not left alone. Never alone.

Let’s take apart this verse from 1 Peter 2:11-12:
Peter is talking to those in Christ, when he says “beloved” he is speaking to those who have accepted the gift of salvation in Christ, and can now call God their Father. When we are in Christ we can call God our Father. Because we have become beloved children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15-17).

blur-branches-foliage-38537Sojourners here means foreigners, strangers, resident aliens. Exiles means temporary residents or refugees. Christians are not in our permanent location; not in the place we were meant to inhabit.

And because we are not home, our soul is still divided between the reality of our exiled location, and the reality of our permanent dwelling place. Evil is present in this culture. It is a part of our existence here. And because we still live in this place inhabited by evil, we aren’t immune to its effects. But Peter says we’re to not give in to our flesh, to the temptations that make us more at home in the place we don’t belong. And most importantly, we need to stand firm in what is true so that others (the Gentiles) can see who God is through our very lives and they will glorify God by finding their way to Him through how we live. Ultimately, we want to take everyone we possibly can into exile with us.

Lately, I’ve been reading through Jeremiah with brand new eyes. Putting followers of Christ in the place of these exiled Israelites. So many of those beautiful promises God gave to the Israelites as they were struggling to assimilate to foreign cultures while longing for their true home, are even more powerful when I apply them to Christians exiles.

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

“You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

When we read these as aliens and strangers and exiles ourselves, the reality that the future and the hope we have isn’t in this world. It is in Christ. It is in heaven. It is in eternity. We find that future and hope by looking for the ancient paths, by seeking God with all our heart, when we seek we find that all we ever longed for is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

That seeking though begins with a longing, a gnawing that we were not meant for this place. An uncomfortableness, an unsettledness. As C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Amen

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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 becuase 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 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 berrate 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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Old Testament Roll Call

I felt about as far from the Old Testament as I could have gotten. I was floating in a chlorinated pool with depths ranging from 3-12 feet, my head back, feet elevated, certified lifeguards towering above me, and Today’s Country Music singing behind me.

My friend says that he has done a lot of research via the YouTube and has figured out that country music of old just isn’t the same as country music today. We had gotten into a discussion about Old Tyme music several months before and he had set out to uncover the change of sound. Up until that moment, I had forgotten about our conversation we had one day at work a while back.

He stated his hypothesis void of any context clues.

“It’s the neck stretch”

“Huh?” I was deep in thought and I couldn’t have been farther from the Grand Ole Opry if I’d’ve been in Australia.

“It’s the neck stretch. Back in the day the Country Singers used to stretch out their necks and it’d make that twang sound. They don’t stretch their necks anymore.”

As the country music played in the background, bass kicking and drums drumming, words of I don’t even know what but I do know I didn’t hear a thing about cheatin’ hearts, cotton pickin’, country cookin’, or Mamas. There was no Jesus, prayer or lost loves as far as I could tell. No semblance of church choir or preaching’ in the lyrics.

I was pondering on the neck stretch and how a lot of life seems to revolve around a lack of neck stretching; it seems folks used to be willing to put their neck on the line for their neighbor but that happens less and less these days. It made me especially thankful for the Ultimate Neck Stretcher who died for me and for the entirety of the world.

In my imagination I was meandering somewhere between Nashville and Calvary when the Old Testament role call behind me jolted me into the moment, the stray beach ball that landed squarely on my forehead most assuredly aided in jolting me back to the present.

“Miriam!”
“Samuel”
“Elijah”
“Hannah.”

activity-beauty-blue-61129-2.jpgI giggled. The bearer of those names were tiny toddler and teenage frames clothed in shark swim trunks and modest tankinis, not the Old Testament Players for whom they likely had been named.

With my eyes closed to shield the sun, I smiled and thought of the gravity of those names and the legacies they carry.

A sister of Moses who celebrated beautifully that God had saved her and her people, having just crossed the sea on land and escaped the pursuing Egyptians.

One born to a barren woman, who when God called said, “Here I am, your servant is listening.”

A prophet who called down fire from heaven and consumed a waterlogged sacrifice to demonstrate that One Jehovah God is more powerful than the multitude of prophets of Baal.

A barren woman promised she would dedicate her child to the Lord, and dedicate him she did. The very same son who was ready and willing when the Lord called.

Shakespeare asked the question, “What’s in a name?” in Romeo and Juliet. I have pondered that a few times this summer myself. What does a name matter? As my mind tends to do it wandered to a particular verse in the King’s Book. A verse that talks specifically of the King’s Name.

Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is but One name that the whole of Creation will bow, and that is the Name of Jesus. There is but One Name that has been the bearer of the greatest burden on history, and that is the Name of Jesus.

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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!

 

 

 

Construction Zone: Doors

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

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

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

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

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

Locked doors keep things out.

Unlocked doors allow entrance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» Do you invest in the lives of other women?

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

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

– OR –

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

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

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

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

 

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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

Fire on the Stove

The smell of Cinnamon is a delicious smell. I can remember those delicious cinnamon toasts that my mother made for breakfast when I was growing up. We would always eat the parts with the extra pats of butter on them first. I can taste them just by thinking about them.

I had not made cinnamon toasts in a long time. I was changing around the spices in my cabinet and had not replaced the container of cinnamon when my husband came into the kitchen. He wanted to know what I was going to cook with cinnamon. I didn’t have french-toast-995532_1280the heart to tell him that I was just cleaning the cabinet so I asked if he wanted cinnamon toasts for breakfast. At our house, we add extra syllables to cinnamon toast. It’s more like “cinnaminny toasties.” I do not remember how that started but it is still what my husband and I call them.

The next morning I was preparing the cinnamon toasts and I looked at my cookie sheet. It really needed a good scrubbing, but that was going to have to wait. I thought I would just put some parchment paper on the cookie sheet and save the scrubbing for later in the day. I should have just used it. It’s not like it was dirty. It just looked dirty.

I usually make cinnamon toast in my toaster oven, but my toaster oven and I had a parting of the way recently so I was using my oven broiler. Never, and let me say it again, Never use parchment paper when using your broiler. It caught fire immediately. I calmly said, “I need some help here.” Eddie turned to see the cookie sheet in flames as I slid it on top of the stove. Let’s just say that I didn’t need a fire extinguisher, but none of my cinnamon toasts survived. We had a good laugh after the excitement was over and then made new cinnamon toasts. I used to have a smoke alarm in my kitchen but it went off every time I cooked so we moved it further away. I had a sign back then that said “Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off.” I really haven’t had a fire in a long time.

I love the smell of fragrant foods cooking. When I think of the smell of cinnamon I think of cinnamon rolls, apple cider, spiced apples, and apple pie. I think it smells like love. The smell permeates the area and fills the room. I think love must be like that. When someone really loves you, it feels like it is all over you. It is hard to find a place that doesn’t feel loved. I think that is what the love of God is like. He loves us from the outside in and from the inside out. Jeremiah 31:3 ESV says “The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with loving devotion”. Cinnamon draws you in. It brings you to the kitchen from anywhere in the house. Cinnamon leaves such a wonderful smell all through the house. It seems to linger.

I think if God’s love has a smell, for me it must be cinnamon.

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Chameleon Living

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Ephesians 5:1 NLT

The overhead loudspeaker crackled to life. A familiar voice announced a page for an individual.

“Mr. So-and-So please call blah-blah-blah-blah.” There was hardly a pause, “Mr. So-and-So please call blah-blah-blah-blah.” I had no idea to whom Mr. So-and-So was referring and despite the familiarity of the voice, I had no idea what the speaker looked like. The overhead loudspeaker went silent and the familiar matter-of-fact voice of my coworker standing behind me spoke.

“Ruth-Ann’s been in Alabama longer’n I’ve been alive but she refuses to acclimate to the accent. She still talks like she’s in the north.”

I literally burst out laughing and spit out the water I had just taken a sip of. I snorted and turned around.

I knew exactly what he was talking about. I had never actually knowingly laid eyes on Ruth-Ann. I do not know her state of origin, her last name, if she wears glasses or not. If I had to pick her out of lineup I’d have to be blindfolded because I only know her voice; she has a distinct accent, not at all like my own. She sounds, well … northern.

As I pondered on the statement, I thought about the acclimation that takes place when we inhabit a place for any length of time. How we take on the accent of those around us, words and phrases of the speakers. Case in point, I watch a lot of British TV and find myself saying the following:

                    “That’s Brilliant!” Instead of “That’s great!”
“Queue” instead of “Line.”
“Rubbish” instead of “garbage.”
“Bin” instead of “trash can” and “tin” instead of “can.”

Without even knowing it I’ve acclimated to the television vocabulary. I’ve become like a verbal chameleon, speaking like those I have heard.

As I thought about Ruth Ann (if that actually is her name, I have no idea) and her apparent refusal to acclimate to the Southern-speakers around her, I found myself challenged.

This world is not my home, yet there are times you would never know that, not based on my behavior anyway. I look so much that the world and so little like Christ that others can not distinguish the difference residing in me. I walk around so defeated and beat down you’d never know I possessed the joy of the Lord. Perhaps I should live more like Ruth-Ann, with such intention as to not look so much like the world around me and more like the unique me I have been created to be.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:2 MSG

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