A Perfect Day for Fishing

It was a perfect day for fishing.

And Asher wanted to go fishing for his 7th birthday.

Now I won’t say that what Asher wants, Asher gets, but we are grandparents, after all. We have a reputation to uphold. And this seemed like a pretty reasonable and easy request. Pop is all about spending time together, teaching his grandkids new things, being outside in the sunshine, and just having fun. He bought the first rod and reel he found.

I’m not sure who loved the gift more, Asher or Pop. No matter. The next day was one of those midsummer beauties, breezy and bright with little to no humidity. A perfect day. Late in the afternoon, the “men” excitedly piled into our little Ford and headed to a shady irrigation pond on Pop’s cousin’s farm just the other side of Elmer. The birthday boy’s adventure was on.

Now the rest of the story comes second-hand to me and there are several differing accounts, I might add. After a couple of hours, the fishing party exploded  back into the house in a burst of noisy energy, each one chattering and laughing all at once, trying to be the first to relate their tall tales.

So here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Law’s first catch of the day was only slightly bigger than his bait.

Jude, snagging the biggest bass of the afternoon, was so excited he forgot to reel in his line. He simply yanked his rod back over his head so hard that the not-really-a-flying-fish fish flew into the tree overhead, snagging leaves and branches in its aerial debut.  Hard to look like a pro when you’re climbing a tree to demonstrate your catch and release strategy.

Meanwhile, Pop, carefully lecturing the proper way to remove the hook from a slippery sunny, was in the middle of his diatribe. “You very carefully take the fish and hold him like this…” Suddenly, the little guy flapped his razor-sharp tail, catching Pop off guard. Some say he squealed like a little girl. Others say it sounded more like a baby pig. Either way, Pop isn’t talking; he’s just bleeding.

Greg, luckily, was so busy untangling lines, keeping track of the tackle, and baiting hooks, he escaped much ridicule. There was a lot of that going around, I’m told.

Asher.jpg

And then there was the birthday boy. His first catch was rather shakily recorded for posterity on his dad’s phone. I heard later it actually was a reenactment. Still, it is adorable. Nervous but obviously proud, Asher gingerly holds out the line with the wriggling fish (another sunny?) hanging on the end of his hook for the obligatory photo op. He is beaming. Amid cheers and Atta boys, Asher was informed by his second-cousin-twice-removed that a man always has to kiss his first fish on the lips because she might turn into a beautiful mermaid for him to marry when he grows up. Standard operating procedure for real fishermen. Initiation rites. You can hear Asher’s little voice repeating to a completely deaf audience over and over, a bit louder and a lot firmer each time, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” Really adorable.

Asher continued to catch fish the rest of the day; Pop wasn’t sure he would ever want to try it again after all of that. But he bravely went right back at it, a real trooper. All in all, it was a wonderful, memory building kind of adventure. I think they may even try it again someday, maybe on another perfect summer afternoon.

Fishing always reminds me of Jesus and his disciples, at least four of whom were professional fishermen. Some scholars think up to seven of the twelve may have been (cf. John 21:1-3). I’ve often wondered why Jesus particularly chose fishermen.

Thinking about it, it occurs to me that fishermen were (and are) a special breed of men. They had to learn, because of the very nature of their profession, many challenging skills to help them accomplish tasks under extremely difficult circumstances: stormy winds, raging waves, pelting rain, sleet, snow, drought, cold, fog, scorching sun, and even scarcity of fish.

These weather-battered, ordinary guys often worked all night and then had to wash and repair their nets, unload and sort the catch, clean the boat, upkeep the sails and other equipment as necessary---a huge undertaking. They did not quit when things were tough. They could ill afford to be lazy or distracted. They had to be courageous and bold, strong and resilient, patient and determined, energetic and motivated. Using nets to trawl the Sea of Galilee, these men had learned about hard work, cooperation, staying busy, getting along, and depending on one another. They had also learned to live by faith. What valuable qualities and habits they had developed! How useful for serving the Master!

No wonder Jesus called fishermen to Himself. He needed disciples He could train for the difficult work of the kingdom, work that would require courage, strength, focus, cooperation, hard work, commitment, and patience.    

“Follow me,” He commanded with authority, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) And they came. At once.

They left everything and, along with the others Jesus had chosen, these twelve lived with Him, learned from Him, and loved Him during the three years of His earthly ministry. They came to believe He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. They began to vaguely understand His mission: “…the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) As eye witnesses to His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, this rag-tag bunch would become the prime conveyers of God’s truth and His purposes, His plan to rescue mankind and form a people for Himself.

They had become fishers for men’s souls, just as Jesus said. They would spread the Gospel, the good news of salvation, the word of truth offered to humanity by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Theirs was a message not only of eternal life but one that encompassed the total plan of God to redeem people of every nation, tribe, and language from the ravages of sin, death, Satan, and the curse that now covers the earth.

In the following years, their message would turn the world upside down.

Ordinary men doing extraordinary things.

Ordinary men (and women) like us.

Okay. Maybe a call to become a fisher of men seems irrelevant, strange, or even archaic to us, but in that day, in that setting, to those men it was perfect. Even though they didn’t fully understand what they were signing up to do, they followed the Master.

I think that’s what He is asking of us even today...to follow Him. And even if we aren’t brave or strong or patient or full of faith, He can make us fishers of men as well. Peter didn’t think he was up to the task either, but Jesus used him powerfully to touch his world, and I believe God can use you and me to touch ours. He equips those He calls. He has created us with individual gifts, talents, personalities, experiences, and strengths to do good works that He planned long ago for us do. He has given us the Holy Spirit to live and work in us. He promises to be with us wherever He asks us to go. And there are still a lot of spiritually hungry “fish” out there that need to be “caught.”

Because they are following Jesus, LFA’s teens and young adults are out there “fishing” at Camp Grace this summer in Vineland, Bridgeton, Newfield and Millville. I’m so happy Jude and Law are part of that worthy effort. These evenings, they aren’t looking for silvery bass; they are fishers of men...and boys and girls.  Incredible. Thank you, Father.

Shouldn’t we all be “fishing for people?” With Jesus as Captain of our ship, we may end up with a net full! And you probably won’t have to kiss a one on the lips.  Asher didn’t.

Well, I’ve heard it said every day is a good day for fishing. 

I think Jesus would agree with that. I hope you do too.  

--Eileen Hill

How Far Do We Go To Help Others?

Not long ago I was faced with the anxiety and pain involved in helping other fellow friends. A few things started to emerge as I got deeper into their situations. At times I felt anxious and at other moments I felt like there was a knot inside my stomach. It took me a few days to emerge back into a place where I could breathe oxygen, relax and pay attention to other aspects of my own life. I guess for a moment a few dynamics came together at the same time:

  • I wanted to help.
  • I understood my calling to include helping others, so I dove into it.
  • The nature of the crisis others were experiencing was pressing—as it is usually with crisis.
  • I was doing a lot on my own to help bridge the necessary resources to help these friends.
  • Little by little my actions created less space for these friends to experience appropriate consequences and take responsibility for things they were to be responsible for.
  • I did not involve others in order to diversify the help that could be offered more efficiently.
  • I ended up running on “me” rather than God, and I felt drowned with little space to breathe. 

Can you relate to this? Have you ever been in a situation with a friend, relative or brother in Christ where you just drowned in the process of trying to help? Times like this eventually feel more like a burden than the light and easy yoke Jesus promised we would experience with Him, in Matthew 11:30. 

Perhaps we should go back to the passage where Jesus spoke those words and see what I was missing and what you may be missing. Here is what He said in verses 28-30:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Whether you are already “heavy laden” or nearing that place, it is clear that we are to carry something. The question is, what are we carrying? Whose yoke are we carrying? The one our friends handed to us? One that is imposed on us? The one I believe I should pick up? Or the one Jesus assigns to each one of us in a given situation? It is obvious from Jesus’ words that what characterizes the experience of carrying His yoke is a form of “rest,” not a burden. What are you experiencing as you carry other peoples’ burdens? And, why do you think that is the case? 

Another reality worth observing is that there are a couple of attitudes Jesus instructs us to imitate as we carry the yoke He gives to us. I believe these two attitudes are required in order to carry the light yoke He offers to us. Gentleness and lowliness of heart (humility). I find it interesting that gentleness and humility go out the door the moment I take charge of a situation.  Yet Jesus’ way of serving and loving others was predominantly shaped and characterized by gentleness and humility. Gentleness and humility have a way of helping us identify both our personal limitations and God’s unlimited power and provision. 

So our challenge is to make sure we carry the yoke Jesus assigns to us—this defines how far we go to help others—and to learn from Him the attitudes that keeps us in the right place for the good of others and our own.

--Diego Cuartas

Chinese Buffet Foodie

I love buffets! The way I see it is this: why should I pay the same price for one dinner when I could get a whole bunch of different kinds of food for the same amount? People who know me well are very aware of my love for Chinese food! Man, I love some Chinese food!! Double exclamation marks, did you notice that? If so, you are very observant.  Now, less I digress.  I am always getting Chinese food buffet recommendations from folks. My best friend Jessica and I would load up in the car, head over to Glassboro, NJ and eat at Peking Buffet. They have some good food in that place. Great sushi bar, a chef that cooks whatever food creation you give him on the grill. My usual would be some lo mien noodles, broccoli, water chestnuts, chives, chicken, beef and some shrimp, pineapple wedges, a few green peppers, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, soy sauce, ginger sauce, teriyaki sauce, a dab of fresh garlic and a few hots. I would hand the little white plate with the mound of delicacies on top and say thank you. Then it would be time to toddle around the buffet while I waited. Just thinking about it made, and IS, making my mouth water, even as I am writing this blog! LOL. Soon, I would see him using both of his cleavers to lift the sizzling hot food onto my little white plate and place it on the counter. Time for me to grab that plate and eat!

Two days ago, I was sitting in my recliner chair on my day off.  It was lunchtime, so the thoughts of what I was going to eat was going through my brain. Now, I must tell you, my best friend Jessica is an amazing cook. She loves to experiment with food, introduce me to new foods and make things without any recipe at all, and they usually come out wonderful. I think in the 25 years I’ve known her, maybe a couple things were inedible. Me, on the other hand, not so much! I am not creative with food. I don’t enjoy cooking or going to the grocery store with meals for the week in mind. It seems that my giftings are not in that department! I tend to lean towards making something and eating it for several days until it is gone. That may sound weird, but it is the truth! I love to be creative in the counseling room, on the keyboard and in the yard building things. I get very excited in those areas. My brain fires away!

The point of this blog is not about my love for Chinese food, nor Jessica’s cooking creativity versus my lack thereof. What happened in that recliner chair was this: as I thought about lunch, literally, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart that I tend to do the same thing with the Word of God, which is the Bible. It may sound odd, but there are many references in the Bible about “eating” the Word of God. Just as we need to “eat” physical food and “drink” water to remain healthy, we also need to “eat” by reading the Word of God each day and “drink” the life that comes from it through Jesus Christ. Here are some actual verses I found that talk about “eating the Word of God”:

  • “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
  • Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4). This is why Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:35).
  • The past grace of his death and resurrection guarantee a never-ending stream of hope-giving future grace for us extending into eternity. To eat these promises is to eat this living bread and live forever (John 6:51).
  • And Jesus has made the Bible the storehouse of nourishing, living soul food for his saints. It is stocked full of promises, and he invites us to come eat our fill for free (Isaiah 55:1)!

In much the same way that I make something then eat it for days, I have followed some commands of God, such as this one:

Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

I have done that with a bunch of Scriptures by reading them in the Bible and memorizing them. After memorizing them, I have to command my soul to BELIEVE them. Scriptures that pertain to fear, power, love, trusting God, strength. So when I am faced with a circumstance, a battle, whatever the case may be, when I desperately need God to show up, the Scripture flies right up into my brain automatically so I can lean into God, my good Father, to help me. I am not then facing the issue myself, His Word comes to defend me so I also don’t take matters into my own hands and sin against Him by doing or saying a wrong thing.

But, I have a tenancy to be “living off of the same food” for days, weeks and years! In other words, I have been lazy in memorizing more Scripture to add new food to my diet! I am going to take God’s correction from the Holy Spirit and begin to expand my Spiritual diet, new foods in the form of Scripture to be hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Him.

I would like to encourage any of you reading this blog, if you are interested, check out those verses I have included above. Examine your own patterns of hiding His Word in your own heart. What’s the last verse you memorized? 

Blessings Friends!

--Lois Robinson

Memories of War

One day in August 72 years ago, the radio gave all of America wonderful, wonderful news! The war was finally, blessedly OVER! It had gone on for four long years, but now it was ended, and the soldiers and sailors and marines would come HOME! I was fourteen that year and, as usual, was spending the summer on Long Beach Island. Suddenly an impromptu parade started in our town of Ship Bottom, marching south to Beach Haven on the only paved road on the island, and my brother and I ran to join the cars and people and flags and cheering and singing, the celebration of a day we were really still too young to understand completely.

All we really knew were the things that had affected our young lives directly. Our house was on the beach, so the windows on the ocean side were painted black, blocking our lights, so that German submarines could not determine the shoreline. There had been no more night time beach parties with fires, for the same reason. In fact, no civilians were allowed on the beaches at night at all, because there were Coast Guard stations all along the island, and at night armed Guards galloped their horses up and down the beach, accompanied by huge trained dogs, searching for any enemies who might try to swim in from submarines close to the shore.

When we came from the beach back to the house, there was always a bottle of Carbona on the step. We had to take the rag there and clean the crude oil off our feet before we came in the house. Everyone who swam in the ocean had this tar on their feet, because the edge of the water was always covered with it. It had come from tanker ships torpedoed and sunk somewhere off the coast, near or far away. I don’t remember ever thinking about the sailors and merchant marines who had been on those ships, or wondering what their fate had been. We were so innocent, and so protected.

Of course, the adults had coped with other realities. Everything was rationed, and there were books with coupons for everything: gasoline, meat, lumber, things that I never had to think about at all. And I never heard my parents complain about any of it. It was all for the war effort, and everyone was involved. Back in Philadelphia, as in all cities in the nation, there were air raid shelters and air raid drills, with Wardens patrolling their neighborhoods to be sure that all lights were extinguished. And absolutely none of it really affected my day-to-day life at all. Unlike Europe, we never had a real air raid.

I wonder how many, today, are at all affected by the wars we are now fighting against true evil. Behind our self-centered lives, there still are men fighting and willing to die to protect us. Back then there was a draft to turn men into soldiers, but today they are all volunteers…every one of them. Is it any wonder that I burn when someone claims to “hate the military?” How do they think we got here, to be the only true practicing democracy in the world? Who protected their God-given freedoms?

God sent his people out to war many times, and blessed and protected them many times, and is still miraculously protecting Israel today. On this 4th of July in 2017 I wonder how we have reached the place where so many of us here in this land have turned against the God who has so blessed us, and want no mention of God and certainly no mention of the only true Savior, Jesus Christ, in schools or government or anywhere else?

Pray for our country, people of God, and especially for those hearts and minds which are being led astray. Pray for the children who know nothing about God or patriotism. Pray for the Godless, that their hearts would be turned. Pray for our missionaries everywhere, who are introducing Christ to a lost generation.

PRAY.

--Norma Stockton

The Heart of a False Teacher Part 3: Satan, the Unexpected Preacher

The enemy (called Satan, the Accuser) is always preaching to you.  He is continually teaching you false religion and false gospels, stemming from false motives and spun out by false teachers. Yes, the devil preaches fervent lies with much deception, much delusion, much subtlety, much haste, and much manipulation - in season and out of season.  In other words, he preaches and proclaims and heralds often - pretty much incessantly; nonetheless, he communicates all the time as he assaults the true knowledge of God. It may be a new paradigm for you to consider the enemy a preacher, but it's true. He's always talking about all the wrong stuff.

If only today's preachers had his (Satan's) diligence and effort and endurance and energy! If only those who were supposed to herald the Word of God would wage the good warfare of Truth with sound doctrine as Paul commanded Timothy! If the devil is always preaching to hearts with lies and misconceptions, why do so many "so-called" shepherds and "so-called" preachers and "so-called" teachers refuse to proclaim the full counsel of God's Word? Your personal stories and your delegated testimonies and your vague spiritual rhetoric and your apologetic defenses of how you do ministry and watered down proof texts and mystical delusions and emotional game playing sound just like Lucifer; and by this you try to control the people and you try to bind up the unchained Word of God. But you cannot do either; and neither can the devil. The Scriptures cannot and will not be shackled. But are you restraining people and souls by letting the enemy preach to your people? Let it not be so! Woe to you! This delusion offends the heart of the Lord! For He demands sound teaching and is intolerant of error. Why is this? Are you only in the Word to prepare to speak, or do you comb the fine hairs of Scripture daily because you love what He says? Maybe you're too busy trying to figure out how to say something and have become blind to what He clearly says.  Woe to you. Woe to you. Woe to you.

If your calling to preach and teach and bring innocent worship to glory be a truly sacred one of God, then soul-shaking and heart-stirring power will be felt on earth and in heaven; and yes, it will be felt even in the depths of hell. But, if your calling be not sacred, or if that calling is stifled by deception or immoral living or covetous greed or any fleshly dark dominion, you won't do much shaking and quaking when you speak because the Spirit of the Living God refuses to bless another gospel or bad teaching or the clanging voice of the enemy. Your influence will decrease unto an influence of death because you have not rightly divided (literally "cut straight") the Word of God.  Who has deceived you and tricked you into cutting curves?  Why have you forsaken a proper handling of Truth?

Your hearers are getting ruined because you have itched their ears with doctrines of demons and avoided certain truths. You have followed bad counsel unaligned with the LORD! Woe to you! Repent! Woe to you! For this humble under-shepherd is mindful of our common enemy and has labored and toiled over and studied the Word all of my life everyday and speaks with all authority given by God for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And if any of you gnash your teeth or rail at these truthful words, or if you try to flatter in response over such a prophetic utterance and rebuke, or whatever, then your folly will be clear to everyone as the Scriptures already so indicate. Silence and quiet repentance may be your best and most Holy option; and I'm glad you read this article to the very end. Preach the Word, and do not despise prophecies (preaching) and test everything (heralds and declarations and conversations - 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). The truth is at stake, pastors. And, if this makes you a bit uncomfortable, that's the Spirit pressing into you. I have said nothing that isn't of The LORD nor without gentleness, and it comes from a meek heart; but I am bold and not shamed nor ashamed of this Gospel Truth. For as the Lord, I do not want people captivated by the devil.  And I fear he captivates some of you even now. Let it not be so Father. Let your Word make us captive to all truth.  

—Thor Knutstad, Pastoral Counselor

Looking Back to Re-label Failure

Friday was our last day of homeschooling. Summertime has officially arrived in all its glory, but before we could fully jump into it, I knew that I needed to close out the homeschooling year, especially because Caleb and I have decided that in the fall we're going to send our now kindergarten and second grade daughters to public school for a year. I knew we needed closure.

This year of homeschooling hasn't been as easy or as...'thriving' as I would have imagined it to be. I knew I wanted to homeschool; I also knew I was called to do it for this year. But I found myself to be more impatient, more bothered, more unsure and overwhelmed, more confused by figuring out the balance of all that I had to do than I imagined I'd be. When people have asked me, "How's homeschooling?" I've often replied, "Honestly, it feels like a discipline. It feels like dragging myself out of bed in the morning when I don't really want to go to the gym, but running anyway. It feels like continuing to run when I just want to stop and walk."

I think the fact that this year wasn't often 'easy and breezy' for me internally has led me to sometimes feel like somewhat of a failure, or that this year was quite possibly a failure. It's like I've thought that my struggle has disqualified me for success.

So, like I said, summer was coming closer and closer, and our last days rolled around, and I knew I had to bring closure to our year together.

I decided to take each of my girls out on a date separately...with me, "Mrs. Teacher." I wanted to help them see how much they had grown throughout the year, so I brought samples of their work from the beginning of the year, the middle of the year, and now. We looked together at how they've progressed. We looked over their journals and writing samples.

I also wanted to let each of them in on some of my mixed feelings about the sweetness and hardness of our first experience of homeschool ending. So we talked together about my emotions surrounding saying goodbye to "Sassafras School of Discovery" for now. We talked about our excitement for summer, and about what we each felt about public school next year. We cried together as "Mrs Teacher" said goodbye to them...and again as I told them that we were officially all done going up to our school room on the third floor of our house (for now). I gave them each a gift, showed them a note I had written to them as their teacher, and prayed for them.

And do you know what? I didn't really plan it out this way- I had just wanted to bring good closure to our year together- but something changed in my heart as I spent that time with my girls.

There was something healing in the looking back, in the honoring of how they had grown, even in the remembering together of how "Mrs. Teacher" had sometimes been grumpy and hadn't known what to do (but that they had been kind and gracious to her as she learned to be a homeschool teacher.)

It was like something loosened inside of my heart, something that had been clenched up all year, something that was wondering if I was failing, scared to death that I wasn't good enough, woman enough, mom enough, to succeed. But as we looked back on how the Lord had carried us through it all, through the overwhelmed times, through the stretched times, and had even caused us to grow and thrive, I was able to see the Lord's goodness where I hadn't in the day-to-day moments.

And I was able to see that the year, was NOT, in fact, a failure. And neither was I. The struggle didn't disqualify me. The struggle was a part of my success, because it was part of how all three of us grew in the middle of the discipline of homeschool.

--Sarah Howard

Greater Than Wonder Woman

A little over a week ago I randomly went to see Wonder Woman in the theater. I will try not to spoil it for anyone who may still want to see it, so here is a general synopsis. It was a super hero movie focused around a woman named Diana who is the princess of a hidden mythical people called the Amazons. Born to fight, she is trained to be an undefeatable warrior from the time she is a little girl. Through a series of events, she meets a pilot named Steve who tells her about a great war happening outside of her world. Filled with compassion and convinced that she can end the fight,  she goes with him to war and kicks butt the whole way. The End. Haha

As Diana grows up, the movie gives glimpses into her training by the General of the Amazon army Antiope. Antiope does not go easy on her as she tries to prepare her for a battle that everyone knows is coming but is not sure when. We see different sparring scenes where she is learning and growing in strength and skill. During one such sparring session with the general, Diana is doing well but not winning. Antiope goads her and essentially tells her that she is capable of more than she knows.

One of the things that struck me was the theme of hidden potential. All throughout the movie it comes back over and over again as Diana’s complete identity and therefore power is hidden until the end. Spoiler alert: Unbeknownst to her, Zeus was her father therefore making her a goddess. As you can imagine, her fighting changes upon this discovery and goes up a notch once she knows what she is capable of.

But you know what, friends? We have something greater than the power of Wonder Woman that we don’t always take advantage of. No, we are not gods, but we have God as our Father and His Holy Spirit sent to us as a powerful helper. How does he help us?

He teaches us. Jesus tells his disciples that when He returns to the Father that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to “…teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25).

He helps us in our weakness. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

He changes our morale and gives us hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).

He reveals to us the heart and mind of God enabling us to walk in truth. “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:10-12).

These are just a few of the things He does. This should change the way we fight. I don’t want to forget the access that Jesus died to give me and how that impacts my everyday life. He sent the Holy Spirit to train me in following Him whispering, “This is the way. Walk in it.” He teaches me about Jesus. He knows what God thinks and feels, and He tells me about it. He gives me strength in my weakness. He changes my heart and gives me hope.   

Sounds pretty amazing and useful, but how does this change the way I live? First, if I believe those things to be true and that God has thoughts about my life and my world, I want to seek to know Him and be more informed by the Spirit than by my phone. I want to give room to being taught. If He gives help in my weakness, then I want to lean into His strength and not rely on my performance. If His presence offers power, then I want to be a conduit and let Him move through me giving me the words to say to my children when they ask me questions like, “Is God a good, good Father and is He a Holy Spirit?” (as my daughter Savanna has taken to asking these days).

“…the Spirit of God dwells in you…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you…” (Rom. 8:9,11). He enables us to “ have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear” (Jude 22). He is able to keep us from stumbling that we may walk out our identity as sons and daughters of our great God and declare the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Can Wonder Woman do that?

--Sophia Howard

Strange Inspiration

I recently came across an article titled “Bible Verses that Atheists Love.”  I cringed a little bit, because I’ve seen these sort of lists before, full of verses that condone harsh treatment of slaves (Exodus 21:20-21), or that promote inequality (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), or show an unreasonable side of God (Deuteronomy 25:11-12), so I figured this would be much of the same.  Not one to shy away from an honest critique, I usually read them and think about the challenges they pose.  But I could tell by the subtitle that this article was different.  “Bible Verses that Atheists Love: We asked prominent atheists what parts of the Bible they find inspiring and beautiful.”

Instead of a list of that instantly makes Christians rationalize (with varying degrees of success) or run and hide, this list is really quite intriguing.  Here are a few examples:

Jeremiah 22:3 - This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Proverbs 29:7 - The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

1 Corinthians 13:11 - When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

Exodus 23:10-11 - For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

Proverbs 10:14 - The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

As you can see, there are clear themes that run through many of the passages chosen.  The themes of justice, caring for the poor, as well as knowledge and wisdom.  I’ve seen lists of favorite Bible verses of believers, and I don’t remember such themes.  Generally, when we think of our favorite verses, we tend toward promises of God, or other spiritual truths or comforts, which are all great, if not somewhat inward facing.  Is it possible that, when we think of the core of our faith, we focus so heavily on the inward, personal relationship aspects, that we overlook the outward expression of our faith - things like seeking justice for the poor, or standing up for the foreigner or the outcast?

We are at a time in history where people, particularly young people, are walking away form the Church in record numbers.  At the same time, young people, along with the atheists that this article spoke to, are more and more concerned with social issues.  Dozens of articles have been written about why young people are leaving, but it usually boils down to the idea that the Church has become irrelevant.  

Justice and truth have been a huge part of my faith for a long time now.  I’ve argued with other Christians when I can clearly see that they are forgetting that justice in society is a key component of the message of Jesus.  It’s not just me and God in this thing together, it’s me and God and everyone around me that I have the power to affect.  And this movement is growing within the body of Christ.  As Christian young people grow up in a society that values justice, they will become leaders that value justice.  They will be able to show the love of Jesus to a society that is, judging by the verses chosen above, looking for Christians to put into practice what our Bible says we believe.

Perhaps atheists are a strange place for us to find inspiration, but if they can find it in a God-inspired book, we might want to take note and get inspired right along with them.

--Jeff Hyson

Hide and Seek

“There’s something in our room!”

Untangling himself from the quilt and sheets, Kenny stumbled out of bed then picked up speed, sprinting clumsily out into the hallway. Shaking from that rude awakening, heart thumping wildly, I wriggled down in the bedding, conflicted about my next move. I could hear Kenny bumping into chairs, pictures, and a few assorted knickknacks as he fumbled for light switches in the early morning shadows. I heard a couple of annoyed grunts and breathless groans and a whole lot of unidentifiable clamor, all the more ominous and frightening because I had no idea what was happening and who or what was being chased around my downstairs. I shivered again under the covers, more from fear than the chill, staring into the blackness, wondering if I should grab my trusty Daisy Red Rider hidden in the back of my closet. The seconds seemed to stretch into what felt like unbearable hours. Then Kenny’s heroic silhouette appeared in the doorway and he flipped on the overhead light, spreading welcoming brightness into the bedroom. “Get me some towels,” he commanded like a four-star General preparing his troops for battle. He pivoted crisply on his bare heels and bravely marched back toward the fray. He spared me a salute.

Towels?  I had been imagining a scruffy armed terrorist skulking through my living room--or a headless horseman or a bloodthirsty pirate. Yes, I have a very active imagination. So, retrieving towels did not seem to me to be a very necessary or urgent mission given our dire circumstances. We needed a strategic battle plan including force to save us from my as yet unnamed enemy.

“Towels?” I repeated incredulously…this time out loud. “Are you kidding? What on earth do you need towels for?” Okay. Not my best honoring wife moment. I was not confidently trusting in Kenny’s role as my fearless protector and leader for sure. But I did gingerly tiptoe across the bedroom floor to the linen closet in my bathroom. “And what is loose in this house?” I yelled, dreading his answer.

Kenny tossed his response over his shoulder as he grabbed his baseball bat from the corner, storming the kitchen battlefield. “It’s some animal.” My heart thudded harder as I stepped into my slippers and zipped up my bathrobe. An animal?  A mouse?  No, Kenny wouldn’t be worrying about a mouse. A bat? Maybe, but this creature seemed to be something skittering around the floor. Not bat-like. A snake? Oh, no! That was a distinct possibility. I shivered again but forced myself to move toward the ruckus, gripping the towels like my life depended on them.                   

As I stepped into the kitchen, I peeked around the table into the mudroom. I saw it, back against the door to the garage. It was quivering in terror, its huge eyes fearfully darting from Kenny to me as it frantically searched for a way of escape. Kenny stepped back to get the towel I offered him and, in that instant of his distraction, the critter dashed right past us and scampered down the hallway back into our bedroom.  

“It’s Rocky,” I giggled in relief. “All we need is Bullwinkle.” If you are younger than 55 you will have no idea who I’m talking about. Whatever did we do without Google? Anyway, my anxiety dissipated as quickly as it had appeared and I eagerly gave chase. The little fuzz-ball with those huge eyes was simply adorable. I almost wanted to keep it! “However did a flying squirrel get in here?” I asked Kenny. He was too busy rustling the curtains and peering under the bed to even hear me.

I wish I had taken a picture. It was the cutest thing ever.

We had quietly crept into our bathroom on our search-and-rescue mission, and there, half-buried in the beach towels in the bottom of our linen closet, was our little home invader.  In my hurry to grab the towels for Kenny, I had inadvertently left the closet door wide open, a perfect safe haven for squirrels on the run. The little guy’s head and arms were totally hidden, but its hind feet and scrawny, trembling little tail were fully exposed for the world to see. Well, not the world. Just us. We stood there and laughed, out of breath. Because it couldn’t see us, it thought we couldn’t see it. No, not a very effective “hide” job. Not at all.

My precious grandkids have played this same game of Hide and Seek. As I count to ten, they bury their cherub faces in a pillow, torsos completely exposed, but, shivering with excitement, wait for me to “find” them. Of course, I never do. So, giggling, the pillow is pulled off and I hear something like, “Here my am, Grammy. You couldn’t see me.” Sweet. But again, not a very good “hide” job.

Sorry to say, like my little Rocky and my beautiful grandchildren, I often find me hiding. My tail is probably showing too.  Not a very effective hide job, right? And to be honest, I’m pretty tired of playing this silly game.

I’ve hidden a lot over the years of my life. I hide when I feel inadequate or insecure. I hide when I am fearful of people or a situation. I hide when I need to confront something or someone. I hide to avoid pain or failure or conflict. I hide when I can’t please. I hide when I sin and am ashamed. I hide when I am uncertain about what’s next or what’s going on or where I am headed. I hide when a task seems too daunting. I hide…a lot.

So what does “hiding” look like? In my life, it looks like avoidance, isolation, facades/masks, gratuitous conversation—and stomachaches, migraines, and sleepless nights. I may disappear altogether (with very proper excuses, mind you) or I may be present but intentionally unengaged and cautiously wary. But that’s only when I quite foolishly forget my true and merciful Hiding Place.  And the One who sees me no matter why or where I am hiding. My ways are not hidden from Him (Isaiah 40) and the darkness is as light to Him (Psalm 139). No matter what, He sees even more than my tail!

A worship hymn I love, You Are My Hiding Place, is based on three scriptures.

Psalm 32:7 says, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Psalm 56:3 reads, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.”

Finally, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 states, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, I am strong.” 

Here are the simple but profound words:

You are my hiding place

 You always fill my heart

With songs of deliverance

 Whenever I am afraid

 I will trust in You

I will trust in You

 Let the weak say

I am strong

In the strength of the Lord

I will trust in You

The crux of the matter, no matter the situation, is my fear (so I hide) and my lack of knowing and trusting my Good Father (so I hide). I’m as foolish as the squirrel. Just as Kenny gently enveloped that quivering critter in soft towels and carried him ever-so-carefully out the back door to freedom, my Father wants me to willingly surrender to Him in the messes, insecurities, uncertainties and cares of my life, to know Who He is, to trust Him to cover me with His love and hide me in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 17:8).

But He also wants to get me where I belong...delighting in whatever comes my way (weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties—all terrifying to me, all situations that normally compel me to hide) so that I may reveal to a watching and needy community the power and beauty of Christ in me, knowing He is strong, His grace sufficient. He wants to display His redeeming and refining work in me so others will be drawn to Him as well.

Sunday, Pastor Erik said that the observing world is never attracted to our faking and that our messy stories are valuable in demonstrating the work of God in our lives.  I am in process. I wish my story were “This is who I was…,” but that would be a lie and I want to be real. Though Jesus HAS graciously made huge differences in so many areas of my life (including this one of absolute trust in Him), I still sometimes find my fear default mode to be “Hide!” Too quickly I still forget Whose I am, Who He is, to Whom I should run, and in Whom I should trust. Then, sadly, I run like our Rocky. How foolish!

So, when you see my tail, pray for me. I want to be a recovered hide-a-holic. I long to, in all honesty, tell you, “This is who I was…” No more stupid hiding games.

I am very thankful He is a patient Father and that He is not finished with me yet.

Or with you.

Stay tuned.

 

  

It's True: The Familiar Often Beats The Good

Does this sound familiar to you?: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. " It was a statement made by the Apostle named Paul, and it is found in the 7th chapter of a letter he wrote and which is named in the Bible as the Book of Romans. Another way Paul's statement relates to us is that so often we prefer the familiar than what is really good. I want to point you to a short blog written by Ed Welch which reflects on this dynamic we all are well familiar with. Click here to read the blog and consider where help for us can come from!

Diagnosis Code 911: BUSZERKITI

Description- A tendency to stay very BUSY that can lead to a disorder called
GOING BERSERK.

I was driving to work one morning this week, stopped at a red light and thought, ”Hmmm, busy and berserk sound similar. That’s interesting!” That is how my brain tends to work. Think I will write a blog about that.

So, I get to the office. I then reflect on statements that I hear from the majority of the many people I chat with....

“It’s been such a BUSY week”
“Our kids are so BUSY”
“We are too BUSY to go to TFL classes”
“We were too BUSY to get to worship this week”
“We are too BUSY to pray together”
“I am too BUSY to spend time with God”
“I’m too BUSY to come to counseling”
“We are too BUSY to invest in our marriage”
“I am so BUSY at work”
“I have to stay BUSY because I can’t stand down time”
“BUSY is my middle name!”
“There is not enough time in the day because I am soooo BUSY”
“I am too BUSY to eat right”

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY, BUSY!!!!!

My friends:) These are the statements that people truly believe but the truth is:

B- BEING

U- UNDER

S-  SATAN’S

Y-  YOKE

Often BUSYNESS is a tool of the enemy that pulls us away from our Savior and feeds the false gospel of saving ourselves.

There is no way any of us can hear God’s still small voice in BUSYNESS.

I used to buy into the American cultural belief system that staying BUSY meant that you were an active, contributing member of society that would be a successful, prestigious person who would have a great big house and blinged out car, get married and have a bunch of kids. That was success!  That was fulfilling the American Dream, right? I went BERSERK!! I really did. I began to feel empty, working many jobs at one point in my life to pay bills, and seek relationships as medication. The next chapter: I entered COUNSELING!!! I began to seriously seek God’s plan for my life. At this point, I live in a wonderful little house, drive a car that works, I am not married and have no children. I love my life!!! Because it is the life God has called me to. I would have been miserable if I continued to strive and pursue what my then friends, family and work said I was supposed to be and look like.

This is a lie my friends. It leads to a lifestyle that felt like I was going BERSERK! Have you ever felt that way, or was it just me??

I would encourage you to not let the “calendar monster,” as I call it, fill up with BUSYNESS. Set those boundaries. Say ‘Yes’ to life-giving things that lead you to Jesus and ‘No’ to those things He is NOT calling you to- even taking roles in the church ministries!

He has made you special, unique and one-of-a-kind. You have a unique design on your life and a purpose to live out. It is your responsibility to protect those gifts and talents that He has given you :)

Learning to say Yes and learning to say No prevents BUSZERKITIS. It is a painful disorder and I encourage you to take steps to avoid it!

Mothers and Daughters

All things considered, I think I was a pretty decent mother. It was easy; I just did what my mother had done. My two stepsons were helpful and delightful. All four of my babies were potty-trained the summer they were closest to two; I never had to spank anyone after about age three – a look would do it. I’ve written before about how blessed I always felt that I had a mother to follow, that I didn’t have to hack my way ignorantly through a jungle of parenting, because she and my grandmother had left me a clear path to follow.

I even navigated the teen years, and off they all went to college thousands of miles away from home, full of confidence and joy at being FREE. Of course, in the process, they became convinced that they now knew everything and that I, poor Mom, suddenly knew nothing. But in spite of my puzzling new ignorance they actually graduated in a timely manner and found jobs and husbands and wives and gave me 22 grandchildren. Not so shabby, I decided.

So much for wonderful me. What I really want to tell you about is a woman who loved and raised her children probably much like I did, but who also took on the role of mothering her own mother. Her name is Eileen Hill.

I don’t really know Eileen as well as I wish I did, but I learned so much about her through a book she wrote. It is titled, “WHO’S IN MAMA’S CHAIR?”

She had to face a situation which most of us, through the grace of God, will never have to face. Her much-loved mother became a victim of the dreadful disease of Alzheimer’s. And when the time came when her mother could no longer safely live alone in her own home, Eileen and her husband took her into theirs. It isn’t just that; it’s the way that they did it.

While her Mama was in the hospital, recovering from an illness, Eileen and her family stripped her mom’s home of all of her favorite things, including her favorite chair and her books and her stuffed bear collection and so many other things, and set it all up in the room which would be her new home. When her mom was discharged and came home to her new home, the sight and feel and smell of her treasures made the transition wonderfully smooth. And what a thoughtful and loving way Eileen chose to accomplished It.

Anyone who has cared for one who suffers from this awful disease knows about the personality changes which the victim undergoes. And so the title of Eileen’s book. When Eileen went to her mother’s room each morning, her Mama was often already dressed and sitting in her chair, and Eileen soon found that she could tell which personality was going to be there today. And she learned, through love and with God’s help, to be the exact daughter that her Mama needed that day. It wasn’t easy. And the charming thing about this sensitive and honest book is how Eileen continued to love and honor her Mama throughout the rest of her life.

I didn’t read this book because I faced or feared a similar situation. My mother was blessed to live to 102, in her own home and in full possession of her mind, which was a tremendous gift from God. I read it because I wanted to know Eileen, and I learned so many things about her through reading her honest portrayal of what it meant to be the loving caretaker of her Mama. I recommend this book. Eileen is surely a woman worth knowing.

For Good's Sake: Looking at the Goodness of God

I often hear the phrase "God is good," and yet I rarely read this simple phrase biblically. Okay, yes, David says it many times in the Psalms, "Taste and see that the Lord God is good" (Psalm 34:8 & 86:5 & 119:68).  It's there in Scripture, and it's also repeatedly inferred, but think here with me more deeply about The LORD's goodness. Let's explore His goodness a bit more. There's so much more to it.

Of course God is the epitome of all that is good; there is no evil in Him and this is Biblically assumed and stated.  But how we perceive good from the confines of our earthly viewpoint is very different from 'good' when it comes to heaven's perfect vantage point. For example, a cut through my skin that causes me to bleed may not seem good when I'm opening kids packages on Christmas morning (yes, this happened, lol), but it would be considered 'good' by the hand of a skilled surgeon operating on me in necessary surgery at the hospital, right?  God who is the Surgeon of your life isn't any less good when your circumstances seem "less than (your) ideal."  Why?  Because He, our LORD God, is working all things (operating) toward and 'for the good' of them that love Him (Romans 8:28-30). Does that mean that good isn't a moment or the means, but the end goal? God doesn't cease in goodness when He judges and condemns sin in unbelief. He is good even when He renders demonic angels, false teachers, and unbelievers to an eternal hell. He doesn't cease to be good when His Surgeon's Blade goes to work on the soul of my inner spiritual heart either.  He actually ALWAYS operating, isn't He?  He's a good physician. Always. YES, ALWAYS.

Good isn't a situation nor only moments in history; Good IS Him, our LORD - Him in our pain, Him in our deepest grief, Him in our confusion, Him in our changes, and Him in our circumstances that we cannot control.
When Joseph's brothers feared his revenge after their father Jacob had died, Joseph replied, "What you meant for evil, God meant for good, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20). Everything matters FOR GOOD, even evil. This is no excuse for evil, ever. Evil is differentiated from good. But it's His chosen pathway toward good sometimes. Everything He created was called good (Genesis 1-2; 1 Timothy 4:4).  And though the world of evil is a tooled platform for His purpose(s), He will recreate it unto Eternal Good. Yes, our God is "good all the time," but His goodness is more than a cliché or a magnet or a bumper sticker or a movie line or a text message or a social media post. Real ‘good’ is bigger because the Gospel Good News is the big everything. Good is not a concept; it's a person.  There is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17); for He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) and His name is Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). This Gospel isn't just for Easter people; it's everything.  The good God became incarnate man to destroy evil and the devil through His death and resurrection.  It's a completed yet incomplete work. It's already; but not yet. For good.

This same Jesus will return like a lion for goodness sake.  Praise Him!  Are you ready? Have you embraced this Good News Gospel? Paul said that he wasn't ashamed of this Gospel (Romans 1:16; 15:16 & 1 Corinthians 9:16). If some of you think I'm repeating myself, yes, I am doing just that. Praise Him, our Christ the LORD who defeats death (death is not good) and who gives us the hope of resurrection (resurrection is totally good). He our God is good; and for our good He aims unto good. Spread the good to a world that needs this good. I see a lot of good without Good News. There's no greater good than the Good News of eternal hope and eternal assurance and eternal resurrection. And all that is good is of Him, by Him, and for Him. God isn't defined by good; For He the LORD by His character and name lends definition to all that is Good. It's in His name. It's His heart. And it's more than a popular tagline. The next time you want to declare that “God is good," maybe just explain this by example. It may cause you to stop and think about what you say. And that's a good thing! 

When I Don't Like the Mother I'm Being

I'm kind of in the 'home stretch' of my first year of homeschooling. 

It's almost May and I am SO ending when the public schools end in June. I need the break. 

It's been quite the year, juggling the management of so many things: my two daughters' education; their relationship as siblings that are together so much; their emotional lives; their spiritual growth; their development in this year in their femininity; the balance between how much they play, work, see other people, do chores, learn to pursue other interests; my OWN emotions, spiritual growth, development in femininity, balance between how much I rest, work, pursue other interests; the housework and all that goes into maintaining and growing in caring for a house; my relationship with my husband...the list goes on and on and ON.

And oftentimes...I feel like I'm being crushed under the weight of it all. Multi-tasking it all. Doing so many things at once. And the mental to-do list never gets smaller. 

And when I feel like I'm being crushed, I go through my day feel overwhelmed...and often downright irritable. I'm grumpy toward my kids. I'm short with them and their problems. I mutter under my breath. I bark at my daughters. It's NOT very pretty. 

And I don't like myself like that. I don't like feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, let alone the weight of our household. I don't like muttering under my breath. I don't like barking at my girls.

(Quick disclaimer that I WISH I could explain easily and quickly, but I probably can't <WAH!!>: I DON'T like barking at my girls out of frustration...but I DO like (or am LEARNING to like) leading my girls WITH STRENGTH....which sometimes, to an outsider, doesn't look all that different. Somewhere in Christian parenting, we've gotten the idea that we must be NICE to our kids, must be only KIND and SWEET to our kids, to be righteous. I sure have had that idea. We think that IF ONLY WE COULD BE NICER, less angry, less frustrated, more patient, more NICE, we'd be better parents. And our kids would suffer less. But that's really not necessarily TRUE. This is pretty much what I want to say below, but I'll say it quickly here: most of our kids DON'T REALLY NEED MORE NICE. They need a STRONG, Spirit-filled, boundary-setting parent leading them. They need your Holy-Spirit-Filled-Strength. Not your wishy-washy, smiley (fake, suppressed) niceness. 

But they also don't need you barking at themAnd I find that tension, that line between the two kind of complicated.)

God has been quietly whispering to my spirit over and over and over again since 2016 turned into 2017 that the next step for me is to value and honor and prioritize DAILY the habit of getting away and having time with Him.

It's like this: it's like there's this little cracked cup, and I'm dying of thirst, and the cup has three drops of water in it, and I keep going back to it to try to tip it into my parched mouth to try to quench the burning thirst.

But there's a waterfall that I could be standing under of fresh, drinkable water, or a lake of sweet, sweet water I could just dive into. 

But I keep going back to the three drops in the cup.

For whatever reason, I've heard that invitation of God to come to His waterfall, His lake, His fountain, but I keep trying to make it through my days on the three drops of: what exciting food I'll be eating today! What book I could sneak in a few minutes to read! What moments of sleep I can get! What break from tasks I can find! What tasks I can checkoff my to-do list! 

And it leaves me irritable and muttering under my breath, and I don't like myself.

But do you know where the waterfall would leave me? Changed. From what I am currently not, to what I am being renewed into. I am being made new, from what I am in my own strength, to all the things God promises that He, in His power and His grace and His love will sanctify me into...but how can I be renewed, be changed, be made new, if I am not daily before Him, with Him, under the waterfall?

So I sat my daughters down this morning, and I apologized to them for snapping at them yesterday when I was doing too many things at once: trying to keep my already-swept floors clean, cook dinner, bake cookies with them while simultaneously 'homeschooling' them by teaching them about measuring and following a recipe. I ended up barking at them about 'not spilling one single grain of brown sugar on the floor'...and it was ridiculous. 

It reminded me of the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10, where Martha is 'very busy and distracted with all her serving responsibilities,' and she's bitter inside of her heart. Jesus doesn't commend her for her work. He commends Mary, who's getting NO TASK DONE, but He says that she has chosen 'what is better, that which is to her advantage.'

I told my girls today that sometimes they find me to be grumpy and worried about too many things, because I haven't spent time in the waterfall, and I'm asking the three cup-drops to fill me up for the day.

And I also told myself that today will be the end of hearing the Father's invitation to the waterfall, and hesitating. Or trying again to make it through with just the cup. My girls need me, my husband needs me, the world needs me, I need me, to make the decision to set aside time to dive in daily. 

Courage Dear Heart

I celebrated my 29th birthday last weekend. Eek! I can’t believe it. My husband planned a sort of progressive celebration, beginning with breakfast at our house with my parents and siblings. Growing up when it was one of our birthdays we would have a time of “words of encouragement” as we called it, where we all went around and said something kind and encouraging to the birthday person. We have held on to this tradition even into adulthood, and so there I sat in anticipation. It is always such a meaningful time to a big words person like me. We have long since moved past the “I love you because you are nice, and I hope you have a good birthday” of our childhood and are really able to speak into each other’s lives. Nobody coordinates with each other what they are going to say, so it’s interesting to see how themes develop from what everyone says. This year what stood out to me was courage.

It came out in things that different ones said. I was encouraged to be in the moment, having the courage to embrace the seemingly mundane aspects of life as a mom because God is in it. I was encouraged to be myself, having the courage to fully be who God made me and to do what He has called me to do. I was encouraged to not be afraid of taking risks in my friendships, having the courage to not hide or apologize for my convictions. All of these were spoken by my husband and family, however, what blew me away this year was the fact that all of these seemed to coincide with what I have felt God to be speaking to me over the last few weeks.   

I have written before about some of the challenges of this last year for my husband and me, one of which was his medication change and hospitalization in the fall. During that season it took all my strength to hold on to truth and not allow my mind to endlessly scroll through lists of terrible possibilities in my head. What is interesting to me though is that the faint whisper of “have courage and stay alert” comes to me now and not then. Why? It seems more apropos that this pep talk would come during a season of pain, right?

I am realizing in my relationship with God though that He loves to build a history with me. Although there is plenty of His presence and insight during times of struggle, He doesn’t leave or grow complacent in His teaching or preparing me during “peacetime,” even if it might be my tendency to want to coast during better circumstances. The combination of His voice and the memory of His presence with me in the past are an anchor for my soul during tumultuous times.  

There is an excerpt from Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis that I love. Lucy along with her brother Edmond, her cousin Eustace and Prince Caspian are sailing along toward an island in the distance. The farther they travel, the darker and darker it becomes. They can’t see their way and lose sight of where they are going. In the midst of the fear and uncertainty, Lucy calls out to Aslan for help. The darkness does not lessen, but light appears and then this happens:

“Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like and aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”

I have been through seasons of longing for His voice, perspective and peace when my circumstances were scary and shadowed by uncertainty. However, the tenacious chasing after God shouldn’t stop when things get better, but continue. God invites us to continue on the adventure of building a history with Him both during the difficult times and the times of rest, during times when it feels like we are trying to keep our heads above water and “smooth sailing,” when we are fighting for survival or fighting complacency. The daily cultivation of His presence in our lives and identities rooted in who He says we are, are anchors for our soul when adversity does come.

So seize the day because“…This is the day the Lord has made…!” No matter what the season, embrace the mundane because God is in it; be yourself because God made you beautifully; take risks because there is grace abounding. Whether you are in the darkest storm of your life or just coasting on the other side, “Courage, dear heart.”  Stay alert, stay close to Jesus and run hard.   

Finding Common Ground

It’s amazing to me how much we all agree on.  By “we”, I mean Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox.  We agree on salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We actually agree, officially, on many doctrines and a huge chunk of theology.  We have different traditions, and a history of conflict, but today, the word “Christian” is more encompassing (globally speaking) that ever before.  That’s the macro view.  

At the same time, I’m amazed at how fractured we are.  Within my own social circle, I know that there are hard-line disagreements about a wide variety of subjects and theologies.  While our oneness is on display on Sunday morning, it doesn’t take much to shine a light on what divides us.  Here’s a simple experiment: state your opinion about our President to a group of Christians.  I guarantee someone will disagree with you, and might just get mad that you feel the way you do.  How about creationism or evolution?  How about small church or mega-church?  And we judge each other accordingly.  That’s the micro view.

What is it that we get so right on a global scale that we miss on a micro scale?  If I meet a fellow believer in a foreign country, we might celebrate our common faith, our common love for Jesus.  We probably won’t get into doctrinal disputes or political arguments.  We are comfortable being brothers and sisters.  Ironically, the closer we get to our own sub-group, or sub-sub-group, of believers, the easier we find it to dismiss each other for our differing beliefs.  How can they be a Christian if they believe… that?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying discussions and disagreements are a bad thing.  In fact, I love debate and discussion among friends.  The problem is when we elevate important, but secondary, issues to the level of primary issues.  When the things that are not at the core of our faith become the things that we judge each other on.  Instead, when we focus on the primary issues, the fractures fade.

Here’s the problem - we love our secondary issues.  Sometimes we love them more than the primary ones.  We are quick to judge the authenticity or validity of someone’s faith by their position on any number of issues.  The Easter season helps to reorient us to the primary reasons we believe what we do.  It’s not about evolution, Calvinism, doctrines of this or that, it’s about the death and resurrection of our Savior.  It’s the grounding that we often need in our lives full of religion and politics, theology and party lines.  We all have secondary issues that we feel strongly about, but these tend to serve as distractions. Easter is a something we all agree on, something that can unite us, and it also happens to be at the center of our faith.  

Flunking the Test

I failed it, I’m sure.

And I hate failing tests—especially this one. You would too if you were me.

If you are genetically tied to someone with Alzheimer’s like I am, you’re already on to me. You know what test I’m talking about. It was all over Facebook several months back. Maybe you’ve tried it too. Have you heard about it? It’s the Peanut Butter Test, a new way to predict if you’re likely to get Alzheimer’s. Lovely. Just what I want to know.

It’s something about not being able to smell peanut butter out of your left nostril as well as you are able to with your right nostril.  The instructions directed the test-taker to open a jar of Skippy, close his eyes, his mouth, and one side of his nose then sniff away. After 90 seconds, he repeats it with the other nostril. Apparently, whichever one smells the peanut butter better quite accurately indicates one’s destiny. Skeptical but curious, I grabbed the jar and gave it a shot.

I couldn’t smell anything with either! What on earth does that mean?

Now, of course, I have thought of every reasonable explanation for this failure. It’s my spring allergy time. My peanut butter is old. I’m nervous and trying too hard. I should try Jif instead of my cheap generic brand. Maybe I didn’t do the test just right. Maybe I’m catching a cold. Maybe it’s true. I’m doomed.

But isn’t that what you think anyway? Isn’t that paralyzing fear lurking at the fringe of your consciousness every waking moment of your day? It is a nagging dread, a strange heaviness, a dark shadow, a threatening cloud that clings to you, smothers you, and never ever goes away. You might call it the elephant in the room. You know. The ugly beast you try to shove in the closet; the one everyone else gingerly tiptoes around. You watch them avert their eyes when you repeat a story. You see them glance quickly and knowingly at each other when you can’t find your keys or forget something they insist they told you. You see the elephant grin yourself when you walk in a room and can’t remember why. You want to kick him. Sometimes you just want to cry.

Oh, I have explanations for all those things too. Medications, busyness, being blonde, lack of sleep, preoccupation, my thyroid, menopause…you name it, I’ve grasped the excuse. My Mama used to say she had just lived too long and her brain was full. I’m starting to think that makes a lot of sense. Deep inside, though, I really think I will be next. I will have Alzheimer’s. If you also have a parent with it—or a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling—I’m sure you think you will too. It comes with the territory.

So what can you do? That elephant is quite the hefty burden to bear. He crowds out joy. He tramples peace. He’s messy and greedy and demanding and BIG. He has to go. Maybe if I would stop feeding him, he’d move on. But it seems every single day something happens that makes me suspicious that I am losing it. I can’t find the remote, I miss somebody’s birthday, I don’t remember I already put the books where they belong…feed for that smirking elephant!

I’m a huge proponent of living my life one day at a time. I can’t worry about what tomorrow will bring. I need to focus on what I need to do today, to be fully present in these circumstances, to accomplish the tasks at hand. Dwelling on and wrangling over fears and concerns about the future simply sap me of the strength and energy I desperately need for today. I must not entertain the beast. I can’t afford to.

Instead of feeding my fear of Alzheimer’s, I need to feed my heart and mind. Preach truth to myself, the facts I know. In Jesus Calling, a little devotional by Sarah Young, I read this. It is written as if Jesus is speaking directly to me. I love that.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Hear Me saying Peace, be still to your restless heart. No matter what happens, I will never leave you or forsake you. Let this assurance soak into your mind and heart, until you overflow with Joy. Though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, you need not fear!

“…tune in to the living Word—the One who is always the same. Let Scripture saturate your mind and heart, and you will walk steadily along the path of Life. Even though you don’t know what will happen tomorrow, you can be absolutely sure of your ultimate destination. I hold you by your right hand, and afterward I will take you into Glory.”

The truth I need to embrace is this: I am not alone. Jesus is with me. And because He is, everything in my life is different—no matter what happens. Wayward kids, financial debacles, marriage woes, relational nightmares, miserable bosses, failing businesses, church crises, frightening medical reports, unwelcome life changes, parenting parents, achy joints, unexpected deaths, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis…no matter what I am facing, I am not facing it alone. Life is filled with uncertainties, problems, and needs. My Jesus is holding my hand.

Jesus’s nearness lifts the heaviness and uncertainty from my heart as I rest in His care, guidance, and strength. He encourages me to transfer all my fears and worries to Him because He loves me (1 Peter 5:6-7). In another part of my Bible where He reminds me not to be anxious and give Him ALL my requests, He says He will give me His peace to guard my heart and mind from those insidious fears that creep in (Philippians 4:6-7). He was with me every day as I cared for my Mama. I can gratefully attest to that fact. I am certain He is with me now. And I trust His promise that He will be with me then…whatever the then means. I can rely on Him.

That’s a great truth to feed on, isn’t it? It’s for you too.

So what do I do with that elephant? I think I’ll give him my peanut butter.

Let him fail the stupid test.

Lent to Repent

One of the purposes of Lent is to help us steer away from our tendency to pursue superficial change and find what we need most.

Have you ever fasted during Lent season from ice cream, TV, Facebook, shopping, some negative behavior or even a relationship? Do you remember what kind of results that brought about? Did it bring any kind of real change or was it just something superficial? Did it draw you closer to God? Did it increase your devotion, trust and love for God?  Be honest. What did it produce? We can agree that not every fast during Lent has led to true repentance (change) in our lives. I can think of times when I got tricked into thinking that my fast was something good and that God should look at it with acceptable eyes. Almost as if I was designing a new way to be "righteous" before God. Fasting or any good practice during Lent is not designed to substitute the true righteousness provided for us in Jesus!

The kind of repentance (change) we are encouraged to pursue is clearly described by the Old Testament prophet Joel: "rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;" (2:13). Repentance is a matter of the heart, not any externals. Furthermore, repentance is not so much about saying "no" to something, but it is about "returning to the Lord". Fasting can help us make space for true repentance--returning to the Lord. But if fasting during Lent does not help us return to the Lord, we may be wasting our well-intended efforts.

In what ways are you distant from the Lord? In what ways are you distant because of your attitudes or personal choices? Where are you resisting His love, His mercy or His will? Perhaps it is not resistance that you experience but avoidance of Him. 

Whether you have walked with God for a long time or you are estranged from Him, we all are in need of returning to Him! Ask yourself the question: "What do I tend to do in the face of either weakness or pain in my life?" Trace what you do in the face of either, and you will know if you are returning to the Lord or leaning on personal efforts or vain strategies to give you a sense of life-is-working-for-me! 

If you are fasting during Lent, make sure it is helping you return to the Lord. If you are not, I encourage you to consider what is keeping you distant from Him. Everyone who returns to Him will find grace, mercy, a God who is slow to anger and who abounds in steadfast love!

The Lord is truly what we need most!

“NO” Is Not A Four Letter Word!

Back in the day when I was growing up, I was taught that I shouldn’t say curse words, or “4 letter words” as we called them. I won’t elaborate or be more specific with those! Interestingly though, I was also taught I couldn’t say ‘no’ to things that hurt me either. The word ‘yes’ was very acceptable, the good Christian thing to say, but the word ‘no’ was out of bounds! That set me up very nicely for major boundary problems that in turn brought lots and lots of problems for me in relationships for many years.

I consider my own counseling journey to be one that cost thousands of dollars to learn how to say ‘no’ - a difficult yet rewarding journey. The rewards far out-weighed the difficulties.

But, you may be asking, “Are boundaries biblical?” “Aren’t we supposed to lay down our lives in order for Christ to rise up in us and say ‘yes’ to everyone in need?” “Lois, where is the true Gospel message in boundaries?”

Well, great questions, and I am so glad you asked! Here we go!

God is a good, loving, perfect, holy parent that loves His children so much that He wrote a whole book of boundaries! It’s called the Bible!

The very first set of boundaries that I read about in the Bible is in Genesis, where God tells Adam and Eve ‘yes’ to all of the trees but ‘no’ to a certain one. He spelled out a set of limitations, or boundaries, out of love for them. Just like when we tell children, “You can play in the backyard, but don’t go into the street,” out of love for them. Good parenting involves setting up healthy boundaries for children to learn to live and in order to protect them. Parents, can you imagine allowing your children to do WHATEVER they wanted to do, WHENEVER and WHEREVER! SMH (shaking my head in Facebook world:) )

God tells us all about the boundary lines He has set up for us out of love so we do not play in the street and have horrible consequences. Unfortunately, most of us really don’t think He means it, so we do the things He tells us not to do. We suffer consequences when we violate His boundaries, then we have the audacity to blame Him, just like Adam and Eve did. We then expect Him to say, maybe like our parents or others have, “It’s OK, I know you didn’t mean it.” Did God say that to Adam and Eve? No, He didn’t, and I am thankful for that! He said “Get out of the garden.” God cannot contradict His word which says “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’”.

I am not sure how many of you reading this blog struggle with saying ‘NO’ or even realized that God was the author of boundaries, not Henry Cloud and John Townsend. They are wonderfully gifted men, and I love their books!! They are a must for your bookshelf, by the way. But God is the original author. Henry and John got their insights for the material from the Spirit of God!

My hope would be that this little bite would drive you into the scriptures to see what God does say about this topic, Boundaries and your life! How He sent His Son Jesus to redeem all of the sin that results in pain of living so long without boundaries. Because of Jesus, God allowed my eyes to be opened to the principle of “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’”. Before that I said yes to everything and allowed the bad to come in and nearly kill me.

Check it out!!

Chocolate Smears and Noisy Sheep

This was my great-grandson, Cameron (age 4) and his very sharp Dad:

            Dad:   Cameron, did you take that piece of chocolate on the table?

            Cam:  Oh, NO, Daddy!

            Dad:   Are you sure? I think you have smears of chocolate around your    

                        mouth.

            Cam:  No, it wasn’t me. It was Bunny (little brother).

            Dad:   Really. (Pause.) Well I guess we should take Bunny to the

                        hospital right now, because he’ll be really sick. There was cat poop

                        on that chocolate!

            Cam:  (pause) (pause) Daddy! Daddy! Take me to the hospital QUICK,

                        because I just ate cat poop!!

When you’re four, you’re not yet very good at this lying business. It seems like a great idea, and a neat way to stay out of trouble! And sometimes it even works!! Unfortunately, as we age, we find we are able to get better and better at it, and more able to justify it to ourselves. All the little so-called white lies; all the lies of omission, where we leave out some of the truth. And even more common, the dishonesty of disobedience.

One of my favorite stories is in 1st Samuel 15. Samuel was a prophet, who had been dedicated to God in infancy, and as an adult ministered to King Saul, the first king of the Jews. God, through Samuel, sent word to Saul that He wanted to settle the score with the Amalekites, who had mistreated Moses and his people during their journey. So God commanded Saul to take his army and utterly destroy every one of the Amalekites, including all the livestock. But Saul and his men liked the looks of the fat cattle and sheep and goats, and so only destroyed the weak and sick ones, and brought the rest home with them as plunder. This greatly grieved God and He told Samuel that He was sorry that He had ever made Saul king. Samuel went to find Saul.

 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless

you”, he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command.” But Samuel nailed him.

“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

Samuel faced Saul with his disobedience to God’s command. And he said this:

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:

     your burnt offerings and sacrifices

     or your obedience to His voice?

Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,

     and submission is better than offering

             the fat of rams.

Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,

     and stubbornness as bad as

              worshipping idols!”   

I would hate to have to count the times I have almost been totally obedient to what I knew God wanted me to do. Or the times I have been stubborn.  Or the times I have refused to submit.

Dishonesty has many facets. We may not lie about the chocolate on our face, which anyone can see.  But how about the disobedience and the rebellion that is hidden in our hearts, that no one can see? No one, that is, except God.