Tuesday, February 26, 2013

That One Thing

I'm amazed at how eagerly we seek to do our good deeds . . . except regarding that one thing.  This is what I've been struggling with this week and the reason I'm slow at writing a post for this blog.  And now I've created a dilemma for myself.  I am scheduled to teach a lesson to high school girls this Friday of which I've only started writing in earnest today. 

When we avoid obedience to that one thing, we get into all sorts of trouble.  I love this quote from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, "Life is so unnerving for the servant who's not serving."  I think that could describe me lately.  Oh, believe me, I've been serving, even expending myself to great degrees, more than I thought I could.  But I haven't been doing that one thing.  And in the meantime I've had to reap consequences for the trouble I created.

I'm reminded of the rich young ruler who approached Jesus with his list of very good deeds.  This ruler was virtually flawless . . . except for that one thing which Jesus asked of him, to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.  That he would not do.  (Mark 10:17-21)

I do not think this little story has anything to do with wealth, poverty, or distribution.  Rather it is about surrender.  We strive to obey God in most areas . . . except in that one thing we love.  Obedience in that regard would be too costly.  It could be choosing humility or accepting mistreatment without retaliation.  Maybe it is letting our children be who they are instead of living vicariously through them.  Maybe it is respect for a husband or love for a wife.  What is your one thing? 

We will give to the poor, or attend church regularly, even teaching a class or helping in the nursery.  We will spend time in the Word each day and cook dinner for a family in need.  But when it comes to that one thing, we will not surrender. 

My one thing has been my writing.  I've procrastinated with all sorts of other good things, but have avoided the writing like a plague.  Oh, I pray about it, but I'm fairly certain I need to simply act.  Prayer is crucial, but there comes a point where we need to get up and do it.  You've probably heard the saying, "It's hard to move a parked car."  True that. 

Yet, God is so merciful.  As I've struggled to get thoughts down on paper this week, He has given me a breakthrough and finally the words flow.  But not before I sat down and actually took the effort to begin writing. 

Sometimes our one thing seems insurmountable, but I'm encouraged that with God all things are possible.  (Mark 10:27)  However, knowing that does not mean I sit here and twiddle my thumbs.   There is a part I need to play.  I must demonstrate surrender through action.  So what do you say?  Will you tackle your one thing with me this week? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wisdom From a Fifth Grader

You've probably heard the phrase or seen the show called, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?  So here's a bit of wisdom from the fifth grader that lives in my house.  She was told to write a story using all the words from her spelling list.  I thought you might find it entertaining.

Eric's First Ride   by Summer
Eric was excited!  He was going on a train for the first time.  "Please pack things you're going to want for the ride," Eric's mom called from the kitchen.  

Eric began to pack.  He took raisins, a sailboat, a paint tray, and a pail of paint.  Then he contained them all in a back pack.  After that they made their way to the railway station.  When they got there, Eric was surprised at how big the train was.  They stepped aboard.  While Eric was waiting he played as if his boat were sailing across the Pacific Ocean.  

Suddenly, the train cars separated and a fishy feeling crept over him.  Little did he know that his train car was rolling down the hill.  Then there was a bang, a painful lurch, and Eric lost all consciousness.  When he woke up the train was moving smoothly through a corn field.

"What happened?" asked Eric.  His mother explained that the train cars had separated and their car went rolling down the hill.  Then the caboose brought them to a grinding halt.  

"Denver!" came a call from the loud speaker.  

Eric and his parents got off the train.  When his grandmother asked how his first ride was, "good," is all she got out of him. 

I love the last line, "good, is all she got out of him."  It is so typical of the response I get sometimes from my children.  How was school today?  Good.  How was the party?  Good.  How did Awana go?  Good.  But then I hear them talking to their siblings a mile a minute about which I had only received a 'good'.   So much goes on in our children's day that I'm amazed at how they so nonchalantly sum it all up in a good. 

When people ask how I'm doing I usually try to answer somewhat honestly.  I'm okay, I'm tired, I'm having a rough day, or I'm great.  I don't want to be a phoney and lie through my teeth about how I'm doing.  Yet at the same time, I wonder if I answered with an enthusiastic 'good!' how that might change my attitude.

I've been working hard at talking to strangers lately.  It comes so very naturally to my husband.  I envy his ability to strike up a conversation with everybody he runs into, no matter who they are.  Being married to this man over 22 years, I've been taking a few notes here and there.  One thing I've learned is that when I tell people I'm doing great, somehow I actually feel better and it forces my focus to be turned outward rather than on myself.  I never woulda thunk it coming from me, but I actually have fun talking with people I don't know. 

So, take it from a fifth grader, no matter how rough your day, try answering with a 'good' and see if encouragement doesn't spill into your life and splash out a little on others. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Small Steps

When I come home from a retreat I know what to expect--slippery slopes of depression.  Yet, the knowing does not usually prepare me for the battle of my emotions.  The more of my life I invest into an event, the harder is the coming down.  Aware of this, I sought prevention by delegating more responsibilities of the retreat than I ever have in the past.  I opened my tightly clenched hand and let fall my will and my way.  And in the letting loose of the treasure, God gave it back to me in fullest measure.

So why was the depression so intense last week?  I don't have all the answers but am well aware that I have an enemy and I must actively fight against him.   You may tire of hearing about the little stories I teach for children each week, but I have to say that God knows what is going on in my life.  It is no accident that these children's lessons speak so firmly to my own heart.  This week it is to "be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power."  (Eph. 6:10)  Hmmmm.

My body was exhausted from the retreat (being on the planning side of it, not the receiving end), and I felt like I may have slept for days, at least as much as I could.  And in those cat naps I dreamed of thirst.  I could not get enough water.  I woke up craving potatoes and bananas and of course water.  I think I was dehydrated.

Then my pastor spoke of David's mighty men risking their lives to quench his thirst for water.  David recognized their endeavor coming at great cost, even their own lives, and so David poured that water out on the ground, refusing to drink something so costly. (2 Sam. 23:15-17)  I don't think this was coincidence, that my own body longed for water all week.

Lately, I feel like my life has been an offering poured out to the Lord.  I honestly don't think I mean that pridefully, but rather simple faithful obedience.  In the pouring out of the offering, my need for God intensifies.  Oswald Chambers in his book, My Utmost for His Highest states, "How many of us are willing to spend every ounce...of mental, moral and spiritual energy we have for Jesus Christ?  That is the meaning of a witness in God's sense of the word...Am I willing to be broken bread and poured out wine for Him?"

In the pouring out of my life, I need God even more.  Jesus, when He hung on the cross cried out, "I thirst," an amazing statement coming from the One who is the river of life, the thirst quencher.  (John 19:28 and John 4:14)  God asks me to give, to never stop loving, to embrace 'my cross'.  The sacrifice is the offering of my life and in that offering my soul cries out, "I thirst".  I need the living God to sustain me, to fill me with His supply.

It is not kosher for Christians to be depressed, and I feel the depression takes me three steps back while seeking that one step forward.  But my eye is on the goal to hear the words, "well done, good and faithful servant". (Matt. 25:21)  He only asks that I be faithful.  Satan knows how to get at me, but God also knows my weakness and my frailty.  He has me covered, before and behind.  I know He is faithful and will make good these small steps toward Him. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Of Sacrifice

This morning my two youngest daughters faced a dilemma.  It is green day but they wanted to wear red for Valentine's Day.  Let me explain.  Of their own initiative they made themselves a chart of what colors they would wear on each day.  It is now a hard and fast rule.  They must wear the right color. 

Yet, no one has told them they have to do a color scheme for each day.  They've placed that upon themselves and now are a slave to their little chart.  It reminds me of the rules we place on our own lives but which God has never commanded. 

As lent arrives, we think of giving something up; making a sacrifice.  I'm not against it, but I'm not sure I'm for it either.  While I understand the good intentions, sometimes I struggle with its purpose for the Redeemed.

Giving something up does not guarantee my relationship with God will deepen, nor will it necessarily show how much I love Him.  It could do just the opposite, acquiring a proud spirit or a self-sufficient attitude.  There is a danger of looking to the fast of lent to make me a better person, rather than to the Person of Christ to change me.

Why are we so eager to determine what we will sacrifice, when God has already set the terms in His commands, that we love one another?  He asks us to be patient, kind, humble, not rude or self-seeking, keeping no record of wrongs, trusting, hopeful, and enduring.  (1st Cor. 13:4-7)  Love.  Could it be that in choosing to add rules for ourselves, we are avoiding what God has asked of us, to simply love one another? 

On the one hand, it can cause us to come to the end of ourselves as we realize that we cannot do the thing we have purposed in our hearts to do.  It can lead us to depend on God all the more.  But on the other hand, we can also be very disciplined to carry out our fast and suffering by our own will power.  This is where we must be careful of blending our faith with legalism.

If the truth be known, we need always sacrifice.  We are to "owe no man anything, but to love one another." (Rom. 13:8)  This alone takes immeasurable amounts of self-denial.  What good is lent if we will not love each other in the real needs of life or give our 'yes' or 'no' in commitment to one another?

The Lord desires our obedience more than our sacrifice. (1st Sam.15:22) He wants us to snuggle up to Him in relationship, to draw near to Him that He might draw near to us.  (James 4:8)  That's all. 

God asks us to be LIVING sacrifices. (Rom. 12:1,2)  I can be a slave to my own rules, to my sin nature, or to Christ.  I would choose the latter.  And to be a slave to Christ means I will obey Him in day to day living through love for one another. 

If our fasting during lent helps us draw closer to God, it is certainly a good thing.  But if its only a fad, like the latest diet, or simply following the idea of a person we idolize, we must be careful.  We don't have to place Christianity into a formula in order to live it.   In Christ we are free. . . free to give of ourselves to one another and to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Our Powerful God

How can I keep from singing God's praise?  I feel a little like the people Jesus healed--they could not hold it in, the wonderful things God had done for them.

I have to tell you some of the inside workings of God at our recent youth retreat.  Sat. morning in my alone time with God I read Matthew 28, of Jesus' resurrection.  I was reminded that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us through prayer.

I did not sleep much the night before and so acquired a splitting headache with total exhaustion.  Feeling overwhelmed I cried out to the Lord.  How could I face the day and all its activity and lead these young girls when I felt so awful?  I was also discouraged to find one of our girls sick again, the same girl that was sick last year, so sick that her Dad had to come pick her up and take her home. She was experiencing the same exact symptoms as before.

So I had my capable staff finish making the breakfast for everyone while I went to lie down for a bit.  I felt an urgency to pray.  It seemed we needed to actively fight against our enemy who did not want this retreat to go well.  So while the girls were having their own personal quiet times with the Lord, I called all the staff together and we prayed hard for half an hour.  I believe the power of the blood of Jesus enveloped us in that room and in that place.  God worked mightily among us.

Let me tell you of the ways.  My headache went away.  The girl that was so sick, got well.  The drama that is usually present by Saturday night with a group of teenage girls together in tight quarters did not happen. This was huge. I've never seen a year where the girls all got along so well.  In fact, the middle schoolers were like a pod, all of them enjoying each others company, no one left out.  The break out discussion times after each lesson were filled with girl's sharing honestly about their lives and how the lesson was impacting them.  As staff, we were connecting with the students. 

We got snowed in with our vehicles on Sat. and so our plan to drive to our hike had to be canceled and instead we hiked from the cabin and went a different route.  Though we had tons of snow, it was not very cold, and so the hike was invigorating.  No one complained about the distance or about walking through snow.  We prayed to see live eagles and one soared right over the heads of our middle group.  (Our theme was "Renewed Like the Eagle")  Later on Sunday we saw more eagles gliding above our cabin. 

We planned to send off lanterns into the night sky for our grand finale to the Sat. night lesson.   However, the weather had been bad all day with heavy snow and socked in fog and so it looked doubtful we could do that activity.   But by late evening the skies had cleared up with only a tiny bit of snowflakes still falling and we were able to fly the lanterns. 

Of her own initiative, one girl shared her testimony on facebook of how the retreat had changed her life.  We know it was a God thing, because retreats don't change anyone, only God does the changing, but the retreat was a tool He used to work change in her.  I was so encouraged by her testimony. 

God showed Himself strong on our behalf, but I'm thoroughly convinced it was the power of prayer which made the difference.  Through prayer the way was prepared and the road cleared for God to meet us and then while there we fought against the enemy in prayer.  We acknowledged our need with complete dependence on Jesus and He met us in that place.  How could we ever think we could "do" ministry without Him?  Ludicrous.  But with Him, all things are possible.  We give Him praise, for He alone is worthy. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Brush with Death

I was recently shocked to hear of a man I knew who had passed away.  Oh, I guess I didn't really know him well, but well enough to do a double take when I saw his picture and funeral announcement on the evening news.  He was fairly prominent in the community.

That night I couldn't sleep.  I kept thinking about this man's wife and his two daughters.  I felt like I spent most of the night praying for them.  I couldn't believe he was gone.  I don't even know if he was a believer or not, but I hope so.

His daughter, Haley, was in Heather's kindergarten and first grade class.  They were friends.  That is how I got to know the family.  When we dropped out of the public school system and began homeschooling we lost contact with them.  Later, when our daughters were in fifth grade he helped coach the girl's basketball team where we picked up the friendship once again.

Haley graduated with Heather from the same school.  When I heard Haley's name announced I remembered the friendship we had years ago.  She was at my daughter's birthday parties and Valentine's Tea where the kids played and the moms visited.  Sweet times. 

He was chief of police and just last year my husband talked with him at length as an issue broke out across the street from where we live.  They remembered each other.

And now he has entered eternity.  Three life contacts we've had with this family and we had no idea how important those contacts might have been.  When we brush across people's lives, we never know how close they are to eternity, nor us.  It chills me to think that maybe our paths crossed for a reason, maybe it was so we might have helped prepare this man for eternity.  I don't know.

But it does make me consider a little more carefully what I am doing about the people I run into each day.  How am I sharing Christ with them?  How crucial is it that I do so?  I don't mean that I have to cram the Bible down their throats, but gently share Jesus with them.

My heart continues to burn with an urgency to tell others of the great salvation offered to all who will receive it.  Today I saw my neighbor next door.  And I can't help but think, why have I not yet shared the gospel with her?  What am I doing with my life that I'm too busy to concern myself with neighbors? 

The girl across the alley stopped by the other day to sell me some Girl Scout cookies.  And like a total tight wad I didn't buy any cookies.  What's a few calories and a few dollars if it would have meant a conversation with her?  The reasoning for what and why I do things is all messed up sometimes.

God, help me to recognize opportunities when they come.  May I always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me.  I cannot put it off until my house is clean or until I am not busy or until I've worked up a fine little speech.  What am I doing messing around with trivial agendas?  God, have mercy on me!  We are not here to control or condemn people, but to love them.  To show and tell them of your great salvation.  That is my heart's desire. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

True Realities

Do you know how lovely it is to forget your camera?  I went nearly all the way to Telluride without it.  Crisp clear skies paired with beautiful snowy mountains were assuredly picture perfect.  The added bonus of an eagle's effortless soar directly across my path made for glorious.

I saw my daughters' baptisms through a camera lens.  So too, that split second hand shake and the passing of the diploma to the graduate.  It's like I never saw the real event and in its place, the photo becomes the reality, if that makes any sense.  

Sometimes the moments are greater when I can just enjoy them, rather than try to capture them on camera.   You've probably heard of the little song, "Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day."  (by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss)  We catch the moments and stamp them on our hearts to last forever.  That can be the best way. 

One memory I never want to forget, however, is the amazing things God does for me, day by day.  And so I write them down.  I think I could never forget God's workings, yet at times I have.  But I try to keep them in my pocket, so to speak. 

Yesterday evening I was compelled to write down a God thing.  He gave back to me what I had released to Him just a few days before, only in greater measure.   I wrestled through Scripture and with writing a fresh lesson.  I struggled to stay awake, but the end product was much fuller than it ever was in it's beginnings.  And the best part?  I know God was in it.  He is going before me. 

I cannot wait to see what He is going to do this year at our youth winter retreat.  So many God things have already happened.  For some reason, I'm not yet exactly sure why, God is coinciding, no, bombarding me with His Word from different sources that speak exactly the same thing.  This week I am scheduled to teach our elementary school kids about Elisha and the invisible armies of God made visible.  That very story was referred to yesterday at my church as well.

God is real.  I know it now more than ever before.  Oh, I knew it before, but there are times when I am so aware of His presence that I really do not even desire to be on this earth anymore.  I have such a longing for heaven.  This is what pulls my emotions more than anything.  When my mom died, when my sister-in-law died, all I could think of was, "Wow!  They are in the very presence of God."  At the blink of an eye, they are there.  I can't wait for my turn.

This earth will then be only the photo, because heaven is the true reality.  Real living will be had in that place.  But then again, I get a taste of it here when I embrace the cross of Christ, laying aside my own way, my own selfish desires.  That is when I truly live. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Heart to Heart

I don't know about you, but when I read too many blogs my heart sinks.   I don't measure up to the picture perfect ideals so often painted.  It is a foothold of depression which grabs hard sending me spiraling off course . . . an invasion. 

I entered the blogging world very naive, and as I evaluate the purpose for this blog, I fear I've been guilty of the very things mentioned above.  It is so easy for pride to creep into our speech as we share our lives, often giving the impression that we have arrived.  For these reasons, among others, I planned to terminate this blog.

However, every time I'm on the edge of quitting, God speaks into my life . . . continue.    Today it came from Holly Gerth's blog, my all time favorite.  She wrote that mistakes are not a good reason to quit.  When we fall flat on our faces it is there that we tell the watching world, "I'm still in training.  I haven't arrived.  I'm learning."  Sigh.  It is so hard to be on my face.  Yet it seems God keeps me there often because that's the best position to pray from, to hear God's voice, and to learn of Him.

God has been speaking to me loud and clear as of late.  Through my varied Bible studies, I've noticed something.  They are all pointing to one thing.  God will do His work in His way.

Each lesson I teach, I believe is more for me than for the people being taught.  This week it was on Naaman, the mighty warrior with a leprosy problem.  He was offered healing but wanted it to come about in his own way.

Recently I've had to give up something which I hold very dear.  God revealed my attitude of pride and lack of trust in Him through that little children's story.  If I want to live my life I must die to having things my own way, because if I hoard my life, I will lose it.  I was holding a tight grip and God was prying my fingers loose of it.  Trust Him.  Where is the trust when I have to be in so much control?  

Isn't the body of Christ amazing?  God places us together with other people so that, as many parts within one unit, we might carry out His mandate.  He doesn't tell us to go it alone.  One person does not carry all the gifts needed to extend His message to the world. 

God must increase and I need to decrease.