No “Justs”

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 NIV

 

Outside my door, a cacophony of voices arose from the first floor of the hotel atrium. Seven hundred women excitedly conversed, practiced speeches, pitched proposals, and met one another. Encouragement rang out amidst the conversations. This was a godly Writer’s conference.

Upstairs, clad in heels and a suit, I sank onto my hotel bed. In just a few minutes I would walk downstairs and have the chance of a lifetime: I would pitch my book to a publisher. My five-year-in-the-making, 85,000 word novel. My heart and soul poured out among the words and phrases. My long-term hopes and dreams hinged on the outcome of this weekend.

Before I descended those stairs, I needed to pray.

Closing my eyes, I opened my hands before me, giving God all.

Lord, You know the dream in my heart. But Lord, I want to serve and honor You. I only want to walk down the path You have prepared for me. If I’m on the wrong path, please guide my steps back to where I belong. If I am to continue, please guard my dream and show me how to accomplish it.

Thank You, that at the end of today, as well as at the end of my life, all the matters is that I did what You called me to do.”

Swallowing hard, I murmured the next words, “If I’m not called to write, if You are calling me to just serve You as a wife and a mother, I will be content. Thank you that no matter if I one day write batches of best-selling novels or never write another word, You could not love me more. I thank You that there is no hierarchy in service to You. Regardless the path You place me on, I am still Your dearly loved daughter, thank You!”

Brushing away a tear, I stood, peace flooding my being. I then confidently walked into an interview that would clearly define my writing dreams. I did not sell a book that day. I came home from that conference with something better: a sincere certainty that in God’s eyes, I can never be any more loved than I am today.

I don’t know what your hopes and dreams are. But one thing I pray you do know: no matter what you do or do not accomplish today, tomorrow, or this decade; God could not love you more than He does today. His love is unconditional. You do not need to earn your way into heaven; He’s already issued a personal, handwritten invitation.

You don’t need to ‘prove’ anything to Him.

You don’t need to demonstrate you are worthy of any credentials following your name.

He knew you before He created you. He knew your gifts, your hopes, and your dreams, because He gave them to you. He knew your weaknesses, which temptations would catch your eye, and how your heart would struggle. He knew it all.

He knows it all.

And, He still calls you His child.

There are no “justs” in our service to God. You are not ‘just’ a teacher, a construction worker, a student, or a trash collector. Whatever He has given you to do has great value to Him, because if you do it with all your heart, you are glorifying Him.

The knowledge that I served God today in even the little things warms my heart. But there’s even more- He rewards obedience. And the best reward ever is a closer relationship with Him.

Reflections:

Do I ever feel I’m “just”? Can I see my service to Him in the tasks He has given me for today? Read Romans 8:5

What dreams do I have that presently feel disconnected from my given tasks of today? Read Jeremiah 29:11

If I never achieve those dreams, do I realize that I could never be loved more than I am today? Read Romans 8:34-38

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank You for loving me so much, that You sent Your son to build that bridge that carries me back to You. I do not need to achieve any goal or prove any thing. I simply need to accept Your invitation. Thank You! Amen.

Thanks for reading! Please return by next Monday, September 21, for the next post.

Are You Aware, He Cares?

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26 NIV, emphasis mine

 

The little seed shuttered as it was pushed down deep into the earth.

It’s dark here.

It’s cold here.

It’s unknown and I’m all alone.

That little seed had little faith that anything good could come from this desperate hole in which he found himself.

What that seed did not know is that his Creator had already provided for his needs long before he came into existence.

When we read Genesis 1, we see the order of creation.

The first day: light.

The second: water, into clouds and oceans.

The third: dry ground.

Three days into creation God had created everything a small seed would need to not only survive, but to thrive.

Long before the seed was there, its needs were already provided.

What about us?

We need the light, the water, the land, the plants and animals for food. Reading Genesis 1, we see all those things were created before mankind.

God has a habit of providing for needs before the needs arise. He just often conceals that provision until our need is immediate and has captured our attention.

Why would a just and loving Father do that?

Because He loves us, and wants us to trust Him.

I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you are down in a dark, damp, desperate dungeon, helpless to escape on your own. I do know God sees you. He hears you. And, He loves you. He only allows you there, because with His proper care, He knows you will blossom and eventually bloom into something so much larger and brighter than you ever imagined.

He is aware of your every need; He’s already compiled the provision. Ask Him for it. Ask Him for peace and patience while you wait. He is waiting to deliver it into your hands.

Reflections:

Read Genesis 1. Note the order of creation. Note that when the complex creations were introduced, fulfillment of their needs was already in place.

Read Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Who are ‘us’?

How did God provide for our spiritual needs before He ever created us?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank You that You do indeed provide for our needs before we become aware of them. Not only our physical needs, but emotional and spiritual needs as well. Thank You that indeed, everything You have created is “good.” Please help me to remember that You have taken care of me, even before I cry out to You. Thank You! Amen.

 

Thanks for reading!  Please return by Monday, August 31, for the next post.

Lessons From Tipper, Part V

IMG_1596“Teach me your way Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.” Psalm 86:11 NIV

When we first brought Tipper home, she was a small, twenty-three pound, twelve-week-old puppy. As we all do, she came with some interesting quirks. One was a fear of concrete.

We brought her home and immediately carried her to the backyard to play in the grass. While we got acquainted, we also prepared a meal on the patio.

We noted right away that she loved to stay with us, (as in directly underfoot, earning her the short-lived nickname Tipper the Tripper) but refused to place one paw on the patio.

She also avoided contact with the concrete basement floor. Initially we needed to carry her across the floor to go outside. Once, in an attempt to attend an urgent (but false) alarm, she was left standing on the other side of the concrete from her favorite person.

She whimpered and then after several moments, ran pell-mell across that foreboding floor to the safety of the plush carpet, obviously happy to have reached the comfort of the soft fibers pushing between her paws.

Why was she so afraid of concrete?

While no one in our family is a dog psychologist, we have a few theories:

It was what she knew. Before she came to us, she was born and raised on a farm. There her paws experienced the pleasant giving of the soft earth under each step. Fresh air filled her nose and cooler temperatures delighted her. Not hot asphalt that can assault the senses with the smell of tar.

She had already learned to mistrust it. At the farm, she was taught to avoid the road – the only concrete around.

Do we avoid prayer as Tipper did concrete?

 

If you didn’t grow up in a home where prayers were a two-way communication with a loving, heavenly Father, it can be hard to imagine that it exists, or is even safe.

When we’ve graduated from many schools of hard knocks, it can be easy to distrust anything except independence.

When we’ve been confronted with examples of prayer on several occasions, and then faced with an alarming situation, do we race through a short prayer in a desperate attempt to just make it to the other side of the scenario?

Psalm 86:11 tells us that we can call out to God and ask Him to teach of His faithfulness. We can ask for an undivided heart. A heart growing and trusting completely in Him. A heart that knows He is who He says He is.

Just as Tipper quickly learned concrete was not out to get her, regular prayer and reading of Scripture will reveal God has only His best for His beloved children.

Reflections:

What do I think of prayer? Why? What formed those ideas?

When I do pray, do I rush through requests and then get on with my day? Do I take time to listen?

Prayer:

Dear God, I want to know You, to truly learn You and learn of Your faithfulness firsthand. Please give me an undivided heart, one that is willing to trust You completely. Amen.

Simple Joy

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may

 overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

 

 

It was a simple, single word: “Hi!”

But it was so symbolic.

My neighbor, an Asian who spoke no English, had spoken that single word. After moving in several months prior. Our first meeting was a humorous event. His nephew and my daughter had played basketball. I walked over to introduce myself and to say a warm welcome. He stood silently while I greeted him and spoke a few moments. After my dialogue was over, he turned to his eight-year-old nephew with a question mark on his face.

The light began to dawn on me. I asked if he spoke English.

“No,” replied the boy.

“Please tell him I am her mother,” I gestured toward my daughter, “and I say ‘hello.’”

In a short staccato verbiage, my message was relayed. And then the gentleman looked me squarely in the eye and returned my wave and smiled.

I often saw him multiple times every week. When I did, I kept things simple. A simple wave of my hand and a single word, “Hi!” He would just smile.

This went on for several weeks, until last week when he astonished me with his own greeting of “hi!”

After returning his smile, I excitedly entered my home and rushed to tell my family that I finally had a response. They sweetly teased me about my marginal success of teaching just one word, but I was truly excited.

Does God get that excited when one of his children masters a simple task or truth? Imagine Him watching as we struggle to comprehend what some believe are simple things in the Christian walk and His great excitement and celebration when we do!

Every believer struggles with something. No one understands every verse in the Bible. Each one of us finds one sin or another a true temptation.

But, what joy we and God experience when we directly and continuously apply ourselves to the task.

I think the joy I experienced is nothing compared to the joy God experiences when we devote ourselves to learning a truth or choosing paths to lead us from temptation.

What happens once you have learned something new or experienced victory over a struggle?

You have great joy and a great hope for the future.

As Romans 15:13 tells us, when we follow after God, He will guide us with joy and peace and His Holy Spirit will lead us forward with hope.

One word.

Such joy! Such a sense of accomplishment.

And a great hope for what might be learned in the future.

Nothing you are trying to learn or accomplishment is too small or seemingly insignificant when you are trying to follow Him. Even “small accomplishments” are cause for great rejoicing.

Both in heaven, and here on earth!

Reflections:

Identify areas in your life that need some work.

Large or small, what are some simple steps you can take this week?

Prayer: Dear Lord, Thank You for Your great love for me. Part of Your call for me is to learn obedience. Please help me to focus my heart and mind on the simple steps I can take to draw closer to You. Remind me how You celebrate each success, no matter how “small.” Thank You for Your joy, peace and hope as we tackle each day together. Amen.

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, August 3, for the next post.

Advice For the Wisest Man, Part III

“’I’m about to go the way of all the earth,’ he said, ‘So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires of you.’” I Kings 2:2 NIV

 

We have spent the last two weeks contemplating the advice King David, a man after God’s own heart, imparted to his son Solomon, the man who would be the wisest man in all history. This week we will conclude this study with an unpacking of his last command, to observe what the Lord your God requires of you.

What does God require of us? Why did David include that phrasing in his instructions to his son?

Here’s a quick cheat sheet, thanks to Dave Quinn of passionaustralia.org:

Fear God (Deep respect and reverence for Him.) Deuteronomy 10:12

Live in a way that pleases Him. Deuteronomy 10:12

Love Him. Deuteronomy 10:12

Serve Him with all your heart and soul. Deuteronomy 10:12

Always obey His commands and decrees. Deuteronomy 10:13

Act justly in all you do. Micah 6:8

Walk humbly with God. Micah 6:8

Seek and work for mercy. Micah 6:8

Love God with all of your heart. Luke 10:27

Love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

Set your mind on heavenly things. Colossians 3:1

Put off your old worldly nature. Colossians 3:5

Clothe yourself with your new heavenly nature. Colossians 3:12

Be Christ’s representative in this world. Colossians 3:17

Trust God with all of your heart. Proverbs 3:5

Lean on His wisdom and understanding. Proverbs 3:6

Stay strong in your faith. Hebrews 10:23

Encourage others to do good. Hebrews 10:24

Keep meeting with other believers. Hebrews 10:25

Encourage others as you wait for Christ’s return. Hebrews 10:25

Lead a quiet life. I Thessalonians 4:11

Mind your own business. I Thessalonians 4:12

Work and make your own living. I Thessalonians 4:12

Bring honor to Christ by the way you live. I Thessalonians 4:12

Enjoy your life and all of God’s blessings. Ecclesiastes 8:15

That’s quite a list! (And it is not exhaustive! And, some items have multiple references in the Bible. For our purposes today, only one reference was provided.)

King David knew from experience, it’s not about me. This life is not all about me hopes, my dreams, my desires. I am here to serve and love the Lord. He will bless me abundantly, but it’s not all about me. King David had a few hard-earned lessons in learning this truth. But obviously, he had learned it and wanted his son to know it right off. One of the toughest parts of parenting is watching your child make the same mistakes. David knew he would not get to see those mistakes, but wanted to spare his son the pain of not following God, and any subsequent consequences.

In the weeks to come, we’ll explore this list in greater detail. I also ask you, what would you add to the list? Why? Please share with us as we study and learn together.

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, July 27, for the next post.

Advice For The Wisest Man, Part I

“Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.” I Kings 2:3b

 

As a father, what’s the most important advice you could give your son?

Imagine you are the king passing advice to your son, who will become the next king. What advice might you give then?

We are privileged to be privy to the advice King David gave his son, soon-to-be-king, Solomon.

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” (King David) he said, “So be strong, act like a man and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as well as the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.” I Kings 2:2-3 NIV

Of all the tricks of the trade of trade David could have imparted.  Of all the political how-to’s of dealing with foreign nations, unhappy armies, and jealous wives; David instructed his son in what he considered the single key to multiple areas of success: “Be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires.”

Be Strong

Physical strength was revered in King David’s culture just as it is today worldwide.  A King needed strength to lead his army into war every spring. A King needed strength to manage all the details of caring for his country.  He needed mental strength for clarity and presence of mind when facing important decisions. And, his people wanted a King they could admire as a strong man, fit to do whatever it took to rule the nation and win the hearts of the people.

He also needed spiritual strength. He needed to serve and honor God personally to set the example of His Kingdom serving and honoring God corporately. He needed to know God’s laws and what God commanded and required of His people.  And, he needed to put that knowledge into daily practice.

King David and his son Solomon would have known the command “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NIV

In David’s advice to his son, the King who would be the wisest King ever “be strong,” meant a fortified mental attitude fueled by faith that God was always at his side in addition to an admirable physical strength he already possessed.

Even centuries ago, the physical was acknowledged, but life and living were realized to not end there.  To navigate daily life, King Solomon would also need a rock-solid faith.

Reflections:

What strengths do I possess?

What strengths do I need to develop in order to honor God with my daily deeds?

How might I exercise those qualities so that I might strengthen them?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the recording on the wisdom David was passing down to his son.  Might I read Your word and search for Your wisdom to apply in my daily life. Amen.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, July 13, for Part II of this post.

Expotential Growth

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

 

Returning home from a college visit with our daughter, I reflected on just who this young lady is. Creative, intelligent, thoughtful, and spiritual all immediately come to mind.

The day of her birth and many memories of ‘firsts’ flooded my thoughts: first steps, first art class, first dance class, first day of school, and first solo drive.

Before me today is a sweet, mature, hilariously funny, and very gifted young woman. I look at her and so appreciate God’s grace and goodness. I am so proud of who she is and am so excited to see what God has for her future.

Her time living at home with us will come to an end in just two short years.  Yet I stand amazed at all she has learned and how she has grown in all ways over her time with us.

Does God experience that same pleasure when He looks at me?

Keeping in mind my many faults and shortcomings, does He count my progress and smile adoringly?

When at the end of my life on earth, will He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Will He look back over my life finding consistent growth in faith and character development?

Will He be able to identify major “first” milestones that became everyday practice: surrendering my day to His plans, trusting Him with the most heart-wrenching of scenarios, and making it a practice to try to live a godly life?

Will He be proud of both my efforts to do what’s right and to faithfully turn to Him as I grew in faith?

Will He excitedly welcome me into heaven, watching to see my reaction to the eternity He has planned for me?

I sincerely hope so! Just as a child’s time at home may seem like forever in certain moments, it really is fleeting – like our time on this earth. Our days here are numbered. What will God’s reaction to me be at the end of my earthly time?

Reflections:

Over my Christian walk, how has my faith grown?

What evidence of that growth can I identify?

How can I keep growing and draw closer to Him?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, May I daily grow more into the person You envisioned when You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Please provide the faith and qualities I need to grow into that person.  Thank You for always providing what I need.  Thank You for always loving me, even through all my faults.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, June 22, 2015 for the next post.

Lessons From Tipper, Part II

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him and protect him, for he acknowledges my name.” Psalm 91:14 NIV

 

Bright sunshine highlighting brilliant blue skies. Birds singing a jubilant chorus. The fresh scent of dew hanging in the air. At nine in the morning, tranquility was mine to be had in the neighborhood. Perfect for weeding and planting my flowerbeds.

Removing a volunteer bush I drug it down to the curb.  I saw the city truck approaching.  Good!  I had all my weeds and large dead bushes to the curb in time.  I returned to my mulch and listened to the silence from the backyard.  Our little Rottweiler puppy must be snoozing.  I smiled as I envisioned where she would be: directly under my husband’s chair.

A voice captured my attention.  The city worker had come into the yard to talk to me about my bushes.  Apparently I needn’t cut them into small pieces. Yay! Now I knew less work was needed in the future.

As he stood in my yard his glance fell down the hill where I turned and saw our little Tipper come running.  According to my husband, she had been fast asleep but when she heard an unfamiliar voice in the side yard, she roused herself quickly and came running, planting herself directly between that unknown man and her human mama.

After I reassured Tipper he was okay, she allowed him to pat her and was as sweet as could be.

But until I spoke to her, she had been on her guard.

Tipper is a Rottweiler.  That breed is known for aggressiveness and for guarding.  In the two weeks she has lived with us, she has proven herself protective over our three girls, and over my husband and me.  I was simply amazed she would rouse herself from sleep just to check on me, the person who has probably worked with her the least.

Yet she identifies me as part of her clan. (And I feed her!)

She would not allow anything to happen to me.

Our heavenly Father is even more protective of His children. He loves us, and promises to protect us. He watches where we go and what we do, and even what others are doing to us.

Even when we think no one else sees.

And when some big obstacle comes into our path?  He promises to rescue us. Even when we are in a scary situation, before there is a chance to say, “O Lord, help me!”

He is already there.

He has already placed Himself between that big scary situation and us.

We may not immediately see Him, or sense Him, but He is there.

Verse fifteen of that same Psalm reads, “He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”

God will never leave us nor forsake us. He is always there in celebration and in times of trouble.  When we call on him, and not let fear take hold, He will answer. He will deliver us.

That deliverance may not look as you or I might have authored, but He does promise to deliver and deliver He will.

He is our Great Protector!

Reflections:

When facing something unknown and even frightening, do I look for God in the situation?

What promises do Psalm 91:14-15 contain? How can I claim them for my life?

Thank you for reading! Please return by Monday, June 8 for the next post.

Altered to a T

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

 

A middle-aged husband asked his wife, “Do you know a good tailor?”

Puzzled, she responded, “I know one, what do you need?”

“Some of my pants need let out, they’re too snug.”

She tried to hide her telltale smile behind a hand as she responded, “they may not be able to be let out, since you never had them taken in.”

“Oh, well.  I guess I need to buy new pants then.”

Her smile widened, but for once she held her tongue. It was easy for her to see the humor in her husband’s attitude with his wardrobe. (The problem was the pants!)

He obviously didn’t consider the problem could lie in what he was putting into the pants.  That maybe a change in habits could render those pants wearable again.

How often do I assume the problem to my unanswered prayer is God?  That everything about my prayers going heavenward are just fine thank-you-very-much!  I assume the problem is God’s not hearing them, or He’s not responding appropriately.  Maybe, I just need something or someone else.

Often, my gut reaction isn’t to change what I’m doing, but to alter other factors of the equation to change the outcome.

How human to believe the problem is NOT found with me.

And yet, grace abounds.

God patiently loves us, woos us, and rights us.  He opens our eyes when we finally ask and refuses to point out all the past failures.

That tailor-seeking husband eventually saw a new solution: dust off his bike and exercise more. By the end of that summer, his pants did not have any problems.

Now if only personal attitudes could be so easily tailored!

Reflections:

How do I approach God?

How should I approach God?

What can I do to make my “shoulds” what I do?

Prayer:

Dear God, thank You for Your great patience with me.  Please open my eyes to the truth. Truth about my part on the equation of making prayer work. Please show me where to make changes. Please help me be open to changes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.U.S.H. Part II

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

 

I can’t believe I spent years in college for this,” the new nurse mumbled under her breath as she punched in her medication cart code for the seemingly thousandth time that shift.

Back in college, she had dreamt of educating patients, listening to family members with empathy, and taking those precious moments to deliver a therapeutic touch to all she encountered.

Instead, she was pulling twelve-hour shifts in the ICU. Educating her comatose patients would not help. When family members did want to talk to her it seemed it was only to ask those impossibly hard questions.  And honestly, there were simply not enough minutes in a shift so she might deliver even one therapeutic touch.

Lord, I thought this is what You had for me, what Your plan for my life was.  I want to serve You, but I’m overwhelmed and discouraged.  I want to quit.”

 

“Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you who belong to Jesus Christ.”

 

That verse had haunted her for years now. She had continually prayed and pondered over it’s meaning. And she continued to pray over her job.

Then why is this so hard? The only way I’ll ever be able to smile coming into work is if God Himself twitches those mouth muscles.

 

Slowly, she paused her pen as vital signs dropped from her attention and God’s words suddenly burned in her mind. The answer would come to her months later, as she spent hours of her shift monitoring man-made machines instead of directly helping human bodies and human hearts heal.

Maybe the reason I should be thankful for this job is because to do it, I must rely on God. The only way I can get through my shift with a smile on my face is by trusting God to place a servant attitude in my spirit.

 

And maybe, just maybe, that’s one reason God called me here.  To learn to lean on Him.

 

Later that year, she was assigned a student nurse who spoke of all the aspirations she herself had once possessed.  And she realized just how God was indeed leading her to teach, to listen, and to offer a therapeutic touch of the body and the soul.

She was relying on Him, and He was keeping a smile on her face even as she encountered death and debilitating disease on a daily basis.  Patients, family members and co-workers alike often asked the source of her strength.  The answer was easy for her to explain: God.

She now knew she was indeed living her calling.  Because through her prayerful work, she was drawing ever nearer to Him. Thankfully, she had not given up too soon, that she had kept praying until something happened.

Reflections:

What difficult circumstance makes an attitude of thankfulness challenging for me?

How has God used past challenges for good?

What is you prayer history and results?

Prayer: Abba Father, how dearly You love each of Your children.  You have only the best for each of us.  Sometimes, You must stretch and grow us, pruning the dead areas and stimulating the small shoots.  In the midst of a challenge, probably a place I’d rather not be, please remind me that I’m right where You can grow me.  Please help me to recall Your promise in Romans 8:28.  That You will indeed use it all for my good. Amen.

Thanks for reading! Please return by Monday, April 27, for the next post.