My sun porch

My sun porch

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hope for grinchy hearts....

This week's Bible verse:
"Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord." Psalm 89:15

Ok, I know it's not Christmastime yet, but I'm going to talk about the Grinch this morning. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for that infamous character. He started out SO bad...but when the joy of Christmas invaded his heart, that heart grew three sizes that day. I know, I's just a silly Dr. Seuss cartoon, but it has always given me hope that people CAN change.

I love the idea that I am changing...being transformed into the image of Christ.

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

"and we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the spirit." -- 2 Corinthians 3:18

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

How can I make such a claim...that I am being transformed into the image of Christ? It sounds almost sacriligious, doesn't it? But, I'm here to tell you, I am not the same person I was ten years ago. Oh, I have always had a kind heart, and I have always been the kind of person people come talk to. But...there is something different in the way I am able to forgive, love the unlovable (well...most of them anyway) and get through things that I just can't understand how I do.

Lately, I have been feeling the change from being the young, searching, naive woman to the older, wiser mentor type. While this has been a little bruising to my ego to think that I have made that change (WHEN did it happen????) It has had me thinking...WHAT is different about me? Why IS it easier for me to forgive and move on? The only thing I can think of is God and my relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not just my regular involvement with my is the fact that I have been SEARCHING for God and a personal relationship with him. I have reached out and opened my heart to his word, his teachings and I believe in my heart that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in my heart. Again, that sounds conceited and very religious...I just know that's the way it is.

I don't believe that my heart was ever as small as the Grinch's...but I know it is capable of holding and giving much more love now than it used to. I have faith that THAT is God working in my heart. He has made me stronger, more forgiving, and creates a path for me to follow.

There is much ugliness in this world...there are a LOT of Grinches out there who seem to want to ruin everything good and pure in this world. I HAVE to have faith that it is possible for change to happen in the hearts of the wicked. My heart has grown...perhaps there is hope for your grinchy heart as well!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spiritual droughts...

This week's Bible verse:
"Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord." Psalm 89:15

I manage a friend's cabin in the Hocking Hills. People make reservations and I send out contracts and make arrangements. It is a beautiful cabin...set right up against a water fall. A customer contacted me yesterday, asking if you could hear the water fall running from the cabin. He said that he enjoyed the sound of natural water running and thought it would be a soothing place to relax and get away. Unfortunately, I had to answer him that right now, because of the drought we have had this summer, the falls weren't running and therefore that soothing sound would not be there to comfort him.

Don't we all have our own kind of droughts from time to time...spiritual droughts when we just don't feel like God is listening to he even there?

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God." -- Psalm 42:1

I love this picture of the falls at the cabin:

Looking at that picture you can see and almost FEEL the coolness of the inviting it looks! You just want to stand under it and get drenched in that cool, clean, refreshing water! Do you see the sun streaming down through the picture? There are so many trees there that the sun doesn't break through that often. That's my favorite thing about the picture. It makes me think of how God shines his light through the living water of his son, Jesus.

We all know the verse John 3:16..."For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

God loved us SO MUCH...he KNEW we would grow thirsty for him in this world because he MADE us to long for him! We have the choice to love him back, but he created our hearts to long for him. We may not know or understand that it is God that we long for...we try to fill that longing with many things in our lives. But, it's not until we see the light...the light of Jesus...that we begin to have that thirst for God fullfilled.

It has been raining for the past few days. That means the waterfall at the cabin will probably be trickling for a few days at least. The dried up pool at the bottom of the falls will fill up a bit and that comforting sound of flowing water will be present. The people staying in the cabin this weekend will get to bask in the beauty and comfort of the falls. God CAN make it rain our lives and drench us in his refreshing water and end our spiritual drought...we just have to ask.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

sheep at the gate...

This week's Bible verse:
"Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord." -- Psalm 89:15

They were standing over on the green hillside, shadowed by the changing leaves on the trees behind them. It made a pretty picture to see as I looked out my kitchen window on the farm that belonged to my family for so long...Those sheep and their lambs comfortably grazing and wandering around the browning pasture field. It was about feeding time, and my father opened the gate so they could make their way to the barn and their evening meal of hay and grain that supplemented their grass diets. As he walked to the gate, they saw him and recognized him and ran toward him. They charged through the gate and on into the barn where they crowded around the troughs that held their sustenance.

This picture of my father, the shepherd, and his sheep are forever in my mind and my heart, even though he has been gone for nearly 20 years. Every time I read a Bible verse about the shepherd and his sheep, I think of my sheep-raising family and the childhood I had growing up on the farm. I think that is why it's easier for me to understand those verses...why I understand Jesus the Shepherd and Jesus the gate.

That gate opened the field up to the barn and the nutrition that kept my father's sheep fed and healthy. The grass would provide food enough to keep them living, but my father gave them grain that provided nutrients that the fall grass couldn't provide any more. They were healthier because of the grain and it tasted good to them.

I think that's why God's word shows Jesus as the gate...the WAY to the healthy pleasing eternal life that can be ours THROUGH him.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

We can survive on our own...on the "grass" that is readily available to us. But if we want a FULL life, a life full of blessings and nutrients that makes life worth living through the troubles and hard times, then we NEED Jesus in our lives! I know my life is so much better, broader and fuller because I run through the gate and get the sustenance God provides me through Jesus and his teachings. Do you see the gate in front of you? It's not keeping you out! It's providing you a way IN! RUN through it and see just how full your life can really be!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Blind spots...

This week's Bible verse:
"Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord." -- Psalm 89:15

It came out of nowhere...As I moved to change lanes on the busy, sunny highway, a horn blew loudly and warned me to get back. There is was, a little red sports car I didn't see before! I had looked in my rear view mirror and in my side mirror and thought it was safe to get over. I didn't see it! That little car seemed to appear out of thin air. My heart pounded as I realized that I was just saved from a near crash. I thanked God for that horn blast and realized I was just saved from...the blind spot.

Even when we look and think we are safe, we all have a blind spot or two...things about ourselves that we just don't see at first glance. Stubborness...pride...vanity...greed...the need to please...the need to be right...the need to be needed...Those are all things that are hard for us to see about ourselves. We are often blind to our own downfalls.

Have you ever noticed that at night on the road, blind spots don't trip us up as often? Headlights make it easier to see what is beside us and behind us, as well as what is coming toward us. Tail lights and our own headlights make it easier to see what is in front of us. The key word here is LIGHTS. In order to see the danger around us, we need to see...we need light.

Jesus said in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life."

In John 9 is the story of a blind man who Jesus made see. In this chapter we also read about the Pharisees who refused to "see the light" in this man's miracle, and used it to try to condemn Jesus. They were more blind than the man born blind.

I don't want to blind...and I want to be aware of my blind spots. I want to live my life safe from the dangers that occur in the dark. I need Jesus in my life because he IS the light of the world! If more of us believed in him and followed him, maybe there wouldn't be so much darkness in this world!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A little Monday encouragement...

"Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord." -- Psalm 89:15

I'm sitting here staring at my computer screen...wondering what to write about this morning. It's a chilly, dark morning in my house, so I am wrapped in a blanket in my comfy chair unstead of outside on the sunporch. My TV is on, blaring with the morning headlines and annoying,frustrating political commercials. My daughter is slugglish about getting up for school and has a bad attitude. My husband is sleeping instead of off to work because his work schedule changed and threw our whole family schedule out the window. My dog is whining, because we're out of dog treats. I spend some time tallying up the food I ate over the past week for my First Place 4 Health class tonight and am depressed on how few fruits and vegetables I consumed. Eating healthy is hard! That put me in a bad mood! I hate Mondays! It is hard to concentrate on anything.

I switch the TV off and my dog curls up on the couch as my daughter slides out the door. In the quiet I listen. I hear my daughter singing as she waits for the bus. She's singing a praise song! The sun begins to lighten the sky and my morning coffee warms my insides. I don't want this Monday morning bad attitude to taint my whole day! Lord, lift my mood and bring me peace and hope for a better day to come! I look at the day's Bible verse on my phone.

"I'm sure now I'll see God's goodness in the exuberant earth. Stay with God! Take heart. Don't quit. I'll say it again: Stay with God!." -- Psalm 27 13-14 (The Message Translation)

It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope, isn't it? There is so much in our lives to distract us and cause us to lose focus. I thank God this morning for the nudge I needed to take a moment to look in his word for the word of encouragement I needed.

Lord, let the Holy Spirit guide my thoughts as I prepare for this day. Fill me with your hope so I can continue on my journey to be healthy in all areas of my life. Let your light shine through me today so that others may be drawn to your light as well and be given the encouragement and hope that only comes from you. Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Running the race...together

This week's Bible verse:
"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods." -- Psalm 40:4

I have a few friends who run marathons. The thought of that just makes me cringe. I am glad and thrilled that they do it, but I can't even imagine!

And the fact that in the Bible, Paul often compares our earthly lives as a race toward the finish sometimes doesn't satisfy my mind because I don't have much frame of reference to understand all that is involved in running in a long race. But, even though I have never run track or been in a marathon, I have seen enough of those events on tv that I get the idea.

Hebrews 12:1 says that we are encouraged to run "the race that was marked out for us." I take that to mean that although we are all headed to the same distination, heaven and eternity with God, we each have a specific course, or path that God places us on. My journey to the finish line may look totally different than yours. It is tempting to compare my race course to the courses of others. Some seem more challenging, but some seem much easier! I wish I were on THAT course!

The great thing about our God is that he doesn't just set the course for us and then leave us to it. If we take it, there is MUCH encouragement along the way. For one thing, it is comforting to know that God has plans for us...plans to prosper and not harm us and plans to give us hope and a future. While you are on the race course, you have to realize that God only wants the best for you and when you reach the finish line, you will be rewarded with a great future! That gives me hope enough to keep going during the hard parts of the race.

He also doesn't leave us on the track alone...he provides us with opportunities to get cheered on by others in the race as well! They are on their own course, but when they see us struggling in our race, they can cheer, encourage and push us on. Who are these cheerleaders? Well, I believe that is why God gave us the church...our community of fellow racers who both give and need cheering on. We can do that for others and they can do that for us. Many people don't see the need to go to church...they can learn about and worship God on their own. But...the church is not just a place to learn and worship. It is a group of like-minded people who can become your supportive, loving family or community that keeps you going.

Romans 8:28-29 says that God works for the good of those who love him, and he wants us to reflect the image of Christ, our example, so others will see and be drawn to Christ themselves and become part of our loving and suppotive family.

When we love God and run the race TOGETHER, we can benefit from God's good works, and show others how the race is easier with God than without him!

We know that the race ends in a victory that lasts forever...our reward will be much better than a trophy that collects dust on a shelf and falls apart! And the good most races there is only one winner. In God's race, anyone who loves him and runs the race together, cheering, encouraging and accepting encouragement from others will get to the finish line in God's time as a winner!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

TOGETHER...we can freely praise the Lord!

This week's Bible verse:
"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods." --Psalm 40:4

I love working with children! When they are in a group, they love to act silly with each other and they express every emotion they have in very obvious ways. When I get a group of kids going with a fun song, they love it! I have recently been told by parents...they sing that song ALL DAY LONG! ;-) love to have fun and express their joy in being kids. They are supposed to do that. Adults...well only in certain situations.

I live in "Buckeye country." Ohio State sports, especially football is a big deal almost everywhere you go. I was in an airport one time when an Ohio State basketball game was being played and a random fan yelled out O - H...and many people in the area yelled back... I- O! It is the universal Ohio State call. On these fall Saturdays, you see scarlet and grey t-shirts, sweat shirts, buckeye necklaces, Block O's painted on faces every where you go. On game day at "The Shoe" on The Ohio State campus, you will see grown adults with their entire bodies painted scarlet and grey, whooping and hollering, singing the fight song and "Hang On Sloopy." All this crazy behavior is totally acceptable and almost required if you live in the area. It is a COMMUNITY of people who all believe in the team and want to fit in with their peers and do as the group does. I have participated in several of those same behaviors.

But...on Sunday the KidsPraise chapel during a rocking praise song, the kids are up front singing and dancing and praising the Lord with everything they have and their parents are sitting in the chairs behind them barely moving. Most aren't even clapping along. And then, during their own time of worship, those same adults stand and maybe sing along with the praise band, but really just want to sit down and hear the pastor's sermon so they can get home for lunch and more football where they can yell, scream and clap loudly in the comfort of their own home.

I totally understand this. Church is a dress up-act respectfully-be quiet and somber kind of place. That's the way were taught, right? Religious behavior has replaced the JOY that we can feel with God.

David DANCED for joy when the arc of the covenant was returned! Music was played and he danced and sang with unabandoned joy! But yet, those of us today who obviously love the Lord and feel joy in him are afraid to show that joy by even raising our hands or clapping.

I KNOW more of us FEEL like dancing and singing and clapping for joy, but we are afraid of looking foolish or feel it isn't dignified. We are in this together...God gave us the church so we could go through life WITH others and we wouldn't be alone. Why do you think he said that it was not good that man was alone and brought woman into the world? We are MEANT to live in community and we are MEANT and made to praise God with everything we have!

It took me a long time to learn to be free with my worship. What it took was singing with a group of other people who were also learning the same thing. When singing a beautiful song of praise, it is now natural for me to close my eyes, raise my hands, clap or shout for joy. We do it together and it is easier!

Be joyful today! Call a friend and give a little shout of joy! Start with baby steps...maybe one day I'll be standing on stage in church and see the whole congregation with raised hands and smiles of joy on their a community together, comfortable in the fact they are praising the God who gives them joy in the first place!

J - E - S.....U - S!!!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why I need my church....

This week's Bible verse:
"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods." -- Psalm 40:4

Church - to most Christians it's a place to go on Sunday mornings...part of the weekly routine. We work or go to school all week, waiting for the weekend. We are busy with sports or partying on Friday and Saturday nights, and then get ourselves up and out of bed on Sunday mornings to get our "God fix" and then it's back to the work week again.

I don't think Jesus had this kind of church life in mind for us when he first used the word church as he was talking to Peter.

"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." -- Matthew 16:13-18

For me, in the last 10 years, church has become much more than a place to go on Sunday is my home, my is a way of is a group of people to "do life" with...and lately, it is becoming the home base for a different way of doing church...outside the walls.

Jesus said in John 16:33 "In this world, you will have trouble." And boy, do we ever! Jesus went on to say that in him we can have peace. He overcame the world and its when we believe and perservere with Jesus, we too can overcome the trouble of this world. But, Jesus didn't mean for us to perservere and find this peace on our own. That's why he built the church. He said he would build the church on Peter, the rock. Peter, this flawed human being was the beginning of the church...where other flawed human beings can learn about God and learn to perservere in this world.

After Jesus left this earth, he left the church in the hands of Peter and the other disciples. They told others about the saving grace and peace of Jesus...those others believed and found that peace and shared with others...and so began the Christian church.

This world is too hard to go through alone! We need others to boost us up...we need others to remind us of God's grace on an daily basis. And we need others to band with and share this good news with still others who NEED the peace and grace that is available through Jesus Christ. We need the community that comes from a loving and Jesus-filled church!

A church is more than a is a group of flawed human beings who need and desire the saving grace of God. I need this group of human beings around me to help me "do life." Yes, those humans will probably disappoint me and anger me at times...yes, those humans will make mistakes...but so will I. Jesus teaches forgiveness and grace. Where better to learn and practice that than with a group of other believers? And I mean not just on Sundays, but every day! I am so very thankful for my church...for my church family.

Do you have a church family you can rely on every day? Or, do you have a building you are obligated to go to on Sunday mornings? I pray that you reach out and find a family that will help you learn about the peace and perservance you can find through Jesus.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Out of the slimy pit and focused again...

"Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, those those who turn to false gods." -- Psalm 40:4

I have written about new beginnings before, but today is another new beginning for me. Last night I attended the first meeting of the new session of First Place 4 Health. I had gotten away from those healthy habits I developed that helped me to lose 25 pounds and live a healthier lifestyle. I found that I need a strong group behind me...I need the accountability to keep me motivated. I just can't seem to keep the good going when I am doing it on my own.

I love the prayer that began today's Bible study:

"Dear Lord, as I begin my day, help me to keep my eyes on You and to live with the knowledge that I am fully loved."

Don't we all need to know and feel that we are fully loved? There is something about the confidence and security that comes from that knowledge...that no matter what I do, what mistakes I make, that God loves me and will always love me. When you find yourself failing in some of the things you are trying to do, it is easy to internalize those failings and let it erode that confidence you have in God's love. That has happened to me in the last 8 months.

Disappointments and unreached goals had become my focus. They seemed to roll in and push my focus off what I should have been focused on. I forgot the joy, peace and confidence I found when I was focused on Jesus and God's plans for me. Busyness, money issues, pride, greed and disappointment became "false gods" in my other words, I spent my time and my energy worshiping and worrying about those things instead of on God's word. Oh, I still believed and I still prayed...but I prayed for God to fix my problems and take away my pain. I was still focused on what God could do for ME. After MANY tears, many venting sessions with friends, much frustration, many discussions with God in my car, and a trip to the doctor...I have found my way back to the healthier routine that brought me peace before.

Psalm 40:1-3 says "I waited patiently for the Lord: he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire: he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth; a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him."

I don't think those verses speak of a one time event. I think it can happen again and again in our lives...if we learn to rely on God. Life is filled with slimy pits and muddy is oh so easy to slip and fall into them from time to time. When we remember our Savior is there...when we cry out to him and let go of those things that have stolen our focus and allowed us to fall in the slimy pit, God will reach down and lift us up...AGAIN.

When I find myself in a slimy pit, I need to let go of the worry of how I am going to get myself out of it. If I cry out to God and wait patiently, he WILL pull me out and give me yet another new beginning.

Father God, thank you for this day and for this reminder that if I let go of those things that are hindering me and I reach out to you, you will again become my focus and get me on track again. I pray that those who read this today will find comfort in the words and be drawn to a relationship with you that will allow them to be pulled out of whatever slimy pit they might be in as well. Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Telling my Jesus story...

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace." -- Acts 20:24

Ok, for some of you, this posting today is going to be a little "Jesus-y." But I have to write what is in my heart today. I have many friends of many different creeds and religions. While I respect them and their beliefs, I know how my life is made more liveable because I have Jesus in my life.

While I was raised a Christian with a strong family foundation, there have been times in my life I was far from Christ. I chose my own way...I believed I knew what was best for me, even though I knew that it was contrary to what God and my Christian upbringing wanted for me. I chased a dream I had for a different that looked glamorous and way more fun. While I knew what I was doing was "wrong," I ignored that little voice inside my head and went right on with what I was doing...where I was going. Most people around me didn't know where I was headed. I was good at hiding it. But I was tired of being "the good girl" and the one who acted responsibly...the one who followed the rules and did things for others. I wanted something good for myself! And I was getting it...or so I thought.

Deep inside I knew that running from God's path and Christ's teachings was not was best for me. The consequences of my actions started smacking me in the face and I saw a preview of what my life would be life if I continued down the path I was heading. But...I kept running. I went to church, but I wasn't worshiping God...I was daydreaming of that other life I would have...someday.

One day, I had a little vision as I was driving down the road. My daydream of the perfect "other life" was interrupted by a vision of the people around me I would be hurting if I left the life I HAD. That little voice inside me started getting a little louder. I fought it, but ultimately, I gave in. I cried out to God to forgive me. I didn't want to hurt those around me and I didn't want to hurt myself. I then started dealing with feelings of guilt over things I had done and things I had almost done. The guilt ate me alive. That little voice came back to me and told me that Jesus paid the price for my sin. I could move on and let go of the guilt because he took it from me.

It was then that I started searching for God again. I started reading my Bible and writing in a journal and talking with trusted friends. I learned to trust Jesus and thank him for taking my sin away. I needed a Savior, I needed God. I found the hope I lost and my eyes and my heart was opened to another way of life that was on God's path for me...not my own! I got my life back because of God's grace and forgiveness. It taught me how to give grace and forgiveness to others in my own life.

Jesus is the reason I am where I am today. Had I not heard that little voice inside me, listened to it and realized it was God speaking his forgiveness to me...I might not be here today. That is why I write these blog posts and share God's good news with saved my life and it can save yours too!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

We all need something to believe in...

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." -- 1 Peter 3:15-16

I cannot remember a time when I didn't know Jesus and didn't believe in God. My parents brought me up in church. My first vist to church was soon after I was born. I went to Sunday school, tried to sit quietly during church (got "the claw" from my dad if I didn't!)my parents were youth group advisors...the whole nine yards. My church experience hasn't always been easy...there were some hard times when my family was looking for a new church and my dad was disillusioned with churches in general. But, my mom still felt it was important for my brother and to go to church. I grew up knowing God and believing that he is there for me.

As an adult, I am thankful for my upbringing because it made me a more grounded and confident person. I know where to turn and where to go when things get tough and I know who to thank and praise when things are good. I have learned to study and learn about and respect other religions and people who believe differently than I do. But if someone asks, I can tell them where my faith and hope comes from. I feel bad and sad for people who were not brought up to know God.

I watched the newest episode of "Parenthood" last night from my computer because I missed it Tuesday night. This has been a favorite show of mine for the past couple of years. The characters are flawed and make a lot of mistakes, but they are good people and love each other very much. As I watched this episode, I felt bad for Crosby who was trying to deal with his little boy, whom he found praying. This made Crosby very uncomfortable because he realized he didn't know what he thought or believed. He didn't want his mother-in-law instructing his son's religious beliefs, but he really didn't know what he himself believed. He went to his parents, asking them what they believed...they didn't know what they believed either. They had "tried" Buddism, a commune and various other religions, but they didn't "land" on any one religion, and therefore didn't teach their children anything about God or religion either. Even though this is just a show filled with imaginary characters, it made me very sad because I know this is does happen in real life. Children without a belief system grow up to be adults without a belief system...and even though we are all entitled to our own religious thoughts and beliefs...when you don't have one it makes life a lot harder.

That is why I care so much about children and youth ministry. It's not that I want to force my beliefs onto a bunch of naive kids, its that I care about kids and children enough to want them to have a belief system that supports them and gives them something real and true to believe in that will last them their whole lives. I truly believe God created us with a hole inside us that only he can fill. We are created by him and for him.

Friday, September 14, 2012

no one left opportunity

"...Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." Luke 15:6-7

I was driving a friend's car the other day and on her dashboard was a little green army man. A few years ago, she used little green army men to present a message to a group of teenagers. I don't remember all of her message, but she gave each teen a little green army guy to carry around with them to remind them they are responsible to the others in their group and they should take care of each other. They shouldn't leave one of their group alone or behind. That little green guy came to mind this morning as I read my devotional.

Jesus tells three parables in Luke 15 about lost items...lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. These stories were told to help us understand that God loves each and every one of us and wants each of us with him. He gives those of us who are not lost to him OPPORTUNITIES to help him bring the lost back to him.

I looked up the definition of opportunity - a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. DO SOMETHING. God gives us the circumstances and instructs us to DO SOMETHING good for him. God is powerful enough to make something happen himself, but it means more to him if the lost come back to him on their own, so he places us in situations that allow us to lead the lost in the right direction. God gives us the responsibility to help him leave no one behind

At work - wherever you work, you come in contact with people who are lost. They don't know God. Perhaps they were never given the chance to get to know him at all, or maybe they know about God but because of circumstances in their lives, they became disillusioned with God and his plans for them. Sometimes, you may be the only Bible they other words, they might never open a Bible themselves, but you can show them God's love for them in the way to treat them and the way you live your life. That's an opportunity for you to help God leave no one behind.

At home - your family are probably the most important people in your lives. They see you at your best and your worst, and sometimes those are the people it is the most difficult to love. Treating each family member with love, whether they deserve it or them grace enough to make mistakes and know they are loved unconditionally, no matter what...that is an opportunity to demonstrate God's love for us and help God leave no one behind.

In the community - As I have written a lot about lately, we are to love our neighbors, and everyone we meet is our neighbor. So, we need to have our eyes open for those we come in contact with in our community who need a word of prayer, a kind word, a smile, or an act of service. These are all opportunities to show God's love to those who may not know it themselves and ways we can help him leave no one behind.

We DO have the responsibility to DO SOMETHING! I hope you put the picture of the little green army man in your mind and heart today...look for those opportunties to be God's hands and feet on earth and leave no one behind! Heaven rejoices at each little lost lamb that is found!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Love is the missing piece of the puzzle...

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." --John 13:34-35

My head is spinning right now because of how God puts things together to make sense in my mind. There are times when I look at the pieces of my life and see how God puts all the pieces together in one big "God puzzle." Each morning, when I am quiet and alone, I reach to my devotional tools. I have a daily Bible verse on my phone. That is usually the one I start with on my blog. I also have a little devotional book that has a specific reading for each day. It has a Bible verse and then a little message about that verse. And right now, I am also reading the book that my whole church is reading together. Sometimes I reach for only one of those tools, but today, I reached for all three. It didn't take me very long to read all three, especially as my brain worked at how they all were connected! All three resources were written by different people at different times, but all three were connected...they were about love.

The Bible verse above contains some of the "written in red" words of the Bible, as they were spoken by Jesus. He commanded us to love one another. WHY? He loved (loves) us and wants us to show the world this love by loving others.

HOW are we to do this? Look at "the love chapter" of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13. While it is often thought of as instructions for a good marriage, it was actually written for a church that was NOT being very loving to each other. It talks about what love IS, but look at the words that Paul say love ISN' is not envious, not proud or boastful, it is not dishonoring to others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it does not keep a record of wrongs, it does not delight in evil, it never fails. Paul was writing this letter about love to a group of people who were new followers of of the first Christian churches, and they were NOT loving each other. And this letter is so perfect for us, thousands of years later, as we are NOT being loving to each other either, inside the church and out.

I know myself, and to be honest, there are those, inside the church and out that I have NOT shown love to. Being loving to others who are NOT loving themselves is hard work! I struggle with this every day. Looking at that list of things that love is NOT...I admit to many of them. Being THAT kind of person, that is NOT envious or proud or easily angered...I want that, but find that a very hard model to live up to. So what am I to do? PRAY!

"Call to me and I will answer you. I will tell you great things you have not known." -- Jeremiah 33:3

When I am searching for ways to be more loving...when I don't understand HOW I can act differently than I feel...when I just don't think I am capable of being that loving person Jesus and Paul instructs me to be...when there is someone I need to forgive, but the hurt is just too great...if I CALL OUT TO GOD in prayer, he will inspire me with greater understanding and provide me with the way to do those things that feel impossible for me.

And Jesus says when we do this, when we love one another, others will see our actions and know we are Christians by our love. When others outside of the church see us being forgiving and less petty and loving to people of all types, creeds, skin colors, etc, they will be drawn to THAT kind of love! When we give up needing to have our own way all the time...when we stop thinking that Christians have to be perfect...when we give others a break occasionally...when we stop thinking there is such a thing as a "perfect church,"...when we stop complaining and get down to the loving work that needs to be done in this world and give up our selfish needs and desires...we will find that people WANT to be part of a loving church!

Love is the key to putting the "God puzzle" together! Love really DOES make the world go round! But, love is NOT easy. God knows this and wants us to rely on HIM to give us strength and the ability to love one another. We can't love the way we should on our own without God's help. THAT is the missing piece to the puzzle. The picture is not complete until we reach out to God. He will put that missing piece in the right place...if we ask him to!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Using the right bait...

"...As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God's life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, 'I am holy; you be holy.'" -- 1 Peter 1:16

Yesterday I talked about how Jesus called us to be fishers of people (ok, fishers of MEN for my traditional friends. ;-) Exactly how do we do this? It is such an odd concept, fishing for people. But if you look closely at Jesus' words, you see that he gives us the KEY to understanding it.

"And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him." -- Matthew 4:18-20 (New King James Version)

Jesus, seeing two men who were fishermen, spoke to them in a language they would understand, fishing terms. The keys words in what he says to them are "Follow me." AND "I will MAKE you..." When they dropped their nets and followed him, they were agreeing to do what he did. Jesus was going to MAKE them fishers of men. It wasn't up to them to figure out how they were going to do that. If they followed his lead, they would BECOME fishers of men.

As the 1 Peter verse above says, we are to be obedient children and let ourselves be pulled into a life shaped by God. He wants to make us holy, as he is holy. He gave us Jesus, the ultimate example of living a holy life, to follow so we could BECOME holy.

I think I am far from holy...I have a LONG way to go to reach that ultimate goal. But, I think I am learning important lessons about how to get there. I am a very relational person. I make friends quickly. I love talking (those of you that know me know that well!) I can talk to all kinds of people on their level. I think I have learned from Jesus that you have to use the right bait.

If you are a fisherman, you know you have to have certain bait to catch certain fish. It takes research and study and experience to know what fish like. You can't just throw in a line with a worm on it and expect to catch the fish you want...unless the fish you want to catch likes worms! Fishing for people is the same thing. You have to know who you are talking to and adjust your vocabulary and conversational patterns around what the person you are talking with is confortable and familiar with. How do I know this? From experience, and because I am following Jesus and allowing Him to MAKE me a fisher of people.

If we go out in the world, (a world that doesn't understand the King James version of the Bible...or ANY version of the Bible) only speaking in King James vocabulary, they are not going to be drawn to it. If we go out in the world ONLY talking about how the world is going to hell because they don't believe in Jesus, or because they are sinners, they are going to turn away...because they don't UNDERSTAND. We have to SHOW them God's love...we have to use the right bait to catch them. Exactly how do we do this?

Follow Jesus...he will make you a fisher of people too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Catch and Release

"Come, follow me...and I will make you fishers of people." -- Mark 1:16-18

Occasionally, my church has a huge book discussion, where we all read the same book, (or like last year when we all read the entire New Testament in 63 days) and then in small groups and Sunday school classes, we discuss what we read. Currently we are doing "The Big Read" by all reading the book Catch by Debi Nixon and Adam Hamilton. It is a very short daily devotional book about invitational Evangelism.

Wait a minute...the word evangelism conjurs up negative thoughts in my head sometimes. Southern-twangy Tele-evangelists and the term "evangelicals" have not exactly had a positive reputation in our culture. I'm not sure I want to be part of something like that.

BUT...if I am a follower of Jesus, which I am, then I need to be concerned about evalgelism because it is what Jesus told us we are to do. The Great Commission: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

I want you to picture a school of fish living in a small murky pond all covered with scum, silt and algea. It is very hard for those fish to live and thrive there because there is so much scum covering the surface that oxygen has trouble getting through. They are choking and their gills are gasping for air...they are dying. That is the world we are living in today...there is so much scum (man-made scum) covering up God's purpose for us on this earth that we are killing ourselves...we are unhappy and gasping for the air that can help us to live and thrive.

Well...some of us have made it out of that murky pond. We were caught and released back into a clean and healthy body of water that saves us. God gave us Jesus...the living water. Those of us that know and love Jesus know that HE is what keeps us from drowning in the murky water. Things aren't always easy in the clean pond...there are still dangers there as well. But, we know that the water around us is clean and pure and if we rely on that water, we will be safe.

Jesus directed us to follow him and he would make us fishers of people...we have the opportunity to catch some fish living in the murky water and release them back into that cool, clean living water that we call home. In fact...that IS our mission in life! We want to share our clean water with others so that they too can live.

Catching fish is not easy...they fight and even though the murky water is killing is home and where they are comfotable. They fear the clean pond because it is different and foreign to them. Saving them is not our job. We are just to catch them how inviting and lovely the clean pond is...GOD will save them and throw them into the clean pond!

This might sound like a very silly analogy, but it is one that has been on my mind lately. I have found myself in murky water many times. I am glad that I have a Father who will throw me back in the clean pond! I want other fish there with me!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let's just get along...

"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." -- Galatians 6:10

People have sometimes made fun of my "Can't we just get along?" attitude. I am just one who wants to get along with people. I guess it comes from being a "people pleaser" which is often times looked at as being a negative thing...always doing whatever it takes to make people happy, even if it means not doing the right thing for me. It makes me seem weak to some. Well...that may be so, but I would rather live like that than always at odds with everyone around me, trying to get my own way, doing whatever is best for me, me, me.

I know people who are so true to themselves that don't give a second thought to the feelings of others with what they say or do. They walk all over people, not caring at all about the ramifications of their actions. And then they wonder why people don't like them, or why nothing ever seems to go their them more motivation to gripe, grumble and growl about their circumstances.

I see there has to be a balance between the two attitudes. You can care about others AND learn to set boundaries so you remain true to yourself at the same time. That is what I am striving to do in my life. I want to do good for others, but at the same time not overlook my needs. wants and desires as well.

To work on this area of my life, I try to live by the "golden rule" and rely on God to lead me. Yes, I do read the Bible, but I always pray that God will help me interpret what He says in his word the way he meant it. I have seen over and over that you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to. You can take things out of context, twist and turn the words to make them seem to support any way of thinking.

Take the Galatians verse above. First it says we are to do good to all people. Then it goes on to say especially to those who belong to the family of believers. I have seen evidence of Christians who interpret that to mean that they are only to do good to other Christians and have the right to hate and mistreat anyone who doesn't believe the same as they do. They leave out a few ALL. Let us do good to ALL people. And, catch the other important word...oppportunity. We have the opportunity to do good to those who believe differently than we do every day of our lives. It's an opportunity because when we do good for others outside of our own faith, we are demonstrating God's love. God doesn't just love the Christians! He loves ALL people. He wants all his creations to believe in him and love him. We have the opportunity to show them that love!

So, in this season of mud slinging, slander, and political mumbo-jumbo...let's remember that we are to do good to ALL people, even the people on the other side of the fence. You have the right to believe and support any candidate you want and vote whichever way you choose...but lets stop all the negativity and name calling and hateful talk. What good does it do? Do you think you are going to sway someone's opinion by posting a negative anti-whoever statua on Facebook? I don't think so.

Let's just agree to disagree and vote whichever way we want, and try to do something NICE for the person who believes differently than you do. There are Christians on BOTH sides of the political race, so if we are to do good, especially for believers, you have God's instruction right there! Can't we all just get along?