Friday, December 25, 2009

Love and Pepper Spray

When our youngest moved in with her older brother to attend college in St. Cloud, he gave her a can of pepper spray for self-protection, but only after first trying it out on himself – twice, because he missed his eyes with the first shot – to confirm that it would actually work. Our son found that pepper spray does indeed work very well.

Now that’s love. I mean, who gives his sister pepper spray without being sure of its effectiveness?

Our son is hilarious, and you never know what he’s going to do, but love surely will find a way to express itself in action, and God has demonstrated His love for us by wanting to take care of us in this life and assure us of our place with Him in eternity.

Christmas – the real reason that we celebrate – is a beautiful example of God’s love in action. It’s a time I find myself meditating on what was probably one of the first Bible verses I learned as a child: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

We all know that verse, right? Perhaps because it is so well-known and often used, we tend to gloss over the profoundness of its simple message: God loves us. Because He loves us, He gave. God gave that which was most precious to Him – His son. And in giving His son, He gave us the blessing of spending eternity with Him after walking victoriously through this life in His strength.
Wow. Like the purity and wonder of a newborn baby, the message of John 3:16 is so simple but so awesome.

God’s not asking us to take a shot of pepper spray in the eyes for Him, but maybe we could spend some quiet time reflecting on His wonderful gift and let Him know that we’re thankful.

God bless you, and merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A touch of the divine

“To err is human, to forgive divine” (Alexander Pope).

When we’ve been deeply wounded, forgiveness is not easy – especially when the wounds have come at the hands of those whom we have loved and trusted.

Alexander Pope said that to forgive is “divine.” Surely, this is key to understanding where forgiveness begins.

From a purely human perspective, we can usually justify bitterness, anger, and even hatred depending on the situation and how badly we’ve been treated. There are those who certainly do not “deserve” our forgiveness. Furthermore, some apparently don’t even want our forgiveness, judging by their refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Why bother forgiving in such situations?

God has placed a high calling on our lives, and His commands are always for our good. His Word says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

Even if others do not acknowledge their need of forgiveness, we need to forgive them for righteousness’ sake and for the sake of our own well-being.

Bitterness is a burden. It’s heavy. It’s oppressive. It blocks our joy and our ability to walk in God’s blessings.

God knew that forgiveness would not always be easy, and He does not expect us to do this in our own strength.

He sent our Savior Jesus so that we might experience forgiveness and in that experience learn to humbly acknowledge our own faults, our own unworthiness, and prepare us to extend His grace to others.

If “to err is human,” then all of us will fall short and find ourselves in need of forgiveness. And if forgiveness is divine, then we must trust in our Savior’s grace to teach us how to forgive one another.

If you find yourself facing this Christmas with an unforgiving heart, reach out for a touch of the divine and ask God to help you give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

God of all comfort

How do you find comfort? Like a small child with its security blanket, most of us have some activity or some thing that brings us comfort. We’re all familiar with the term “comfort food,” meaning the type of food we eat to make ourselves feel better. Some people find comfort in hot baths, good books, naps, or the company of good friends.

Sooner or later we all need comfort to get through this life.

Experts say the holidays, supposedly a time of celebrating and rejoicing, actually cause many people to experience higher levels of stress and depression. It’s a time we might need to step up our comfort-seeking levels.

This is meant to be a joyful season, but if joy seems to elude you as you go about singing your Christmas carols, consider the line from “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” – “O tidings of comfort and joy.”

Comfort and joy are intertwined. If you are in need of comfort, you aren’t experiencing joy.

Sometimes all the hot baths, long novels, soft blankets and crunchy nachos in the world won’t make you feel any better.

Second Corinthians 1:3 tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” This is such good news to those in need of His comfort. I think sometimes we forget that He knows, He understands, and He cares about our pain. He is ever ready to minister His peace to us, but we must be ready to receive from Him.

If you’re feeling far from joyful this Christmas season, talk to your Heavenly Father about that. Ask Him to bring you His comfort, to fill you with His peace, and to restore your joy. In faith, receive from Him that which He has promised. Stay close to Him, and all the mayhem around you or any sorrow you may be carrying cannot supersede His comfort.

God rest ye, merry gentlemen – and women!

While we were still sinners

When you have lived your entire Christian life with a performance-based mindset, changing your way of thinking can be difficult.

First, let me explain what I mean by performance based. This is the idea that God loves us more when we’re “good” and less when we’re “bad.”

Romans 5:8 explains, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Think about this: Before you even knew God, before you ever loved Him or did one thing to please Him, His love for you was great enough to send Jesus to the cross on your account.
What makes us think we can do anything to make Him love us more?

Perhaps because our experience with human relationships has taught us that there are limits, there are conditions to the love people give us, we expect God to treat us the same way. It’s too difficult to fathom a love so strong that someone would die for us, while at the same time grasping that we could never deserve or earn that love.

Maybe in our attempts to earn God’s love we’re really just building up our own self-esteem. If I can point to all my good works and lack of naughtiness, will you have more admiration and respect for me?

Corrie Ten Boom said that at the end of her life, she didn’t want people to comment about how good she was to God but about how good God was to her. She spent her life in service and sacrifice to her Lord, but her motivation obviously stemmed from a deep sense of gratitude for His love toward her, not a sense of obligation or an attempt to make herself look good.

Striving to be good enough will not bring you closer to God.

A life spent contemplating God’s great love leads to thankfulness, which leads to obedience, which leads to a deep abiding faith, which leads to godliness, not of our own efforts but born out of our relationship with Him.

Thanks in all things

This Thanksgiving, how many of you will participate in the tradition of going around the table taking turns sharing what you’re thankful for?

Our family has done this a few times in the past, and typically you’ll hear such things as, “I’m thankful for my family”; “I’m thankful for my home”; “I’m thankful for my country”; “I’m thankful for all this good food!”

Oh yes, of course we are (and should be!) thankful for these things. We are blessed in myriad ways. I can never thank God enough for my family, my home, and all the rest.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Years ago when I first read this, I thought it meant I was supposed to be thankful for everything, and quite frankly, I found that a little hard to swallow. Thankful for everything?

“I’m thankful I have cancer,” “I’m thankful my marriage is falling apart,”’ and “I’m thankful my child is on drugs,” seem like ridiculous statements. And they are ridiculous!

1 Thessalonians 5:18 doesn’t tell us to be thankful for everything. Not everything that happens is God’s will or God’s best for us. (Are you going to thank God for something the enemy doled out while we weren’t paying attention?)

No, the passage instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances.

Paul wrote this exhortation to a young church facing persecution. He knew that when faced with hardships and trials, expressing gratitude to the God who saves us and blesses us would be a powerful tool to build us up in our faith and to help us stand strong in the face of the enemy.

There have been plenty of times I have been in situations for which I was not thankful. But placed against the backdrop of God’s all-surpassing faithfulness, goodness and greatness, the situation dimmed in comparison.

For this, I can always be thankful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reflection of Our Hearts

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

You can tell a lot about a person simply by listening to what he or she talks about. Have you ever been privy to a conversation (perhaps unwillingly) that made you squirm uncomfortably? Have you ever been present when others are indulging in vicious gossip, especially the character assassination of some poor soul who’s not there to defend herself? How did it make you feel? How did you respond?

If you’re anything like me – someone who worries about offending others – maybe you try changing the subject, or you might politely excuse yourself and leave (or shirk off to the nearest corner, anywhere to get away). In my most recent experience with this type of situation I found myself humming (fairly loudly), “It’s a Small World After All.” I don’t know where that came from! (Well, maybe I do.)

In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said, “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

If our conversations reflect what’s going on in our hearts, it might be prudent to pay attention to the content of those conversations. What are our words saying about our relationship with our Heavenly Father – our Holy God?

A sobering thought, isn’t it?

While it’s true that we must pay attention to and be careful about what we say, it’s also true that change comes from the inside out. If my words are merely an indication of my heart’s condition; and my words are critical, vicious, foul and ugly, do I have a word problem or a heart problem?

Remember that true change comes only from an intimate relationship with the Lord and from meditating on His Word. The Bible has much to say about the words we speak. If you want your words to reflect your love for God, you might begin by reading the Proverbs and underlining, highlighting, or writing on a separate piece of paper every verse that refers to speech or the tongue.

Be encouraged. We’re all works in progress, and God is doing a good work in you!

Always at Work

“What is God doing in your life right now?”

Years ago when my husband and I were newly wed, we got involved with these “radical” Christians who would ask such questions of us. Caught off guard, I probably pulled something off the top of my head rather than admit, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know what God is doing in my life right now” doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it?

Maybe it’s not fair to catch people off guard with such a question, but it certainly is thought provoking, and we all could probably spend more time thinking about God’s role in our life.

Looking back over the years, I am astonished – truly amazed – at how God has worked in my life. Astounding acquaintances and inexplicable events have taken place and have led me down paths I never imagined. They have changed me, shaped me, and grown me into who I am today. I can see now that even though I may not have realized it at the time, and even through some difficult, challenging situations, He always had a plan; He always was at work in my life. This knowledge gives me perspective that those who do not know the Lord could not possibly have.

Problems that used to send me into a tizzy are now so much easier to shrug off. Is God up in Heaven pacing nervously and wringing His hands about this problem? Of course not! If He doesn’t worry, why should I? I need only to ask, “Father, help me to see your hand in this situation – your perspective, your solution.”

There have been times I’ve gotten off the path of His plan for me – free will allows that. Have there been regrets and consequences? Absolutely. But God’s love is so persistent, He never stopped calling me back to Himself – back to where He could continue doing good things in my life.

When we’re trusting Him and seeking Him, we can confidently assume that He’s always at work in our lives, helping us know Him better and to be transformed into His image.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Basking in the Son

Due to the lack of sunshine in the past several weeks, there’s been a recent outbreak of crankiness and the blues and lots of the blahs. It seems to me that nearly everyone’s on the verge of cracking. Either that or they’re exclaiming, “Just let me SLEEP!”

Every time the sun pokes out its head – usually for only a few minutes at a time – those of us indoors rush outside to bask in its rays, lifting our faces to let it penetrate our souls. Isn’t it amazing how this light source has such an effect on our emotional and physical well-being? People start smiling, humming and stepping lightly. We know whatever’s been bothering us is going to get better, because . . . there’s the sun.

We need sunshine!

I’ve often thought to describe the feeling of experiencing God’s presence, but words elude me. It struck me recently that experiencing God’s presence feels very similar to stepping into the sun – especially after days of gloom – where He fills us with His warmth, and wellness infiltrates our being, lifting us beyond any anxiety or despair.

In fact, the Bible compares God to the sun, saying, “For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right (Psalm 84:11; NLT).

We’ve seen what a struggle it is to remain joyful and optimistic when the sun is hidden behind gray skies, but just as the sun is never really gone even though we miss its rays when it’s hidden behind the clouds, God is always with us, and He invites us to enter into and enjoy His presence any time.

Psalm 16:11; You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Busy People

Busy is a four-letter word. It’s easy to get caught in the busy trap. Sometimes I have so much going on that I’m left feeling stressed out, exhausted, and truly concerned that I’ll end up friendless in my old age because I don’t make time to spend with the few friends I have now.

But I know I am not alone.

In spite of what we may think, God never intended for any one person to do everything. Most of us need to think carefully about how we spend our time. We have to learn to say NO to some of the “opportunities” that come our way and examine the activities we’re currently involved with to determine which ones are really necessary and what things can be eliminated.

Before we can do this, we must search our hearts and invite God to help us see why we’re driven to do so much. Once we understand what need is being met through our busyness, we can let the Lord meet that need. He can and will meet every need in a way that will bring us peace, not stress, fulfillment, not frustration.

We have to admit that we can never do enough. There will always be some other cause to which we can donate our time. There will always be someone else who wants us to get involved. There are people sitting on the sidelines doing nothing because everything’s already taken care of; they aren’t needed. If we stepped down and didn’t do everything, someone else would have to take our place. And once we’ve given that up, we must resist with all our strength the urge to get our hands back in there and take over because “only we know how to do things right.” Those sitting on the sidelines will need to figure things out, just as we once did. We’ll give advice if asked, but otherwise, we’ll bug off!

Let’s go out and play with the kids and have lunch with that friend we’ve been neglecting. Let’s have a movie night with our sweethearts, or pour ourselves a cup of something hot to drink, wrap up in a big afghan, and cuddle up on the couch with that novel we’ve been meaning to read. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured.

Gotta go now, it’s time for my hour-long bath!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All This and Coffee Too

Readers who communicate electronically will most likely identify with lists of questions we receive in order to let others “get to know us better.” Like you, I’m often called upon to respond to such questionnaires. Recently, in answer to the question “What is the one thing you cannot live without?” I replied “COFFEE!”

I was joking of course. My life would not cease to exist if I never had another cup of coffee (maybe), but do you ever stop to ponder what you can and cannot live without?

Aside from the obvious – we all need food, clothing, shelter, etc. – what do we need?

In the tenth chapter of Luke, Jesus told Martha that her sister Mary understood the one thing that was needful. While Martha worried about making sure everything was taken care of and tending to many details, Mary demonstrated her faith by sitting at the Lord’s feet learning all she could from Him. She forgot about everything else that “needed” her attention when she was in His presence.

Matthew 6 talks about the things we need in this life and makes it clear our Heavenly Father knows we need these things (Mat. 6:32), but once again we’re reminded that only one thing is needful. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).

I return to this topic again and again, because most of us (including me) can’t seem to hang on to the knowledge that we need God. We need to seek Him and to know Him. We need to put everything else aside and label it “rubbish.” We need to sit attentively at His feet, willing to learn from Him and receive everything He has to give us.

And then, He promises us, we will have everything else we need – like coffee.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hangin' with the kids

As I write this column Sunday evening, I’m very tired. My kids were around this weekend, and I let them keep me up far too late. Even though I knew I’d suffer for it the next day, I couldn’t pull myself away from them as long as they wanted (or were willing) to spend time with me. I love to hear their stories, whether they’re reminiscing about their childhoods or filling me in on what they’re doing now. Even if we’re only watching a movie together, I love being in the same room with them, having them near by.

I would feel bad if my children came to see me only out of a sense of obligation. I hope that they want to spend time with me.

If I as an earthly parent delight that much in my children’s company, imagine how much our perfect heavenly father delights to spend time with us.

This is a point I think most of us tend to forget. We think of our “obligations” as Christians: I should go to church; I should pray; I should read my Bible, and so forth. We forget that God is our Father, and He very much wants to spend time with us. (1 John 3:1a; “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”)

The God of the Universe has brought us into an intimate, parent-child relationship with Himself! Perhaps because it’s such an immense thing to grasp, we’re always losing sight of it and need to be reminded.

As children we learned “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” – a simple yet profound truth that we tend to forget as adults.

Let’s be sure to nurture that relationship with our heavenly Father, because it is the most fulfilling bond we’ll ever experience.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Come to Me

There was a man on his way to the throne of God. He carried several bundles of “baggage” with him, and as he traveled, he dropped them one by one, hoping to rid himself of them before He reached God’s throne. As he came closer to the throne, he suddenly stopped. He hung his head in shame and did not continue his journey because, alas, he still carried some of the bundles and was too ashamed to come before Almighty God.

Then there was a second man, also on his way to the throne of God. This man too was heavily laden with many bundles of baggage. However, rather than ridding himself of the baggage as he progressed toward the throne, he paid no attention to his burden. Instead, with steady determination and a firm forward gaze, he pushed onward to take his place before the Lord.
He came before the throne of God and saw an alter between him and the Lord. He said, “I’m sorry, Lord. I have nothing to offer you but my problems – my anger, my insecurities, my … sin.”

The Lord nodded toward the alter, and without hesitation, the man piled his burdens there, where they were consumed in holy fire, and he breathed deeply the sweet air of freedom.

Are you like the first man, trying to clean up your act before you come to the Lord? Or are you the second man, saying, “Here I am, Lord. Take me as I am with all my baggage, all my problems. I’ve carried this heavy load long enough, and I can’t take one more step unless you take it from me”?

You know what God’s going to say, don’t you?

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Mat. 11:28–30).

Golden apples

I was checking this year’s sparse apple crop on the trees in the backyard the other day. It’s disappointing to see how few we have in comparison to last year’s crop. I’m guessing I won’t get more than two or three pies out of those apples, and that’s a shame, because we love apple pie!

Proverbs 25:11 tells us, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” I might have a disappointing apple crop, but what I do have is worth gold to me, and that’s you, my readers who encourage me. I want to use this week’s column to thank those of you who thoughtfully make the effort to tell me you appreciate this column. Whether you’ve emailed me, sent letters, or stopped me on the street, your exhortations mean so much to me.

Without your remarks, I don’t know if anyone is following the column, and I get discouraged. I feel silly admitting that because, as I tell myself, I’m writing for the Lord, not seeking man’s approval.

But the truth is, if you’re a writer, you need an audience. And if your audience never responds, you feel your efforts are fruitless. Aha! You see how this is tying in with the apple trees and “words aptly spoken”?

All kidding aside, everyone needs encouragement, and our Heavenly Father knows that. Verses like Ephesians 4:29b tell us, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

Encouragement. It’s a gift that costs nothing but has great value.

I hope you have people in your life who build you up along life’s journey. If not, let God Himself encourage you with His Words of life: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

Letting go

Ephesians 4:32; Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

You want a guaranteed way to get yourself all fired up and angry? Just start thinking about all the things people should be doing for you that they aren’t – the ways they should be encouraging you, the ways they should be helping you, the ways they should be letting you know that they care about you.

Go ahead, try it. Don’t make excuses for them. Don’t remind yourself of their many respons-ibilities. Don’t think about the times they have been there for you (concentrate only on their failures!), and whatever you do, don’t you dare think for one minute about the times you may have let them down.

Good job. By now you ought to be boiling mad. You might even be crying because you’re just so hurt by how people disappoint you!

Are we having fun yet?

It’s a fact of life – people will let us down. Sadly, I’m sure I’ve disappointed everyone in a hundred ways. I’m thankful for those who bear patiently with me and forgive my many shortcomings.

Sometimes I’m not so forgiving of others. I can mull a grievance to death, working myself into a state of pathetic self-pity until I’m unfit to be around other humans. I need to let go of these things.

When I’m disappointed in others, I need to remember how much I have been forgiven. In my sorrow over being disappointed by others and being a disappointment to others, there is comfort in knowing that in all these things, somehow, miraculously, I am “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph.

My Savior knew that I would fail, and that is why He came to redeem me. And from a heart of gratitude for His great grace, I can extend that grace to those around me.

His strength, my joy

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13, NIV).

I have a naturally cheerful disposition. My dad told me I was born smiling! I don’t know about that, but throughout my life people have questioned how I can be so happy – some have questioned whether that happiness is sincere.

The truth is, in my younger years, I sometimes hid beneath my happy exterior when I was actually miserable on the inside. I wanted people to like me and believed in the saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.”

After I came to know the Lord, I discovered there was more to being happy than a smiling face and a cheerful exterior. I discovered that, laughing or crying, I was never alone. I found a friend with whom no pretenses were necessary because He loved me unconditionally. And in that acceptance, I found a kind of inner joy that strengthened me and allowed me to be genuine with others – and to be genuinely happy.

There is a song that says, “This happy face that I’m wearing, you know Jesus put it there to stay. And since the world didn’t give it to me, I said the world can’t take it away.”

What is it in your life right now that’s stealing your joy? What is that thing, that person, that situation, that memory of which you cannot let go that will not allow you to experience joy?

If our hope and trust is in the world, happiness will come and go, depending on our circum-stances – and may elude us altogether. But if our hope is in the Lord, even though hard times will come and there will be times of sorrow and pain, there’s an inner joy that can’t be corrupted by whatever may be taking place in the world around us.

Our God is a God of great joy, and His joy is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

Mind of the carpenter

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies” (Phil 4:8–9 MSG).

My oldest son is a carpenter, and the unfinished basement of our home drives him crazy! He’s forever on our case to buy the materials to finish off the basement. “After all,” he reminds us, “the labor would be free!” My husband and I keep patiently reasserting that even with free labor, one still needs the money to purchase the required supplies, and we simply do not have the funds.

One day he made an astute observation: “You know, Mom and Dad, the worst part about not finishing off your basement, is that you’re not using that space, and unused space very easily becomes a dumping grounds.”

Yes, he was referring to the massive accumulation of “stuff” down there that has gotten totally out of hand. If ever there’s something we don’t know what to do with, we just “put it in the basement.” But if we were using that space (a family/rec. room, bedrooms and a bathroom – all complete with closets/storage areas), things would be put away or thrown away, not just left to take up unused space.

It’s the same way with our minds. Perhaps you’ve heard “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.” We’re called to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5b) and to fill our minds with His thoughts (Phil. 4:8).

If we let our thoughts simply wander where they will, the devil will gladly start throwing all kinds of junk in our space. He’s going to stir up strife among loved ones. He’s going to make us feel worthless and miserable. He’s going to put all kinds of thoughts in our heads that do not belong there and would not be there if we were filling our minds with God’s thoughts.

Start paying attention to your thoughts. Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10, NLT).

Do your thoughts depress you or lead you to anger, frustration, or anxiety? Those thoughts are not coming from our Lord. He said He wants you to have “a rich and satisfying life.”

Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). He’s our finish carpenter! See what happens when you give Him your thoughts and let Him transform your mind from an unfinished, cluttered mess to one of beauty and order.

Screwtape is alive and well

My son had the most interesting writing assignment in college last spring. His task was to write three letters in the form of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t read the book, it’s a series of letters from a demon named Screwtape to his nephew and apprentice Wormwood. As an underling demon, it’s Wormwood’s task to steal a young man’s soul from “the Enemy” (i.e., God) through the use of deception (which after all is Satan’s only true weapon).

In Screwtape’s letters to Wormwood, he provides instruction, advice, and correction as his nephew badgers the Christian, sometimes making progress, but mostly losing ground. Among other things, Screwtape advises Wormwood to use “jargon, not argument” to keep the young man from “the Church.”

I thought of this recently when, after an especially good church service, a friend and I were sharing our excitement over the morning’s events. It turned out that both of us had thought seriously of staying home that morning. She was exhausted after a sleepless night, and I had a child heading back to college and kind of wanted to hang around home to see her off.

Had we mindlessly given into those urges to stay home, we would have missed an awesome morning in God’s presence that blessed and strengthened us spiritually!

I said to her, “Don’t you suppose some little imps are getting chewed out right now because they failed to convince us to stay home?”

She laughingly agreed, “Yes, the head demon is probably saying, ‘You told her she was too tired to go to church? That’s the best you could come up with? You gotta do better than that!’”

While we had fun with the analogy between The Screwtape Letters and our experience, it really is important to remember that we do have an enemy who seeks to “kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10).

Any time God is doing something good in your life, don’t be surprised by the stumbling blocks that “suddenly appear.” Do you think the enemy wants you to do anything that’s going to further your walk with the Lord? Of course not!

If you’re moving forward, you’re probably experiencing resistance.

Expect that and know that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

What choice should I make?

What’s your strategy for making decisions when there is no clear wrong or right answer?

We’ve all been there: Should I buy a different car, or fix the one I have? Should I take that job, or stay where I am? Should I marry the person I’m dating, or should I keep looking?

Decision making can be tough, and if you’re one who desires to be in God’s will for every area of your life, you might feel frozen, unable to make a decision and move forward, if you’re just not sure what He wants you to do.

You’re wise, of course, to seek the Lord’s counsel. As we grow spiritually, we get better at hearing God’s voice and discerning His will in the details of our lives. Here are some things that will help you in the process.

Pray scriptures like Colossians 1:9b, making it personal by putting it in the first person (“Lord, . . .[I] ask that [I] may be filled with the knowledge of [Your] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding”). Or meditate on verses like James 1:5, and trust God to keep His promise:
“Lord, your Word says, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.’ So I’m asking for wisdom in this situation, and I trust that Your Word will be fulfilled.”

Continue in prayer and in the Word.

Sometimes you may need to seek counsel from other mature Christians. They can pray with you and help remind you of pertinent Scriptures. God may use them to give you insight you missed on your own.

When you know that there is no “wrong” or “right” choice, but you believe that one choice will bring you closer to God’s perfect will, trust Him to give you complete peace about your ultimate decision.

Finally (although these ideas are hardly all-inclusive), understand that you’re probably going to miss God’s will sometimes (none of us is perfect yet!). But know that He can redeem any situation when you’re genuinely seeking Him: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Enough to satisfy

I don’t know why people make such a fuss about “the empty nest syndrome.” My youngest is leaving for college this week, and it is NO BIG DEAL. I mean, really, what IS the big deal? Kids grow up and leave home all the time. So what?

Oh, who am I trying to kid?

I’ve been doing my best to put her leaving out of my mind. If I don’t think about it, it doesn’t bother me. But now the days are slipping by so quickly; the inevitable is going to come, and it is heartbreaking.

I’ve been trying to focus on the positives: My stuff will stay where I leave it. (She has a tendency to borrow my things and forget to return them.) I’ll have clean bath towels when I need them. (She uses two at a time, and they often get left in her room in the basement.) I’ll be able to see the counter top of the bathroom that she usually uses!

But you know, none of this really matters to me. I’ll take her presence and her company – forgetful, messy ways and all – any day over any of these things.

Pastor Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotional this week calls Christianity a “singing faith.” Why? Because we use God’s gift of music to express our love for Him, but music is also a tool He uses to express His love for us.

As is so often true in my life, God used a song we sang in church this week to help me through this difficult turning point in my life. It’s called “Holy One” by Rush of Fools, and the lyrics reminded me that God lifts me up when I run to Him. He fills me with His love and satisfies every need when I’m abandoned by the world (or by my children!).

There may be some sad days ahead, but I’m going to keep singing that song. I’m going to let God keep reminding me that He is enough to satisfy every need, every heart’s desire.

I hope you have a litany of good Christian music you listen to. Oftentimes the lyrics come right from the Word of God, and He will use that music to strengthen and encourage you.

Reason to praise

Do you need a reason, some inspiration, to praise God? In this week’s Daily Devotional by Pastor Rick Warren, he talks about praising God and reminds us that, “In the Bible, a name was a clue to a person’s character.” He exhorts us to become familiar with the names of God because “Praying the names of God reminds you of who He is and what He has done for you, and that will stir up love in your heart for Him.”

Interesting that in the small study group I belong to, we’ve been using a book called The Prayer That Changes Everything: The Hidden Power of Praising God, by Stormie Omartian who says, “The better we know God, and the more we understand all of who he is, the less we will be able to contain our praise for Him.”

Our first study involved looking up just some of the many names of God, and everyone in the group agreed that this exercise profoundly affected our desire to praise Him. When you read about the many awesome characteristics of God, it truly does stir up your spirit of love for Him.

I want to share just a few verses taken from Stormie’s book that describe who God is. I encourage you to take some time to look up these verses, read them out loud, and make them part of your praise to our Holy God.


He is Good (1 Chronicles 16:34), He is Powerful (1 Corin. 1:24), He is Great (Ps. 86:10), He is Love ( 1 Jn 4:16), He is Wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24), He is Holy (Psalm 22:3–4), He is Patient (Romans 15:5), He is Changeless (Malachi 3:6), He is Merciful (Psalm 116:5), He is Almighty (2 Corin.
6:18), He is Glorious (Exodus 15:11), He is Righteous (Deut. 32:4), He is Just (Isaiah 45:21), He is Grace (John 1:14), He is Majestic (Isaiah 1:14), He is All-Knowing (John 16:30), He is All-Wise (Prov. 3:19–20), He is True (Jeremiah 10:10), He is Pure (1 John 3:3), He is Sinless (1 Peter 2:21–22), He is Radiant (Hebrews 1:3 NIV), He is Faithful (Deut. 7:9), He is Magnificent (Isaiah 28–29 NIV), He is Worthy (Psalm 18:3), He is my Creator (Psalm 139:13 TEV), He is my Redeemer (Isaiah 59–20), He is my Strength (Isaiah 12:2), He is my Truth (John 14:6), He is the Lifter of my Head (Psalm 3:3), He is the All-Sufficient One (2 Cor. 12:9), He is my Savior (Luke 1:47), He is my Hope (Psalm 71:5), He is the Son of God (Luke 1:35), He is my Resurrection (John 11:25).

This is only a small portion of what God tells us about Himself in His Word. I hope you will praise Him and be blessed.

Standing on the promises

“Standing on the promises that cannot fail, / when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, / standing on the promises of God. Standing, standing, / standing on the promises of Christ my Savior; standing, standing, / I’m standing on the promises of God” (by R. Kelso Carter).

If you walk in faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, perhaps you’ve had people say to you on occasion, “Well, I wish I had your faith” – as if it’s something you were born with or inherited or manufactured on your own.

If faith is “the substance of things unknown and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), where does faith come from?

Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

I’ve seen Christians who worry about every imagined danger and every possible thing that could go wrong. And I’ve seen Christians “walk through fire” with grace and peace, never giving in to fear. (I’ve been on both ends of that spectrum and everywhere in between!) Our faith, our ability to trust God and act accordingly, comes from the Word of God. If we’re going to stand strong and confident no matter what comes our way, we need to stand on His promises. God has a promise in His Word for every circumstance we might encounter in life. But in order to stand on those promises, we need to know what the promises are.

The more we fill our minds with God’s Word, the stronger and stronger our faith becomes.

Just a little "concerned"

“I’m a mom; it’s my job to worry.”

Sound familiar?

It seems we think worrying is not only our job, it’s our sacred duty!

Maybe subconsciously we believe we can measure our love by the amount we fuss and worry over every little detail of our children’s lives. (Does a lack of worrying show a lack of concern for their well-being?) It’s very easy to fall into the worry trap because it’s such a normal and accepted way of thinking in the world. But you know what? We need to always remember that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

I don’t worry as much as some people I know. This should make me feel better, right? But there’s that “anxious for nothing” clause in there.

Drats, I’m not okay with just a little worry. God does not want us to worry about anything, not even our precious children.

When my firstborn was an infant and grew sick with bronchitis his first winter, I grew sick with worry. A wise person told me, “Don’t worry about your baby. Trust God, He loves your child more than you ever could.” I almost didn’t want to admit it, but I knew in my spirit this was true. I loved my child more than my life, but I could not love him perfectly as God did.

Accepting that truth has given me peace time and time again over the years. When I catch myself worrying about my children (yes, I still do it, although I’ll admit only to “being concerned”), I thank God that He loves my children more than I ever could, and I can trust Him to look out for them.

The verse following Philippians 4:6 (Phil. 4:7) says, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

When we learn that through “prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,” we can “let [our] requests be made known to God” and trust Him for the outcome, we will experience His peace that “surpasses all understanding.”

God wants His children to walk in peace and confidence, and honestly, isn’t that what we want for our own children?

It's in the Book

Imagine you decide to write your memoirs so that there could never be any confusion about who you are and what you’ve done. And then let’s say that instead of reading what you’ve written about yourself, people who want to learn more about you choose to talk to other people who have never even met you. And since nobody knows what they’re talking about, all kinds of misinformation is being spread about you.

Wouldn’t you get annoyed? Wouldn’t you just want to say, “Read my book if you want to know the truth about me!”

Years ago most of us learned that “God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27a), but today I see a different trend. I see that we want to create God in our image, to make Him be how we think He should be according to our own personal agenda.

Forsaking God’s Word, the Bible, we are depending on our own feelings and ideas of what God should be like to define who He is and to explain how He operates in the world today. Many people don’t even bother to give the topic enough consideration to form their own ideas. They just adopt what they’ve heard someone else say – maybe in a song, maybe on Oprah. Who knows?

Some people, without having done any research on the topic, say they don’t trust that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Therefore, they don’t go to His Word to learn about Him. At this point everything becomes subjective. You just choose to believe what you want to believe about God – whatever makes you happy. …
It’s kind of a mess, really.

God wants us to know Him. In Jeremiah 31:3 He proclaims, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God. …”

Don’t take someone else’s word for it; go straight to the source and let Him tell you all about Himself. After all, that’s why He gave us the Book!

Open our eyes

WHAM! The bird slammed into the sliding glass doors of the deck and fell to the ground stunned senseless.

Poor little thing. One minute he’s flying along oblivious to what lies before him; the next he’s blindsided by something he never saw coming.

Some of us go through life this way – never seeing what’s coming, blindsided by the snares the enemy lays in our path. WHAM! We run into the snare and are rendered ineffective for the Gospel. But this is not God’s intention for us.

In Ephesians 1:17–18a, Paul prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, . . .”

Paul understood that we needed God to give us supernatural ability to discern things spiritually in order to move forward in our walk with God.

Sometimes we feel “stuck” in our spiritual lives. We’ve come up against an invisible wall and don’t know how to get past it. We think we’ve done what we can, but we’re not moving forward. When this happens, we need to ask God to open the eyes of our spiritual understanding, to help us see clearly the next step He would have us take. And then we need to ask that He would embolden us by His Spirit to take that step, to not resist His direction.

I wonder if the last thing that little bird saw was the shocking reflection of his own face rushing up to meet him. It takes a supernatural gift of God to identify and overcome spiritual barriers (or snares), but it takes an act of our will to seek God, believe for His help, and obey him. If we don’t do this, we set ourselves up to fall right into the enemy’s trap.

Turn loose the lion

As a copy editor I literally make a living correcting other people’s mistakes! I make jokes and use my profession as an excuse for a tendency that can really put off people, but I must try hard to curb my compulsion to correct others when I believe they are wrong. I especially try to watch myself when it comes to arguing biblical principles.

Nineteenth century English evangelist and expositor of Scriptures Charles Spurgeon said, “The word of God is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it, you just turn it loose.”

When we hear someone say something that flies in the face of Scripture, is it profitable to get into an argument with them over this, or is it enough to counteract that by simply sharing what the Word says? We need to remember that even Jesus was not always listened to. People chose to reject His message. People chose to reject Him. So we point people to biblical truths, but after that, we need to allow them to choose whether they will receive that Word.

God doesn’t pound us over the head and force us to believe anything about Him. Why do we feel compelled to try to coerce others into accepting our beliefs? Is it really just pride convincing us that we must demonstrate how “right” we are?

Remember Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Turn loose “the lion,” and let it do its work.

Returning the gift

Do you ever have those times where everyone is annoying you, and you think, “If I were God, we’d definitely be having another flood”?

I know that sounds extreme, but sometimes I’m not so good in the patience department. (I really do love people; I’m only talking about “sometimes.”)

One person is annoying me with his crabbiness; another is getting on my nerves with her pushy-ness. That person will not express gratitude for anything; the other one is totally self-centered, and on and on it goes.

What should my attitude be?

Time and time again the Scriptures command us to love one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

This command would be so much easier if we didn’t have to deal with so many different kinds of people, right?

Nevertheless, our Heavenly Father wants His children to live in harmony: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose” (Phil. 2:1–2).

The love principle is really pretty simple: we return what we have received. Apart from Jesus I would be guilty of every sin, every fault, I find in others. Have I ever been crabby, pushy, unappreciative, self-centered, or any of the host of faults I find in others? Of course I have. Has God forgiven me every single time I fall short of His perfection? He absolutely has.

Romans 5:8; reminds me that God loved me while I was still a sinner and showed His love by giving me Jesus. Knowing this truth keeps me looking gently upon my fellow human beings.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph 4:32).

Where two or three are gathered

We started meeting in June of 2005. I didn’t know what God had planned. I only felt led to offer an opportunity for women to meet together once a week for Bible study, prayer and fellowship.
I felt ill equipped to handle this task; I knew so little myself. I didn’t want to set myself up as an expert; I just knew a group would need a facilitator to keep things moving smoothly. For awhile, I argued with God, explaining He’d surely picked the wrong person, and there must be someone more qualified than I for such a task. I even wrote out a fairly long list of reasons why I couldn’t do it, and He needed to find someone else. You see, I wanted to part of such a group; I just didn’t want to be the responsible one.

He wasn’t letting me off the hook.

I’ll never forget that first meeting when about five women – Bibles on hand, notebooks open, pens ready – sat with all eyes intently on me, ready to get started, eager to learn. It was intimidating, and scary, and exciting.

Our first topic was prayer. We used the ACTS format (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication) to start with. I remember our first feeble attempts at adoration – offering praise to God aloud. Some of us had never done that before. I remember when women who never said a word finally began speaking up and joining in the prayer time. It was thrilling.

My intention was for us to meet only that summer. Four years later . . . many have come and gone, but a core group remains that continues to grow and mature in our relationship with the Lord. We’ve learned so much together, and those first awkward prayers now flow freely.

Do you wish you were part of such a group? If you have that desire, I think you can be confident that it’s from the Lord. He wants His children to meet together often (see Acts 2:46)! Is God asking you to initiate a Bible study/prayer group? Like me, you may feel unqualified for the job. That’s OK. It’s best that you not rely on your own strength; you have to rely totally on Him. That will place God directly in charge – exactly where He should be!

I will say, before I began, I checked with the leaders in my church to receive their input and blessing. Accountability is important.

If you believe God is leading you to start a small-group study, talk to your spiritual authority, prayerfully consider how God wants you to proceed, let Him lead you, and follow His direction.
God bless you as you are obedient to Him.

Matthew 18:20; For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

He won't let you fall

When I was a little girl, I loved to climb things: ladders, trees, haystacks. . . .

Seeing how high I could go and looking at the view from above was exhilarating, but getting back down was another story. Climbing down is much scarier than climbing up!

Sometimes I would reach my lofty destination and then freeze, unable to get back down. At times like that, I would start calling for my dad.

I remember my two older brothers yelling up at me, attempting to coax me down. They would try to shame me for being a scaredy-cat, but I stubbornly insisted they “GO GET DAD!” I knew if I just waited, my dad would come and rescue me.

Once Dad got there, he could talk me down one step at a time, and I would jump into his outstretched arms.

I trusted him not to let me fall.

It seems everyone’s frightened by something (or many things). If you watch the news, you’ll find there’s just so much to be scared about. You can be afraid of the swine flu, food poisoning, mold, parasites, cancer, heart failure, terrorist attacks, car accidents, identity theft, losing a loved one, losing your job, losing your only set of car keys . . .

Am I scaring you?

This weekend is Father’s Day. I know not everyone has an earthly father who can help them through life’s scary situations, but remember your heavenly Father is always looking out for you. If you’ll have enough trust to jump into His big arms, He’ll never let you fall.

It makes a difference

I’m thrilled by my son’s recent engagement. He and his fiance are both devoted to living their lives for the Lord. I’m convinced this (plus the fact that they’re perfect for each other!) will give them an excellent edge for a successful marriage.

Now maybe, like me, you’ve heard about the statistics that say divorce rates among Christian couples are equal to the rates among non-Christians. I didn’t question those statistics; I even repeated them to others! You can bet I was excited to read the following information by Rachelle Gardener, a Christian literary agent, in her blog Seek First His Kingdom.

Gardener says, “Have you ever been curious about the difference in the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christians (85 to 90%), and the number who are actually affiliated with a Christian congregation (50 to 60%)? There’s a huge difference there. It turns out that if you are studying all people who call themselves Christians, you will find their divorce rate is similar to those who don’t call themselves Christians.

“However,” Gardener continues, “when you factor in regular church attendance – the divorce rate is significantly lower. Churchgoing Christians of any denomination are 35 to 50% less likely to divorce than non-church-attending Americans of any or no religion. Let me say that
again: The divorce rate for churchgoing Christians is much lower than the divorce rate of the general population”


Our marriages, along with every other area of our lives, will be better, stronger, and more successful when God is the center of all we do.

Shouldn’t two people (emphasis on two people) earnestly seeking God’s will and walking in obedience to Him be able to work out their problems with His help?

So many people’s favorite “love chapter” in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13. Verses 4–8 say, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

God is love. When we walk with Him, He will show us “the most excellent way to love” one another.

Time to grow up

The graduation season is upon us, and you can bet that every mom who has a son or daughter graduating this year has spent hours pouring through old photographs of when her baby was a baby. We get awfully sentimental at times like this and think that we miss the days when they were little. But honestly, would you really want to go back to those days?

I wouldn’t.

Oh, there’s no doubt I had the cutest babies in the world, and there are definitely aspects I miss about their infancies and childhoods, but little ones are a LOT of work. There’s so much they can’t do for themselves. Going anywhere with a small child is a major ordeal, and you need SO much patience while they’re learning to talk, to dress themselves, to feed themselves, etc.

Now that my children are in their teens and twenties, I enjoy them immensely. Instead of having to do everything for them, they can actually help me do things. They can express their needs and desires instead of grunting, whining, or throwing themselves into a fit on the floor. We can have adult-sized conversations – that’s my favorite!

Babies are cute, but it’s good that they grow up.

Some Christians never advance beyond childhood. They’ve made a decision for Christ, they’re going to heaven, but they refuse to grow up. They become the toddler who must be attended to and carried everywhere you go. They can’t have an “adult” conversation about the Lord, because there’s just so much they don’t know. When they were first born again, they were cute in their innocence, but as the years go by and there’s no growth, the charm wears off.

I Peter 2:2 says, “Like newborn babies, thirst for the pure milk of the word so that by it you may grow in your salvation.” Then in 2 Peter 3:18 we have very clear instruction of what God expects from His children, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Both these passages command growth.

Do you feel like you already know everything there is to know about God? I think I could study every day for the rest of my life, live to be 100, and only touch the surface of the mysteries God will reveal.

Do you feel comfortable that you have become the person God intends for you to be? Growth is a lifetime process. When we stop growing, we start deteriorating – going backward in our growth.

The next few weeks of The Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotional will be devoted to spiritual growth. I hope you’ll enjoy Pastor Warren’s tips for growing in your faith.

Vine of life

John 15:5; I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

I woke up to the sound of the furnace kicking in this morning. That could mean only one thing: the temperatures had dropped pretty low during the night, making the house with its open windows cold. Once I realized that the furnace was about to start running, I thought, Oh no, my tomatoes! I looked outside my bedroom window. Yes, there was frost on the ground. I guess I’ll be making another trip to the greenhouse to replace my tomato plants.

I had put in a couple of long days at work, and I was tired and preoccupied when I got home late last night. Therefore, I missed the sign – that nip in the evening air that tells us when it’s going to freeze. When we feel it, we go out and cover our plants to save them from destruction.
It’s easy to get distracted and miss what’s important. Sometimes in our preoccupation with “things” and “stuff,” we lose far more important things than tomato plants: relationships, health, peace and balance.

Worst of all, we can lose our intimacy with our Heavenly Father, a kind of spiritual freezing that prevents us from bearing fruit, just like my tomato plants.

So when the distractions of this life start to pull you away from the warmth of the Father’s love, wrap yourself the blanket of His Word. He is the vine that will sustain you through all of life’s cold spells.

The small things

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury tells a story of men traveling back in time to the land of dinosaurs (“A Sound of Thunder,” 1952). The guides for this excursion sternly warn the travelers not to wander from the elevated path that will keep them from touching anything in this prehistoric time. The smallest interference with the past could change the future.
Inevitably, one man does step off the path, killing a butterfly, which changes the future and leads to a tragic conclusion.

The story has always intrigued me because it’s fascinating to think of how one small, seemingly trivial act on our part could have long-lasting implications.

I’m thankful the sin of the world was placed on Jesus and that “there is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about how the dumb things I’ve done might destroy the universe somewhere down the line!

Do you ever wonder if you’re making any difference in this world? Do you get discouraged when you try but don’t see the results of your efforts?

Remember, as missionary Charles Thomas Studd said, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Perhaps you’ve tried to help someone – maybe there was some teen in trouble, and you tried to counsel him, but that teen went right on making the same mistakes and getting in trouble. You may have felt discouraged and wondered why you tried to make a difference, but you don’t know that just a few years down the road, your words came back to that person, who turned his life around.

Maybe that person you smiled at and said hello to at the grocery store was really down that day and was encouraged by a friendly face.

The little things we do really can make a difference.

What’s exciting to think about is how the small act of kindness, long forgotten, may have powerfully impacted someone else. I think it would be fun if when we get to heaven, we get to see those little things we’ve done and don’t even remember, but because they were for Christ, they did make a difference.

Remember God's faithfulness

Psalm 105:4–5; Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.
Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced.

“Lisa, can’t you trust God for the resources you need to accomplish that?”

Long pause . . .

“Well . . . ? Can’t you?”

I didn’t want to answer my friend’s point-blank question. I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling in an area where a “good Christian” should not struggle – doubt. It seemed that every time I turned around I faced another disappointment, and niggles of doubt were starting to work their way into my mind.

No, honestly, I wasn’t able to trust God at that point, and it hurt to admit it.

But when I finally came out and told her I was struggling in this area, she offered sound advice: She suggested I ask the Lord to bring to my mind all the times He’s answered my prayers in the past, to help me remember the many ways He’s been faithful and provided for all my needs and covered me in difficult times.

When we experience great disappointments, they can cloud our vision, making it hard to see (that is, with spiritual eyes) the love of our deliverer. We focus on our circumstances so much that even though Jesus is right there before us, we don’t see Him. (Remember the guys on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-14?) I don’t think my experience is unique. I’d guess most Christians go through times where they wonder if God really cares. I’m sure that’s why God’s Word exhorts us to “remember.”

When I spent time remembering things God and I had been through before, I had plenty of ammunition to combat my doubts. God had proven Himself faithful many times in the past, and I was left with one conclusion: If He did it before, He’ll do it again. Our unchanging God IS faithful. I can trust Him for anything.

So can you!

An overcomer

When Brittany and I interviewed Jenna Ronich to get her story for last week’s article, we were amazed and humbled by this young woman’s resolve to keep pushing forward. Jenna inspired us with her determination to overcome all the obstacles she was left with after her car accident by setting and reaching goals, no matter how difficult or painful they were.

Jenna’s story reminds us that we live in a fallen world. People, circumstances, and an enemy (the one who comes to “kill, steal, and destroy” John 10:10) can make life hard and challenge our faith. It can be downright discouraging to realize how many things can go wrong due to the number of obstacles we face in any given day.

Jesus promised us in John 16:33b; “In this world you will have trouble”; however, He also reminded us, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Through the power of our risen Lord Jesus we are certainly much more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)!

It’s up to us to decide if we’ll let our circumstances destroy us or if we’ll let God take those circumstances and make something beautiful rise out of the ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

Jenna has chosen to use her experience to try to help others with her consistent reminders to “drive safely.” I hope you’ll remember to keep praying for Jenna’s recovery as she continues to hurdle over each obstacle in her life with God’s help.

Love never fails

1 Corinthians 13:7–8; “[Love] . . . always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. . . .”

Have you ever taken part in a trust fall? It’s a group trust-building activity where you stand on a table and fall backwards into the arms of other people who are supposed to catch you.

When my husband and I were youth group leaders years ago, we held an overnight retreat for “our kids.” One of the activities was a trust fall, and somehow (I can’t imagine how) one of our girls slipped through the outstretched arms of her peers and cracked her head on the hard gymnasium floor. She spent the rest of the night with an awful headache while I monitored her for a possible concussion.

Did she learn to trust the group?

It’s interesting to me that she’s the one who went into full-time ministry. She and her husband are missionaries in China. Somewhere along the line, she learned that even though she couldn’t always trust in people, she could trust in God.

It can be very hard to move beyond our fears: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain . . . That’s why it’s so important to practice trusting God.

Maybe you’ve been told, “Don’t get your hopes up – that way you can’t be disappointed.” Having zero expectations may be a “safe” way to live, but is it godly? Romans 14:23b says, “. . . and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Do you really want to go through life doing everything in your power to avoid disappointment? Faith is going to call you beyond your comfort level. Faith is going to force the issue of whether or not you trust in your Heavenly Father.

When you read 1 Corinthians 13, remember that GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:8). He’s calling His children to trust Him completely, knowing that He (Love) will never fail.

A new thing

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18–19

I don’t think of myself as old, but I sure am a lot less flexible than I was a few years ago – both physically and psychologically! It’s the psychological aspect I’m thinking of today.

I’ve become terribly resistant to change. Even though I know that change is a normal, often desirable, part of life, I don’t like it. If I’m not careful, I can see myself becoming a stubborn old curmudgeon.

I can imagine my children saying to one another, “You know Mom – she’s stuck in the past and never likes anything to change.”

Recently, it became obvious I was going to need to make a change career-wise. Things have been slow in the publishing industry, and I haven’t been getting enough freelance work to make ends meet. I prayed for God to open doors and send work my way, and when He did, I threw a hissy fit! I was offered work as a staff writer right here at the Voyageur Press – with great people I already like and a comfortable work environment – but I didn’t want to leave home! I didn’t want to give up my dream and the hard work it took to become a freelancer. So I crossed my arms and stomped my feet and said, “NO FAIR! This is not what I had planned!”

Finally, I decided to lay my expectations down before the Lord. I remembered Jeremiah 29:11; “’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.’”

I saw clearly that God was doing a good thing in my life; I could trust Him!

Children of the Lord, we need to be open to new things. What if the Lord wants to do a wonderful new thing in our lives and we miss it because we’re too stubborn, or worse yet, afraid, to make changes? That would be a shame.

Other than giving up the luxury of working at home in my PJs until 10:00 a.m. if I want to, I’m really excited about this new adventure in my life. One thing I’ve learned for sure, walking with the Lord is always an adventure!

I am honored to take on a bigger role here at the Voyageur Press, and I pray I will do justice to the position.

Are you a good Christian?

I wonder about this expression: “Good Christian.” What does it mean – really? I’ve been called a good Christian, and honestly, it makes me chuckle.

Who? Me? I guess I know what people mean when they say that, but I know my heart; “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. . . ." (Romans 7:18).

I fall short of my own standards, but when I compare myself to The standard – our perfect, holy God – I fall so far short it would break my heart if the Lord hadn’t been careful to teach me about His grace.

Many years ago as a baby Christian, I struggled most with forgiveness. I was so sorry for things I’d done before I gave my life to Jesus. Regret and remorse ate away at me. Even though I knew in my head that God forgave me, I couldn’t get that knowledge into my heart to experience His peace. I felt I had to do something to be good enough to deserve God’s forgiveness.

Then someone gave me a book called Love Is Now, by Peter Gillquist. The book is a beautiful look at our freedom in Christ, designed to set us free from the bondage of performance-based religion.

Gillquist laid out the scripture that helped me understand God’s love is not conditional upon my “performance” (i.e., being good). Love Is Now helped me understand that when God looks at me, He no longer sees my sin, He sees his beautiful son, Jesus!

Am I a good Christian? Well, according to 2 Corinthians 5:21, because of Jesus, I have “become the righteousness of God”!

And all I have to do is believe. That’s His Amazing Grace.

Just like Dad

During my rebellious teen years, my dad used to tell me, “Your actions are a reflection on our family. When you walk out this door, you represent our family name.”

Being totally egocentric (i.e., a typical teenager), I did not take Dad’s words seriously. I was “my own person,” and when I walked out that door, I did whatever pleased me with little thought of my family name.

As time went on, genetics seemed to take their hold, and I became more and more aware of family traits my siblings and I exhibited that could be attributed only to our gene pool. I began to take pride in my inheritance, and I did care whether I was a good representative of my family.
Being part of God’s family is very much the same. When we’re young/immature Christians, we haven’t quite figured out who we are in Christ or how we fit in to this new family. We might even be a bit of an embarrassment to our older siblings!

But eventually, as we grow and mature, “genetics” (that is, God’s Spirit in us) will become more and more evident in all we do and say. Before we know it, there’ll be no denying whose child we are (not that we would want to deny it)! Others will see our Heavenly Father in us. And won’t it (or doesn’t it) make you happy to hear someone say, “He reminds me of his dad,” or “She sure has her father’s ways”?

Oh, and those older siblings? If they’re becoming more and more like Father themselves, they won’t be embarrassed when someone new in the family messes up. :-)

1 John 3:1a; How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Learning to listen

Although I eventually grew to love my mother-in-law dearly, I did not necessarily appreciate her in the early years of our relationship. She would call me and talk ceaselessly – I could hardly get a word in edgewise.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but sometimes I would lay down the phone, go get a drink of water or something, and come back without her ever knowing I’d been absent.

I’m sorry for that lack of respect I showed my mom-in-law. I’m also sorry that I too often approach my conversations with God in the same way she talked to me.

What must God think when I come to him with a long list of requests, complaints, thoughts, and ideas, but never take time to listen to Him?

In order to experience genuine fellowship with God, we must learn to quiet our hearts before Him. Consider Psalm 37:7a – Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Psalm 46:10a – Be still and know that I am God; Psalm 62:1a – Truly my soul silently waits for God.

Being still before God takes self-discipline and practice. I’m recommitting to spending more time just basking in His presence. To do that, I need to try to eliminate all distractions. I’ll choose a time when the house is quiet – perhaps late at night or early in the morning. There mustn’t be any background noise, and I dare not have the computer turned on (because if an e-mail pops up, I’ll have to view it!).

With my Bible on my lap, I’ll invite Him to speak to me through His Word. And when I’ve read a brief passage, I’ll ask Him, “What is it you are saying to me through this passage, Lord?” And then . . . I must be still and listen.This is only one way to approach learning to listen to the Lord.

Find what works for you, and be blessed as He speaks to your spirit.

Boast about joyfully

Last weekend was extra special as I spent time with extended family. I had an especially nice visit with my young nephew. Only a fool could miss the fact that this boy is in love. He couldn’t stop talking about his sweetheart, and as he spoke of her, his smile covered his face and his eyes sparkled with joy.

That’s what we do when we’re in love; we think about that person all the time, and his or her name is always on our lips.

In my last column, “Praise Forevermore,” I defined praise as “to boast about joyfully.” It’s what we do naturally when we’re in love. It’s what we do naturally when we love God. We talk about Him. We “boast about” Him joyfully. We don’t have to “preach” at people. If God is a part of our everyday lives, His name will come up as easily in conversation as anyone or anything else we love. (“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”! [Mat. 12:34b]) Psalm 34:1–3 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together.”

Here was someone head over heels in love, don’t you think? His praise for the Lord was “continually” in his mouth. He knew speaking forth God’s praise would bless others, and he wanted others to join him in exalting God’s name.

As always, we can learn from God’s Word. The point is not that we must talk about God all the time to prove we love Him but that if we work on developing our love relationship with Him, talking (boasting joyfully) about Him will be a natural outgrowth of that experience.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Response to Grief

Where do you put grief? Do you put it on and wear it like a garment? Do you put it on top your head and balance it there carefully? Do you put it on a shelf in the back corner of your heart? Or . . . Do you put it in your Father’s open, loving hands and let Him carry it for you? Yes, of course that’s what we want to do with our grief; who can carry it alone? It’s so heavy. The burden of carrying the weight of this grief is surely what leaves us so exhausted. Why else would we feel this way?—just tired all the time.

I am reminded of a passage from Hannah Whitall Smith’s book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. I was lucky to find the passage on the Internet just now, so I’ve copied and pasted it here for you:

I knew a Christian lady who had a very heavy temporal burden. It took away her sleep and her appetite, and there was danger of her health breaking down under it. One day, when it seemed especially heavy, she noticed lying on the table near her a little tract called "Hannah's Faith." Attracted by the title, she picked it up and began to read it, little knowing, however, that it was to create a revolution in her whole experience. The story was of a poor woman who had been carried triumphantly through a life of unusual sorrow.

She was giving the history of her life to a kind visitor on one occasion, and at the close the visitor said, feelingly, "O Hannah, I do not see how you could bear so much sorrow!"

"I did not bear it," was the quick reply; "the Lord bore it for me."

"Yes," said the visitor, "that is the right way. You must take your troubles to the Lord."

"Yes," replied Hannah, "but we must do more than that; we must leave them there. Most people," she continued, "take their burdens to Him, but they bring them away with them again, and are just as worried and unhappy as ever. But I take mine, and I leave them with Him, and come away and forget them. And if the worry comes back, I take it to Him again; I do this over and over, until at last I just forget that I have any worries, and am at perfect rest." [emphasis mine (Lisa’s)]

(This was not a column. It was a response to a family member dealing with grief.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Praise Forevermore

Psalm 113:2-3; Blessed be the name of the Lord. From this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down. The Lord’s name is to be praised.

For reasons other than the obvious (it was a long, cold winter), this was an especially long, cold winter. I’m exceedingly relieved to experience spring’s warmth, longer hours of daylight, and snow quickly dissipating into puddles of water.

It’s easy to be light hearted, joyful, and filled with thanksgiving when the earth is awakening from its frozen, death-like slumber, and new life is becoming evident all around us. This is a time of hope (yes, we survived another winter!) and excitement (have you seen your first robin yet?).

When things are good, when everything’s going my way, it’s very easy to break into spontaneous praise: Thank you, Lord! Life is wonderful! I’m so grateful for all you’ve done for me!

But what about during the hard times, the dark times? Can I still praise Him when the weather — and everything else in life — seems cold and awful?

Yes, I can — but only through an act of my will.

My circumstances do not determine God’s goodness. They certainly do not determine whether He is worthy of my praise. My emotions fluctuate from day-to-day and even moment-to-moment, but God remains the same. He is always worthy of all praise.

I once heard the definition of praise given as, “to boast about joyfully.” Our God gives us plenty to boast about in Him! If you’re not in the habit of practicing praise and don’t really feel equipped to do so, here are some passages you can read to see how it’s done in the Word: Psalm 113, Psalm 103:1-5, Psalm 145:1-3, Psalm 147:1-6, Revelations 5:9, 12, and 13b; Revelations 7:10-12.

You can also sing or recite lyrics from some of your favorite hymns or praise songs that express adoration for God: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” etc.

Try finishing these thoughts: “God, I praise you because you are my . . .” (comforter, healer, provider, etc.). “God, I praise you because you have . . .” (created the universe, loved me while I was a sinner, prepared a place for me, etc.). List adjectives that describe God, and use them in your adoration: holy, worthy, powerful, merciful, loving, etc.

The ways we can praise God are as varied as our personalities, and through our praise we enter into the Lord’s beautiful presence where things like long, cold winters don’t even exist!

Yada Yada

I hope that in addition to my column, you make time for other pleasurable reading. Just kidding.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about a series of books called the Yada Yada Prayer Group novels. I don’t make time often enough for fiction reading, but all my friends were reading these books and telling me I “had to” read them, so I finally gave in to peer pressure. I’m so glad I did, because the Yada Yada books turned out to be a wonderfully delightful and important reading experience.

In this series of seven novels, author Neta Jackson, introduces us to twelve women thrown together in a prayer group at a women’s conference. At the end of the conference, the women decide to continue meeting for prayer, and their lives become enmeshed in one another’s. With that many characters, readers are carried along through a multitude of experiences. There are few subjects not covered. You’ll read about homelessness, drug addiction, AIDs, spousal abuse, incarceration, racism, and death—just to name a few topics. But don’t let that list deceive you into thinking these books are depressing. No, throughout the novels, Jackson consistently keeps our focus on God’s redeeming love and His power to give us “beauty for ashes.” Jackson also has a wonderful sense of humor, and I know I laughed more often than I cried.

The audience appeal for these books is as varied as their characters. The adult women in my prayer group all loved reading them, so imagine my surprise when my teenage daughter polished off all seven books in a matter of days because she couldn’t put them down. Would men enjoy these books? I think they would, but I imagine most of the readers are women.

More than anything, the books made me aware of the importance of Christian fellowship. The characters in the books supported one another through many of life’s physical, emotional, and spiritual battles. They prayed together. They worshiped together. They loved one another. They show us a modern-day application of the early church in action and offer an example worth emulating.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Lamp Unto My Feet

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Until recently, I used the same desk lamp I took with me to college in 1979. When that last bulb finally burned out, I was unable to replace it. Much to my sorrow, I had to retire my “vintage” lamp.

However, until I had an opportunity to go shopping, I worked awhile without a light directly illuminating my desk. I didn’t think it would be a problem; after all, I still had the ceiling light.

But it was a problem. You see, since my desk is situated in a corner of the room, the light from the ceiling fell behind me, casting a shadow over my work. I found myself straining to see well and frustrated by this lack of clarity.

I needed the light in its proper place—before me—to illuminate what I was doing.

This is what it’s like for me on days when I choose to put the Lord “on the back burner.” I think, I’ll make time for the Word later on, and I stumble through my day without clear direction, oftentimes accomplishing nothing or running into problems I might have avoided had I first sought His direction.

The Lord loves us, and He loves spending time with us, but He’s not like that screaming toddler at your knees demanding your attention. He’s not like your angry boss watching the clock to make sure you arrive on time. He’s not that unfinished project nagging you to finish it. He waits patiently, and if we choose to go on our way in darkness, tripping and falling over life’s obstacles, then I’m sure He’s sorry for us, but after all, we didn’t seek His advice. . . .

When I work, I like a well-lit workspace; I don’t like straining to see what I’m doing. To go through any day, I need to start first by being in God’s Word, which lights my way and helps me see clearly the path before me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Am I Good Enough?

Remember when one sister named Martha was mad at her younger sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him teach instead of helping with all the work of serving their guests? (Luke 10:38–42)

If you’re familiar with this passage from Luke, are you as shocked as I am at how Martha bosses Jesus around, ordering Him to tell her sister to help her? Instead of the firm rebuke one might expect from the Lord, Jesus responded with compassion. He said, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” My paraphrase: “Oh, honey, I wish you wouldn’t get so upset over little things. All you need is to stay close to me; I’ll take care of everything.”

I’m afraid that too often we think God’s mad at us unless we do everything perfectly. We exert so much energy trying to make ourselves look good and trying to earn His approval when he already loves us unconditionally.

His gentle rebuke about only “one thing” being necessary isn’t to make us feel guilty if we’re not putting God first. It’s to help us understand that unless we do put Him first, we’re going to miss out on the best things: things like hearing His voice to receive direction for our lives so that He can give us His blessing and protection.

Stop beating up yourself because you can never be good enough. He loves you. He always wants the best for you. When you give Him first place in your life, His grace (His “good enough”) is what will make everything else work out in your life.

Taming the Tongue

I truly admire those of you who are gentle and kind and never criticize others. I want to be just like you when I grow up, but I’m not there yet. Too often I find myself saying, “I don’t mean to criticize, but . . .,” or “I don’t want to sound mean, but. . . .” And, BIG SURPRISE! The next thing out of my mouth is a critical statement. UGH! Why do I do that?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (NLT). Isn’t that beautiful? I want to be like that. I want everything I say to be filled with grace, love, and encouragement. What is it about criticism that’s so appealing, so hard to resist? Why this need to find fault, to tear down others, to point out their shortcomings?

In James 3:8-9 we are warned, “but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness” (NIV).

No man can tame the tongue, it’s true, but God can. I know that only His divine grace flowing through me can transform me into that person described in Ephesians 4. Each day as I get closer and closer to Him and trust Him to guide me through this life, I am changing. 2 Corinthians 5:17 promises, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

I can’t do something this big on my own. It’s a huge relief to know that God is at work, changing me from the inside out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's Not the Ring

Gearing up for Valentine’s Day, jewelry stores spend millions of dollars convincing women that if their man really loves them, he’ll buy them a big honkin’ diamond ring. I wonder how many men watch those commercials and feel guilty if they haven’t yet come up with the giant rock.

I’ll confess, I almost fell into that trap, but only for a moment. I remember watching a commercial where a man surprised his wife with an anniversary ring and shouted to the crowd around them, “I LOVE THIS WOMAN!” And the woman rapturously replied in a breathless whisper, “I love this man. I love this man.”

I looked at my husband in his usual position—sprawled out on the couch, sound asleep by 8:00 p.m., and thought, Hey, wake up! You could learn a thing or two here!

Thankfully, the moment that thought went through my mind I looked at my wedding ring—a simple golden band with three diamond chips and no accompanying engagement ring—and recognized that after nearly 30 years, it’s holding up fine, and so is our marriage.

It’s not the ring that says I love you.

Love is going out to start the car for me before I leave on cold winter mornings. It’s saving the last cup of coffee for me. It’s hanging around the house a little while longer before he leaves for work, just to see what’s on my mind. It’s the way he makes me smile every day. Love is knowing that he prays for me and wants good things for me.

A few grand gestures could never replace the daily commitment required for love that lasts a lifetime. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Jesus showed His love by sacrificing His life for us.

My husband regularly makes sacrifices for our family. That’s why I can say, “I love this man.”

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Let not your heart be troubled

I’m feeling a little stressed today, and I know I don’t need to be feeling this way; my heavenly Father can take care of what needs taking care of, but sometimes those feelings of anxiety can sneak up on a person.

I felt the tightness in my chest and the queasiness in my stomach and said, “Oh, Father, don’t let my heart be anxious.” But that’s not how it goes, is it?

As I think of Bible verses dealing with anxiety, I see that I’m the one required to give my stresses to God; He’s not required to come and snatch them away from me. Look at these examples (emphases mine):

John 14:17b; Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Philippians 4:6; Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

1 Peter 5:7; Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Psalm 55:22; Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

Did you notice the common thread of these verses? It’s not God’s job to keep my heart from being anxious. He tells me (us) to do that. We are required to do something. God will help us through, but He’s looking for that step of faith on our part—that giving up of our control and placing our trust in Him.

So I’m going to lay aside my plans and schemes for getting through this difficult time. Instead, I’m going to spend some quiet time with my Father, trust in Him with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding. I’ll acknowledge Him in all my ways, and He will make my paths straight (from Proverbs 3:5-6).

I feel better already.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

True Satisfaction

How’s your attitude? Do you feel better when the sun shines? When the temperature rises? When you have money? When everything’s going your way?

What makes you happy? What makes your life worthwhile?

I’ve been perusing Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and his resounding tone of hope, joy, and love is amazing. Keeping in mind that this was a man in prison, separated from people he loved, facing the prospect of execution, one could understand if he were angry, frustrated, and depressed, but he wasn’t! We can learn a lot from the apostle Paul about keeping a positive attitude regardless of our circumstances.

The apostle Paul said knowing Christ, rejoicing in Christ, living for Christ, and preaching Christ made his life worthwhile. In other words, Paul focused on things eternal—on Jesus, the everlasting God, and not on his circumstances. He was more concerned about fulfilling God’s call on his life than living comfortably and securely. His greatest hope was spending eternity in the presence of the Lord. And all this brought him inner joy and true contentment—not what was happening around him.

In order for life to be meaningful and satisfying, we need to focus on that which is permanent. Nothing but a life lived for Christ has any true value, and we’ll always be searching for that “something” that’s going to fulfill us until we discover our worth and purpose in Him.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are You Hungry?

Is prayer and Bible study like exercise to you? You know what I mean: you know you should do it because it’s good for you, and you always feel so much better after you’ve done it, but it’s still something you have to make yourself do – a discipline.

What would happen if we approached our quiet times the same way we approach meal times?

We would be thinking of our next “meal.” We would know (have a plan for) when we were having our next “meal.” We would search for good “food.” We might be guilty of “eating” more often than others realize. Sometimes we might stuff ourselves on “food,” (but we would never feel miserable afterwards!). And we would certainly share our “food” with others as an act of love and friendship. Don’t we want to be overflowing and plumped out with God’s Word and the Holy Spirit?

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Have you ever thought about the difference between being hungry and craving something? When you crave something you have to have it or “you’ll just DIE!!!” That’s how we’re to approach feeding ourselves on the Word of God. Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Too many Christians buy into Satan’s deceptive lies: “Quiet times are boring.” “I don’t have time.” “I don’t know how to pray.” “I don’t understand the Bible.” “Blah, blah, blah.” The enemy knows very well that if we aren’t fed, we will DIE. And that’s exactly what he wants. But Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

Let’s approach every day eager to satisfy our hunger in the Lord.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Alive in Christ

Galatians 2:20; I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Dying to self is a concept the Lord brings me back to again and again. I’ve thought a lot about what it means, questioning how one dies to self in this lifetime. I have several ideas from the Bible; I’m still working on the practical application!

One of those ideas has to do with humility, admitting our neediness. Human nature—especially in our culture, I think—tends toward self-reliance. To say, “I need you, Lord,” is to admit weakness. If “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) means our strength is in God and we’re not willing to admit or acknowledge any weakness, then we’re not giving Him the chance to be strong in us. Obviously, we can’t grow strong in the Lord as long as we insist on holding onto and operating in our own strength.

I know I need to depend on the Lord’s guidance and help for everything, yet it’s amazing how often I set out to do things in my own strength, I struggle or have problems, and then I say, “Oh! I know! I should pray about this!”

“Self” is a stubborn, obstinate beast that clings tenaciously to us, fighting to stay alive; but the truth is that until we put self to death and make Jesus the Lord of every area of our lives, we’ll never fully know what it means to be “alive in Him.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Invest in Eternity

There’s a book I love called Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. It’s a true story about a retired sociology professor dying from ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease), and his former student (Mitch Albom) visits him every Tuesday for lessons, not on dying but on living. Among the many wonderful aphorisms Morrie spouts is “Everybody knows they are going to die, but nobody believes it. . . . If we did, we would do things differently.” His point is that when we come to grips with our mortality, it changes our priorities and our attitudes.

Perhaps we could carry Morrie’s idea further to say that if we truly believe in eternity, it would profoundly affect our attitudes about this life.

We get awfully attached to this world and this life, don’t we? We “know” that this life and everything in it is temporal, but we act as if it will all last forever; we cling desperately to that which we can never hold onto. If we “believed” that everything here is impermanent—yes, even those relationships we hold so dear—we would hold them a bit more loosely and be far more “eternity minded,” making decisions about how we will invest our time and resources based on eternal values rather than worldly ones.

I rather like the following modern version of Matthew 6:19-21 from The Message: "Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

Since heaven is our true home, let’s invest more in it than in this one.