Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Be Persistent And Persevere

"Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful."  James 5:11

We are so easily swayed to give up these days.  I mean people as a whole.  We try something new, we try a new skill or try to form a new habit, and if it doesn't go well for us quickly, we drop it and move on to something else.  Think of all the New Year's resolutions that come along and get dropped before the first month of the year is even past.  We start a new diet and it lasts a few weeks before we just can't take it anymore and we cheat.  We start a new Bible reading schedule, and we keep at it until we have a busy day and we skip it that once- only that one time becomes days and then weeks and then months... We decide to lend a hand with a different ministry at church or some other organization and that lasts as long as their schedule works with ours.   The minute something changes with a schedule, we move on, claiming that we just don't have time.

Why are we so quick to dismiss the things that are good for us or will build us up?  I even think of learning a new skill or hobby.  How many people decide they'd like to learn to do something new, get partway and then discover that learning this new skill is difficult?  I decided to learn to knit a few years ago. It was tough for me to focus on counting and winding this yarn, so I decided it wasn't for me.  Then this winter Abigail wanted to learn, so I picked it back up again and found the ultimate satisfaction in completing a knitting project.  It's not so difficult with a little practice.  And yet, Abigail learned quickly, but decided it wasn't for her either- too much work for such a small little project.  I have a yard full of weeds and garden spaces with potential- if only I would get out there and get to work.  But I am so daunted by the enormity of the task before me that the idea of even beginning is not particularly welcoming. 

Job was the ultimate example that persistence pays off.   His life was completely in the dumps, but he persisted in loving God with all his heart.  He persisted in not blaming God for all the calamity that had befallen him.  The easy thing for him to do would have been to agree with those friends of his who just kept going on and on and on about how God was at fault.  He chose the hard road- the difficult one of choosing to not blame God and to disagree with the only companions he had.  persistence for Job was rewarded when God saw his heart and dedication, and God blessed him abundantly for it.

Last week I had an area that I needed to be persistent in.  It's so small and minute, but it really spoke to me at the time.  I've been filling in with the drum playing at church, which is going well, I just need more practice.  But one area of improvement that I didn't anticipate needing was in regards to my muscles.  By the time I was finished with two church services, my legs felt like Jell-o.  I had sore muscles that evening and into the next day, and I quickly determined that I needed to do something about it.  The last time I recall feeling these particular muscles so sore was years ago when I had begun a step aerobics workout.  I determined that I needed to start a step aerobic workout and get these muscles back into shape.  The kids and I cleaned up the basement, and the day I chose to begin my workout, I sat there with my DVD, DVD player, TV and step, and could not get the DVD to work.  The player is so basic, it doesn't have any buttons on it other than "play" and "stop", and the remote has vanished, so I could not choose anything on the menu to play.  I almost gave up.  There I was, ready to begin, and there just was no way to begin.  I was ready to just give up before I even began.

Oh, I had options.  I could have moved the whole set-up to another TV/DVD in the house, but neither location really appealed, as furniture would need to be moved around.  As I sat there wondering what else I could do to work these muscles, I realized that all I needed was a remote control.  So I ran to the store, bought a remote, and about one hour after I'd intended to do my workout, everything was a go, and I did my workout.  Perseverance that day felt really, really good.  I really felt like I'd accomplished something, and I did not let the devil ruin my good intentions of improving myself for the benefit of my church family.  I stuck with it, I did what needed to be done, and I did my workout a few times last week.  As soon as I'm done here I'm off to do it again.

Paul persevered, and at the end of his life, he could be confident in saying so.  Let's fight the good fight too!  While we may not be a grand apostle touring the world and saving thousands of souls for Jesus, it's just as important for us to learn to persevere in our everyday.  Sometimes that may just mean getting all the laundry done for a change, or getting the dishes done in a timely manner.  Every step counts, and when we can learn to stick with the small stuff, we'll have an easier time learning to stick with the big stuff.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."  2 Timothy 4:7

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Musings: Calming The Storm

"On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm."  Mark 4:35-39

Today is one of those posts where I simply share some thoughts that are rolling around in my mind.  They've been in there for a few days now, placed in there by the events of the past week in the south.  There's been such a crazy tornado outbreak in the US this year, that it just has me thinking if the church is really missing an opportunity to do something about it. And I'm not exactly talking about disaster response, but about the response before the disaster.  When those storm forecasts start rolling in, do we, as a church have a greater responsibility to try and control the storms that are on their way?

There is a melding of thoughts here today, because as I've been thinking about this, I've also been thinking about the Native American people.  Last year, when we studied the individual people groups for school, my eyes were opened to a lot of truths about many Native Americans- mainly that many of them really believed in God, they just didn't know what to call Him.  Native American tribes would spend entire days dancing and singing to "The Creator" and asking for provision and protection.  Those rain dances we hear about?  Many were done to ask for rain- they would dance for days on end, with a desire for rain on their hearts.  Sometimes it was the opposite- it was a dance to ask for the rains to stop.   But then our European settlers started moving in, and saw these rituals and simply assumed they were evil.  We told Native Americans that their ways were wrong, and they needed to start going to our organized churches and stop their evil ways.

Were those ways so evil?  I think the Native Americans were behaving like Jesus without even realizing it. 

Jesus himself calmed the storm.  The disciples were fearing for their lives, and Jesus stepped in and calmed the storm in an instant.   I can't help but think that if we, the church, took what we see in our very Bibles and applied it to the circumstances today, that we could make a huge difference.  I've been watching the footage of the dozens of tornadoes and all the damage.  So many people have lost everything- including loved ones, and my heart is so full of sorrow for those people.  Something seems to have shifted in the atmosphere, making tornadoes so much more likely these days- what if we are missing a huge opportunity to be a blessing to our very country?  What if we took the lesson that we see from Jesus and applied it to today?

Even better, what if we combined it with the spirituality of the Native Americans?  Think about this.  We have amazing technology with weather forecasting today.  We can know a day in advance that severe storms are rolling into an area.  Think about teams of people gathering together in advance of the storm.  They get together and start worshiping the Lord, praising Him and dancing to him for hours on end- preparing the atmosphere around them to do the will of God.  And then as the storms start to roll in, their hearts are prepared with love for the Father and for the people around them, and as the tornado warnings start going off, these teams of people speak to the storm and calm it- Just As Jesus Did.

It's not impossible.  Jesus did it, and not only did Jesus tell us that we can do what he did, but that we will do greater.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father."  John 14:12

I think about the flooding of the Mississippi river and all those people displaced who have lost everything under water.  The flooding isn't that much different than a series of tornado-producing storms.  We know about it in advance- or at least somewhat in advance.  Jesus gave us the very tools we need to do something about all these disasters going on around us- we just need to learn how to use those tools.   The church is so good about coming together to aid those in need after a disaster- I just think it's time for the church to wake up and see if they can do something to prevent a disaster.  Think about the possibilities there.  As the tornado sirens go off, instead of hiding away in fear and terror- we come together in love and worship and prevent destruction from touching those around us.

Things to think on today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To Each Their Own, Sort Of

"For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."  Romans 12:4-7

I love reading passages like this one in the Bible, because it's such a good reminder to me that each one of us is unique and different because God made us that way.  Sometimes it's really easy to look at someone and wish we had their talents or abilities, without realizing that we already have abilities that could be put to use. In particular, I love the list of giftings in these verses, because it puts prophesying and teaching on the same playing field as serving and giving.  It shows that each and every task is important, and God gives people different abilities so that all the tasks can be seen to.

Sure, one may look at the Sunday School teachers or the Worship Leader and wish they had their abilities, but let's say the drummer on the worship team really wished they could lead worship.  Maybe they could, but then there would be no drummer, and a worship team just isn't a worship team without a drummer.  ;)  The person who takes out the garbage and cleans the bathrooms may look at the Audio-Visual Crew and think that working there would be more glamorous.  But then the garbage would be overflowing, the bathrooms would need cleaning, and no one wants to attend a church that is filthy.  

Each piece of the puzzle is unique and wonderful- and no two pieces are alike.  Oh sure, most people actually do have more than one gifting- some just tend be stronger than others, and different gifts may be needed at different times.  For me personally, in the past I've had to use my gifting for organization to help sort through a rather large and daunting mess to make life easier for another person.  In my current season though, that organization isn't really needed, so instead my gift of service is being put to great use to keep our church neat, clean, and welcoming to guests.

Something else I love about these verses?  It mentions giving as a gift.  Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day for people.  A single mom who really wants to help out, but can't because she has to carefully balance work and kids can help out by picking up extra school supplies for the Sunday School classes.  She can bring a plate of cookies to an event, and while she can't stick around and help clean up- giving those cookies to the cause is just as important as planning or cleaning up.  Sometimes the only thing we can do to help out for a season is to grab our checkbook and fill in the blank spaces to help cover a need.  Giving is a very important gifting and we all need to utilize it more, I think.

The point is, no matter what our gift is, we need to use it.  And we also need to recognize that sometimes God puts us in a place to use a gifting that may not be our best one- but even then, we need to use it to the best of our abilities to glorify Him.  Sometimes that's easier said than done, I know.  But just because I'm in a time of doing something a little less glamorous, doesn't mean that I am any less important than someone who does do something really cool.  Each and every task within the church is important- and that makes each and every person important as well.  No one is beneath another- we are all called to do our very best with whatever abilities we have at the moment.  It's time that we stop comparing ourselves to one another and just do it.  Just do what God has called us to do, and do it with all our heart.  That's the way God made us to be.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Being Neighborly

“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up."  Romans 15:2

Have you ever had a neighbor who you really didn't get along with?  There are few things in life worse than that, to be honest, because there is one particular trait about a neighbor that you can't do anything about.  They're always there!  And you know, when you move into a new place, usually you have no idea who your new neighbors even are.  I was just thinking about our neighbors yesterday as Andy was out chatting it up with the guys.  I was thinking about how God really put us in the ideal neighborhood.  Almost.  The only thing missing, really, is a few nice kids right next door.  But other than that, our neighbors are perfect for us.  Andy is such a social person, that he loves to spend time chatting it up with all the neighbors, and they all are the exact same way.  And yet, I am not a chatty person, I prefer quiet and enjoying time outside either by myself or just with my kids- and my neighbors respect that completely.  I love that.

But we have not always had great neighbors.  Those not so great neighbors were often a great source of anger and frustration to me.  I recall one neighbor in particular (who I believe I blogged about here at the time) who would just gall me to no end.  I was one of the happiest people alive when they finally moved out.   It wasn't until later on, when I thought about the months that we'd endured these horrible neighbors that I realized what a big fat failure I was in being Jesus to them.  I wasn't even nice to them- I would see them outside and immediately herd the kids into the house, or we would purposely leave- go to the park or something so we wouldn't have to play with the kids.  I was so focused on how THEY affected ME, that I never stopped to think about how I affected THEM.   I failed with those neighbors- and yet it was a learning moment for me, because I could clearly see afterwards how I could have done better.

This verse in Romans really says it all. 

“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up."  

When we are kind and good and go beyond for our neighbors, we may be the only light these people are witness to from day to day.  Oh, they may know that we're "the Christians" of the neighborhood- but do we show it?  And by showing it, I don't mean by preaching to them every chance we get.  I mean simply being an example.  Sometimes that example is simply hopping in the car to go to church.  When a neighbor sees us going to church three times a week, and they don't go at all, that can be convicting for them.  I know Andy has had more than one conversation with someone along the lines of "you know, we really should start thinking about going to church"  and all Andy can do is smile at them and offer little tidbits of encouragement. 

There are other ways to be a good example though.  Simply smiling and saying hi in this day and age can be huge- but what about the other things?  Offering to mow a neighbors lawn while they're on vacation.  Seeing  a neighbor struggling with a piece of heavy furniture and simply offering to help them with it.  Sharing tools, plants and cups of sugar can also be telling- people just don't do that much anymore.  And those little things can amount to so much more when the time comes for the big things. We are not neighborly for ourselves- it's not about us- we are neighborly so that should the time come where our neighbors are feeling the need for Jesus, we will be there, ready and waiting to help them find that way.  We build them up so that they know they have someone to turn to in a time of need.  We are not neighborly for ourselves- we are neighborly because Jesus wants us to be neighborly, and through our willingness to display neighborliness, maybe God will do a great work that will make an eternal difference to our neighbors.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Pause

"I slept but my heart was awake.
   Listen! My beloved is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
   my dove, my flawless one.
My head is drenched with dew,
   my hair with the dampness of the night.”
3 I have taken off my robe—
   must I put it on again?
I have washed my feet—
   must I soil them again?
4 My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening;
   my heart began to pound for him.
5 I arose to open for my beloved,
   and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with flowing myrrh,
   on the handles of the bolt.
6 I opened for my beloved,
   but my beloved had left; he was gone.
   My heart sank at his departure."  Song of Solomon 5:2-6

My readings took me through Song of Solomon this week.  Song of Solomon and the book of Job always make me think of Shakespeare, and I have no doubt that he studied these two books of the Bible heavily.  They have the same feel and rhythm of many of his plays, and since I love reading Shakespeare, reading these particular books of the Bible never feels like a chore.  The more I spend time in that book of the Bible, the more I see that it really isn't so much about romantic love between a man and his life, but of an intense love that should be shared between Jesus and His Bride.  These particular verses are the cautionary tale- the words of warning to be heeded by the bride.   Because look what she is doing.

She is lying in bed at night- asleep, but not totally asleep. One of those sleeps where she is resting, but really, a part of her is alert, waiting for a nighttime visitor- I think it's like the sleep of a mother, the sleep that is restful, but always on guard for one of her children to cry out for her.   And then, the sounds of her beloved outside the door wake her fully.  The only problem?  She needs to cross the room to open the door to him and let him in.  It was there that she paused, and ultimately failed.  She paused for superficial reasons.  She hesitated, because she was already abed, if she rose, she would need to put her robe back on to cover her. If she rose and crossed the floor, her clean feet might get dirty again.  It also says that when she rose and reached for the door, her hands were flowing with myrrh... so she must have paused even longer to prepare herself, to douse herself with perfume, perhaps pat her hair back into place. 

She took too long.  Her beloved was knocking, and while she was primping, he gave up and left.  After all that, she opened the door to no one.

What do we do when Jesus is knocking?  Will we be like Peter, James, John and Andrew, and will we immediately drop what we're doing to follow Him?

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.  21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."  Matthew 4:19-22

Or we will we take our example from the Shulammite woman and pause.  Will we come up with excuses why we can't just yet?  Oh, I know, I've been there.  Those moments in a church service where it gets intense, and people are pressing in for more, and then I let myself get distracted by a child (who is really content at the moment and doesn't need a thing) or I'll have to dash to the ladies room.  Those moments where there is a guest speaker, and he calls all those who want more of God to come to the altar, and instead of going forward, you rationalize that it's quite late, and you should really be getting the kids home and to bed.   The Shulammite had perfectly valid excuses, but so could have the disciples.

Don't you think?  Peter and Andrew could have easily said something like "Just a minute Jesus, let us haul  in this load first"  Or something like " Sure, we could come over and see what you have to say when our work day is done".  But they didn't!  They dropped their nets right then and there and followed.

Our Shulammite finally opened the door, and it was too late.  Her beloved was gone, and her heart sank.  Her heart sank, and an opportunity was missed to draw closer to her beloved.   Let's heed the warning from this love story- let us not get caught up in the things of this world, in the ideas of the flesh, and when Jesus comes calling, let us just say yes, and open the door to Him fully.  Let us drop our nets and follow, and see where He wants to take us.  Just a moment's of hesitation can be a moment too many.  The more we spend time in our Bibles, and in our quiet time, and in our church services learning more about Him, the closer our hearts should be to being able to just drop everything to follow Him. 

May we not pause when He knocks.  May we be ready in season and out of season, and may our hearts be prepared for the days to come.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

God's Plans

"But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
   will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
   I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”

 10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land."  Jonah 2:9-10

The story of Jonah is one that almost everyone is familiar with- very familiar with.  We all shake our head in dismay when we read again of Jonah running in the other direction from God, and then we all laugh a bit when he suddenly finds himself in the last place he wanted to be- courtesy of a large fish.

It's not near so funny when we find ourselves in the exact same position.  

For a good year now, my Pastor has been after me to give a shot to playing the drums during our worship services.  It may actually be longer than that, now that I think of it.  I've often thought about spending some time playing around on the drums to see if I can even play them in the style that our church prefers... I play the extra percussion normally.  I play congas and bongos and tambourine and a cabasa on rare occasions.  But playing the full out drums has not been my desire.  At all.  So over the last year, while I thought about practicing, I never actually did.  I would literally just think about doing so, and running through it in my mind I would think that I really can't play like our drummers do.  Literally, about a month ago, I finally just decided that I was not the person they were looking for.  The problem was that a few of our drummers were getting exceedingly busy, and there were just going to be services where there was no drummer.

So a month ago, in my head, I had it all planned out that some time I was going to pull either Pastor or our worship leader aside and just let them know that I really didn't think that I was going to be able to play the drums, and move on, because it was stressing me out.  Every time I went to church I would be lightly panicking on the inside that no drummers would show up, and I would be told to jump on. (For the record, yes, I've played drums in the past, I just prefer percussion.)  So there I was, this mindset that the whole issue was over for me, and then Mother's Day Sunday came along.  It was a nice day, I was in a good mood, and I was looking forward to worship that morning.  And then our drummer didn't show up, and we went from one slow worshipful song to another, and then I started arguing with God.  If we were going to do any kind of upbeat music that morning, I was the only one who could make that happen.  I started sweating just thinking about it, and I literally argued with myself and God because I knew that if I did it once, that was it, I was in like flynn, and that was not where I wanted to be.

And we all see what happened with Jonah, that God simply did not take no for an answer.  I have no doubt that Jonah had all the great excuses as to why he went the other way.  I had my own long list of excuses as well, except that when God wants you to do something, He tends to make it happen, regardless of your reasons for why not. 

And I watched myself tell the worship leader that I could jump on the drums, and just like that, there I was.  Seriously, the last place I wanted to be, and there I was!  And with God's great sense of humor, I've pretty much been there ever since. After that one time Sunday morning,  I thought, okay, got it out, and now it won't be a big deal, and now no drummers have been there twice, and guess what that means for me?

But you know what I've noticed... that slightly panicky feeling I've been having for months?  Gone.  Completely gone.  I don't need to panic that I'm going to be thrown on the drums and mess it all up.  While I may not be as talented as others, I can get the job done, and I know that now.  And while the whole big thing is a great mystery to me, for some reason, that's where God wants me to be able to be.  And I'm certainly not going to be able to continue doing it without Him.  Drumming is exhausting for one, and two, I have a lot of work to do to get to the caliber that is acceptable in my mind.   I find it amusing to think that one month ago I was at the stubborn point of "nope, not going to do it" to literally being thrown into the fire. 

When Jonah ended up where he didn't want to be, a whole city was saved from being wiped off the map.  A whole city repented for their evil ways, and while I certainly don't think that my playing the drums will have that profound effect, it certainly does have me curious as to what lies ahead.  God has His reasons, and in His timing, they will be revealed.  But until then, I can be obedient and be exactly where He wants me to be.  It baffles me, but I can be there none the less. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Warfare Wednesday

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” Hebrews 6:10

God is not unjust.  What a great way to start the day, thinking on that thought! When I read this verse, I instantly think about our country, and how historically we have always been a refuge for those who need it.   I pray this morning that we stay that way.  As the lawmakers spend time working on issues with immigration, I pray that the right decisions would be made, that we would always be able to show love to those who need it- from anywhere in the world! America has always been a symbol for freedom and justice, and I pray that we stay that way.

In addition to being known for freedom, America has also long been known as a friend of Israel- and I definitely pray that we stay that way as well.  I pray that our current president will realize just how important Israel is to the world, and that we will stand beside her through thick and thin.  That's one of the things the verse above is speaking about- God will remember the country who remains beside Israel, and our country sure could use some remembering.

I also want to continue to pray for the Deep South this morning.  We spent time praying for the tornado ravage parts of the south before, but today I want to pray for those along the Mississippi river who are facing severe flooding.  That river has had many names- including the Great River and Big River by Native American tribes.  When I think on the name Great River, I am reminded of The One who is truly Great- One who is "superior in quality", and I just know that what we see with our natural eyes is a sign of the things to come from God above.  While the Great River is overflowing and flooding our lands, God wants to overflow upon this country and flood us with His goodness and His mercies.  I pray this morning that He does just that- that He will have mercy upon those who live near the Mississippi, and that He will flood the hearts of this country- instead of our lands.

And finally, I continue to pray this morning for President Obama and his family.  I pray this morning that God would continue to protect them from any harm, and that He would flood them with Godly wisdom and love.  I pray that God would bless them for their service to this country, and that they would know that He truly loves them and appreciates their sacrifice for this nation. May God Bless President Obama, and may He bless the United States of America.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Power Of The Tongue

"My heart is overflowing with a good theme;
         I recite my composition concerning the King;
         My tongue
is the pen of a ready writer."  Psalm 45:1

I love books.  I really and truly love books.  I love simply wandering the aisles at the library or the book store- surrounded by shelf after shelf of tomes full of written words.  I love reading them and getting lost in a story, and I love turning to them when I need facts or information... I love books.  I've often thought about trying my hand at writing one- I have dozens of half-plots and characters floating around in my head.  But you know, the wonderful thing about a book to me is that you can read it, and then after time has passed, you can read it again.  Writing the words onto the pages of a book is a way to keep them and preserve them.  Even in today's day and age, when you make an audio recording, there is always a chance that those words could be accidentally erased- with a written record, there is little chance of that.

This verse struck a chord with me yesterday though- and it still bears a bit of mystery this morning as I read it again.  "My tongue IS the pen of a ready writer".  That makes me smile, and wraps me up with a warm fuzzy feeling, until I really read it and realize that it is speaking of the power of the tongue- the power of the words that our mouths make and give voice to.  The tongue is a pen... a pen writes down words that can literally last for generations- how can a tongue do that?  How can a spoken word do that?

Oh, it certainly can.  Every time I think about the power of the spoken word, and think about watching what I see, I clearly think about this house that we almost moved into a while ago.  It was a big old farmhouse- it would have been fun to try and fill all the rooms- but something about it didn't feel quite right to us.  As we were being shown the house, and walked up the stairs, the owner kind of laughed and told us she was about to show us "the orphanage".  There were so many bedrooms on the second floor, that they'd always called it that. Indeed, it was a little reminiscent of the idea of an orphanage, room after room in a row.  Later on though, she told us how the house came to be available for renting- the woman who had been living there died in a car crash, leaving her two young boys without a mom.  At the time I just thought it was a horrible thing to hear.  It wasn't until months later that I was driving past that house again, casually thinking about it when I thought about those two events- and I instantly began thanking God for the unsettled feelings He gave us about that house.   These people have called the bedrooms in their house an orphanage for years, and when their words became truth, they didn't see that perhaps they should stop calling it such.

When you use your tongue to criticize someone, those words last a really long time.  In fact, those words to me seem to last so much longer than words of praise or encouragement.  Over the last two weeks I've stepped up and dipped my toe into doing something unexpected at church, and while I spend time beating myself up over my less-than-perfect activity, the words of praise that come from so many have really gone a long way in building up my confidence.  While there is a part of me that would love some constructive criticism if it's there to be had, I am very grateful that no one has actually brought anything up.  Instead I can think on the kind words of others and it gives me a little boost of confidence to keep forging this new path.

The thing is, those words of encouragement are nothing if they are not spoken in the first place.  Think about that- we are not all mind readers, we can't walk around thinking thoughts to one another.  We physically have to use our tongue to speak them to give them power.  Oh, I like getting a written word as well- sometimes a little note will give me such a boost- but it's that personal spoken word to my face that is oh-so-powerful.

Think about that the next time you go to God to pray about something.  Unlike us humans, God CAN read our thoughts, and he certainly answers those prayers that we keep quietly to ourselves, but when we give voice to those prayers- when we open up our mouths and petition Him with our voice, than He really pays attention.

I know this is not the first time that I have mentioned the power of our words- the thing is, it's so easily forgotten!  One minute we're thinking about how we're going to watch carefully what we say, and then just like that we're calling someone an idiot because they did something dumb.  It's so important to try to be vigilant and watch our words.  Studies have been done on schoolchildren who have been praised over and over for their efforts- those students, though they may not be the brightest, consistently do better on tests because they simply think they can after all the praise they've received.

Not only do we need to watch our words towards other people, but we also need to remember that our tongue is powerful and can bring great honor and praise to God.  I like to think that when I'm doing housework and I'm singing along to some great praise music that I'm multitasking- that as I'm getting some physical work done, I am also spending time praising God for all His wondrous works and for all that He has done.  That's a great power of the tongue to have- simply praising God for everything that He is and everything that He's done. 

The tongue is indeed sharper than a two-edged sword.  The question is, how will we use that tongue to pierce the darkness? How will we use our tongue to encourage and edify?  The next time you feel some unsavory words bubbling to the surface, think first before you speak.  Think about how you can use your words in a positive way instead.  It could really make a world of difference to someone- or maybe even yourself.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Digging Back In

"Your word I have hidden in my heart,
         That I might not sin against You."  Psalm 119:11

I've taken far too many breaks here as of late.  Oh, I have perfectly valid reasons each and every time, and this last one was really so that I could take the time to focus on what we needed to get done with our last few weeks of school this year.  But other than the times where I take a break because I'm sick or on vacation, the fact of the matter is that usually when a little break comes up, it's because I'm not in the right frame of mind.  And that was the case this time, and I wanted to share that and be honest, because it does happen to everybody.  The reason I have not been in the right frame of mind?  I set my map aside.

It's been a busy number of weeks- quite busy in fact, and as day after day passed by, and I kept myself moving from task to task, there was one very important thing that always seemed to be the first thing to slip away- and that is reading from my Bible.  I know everyone knows how that goes- you have just a minute or two to sit and grab a bite to eat, and you think, hey, maybe I'll get a bit of Bible reading in, but then you also think that you really only have a minute or two, so you might as well just flip through the paper, and then you can take the time later to give the Bible a little better chunk of time.  And then the chunk of time never arrives.  This goes on day after day, and before you know it, the only time you're opening your Bible is at a church service.  And that's exactly how the last several weeks have been.  I was aware of it too- it wasn't like I was forgetting that I wasn't reading my Bible, I knew it- and I was feeling guilty. So then, I was almost avoiding it, because I didn't want to open up my Bible and be scolded. Sigh.

And then I had a dream last week, and upon waking, I knew exactly what it meant.   In my dream, my family was in the car, and we were going on a vacation.  I have no idea where, but we were all excited to get to our destination, only we were having problems with the map we had. It wasn't correct- the roads printed on the map were not the roads we were driving on, and the whole thing was pretty much useless.  If only we had the correct map, we could get to our awesome vacation destination with our family.

Day after day, I was setting my "map" aside.  The best guidebook we have in life is our Bible, and I was setting it aside for other activities.  Activities that will not benefit my family as great as that time in The Word will.  When I think about that dream and think about how there was a vacation- a fun and great time- at the other end of the trip, it really makes me feel bad that I've let my Bible reading slide.  Because honestly, I've felt like our family has really been on the cusp of something, like there's something new and exciting coming up for us, but maybe I've delayed that something new because I didn't have the correct map open.

Admittedly, after probably several months where I didn't have any real significant dreams going on, in the last week, they've been almost rapid fire, and most of them I have no idea what they mean.  I think that's also because my Bible time has slipped, because with the Bible time slipping, any quiet time slips as well.  The quiet time I take at the end of the day doesn't happen either because I'm embarrassed that I haven't done my reading... it's a vicious cycle, and I'm happy to say that I am sharing all this today because today is the day that it is over.   I can't grow in God if I'm not following HIS directions for my life.  I can't help my children to grow in God if I'm not spending that time in my Bible finding out exactly how it is I'm to raise them.  With God's help, I can do anything, but I need to be spending time reading His directions in order to find the help I need.

So it's a new day, with new promise, and I thought at the end today, I would share where my Bible reading has already taken me today.  Wisdom is a great thing.

"My son, if you receive my words,
      And treasure my commands within you,
       2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
       3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
       4 If you seek her as silver,
      And search for her as
for hidden treasures;
       5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
      And find the knowledge of God."  Proverbs 2:1-5

Happy Monday everyone!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The National Day of Prayer

I have a busy, busy couple of days ahead of me as we have VIP's coming for a visit... So I'm taking a few days blogging break.  But when I looked at the calendar today, I realized that I couldn't just pass today up completely, as it is the National Day of Prayer.  I find it interesting that this year, it coincides with Cinco De Mayo.  May all those people who gather for their celebrations take time to pray for our country as well.

Rather than sort-of repeat myself, since we've talked about/prayed for this country twice this week, I'll just direct my readers to the Presidential Prayer Team website if you want to find something specific to pray about.  All day long they are also having a prayer wall/chat, so you can pray with a group of people if you so desire.

Please take the time to pray for the United States of America.  More than ever, our country needs our prayers, and where two or more are gathered, God hears. If the whole nation will take time to pray today, God will hear, and we will find ourselves facing a glorious future as children of God, in a blessed nation in blessed times.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Warfare Wednesday

“If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Heal our land. 

I think that sometimes, we put ourselves into a little bubble where we are, and we just spend time being thankful that we are not where disaster currently is.  You know, we hear about a disaster and we give it our thoughts for a day or two, and then we move on, happy that we are not where they are.  But the fact is, the people who live in the Southern part of the US right now are hurting- and hurting badly.  They've truly lost everything- their homes are in splinters, and spread across three counties.  They are sifting through rubble, looking for anything they can salvage as a memento.   This devastation doesn't just go away over a couple of days.  These people are maybe living in shelters, trying to figure out what to do next, and for those who aren't in a shelter, things are cold and rainy and damp and miserable- and no one should have to live like that.

This morning I read that the twister-ravaged south is facing a new danger, as the Mississippi River is at flood stage- how many more people could be out of their homes and needing help?

As I sit up here in the north (where it looks like we are about to experience a lovely, sunny day), I can't help but think about how much I wish I could help someone in the south.  How much I would love to walk over and help someone look for treasure among their ruins, or take them a hot meal, and invite them to share our home for a while.  I remember thinking that about Hurricane Katrina- I even went so far as to put an add online that if any evacuees could get north to Wisconsin, they could stay in our home for a while while they figured out what was next. 

The fact is, physically, there's nothing I can do, beyond making a financial donation, and maybe as time passes, I can donate material goods to those who have literally lost everything.  But what I can do, is what every believer in America should be doing in these rough days.  I can bend my knee and pour out my heart, and my tears, to God for those precious people who are in need.  I can ask for mercy for our country, and I can pray that He would hear our prayers and would shower His love on those who truly need it in these days ahead.

I can humble myself and pray for this country that is experiencing all kinds of weather oddities.  From the infamous "tornado alley" literally shifting to the east, to the horrendous drought and wildfires just a little bit to the west of them.  I can pray for the swollen rivers and the parched ground- why is it that parts of our country have too much water, and other parts have too little?  God is the only one who can bring things into balance.  God is the only one who controls the weather and perhaps if enough of us would spend time in prayer, interceding for our nation, He would show mercy and favor.  Even here in the north part of the country- we're having an exceptionally cool spring.  The weather we are experiencing right now is literally two months late- and the farmers are getting nervous, as it's still too cool to be putting crops in the ground.  May God have mercy on our country and heal our broken land!

I would be remiss this morning if I did not give some attention to the original purpose behind Warfare Wednesday- to pray for President Obama.  This week, and these days, he needs our prayers more than ever, as he gave executive orders this week that are now coming under scrutiny.  May God bless him for his diligence, and may God make Himself very, very real to President Obama in the days ahead.  May the president see that the actions of this week were directed by God- and that justice has been served by the Lord God Almighty, and not by the United States of America.  Most importantly, may God throw his angel's arms around President Obama and his family and protect them from any and all harm that may try to come their way.   May He bless them for their service to this country, and may they know that the God in Heaven loves them so much.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Reaching Out To The Needy

"She extends her hand to the poor,
      Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy."  Proverbs 31:20

I had a wonderful conversation with a friend this past weekend that has been on my mind ever since.  We were talking about how we (the church as a whole) give to the needy and try to take care of those in need.  It really was a remarkable conversation, that as we talked, it made such amazing sense to me, and I'm wondering what to do with it.

We were discussing how, as consumers and people, we take the things that we don't need or want anymore, and we donate them, because perhaps there is someone needy who could use them.  Our used and unwanted stuff.  Just think about that for a second... there is a big point here to make.  Think about those bath towels that are ragged around the edges- have a hole or two, and maybe they simply are not fluffy and cozy anymore.  We could throw them out, we won't be using them, but instead we think that maybe we'll bless a shelter by donating them there. 

Really?  We're blessing someone with our unwanted garbage?

Now, I get this, I really do.  As consumers we throw away too much stuff, and when we pass something on there's a chance someone else will get good use out of it.  I have plenty of secondhand things that I've found great use for- curtains, dish wares, clothing, etc.

But when we're following scriptural instructions and showing love to those who are truly in need, why is it that they get the things we don't want anyway?

When the food drive boys show up at the door, why is it that we quickly fill that little plastic bag with things from the back of the pantry?   We grab all those cans and jars and bottles of things that we bought months ago, that we don't really want anymore- maybe some of those are expired even.  We don't give them the brand new stuff that we just bought the other day...why?

When we, the church, are showing love to those who really need it, we need to stop giving them our leftovers, and start giving them the very best.  That's how we show the love of God to them!  We can't say God loves you and then hand them a few cans of expired baked beans!  We need to hand them the fixings for a steak dinner- including the ice cream for dessert. 

This applies to all areas of giving to the needy.  It used to be, when we would walk out of a store, and there would be someone there collecting for an organization of any kind, I would rifle through my change and give the kids a few nickles and dimes to drop in the bucket.  Admittedly, I used to be the one to walk right past and not give anything, but my children convicted me of that one... so now, I open up my wallet and hand the kids each a dollar bill.  Every time.  (Unless, of course, I don't have any.)  My children get to see the example of giving- and maybe one of these days we'll increase that even more to larger bills, because God loves those people who need the money being donated, and He wants us to make our best efforts to help them out.  Think about how much change needs to be collected in order to buy a family of four a turkey dinner.  If we all just purposed to give even one dollar in those cases, it would add up so much more quickly.

God's love should equal the very best we can.  Our food pantries should be filled with name-brand top shelf food items.  When someone in need comes to us, with their hungry kids in arms, our first thought should absolutely not be one of... gee, what can my family do without... when those people come to us, our first thought should be to take them to the grocery store and fill a shopping cart or two for them.   Do they need soap?  Clothing?  Medicines?  Gas for their car?  Every step of the way, we should be giving them the very best that we can.

When I think about that Proverbs 31 woman, you know what when she raised her hand to help the needy, she did not give them the clothing that her servants had discarded.  She gave them the best she had- and sometimes, I wonder if that meant the very robe from her back.

God's love.  God's love is the best thing there is, and for some people, their first taste of the love of God is in a handout from God's people.  That handout should reflect the love that the Father has for them.  When we reach out our hands towards those in need, we should be loving them with everything we've got, because we are the reflection of God in their lives.  God loves those in need so much, that He brings them to us- to give us the opportunity to love on them.  So let's love them, and let's stop using the needy as our garbage and recycling center. 

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Brighter Day

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
      And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles;
       18 Lest the LORD see
it, and it displease Him,
      And He turn away His wrath from him."  Proverbs 24:17-18

There truly is something in the air this morning.  I can smell it, I can feel it.  I can feel it in my physical body, and I can feel it in my soul...something is stirring, and the winds of change are upon us.

Last night we stayed up a little later than usual, as we heard the news that global terrorist number one, Osama Bin Laden, was killed by American forces in Pakistan.  We watched the news, and president Obama's statements regarding the activities, and the whole time, I wondered what I was supposed to be feeling.  My mind thought back to the history that we've been so diligently studying,  and I thought about how the world must have felt upon hearing that Adolf Hitler was dead, and that led me to thinking that relief may very well be the word of the day.  Rejoicing in someone's death didn't feel right- no matter how evil the man was, he was still a man, and still eligible to accept Jesus into his life.   As I thought about both Hitler and Bin Laden, I also thought about how after Hitler died, the third reich literally crumbled without their figurehead, and I prayed to God that, for once, history would repeat itself.  I prayed that the terrorist regime of al qaida would crumble and cease to exist.

It IS a brighter day this morning. The threat for terrorism is certainly still there, but knowing that a certain bubble of evil has ceased to exist does make the day a bit brighter. And yet... there is a part of me, that every time I think on this matter, I wonder if Osama Bin Laden turned to Jesus at the very end- or did he take his belief in Allah to the grave with him?  We'll clearly never know.  Last night as the TV station showed footage of Bin Laden in various places, where I suppose we were to see an evil man, all I saw was a man who Jesus loved and died for. That confused me, because am I really supposed to feel compassion for a man who was responsible for the murder of thousands of my own countrymen and women?

And then this morning, as I read the headlines, and read a few of the stories, there was something that became abundantly clear to me.  For the first time in a very long time, I see a major event, and everyone is agreeing on something.  Our country has been so divided for years- the smallest news event causes the right side and the left side to start attacking each other- just last week it was over a silly birth certificate.  But this morning- even for just a short while, both sides have come together and are agreeing that this action was a very good thing.  I firmly believe that God uses all things for good, and perhaps this is the very thing that was needed to start our country on the path toward healing.  Maybe this is the very event that will rally our nation to truly stand united, under one God.

As we come together under our precious American flag together- both sides- and agree that this is a great victory for our country, maybe we can also come together for other purposes.  Maybe our eyes can turn to our ravaged south and we can come together to help these communities that have been destroyed by tornadoes.  Together we can make a difference and truly make a difference in the lives of people- not just here in our country, but around the world! 

It is a brighter day for our country, as we stand united.  Every few minutes I find something else to read, and I have tears in my eyes because it is so joyful to see the different sides of our country coming together on this one thing.  This one thing could be the beginning of something completely new and wonderful.

I pray that is the case.  I pray that God will bless America, and her allies, and I pray that God will send his legions of angels to protect our military men and women overseas who are at a heightened alert right now.  May their morale remain high, and may God protect them, and thwart the plans of the enemy.