Sunday, November 22, 2020

Hope Does Not Disappoint




 

Yes, I’m one of those people who puts up an artificial tree. If you’re a Never-Faker, Only-a-Real-Tree-Will-Do type of person, don’t judge me.  When I put up my tree this year, dangling from one of the fake-snow covered branches was an ornament leftover from last year. It spelled out "hope".

I put up my Christmas tree before Thanksgiving because…. well, why not? I notice others are doing the same thing. While Thanksgiving signifies thankfulness for what God’s done in the past, Christmas gives us hope. And this year, we all need a huge dose of hope.

In my hopefulness, I feel like Ralphie from the Christmas Story. You remember Ralphie; he’s the kid who wanted the Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. But everyone---his mother, his teacher, the department store Santa---frowned, shook their heads, and snickered, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Well, my dearest desire is to spend Christmas with those I love …. just like I used to. But from every corner I hear the warnings: “You’ll spread the virus.” But I miss the things that gave me joy: having the family home for the holidays (because you know, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays), singing Christmas carols, worshiping with my choir, having the family travel over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.

I know it’s wise to be realistic, but I’m not ashamed of feeling hopeful. Though we’ve all had a rough year in 2020,  I’m confident God is using our difficulties to help us develop character. That feeling of hopefulness comes from God, and we need to hang on to it. 

"But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)


When all seemed lost for Ralphie, when Christmas morning had come and gone and he hadn’t received the gift he desperately wished for, there in the corner was one last surprise: A Red Rider Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle.

So I’m holding on to hope and waiting to see what wonderous surprises God has wrapped up and waiting for all of us.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12 (NIV)





Monday, August 10, 2020

The Alpha and Omega

When you don't know where to begin...
 

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 (ESV)

 

Boxes, boxes, boxes!

It seemed like everywhere I turned, I had to navigate a maze of boxes. I wanted things in order, but I didn’t know where to begin.

When my husband and I married, we combined two households. He sold his house and moved into mine. Though we’d given away a U Haul full of furniture and sold a truckload of assorted items in a yard sale, the garage was still stacked floor to ceiling with stuff. Inside, the house was littered with piles of unsorted items.

I couldn’t even find order and familiarity at my workplace because my job was also in a state of flux.  I was transitioning from teaching kindergarten to teaching in a new first grade classroom. So after my June wedding, when I tired of unpacking, sorting, and arranging at home, I went to my new classroom to do more of the same.

Can I just admit I did a lot of banging and clanging as I not-so-carefully shoved tables and chairs from one corner of the classroom to the other. I may have kicked a few boxes that were too heavy to lift. I sat on the floor and cried.

I hadn’t asked to move to first grade. With so many other changes going on in my personal life, I would have preferred to relax into the familiar routines of the kindergarten class I’d taught for several years. But my principal hadn’t given me a choice. I felt tossed around by circumstances and events beyond my control.

Life seemed chaotic and overwhelming, and I zoomed in on the tiny pixels of my own problems. My view of reality was distorted. I needed a change of perspective.

 I needed to remember I belong to the Almighty God, who is a God of order and has a plan that is unfolding according to his purpose. I can be confident that in the end all will turn out the way God intends.

In the Book of Revelation, as he gives the apostle John a glimpse into heaven, God identifies himself as “him who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,” the “Alpha and the Omega.”

Because he is the God who was, I know my life is not accidental; I was created with a purpose.

Out of nothing, God created a universe of unfathomable intricacy and complexity. Down to the tiniest particles, all of the pieces of his creation work together to perform their God-intended function. God’s creation is well-planned, and I am part of that plan.

Because he is the God who is, I know he is still involved in my life.

He is still intimately involved in his creation. He holds all things together. And because I am his child, he’s at work in my life, helping me to grow into the person he wants me to be. God can take tragedies in my life and use them for good. Each situation in my life----even a job change I didn’t ask for---has a purpose.

Because he is the God who is to come, I know in the end everything will be made right.

In the Book of Revelation, God gives us a sneak peek at the end of his story. And in the end, God wins. Jesus is coming back to earth, and one day he will make all things right.

When I’m faced with uncertainty, I can ask God to give me his perspective. How might God be using my circumstances to bring about good? What new lessons will I learn? Which new relationships will be formed? How can I honor him?

So sitting on the floor surrounded by cardboard boxes--and after I’d had a good cry--, I prayed. Then I opened the closest box. Stapler, tape dispenser, scissors, pens …..I began setting up my desk.

Father, sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I want to put things in order, but I just don’t know where to start. Give me your wisdom. Then empower me by your Holy Spirit to take the necessary steps. I know you are working in my life to accomplish your purpose. You are the Alpha and Omega, and I am trusting you.

Are you overwhelmed? Remember your life is part of a bigger story. Bring your frustration and confusion to the Lord. Then spend some time just listening for his voice. If it helps, write down what you sense him telling you. What is the first step you need to take?

 He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. All things begin and end with him.

 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Time to Love







 My favorite girl came to visit for the Fourth of July. The entire week before the holiday, she looked forward to wearing her red, white, and blue outfit with the sequined heart that could change colors from red to silver. 

She loved baking funfetti cupcakes, frosting them with white icing, and topping each one with red and blue sprinkles and an American flag.


She loved the shiny red and blue table decorations. She noticed that even her Skip Bo cards were patriotic colors—red and blue with white numbers.




 But I think this Grammy loved Fourth of July even more than her granddaughter did. The holiday week brought a refreshing respite from the heavy cloud of gloom and doom we’ve been under these past few months.


Daily I’ve felt bombarded by headlines such as “Spike in Coronavirus Deaths. How Bad Will It Be?” I’ve felt saddened by news articles peppered with words like “injustice,” “violence,” and “hate-speech,” and posts characterized by divisive and offensive language.

But this past week the clouds parted, and sunshine streamed in because my son, my beautiful daughter-in-law, and my precious granddaughter came to visit from Georgia.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."

Well, we’ve had our season to “refrain from embracing.” This was our time to embrace. While sometimes it is a time to weep and mourn, this was our time to laugh. And though it’s appropriate to hate injustice and ignorance, last week it was time to love.

So right now I'm feeling especially thankful for the love of family and friends. I'm appreciating the freedoms we enjoy in America. I'm letting my mind dwell on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. (Phil. 4:8)

And I'm thanking God for this time to love.











Monday, May 18, 2020

Mother's Day

To all the mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-to-be, aunts, mentors, and special women in our lives, Happy Mother’s Day.
To all the husbands and fathers, daughters and sons, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law, children, step-children, and grandchildren who make this day special…Thank you!
If this were a perfect world, I’d be sitting at a table in my favorite restaurant, spending Mother’s Day surrounded by all my children and grandchildren. My husband would be there, and, ideally, I’d have my own mother there, too.
But this is not a perfect world. So I Skyped with my out-of-town loved ones, and my in-town children delivered a gourmet meal to my doorstep---because Covid-19 eliminated any possibility of sharing a restaurant meal.
My husband bought me a beautiful orchid for Mother’s Day, even though I’m not the mother of his son, and he’s not the father of my boys.
I won’t be sharing a meal with my mother until I get to heaven because she died a long time ago…long before my sons were even teenagers….long before she had a chance to hear me say, “Mama, now I see why you worried about us so much.”
And since I can’t call my own mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, I called my mother-in-law. Except she’s not my mother-in-law anymore since I’m no longer married to her son. So now I call her my mother-in-love, because I still love her, because she’s a wonderful person, a role model and a spiritual mentor.
It’s not a perfect world.
But if we let go of our vision of “ideal,” we’ll see how God, in His goodness, takes the shards of our broken lives and reworks them into a beautiful mosaic that reflects His glory.
Like stained glass, our stained lives have a resemblance to the life we imagined, but in an imperfect, fragmented sort of way.
Life doesn’t usually turn out the way we planned. But God is a God of second chances. And third chances. And sometimes seventy times seven chances.
Are you experiencing a Mother’s day that looks nothing like what you imagined? Open your eyes to see what God might be doing with the broken pieces of your life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

When You're Anxious about the Future



 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  Matthew 6:26-28 (ESV)

I felt my heart rate accelerate. My jaw clenched. My muscles tightened. My body and mind were suddenly on alert: Stressful situation approaching!

My husband and I were discussing our finances in view of the sudden upheaval in the world's economy. I'd tried to ignore graphs of the stock market jumping up and down like a kid on a trampoline. But as my husband and I talked, my heart rate was bouncing up, too.

The world is in a crisis unlike any I've experienced. We don't know what the future holds. What if we make the wrong decision?

If I let my imagination run wild, I could envision us in a Depression Era scene, empty bowls in hand, shuffling in line to get our daily ration at a soup kitchen.

Then I had to take a deep breath and remember where our hope is anchored. It's not in our bank accounts, our jobs, or the economy. Our hope is in God ... the very same God who's provided for us through past upheavals, recessions, and natural disasters.



In Matthew Chapter 6 we read Jesus's wonderful illustration of how God cares for the lilies and the birds. It's important to note this comes right after Jesus says not to lay up treasures on earth and that we can't serve both God and money. Jesus tells us to focus on the important things; God will provide for our needs.


31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.





After those lovely, reassuring words about taking care of the lilies and the birds, Jesus says this:

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34 (ESV)

Each day has enough trouble of its own” That’s a discouraging statement.  I looked it up in the Greek, and it sounded even worse. Trouble is “kakia,” which is also translated “evil,” “malice,” or “wickedness.”  So much for my vision of lilies blooming and birds singing.

But then, life isn’t always birds and flowers, is it? Many people are now in the middle of painful, desperate situations. But we don’t need to compound our difficulties by worrying about tomorrow.

The Living Bible paraphrases the words of Jesus this way:

“So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time. “Matthew 6:34 (TLB)

God will give believers the strength to endure whatever comes our way today. Live one day at a time.

One of my heroes of faith is Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian whose family hid Jews in their home during WWII. She and her family were eventually arrested, and Corrie and her sister were sent to a concentration camp. Corrie survived and wrote of her experience in a book called The Hiding Place. In the book, she recounts an incident from her childhood when she was afraid that her father would die.

“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. "Corrie," he began gently, "when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?"
I sniffed a few times, considering this.
"Why, just before we get on the train."
"Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need-just in time.” Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

It's been years since I read the book, but I’ve never forgotten that story. When tomorrow comes, God will give us grace for tomorrow’s trials, but not before.

In the meantime, we make the best decisions with the information we have today, but we don’t fret. We can take our nervous energy and redirect it into positive things, like seeking God and doing our part to advance His kingdom.

Writing that letter. Making that phone call. Saying those kind words. Helping where we can. Being faithful to do the work God’s given us.

What about you? Instead of worrying about tomorrow, what can you do today to draw closer to God?
Look at your sphere of influence. What can you do today to make a difference?

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I know God’s in control. And I know I have today.




Thursday, March 26, 2020

Prayer Makes a Difference





“Therefore, confess you sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NIV)

I’m getting tired of looking at that image. You know the one.  Usually it’s a gray sphere, with little burgundy colored spikes sticking out all around it. It looks like one of those rubbery, squishy "stress balls" that we squeeze to relieve stress. But this one is bound to cause stress rather than relieve it, and it's the last thing you’d want in your hand.

It’s public enemy number 1, the novel covid-19 corona virus. How could something that resembles a flower be so deadly?
Image result for covid-19

I’ve joined the rest of the world on an emotional roller coaster. I’m trying to be levelheaded, to get current information, and to make decisions based on available facts. My hopes will rise, and I’ll think: It won’t be that bad. It’s not any worse than the flu. But moments later I’ll hear the latest statistics or predictions, and my faith will plummet. If I allow my thoughts to dwell on the crisis, my stomach begins doing somersaults.

Like most other citizens of the world, I’m looking for ways to prevent the spread of the virus. So I’m doing the hand-washing/social distancing/ staying at home thing. But despite all the precautions, it’s hard to fight an invisible enemy, and I know so many things are beyond my control.

But I know I can pray.

And I don’t view prayer as a last resort, but as a first line of defense.

No, God doesn’t take orders from me or give me everything I ask for. But the Bible is very specific: when we are suffering, God tells us to pray.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:13-16 (NKJV)

We may know people who are sick right now. Do we believe our prayers can bring them comfort? Hasten their recovery? Bring them back from the brink of death?

We need to pray.

And we need to confess our trespasses to one another. In other words, if we’ve offended someone, we need to ask forgiveness. God calls us to come to him with humble, penitent, pure hearts, recognizing our need for him.

I’d be lying if I said that everyone I’ve prayed for has been healed on this earth. There are people for whom I’ve prayed fervently, yet God still took them home. God, in his infinite wisdom, always does what’s best.

And we know that if Jesus doesn’t come back first, we’ll all have a close encounter with the Grim Reaper. (Morbid thought, I know.)

But I know that in the past God has extended a person’s life in answer to prayer. He did that with Hezekiah. Hezekiah was dying, and he prayed, and God allowed him to live another 15 years.  ( You can read his story in II Kings 20.) Prayer made a difference.

 I can recall a time when prayer made a difference for me.

Years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. Stage three meant that cancerous cells were found in the lymph nodes, ready to spread to other organs. Yet when the surgeon removed 30-some lymph nodes along with the cancerous tumor, all the lymph nodes were clear. Successful pre-surgery chemotherapy and radiation? Maybe.  Coincidence? Luck? I don’t think so. The elders of the church prayed for me before the surgery. Friends and family prayed for me. I prayed. And God heard.

 And since God has allowed me to live a little longer on this earth, I'm going to use my time to declare the wonderful things he's done. 

“I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the Lord.” Psalm 118:17 (NKJV)



James wants us to know that God responds to our prayers.

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” James 5:17-18 (NKJV)

Prayer changes things.

It changes me. It aligns my desires to his desires, my will to his will. It provides a peace that is beyond anything I could produce on my own. 

Next time I see a picture of that squishy ball on the TV or computer screen, I’m going to remind myself that prayer is the ultimate stress reliever. It is powerful and effective because it connects us with our all-powerful God who is still on his throne and still in control. And I'm going to pray.

Because prayer makes a difference.


Here’s a link to Jaci Velasquez singing “I Get on my Knees.”





Sunday, December 2, 2018

When You Feel Like You Don't Belong

 Sometimes we need to be reminded of our true identity. The Bible tells us that as Christians we are adopted into God's forever family.



“In love He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves." Ephesians 1:5

One September day, we got this text:

“We said yes!”

My son and daughter-in-law had been unable to have children of their own, and so they decided to adopt a child from the foster care system. After months of evaluations and classes, they finally got the call. A baby was available for adoption. Would they like to meet her?

Before the meeting, my son told his wife, “We don’t have to decide today. We can go home and talk about it.”

As it turns out, it was the child’s first birthday when my son and daughter-in-law met her. They sent a picture of a tiny girl with wide, questioning brown eyes and a brow furrowed with concern. Another picture showed her glancing sideways in suspicion, as if to say, “Who are these people and why am I here?” A third photo showed her snuggled comfortably in my son’s arms, asleep.









For the happy couple, it was love at first sight. They didn’t need to deliberate. They said “yes” to adoption, and in May the following year, this sweet little girl officially, legally became part of the family.
Though she shares no genetic material with her parents, she is their daughter, possessing the same rights and privileges as any biological child would have. Her parents’ commitment to love and care for their daughter does not hinge on her behavior. Her position is secure.



The beauty of adoption lies in the choice.

Ephesians says that we are God’s adopted children. In accordance with His will, He chose us.  It gave Him pleasure to adopt us. We are part of the family, and He freely gives us His love.

If we ever feel unloved, unwanted, inferior or insecure, consider this: God said “yes” to us. Yes, He loves us. Yes, He wants us. Yes, we are highly privileged because we belong to His forever family. And yes, He’s keeping us.

And that fearful little baby that captured the hearts of her adoptive parents? She is growing into a happy, confident girl who knows she’s loved.

We can be like that. Happy. Confident. Growing. Loved. Adopted as sons and daughters and recipients of His glorious grace.

When you feel like you don't belong, remember, you've been ADOPTED into God's forever family.