Thursday, May 27, 2010

A higher purpose

I attended my youngest child’s high school graduation this weekend. For me, this means a time of added reflection on the years we’ve had her under our roof. As the only daughter after three sons, she was a delightful addition to our family; and her quick wit, wonderful conversation skills, and affectionate nature have brought tremendous joy to our home.

This is also a time I question whether I’ve fulfilled my purpose as her mother to prepare her to face the world. Does she have a firm enough foundation to keep her grounded during the next few years when freedom and opportunity offer her more chances to make big mistakes? Has she even begun to grasp her life’s purpose?

Graduating seniors are wrestling with big, life-altering decisions. Without a sense of purpose, without an understanding of why they’re here on the earth, the weight of these decisions can feel overwhelming. My prayer for each of them is that they would come to realize the eternal nature of their lives, which puts everything else into perspective.

God’s Words says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ, … he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone” (Ephesians 1:11, Msg.).

Where will you go to school? Where will you work? Where will you live? Whom will you marry? All these things are very important; yet, when placed against a backdrop of a higher purpose, one’s true calling, we understand that God has a plan. We weren’t placed here randomly and left without the resources needed to accomplish our divine purpose.

In Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, he states, “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillments, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

Once our graduates (and all the rest of us!) figure this out, the rest will fall into place.


OK, last week my darling daughter busted me for wasting time on Facebook, but right after that I connected with someone on that social network that I haven’t seen or talked to since the 1980s. Seeing her pictures and reading her notes to me the past few days have brought back fond memories of this lovely lady whom God used as a spiritual mentor in my life back when I was a young bride with small children, struggling to survive life in the cold Northwoods where my husband had dumped me and told me to stay! (I’m kidding, honey.)

Connecting with this woman and remembering her influence in my life (albeit through that “manipulating thief” Facebook) has caused me to reflect upon the many people whom God has used over the years to teach me about Himself and to draw me into a closer relationship with Him.

Of course it began with my parents who made sure I was in Sunday school and church every week – if there was a blizzard, we had church at home! I had two grandmothers whose Bibles I remember taking peeks at as a youngster. I had an older sister who, when I got off-course during my teen years, often reminded me that she was praying for me. And of course there have been many pastors and teachers over the years who shared their knowledge and wisdom with me.

My list of influences could go on indefinitely, and sadly, I’m afraid I’ve probably forgotten many of those who have touched my life along the way. Who’s to say something somebody said to me about Jesus when I was a child registered and stuck, although I have no conscious recollection of that moment?

We don’t know the influence we have on others.

I remember a man who used to greet little children by saying, “Hello. Jesus sure gave you pretty eyes.” Something so simple could begin the process of wondering and questioning and seeking and ultimately finding this Jesus – who gives pretty eyes.

It’s important to grab hold of opportunities to share Jesus with others. It doesn’t have to be a sermon preached with great fervor. It needs only be sincere and motivated in love.

Nose in the air

During this year’s Atlanta auditions for the hit show American Idol, a 63-year-old gentleman named General Larry Platt amazed and amused the judges and the audience with his performance of a song he called “Pants on the Ground.” If you’re not familiar with the song, surely you’re aware of the trend that had young men wearing pants multiple sizes too large for them, which resulted in the pants hanging … well below their beltline. And yes, I have seen at least one instance where a boy’s pants fell down to his ankles, and I thought, Don’t you realize how foolish you look?

There always have been and always will be fads – some good, some not so good – for people to follow, but in his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul encourages his young mentee not to get caught up in a tendency that’s still prevalent to this day.

You see, once we’re saved and our lives are changed by the work of the Holy Spirit (not by our own efforts), it’s easy to start thinking of ourselves as “very good” people while looking down our noses at others. But Paul says to remember, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3–5).

This is an important reminder to keep us in our place when we become too “pious.” It’s God’s kindness, love and mercy that has set us apart, not our goodness! How is our pride ever going to attract a lost world? We may not have our “pants on the ground,” but we look just as foolish walking around with our noses the air. And just as everybody waits to see if those baggy pants are going to fall to the ground, when we elevate ourselves above others, they’re eagerly waiting to see us fall – which will happen eventually, because “First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (Prov. 16:18 MSG).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Another spring

The other day I wandered around my yard, exploring buds and picking up old sticks. I was glad to see the cherry trees my son bought me for Mother’s Day last year survived the winter. I promised my sparse raspberry stand I would take better care of it this year. On the edge of the yard where we used to plant our garden, horseradish plants pushed through the earth—a gift from my dad who had a penchant for this strong-flavored root.

Sadness swept over me as I whispered, Another winter has passed and another spring has arrived without you in it. How can this be? Why do we keep looking for signs of new birth each spring when you’re not here to plow your beloved garden and tend to its produce all summer and rejoice in its harvest each fall? How can the seasons keep right on coming and going with this gap in the universe?

I wondered if things would ever feel “right” again or if this sense of loss would stay with me the rest of my life. I realized the latter would most likely be the case, and only our reunion day could fill the empty spot in my heart.

I turned my thoughts to that joyful day when I will embrace my loved ones again and never have to say good-bye. I smiled to think of the time we will walk hand in hand and experience a kind of perfect unity we never knew in this life. I realized that as long as I’m on this Earth, a deep part of me will yearn for the life that follows this one.

Like my dad’s plants stubbornly pushing their way out from beneath the earth year after year, our own rebirth and new life will come as surely as spring follows winter.

“Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us from this place and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom. Anyone who has been in the foreign lands longs to return to his own native land. … We regard paradise as our native land.”
— Cyprian

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

That others may see

I knew a woman in a neighboring city who used to be a waitress at a popular restaurant in that town. She told me that the worst shift to work was a Sunday morning/afternoon. None of the wait staff wanted to deal with the after-church crowd. Apparently, these fine, outstanding citizens who had put on their best clothes and just spent their obligatory weekly hour in “the Lord’s house” were rude, crabby, demanding, and truly lousy tippers!

For some reason I felt ashamed and embarrassed to tears when she told me this. I found myself saying, “I am so sorry!” even though it was not I who had committed this particular offense. I suppose my reaction was rooted in the same type of feeling we have when a family member has done something really stupid and shameful – are people going to assume we’re the same way because we’re related to that person?

This was this woman’s perception of Christians. She saw people coming from church, and she saw that their behavior was ugly. Ergo, people who go to church (i.e., “Christians”) are horrible. And since I’m a Christian, I felt compelled to apologize for others’ conduct.

Of course none of us can be responsible for someone else’s behavior, but we all must carefully consider our own conduct at all times.

Matthew 5:14, 16 says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; … Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” The world is watching more closely than we may realize. They are watching, and they are forming judgments about whether we have something genuinely life changing or if we’re absolutely no better off than they are. If there’s no difference, if we don’t shine God’s love and demonstrate His character, why should they want what we have?

It’s easy to get entangled in the emotions or the politics of a particular situation and forget our true purpose, but let’s remind one another that we’re called to be Christ’s representatives on Earth that others may see and glorify God.

Too many friends?

When I first joined the Facebook community, I teased my nephew for having over 700 friends. “How do you even know that many people?” I questioned.

He admitted there were a few on there he could probably delete because he really didn’t know them and never corresponded with them.

Ya think?

This got me thinking about friendships. How many friends does one need? Is having more friends better than having only a few? Which friendships are worth hanging onto, and which could be let go?

There are people we know who enhance our lives and help make us better people. In my life I would say these are the people who help keep me focused on God. My dearest friends are those who are sympathetic if I’m going through a difficult time, but ultimately they will point me to the Word, they will remind me of God’s faithfulness, and they will pray with me.

There are also people who complicate our lives and detract from our purpose here. With their minds set on the world and not on things above, it’s easy to get caught up in their trappings of gossip and negative thinking. They might be kind people who are lots of fun, but without a foundation of faith in God, what do they have to offer of lasting value?

Amos 3:3 (NKJV) says, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Friends are like-minded. If we gravitate toward fellow Christians who build us up in our faith, the strength we acquire from these relationships will carry into other relationships. We can bring the loving support we receive from the Lord and those who know Him to the friends who do not know Him.
The key, I believe, is balancing the proportions of whom we spend our time with. Remember, Jesus ministered to the masses, but He spent all His time with a few close friends who believed in Him.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'll cry if I want to ...?

I know that when it comes to emotions/feelings, I am an enigma to my husband. And even though I realize he’ll probably never “get” where I’m coming from, I am still compelled to dump all my feelings on him. After all, as a friend recently pointed out, he has “perfectly shaped ears,” designed, I’m sure, just for listening to me.

So year after year I make him listen to my tales fraught with mean people and difficult situations and just how hard life can be. And a common reply on his part is often, “That’s good for you! It will toughen you up.”

So year after year I’ve been telling myself that I need to toughen up and not be so sensitive – until I rejected that notion and said, “Wait a minute! Why do I have to be tough? God made me a sensitive person, and I’ll cry if I want to.”

Hmmm, maybe a reality check is in order.

God-given emotions are good. We have plenty of biblical examples of people expressing strong emotions – agonizing and weeping over the lost, for example.

God’s will is for us to be molded into the image and likeness of Christ. As we grow up in Christ, our emotions will reflect that growth. No longer slaves to bouts of depression, fits of anger, or spells of self-pity, our Spirit-filled lives will reflect His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control – and the wonderful emotions that accompany this fruit.

If you are a highly emotional person who feels things deeply and cries easily, rejoice in the knowledge that you are created in the image of an emotional God! At the same time, be willing to surrender any emotions that are not from Him; they will lead only to despair and destruction.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1–3).

One way, Jesus

In desperation I tried to tell someone important to me about God’s love for her. When she replied, “I’m very spiritual. I try to be a good person, and I hope I’ll go to heaven when I die,” I agreed that she was a good person.

“But,” I asked her, “don’t you want to know that you’ll go to heaven instead of only hoping? The Lord Jesus paid a huge price so you could know that you’re saved.”

“Well,” she replied, “I believe there are many ways to heaven, and Jesus may or may not be one of those ways.”

Now, I knew this woman was raised in the church, so I asked her, “So you don’t think it matters if you believe in Jesus and trust Him as your savior?”

She said no.

To this I sadly responded, “If it doesn’t matter what you believe, if just being a good person is enough to save you, then why did Jesus have to die? You’re saying He wasted His time and gave His life for nothing, because we can get to heaven by our own efforts.”

As disheartening as this conversation was, it’s a sentiment that appears to be more and more prevalent all the time.

With myriad voices telling us so many different things to believe in, it’s easy to lose our way and start thinking, “It all sounds good!” But Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).

We don’t want to appear shallow or narrow minded, and we’ve all been taught the importance of “tolerance,” but Jesus said, “I am the way and truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Having just celebrated Resurrection Sunday, let’s continue to walk in the knowledge that we serve THE living God who redeems us and saves us. … And let’s declare this truth to all those who have gotten confused and lost along the way.

What to wear

In the television show What Not to Wear, participants allow fashion experts to go through their closets, ridiculing their wardrobes and ultimately throwing away their clothes, all in exchange for the promise of a new wardrobe that will improve their lives by advancing their careers with “the right look.”

Participants sometimes cry when forced to surrender certain items of clothing: “But it’s so comfortable!” they wail. Or, “I love that because I’ve had it for so long,” they moan. Or, “That outfit is a reflection of my personality!” they exclaim.

These participants can’t see what’s obvious to the fashion experts – these clothes are hideous and are hindering their chances of getting ahead in life.

I laugh to think of the fashion experts going through my closet. Would anything in my sorry wardrobe survive their scrutiny? I doubt it.

God’s Word tells us, “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” These attributes of God are compared to garments that we may – or may not – choose to wear, but it is an act of our will. Each day we must choose what to put on.

I realized recently that when I go against THE “fashion expert’s” advice and instead put on indifference, hatred, pride, hard-heartedness and rudeness, I make myself UGLY. Who wants to see me dressed like that? Somebody should just tell me, “Girl, you look awful. Go home and change your clothes!”

Thankfully, my heavenly Father wants to take me on a shopping trip and buy me an entire new wardrobe. I imagine Him saying to me, “My child, I love to see you in compassion,” and “You look beautiful when you wear kindness,” and “Humility is your best color,” and “Gentleness goes so well with everything,” and “Do you know how THIN you look in patience?”

While I still despair each day over my wardrobe when I enter my closet, I’m thankful that God gives me things to wear with lasting beauty and eternal benefits.

Victory ahead

Feeling discouragement beyond anything I’d ever experienced, I couldn’t find the motivation to move beyond the setbacks and disappointments of life – until one day my husband looked sincerely into my eyes and tentatively offered, “It takes no effort at all to lose a football game.”

And then he flinched because he figured I wouldn’t appreciate his sports analogy.

We don’t always speak the same language.

But I didn’t bop him upside the head or even roll my eyes at him. He wasn’t quoting Scripture or telling me, “God doesn’t want you to give up!” but surely God gave him just the right thing to say, because that short and simple statement reached me and helped me get back up and resume the battle that is sometimes life.

With a husband and three sons who are all football fanatics, I’ve watched enough games over the years to genuinely wonder how guys can go out there, get beaten up and utterly exhausted, and keep on playing hard for the entire game even when they’re behind on the scoreboard. What can I learn from these dedicated athletes?

Athletes must have a broader vision, a higher goal, than merely the game at hand. Every battle on the football field is an opportunity to learn and to improve for future games.

We can look only at our current situation and decide it’s too hard, it’s hopeless; or we can look at the bigger picture and say, like Paul, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Athletes recognize that they do not play for themselves alone. They are accountable to others and won’t give up for love of their teammates.

We’re not alone in this game of life. Sometime other people need us, and sometimes we need them; but if we give up, we’re no good to anyone.

My husband’s football analogy was especially apt. The qualities required to persevere on the gridiron are the same qualities needed elsewhere in life: farsightedness, accountability, perseverance and love.

As Christians, we will face setbacks and disappointments in life, but it’s so important to leave them behind and “... run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith …" (Hebrews 12: 1–2).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

God of Joy

How often do we think about the fact that God is a God of JOY? Joy is not just a great feeling; it’s an essential part of experiencing an effective Christian walk.

Nehemiah told the Israelites, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Strength – mental, physical, emotional or spiritual – is important in all we do. Have you ever noticed that when you approach a task in a negative or sad state of mind, you feel exhausted the entire time you’re working? Now think of the times you were really happy and felt good about what you were doing. Do you remember how exhaustion didn’t hit you until after the project was finished? Joy makes the difference.

Jesus was filled with joy, and He came to share that joy with us. In John 15:11 He said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” You see, it’s His joy in us that makes our own joy complete. And in John 17:13, he reminded, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13). Our God is not stingy when He’s handing out joy! He wants us to have the full measure of His joy – all of it.

When the Holy Spirit was given to us, He became the direct path for us to enter into God’s 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). Seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus and know what it is to experience the kind of joy the world could never understand.

When God is our source of joy, we are infused with His strength. This joy is not something we manufacture ourselves – putting on a happy face and going through the motions. This joy is His gift to those He loves to enable us to walk in His power and victory.

The boss's time

I do freelance work from home, and, depending on how tight a deadline I have, there can be a lot of freedom in setting my own hours. I can get up early, sit down at my computer in my pajamas, and have a lot of work done by noon. Or I can work late into the night and sleep in the next morning. If I have a small project with a loose deadline, I might putz around – an hour here, an hour there – doing other things along with my work throughout the day.

But when I come to work at the Voyageur, I get paid by the hour; therefore, I’m on my boss’s time. I understand that I’m expected to work for every hour I’m paid. I’m accountable for my time, and I do what my boss expects me to do, not whatever I happen to feel like doing – which, quite frankly, some days would be zilch! Doesn’t matter. You gotta work when you’re getting paid.

I got to thinking about how different my life would be if I approached every day with the mindset that I am not on my own time. I’m working for “my Boss,” and need to do whatever tasks He sets before me. What would happen if each day I said, “Okay, Lord, I’m on your time; what would you have me do this day?”

Ephesians 5:15–16 of the Amplified Bible says, “Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people), Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.”

The days are evil, the time is short, and every day has Kingdom work to be done, whether it’s out in the world or in a prayer closet. Making Jesus the boss each day puts our lives on track to be purposeful and worthy and accurate.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What About Trust?

Pastor Rick Warren made the following comment in a post on his Facebook page: “Never confuse forgiveness and trust. Forgiveness must be immediate and unconditional. Trust must be re-earned over time.”

I found this especially interesting since I’ve recently been part of an ongoing group discussion on the topic of forgiveness. Someone posed the question, “How do we trust those who continue to sin against us after we’ve forgiven them multiple times for the same type of offense?”

That’s a very good question, and I would never presume to have a pat and easy answer to that question, but as the discussion progressed, this thought occurred to me: The expectation that we can or should be able to trust our fellow human beings should be tempered with the realization that even those most worthy of our trust – those who truly love us and would never want to hurt us – in all likelihood will eventually do something that leaves us feeling hurt or betrayed or just very disappointed, and our trust in them will be compromised. Therefore, while trust is an essential part of any good relationship, maybe we shouldn’t expect to be able to trust others 100 percent.

Now, if we deal with someone who habitually offends, asks forgiveness, and then repeats the offense, our responsibility is to forgive that person every time. The next move? Pray for that person, and trust GOD to deal with whatever underlying issue in his or her life is causing this behavior. And then the next time that person comes along and commits the same old sin against you, trust that your prayers are at work in this person’s life. Trust that God is dealing with the issue and change is on its way.

As I said, I don’t want to sound trite when it comes to an issue that can be complicated and painful, but sometimes we think it’s up to us to “fix” someone else when we need to step back and let God take care of the matter.

So we forgive them, we pray for them, and we get out of the way and let God do what He will.

Psalm 118:8; It is better to trust in the Lord / Than to put confidence in man.

Of Tigers and Men

Society devours scandal like crazed children at a birthday party devour cake. We love it. And when previously unscathed Tiger Woods fell from grace with his multiple indiscretions, the public gleefully tuned in to witness his descent.

Recently, Tiger apologized. With his voice hesitant and slightly shaking, he spoke to his audience: “Every one of you has reason to be critical of me.”

Isn’t this true for all of us? We all have something of which others can find fault. Most of us have something in our past that causes us to feel shame every time we think of it. The Bible says,
“[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Because we’re all guilty of sin but we hate to think of ourselves that way, we look elsewhere to find others who are “worse sinners” than ourselves. In this way we can say, “Well, at least I’m not that bad.” And someone in the public eye is an easy target.

Tiger said, “My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before.”

Tiger’s reawakened conscience is an example to us all. When our natural tendency is to make excuses, justify, or place the blame on someone else, our best option is to say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23), allowing our Creator to reveal the true nature of our hearts and the sins we may be refusing to acknowledge.

Tiger sought the forgiveness of his family, his friends, and his fans. Many will forgive him; others may not, for that is the fickle nature of humankind. But God has promised that when we seek HIS forgiveness, it is done. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Now begins the difficult process for Tiger of trying to rebuild what pride and arrogance have torn to shreds: respect and trust. “I have a lot to atone for,” he declared. But ultimately, Tiger Woods can never undo what has been done, and we all face that harsh reality . . . once that deed has been done – that word has been spoken . . . how do you take it back?

Thank God, “He Himself is the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins (1 John 2:2). What we could never make right or undo, the Lord Jesus has already covered with His precious blood.
Society might turn against you, accuse you, and want to see you penalized; but the Lord Jesus has already taken the punishment for your sins. So agree with him that you are a sinner and then accept His free gift of forgiveness.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The cure for mouth disease

I have a friend who’s been known to pray, “Lord, put a guard over my mouth, and if that doesn’t work, use duct tape!”

As of right now, I am making that my official prayer!

Lately I’ve had a series of episodes with diarrhea of the mouth. Even though I could sense the Holy Spirit saying, “Be quiet! Don’t say that. Stop right now,” I persisted in saying what was on my mind.

And do you know what? Every time I’ve done that, I’ve made things worse, not better.

Nothing good can come of disobedience.

So I’ve repented — more than once — but it’s obvious I need some medicine for my mouth disease. Isn’t it a good thing I just happen to know the best doctor in the world?

I started by examining my motives and noticed a strong tendency to want to “straighten people out” when I think they’re wrong or to defend what I believed was right. This revelation was followed by an image of the Lord Jesus facing accusers and would-be attackers. I noticed two ways He responded. First, when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert, He responded with the Word of God. He didn’t argue or try to convince Satan that he was wrong; He simply said, “It is written …” (Matthew 4:1–10).

Next, when testimony was brought against Jesus as He faced the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin, He remained silent (Mat. 26:63).

As always, Jesus is our perfect example.

Instead of rushing to defend myself or to explain to someone why they’re wrong, I need to listen to the Holy Spirit when He says, “Hush.” Saying nothing can be so hard, but leaning on His strength, I can do this.

And, if the Holy Spirit should give me license to speak, I need to put aside my own inclinations and speak God’s Word into these difficult situations.

Given my record, the cure may not be instantaneous, but I know that with time, practice and lots of prayer, God is going to cure my mouth disease.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Easy to love

In an age of “looking out for #1,” power struggles in marriage are too often a couple’s demise, and divorce is the tragic result.

God has the perfect plan for how we ought to treat one another in marriage, but one area in particular seems be a source of controversy. From my experience of talking to other women, especially young women, Ephesians 5:22 is a verse that tends to make many of us uncomfortable: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

I suspect the verse has been abused and misunderstood by a good number of men over the years. I also suspect women’s changing role in society has made submission a dirty word in any context.

But let’s skip over to verse 25 of Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”

God makes a great demand on men in regard to how they treat their wives. Stop and think of what God is requiring from husbands.

If a man loves his wife the way Christ loved the church, his love will be sacrificial, meaning he will put her needs before his own. He will attend to her welfare at all costs. He will always do what is best for her. He will build her up through encouragement and want to see her content and joyful. He will provide for her and protect her even to the point of giving his own life!

Wow, if a man loves a woman like that, I can’t imagine that submission would be any big deal. After all, a husband who loves his wife like Christ loves the church is not one who is going be harsh and cruel or make unreasonable, selfish demands on her, right?

God’s plan for marriage is that it would be two people “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21). His plan is that marriage would be a beautiful representation of Christ’s relationship with His bride, the church. His plan, when a husband and wife cooperate with it, means that love will last a lifetime.

Knowing versus believing

My dear husband has spent the past week dealing with some dental issues and a lot of pain. How sad that Doc Dave was on vacation during our tooth emergency!

I chided my husband for neglecting his teeth and letting things go until there’s a big problem. I believe in the importance of preventative dental care and think a person should go in every year for a cleaning and exam.

But wait … when was the last time I’ve been to the dentist? Hmmm, it’s been going on three-and-a-half years according to my calculations. So the question is, do I really BELIEVE this, or is it merely something I’ve been taught, acknowledge is true, but haven’t fully committed to the idea?

Judging by my actions, perhaps the latter is true.

There’s a difference between knowing something and truly believing it, isn’t there? Genuine belief will change our way of thinking and acting in the world.

As Christians we need to evaluate our stated beliefs against our reactions to life’s circumstances. How often do our actions and the words of our mouth negate what we claim to believe?

Do we state, “I trust God to meet all of my needs” one minute and then turn around and say, “I’m never going to be able to make that payment” the next?

Do we say, “I know I can trust my loved ones to God’s care” but then fall into a panic at the first sign of a fever?

Do we declare, “I’m going to back off and let God to handle this situation” only to continue spending hours trying to figure out ways to fix it ourselves?

We can know about God and acknowledge His existence, but true belief in Him manifests itself in trust – in faith.

God gives us faith (Romans 12:3b), and like the muscles in our body, every time we choose to exercise that faith it grows bigger and stronger. If I never trust God for anything but continue always trying to operate in my own strength, controlling everything myself, my faith will not grow.

Remember, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). So if you want to strengthen your faith muscles, fill up on the Word of God and then put your faith to work!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Grace to the Humble

Do you ever do dumb things? I do. I find the best perspective I can have when it comes to my “dumb moments” is to laugh at myself and to forgive myself. After years of practice, it’s finally beginning to sink in that no one takes me as seriously as I take myself.

Over 20 years ago, my husband told me, “Everyone makes mistakes, but when you make a mistake, you seem to think it’s the worst mistake ever made by anyone in the universe.” This was true. Every time I did anything I perceived as “stupid,” I would wish for the earth to open and swallow me.

Was my overreaction to my slip-ups mere insecurity? That certainly played a part, but the Lord gently showed me that pride was also at work here. Why else would I need others to see me as infallible? What kind of egocentrism made me think it was okay for others to make mistakes, but not I? And wasn’t it prideful to think that others thought so much about me? Did I really believe that no one had anything better to think about than the latest dumb thing I’d done or said? Honestly!

The opposite of pride is humility, but how do we develop humility?

First of all, humility is a choice.

In Matthew 18:4 Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We choose to humble ourselves and become childlike in our faith, which affects how we respond to everything else in our lives.

Humility comes through understanding who we were without Christ and who we have become because of His great sacrifice for us. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:22-24). In Christ, I am no better and no worse than anyone else.

Recognize that it is God who makes us able. “Our competence comes from God (2 Cor. 3:5). On my own, I am imperfect, but in Christ I am “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). I can only humbly acknowledge what He has done for me.

Finally, we learn humility through a lifetime spent making mistakes and letting Jesus pick us back up and give us another chance. He forgives everything, and in that knowledge, I am humbled.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fear not

Have you ever been paralyzed with fear? Literally so frightened you couldn’t move, could hardly breathe?

I have great empathy when someone talks about being afraid. I know that some people like to do things to frighten themselves, like bungee jumping or watching scary movies, but real fear, the honest-to-goodness-sheer-terror kind of fear, is awful. In fact, in 1 John 4:18 John says, “… fear involves torment.”

Merriam-Webster defines torment as “the infliction of torture (as by rack or wheel)” – Ouch! The dictionary also calls torment “extreme pain or anguish of body or mind: AGONY.”

Agony! That is what people go through when they are in fear!

Too often we accept fear as a normal part of life, but do you think for one minute God wants us to be fearful? Of course not! Over and over again throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, our loving and compassionate heavenly Father says some combination of “fear not,” “be not afraid,” or “do not be afraid.”

He understands that we sometimes experience fear, but He does not want us to stay there.

Why? First of all understand that fear is not from God. Second Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear …” When you’re afraid, remind yourself that God did not give you that fear.

What has He given us instead? Well, the second part of 2 Timothy 1:7 says that He has given us a spirit of “power and of love and of a sound mind.” He has given us peace according to John 14:27; “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

God doesn’t want us to be afraid because He wants us to walk in faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the opposite of fear. Faith is a place of power that allows you to move forward with confidence in this life. Faith is the solution to any fear you may face.

When you replace fearful thinking with God’s thinking, based on the Bible, fear will lose its grip on you, and you will be set free from the agony that is fear.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

God in the details

I love it when God shows Himself in the details of our lives – in those areas we think are too unimportant to bother Him with.

Recently, when my daughter brought her computer home from college, it decided it no longer wanted to read DVDs or CDs. This was a major problem because we needed to install software for her to be able to connect to the Internet, and since she’s taking online college courses this semester, the Internet is a definite necessity. When she called for the manufacturer’s help, she was told the computer was no longer under warranty, and they would charge some outrageous amount to help her. She said, “No thanks,” because . . . well, she’s been unemployed a long time.

I tried to see what I could do to possibly fix the computer – but to no avail. I prayed and tried again. Sadly, I thought I just had to admit defeat and hire someone to fix the computer. Sadly because . . . well, money’s just been tight lately.

Suddenly, my own computer developed the exact same problem; it stopped reading DVDs and CDs. I thought that was unbelievably strange that both computers would have the same issue – an issue I’ve never had before in all my years of owning computers – within days of each other.
I called the manufacturer (my computer is under warranty), and a brilliant young woman from India took control of my monitor and fixed the problem. Then she said, “Now I will tell you step by step what I did.”

Hmmm, I thought, I’ve never had a technician offer to do that before.

She told me the steps one by one as I wrote them down. I told her my other computer had the same problem, and although the computer was from the same manufacturer, it was not the same model. She said, “That does not matter. Following these steps will fix your other computer.”

And it did. My daughter’s computer is fixed, and it didn’t cost me a penny.

Remember, because it’s not under warranty, the manufacturer would not help with my daughter’s computer. But my computer, which is under warranty, amazingly developed the same problem. And then there was that technician who offered to tell me the steps she’d used to fix my computer when I’ve never had a technician do that before!

Coincidence? Some people would say so, but I know that my Heavenly Father saw the need and orchestrated a way to solve that problem.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).

His way is the high way

". . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life . . .” (Deut. 30:19, NKJV).

What do I know of God? I know that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8). I know that apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5). I’m learning – very gradually – to trust that when I do things His way and not my own, very good things will come of that. I’m learning that every time I fight the urge to respond the way my flesh wants me to and instead respond the way His Spirit tells me to, I’ve won a victory against the enemy of my soul who wants to keep me in bondage – a slave to sin.

Oh, but making that choice to listen and be obedient to Him is hard work sometimes. For instance, I remember a time when I knew my efforts were being overlooked, and I wasn’t receiving credit for my contributions. Feeling unappreciated and taken for granted, I planned my revenge: I would no longer put forth any effort; I would let people know how wrong they had been. I rehearsed my presentation until I was sure it would cut others to the bone and make them feel so guilty and ashamed and sorry for the way they had treated me!

Ready to unleash all my fury, I felt the Father speak to my spirit: “At the end of your life, these things will not matter. What will matter then will be the kindness you showed for My sake and the gentle words you chose to honor Me.”

I knew immediately I did not want to be remembered as the self-centered, indignant person who demanded to “get what she deserved.” I wanted to live His way. I wanted to walk in love.

So I chose the opposite of what I had planned. I worked harder – to please God, not people. I extended kindness rather than withholding my affection. I approached the situation with gratefulness instead of resentment.

Did anyone notice? I don’t know. I don’t remember a sudden rush of accolades or expressions of appreciation, but giving up my agenda was so worth it for the joy and the peace I experienced as a result of doing things God’s way. And I knew – without a doubt – that even though it may have seemed like a small thing to others, a major spiritual victory had been won, and I had thwarted Satan’s plan to keep me bitter, resentful and so unhappy.

I’m still losing more battles than I care to admit, but what’s true for all of us is that as we learn to tune in to the Father more and more and choose His way of living in this life, we will experience victory after victory and be set free to walk in His blessings.