Friday, March 16, 2012

Fixing The Focus

"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;"  Colossians 3:12

I am so easily distracted these days.  I tell you, I put a load of laundry in the washer first thing in the morning, with the idea that if I can keep at it, I can have all the laundry in the house washed, folded and put away in no time.  Then a day passes, and the washer is still holding that first load. Sigh. I could certainly blame it on this beautiful, beautiful early spring that God is blessing us with.  Wow! The sunshine, the warmth, the new beginnings right before our eyes are such a balm for the weary soul after a rough winter.

But the fact remains that I've been too easily distracted as of late.  My resolve one minute is literally gone the very next as something else comes up and gets in the way.  I've been really distracted lately by trying to figure out why people think the way they think.  Many months ago I read online about how Christians were getting in a tizzy because other Christians think it's important to have Christian people in the political arena, in Hollywood, in our schools teaching, running businesses, and so on.  Christians were upset by this thought?  Why on earth would it be a terrible thing to have good Christian men and women in the White House?  Why on earth is it a terrible thing to desire Christian people in Hollywood to make wholesome family entertainment?  I honestly, and truly do not get it.  And yet in my thought life I keep coming back to these thoughts because they make so little sense to me.

Christians out there are accusing Christians of horrible things right now, and all I can think about when I think of that is that a house divided cannot stand.

"But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand."  Matthew 12:25

I cannot understand why Christians have decided to attack their brothers and sisters in Christ, accusing each other of awful things.  I've watched as Godly people get caught up in these arguments and debates, and in the end, no good comes out of it, because both sides are certain they are correct, and everyone walks away with an even bigger distaste in their mouth for the other people.  It's abhorrent, to tell the truth.  To attack one another over trivial bits of doctrine and theology.  Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior?  Yes. Then that's good enough for me.  Everything else is semantics.

The thing is though, that while our good Christian brothers and sisters are arguing and fighting each other until they're blue in the face (because neither side is budging) other things are happening around them.  Scary things, things that we don't read about in our local paper because they are done in secret.  Muslim brotherhoods are moving into the remote regions of our country to build their mosques and appear as a peace loving alternative to Christianity.  Jesus IS peace!  And yet we are not displaying peace in the least because we're so busy attacking one another and breaking our focus- which should be fixed solely on HIM. The devil is taking advantage of this.  He's exploiting this divisiveness in the church with relish.  He's wringing his hands with glee as he watches our fighting and then when we're not looking, sends something into our very neighborhood that we won't be able to anything about once we finally realize it's there.  

What happened to kindness and meekness?  What has happened to make normal, rational Christians into the rabid, unkind people they've become?  Why do they turn on one another with such hatred instead of embracing one another and appreciating what they DO have in common- the love of a God who would send His son to be our Savior. 

And so while I am so caught up in these thought processes, my focus is also broken.  While I stay far, far away from these tainted dialogues between various members of the church, it's something that's clearly in my thought processes.  Yet, there's nothing I can obviously do about something that's clearly becoming a worldwide problem for the church.  So I just think on it, and I get frustrated with people in general.  In the meantime, the kids and I have been studying some amazing cultures and people and I am simply aghast that us as Christians can be so caught up in these trivial petty matters while there are people around the world who are really and truly suffering.

I don't get it.  And I don't want to get it.  

What I want is to have these thoughts out of my head.  I want to stop focusing so much on what other people think and believe and simply think on thoughts that God has for ME.  That's what this broken focus is affecting.  I read something really awesome in my Bible, and instead of just being joyful that God shared that with me, my thoughts are ones of criticism- why don't other people see this?  I think it's high time that we as believers stop reading our Bibles and thinking that what God reveals to us is meant for everyone.  I truly believe that sometimes God will open our eyes to something in the Bible that He means for only us at that moment.  I will read a passage a hundred times, and it isn't until the 101st time that something new leaps off the page- some new revelation or understanding. That's perfectly normal!  And in fact, it can be scientifically proven that it's a normal occurrence.  

The brain processes thoughts in different ways in every stage of our lives.  So a verse that we read when we're eight years old has a completely different meaning that a verse we read as a teenager, as a young adult, or as an elderly woman who has lived her life fully.   There's a reason our Bible is called a Living Word- because it actually IS!

I would pray today that this season of broken focus would be put snugly in the past, to never return.  God has things to say to us, things to share with us, and He can't do it if we're not focused on Him.  He won't do it if we're not focused on Him.  I would pray that He would help not only myself, but my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to check our focus and hold it where it should be.  Smack dab in the center of His Will. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Unexpected Benefits

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."  Romans 8:28

One of the things that we've been earnestly talking to God about over the past several months has been money.  Not so much prayers of asking FOR money, but prayers for wisdom in dealing with the money that comes into our household.  And then prayers for actually acting on that wisdom.  Every winter it seems we find ourselves, at one time or another, in a pickle about something with money.  Some winters it's minor and less important, some winters it's pretty major.  This winter has been absolutely horrendous, as we were caught off guard with such an early lay-off.  We weren't prepared in the least, and other issues came to light, and it's been a very, very long four months. 

Andy is finally back to work, and as the income begins to flow again, I have been praying daily that God would help us to stretch what is coming.  It would be so, so easy to take these first few paychecks, pay some on the many back-bills, but then fritter much of it away.  How easy would it be to take the family out for dinner, or go on a small spending spree, buying a few clothing items that we've been needing or splurging on higher priced grocery items.  The fact is though, that for a while anyway, every penny that comes in is going to be required to go elsewhere.  Our livelihood depends on it- if bills are not paid, bad things happen. 

I know that God's got our backs on this.  We've got the knowledge on how to get through the next few months of catching up, but what we need is the application of that knowledge.  And that's what I've been praying on an awful lot.  I've been asking the Holy Spirit to get ready to stop us from doing anything dumb.  I think He's at the ready, and we'll get through these next few months, and all will be well.

But what I wanted to talk about today is really some of the benefits we've discovered during these four months of lay-off time, because it goes along with wisdom and finances.  There have been unintended consequences of being broker than broke for a few months.  We've learned to do without A LOT of things, and many of those, we'll not go back to.  One such example is that Andy has re-discovered car maintenance and repair abilities.  Once upon a time, we couldn't afford a mechanic to take care of our vehicles, and Andy did the majority of it himself. Well, as time went on and his income increased, the mechanic became more involved in our lives.  Every oil change went to the mechanic.  Every stray sound went to the mechanic.  Andy literally forgot that he knew how to do this stuff himself.  Well, guess what he's rediscovered?  He does know about cars.  He can do an oil change himself, easily and way cheaper than any mechanic could do.  He can do the research and replace parts in the vehicles as well.  Had we not been to a point where this stuff HAD to be done, when we had no money to do so, I doubt he would have rediscovered that he even could. 

Naturally, I always discover benefits in the kitchen when Andy is laid off.  We get cravings for various dishes, and I learn how to make them cheaply and deliciously.   When he's not working, one of my number one items that I make consistently is homemade bread.  But last week I ran out of time on a day that I needed a loaf of bread to go with a soup supper.  On the way to dance we stopped at a pricey bread shop and picked up a loaf of their bread.  It was good, don't get me wrong.  But every single one of us thought about how much better my bread tasted.  My homemade bread, that I've perfected and can prepare with my eyes closed was so much better than this expensive artisan loaf from the bread shop.

Through this time of lay-off, God has been showing us little ways that we can save money all year round, not just when Andy is laid off and not working.  This is huge, because I've really been feeling a need to do more to feed the hungry.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, this can be difficult to do, because you need money to feed the hungry.  Well, by changing our own oil in vehicles, Andy is probably saving about $300 a year.  Not much in the grand scheme of things, but in other countries, that $300 can go far.  We can feed an entire orphanage in Kenya for a couple of weeks with that money.   By making my own bread instead of buying it, I am easily saving hundreds of dollars a year, more than enough to sponsor a child living in the slums of India, or living in a tent city in Haiti.

Too many years, Andy goes back to work and we go right back to normal.  The cars go in for maintenance, the grocery trips adjust.  Not this time.  I believe that God has been showing us where to adjust for reasons beyond saving money.  He's showing us where we can trim so that we can begin giving more in the areas that are on our hearts.

And the examples of car maintenance and baking bread are only a small part of the things that God has been showing us.  They're just two of the things that immediately spring to mind when I think of what He's been teaching us.  They're also reminders- that God will use anything and everything for HIS good. 

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Blessed Are The Hungry

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled."  Matthew 5:6

 "for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’" Matthew 25:42-45

It's been a while, my friends! I have to admit, February was a very, long hard month for me.  And yet, time was certainly fleeting!  Every time I even thought about sitting down and blogging, something clamored for my attention.  Hopefully I can work on getting back on track here, because I have so much to tell about, so much to share, and so many things on my mind.  Today I wanted to talk about something that seems to be everywhere I look these days.  Hunger.

And I literally mean everywhere! Abigail and I have been studying the life of Mother Theresa, and her compassion and care for those in poverty was beyond incredible.  In addition to that, Zander and I have begun studying the life of George Muller, who also served the less fortunate in a mighty way.  I've been posting in and discussing threads about food pantries and food banks on various forums as of late.  Last night's sermon at church dove a bit into the subject of hunger, and we even sang the song Hungry during worship, now that I think about it. Different TV shows I watch have called attention to world hunger, and even the fiction book that I'm currently reading has a whole storyline devoted to hunger.  It's on my mind. A lot.

Andy went back to work this week after a long lay-off period.  It is only by the grace of God that we've made it through, (more on that another day, I promise!), and yet, while our meals may not have always been spectacular, one thing I can absolutely say is that we have never been hungry.  Not like so many. 

At Christmas time there was an image floating around the internet that showed a starving African child on one side, and an angry Christmas shopping mob on the other side, and asked the viewer to define necessity.  It has stuck with me ever since I saw it, because my heart breaks SO MUCH for those who are hungry.  I know I've posted about this a dozen times before, but I just feel like it's an essential time to try and do something, anything.  I don't know what, but God must have it before me for a reason!

I've often had ideas about the ideal way to stock a food pantry or I've had ideas about teaching basic cooking to moms who truly don't know how.  Lately those ideas have shifted to the thought of sponsoring a child through Compassion International, or making donations to Heifer International.  The thing is, the ironic thing is, that all those things take finances.  Something we don't have!  Andy's back to work, yes, but it's going to be a few months before we even have anything that can be called extra income, as we have much catching up to do. So why on earth would God put these things before me that I can't do anything about?  

Maybe it's to try and help me find the faith that He will provide.  As I begin the planning and the planting for the garden, I have such grand plans this year.  Every year I think about how wonderful it would be to have extra and be able to share it with those who need it.  Maybe this will be the year that the abundance from the garden actually happens!  And, oh, I so want to be able to help those who need help!  I want to be able to give money to people when they say they are going to be working in orphanages.  I want to be able to sow into various organizations that actually feed the hungry.  I want to look into what it would take to make a big pot of chili or stew and take it to one of the homeless shelters in the area.  

I don't think that God places these desires on my heart for nothing.  So for now, what I choose to do is pray about it.  And maybe He'll show me ways to start small.  Maybe He'll show me something extra to put in my grocery cart that will really bless someone.  Maybe He'll show me a particular region or area in the world that I should pray for.   I have no idea.  But what I do know is that there are way too many people in this world suffering from hunger.  That should not be, and we as a church should begin to do something about it.  Government has tried to help.  Here in our own country there are programs that can help those who need it, such as the food stamp program.  But it's not enough, and since Jesus actually told the church to take care of the hungry, I believe it should be our job to do so, not the government's job.

Feed the hungry.  We can start small, maybe in our own backyard.  And we can pray.  It may not be much, but it's a start.

"For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness."  Psalm 107:9