Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prisoner of Love

When I think of Jesus’s physical birth and how God could have arranged the birth anywhere and in any setting, it speaks of “humility” right off the bat. God purposely chose such humble beginnings (a young, poor couple as parents and a dirty, stinky stable for the location) as the opening scene in the greatest love story ever told. Fast-forward to the final scene of Jesus’ natural life and you see Him being treated as the worst of criminals. He was spat upon, beaten and flogged beyond recognition, yet He was completely innocent. Jesus was a prisoner of love, by His choice, and He even chose to forgive every single person who mistreated Him.

Corrie Ten Boom was a prisoner of love, too. She was an amazing Christian woman who survived extreme brutality in a German concentration camp. Corrie and her family were arrested after having rescued many Jews from certain death during the Nazi Holocaust. I have seen a quote by her twice in the past few days: "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you." It led me to revisit her book, The Hiding Place, and an excerpt that revealed how God miraculously changed her hardened heart. You may have heard this specific story, too, about when she spoke at a church service in Munich and was confronted by a former guard from Ravensbruck. As soon as she saw him, the memories of the horrible mistreatment came flooding back.

The guard approached Corrie, following her message about forgiveness, to thank her, adding, “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”

When he thrust his hand out to shake hers, Corrie kept her hand at her side. Even though she had preached so often about the need to forgive, angry thoughts coursed through her veins. Immediately, however, she saw the sin of her own unforgiveness and realized, “Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.”

As she took his hand an amazing thing happened. Beginning in her shoulder and running down her arm, a current of love seemed to pass from her to him. It was of such intensity that it almost overcame her.

Then Corrie wrote two amazing sentences: “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

This Christmas season, allow God to change your heart. Instead of being a prisoner to hatred and unforgiveness, allow God, through the power of Jesus Christ, to make you a prisoner of love. You can forgive those who have wronged you. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself. In exchange, you will receive the priceless gifts of peace, joy and love.

“If you forgive people their sins, your Father in heaven will forgive your sins also,” (Matthew 6:14).

In awe of His love,

Friday, December 9, 2011

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

One of my favorite Christmas songs is, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. I can be grouchy, tired, hungry, whatever, and then that song comes on and suddenly I’m energized and happy. The lyrics and upbeat music remind me of everything good in this world. Images of cheerful visits with close friends and eating warm toasty marshmallows, or caroling out in the snow, can’t help but put a smile on my face.

There are some lyrics in that song that touch on the true meaning of Christmas, yet we usually skim over them: “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”. These words refer to Jesus’ glorious birth, more than 2,000 years ago.

Go back with me, for just a moment, to that night. Imagine you are one of several shepherds, sprawled out on the hillside in the dark with your sheep. You are softly chatting with each other in an attempt to stay awake and alert to a hungry wolf or a prowling thief. Suddenly, the sky changes and a “being” appears engulfed in a luminous glow. This radiant angel tells you not to be afraid, (yeah, right) and proceeds to give you a message. You are barely able to breathe, and dare not blink, suddenly extremely grateful for the other shepherds nearby. As the angel begins to speak it slowly dawns on you…this message is not bad news. Rather, it’s the extreme opposite; the fulfillment of prophecy spoken hundreds of years ago:

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,” (Luke 2: 10-12).

Still staring in awe-struck wonder at this angel before you, you struggle to comprehend his wonderful message that the long awaited Messiah is here. When, suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” (Luke 2:13-14).

No one knows how many a great company of the heavenly host is, but we can be sure it was a whole bunch. Battalion after battalion lit up the night sky; their shouts and acclamations of praise bounced off the hills and filled the valleys. If you could have moved your feet, you would have seen that you were surrounded by them.

Goosebumps continually rolled over your skin and the hair on the back of your neck seemed to stand at attention as you became immersed in their praises, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Moments later, with your head back and your jaw still hanging open, you witnessed the last angel disappear up into heaven as the sky become dark again. For a few seconds, no one moves or speaks. And then… everyone speaks at once, reliving and replaying the event over and over again. Without asking each other, it was agreed to head straight to Bethlehem so you could “see this thing the Lord had told you about” (Luke 2:15).

When you arrive in Bethlehem you find Mary and Joseph. You quickly look down, and behold… the baby lying in the manger… just as you were told.

You tell everyone you know, day after day, of this heavenly announcement, until gradually the story evolves into a yearly celebration. Even when you are elderly, your face still lights up when you relive the story…making that anniversary celebration truly the most wonderful time of the year!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16).

In His Love,

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Change of Gratitude

A year ago I was struggling with the upcoming holidays. My husband had recently lost his job and we had put the brakes on all unnecessary spending. Like many Americans who have gone through a similar situation, suddenly my focus was not on what I had, but what I didn’t have – extra money.

Also during this time the Lord was continually nudging me to go to Africa. As I’ve shared in previous columns, I did not immediately embrace that nudge. Why go to a land of poverty and willingly give up the comforts of home? But now that I’m officially part of that “been there, seen that” club, I can’t go back to my previous attitude of “going without”. When you live among people who don’t have many of the basics that we take for granted, it can’t help but change your perspective.

One afternoon, while in a village outside of Nyasoti on their market day, we visited what I referred to as an “outdoor Wal-Mart”. There was everything that the locals needed in one open area with shack-type stores connected all along the perimeter. I discovered how extremely frugal Kenyans were – nothing went to waste.

Actually, I was indoctrinated into that lifestyle the first evening we arrived in Kenya. We ate dinner at a nice restaurant and most of us ordered tilapia. (Little did I realize then that tilapia would be our dinner for the next 9 days.) I sat beside a local who spoke fluent English and shared fascinating stories about their way of life. I couldn’t help but notice how he skillfully dissected with his fingers, and consumed, an entire tilapia, eyes and all. To be honest, I found it to be both fascinating and nauseating.

Another female missionary witnessed it, too, and questioned him, “You eat the eyes, too?”

He broke up laughing, and said, “Yes. We waste nothing.” And then, (I knew it was coming) he encouraged us to do likewise. There were about seven of us at this table, and one by one (I was last) we became indoctrinated into the Kenyan way of life.

That was my first “taste” of being frugal in Africa. Another was at the outdoor Wal-Mart when I saw two vendors who sat by a fire, surrounded by plastic bowls and metal pans. When plastic bowls (the several gallon size that women carried on their head) got a hole in them, they were taken to one of these men and patched. It was the same for their metal pots and pans. Items were repaired or patched, but seldom thrown away.

Another time I learned of their extreme frugality was while walking through a village. Along the way there were huge aloe plants, taller than me. Americans sometimes use aloe plants to treat minor burns, but there they cut the plants down and let the huge stalks dry. Then, they painstakingly pull the thin strands apart, and entwine them together to create strong, thick ropes to tie up their oxen and donkeys. Amazing.

While thinking about Thanksgiving the other day, I couldn’t help but see an analogy between the Kenya lifestyle (for most of the people), and that of the New England Pilgrims (minus the cold). If you pause to think about it, our country has come a long way in a relatively short time. God’s hand has obviously been on it. Remember to give Him thanks, for He has richly blessed us.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank you, Veterans!

This week we celebrate a well-deserved holiday for those Americans who have served in the military, especially those who have fought in a war. According to Wikipedia, Veterans Day is: a federal holiday that is observed on November 11. It is also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world and falls on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.)

In 1954 America renamed the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. By doing so, it gave the holiday the added significance of honoring all veterans of all wars…as we should.

My husband, Chuck, fought in the Vietnam War and was stationed in Da Nang. When he enlisted he was trained to be a computer operator; however, the need for more protection on base became great and he was switched to guard duty, six nights a week. It was tough to stay awake during the night, so he found ways to entertain himself. One story that he tells has to do with a “pet” rat. While Chuck was eating his dinner on guard duty (cold Spam from a can) a rat took interest in the Spam, too. My husband was so bored (and lonesome) that he started feeding and talking to this rat. They stayed buddies for an hour or so, until shots rang out a little too close and his new friend skedaddled out of there.

My husband has shared another story, too, but not very often. This one is about the reaction back home in America upon their return from Vietnam. There was no fanfare to speak of, no parade, no one patting him on the back for a job well done; not that he was seeking that. He enlisted because he felt it was the right thing for him to do. Even though the Vietnam War was not popular, brave men and women were still needed to come forth.

I am glad to see that the negative reaction to our soldiers faded along with the Vietnam War. Whether we agree with being involved in a war or not, we should still show appreciation to those who are willing to risk their life so that the rest of us may enjoy our freedom. It is fitting and right that we have a day set aside to honor those who have served in the military. Actually, I think the spirit of Veterans Day should be in our heart every day of the year as we openly express our appreciation to the men and women who readily sacrifice so much.

Unlike other countries, Americans are not necessarily a particular people from a particular place; we are the melting pot of the world, representing all nationalities and allowing all religions. Americans are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. We are unique, in that way. If we want to continue to enjoy such freedom, it will mean even more brave men and women stepping forth.

Thank you, dear Veterans, for serving our country. May God richly bless each one of you, and may He continue to bless America.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace,” (Numbers 6:24-26).

In His Service,

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A New Beginning in Africa

While in Africa, our missionary group visited with several families in nearby villages. I was impressed with how neat and clean their simple, mud hut homes were. The people were very gracious, too; most insisted that we sit down and visit. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would think if they caught a glimpse of our American homes. Even the smallest, barest American home would be looked upon as a mansion to them. And what would the women, especially, think of our indoor plumbing? Absolute heaven, I’m sure.

Most homes had bare walls– there were no family pictures to speak of. One hut had an old calendar left up, obviously for the beautiful scenery. It was heartwarming to see a picture of Jesus on the wall in a few homes; and equally heartwarming to learn that many of the people we visited knew the Lord. But, as time went on during our stay in Kenya, it became painfully obvious that a lot of the people did not fully grasp Christianity. Many who claimed to be Christian (including pastors, police, and government officials), were heavily involved in corruption.

We were to experience that corruption firsthand. Our hopes of meeting and spending time with our sponsored children were dashed when we were told there was a court order against us to stay off the property. In the months prior to our arrival, the Kenyan pastor who was appointed to direct the school and orphanage we sponsored in Magunga, had been caught by our American board members embezzling funds and abusing the children. Because of his wealth, when our teams arrived he was able to pay off many in the community, including government officials, convincing them to ignore the proceedings against him, and to also stop us from being at the center.

The people of the village begged us to stay longer to help them fight “the system”. In many ways we were looked upon as their heroes, their hope; they did not want us to leave. They were afraid of the control that this one man had, and rightfully so. But, as guests in their country, there was only so much we could do. We prayed with them and encouraged them to be strong, to stand together and (peacefully) fight the corruption. We explained that we had to get back to America in a few days; although one American missionary did stay. Still, we were all disappointed and saddened for the oppression of these people.

Then, just a day or two before we were to leave, a breakthrough came. Several landowners in the Nyasoti area who had originally donated land for the children’s center were once again offering to do the same. But this time, our American director told them the school would be comprised of a board of directors from Nyasoti; never again would one man be allowed so much control.

Lessons had been learned all the way around. And amazingly, God has blessed the work of the labor of the hands in Nyasoti already. In the few short weeks since we were there, a temporary new school has already been built and approximately 200 children have signed up to attend.
And the name of this new school, which will offer protection, education, food and shelter to many precious children who are orphaned or whose families cannot afford public education, is appropriately named, New Beginnings.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).


Friday, September 16, 2011

Lessons Learned in Africa

It’s been a few weeks since my mission’s trip to Africa, and I am still processing all that I saw. I’ve been told it would be eye-opening, if not life-changing; it definitely was both.

As imagined, the needs were huge and overwhelming. America’s slums would be considered “the good end of town” for most parts of Kenya, the poverty was that extensive. There was no sanitation system which meant trash was everywhere. There were also no street lights or sidewalks. To save money, they used speed bumps instead of stop signs or traffic lights.

Some of the homes resembled our sheds or “lean-to’s”. We visited several widows, however, who lived in mud huts with thatched roofs. Many of these widows were raising young grandkid, due to their adult children being sick or having succumbed to Aids. When we inquired of their prayer needs they would often request prayer for the childrens' illness, usually malaria. For themselves, their prayers were more for their vision and their joints. Their bodies ached all over. Was it simple arthritis, or something worse – who knew? There was no money for doctors or medicine, regardless. And very few Kenyans wore glasses; too much of a luxury when food was a constant daily struggle.

We stayed at a gated compound on the edge of Lake Victoria. Our last day there about six of us missionaries went to visit more local widows and give them gifts. These were not gifts of flowers and candy; rather these were practical gifts of soap, flour, matches, sugar, salt and oil. An interpreter really wasn’t needed to relay the heartfelt appreciation of some as they dropped to the floor and repeated, “God bless you, God bless you,” in their native Swahili or Luo tongue.

As we felt led, each missionary took a turn praying for a widow and their family before exiting their home. At the last home I sensed I should pray, but the lump in my throat wouldn’t let me talk. All I could do was stare at the meager supplies we had brought…and desperately wish it had been more. To say I was convicted and humbled wouldn’t begin to cover the myriad emotions welling up inside me – emotions that I had struggled with for days. On all levels I was exhausted: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And knowing we would be leaving the next day only made matters worse. I was certain that if I tried to speak, a flood would gush forth.

During the entire trip, the one question that I kept repeating to God was, “Why? Why does most of the world live in such poverty? Why was America so blessed?” And on a personal level, “Why did You call me here?” It was my first mission’s trip and first time out of the country. I knew for the past year that God wanted me to go and I had fought it for several months. After all, I wasn’t a spring chick. I was in my mid-fifties and had a few health issues. Also, the air was thinner in Kenya; I struggled sometimes with keeping up.

All along I thought I was going to Africa so that I could be a source of encouragement to our sponsored daughter. I thought my mission would be to speak words of faith into her heart about how God had big plans for her life; about how He wants to use her to minister to, and build up others in her village. But I never even got to meet her. I was disappointed and confused.

Now that I’m home and have had some time to reflect, though, I believe part of the answer to the question of why I went to Kenya, is to write and share with others what I saw. Through my writings, maybe they, too, will be nudged by God to give, go, or pray. It might be to go to Africa, or maybe it will be to sponsor one of the many orphans who desperately need cared for and need an education. Maybe they’ll be encouraged to just go across the street to minister to their neighbor. But one thing I’ve learned the past few weeks is, we all need each other. We all need encouragement. We all need a helping hand. We all need prayer, and… we all need Jesus.

“There is one who is free in giving, and yet he grows richer. And there is one who keeps what he should give, but he ends up needing more. The man who gives much will have much, and he who helps others will be helped himself” (Proverbs 11:24 NLV).

Blessed beyond measure,

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Man on the Bicycle

You’ve probably heard the saying, “the third time is a charm”. For me, I have a general rule of thumb that whenever something is brought to my attention three times, I sense God might be trying to tell me something and I pause to pray about it.

So that’s why, just days before leaving for my mission’s trip to Africa, when I saw the same man three times within two days, I had to ask the Lord, “Why?” Why do I keep seeing this stranger? This man was the thinnest man I had ever seen. Each time I saw him he was riding his bicycle in almost 100 degree heat, intent on collecting cans from alongside the road and placing them in the wagon hitched to the back of his bike. He was obviously working very hard just for pennies.

That third occurrence was mid-morning, and already a scorcher. I quickly swerved around him, determined to put distance between us. But then I remembered my “third time” rule. Since I was running a little late to meet a prayer warrior friend for coffee (who was going to pray for me to “grow closer to God while in Africa and be used by Him to bless others”), I decided to just pray for the man on the bike to be protected and blessed, and keep driving.

Usually I feel better after praying – as if a burden has been lifted, but not this time. This time the burden actually increased.


I knew what that meant. But what could I do? Even though many generous people had helped offset the cost of my mission’s trip, my husband and I had still raided our savings account to pay for last minute supplies, shots, and inoculations. I needed my money to carry out God’s mission in Africa, didn’t? Couldn’t He lay it on the heart of another Christian who didn’t have all these expenses, to help this man out?

And then, deep in my heart I heard, “So, you’ll trust and obey Me to go part-way around the world to minister to others, but you won’t trust and obey Me for this one who I’ve placed before you three times.”

Oh, why do I have to keep learning the same lesson over and over? When will I get it that God owns it all, that I am simply a steward of His money? And when will I truly let go of money and stuff and trust God to take care of my needs, everyday, no matter where I am?

The man on the bicycle was obviously a proud man. He humbly accepted my assistance and expressed appreciation for prayer, yet made it clear he needed to get back to work.

When I returned to my air-conditioned car, it was with mixed emotions. Was this God’s way of preparing my heart for Africa? Was He teaching me (again) to put the needs of others first? To spontaneously give to and pray for others; especially those who have so much less than I do? (And I didn’t know it then, but owning a bicycle in some parts of Africa would denote wealth. Even the poorest among us can be considered rich by others.) We have so much to be thankful for.

Oh, and if you're local and you’ve seen the man on the bicycle, too… his name is Robert.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 25: 40).


Thursday, August 18, 2011

In It to Win It

You’ve probably heard of the popular game show titled, “In It to Win It”. The gist of the show is to play a series of games that get more difficult as the stakes get higher, in hopes of winning the grand prize of a million dollars. The contestants have to weigh the odds before moving on to the next challenge, knowing they could lose the money they have accrued (until they get to a certain guaranteed level). The question is, do they want to take a risk and keep going, or do they stop and be content with what they have.

The rules of this game remind me of the Christian faith. Do we want to “play it safe” and stay at an infant level, keeping our salvation to ourselves (having just enough of Jesus to keep us out of hell, but not so much as to impact another life), or do we want to live a full, purposeful life – one that glorifies God and draws others to Him.

The Bible is full of biblical greats who were “in it to win it”. Paul suffered untold beatings and imprisonment for his faith, yet he wasn’t deterred. Instead, it seemed the more he was punished the more encouraged he was. Paul even gave us hints as to how to stay in the race, by “throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” He also added, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Another biblical great was Esther. She was confronted by Mordecai (her uncle who adopted her) to step out in faith, risking her life to save the Jewish people. Mordecai challenged her by asking:

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

For such a time as this…

Those six words have been forefront in my thoughts for months, as I prepare for my mission’s trip to Africa. Whenever a new fear would arise concerning the situation, I would hear those six confirming words and would instantly be filled with peace. Then, just last week, as the mission’s director distributed our team tee-shirts, chills ran up and down my spine as I read the theme at the bottom of our shirts, “For such a time as this.” More confirmation; I love the way God works.

After Esther decided to obey the mission God had for her, and before stepping out in faith, she also added another set of powerful words… “If I perish, I perish.” Esther had finally allowed her heart to be molded by God to the place where He could truly use her. In response, God gave her favor and not only spared her life, but lifted her to the position of queen. For me, the message is clear: 1) God orders our steps, 2) we are in a battle, and 3) the time is short.

Each one of us is in a race to share the gospel while there is still time. The heart attitude that God is searching for, and that pleases Him, is one where we are completely sold out to Him. Where our words and actions speak loudly that, “we are in it to win it; for such a time as this; and, if we perish, we perish”. To God be the glory!

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

In it to win it,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Mission

In last week’s column I shared about obeying God; going where, and when, He nudges us. We shouldn’t let anything stop us; not others, not the fear of the unknown, and not even a lack of funds. Whoever God calls, He also equips.

This biblical principle has proven to be true many times in my life; whenever I’ve felt nudged to do something out of my comfort zone. And He has never nudged me out of my comfort zone more than now. In a few weeks I will be leaving for a mission’s trip to Kenya, Africa. (First time out of the country, first time on a mission’s trip.) I have been completely amazed at how everything has come together. For starters, the same month that I committed to going on the trip was the same month that my husband lost his job. Needless to say, the funds were a huge leap of faith, but God has come through.

This tugging to go to Africa first began three years ago. For a while I kept quiet and prayed…a lot, sharing it with no one. Then finally I shared the desire with my husband. I have to confess, neither one of us immediately embraced the idea. But as we continued praying and watching how God responded, we both came to the realization that I had to go.

Those three years were a time of preparation. God was instilling in me a burden and a love for all people (inmates and Africans); the lost and hurting among us. Then a year ago, when the tugging was at its peak, my husband and I prayerfully decided to sponsor a child from an orphanage in Kenya. We decided that the next child that became available would be the one, male or female, older or younger, we didn’t care. The next child was Fiona. When we saw her picture we immediately fell in love with her. But when we discovered she was 14, at the top of her class, loved to write, and her favorite subject was...English, the intense pull to encourage her in person began. Quite honestly, I could think of nothing else but getting to her and the other children, and sharing the love (and hope) of Christ with them.

Last fall we traveled out of state to meet the director of the mission’s team for this orphanage, and other missionaries. The highlight of the evening, though, was meeting Fiona, via Skype, and hearing her tell us she “luuuved” us, in her rich, South African accent. She told us that she prays for us every day and thanks God for us. To say she was appreciative of being sponsored would be an understatement. Before tearfully saying our goodbyes, she asked me to come visit her soon.

That night I knew, I was going to Kenya – I had to go. It was time to put my piddly insecurities aside, stop whining about giving up the comforts of home, and step out in faith and trust.

What about you? Are you sensing a call to serve outside of your comfort zone? Pray, obey…and trust God to lead the way.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21).

In His Service,

Monday, July 18, 2011

Serving Where He Leads

A while back, I heard a prominent preacher speak about “the mission field”. He became loud and passionate as he shared his feelings about those who travel half-way round the world to reach others for Christ. Interestingly, his message wasn’t to “go”, rather it was to stay. He encouraged the congregation to stay home and spend their time and money locally because, “lots of souls are perishing here, too”.

Lately, I heard another preacher make a similar comment. This time, though, I couldn’t help but smile inwardly. I could recall, not long ago, when I felt the same way as both those preachers. I couldn’t understand why people would spend thousands of dollars on a trip to love on strangers, when they had family members and neighbors who also needed ministered to. It made no sense to me. While I could understand a “calling” to stay and live among the people of another country, a simple two week visit seemed to me (back then) to be a waste of time and money.

My husband and I have supported many missionaries over the years. We committed to praying for them and financially giving the amount God laid on our heart. We always believed supporting them was “our part”. And usually, on the day the missionaries departed from the United States, I would give a silent sigh of relief that I hadn’t been called to go with them. I have even commented out loud on several occasions, “I’m glad it’s not me!” Several of my friends have heard me confess that, “I could never give up the comforts of home and go do that.”

Be careful what you say you’ll never be able to do. I am personally convinced that is exactly what God will nudge us to do, just to prove that He is God, and that by His power He can enable and equip us to do those things we may never have thought possible. He can change our desires and mold us into men and women of integrity and character, if we surrender our will. When we humble ourselves and get ourself out of the way, completely submitting to God’s authority, we will know true freedom, peace, and yes, even joy.

While there is nothing wrong with ministering to our neighbors, there is something wrong with busying ourselves by doing good deeds in order to get out of obeying God’s nudges to go and do what He is telling us to do. It can also be wrong to listen to others (no matter how well-meaning they are) who tell us to stay home, when we know we have clearly heard from the Lord to “Go”!

The main message that we need instilled in our heart is…obedience. The preachers who discouraged overseas missionary work forgot – if God is telling you to go, you must obey. God will take care of local needs (and your own needs); He is big enough to do that. What He wants from us is such a close relationship with Him (which comes from spending time in His word, in prayer, and with other believers) that we recognize His voice, and then immediately obey.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight
(Proverbs 3:5-6).

Trusting Him,


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Speak From the Heart

Sometimes when God wants to get my attention on a matter, He will keep bringing up a certain word or concept. I don’t always catch on right away, but when I do I’ll ask Him “Why”? Why, Lord, are you giving me that word or thought?

He might answer me immediately (and I love it when He does), but other times it takes a while. Take this column, for example. I usually have a draft finished by Saturday morning. But as of Sunday morning, I still didn’t have the theme. I began four different columns; each one fizzled out. Thankfully this doesn’t happen very often. I know the Lord will come through, He always does. Sometimes though, I get a little nervous as the hours tick by.

So while prayerfully waiting for the message, that word popped up again, silently in my mind; "misunderstandings". It has surfaced several times the past few weeks and in many different situations, ranging from basic conversations with my spouse (we take each other the wrong way – a lot); to watching the evening news and seeing more murders committed by those who believe they are doing the right thing when they annihilate those who don’t agree with them. Then more recently, I heard "misunderstandings" at a gathering of loved ones, when one person was openly snubbed by another.

And that’s when I had my light bulb moment… misunderstandings was the concept He wanted me to write about. (Free writing lesson here, to answer those who ask where I get my ideas from; they’re not mine.) Misunderstandings stem from a variety of things, but when we really think about it, the root usually involves the heart. After all, if we are careful to put the needs of others before ourselves and to think the best of each other, then there is no room for jealousy, greed, or insecurity, which is the breeding ground for misunderstandings. And that’s what many of our deep hurts in life start out as; simple misunderstandings. Sometimes we are able to let them go, or nip them in the bud, but other times they escalate into huge divisions.

Jesus knew we would struggle in this area, that’s why His teachings focused around love and matters of the heart. Lest we forget, we live in a fallen world – people, including ourselves, make mistakes. When we choose to act from our fleshly nature, disregarding the promptings of the Spirit to do good, we can expect problems. But God didn’t leave us hanging. He instructed us to fight these battles by putting on our spiritual armor first thing in the morning when we seek Him (Psalm 5:3). That might mean rising at 5 a.m. to do this, but it will be worth losing a little sleep over.

Jesus also warned us that, “They hated me, they will hate you” (John 15:18). We can expect people to misunderstand us and not like us, just because we are Christians. We need to love them and pray for them.

As long as we stay in tune with the Spirit and obey God’s nudges, we will have fewer misunderstandings. These nudges might include apologizing to others. Here, too, we are to be sincere and speak from the heart. The resultant fallout will then be between that person and God. While we still need to pray for them, we can walk in peace knowing we obeyed.

Have you been bound in any misunderstandings lately? Speak from the heart, cover it in love, and then watch it untangle.

Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

From My Heart,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Perfect Father

When I was a child, I was amazed at how my dad seemed willing and able to fix anything. I could give him my broken bike or a necklace with a knot in it, and he could repair it. I had complete trust in my father’s abilities. It was only when I got older that I realized it was out of necessity that dad had to repair things; we couldn’t afford replacements.

A few years ago those childhood memories resurfaced while having car problems. I was driving on the highway when I heard a formidable vibrating sound from the front dash of the car. It kept getting louder the faster I drove. I began to panic, expecting the car to break down at any moment. There wasn’t time to stop at a repair shop; I was already running late for an appointment due to storm damage from the night before. Tree branches had littered our long country driveway forcing me to keep stopping to remove them. Thankfully the car had not been damaged, since we didn’t have a garage.

The drive home was equally as terrifying. As the noise continued I kept gripping the steering wheel. Then, a wonderful scripture verse popped in my mind: Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).

I realized God had just sent me that timely verse to comfort me and to remind me that I needed to call on Him. I obediently prayed and thanked Him for the reminder. I also asked for safety and inexpensive car repairs.

Immediately after praying, I remembered my dad didn’t live far from the highway. He was retired and not only enjoyed visits, but like most parents he enjoyed being needed by his kids. When I told him about the noise, he lifted the hood and quickly discovered a 5” twig embedded in the back of the engine, close to the dash.

“That’s most likely the problem,” Dad said smugly, tossing the twig aside. “It must’ve blown in during the storm.”

We shook our heads and laughed, relieved that it was such a simple problem. Again, my father had repaired something for me; my father had come through in my moment of need. Dad has passed on now, yet my precious memories of how he could “fix it” still make me smile. My dad wasn’t perfect (and he’d be the first to admit it), but he did try to help out.

Our earthly father gives us but a glimpse of our heavenly Father. As wonderful as our earthly dads may be, they won’t always be there for us. Our heavenly Father, however, will. Our earthly dad will sometimes let us down, or disappoint us; but our heavenly Father won’t. And our dad might even leave us or forsake us, but God the Father never will (Hebrews 13:5).

This Father’s Day, as you remember and honor your earthly father, be sure to give your heavenly Father first place. You can trust Him completely, for God’s love is all-encompassing, unconditional, and never ending.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments (Deut. 7:9).

In Him,

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Remembering Our Loved Ones

The month of May is difficult for many, including my family and I. Over the years, we've endured several losses during this month. I find it ironic, too, that May is the first full month of spring; the earth is awakening with fresh new life, while memories of painful goodbyes crowd my thoughts. It seems appropriate that the month would culminate in a national holiday of remembrance. Memorial Day helps bring closure to weeks of reflecting on those who have gone on before us.

Witnessing the dead, dormant, earth being transformed with new, colorful life reminds me that the dead in Christ have new life in heaven with Jesus. What appears to be gone, actually is not. A Christian’s demise may seem like “the end of the story”, but in fact, it is the beginning of glory. Death is not final; we are temporarily separated from them, not eternally separated.

After a Christian loved one passes, it can be comforting to envision the analogy of what is happening here on earth, to heaven, and what might be going on there, simultaneously. For instance, while we are mourning their passing, they are celebrating their homecoming. Wile we are meeting with the funeral director, they could be escorted into the King’s presence. While we are selecting their casket, they could be inspecting their glorified mansion. While we are being comforted with soft organ music, they, along with a host of angels, are probably harmonizing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” in a worship service to outdo all worship services. While our faces are red from tears, their face is glowing with joy. And, while we are receiving guests who have come to pay their final respects, they could be introduced to generations of saints who have gone on before them.

Yet, until we are called home to join them, there will always be a part of us that will miss them, and long to be with them. If our loss is fresh, waves of grief can threaten to consume us. In time, however, our precious memories of our loved ones will bring us much comfort.

The God of promise wants us to remember that in the midst of those waves of grief, He is with us. We are not alone. If we hold fast to the Lord’s promises – eternal life with Him, and eternal life with our loved ones – it will give us the hope and encouragement we need to keep going on…until He calls us home, too.

As I delight in my purple irises and reflect on their struggle to get to this beautiful, alive state, I can’t help but smile at their transformation. And this Memorial Day, as you reflect on those who have so bravely given their life for your freedom here on earth, reflect, too, on the hope that you have in the One who appeared to be dormant for three days, but burst forth in new, eternal life for you and I. Jesus paid it all to keep us from an eternity of separation from God. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that we (and our loved ones) could have freedom in Him, and abundant life in Him … now, and forevermore.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38-39).

Forever His,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Mother’s Daughter

With the recent celebration of Mother’s Day, I was reminded of a piece I wrote about motherhood that was published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Empty Nesters book a few years ago. I would like to share an edited version of the story to hopefully bless and encourage other mothers, too.

My mother was in her mid 60’s. She was still a lot of fun to be with, she was still hard-working, and she was still a beautiful woman inside and out, but she had this habit that made me uncomfortable… she worried.

Throughout the years of raising my own children, whenever a mishap occurred I would sometimes call Mom. But the past few years I have fought the urge so as not to burden her.

My mother used to be carefree and happy-go-lucky. She used to deal with the endless mishaps of raising us five kids with take-it-in-stride abandon. I am the middle child and decades ago, one by one, we each left the nest to begin building nests of our own. I don’t recall mom worrying much as we packed up and moved out. It seemed to me that she was actually relieved because we noticed that following each departure, Mom immediately re-decorated the room that had just been vacated.

One day, after recently dropping off our son at college for the first time, I asked my mom, “How did you do it?”

The pain of “cutting the cord” was so raw that I wasn’t even able to say my son’s name without getting a lump in my throat. And our daughter was sixteen; we knew we’d have to do this again. My mother, however, had to let go five times.

“How did you ever get through letting go of five kids?” I asked, dabbing at my eyes.

My mother smiled reflectively, nodding her head slightly.

She’s smiling?

“Well,” Mom momentarily paused, “There was such constant commotion for so many years, that I guess I reached a point where I became anxious to get my own life back.”

“But you made it look so easy,” I added.

“Oh no, it was never easy. It’s just that there was always so much to do; I worried as I worked. As a mother yourself, you know you start worrying from the moment you find out you are pregnant – it never stops.”

It never stops? Why did I think this job had an end to it?

For years I daydreamed about what I would do after my children moved out. I had mistakenly assumed I would go back to being my carefree self again.

And that’s when it dawned on me. It wasn’t my mother who had been the lighthearted one—it was me. Mom had always been worried about us, I had just been so busy spreading my own wings and making my own nest that I never stopped to think about the adjustments she had to make with each of us leaving.

Suddenly this “letting go” thing became clear to me: as I watched my children spread their wings in anticipation of leaving our nest, I, like my mom, wanted them to never forget – my wings were bigger than theirs. My wings would always be able to wrap around them.

While cords have to be cut, heartstrings never do.

Her children arise and call her blessed… (Proverbs 31:28).

From my heart to yours,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Fear of Beginning

It took years, but I finally accepted the call on my life to be a writer. However, what I continued to have trouble with, was how to overcome the anxiety of beginning a new piece. From the first nudge of a story idea I would usually have to fight an almost paralyzing fear of revealing my innermost thoughts on paper. And knowing, too, that those words would be permanent, only added to my apprehension.

In an effort to stall the beginning of a story, I have been known to paint something that didn’t really need painted, wash my car and clean it out, or cook a meal for others. While there is nothing wrong with those projects, there is something wrong with not dedicating time to fulfilling a calling.

Lord, how can I overcome this?

I keep a hard copy of every article and book that I’ve been published in. It used to be that I would scan my accomplishments to boost my insecurity, but even that little trick was not working. Instead of feeling encouraged when I would read my past successes, I felt pressured to produce at the same level. And I felt pressured from a financial standpoint, too, as we had two kids in college.

As the days passed I became more frustrated. One day, in an effort to avoid writing, I decided to clean up my computer files. I skimmed over old files and weeded out those I no longer needed. But when I came upon the writing file titled, “Appreciation”, I gasped. I had forgotten all about it.

Immediately after my first book came out I had received dozens of emails from friends, family, and even total strangers, thanking me and expressing their appreciation of my work. I had completely forgotten that I had merged those emails into one file. As I read through the notes of heartfelt acknowledgments of how my book had encouraged, blessed, and even changed their lives, something wonderful began to happen. A surge of warmth spread through my body as I realized…this is it. This is why I write. It’s not about me and it’s not about the income; rather, it’s all about helping others and pointing them to the Lord.

My focus had been all wrong. I had been concerned about “measuring up” to my past successes, and about the permanence of the words that I was choosing. I completely forgot about the reader— the one who was hurting from the disappointments and mishaps of life; those readers who may have lost a child or a spouse, or who had recently been diagnosed with a deadly disease.

That one little file reminded me that I had been given a gift to help the hurting by pointing them to the Lord, that Higher Power who can comfort them, anytime and anywhere.

Thank you, God, for reminding me that it’s about You, not me.

Not only did my writer’s block of beginnings disappear, but my writing productivity increased, all due to adding one new habit; the most important habit of all. Each morning I ask, “How can I help others through my writing? Show me, Father, how to begin.”

As I roll up my sleeves to begin a new piece, I am thrilled to say that finally, my fear of beginning…has ended.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Writing for Him,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pure and Simple Joy

I live in the country and enjoy early morning walks with our rescued dog, Colby. Some mornings I am so full of joy (especially during a rare, sunny, spring morning in Ohio) that I feel I could burst at the seams. Since I don’t have many neighbors around to hear me, I am comfortable to share my excitement over a new day out loud with the Lord. I also share whatever else is on my heart. Oftentimes, and without a conscious effort on my part, my gratefulness seems to take on a life of its own as it inexplicably evolves into songs of praise and worship. Just this morning I witnessed that transition. While singing, I realized, too, how hard it is to complain or worry. Even though I might begin my walk by sharing with the Lord something that is bothering me, between the beauty of the earth, coupled with my appreciation for all that I have, any negativity, sadness, or depression I might have previously been struggling with dissolves away.

As I exercise my body, endorphins are released which also help to lift those everyday pressures. Early morning walks benefit me physically and spiritually as they change my heart from self-focus to God focus. As I witness the dawning of a new day, it cements into my being that the Father of all creation is doing a fresh, new thing in my life, also. And, being amidst His creation reminds me that He is in control of all things, from the largest planet to the smallest insect.

It astounds me that God enjoys these times together as much as I do. He actually wants to hear my off-key voice sing songs of worship, along with my simple words of thanks for the gift of another day. Amazingly, that is His heart’s desire for us – pure and simple fellowship and thankfulness.

And He wants the same with you. Out of all the different life forms that God created, only man was given the ability to reason; to think and to choose. We have a choice, everyday, whether to turn our heart and mind toward God and choose to live for Him, or we can tune Him out and live for ourself, giving in to our petty wants and desires.

I promise you, if you choose the first you will be blessed, and …you will know pure, simple, joy. There’s no better way to start your day.

"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deut. 30:19)


Sunday, April 24, 2011

It Is Finished

Like many writers, I have lots of incomplete articles that have been started on scraps of paper or filed on my computer. Those unfinished pieces won’t bless anyone unless I make the effort to get them published. Not completing a writing project or not sending it out is similar to addressing a birthday card for someone and not mailing it. Or, telling a hurting friend, “Let’s do lunch sometime,” and not following through. All good intentions, but if we don’t stick a stamp on the card or set a date on our calendar, that’s all it will be – a good intention. Unless carried out, our intentions won’t bless a soul. The words and actions that God wants us to say and do to minister to others won’t happen if we don’t make the effort.

After years of working on my first book (over 30 inspirational stories that at one time were only half-finished pieces), I distinctly recall the moment when it was finally completed, edits and all. I remember saying out loud with a huge sense of relief and accomplishment, “It is finished.” I was acknowledging that after years of accumulating story ideas, and months of writing, my efforts had finally culminated into a finished work.

Two thousand years ago Jesus spoke those same words as He hung on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Those three words, spoken right before He died, acknowledged that the law had been fulfilled and grace was being ushered in. Jesus was making a statement that He had accomplished what He had set out to do, what had been prophesied that He would do, and what the Father wanted Him to do, since the beginning of time. His work on earth was completed and the scriptures had been fulfilled, up to this point. (The plan of redemption, however, was not complete until three days after His death on the cross, when Jesus was raised from the dead.)

In speaking those words, Jesus was stating that He had finished the task at hand. During His short life on earth, He had suffered a lot; however, He chose to endure it all, including the cross, not for Himself, but for us.

I can’t help but wonder; what if Jesus had chosen not to finish the work of the cross? What if He had chosen to settle for the easy way out; or for just “good intentions”?

This Easter season, let the finished work of the cross spur you on to finish what you have started for the Kingdom. Spend some time alone with the Lord and ask Him to set your priorities. He will nudge you to do what is eternally important. “Finishing” is all about obedience. Whatever it is, don’t delay in doing your part to fulfill the great commission.

Jesus kept us in mind when He finished the work on the cross. We need to keep Him in mind as we finish our work for Him.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

In Him,

Friday, April 1, 2011

Attitude Adjustment

Four years ago, after living in an old farmhouse for almost a decade, we were finally building a ranch home. We stopped by the new house one morning to talk with our electrician, who was finishing the wiring. He greeted us with three scary words: “You’ve been robbed!” He went on to say that someone had stripped all the copper wiring that he had installed.

My emotions went from relief that it could have been worse, to anger, especially after being informed by the Sheriff that there wasn’t much he could do. He would record the incident, but added, “This type of crime happens far too often. Most of the time it’s for drug money – they get desperate.”

The insurance company wasn’t encouraging either. We were basically out the money with no recourse.

All afternoon I struggled with my emotions. I felt violated and angry. How could someone stoop so low as to steal from others? What goes through a person’s mind to think it was okay to take something that didn’t belong to them?

When we finally returned home to the farmhouse there was a message from Pat, another volunteer from the jail ministry I was involved in. She said a female inmate, “Marla”, was having a tough time adapting…could I come and visit her and offer her some hope and encouragement?

Still frustrated about the robbery, I called Pat back and lamented about it until I finally remembered Marla. I couldn’t visit her right away, but I would soon because, “My plate’s pretty full right now.”

“That’s okay,” Pat responded understandingly. “I’ll visit her tonight; no problem.”
“But Pat, you’re going through a lot now, too.”

“Well,” Pat continued, her voice calm and peaceful, “You know how it is. When you reach out to others who are suffering, it helps keep your own problems in the right perspective. Marla’s hooked on drugs. She’s in there for stealing. She’s devastated over what she has done and wants to stop, but the addiction is so strong. I’ll visit her tonight and …”

“Wait,” I interrupted, my eyes suddenly filling with tears. “I think I need to visit her.”

I slowly hung up the phone, humbled by the plight of this woman. The anger over what a stranger had done to us, all probably due to a drug addiction, was giving way to compassion and pity.

Our jails and prisons are overcrowded with people who are battling substance abuse. Oftentimes these offenders were previously upright citizens who never intended to get hooked. Their addictions led them to commit crimes that they would never have considered before. Sadly, many programs that offered assistance to addicts have been cancelled, and the waiting list for inmates to enter half-way houses is usually way too long. Add to that the lack of jobs and poor economy, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Now, more than ever, Christians are needed to come alongside prisoners of despair and offer them hope. Many offenders have never heard of the life-saving truth of the gospel. They often don’t know that Jesus can offer them a new start in life, that He loves them and will forgive them.

That visit to Marla four years ago culminated into one of the biggest blessings of my life, as we are still good friends. She has stayed clean since getting out, restored her relationship with her family, and knows without a doubt, that God loves her.

…I was in prison, and you came to visit me (Mathew 25:26).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

“Lucky” or “Blessed”?

This time of year you see a lot of green. Lawns that had been blanketed with snow all winter begin to acquire a hint of that refreshing color. Stores are decorating their windows with displays of shamrocks, along with promotions for corned beef and cabbage. Even McDonalds has gotten into the act by offering mint green milkshakes.
Like many parents, my husband and I would have fun on St. Patrick's Day with our kids, by fixing green food. While not appetizing to look at, it was priceless to see their faces when they awoke first thing in the morning to green scrambled eggs and green milk. And of course many people wear something green today, too, even though they may not be Irish.

Interestingly enough, Saint Patrick wasn’t even Irish. He was actually born in Roman Britain in the 4th century. At the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. He was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. That dream must have had a huge impact on him, because upon his return to Britain he studied to be a priest. In the year 432, Patrick sensed the Lord calling him back to Ireland, but this time as a bishop, to help spread Christianity to the Irish. Legend has it that he used the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. Patrick died on March 17, 461, after nearly thirty years of evangelism.

Over the centuries the celebration of his life has become more of a pagan holiday. St. Patrick’s Day, in this country, is commemorated with parades and parties, along with getting pinched if you don’t wear green. The original celebration seems to have lost its original Christian meaning.

On this day, too, we often hear a lot about “the luck of the Irish”, although I doubt Saint Patrick originated that term. To be lucky means to have something happen by chance. A person can be lucky or unlucky, depending on the way things come to pass. Some people believe tangible items can bring them luck, such as a rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover. Believing in luck has its roots in superstition and magic.
Blessings, on the other hand, come from Almighty God, our Creator, our helper, and our divine protector. To bless someone means to ask God to bestow good upon them; to be divinely or supremely favored.

Most Christians don’t believe in luck. We don’t believe that things randomly happen to us, causing us to be lucky or unlucky. Rather we believe in the sovereign hand of God. We know that, if we don’t get the blessing that we may long for, we can rest in the knowledge that it is for our own good; that God has a better plan. We stand on God’s word, especially Romans 8:28: “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose for them”.

Being truly blessed can only come from having a relationship with God. He is calling us to know Him…are you answering His call?

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

God Bless You,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Role Reversal

If you are a married woman, you probably made lots of assumptions about your husband from the day you married; such as, he would be alongside you through thick and thin, taking care of you and your children. Besides maintaining the house, yard, and cars, he would be your helpmate and would be there for you physically and emotionally. Maybe you assumed your spouse would be the main breadwinner so you could stay home with the children. Regardless of your original plans, you counted on him to be your support system and available to help you through life 24/7. You never planned on becoming the sole financial breadwinner, the full-time parent, or bearing the burden of home responsibilities all on your shoulders alone. But now (and maybe through no fault of your own), your mate is out of the picture.

Or maybe it is your child who has veered from the path that you assumed he would walk, and has become entangled with people who make poor choices. Ever since he came into this world you may have had a vision that one day he would be there for you, in your time of need, to help you with life as you aged. However, due to his bad decisions, not only do you continue to have to be there for him, you may even have to care for his children in the process. This certainly isn’t how you envisioned your golden years.

When Jesus was talking with his disciples about His kingdom that was to come (Mark 10: 35-45), the disciples assumed Jesus meant that He was about to take control of an earthly throne, the throne of David. And they probably speculated, too, that this new kingdom would be complete with a palace and an army and lots of important positions. James and John even asked to be His left and right hand men. Their vision of the future included Jesus becoming something that He never did become. They saw Jesus fulfilling a role that He never intended to fill.

Oftentimes our loved ones’ lives do not match up to our vision of what we had for them. Dreams are dashed, hopes are crushed, and our loved one makes a terrible choice that affects our life forever. And on top of everything else, we may end up having to be both mother and father (or parent and grandparent), to the innocent children involved.

Life is unpredictable and oftentimes not fair, but with God’s help we can perform a role that was not of our choosing. No matter what our situation, God’s will for us right now is to be satisfied in Him and to trust His plan for us at this time in our life. We need to learn to let God be our helpmate through this journey; and to believe that He will take care of us into our future. After all, He sees tomorrow; we can’t.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

In His Service,

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Our Secure Identity

Identity theft, in today’s world, is all too common. Usually due to greed, someone takes the good name of another and uses it for selfish, materialistic desires. For the victim, getting your name cleared can be time consuming and expensive.

A person’s identity consists of a lot of different aspects, including our titles. When a woman marries she becomes known as “Mrs.”, not “Miss”. Her last name will oftentimes change, too. When we have children and become a parent our identity changes again. We are now so-and-so’s mom or dad. And yet a third aspect can be found in our career; our vocation is a big part of who we are.

Depending upon our life choices, along with circumstances beyond our control, we can have many different titles. Our titles will even change throughout our lives, affecting who we are for better or for worse.

For instance, maybe you have recently retired or lost your job. For decades you defined yourself by your career. It was part of who you were; part of your identity. Or maybe you’ve suffered through an unwanted divorce, or become suddenly widowed. Or maybe you have not obeyed the laws of the land and now your identity is your last name and a number.

If we have a title taken from us (especially if we didn’t want it taken), it can leave us feeling jolted and displaced. It can be a painful, constant reminder of our loss. If we aren’t careful, we can focus on our loss to the extent that it consumes our every thought and hinders us from living in the moment.

During those times when we are unexpectedly reminded of our loss, we need to take comfort in, and concentrate on, the one identity that we have that can never change. If we have accepted Christ as our personal savior, no one can take away our identity as a Christian—a child of God. No matter what title society wants to place upon us or strip from us, we are still God’s precious son or daughter. As born again believers we know who we are in Christ. As God’s child, we have inherited His promises; and one of those promises is: He will never leave us. Unlike our spouse, God will never divorce us or die. Unlike our boss, He will never lay us off or let us go. Our identity with God is secure.

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11).

Forever His,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

All for Love

Valentine’s Day is that wonderful holiday where we express our love to someone near and dear to our heart. It is (thankfully) not a controversial holiday; it’s simply a day when we tell and show our loved ones that we love them. Whether it’s with chocolate, jewelry, a card, a nice dinner, or something that costs us nothing but our time, we devote this day to honoring someone special to us.

There were several Christian martyrs who were known as Valentine centuries ago, but none of them are the author of love; God is. As a matter of fact, love is such a big deal to God that the word “love” is found 686 times in the Bible (New International Version). Many Bible scholars agree that the most powerful usage of that word is found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Love began with God. He loved us first, and then to express that love He subsequently “gave”. He gave His only son as a gift to mankind – and all out of love for us. God’s gift of His son to bear our sins was the ultimate act of love; nothing has, or ever will, top that.

I don’t know about you, but I still find it hard to believe that the God of all creation loves us. With all of our sins, faults, and failures, the fact that our heavenly Father would still woo and pursue His people is amazing to me. It’s not enough for God (and it shouldn’t be enough for us) to be saved from an eternity in hell, rather the God of the universe wants to hear from us, and speak to us – regularly – and all because He loves us.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He could have responded with, “Obedience. Obey your Heavenly Father.” Or, He could have said, “Honesty. Be honest with God and those you encounter.” Instead, Jesus responded with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

In other words, Jesus said to give Him first place in your life. Be sold out to Him every day of the week, all day, and not just Sunday morning.

Our Lord is the epitome of true love. Jesus loved children, He loved the poor, and He loved those whom society loathed, such as the lepers and prostitutes. He even loved those who killed Him, telling His father to “forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus loved the unlovable, and that is exactly what He expects Christians to do, too, through Him. God’s grace enables us to reach out to the down and out. When we give Him first place in our life, He gives us mercy and grace to love others.
Jesus loves you, this I know…the question is, do you love Him?

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).

In His Love,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who Is Your Hero?

Hopefully you have at least one hero. A hero is someone (living or dead) who you look up to and admire for their brave deeds and noble qualities. Pilots become heroes for safely landing airplanes in rough conditions. Doctors and firefighters are considered heroes when they save a life. Those who serve in the military, especially in a time of war, are also deemed heroes by most citizens.

Many Americans consider Abraham Lincoln to be a hero. President Lincoln battled many obstacles in his life, including: the loss of his mother at a young age, a lack of a college education, falling in love with a woman who married another, fighting for the presidency, struggling to keep a divided nation together, struggling to keep his unhappy marriage together, burying two young sons, and battling depression most of his adult life.

It is remarkable that with all the pain and despair he endured, President Lincoln could still have such a keen sense of humor. Once, when he was accused of being two-faced, he responded by saying, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
Mr. Lincoln knew that it was our outlook on life that would make us or break us. As someone who read the Bible regularly he was probably aware of the verse, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength,” (Nehemiah 8: 10). Those who have researched Abraham Lincoln’s life say that, as the Civil War raged on, Abraham Lincoln turned toward his faith in God more. He knew that in order to have any level of inner peace, he would need to keep his faith and trust in God. With the weight of the nation on his shoulders, and feeling somewhat alone with the many huge decisions he had to make, President Lincoln was wise enough to know he needed Divine help. President Lincoln gave homage to the One true Hero, God.

We need to remember that the Lord is no respecter of persons. The same God who listened to a President’s plea for wisdom as to how to govern a divided nation, also hears the desperate cries of the one who battles drug addiction, and the heartfelt remorse of a convicted criminal.

Who is your Hero today? There is only One worthy of the title; only One who can truly “rescue” us. Turn to Jesus and make Him your hero. Not only will Jesus rescue you in this life, comforting you when you hurt and giving you wisdom when you don’t know the way, but He can save you from an eternity in hell, too. Don’t delay. Make Him your Lord, today.

... “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow …and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil. 2: 10-11).

In Him,

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Anchor Holds

Every January first, for several years, I would flip through my daily journals and extract highlights to write a one page “Year in Review”. Recently, while in a reflective mood I went back and read the previous annual reviews. It was interesting to reminisce on the different ways my children had grown; physically, academically and spiritually. I would smile as I was reminded of their personal goal setting, such as auditioning for the lead in a school play or pining for an award at the Science Fair, and then remember how their lives had transpired.

When my children were in elementary school many of my journal entries were typical motherly concerns, such as, “Is this illness something serious or just a 24 hour bug?” Then came the pre-teen years and with them came a whole new set of challenges (and a much deeper prayer life for me) as I had to learn to make the transition from having fun-loving children to dealing with hormonal havoc. Many journal entries were desperate pleas for wisdom, patience, and understanding.

As parents we raise our children with the goal of them someday being on their own and independent. Not only is parenting a learning experience for us as we learn to let go and trust the Lord more, but it is an emotional and challenging time for our kids as they sprout their wings and learn to fly. I remember one of my longest weeks as a mother came when our oldest child, a son, was in the 5th grade and went to school camp. It was his first time to be away from home for more than a night and he returned exhausted, but with an unmistakable increased maturity about him. And I realized that I, too, had gained a spiritual maturity as I had to learn to trust God on a whole new level.

Reading previous entries and remembering how God came through, continues to give me much hope for the future. Remembering how I worried during those years, yet seeing now that God had everything under control all along – encourages me. I can’t help but notice how my own faith has grown, too, along with my children. It is finally sinking in that God is all-knowing and I am not. That He loves my children (and now our grandchildren, too) more than I do. Words can’t describe how comforting it is to know that nothing is going to happen to them or to me that isn’t first filtered through His merciful and loving hands.

As I go back in time and relive the ups and downs of marriage and children, one common thread stands out: the anchor holds and scripture doesn’t lie. Jesus is a rock, a safe place in a world that seems to have gone mad. He never changes. All He asks is that we turn to Him, trust Him, and put our faith in Him.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Psalm 18:2).

In Him,
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