Thursday, June 27, 2013

By the time you get this . . .

I'll be home in Prague.

The end of our five week visit in the USA will be over and we'll be back in our adopted city. 

It was definitely not a Magical Mystery Tour like the one enshrined in song by the Beatles. 

It was a time filled with loads of activity, bundles of sharing, and heaps of unknowns. We're not quite on the plane yet and I'm already counting my bruises.

You might ask how that can be since we were welcomed and hosted and pampered wherever we went.

The truth is that I kept bumping into myself wherever we went.

The sad story includes that fact that there was a lot of stuff to do and people to see with only a loose plan for how to get it all accomplished. 

There were also countless things that didn't go according to the loose plan and other things that popped up. That meant there were a lot of details that had to be sorted out as we went along. That kind of uncertainty, shall we say, keeps me on my toes.

I could go into all the senseless ways I struggle and the poor coping skills I exhibit . Instead I'll share a short list of some of the lessons I relearned.

1. It's not necessary for me to know every detail of my day to live through it.

2. Sometimes the things I think are necessary to do are really just things I want to do.

3. When I stop and ask God to show me His list and deadlines my days flow more smoothly.

4. The unknowns in my days are well-knowns to the One who's orchestrating my life.

5. Time spent in worry and anxiety is always wasted.

6. When I follow my Honey, the leader God's given, I am already in a better place.

7. Even if I don't know how it will take place, God makes sure I eat and sleep.

8. Usually softer and more gentle accomplishes more than hard and tough.

9. Freedom comes from letting go . . . the more the better.

10. When I look back I always find that God's plan was far better than any I could have set.

If you've got your stuff all together, please share a couple of your lessons with me.

If you wrestle as I do, I am praying this Truth over us.

"To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen" Jude 24 NIV, 1984

Monday, June 24, 2013

Freedom is FREE

Sometimes I feel handcuffed by the things God expects of me. One wrist is held securely by the responsibilities that make up my To Do List. The other one is immobilized by the character and attitude standards that He sets for me. 

Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, 20:7; 1 Peter 1:16; and 2 Peter 3:11 are a few of the verses that clarify God's expectations. Though the wording varies a bit each passage explains that God calls His people to be holy because God is holy

That means that God's chosen ones must reflect His holy personhood and character; be perfect in every aspect; in our being and our doing.

When I stop and think about that goal and my ability to reach it I find myself stalled, disoriented, and discouraged. 

It's sort of the way I feel on any given Monday . . . only 1,000,000 times worse.

There's this whole week stretching out in front of me. It's got numerous tasks, activities, responsibilities, and events in it that I'm not sure I can finish, do, meet, and attend.

And that doesn't even include all the interruptions, surprises, and rescheduling that normally take place. 

What's a person to do when they run up against what appear to be impossible expectations?

The answer for the believer, the disciple of Christ, is always the same.

We need to turn to God, run to Him, share with Him, look to Him.

When it comes to holiness, He's got the answer.

"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy."  Exodus 31:12-13  NIV, 1984

How can that be?

Paul shares the core of this truth.

"To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy. together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."  1 Corinthians 1:2-3

Those of us who are called to be holy are "sanctified". To sanctify means "set apart". In this instance we are set apart from sin and unto God. The root word in both Hebrew and Greek is also translated "holy". So to sanctify means "to make holy". 

God's Word tells us that being sanctified, made holy, happens when we are "in Christ Jesus". When I am "in Christ Jesus" God declares and sees me as holy. That's my position before Him.

Paul's explanation comes in sort of two steps. My position is holy because I am justified in Christ. However, I need to live a holy life. 

"But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do"  1 Peter 1:15

God's people are meant to be growing in the ways we reflect His holiness. It's one thing to be sitting in the middle of a lifeboat. We need to be rowing toward the heavenly shore. That is the sanctification journey.

And God even takes care of my progress in that regard too.

"for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."  Philippians 2:13

Phew, neither my position nor my progress is not up to me and my weak human energy and methods. 

God provides the holiness He requires. 

Hallelujah! The To Do List just evaporated.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

When Panic Strikes

Bemoaning my fate.

What's gonna happen?

I've worked really hard all day (week) long and as it's coming to a close I realize I won't be able to finish my task. 

I feel as if I'm going to fall off a precipice at the end of the world.

Okay, that's an exaggeration.


It's as if the shadows that are moving across the field outside my window are closing down all possibilities for the future. I begin to panic. What will I do when it's fully dark and I can't see? I won't know where I am or which way to go. I won't be able to protect myself from the threats I can't see. 

My mind shifts to the words of Psalm 23:4 "the valley of the shadow of death."

Okay, another exaggeration.

Re-thinking again.

Let's get back to the facts. 

It's uncertainty that I'm facing not death and the verse is more than those seven words.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."  ESV

That's right. How could I forget?

I'm not alone in this valley even though it can feel that way. The Shepherd is with me. He's got the tools of His tender loving care with Him. He's ready, willing, and able to meet any danger.

I am comforted by this God-breathed Truth. I choose not to fear. 

I admit it's an act of the will, but the Savior knows that. He's right here to walk beside me through the valley; calming my fears, showing the way, guiding my steps.

As I settle into my refreshed confidence I notice an interesting footnote in the ESV. It says that "the valley of the shadow of death" can also be translated as "the valley of deep darkness"

Lord willing, I'll remember next time that it's only darkness not death and I won't exaggerate myself over a cliff.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

THIS WEEK's Strategy

I smiled at the teacher as I slipped into a second row seat. I'd met him on our last visit to this particular body of believers and to my delight he remembered me too. 

At that moment I had no idea I was looking at God's personal messenger to me.

The topic of the New Testament survey class was 2 Timothy. Joe began with comments about authorship and dating. It was when he was going through a brief outline of Paul's encouragement to Timothy that I got the nod.

When Joe read the 15th verse of chapter 2 it seemed God was speaking directly to me. I sensed I was receiving a short-list of instructions for my week and the prompting to share them.

I don't know about you, but my weeks seem to fill themselves with activity. I do my best to spread out my tasks and I think I do a good job of prioritizing them. Yet time after time I sense that my deep desire to please God somehow gets sidetracked by busy-ness. That's why when I realized Paul was writing about being approved by God I sat up and took notice.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."  2 Timothy 2:15

The first word that caught my eye was "workman". Well actually it was the first syllable "work". I'm really thankful that Paul understands that pleasing God is not something that just happens. It takes effort and energy and time and focus and commitment and . . .

The next word that pops out is "ashamed". I for sure want to avoid guilt and embarrassment as I make my way through my days - most especially in my relationship with my heavenly Father but also in my relationships with people.

The last word that causes me to ponder is "truth". God's Word is filled with divine directions on how to order my days. Since my goal is to glorify and enjoy Him I need to soak myself in Scripture and pursue the guidance the Spirit grants me there.

Here's my fresh action plan for the week. How about giving it a try with me?
1. Apply myself.
2. Seek integrity.
3. Honor Truth.

A Key to Success and Rewards

"When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her."  Ruth 1:18, NIV'84

There must have been something about Ruth's reply that caused Naomi to pause. It might have simply been her words. They've been quoted fairly often down through history. 

Some of you may even be wondering why I started this post with verse 18 instead of the more familiar 16 and 17. The answer is simple. It was Naomi's reaction to Ruth's plea that caught my attention.

I'm thinking there was something beyond the words that made Naomi stop pushing Ruth to return to Moab. Naomi's argument was solid and practical. Surely she could have gone on to elaborate it. So why did she stop?

The word that caught my attention is determined. Apparently Naomi yielded her position when she realized that Ruth was committed whole heartedly to accompany her on the trip to  Bethlehem. I can only imagine what Ruth's tone of voice or facial expression, eye contact or body language must have been to convince Naomi of her resolve.

Whatever it was that expressed Ruth's allegiance to Naomi, it ended the discussion. The next verse tells us the two women went on from there together.

And I wonder how determined I am in my allegiance to Christ. Would my words convince anyone else of my intention to follow Him with all my heart and soul and mind? Would my countenance communicate my desire to bring Him glory in all circumstances?

What would happen if I concentrated on developing this key element in my life? 

For Ruth, being determined in her purpose to have God as her LORD took her from obscurity to security and into the very lineage of His beloved Son. The prayer Boaz raised over her became a reality.

"May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."  Ruth 2:12 

As I put one foot in front of the other, I want to be worthy of whatever the Father has planned for me. How about you?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ways to Make it to the Weekend

One of the benefits of having gaps in visiting family and friends is that the changes that have happened since we saw them last jump out at us.

BigGame now bats powerfully both leftie and rightie.

Miss Mae dances with obviously greater confidence.

Champ is pretty much taller than everybody else in the family.

It seems there are endless opportunities to measure growth and development - physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, . . .

I was considering some of the newness we've been enjoying on this trip when I turned the focus inward. 

How have I changed? 

What does God see?

Am I measuring up?

At times like this, when I'm looking into a spiritual mirror, I start to shudder.

First the reality of who God is strikes me. He's holy and just, perfect and powerful, . . . I can't imagine being allowed anywhere near Him.

Then the standards set in His Word come to mind. I become fully aware that I'm not even close to meeting any of them.

I begin to feel overwhelmed by the weak performance I'm offering in the sanctification department.

On low days I tend to beat myself up over my continuing shortfalls.

On better days I head back up to my first step and slip quietly into the presence of the One who knows me better than I know myself.  Psalm 139:13-16

I am uplifted as I remember the grace and mercy that indwells and overflows from God's character and presence.  Ephesians 2:1-10; Deuteronomy 4:31

I gain confidence as I share my struggles in the light of His promises.  Psalm 46; Hebrews 4:14-16; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 John 1:8,9

In the end, I am revitalized by the Truth that God is The LORD. He is the One who is orchestrating my present and my future . . . FOR MY GOOD.  Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28-39

The Real Reality that God is God and I am His calms my soul. 

The yard sticks of the world, even those of my own devising, fade into the background. The loving, powerful hand of my Father scoops me up and sets me on my feet. I'm at peace and ready to step back into the fray.

Where are you today? 

If you sense you're not measuring up, let me encourage you to spend some personal time with the Master and Lover of your soul. You could begin by reviewing the Scriptures included here. 

May His peace and joy abound to you. Amen

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Week's Worth of Encouragement

I usually focus on Scripture for my Monday morning blogs. This week I'm so far behind that I'm writing this in the afternoon hoping to post it before the day ends. 

And I have to confess my time in the Word has been so limited that I'm looking in other directions for my topic. God reached down and pulled me up out of my quandry.

Instead of trying to be eloquent beyond my abilities, I'll simply share how the Father has been erasing the discouragement and loneliness; the trouble, doubts and fears; the temptation, sighing and loss of hope I've been facing. I've got an idea that the subtle yet powerful way He's meeting my needs might just meet your needs too.

Miss Mae, our 11 year old granddaughter, shared her favorite hymn from last Sunday night's service with me. It's one of my favorites too so I suggested we memorize it together. I printed two copies of the lyrics with the title, authorship, and a bit of history at the top of the page. 

The challenge was to learn the hymn on our own and sing it for each other when we were ready. A much better plan developed last week when we were riding home from ballet class. Miss Mae became the tutor as she read the lyrics and I did my best to follow along as I drove. 

Our duet to the accompaniment of laughter and giggles was a little 'iffy', and the story about how we missed a turn and took an hour to get home will be shared another day. The really important detail you need to know is that we learned the first two verses.

Actually Miss Mae did a bit of improvising with the lyrics as she cheered us on in the midst of our rather lengthy detour.

"Why should we feel discouraged, when we can't find our way.
Why should we think we're lost, when we're sure to get home today?"

As God would have it . . . 

on this Monday morning 

when there's so much behind me 

and so much ahead,

and I wonder if He even knows 

how confused and adrift I feel,

I was reminded of the chat we had about sparrows

I explained to Miss Mae that God's Word tells us He never forgets even one of these plain little, common birds that rarely get mentioned on any bird watcher's Life List. Rather, God oversees every aspect of the life of each sparrow with tender loving care. Together we considered how much more He must carefully watch over us.  Matthew 10:29-31 and Luke 12:6-7

Once again the tune came to mind and the lyrics poured through my heart. I offer them to you. As you read through them I pray the LORD will encourage your heart for the long week ahead. Amen

His Eye Is On the Sparrow 
words by Civilla Martin, music by Charles Gabriel - 1905

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. 

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Three Things about the STUFF of Life

We're wrapped up in what feels like a diabolical dilemma. 

There's confusion aplenty, tension galore, energy shortfall, vision blurring, future unknown, and every other wave of frustration and potential destruction I could describe. 

I'm thinking it's something like the perfect storm. 

We've got STUFF to deal with. Our present struggle is with STUFF we've collected over the last 45 years of marriage. I'm not talking about the emotional or psychological or spiritual aspects of our relationship. It's the stock pile of material possessions I've got in mind.

This is not the first time we've stepped back to evaluate where we are in the process of STUFF accumulation. We sorted and pared down our STUFF both previous times we moved out of the country. 

As a matter of fact, we went through a major minimizing process in 2010. It was a God-inspired exercise in letting go of STUFF we didn't need or want and we enjoyed it tremendously. Who knew we'd be faced with the massive challenge in front of us at this point.

We're facing an ongoing combination of questions about what to store, what to sell, what to share, and what to toss with a little bit of what to take thrown in for good measure. AND yesterday we received the not so good news that I can no longer lift anything heavy.

With my new spiritual maturity theme of 'embrace' I'm pleading with the Lord to show me how to worship rather than whine in the midst of this challenging intersection. Here's a quick rundown of the insights I'm hearing whispered so far. 

1) Be FREE of encumbrances.
Releasing the bedroom set my father began to build for me on my 16th birthday doesn't mean I miss him any less. Receiving a price for an item that in no way reflects its sentimental value doesn't cheapen the memories. Relinquishing acquired goods doesn't increase the fear about future needs going unmet. The sense I'm experiencing as we clear up STUFF is that of taking my foot off the dock and setting sail with confidence.

2) Be READY to respond.
Our purpose and role is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Scripture teaches that God calls His people to meet specific needs. I'm realizing that STUFF can be a limiting sea anchor I want/need to avoid. Ephesians 2:10; Isaiah 6:8

3) Be KIND with courage.
We're doing our best to be thoughtful about offering various items to those we think might be interested. The responses we receive are sometimes a mixed bag, but they represent honest communication for which we are thankful. The more we're overwhelmed as we handle all this STUFF, the more I'm thankful to be relieving those who'll come behind us of the burdensome task. 

We've got a long way to go and at this point it looks like we won't finish before we head home to Prague. Embracing the Father's plans and processes is another part of the entire project anyway so it's all good. 

If you're caught in a dilemma that in anyway resembles this one, I'm asking God to make Himself known to you in powerful ways - right now in the nitty gritty of your heart condition and mindset, your attitudes and actions, your focus and steps this very day.

If you're above these waves at the moment, I'd be blessed by your prayers for me. 

As always, notes of encouragement are welcome.

Monday, June 3, 2013

From Barriers to Beauty God's Way

My quest starts on 1 January, but it takes a while to reach my goal.

I'm thankful that May held this year's treasure.

The LORD works an interesting pattern in my life. First, I find myself struggling in a certain area over and over again - as if I were bumping into the same obstacle in my path.

I run headlong into the barrier, not even aware of the bruises I gathered with each encounter. When I finally start nursing my wounds and wondering what's causing them the Holy Spirit begins whispering to me. 

The hints about the gift are subtle at first, delivered in a sermon or a Bible passage. I admit that often the early ones slip by me. Thankfully God is as persistent as He is gracious so the clues to my dilemma increase in frequency and clarity. As I make my way through my days I begin to notice that a certain topic re-appears. 

Please tell me you've had a similar experience where God peppers you with reminders until you simply canNOT ignore them.

Once I noticed the fences of frustration were causing me to grumble and complain.  I admit that I was nearly ready to collapse before I stopped and turned to the Shepherd for help. He brought me the word WORSHIP in just about every context imaginable. I found myself meditating, studying, and appreciating the meaning of worship in ways I never had before. And perhaps more importantly, as my focus shifted Godward my whining decreased significantly.

These treasure hunts have become an annual search for a sort of theme for my spiritual life. God confirmed my Theme for 2013 a couple of weeks ago, EMBRACE. He'd been giving me prompts in all kinds of ways, but it was the comment of a friend that finally caught me. I haven't had time to do a biblical study yet, but He's granting me insights in the meantime.

For example, to embrace in a God-pleasing way means more than accepting circumstances with a hesitant heart. It means opening myself and fully welcoming what the Father arranges for my life. Sure, I may ask questions as I wonder about the details the way Mary did in Luke 1:34. It's the willingness to carry on in the midst that I want to nurture.

A God-glorifying embrace also means more than receiving the bits and pieces I like, enjoy, can handle, or even understand. It requires me to appreciate every detail of every situation as my Sovereign's perfect plan for me. I need to submit my preferences to His will as did the prodigal's father in Luke 15:20. It's this type of faith and trust that I want to cultivate.

You know, these obstacles in my path may be more like trellises. Maybe the LORD sets them in front of me not to block my path but to support my growth. As I head off on this year's Theme I've got an image of the blossoming God wants to bring into my life. 

How about you?