Friday, December 9, 2011

Timing

Timing is everything on stage, but it's way too variable in real life.
After moving from Hawaii, my husband and I arrived at my mom's house in Missouri on a Wednesday and the following Saturday she ended up the hospital. She came home on Thursday, then the following Monday at breakfast she pitched face forward into the table. Because she's lived alone since my stepfather died almost nine years ago, if we hadn't been there, she would have fallen from her tall dining chair and been hurt, not just sick. The doctors have finally figured out at least part of what's wrong with her, but it'll be awhile before she's feeling well enough to live by herself again, so it's a good thing we just moved here and don't yet have a place of our own.
Also related to our move, this past Monday we drove 150 miles to get to my daughter's apartment, arriving as the mailman was climbing out of his truck with one of the 11 packages that had been mailed from Hawaii for us exactly three weeks before. If we hadn't arrived at that time, he would have had to tote all those boxes up to Cari's third floor apartment, then we would have had to bring them back down again.
On the other hand, Thursday morning, my husband's birthday, we woke up to discover that the furnace wasn't working. It was 61 degrees in the house, way too cold for the comfort of two people who moved from Hawaii just over a month ago. Turns out it was the igniter which goes out about every five years. Mom moved into this house five years ago.
Timing. Does it show God's favor or his disfavor? It would be very tempting to think that the positive timing events were God smiling on us, but then what are the negative timing events? Are they God's frown?
I'm not going to deny that it was a huge blessing to be able to take our packages out of the mail truck and put them right in our trunk, but I am going to deny that the furnace going out on Paul's birthday was a sign of God's disfavor. I'm pretty sure that it was a character building event, especially since I was rather ticked off at God when we had to wait until 2:30 in the afternoon for the repairman to show up. It didn't throw off our plans too much, and we still got to do the most important part of those plans - go out for dinner in honor of Paul's birthday. So I have to say that the blessing was that I got to practice living peacefully in spite of a negative situation. Unfortunately the practice was more like a middle schooler practicing layups than a pro basketball player practicing.
I guess that means I need more practice. Yikes!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Journey Ends

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But that's just the start!
I'm not sure how many miles we've traveled but I know it's over two thousand - well over if you count the flight from Hawaii. We flew from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California then drove to Reedley, California then down to Bermuda Dunes (the Palm Springs area) then to Tucson, Arizona. All three of those stops were visiting with family and friends. We ate too much and talked story a lot. We also got to meet some very interesting people, especially in Arizona with Paul's nephew.
After visiting, we struck off across the desert. Our first stop was Socorro, New Mexico, then Vega, Texas a tiny whole-in-the-wall with about three places to eat. The lady at the Dairy Queen there was very nice, and the food was hot, fresh and delicious. Next we went on to El Reno, Oklahoma, a half hour outside of Oklahoma City. That was way bigger than Vega (pop. 880) with a population in excess of 15k. Paul had his first experience at Braum's, a little ice cream shop/general store that I've seen only in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Yesterday we arrived in Springfield, Missouri where daughter Cari and her excitable Golden Retriever, Lego, were happy to see us. The weather was warm but overcast. This morning it's sunny but cold. Go figure!
We'll arrive at Mom's house early this afternoon. We're almost done with our journey, but the adventure is only beginning. The extent of the adventure is up to us. As we drove the two thousand miles to get here, we saw how vast and diverse this country is. There's a lifetime of exploring, millions of people to meet and more stories to tell than I'll be able to write, even if I still had a hundred years left.
What we see and do is limited only to God's leading and our willingness to follow. We expect to have some wonderful adventures, made even more fun by the long drives between!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 2 in California

Yesterday morning as we were getting ready to leave our hotel in Oakland, we found out that during the night, protesters down at the Port had rioted. Thankfully it didn't have an effect on Matson's car pick-up location. We were able to get our car with no problem, other than waiting for fifteen minutes since the union guys had to go on break at the precise moment we arrived.
Since we were in Oakland, with a car and plenty time, I wanted to go see the Golden Gate Bridge. Other than changing planes at the airport, I'd never been to that area before. Paul grumbled some, but we headed northwest, and immediately got stuck in a traffic jam at the toll booth for the Bay Bridge. It took us a good 45 minutes to drive a little more than a mile. Why we gotta wait in line so they can take our money?
Our GPS took us right through San Francisco, so we got to see some of the cool architecture up close and personal. We also climbed a few hills. Though it was rainy and cold, and the total tolls for both bridges was $10, it was still worth the time, effort and money, especially since Paul now has confidence in the GPS, and in his ability to use it.
It warmed up on our drive south toward Reedley. The scenery also changed a lot as the hills became more barren, then we finally dropped down into the valley, but we couldn't see the mountains because the air quality was pretty bad.
This morning it was even colder than yesterday morning, but we can see the mountains now. It's pretty, but I still miss Hawaii.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Adventure Begins

I guess you could say that Paul and I are homeless now! Yesterday afternoon we closed the door on Twin View Drive, dropped off our keys, went to the airport and hopped a plane for Oakland where our car is waiting for us to pick it up this morning. The last few weeks have been very hectic, right now I've only got the time to look at one small part.
On Tuesday, they came and picked up our three pallets to ship to Missouri. We were up until midnight on Monday, trying to finish up but still had boxes to add to the pallets that were in our carport. It was pouring down rain from sometime early in the morning, so by the time I went out at about six-thirty, it was starting to leak into the carport. I was irritated and ready to sit down and cry. I didn't. Instead I grumbled and growled at God about 'How am I supposed to get this done? If this is what you want, how about a little help?' Suddenly it dawned on me that I had some plastic sheeting and boxes that I could put over the top of the clotheslines in the carport, so I made a tent of sorts and was able to get the last pallet finished up without anything getting more than a drop or two of water.
Our driveway was on a small hill and rather narrow so most trucks don't bother trying to come down. The guys who came to get our pallets didn't hesitate. They also weren't too concerned about the little dip at the front of the driveway especially since Paul and Brother-in-law Milt had rigged up a little bridge of sorts with some one-by-twos and a large sheet of pressed board. Though we had some light rain, whenever they pulled one of our pallets out of the carport, it was dry, at least until after the guys had shrink wrapped the pallet!
There's been a hundred little wrong-made-right things like that in our journey thus far, but I don't have time to share them all. Right now I'm going to have to start getting ready to go. We have to pack our bags again, get them down to the hotel storage area and go get our car from Matson. Then the adventure really begins. We're planning to see the Golden Gate Bridge before we leave the area!
Tune in later for more of our adventures.
God bless you all!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Time to Move

Moving is one of those things that's bittersweet. There's so much to do before you go. Not only do you have to sort and pack, but you have to resort and repack when you have to ship across the ocean. It's way easier to move when you can back a moving van up to your door and start throwing stuff in it.
The worst thing about moving is the people you leave behind, and the things that you don't get finished. There's too much to do and not enough time.
Since I'm getting ready to move to the Mainland, I guess my blog is one of the things that's going to suffer for a while. But while I'm on the road trip from CA to MO, I'll have a lot more time to blog, and more things to blog about.
Right now, I've got to get back to work. I'll check back in a time or two this month, but if I don't want the baggage of stress going with me when I get on that plane, I really should be pretty deliberate about what I do with my time!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Junk Food and Dirty Floors

Wow! That week flew by like an express train! October's already 1/4 over and I'm still mentally in September. Not a good sign!
Sometimes I wish I could stop time. That'd be so cool to be able to freeze the rest of the world for an hour or two (or three or four days) while I catch up on everything. Of course, there'd be a downside. I'd be more tired than I should be, and older too!
I guess it's a good thing I can't freeze time. I'd abuse the privilege. I'm sure of it since I abuse many of my privileges anyway.
I'm an adult who works at home most of the time, so I have a lot more freedom over my own schedule than most people do.
I can eat whatever I want and I usually eat junk food, fried foods or sweets because they taste so good.
I can go for a walk to get some exercise, but I pretty much always find an excuse not to.
I can vacuum the floors or scrub the toilets almost anytime, but I eye them and decide they're not so bad.
It's funny how often I judge my week based on the things I didn't do or could've done better rather than the things I did accomplish. Sure I didn't get everything done I could have, but I did accomplish a lot of important things. When it comes right down to it, is the cleanliness of your floor as important as the cleanliness of your heart, is the health of your body as critical as the health of your spirit?
Now, I'm not trying to say that my spirit is perfect, but I do 'vacuum' it regularly when I go to the Lord in prayer. I exercise it through my relationships and feed it with the Word of God.
In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul said that while physical training has some value, spiritual training has greater value. So when I look back on a week and know that I got in some good spiritual training, I can count it a win-week. Someday I'll get back to a season when I can get better physical exercise in my week as well.
Until then, I'll keep at the spiritual training. It'll help get the physical under control.
But I really should stop eating so much junk food!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New & 'Improved'

We're surrounded by people who think 'new and improved' is always the way to go. A change, here a tuck there, a small move of just this one thing, but it always leads to something else.
Now let me say upfront that I'm not an anti-change person! I don't mind change at all. In fact sometimes I incite change. What I object to is change for change's sake, rather than for a good and logical purpose.
One of the changes that still chafes years later is Best Food/Hellman's 'improvement' of their tartar sauce. For many years it was absolutely the best tasting tartar sauce. They improved it and now it's one of the nastiest.
Windows is another area of questionable change. Not so long ago I had a version (probably something like 6.723P) where I could easily copy or move files. I simply went to Windows Explorer, clicked on the file I wanted to move or copy, then clicked on the quick link to the left. A window popped up and I selected the folder I needed to move it to. It was done! Now I have to open two windows in Windows Explorer, size them so I can see both, in one window find the files I want, in the other find my destination folder. I can drag and drop, but I have to watch carefully to see whether the system is moving or copying. Invariably it's not going to do the one I want, so I have to copy back or cut.
Or I can save myself some 'trouble' by only opening one window, copying or cutting the file, then navigating to the folder I want. However, half the time I can't seem to figure out how to navigate simply. For some reason that drop menu that used to allow me to pick one of the folders above the one I'm in doesn't work, and half the time the back button doesn't either (I have no idea how to make them work when I want them to), so I have to go all the way up to Documents and navigate my way down to the folder I want. Now, since I'm trying to organize my files better, I have to navigate back to another folder, copy or cut again and then navigate back to that destination folder.
Yes, they sure improved Windows Explorer!
And don't even get me started on Facebook!!!!
So, the purpose to this rant? Everything can be changed, but not everything needs to be changed.
Change should not be made simply to make things different. It's a guarantee that when you do that, there's a good portion of the population for whom you will actually make things harder! Some changes actually devalue loyal fans/users/followers.
Don't be afraid of change, but before you implement that change, make sure it's really going to be a good change, and make sure you have a 'restrore' point in case you guessed wrong on the value of that change.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Last September 2011 Day

It's the last day of September 2011! That's rather monumental. As my freshman algebra teacher said, "If there's anything you wanted to do in September (year omitted), you better do it today. It's going to be gone forever."
Have you ever thought about how many 'lasts' have passed you by without being noted? There's the last time you changed your baby's diaper, the last time you had to help your toddler on the toilet, the last time you picked your son's dirty clothes up off the floor, the last time your daughter let you braid her hair.
Very few true 'lasts' are easily noted. By that I mean that it's a last that will never have another occurrence. Some things seem like a last but the possibility still exists for a 'next,' like the last time your son paid you back when he asked for a loan. Similarly, some 'lasts' pass because you expect a 'next,' like the last time you played Tooth Fairy for one of your kids.
You can easily remember the last time you said "I love you" to a loved one when you watched them take their last breath, and were aware that it was indeed their last breath. But when a loved one dies suddenly, you often don't remember when you last said "I love you" and it haunts you.
There is no value in being haunted by missed 'lasts'! Learn from them, yes, but don't cling to them.
Instead of being haunted by what you didn't do, learn to live a better lifestyle in which you get your priorities right.
This isn't easy. You have a lifetime of habits built up, but unless you want to mourn another lost last, you better take the time, make the effort. Let God teach you to be someone who can celebrate 'firsts' and let go of 'lasts.'

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Doing Laundry

I am officially past tired of doing laundry! I thought once I had an 'empty nest' and it was just Paul and I to do laundry for, it wouldn't be so demanding. It is! Sure there aren't as many clothes to wash as there once was, but even when I've washed everything in the house, when I go to bed at night, there's dirty clothes in the hamper.
It's not fair! Shouldn't there be a time when we're done with laundry? It's no wonder all those little old ladies live in nursing homes! They're heartily sick of sixty years of the endless cycle of laundry.
Okay, maybe I oversimplified it a bit, but seriously, I'm trying to figure out how I can get someone else to do my laundry. No, my husband isn't an option! He'll wash my delicates with his jeans, and he won't even use a lingerie bag. No, I think moving in with my daughter will be the best option.
For a while I tried ignoring my laundry, hoping it would take care of itself, but that didn't work. It piled up anyway and I had twice as much work to get it all done!
You're probably wondering why I would go off on this rant since it's not something I normally do! Of course I'm thinking about something profound, not just rambling. (That's what I do!)
Becoming a new creature in Christ is so much like doing laundry. It never ends, not until you get to heaven and get your heavenly robes. (Oh boy, I hope I'm right about the laundry part of heaven!) No matter how much you think you've grown as a Christian, there's still something to work on, so be encouraged if you're wondering when you'll finally get it, when you'll finally be all better, all fixed. It's a lifelong process that even Mother Teresa and Billy Graham had to do.
But unlike with the laundry, you get lots of help cleaning up your soul. The Holy Spirit doesn't just give you some awesome high-speed detergent, he stays right with you, working in and through you. And just like with laundry, some day you'll have an 'empty nest' and you won't have to do your spiritual laundry as often. But even then, don't neglect it, or it will pile up on you and become a major chore.
It does get better, but it doesn't go away. Rest assured that no matter how good someone else looks to you, they have to do their spiritual laundry too!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Coffee pots and the Holy Spirit

So, did you know that if you don't put a carafe under the basket of a drip coffee maker, you'll end up with a mess? It's not so bad if it's just four cups of coffee like I did this morning, but when it's eight to ten cups, oh what a pain! There are coffee and grounds all over the counter, the floor and in or on anything in the vicinity of the coffee pot. And coffee stains!
The good news is that you can still retrieve about three cups of coffee simply by putting the carafe properly under the basket.
"What does that have to do with the Holy Spirit?" you ask if you read the title of this blog.
That mess of coffee isn't the fault of the pot, nor even of the one who provided the water and coffee grounds. The pot was properly filled, but the person who was responsible for receiving the coffee didn't put the carafe in place at the proper time to catch the coffee.
Hopefully you begin to see where I'm going with this! A lot of times we look around at the mess we've made of our lives or our churches/ministries, and we want to blame God. But it's not his fault. He filled our innards with the Holy Spirit or populated our church with everyone we need to get his work done and have an incredible blessing. We, however, failed to properly place the 'pot' that will catch the blessings God is pouring out.
Personally we don't prepare our minds by studying the Word or we don't surround ourselves with godly people to help us grow. In our ministries we aren't deliberate about finding what people's giftings are, we're just looking for someone to do the job. We aren't prepared for the blessings of God to drip into a 'pot' that will then allow them to be enjoyed as intended. We make a mess of things.
But don't despair. All isn't lost! There's always time to catch at least some of the blessings God's been pouring out. Clean up your 'pot' and get it properly situated in God's plan and soon you'll be enjoying a fresh cup of coffee. And if you taste a few coffee grounds, let that be a reminder that no matter how bad you try to mess things up, God will still be glorified in the end!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Faith and Remembering

I've been hanging around in 1 Timothy for a while. It's very interesting to me how many things I discover in a book when I spend extra time in it! This morning, I read something that I don't remember reading before. Since this is a blog, I'll just give you the highlights, but there's a lot of contextual information that I have to skip. (Read 1 Timothy for yourself and see if I'm reading in context.)
So, the passage I paused in this morning was 1 Timothy 1:18-20 -
"Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme."
"This command" was probably the entire epistle, not just the immediate context. Paul is telling Timothy how to maintain his calling from the Lord. He's mentoring Timothy, and Timothy needs to remember what he's been taught. That's how he'll hold on to his faith and keep a good conscience.
I think it's not just "faith" and "conscience" that "some" have rejected, it's the instruction, the continued mentoring. But a faith shipwreck doesn't have to be fatal! Paul has hope that Hymenaeus and Alexander will learn a lesson.
Sometimes we get pretty full of ourselves after God's given us a calling, especially when it's something 'big'. We can abandon mentoring, or give it a half-hearted effort. But even leaders need mentoring, and accountability.
It doesn't mean you're not a strong Christian leader when you allow others to speak into your life with words of remembrance and/or correction. In fact, the opposite is true. Even when you have your own church or ministry, if you're obeying God you will submit to some authority that will help you keep your faith and conscience healthy.
Who's helping you remember the things you've been taught? Merely reading the bible by yourself isn't going to be enough. Find a mentor and some accountability partners and make sure you're remembering what you should be. Keep your faith strong and your conscience clear.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Candle of a Marriage

This past weekend my husband and I were praying for another couple and their marriage. We were using a candle as a reminder to pray for them. (There's a lot of back story to that, but I can't explain it all.)
The candle we were using was one of those that's poured into a tall glass container. This works really well to keep your house safe from the flame even when you're not immediately present and watching the flame, but it sure is hard to keep those darn things lit! I think they use the cheapest wax and wicks when they make those candles.
But the cheapness of the candle isn't the point of this blog. That candle as a metaphor for marriage is the point.
That candle was a royal pain to keep lit! It would burn brightly for a while then sputter and spit, sometimes flaming up again but it was more likely to sputter out. If I was right at hand, paying attention when that happened, I could pour out some wax and clean it up a bit and it was still pretty easy to relight. But if I was off somewhere doing something else and not watching that candle for too long (not a good idea), the wax would harden. Then it was a lot harder to get the candle cleaned and relit. I also had to make sure I uncovered enough wick to catch and burn but not so much wick that it burned too brightly and melted too much wax at once, drowning the flame.
Hopefully you've seen the metaphor in the above paragraph. Our marriages will sometimes burn brightly, sometimes sputter and spit. Sometimes the passion will die out completely. But there's still a lot of candle left. With a little judicious care you can get the candle of your marriage burning brightly again. That's going to be a whole lot easier if you're actually paying attention to your marriage and see when the flame sputters out. Clean it up while the wax is still soft and you won't have to work quite so hard.
As newlyweds we usually doubt those 'naysayers' who tell us that marriage is hard work. We're deeply in love and we expect our relationship to go on forever like that. It won't, but if you pay attention to it and carefully work on it, you will still have a flame burning, even after seventy years!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ruth and Boaz in God's Plan

The book of Ruth is one of the most underunderstood books in the bible. Yes, I meant exactly what I said. As contemporary Christians, we think we understand Ruth - She was David's great-grandmother, therefor an ancestor of Jesus. That's why her story is in the bible. That's not a bad understanding, but it's well under the understanding that we should get from it. Unless you know the bible very well or you have an awesome cross-reference/study bible, you're going to miss the subtleties of the story.
Like, did you know that Ruth was a descendant of Lot? Did you know that numerous laws were broken in this book? Do you know how the kinsman-redeemer worked? Do you know who Tamar and Perez were?
When you explore the subtleties of the book of Ruth, it becomes much richer.
But this blog isn't mainly about that. However, since I have studied Ruth in that kind of depth, I have a greater understanding of it than the average Christian. Since I've also learned how to study the bible, I know to ask "How would the original readers have understood this book?"
When we read this story, we jump immediately to "she's an ancestor of Jesus." The original readers didn't know that. They only knew that she was the great-grandmother of David, and that she was a very unlikely candidate for that role. In fact, based on Deuteronomy 23:3-6, she was an unlawful candidate for the great-grandmother of the king, and for the next seven of David's descendants.
In thinking about how much more incredible that story was for the original readers than for us today, I had one of those "well, duh!" moments.
Yes Ruth is an incredible story, but she didn't know how incredible it was!
Ruth lived it. She knew she was blessed to be Naomi's daughter-in-law; she knew she was blessed to become Boaz's wife, Obed's mother, Jesse's grandmother, but she never knew the rest of the story. She didn't know that her great-grandson became king!
Ruth lived her whole life without understanding her place in God's great plan of salvation. So did Boaz.
Boaz and Ruth weren't trying to do anything great and wonderful for God. They were simply living the simple life that had been given them. They were being obedient to God, not because they saw the ultimate blessing in it, but just because God was worthy to be obeyed.
You might not be seeing that what you do in life has any lasting impact, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that you live your life for God and let him work it to his glory, whether you ever see it or not! God will take your faithfulness and obedience and work them into his plan. You may not see the results until you get to heaven, but you can trust him. Whatever he's given you to do, no matter how small it seems to you, it's something God himself will make important!

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Incredible Husband

My husband is awesome! We've been married eight years now and he's got a bit more gray and a few more pounds than when we met, but he's even better looking now than he was then. I don't know how he did it, but it's true!
Paul's also very funny. Some of the silly things he does I can't share because you wouldn't understand (or it requires sharing intimate details that you don't need to know!) but he comes up with some of the funniest things. He doesn't at all mind poking fun at himself, especially what he calls OFS (old farts stuff).
He genuinely likes people (even when they have a penchant for irritating him) and he has more patience than he gives himself credit for. Unfortunately, when he loses his patience, it's pretty noticeable! But he doesn't hold grudges very well at all.
Paul loves God very much, enough that he wants to know him better. He not only reads his bible everyday, he thinks about what he reads, talks about it with others. When someone challenges his understanding about God, he doesn't get all huhu. Instead, Paul turns to the Word to see if maybe he missed something. He doesn't let other people tell him what he's supposed to believe; he makes them show him what they learned in the Word.
My husband wasn't always perfect. He's grown spiritually, but he still makes mistakes. That makes him 'perfect' for me! He doesn't buy me gifts and flowers. When he buys me candy it's Baby Ruths and M&Ms. But he likes to spend time with me. He talks to me and listens to me, and when it's my birthday, he thinks about where I want to go for dinner rather than picking a place he wants to go. He's even willing to let me pick the place we go to dinner on his birthday.
My husband is no stereotype. He isn't a waffle nor is he from Mars. He's my wonderful, adorable, unpredictable, sometimes confusing, sometimes frustrating, often challenging counterpart. The more I get to know the man I married, the more I love him.
If you're married and you'd like a husband somewhat like my Paul (who you can't have. I'll scratch your eyes out if you even try!), I suggest you change your perspective. Ask God for his eyes instead of your own. Start seeing your husband through God's eyes and you'll begin to see the real man.
If you aren't married and you'd like a husband somewhat like my Paul (see my above comment!), you still need to look through God's eyes! Put your life and love in God's hands and only look at what he puts before you, where he directs your eyes. God will show you the way to love.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who's Important?

Have you ever really thought about the fact that there's a big world that exists beyond what you can see, feel, smell and touch? When people are not in your presence, their lives go on. They do many things without even once thinking about you.
That seems like a 'no duh', doesn't it? But is it really? Functionally, do we really believe that people have lives that don't revolve around ours?
How many times have you called someone and been upset when they didn't answer? Have you ever been disgusted because you know they're screening your calls? They should answer and talk to you because you're important!
What about when people need your help for something and you're too busy to give it? This is especially noticeable when you're 'the boss'. You give directions but don't make them complete and when the person who's trying to do the project asks for feedback, you're too busy to give it. Whether or not they can do their job isn't as important as all the busy important things you're doing. And yet, when the job isn't done to standard or on time, you aren't going to take any of the blame because you delegated it!
The bible assures us that no one is unimportant, and yet how many times do we not take the time to get to know the needs and wants, gifts and callings, of the people around us. Usually they need to get 'in our face' and make themselves important to us. But what about all those people who don't get pushy? What about those who quietly go about their business, doing what's asked of them and asking for nothing, or very little, in return?
We should all begin to consider if we're really living like other people are important. They have things to contribute even when they seem unimportant.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Expectations

This hasn't been the best of weeks, but fortunately it hasn't been the worst either! Do you have those annoying weeks where nothing works quite right? The computer seems slower than usual. The check you're waiting for still hasn't come. The weather's been muggy. You don't want to step on the scale because you're pretty sure you've eaten just enough junk food to nudge your weight upward.
But it hasn't been a week devoid of pleasure either. That aforementioned junk food sure tasted good. You had a fun time or two with your spouse. You accomplished a few dozen little things.
But you didn't get anything big accomplished. You look back on all the work you did and wonder why? Why so little accomplished when you faced so many annoyances all week long and you really did work hard?
You had a 'life for real week'. It's been disappointing because of your expectations not because of your circumstances.
We want to live on the mountaintop; we know we'll spend time in the valley; we don't expect to spend most of our time travelling between the two.
I think that's why those 'blah' kine weeks are so unsettling. We know that suffering builds character because that's what the bible promised, so we actually learn to handle the really tough times (and thank God that they're not tougher than they are) and we look for those times that we accomplish something 'real' because they assure us that our character is indeed growing. But what the heck do all those minor annoyances accomplish?
One thing they reminded me of this week is that I have a tendency to expect perfection from myself. I'm okay with the imperfections of others (unless they're really imperfect!) but I hold myself to unrealistic expectations. If I'm becoming more Christ-like, I shouldn't be annoyed by anything, should I? Once the computer sticks its tongue out at me when I tell it to open my Outlook, I am annoyed. That expectation of being unflappable is destroyed. I am not Christ-like. I have failed. That opens the door to greater annoyance, even anger.
I'm beginning to see that before I can truly become Christ-like, I have to become realistic about my humanity. While I am being perfected, I am not perfect. I won't always respond perfectly to every situation. That doesn't mean I'm not a Christian, it just means I'm still on my journey. I need to give myself the grace to fail and get back up again, even when it's just a minor annoyance that caused me to fail.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Business

I'm so busy! I don't have the time for anything.
How many times have you heard something like that, or even said it? It's usually said as an excuse for not having responded to someone. It can even be rather prideful - "I don't have the time for little things because I'm too busy!"
I am rather busy right now. It's a season of my life. I don't have time for some of the things I really want to do, like writing my next novel. I'm about 1/3 of the way done with it but it's kind of on hold for a few days while I work on something else that's got me rather busy.
The problem with business is that some people live in a chronic state of business. They always have a few thousand emails waiting in their inbox. They're always rushing from one place to another. They always have a dozen different projects up in the air. They hardly have time to sit down for a meal without working and they rarely sleep more than a few hours a night.
Even if you're physically capable of keeping up with that kind of pressure, it isn't good for you. First off, you will age and you won't be able to keep up the pace. Second off, you don't have time for relationships.
No matter what your work is, it is not more important than your relationships.
That doesn't mean that you have to drop whatever you're doing because your daughter wants your attention, but it does mean that you should make time for your loved ones. And you shouldn't wait until they ask for time. You should initiate downtime that you can spend with family and friends.
All those things you're doing, for work, for church, even for your family, when they're done at the expense of your relationships, they become wood, hay and stubble that will be burned in the fire.
Take the time to reprioritize your schedule. Before you can do that, the first thing you need to wrap your mind around is this gem of wisdom - the fate of the free world does not rest on your shoulders!
God will get things done even if you 'drop the ball.' But you don't have to drop the ball. Start delegating, giving things to subordinates. Learn to tell your boss "No can do!"
Stop and just breathe. Don't even try to smell the flowers yet, just enjoy the breath that God has given you. Then start really looking at that incredibly blue sky. Watch a few clouds and see what drifts by. Learn the art of quietness and let it help you transform the business of your life into the fruitfulness of living.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Childish Tatrums and Childlike Wonder

My neighbor has one of the most adorable, friendliest boys I've ever met. He's just a year old and very curious about the world. That curiosity makes him quick for such a little guy. He has to be caught once he fixes on something and heads for it. He won't be turned from his goal by just hearing his name called in summons.
Unfortunately, every now and then he gets upset, like the other day when Daddy was washing the truck and he got sprayed by the hose. Then the little buggah walked right into the spray, screaming furiously.
Sometimes I'm like a toddler with God. I know I shouldn't do something but I do it anyway and I yell at God because it's his fault that I got 'all wet'!
Too bad I'm not as generally adorable as a toddler also! Too bad I get bored and indifferent with life sometimes instead of being curious. Too bad I'm too easily diverted from my God-given goals.
Why is it that we easily keep the negative aspects of babyhood and quickly lose the positive?
Jesus said we needed to become like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven. Maybe he'd have an easier time dealing with the temper tantrums we throw if every now and then we also experienced the childlike wonder of life! When the apostle Paul said to put off the childish things as you grow, do you think that maybe he didn't intend for us to put off childlike wonder?
Here's hoping that today you find something wonderful in God's creation, something that touches the child in you and breaths new life into her!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Another Beautiful Day

This morning I see gorgeous blue skies outside my windows. A few lazy fluffy clouds are drifting around in the heavens, but the sun rules supreme. Another beautiful day!
Why's a rainy day not a beautiful day?
I recently heard a few people talk at different times about how God blessed a trip by giving them perfect weather, meaning sunny skies and no rain. People pray for a change in the weather and feel their prayers are answered. That bugs me a little because it makes us as individuals much too important. It makes us the center of the world, the person around whom God determines the blessings that all others will receive - or not receive!
Did you know that there are people in the world who actually welcome rain? I'm serious! They're call farmers and ranchers and most of them have a very real need for rain to fall on their crops, to water their livestock. Sometimes the rain you're praying to stop has been a tremendous blessing to the farmers and ranchers in the area. Even in the cities we need rain occasionally. It replenishes the water table and provides water for the vegetation that helps to keep the air cleaner.
Yes, there's something about those beautiful blue skies that seems to set your heart soaring, but maybe it has more to do with the color blue than the weather itself!
It's not a beautiful or 'perfect' day because it's 95% sunny. It's a beautiful day because it's a day created by God. That makes every day, rainy, sunny or mix, a beautiful day!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Freedom from guilt

Yesterday I started studying 'guilt' in the bible. I wasn't too surprised to discover that there was a whole lot more on the subject in the Old Testament than in the New. What was rather surprising was how vast a difference there is!
I'm not by any means done since there are hundreds of times that the Hebrew and Greek words for 'guilt' and related words are used in the bible. I mean that quite literally! The Hebrew word ‘āwōn which means "Sin, wickedness, iniquity, often with a focus on the guilt or liability incurred, and the punishment to follow" occurs 233 times in the bible. And that's just one word.
So far, all the Greek words that I've found for guilt don't even come close to that number.
This is just preliminary findings, but my hypothesis after a few hours of study (it takes a long time to read all the verses that talk about guilt) is that in the Old Testament, we see a lot of defining of guilt. What makes a person guilty. How can they get rid of guilt. What are the guilt offerings. In the New Testament, the emphasis is on our freedom from guilt! That transition should be expected since we have verses like Isaiah 53:10 "Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, ...."
The prophecy of the Messiah said that he would become a guilt offering. The New Testament shows us how that happened.
We no longer have to be concerned with the mechanics of guilt as the Old Testament believers were. Now we have freedom from guilt, freedom provided by the ultimate, final, perfect sacrifice.
But what kinds of guilt is covered by Jesus' sacrifice?
Every single one! There is absolutely no form of guilt that isn't covered by the blood of Jesus, except the guilt of rejecting him!
If you have accept the salvation of Jesus Christ, you no longer own any guilt!
If guilt raises it's ugly head in your life, take it only as a warning that you have either committed a sin or you're under an attack from your unhealed past or a spiritual force.
Get rid of the guilt.
It's really that simple - repent of your sin and receive your forgiveness; take your past hurts to God and give them to him; or go after that spiritual force just like a stubborn old mule - keep your face resolutely focused on the One who freed you from guilt and let loose with a wicked back kick that hits the lie right where it counts!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Seeking God's glory

I've been reading 1 Timothy this past week. Yes, it only has six chapters but when I read a book of the bible, sometimes I read it over and over again. I don't always plan to when I start the book, but that's what happens. After a few days of reading and rereading, somethings begin to rise to the surface. I study those things a little more.
Now, I've read the bible way more than once. I've ready every book of the bible multiple times. I've completed a half dozen different "through the bible" reading plans over the years. I know the bible really well.
So why is it that I so often find things I never noticed before?
One thing that stood out in 1 Timothy is 1:8-9. (No I'm not going to talk about the 'women be silent in church' passage. That would be way beyond the scope of a blog!)
"We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, ...."
That means the law is not for Christians! That's strange since Jesus said he didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. So how can the law not be for Christians? Doesn't Paul say that the law is a mirror that shows us sin?
Take a look at what Paul says after he gives a list of examples of "the unholy and irreligious." In 1:10-11 he says: "and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God ...."
I think the simple answer to the above question about the law and Christians is that the law is unnecessary for those who are truly seeking to understand and obey the sound doctrine of the gospel! I once heard someone say (I think it was Mike Warnke many years ago) that as a Christian, you don't not do the 'don't's, you choose to do the 'do's! That's why (and functionally how) the law isn't for those who are righteous. When we seek to glorify God, we won't be doing the unrighteous things the law addresses! We will want to seek purity and holiness because that's what gives God glory.
If you're having a hard time giving up the sins of the past, try focusing on God instead of trying to get rid of the past. The more you fill your life with God, the less the law will be necessary!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Military Moving Mentality

I spent a good portion of my adult life in the military or as a military spouse. I thought I had learned the art of moving, but I've discovered that's not true. Sure I moved a lot, but I never had to pay for the moves! I didn't even have to do most of the work. I just got rid of some stuff (not much) and stepped back and let the movers have their way.
Since getting out of the Army, I've discovered that when you're paying for shipping yourself you're a lot more discriminating about what to keep, what to sell and what to give away. I've also discovered that the farther away you're moving, the more you're going to finally decide that you just don't really need that ... whatever it is you think you need.
On the other hand, how much are you going to pay to replace truly useful items if you get rid of too many things? Take the kitchen for example. Just because you only bake pies two or three times a year doesn't mean you should get rid of your good pie tins. Are you really going to be able to find quality replacements at a thrift store or yard sale, or are you going to go to a 'discount' store and pay retail price to get new tins?
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Some of us need to start making some decisions about the baggage of our lives too.
For a long time I had the 'military moving mentality' about life. It wasn't costing me anything to lug around the baggage of my past so I wasn't thinking about what I kept. It was easier to just let the Accuser come in, pack everything up and ship it for me whenever I tried to make a real change. Because I started leaving some things in boxes so I didn't even see them, I thought I was doing pretty good. I thought I was learning the art of 'moving' toward being Christ-like.
I was wrong. I had to start opening up those boxes and examining the contents for value. I dragged over a dumpster and threw a whole lot of things out for the garbage man. My keeper pile was pretty small. Some of it, like my failed marriages, I had to clean up and snip here and there in an attempt to learn lessons about what I'd done wrong. Surprisingly enough, all the ugly stuff in my past, when I really looked at it, prayerfully and with God's eyes instead of just my own, I saw a gem in the center. And I mean all the ugly stuff! No exceptions!
I've still got a few boxes left to unpack. I'm unpacking them in God's time, but I am determined that I will unpack them! I won't quit until I've found every gem I can and dumped all the rubbish.
How about you? Have you been living life with a military moving mentality? Are you ready for a real change?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Broken Clay Pot

A friend of mine gave me a very interesting analogy for her life. She said she was like a clay pot that had been broken. All the bigger pieces can be glued back together again, but some of that pot has been shattered to dust. It can't be retrieved and glued back in with the rest.
I really like that analogy, especially if you take it one step further.
When the clay pot of your life is broken, it happens right there in front of your Creator. He picks up the bigger pieces and lovingly sets them back on his workbench then he sweeps up the dust, sifting it carefully to keep only the parts of you, not the rubbish that might have been mixed in with it. He saves that dust in a little bin, safe from the wind that would blow it away. He loving begins to piece the pot back together again.
Sometimes you're going to resist his work and fall apart before he's done, but he's not going to quit. He'll pick up the pieces again, but this time there won't be as much dust left because the glue he's using is going to shield the edges of your broken pot.
Eventually he's going to have the big pieces all put back together again. Sure enough, there are still cracks and even some gaping holes in the pot, but the Potter isn't done yet. He takes that dust of your life that he's saved, mixes it with some special clay made of love, joy, peace and goodness then adds a bit of water that pours from his own side. With the paste he creates, he carefully and expertly fills in all those cracks and holes, working until everything is filled in. He smooths it, blending it carefully so that the new clay perfectly lays over the broken pot that is now no longer broken.
But the Potter's not done yet. Now he glazes the newly made pot with the Spirit of life then thrusts it into fiery trials. When the pot comes out of the fire, it is stronger, better than it was before it was ever broken. It now also has character that it didn't have before, a unique beauty unlike any other pot in the Potter's shed.
If that pot gets broken again, or even just chipped or cracked, the Potter will again fix the pot, each time making it even more beautiful.
The only role the pot has to play is to submit to the Potter's hands. If the pot resists, it will continue to break apart and crumble. Eventually it will be gone, lost for all eternity because it rejected its Creator's love.
Will you accept the work of the Potter, or will you resist, rejecting the love that can make you new again?

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Garbage of Life

Last night at church one of the men gave an analogy about the junk from our past and the junk in a garbage dump. It went something like this:
When rubbish is downloaded into a dump, it's packed down into layer upon layer. The more time passes, the more the garbage shifts and compacts. If there was something you needed to get out of the dump that was deposited even just months before, it's already been buried by a small mountain of other garbage. You'll have to root around down there until you hook onto it, but when you try to pull it out, it's going to be caught on a whole lot of other rubbish. Some of that rubbish will stick with it and come out when it does, but other rubbish will be tangled with something else that keeps any of the rubbish from coming up out of the dump with any ease.
When we try to get to the source of negative thinking in our lives, we'll usually find that's hard to do. We can identify a certain memory that contributed to something - let's say self doubt. So someone remembers that her father repeatedly told her that she couldn't do anything by herself. She's found the rubbish that's the source of her current problems and she forgives it. It's done, over with, gone.
Not even! That rubbish is hooked onto something else. Maybe her mom wouldn't ever let her help with any of the household chores. That's going to be a real hard one to find because she doesn't even recognize it as a negative thing!
So the point is that most of us live on a garbage dump of a past. God will help us get out all the garbage, but it's going to take time and a lot of patient work. It's worth the effort. What you need to do is keep a focus on the end goal - a new life as a truly joyful person.
Be forewarned though, once you've asked God to start the process, he's not going to quit, no matter how much you whine when thing get stinky down in the dump. Learn to plug your nose and keep at it. Someday you'll have a beautiful, sweet smelling flower garden.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Restore File

Isn't it amazing how difficult life gets with technology? We always think about things being easier than they were even fifty years ago but sometimes they get harder, especially when technology goes awry. Computers are both the bane of my existence and what makes my current 'career' possible. Using my buddy InDesign, I can lay out books with much more ease then old Ben Franklin ever dreamt of (and he was quite a dreamer), but when the computer crashes, life becomes so hard!
I've spent the last two days trying to keep up with the things I need to do while I recovered from the ravages of a possessed computer. Thankfully I do very good backups these days. In fact, I'm almost compulsive about it. As long as there were no gremlins getting their hot little hands into things while I was backing up, I haven't lost even one word of my work. And I've literally written hundreds of thousands of words.
While I backup my files, I haven't yet figured out how to do that restore thing on the computer, if it's even still possible with the new operating systems. (There are so many features of the old system that I liked that are now gone. It would figure that they would think things that made working on the computer easier would be unwanted features. They 'improved' the ease of copying and moving files right out of existence!) If I can figure out that restore thing, I won't have as much trouble reloading programs next time my computer needs surgery.
On the other hand, isn't it just like life to have a hard time restoring things after they go south? When we sin, there isn't a 'restore file' that will allow us to wipe out all our troubles and start over like nothing ever happened. Just like with a computer without a restore file, we have to painstakingly find all the things that need to be set right. It can take a long time. Even when you think you've handled everything, something else pops up that you're missing, weeks or even months later.
Computer problems can be greatly reduced with a judicious use of time and resources. Virus checkers, spyware killers and system optimizing will help you keep thing operating well for a long time. In life, regular prayer, bible study and fellowship with other believers will keep you growing and much safer from the attacks of the malicious unseen forces who want to mess up your life just because they can.
I don't know about you, but I've certainly learned that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I'm glad that my crashes aren't as spectacular as they used to be. But if something does happen and my whole life crashes like a six year old computer, even though I may have to deal with consequences, God does have a restore file that will make me new again.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Joy of Writing

I love being a writer! It's got to be the coolest job ever. One of the neatest things about it is that none of my dreams need ever be wasted.
You remember how when you were a kid, you dreamed all kinds of stuff? You'd travel, be a fireman, a soldier, a cowboy, whatever. You dreamed so many things (and hopefully still do) that you couldn't possibly do them all.
I will never accomplish all my dreams. There are just too many of them. But now my dreams get new life in my books. Sometimes something happens, either in my life or in the world at large, that really bugs me. I get to take that event, wonder what could have happened if someone who was really in tune with God was there to change the outcome, then I get to make it happen in a story.
I believe that as Christians we can affect the world around us in a very real way. Part of it is just being open to whatever wonders God wants to unfold in your life. Part of it is becoming aware of ways that God can work through you.
So, last year there was a story (or two or three) about a bank robbery and I wondered what if God had put someone in the bank who would bring God's presence to the situation? So I wrote that what if. What if God put someone in a position to stop a domestic terrorist-type attack? What if God asked someone to witness to a serial rapist? What if God used a young man to make an abusive womanizer realize he wasn't much of a man?
What could you do with your life if you opened it up to God's possibilities? Whose life could you save if you were a willing vessel? It isn't necessarily going to be something big and newsworthy like stopping a school shooting, but I guarantee you this - if you open yourself to God's possibilities, at some point in time he will use you to affect a potentially ugly situation. If you let him, God will show you how to write a story that will glorify him.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Angry with God

I don't know if you've ever been angry with God or not, but I'll confess that I have. It's not a matter of not believing in him anymore. I knew he was God, but I just didn't like the way he did things.
Some of my characters get angry with God too. At the beginning of Seasons of Change, Heather was angry at God because of all the bad things that had happened to her and her family. She still loved God but she wasn't talking to him. She doesn't actively disbelieve his goodness, but she does let him know she's mad at him.
In A Cord of Three, Ted is angry at God, also because of some bad things that happened to him and his family. However, he's decided he doesn't love God and that God doesn't love him.
Of course, through the events in their respective books, both Heather and Ted begin to get past their anger. When Ted's approaching that point of letting go of the past, he tells his dad he's not a godly man. His dad points out that Job complained about God, accused God of picking on him and told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn't being fair to Job. God never told anyone that Job was unrighteous. In fact, he said Job was righteous, even after getting angry at God.
Ted asks, "Are you saying it's okay to be angry at God?"
His dad says, "That depends on what you mean by 'okay' Son. If you mean okay as in it's a good place to be, then no, it's not okay. If you mean okay as in God isn't going to quit loving you because you're angry, then yeah, it's okay to be angry. The key is to get to the place where you're finally willing to hear God reassure you that he is God and that he knows what he's doing."
When you get angry with God, do you tell him you're angry and let him gently show you the truth, or do you pout and sulk and try to pretend like he won't know anything's up if you don't say anything (like we sometimes do with our earthly parents)?
You may as well get it off your chest. God knows exactly what you're thinking, but as long as you hold onto it, he can't fully deal with it. When you trust him enough to tell him you're angry, you take a huge step forward in your spiritual 'IQ.'
The next time you start to feel angry at God, why not try telling him so? The sooner you unload that anger, the more likely you are to sin not. Don't keep it. Give it to God where it belongs.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On Doubts and The Truth

In my book The Blessed Winter, Greg, the central character of The Shepherd Series who's the pillar of faith for his family, doubts himself and his calling from the Lord. Without revealing details in case someone who's reading this hasn't read the book and wants to, I feel the need to explore something he says during his time of doubt.
"It's me who's weak and wrong, not God. What if I've been wrong about me all along? What if everything I've ever believed I heard from God wasn't from him at all but was my own selfish desire? ... What if I'm stubborn, selfish and self-righteous? And if I don't know how to hear God's voice after twenty years as a Christian ... If I've been wrong, then I don't know how to hear God so I'm not going to know when he speaks to me as he tries to change me. ... So this is it. This is all I get to be, the messed up screwball with no past and no future. What good am I to anyone?"
I wonder sometimes how many Christians, even Billy-Graham-like 'pillars of the faith,' sometimes feel this way.
Curiously, I think that maybe only those who do know the Lord will question themselves enough to doubt like this. In my experience, those who are stubborn, selfish and self-righteous never doubt themselves! They 'know' that they know the Lord better than anyone else.
It isn't the doubts that are the problem, it's what you do with them. A few chapters later, Greg tells one of his friends: "In everything God loves us and he goes with us. Nothing we do can destroy his love for us, nothing we go through makes him leave us. We have to hold our feelings up to that truth and bring them in line with it rather than trying to rewrite the truth based on our feelings."
Feelings can lie to us, tell us things about ourselves that aren't true. God himself has said that you are of great value to him. Even if you have messed up, he's going to redeem that, turn it around to his glory.
So when you have doubts about yourself and your calling from the Lord, remember what you know about God. Write yourself a psalm listing the ways God has already shown his love for you and his calling on you. Don't just include the wonderful things of the bible, include the wonderful personal experiences that you've had. Confront your doubts with the Truth. Let that Truth reveal any legitimate issues that you need to face and work with God to fix them, but never, ever embrace doubt about your usefulness to God and his kingdom. If you are his child, you definitely have a place in his plan.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Physical, Emotional or Spiritual

We have three basic types of problems that we face in life - physical, emotional or spiritual.
A physical problem would be something like a broken leg. An emotional problem could be a low self-image. A spiritual problem is something like unforgiveness.
Except it's not that simple! I think in actuality this is more accurate:
physical problem = emotional problem = spiritual problem
We've heard a lot about how our physical body is affected by our emotions and our spirit. If you harbor unforgiveness, it can make you physically ill with things like ulcers. If you have a low self-image it might cause things like stress headaches. If you have a broken leg, it can make you miserable and angry. But those things don't necessarily happen. There are plenty people who have physical ailments that don't get them "down" emotionally, and some people are physically healthy while they harbor unforgiveness. But every single physical or emotional problem affects your spirit.
Right now are you frowning or staring thoughtfully at your computer screen? I hope you're doing one or the other because that means I'm challenging you to think about something you haven't thought about before.
What I said was every single physical or emotional problem affects your spirit. Note that I did not say that every physical or emotional problem causes a spiritual problem. That would not be true. My original statement is. Why do I say that? Romans 5:1-5
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
See how "hope" is a spiritual thing? Where does hope come from? Character, which comes from perseverance, which comes through suffering!
In every kind of suffering, your spirit will be affected. You will either accept the growth toward hope that God wants to use your suffering for and have a spiritual blessings, or you will reject the growth and have a spiritual problem.
You cannot by sheer force of will refuse to let an emotional or physical problem affect your spirit, you can only choose whether the effect will be a blessing or a problem!
If you want to choose the blessing, it's a simple (but not easy) matter of turning to God in trust. Allow him to show you what he wants you to learn and let your character grow.
Or you can snap and growl and bite the hand that blesses you, blaming God for your suffering and watch your problem grow.
Which will you choose, the blessing or the problem?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lessons Relearned

I wonder if I'm the only one who has to relearn lessons over and over and over again. It's especially embarrassing to realize that I've put myself into a predicament when I've taught people to not do what I've been doing. But I guess I'm in good company since the Apostle Paul bemoaned the fact that the very things he didn't want to do, he did.
My current dilemma is an overfull plate. And no, I'm not talking about a dinner plate! You know what I mean. So many things to do and not enough time to do it all.
Some of it's my own fault. I procrastinate doing things I don't like to do or don't do well. They build momentum when I put them off and when I finally must tackle them, they're a three thousand pound boulder rolling down the hill and I'm trying to balance on top of it rather than being crushed under it.
Some of it's the result of not getting feedback or responses from people I'm working with. The problem is that I hate being micromanaged so I hate micromanaging. When people have said they'll do something, I trust them to do it. It'll take a long time before I finally decide to bug them and get what I need from them. Then it seems to never fail that each and everything I'm waiting on comes back within a short period of time!
Some of my overload is God's fault! I'm serious, and I'm right. That Man just won't quit giving me inspiration! I've got ideas in my head that won't go away until I put them down on paper. As long as they're in there, they take up room that I need for other thing too. But the problem is that God gives me ideas almost as fast as I can get them down on paper. Then he adds to my conundrum by not sending me enough people to help with those aforementioned things I don't do so well, like maintaining a website (or two or three).
I guess God's trying to teach me about prioritizing, but I'm not getting the message. The problem is that the only thing I can logically see that I can let go is the writing, but that's the very thing that God keeps dumping on me!
I wonder if anyone out there is listening and if they have a practical idea for how to resolve my dilemma?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Better Christian vs. More Christ-like

Would you like to be a better Christian or be more Christ-like? Let me say at the outset that there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a better Christian, but it isn't a very good goal because it's not measurable.
What is a Christian? That word has no true meaning to contemporary Americans. You may find that a little radical, but think about this: Have you ever shopped in a Christian bookstore? Read a Christian book? Listened to Christian music on a Christian radio station?
The problem with being "Christian" is that the word has varied meanings. In fact, some of the music you listen to on "Christian" radio really isn't "Christian." Take for example a very popular song back in the nineties, "Butterfly Kisses." It was a beautiful song about a daddy's love of is little girl who grows into a woman. It was played on Christian radio even though the only mention of God was in the first verse: "She was sent here from heaven /... She talks to Jesus and I close my eyes / And I thank God for all of the joy in my life." (More recently Steven Curtis Chapman's Cinderella doesn't even mention God or Jesus at all!)
So what makes something "Christian"? Who decides that? It certainly isn't defined in the bible.
What makes someone "Christian"? That's defined in the bible. Luke says that "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26, emphasis added). Peter says "if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name" (1 Peter 4:16). (The only other use of the word Christian in the original text of the bible is in Acts 26:28: "Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?") So, according to the bible, a Christian is a disciple who praises God when he suffers because he is a Christian. An argument could even be made that simply accepting Jesus as your savior and gaining eternal life does not make you a Christian. You must choose to be a disciple too.
Hmmm. I wonder where that puts most Americans who call themselves Christians?
If you're going to be a biblical Christian, you're going to be a disciple which means you're spending time with Jesus Christ to be more Christ-like! And you find suffering a reason to praise God.
You can try to become a better Christian (e.g. not swear, drink, smoke or have extra-marital sex) without ever even approaching being Christ-like. (Or being saved either!)
Being Christ-like means seeking to know the Father (through reading his Word), seeking the Father's will, being a servant, dying to self, being in fellowship, reaching out to the lost, hurting and lonely. If you become more Christ-like, you will become a better Christian (a better disciple of Jesus').
How about you? Do you want to be a better Christian or be more Christ-like?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Silliness is Next to Godliness

I'm working on getting some stuff in my third book, After the Storm, up on my website, so when my Outlook popped up a reminder that I was supposed to blog, silliness was on my mind.
If you've read any of my books, you know that my characters are (too?) prone to break out into silliness, but Pete (the hero of Storm) realizes that he's not comfortable with silliness. When he's with the guys, he follows their silliness easily and even usually willingly, but he never instigates anything nor does he escalate. In fact, when his best friends aren't around, he tends to protect his dignity. He can play games and all (which is obvious since he's a football player) but he always has to play to win, to be the best, be ichiban, number one.
In talking to Jenni, Pete discovers that his difficulty in being silly is rooted in his childhood. He knows he had a pretty bad childhood; his parents are quite different now than they were when he was growing up.
Because Pete is already committed to allowing Jesus to be Lord of his life in all things, that realization makes a big difference for him. He sees that his dignity isn't important. He begins to allow himself to degenerate into silliness. He even discovers that his previously abusive, womanizing father has learned to be silly with his mother.
He does such a magnificent job of getting into silliness that eventually Jenni declares, "I don't guess there's much reason to worry about your dignity anymore."
(If you want to know how Pete gets silly, you'll have to read After the Storm.)
My question for you is this: Do you believe "silliness is next to godliness"? Should Christians be silly?
Maybe it'll help to put things in a biblical perspective: Do you think Jesus was being serious when he said to not let your left hand know what your right was doing, or was he being a little bit silly? Have you ever stopped to examine bible stories for silliness? What about when Peter got freed from prison in Acts 12? Rhoda was so excited to see him that she slammed the door on his face then tried to convince everyone he was actually out there. They argued with her for a while instead of just opening the door and looking. When they finally do, Peter's standing there still knocking. If you haven't seen that as funny, grab your bible and have someone read the story aloud to you while you close your eyes and imagine it happening like it was a sitcom.
God does have a steak of silliness in him. If you're too careful about maintaining your dignity, if you can't let silliness out, maybe you need to have a serious discussion with God about why. Is your dignity of greater value than laughter and fellowship?
If you can't remember the last time you were silly, it's been too long! Go in your prayer closet, put on some music and dance like you're crazy.
Go on, try it, you might actually like it!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Art of Friendship

I believe that friendship is very important. That's obvious from the title of my sixth book, A Cord of Three which is of course from Ecclesiastes 4:7-12. While that passage doesn't mention 'friendship' directly, it's still obviously about friendship - "pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up."
Unfortunately, I think contemporary Americans have lost the true meaning of friendship. Rugged individualism (the Marlboro man riding the range by himself), pulling yourself up by your bootstrap, even "man's best friend" (the dog) all indicate a self-reliance that shuns relationship and sees aloneness as somehow better than the interdependence of friendship.
On the other hand, comments like "She's the best friend anyone could ever have. She's always there for me" smack more of the other side of the coin - codependence, the need to have someone who needs you to validate you.
In A Cord of Three, as Ted and Shelly's friendship deepened, they realized that Ted would always need to withdraw sometimes to process what was happening. Shelly needed to learn to not accept feelings of rejection when he needed to do so, which would be easier if Ted told her he needed time to himself.
True friendship (which any romantic relationship needs if it wants to survive 'til death) realizes that differences are good and it not only allows the differences, but it embraces and encourages them. True friendship also sometimes scolds. In 2 Corinthians 7:8-13, the Apostle Paul tells us that sometimes we need to cause those we love to be sorrowful in a godly way. There is a godly sorrow that leads to repentance and salvation. In the end, there is no regret for the sorrow, either from the giver or receiver, because both draw closer to each other and to God through the sorrow.
Too often we're afraid to hurt someone's feelings, but sometimes feelings need to be hurt! Our friendships, whether they be familial, romantic or platonic, all need to be God-centered. We have to have healthy boundaries that allow us to say 'no,' and we have to receive 'no' without being hurt. We sometimes have to scold, sometimes encourage, sometimes walk away and let the fall happen, but never so far that our hand of friendship isn't there to assist in the recovery.
I challenge you to examine your friendships. Do you have honest ones? If not, why not? Are you willing to trust God enough to open yourself to the vulnerability of true friendship?

Monday, August 8, 2011

For country, church or God?

"Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." President Kennedy said that fifty years ago in his inaugural address. It's a fine sentiment for individuals to live by. It is a dangerous sentiment for governments to live by.
Yes, as Americans we do need to ask what we can do for your country, not what our country can do for us. It's part of that life of service that we were created for. However, when a government asks what its people can do for it rather than what it can do for its people, the government begins to exist for its own sake rather than to provide a safe and orderly environment for the people to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Then the government decides what it wants to accomplish with no concern for the people it will have to walk over to get the job done. When people get tired of such governments they rise up in rebellion or civil disobedience, forcing a change in the way things are done. Sometimes those changes are good, but sometimes they're bad.
Substitute "country" for "church" in Kennedy's quote, and you have the same basic scenario.
The contemporary church in America seems quite willing to tell its congregants to seek what they can do for the church, but wholly unwilling to ask what the church can do for the congregants. Churches tend to get focused on the big picture, bringing souls into the kingdom and achieving a God-given vision for the church. They forget the individual. Even in those churches who do disciple believers to grow to be more Christ-like, the tendency is to do it so that they will eventually serve in and/or lead a ministry within the church. Most churches are looking for how they can use their members' God-given gifts and talents, not how they can nurture their members to find their calling from the Lord. When they do talk about "calling," most churches do it in the context of their church, not in the context of God's will.
The Apostle Paul made it pretty clear that unless the church is first concerned about the individuals who make up their congregation, they cannot be serving the Lord at full capacity - "But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." (1 Corinthians 12:24-26)
As church leaders, we must never allow ourselves to get so focused on the mission that we do not nurture the people who make up our congregation. It isn't easy to do that because it means building true relationships, getting to know people in a real way rather than looking at them and trying to figure out what ministry we can stick them in. Their calling from the Lord may give our church no direct benefit, but that doesn't mean we aren't responsible to nurture that calling anyway.
As congregants, we cannot forget that we are responsible not just for using our God-given gifts and talents for our church, but also for finding our God-given calling and serving him, not just our local church. Sure we need to be part of a church, but that church needs to be concerned about us, not just about its mission.
There comes a time when citizen or congregant has to ask not just what they can do in service, but if they are in turn being served. Your first loyalty is to God, not country and not church. If God has something for you to do for him and your church is only interested in what you can do for the church, it's time to reevaluate your membership. It's time to find a place where you can fulfill your calling, not just have your gifts and talents used by the church.
Share what you believe your God-given calling is with a ministry leader whom you already know. If they seem uninterested or talk a good game but never follow through, it is most definitely time to reevaluate where you belong. God's not calling you to open rebellion, but he might want to move you to another flock with a different under-shepherd who will serve you as you grow your calling, not just use your gifts and talents.
If God does call you to leave your church for more fruitful pastures, be sure you calmly explain to your pastor why you are leaving. If you can't do that, then you're not ready to leave yet! Stick around and grow some more. When you can share your concerns with the pastor, without being accusatory, then you'll know that you have grown!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

glory to Glory

This morning when I was reading in 2 Corinthians 3, I found something that I'd never noticed before. Do you ever have those surprises? You know you've read that chapter before, but you have absolutely no recollection of ever reading that part.
Of course, you'll need to read the verses before to get where this started, but Paul was talking about how "the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory" (v.7) after he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. This, Paul said, was "the ministry that brought death." Then he said "the ministry of the Spirit [is] even more glorious" (v.8). It is the "the ministry that brings righteousness!" (v.9)
Yes, the glory that Moses brought down from the mountain was great, but it was nothing compared to the glory that Jesus brought to us when he gave us the Spirit. The glory of the giving of the Law was only a temporary glory. The glory of the giving of the Spirit is permanent! It is much, much greater.
Moses shone with the light of the glory he received on the mountaintop. As far as I can tell from reading the Pentateuch, that glory never faded. He was still wearing the veil to tone down the glory when he was standing at the gates of the Promised Land. But that glory is less than what we get when the Spirit dwells in us!
I don't know about you, but too often I discover that I've put on a veil to hide the glory of the Spirit from myself. I get selfish and self-centered and I want things my way. I can't see the glory of the Spirit, much less show that glory to others around me.
But the Spirit is glorious! He comes to remove all the junk that's in me. He takes away the pain, bitterness, anger. He surrounds us with a love that will never go away. He is a life-giving well of joy that should be obvious to all around us.
But we have to learn to let him live in us without hiding from him before we can live without hiding him from others. It's not easy to open up those dark places and let him in, but until we do, his glory won't shine all the way through us, not because it can't but because he won't do it. He wants our willingness to submit to his healing touch.
Are you willing to submit to the healing touch of the Spirit so he can remove all the pain and junk from your life?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

True Report Vs. Truth

One of the problems we have with interpreting the bible is that not every word written in it expresses the truth.
Wait! Hear me out before you get all huhu!
There is a difference between the truth and a true report. A true report reports things that actually happened; the truth is what God has done, spoken, he's immutable laws. So, if I say that my son said he did his homework, I am reporting an event that actually happened. That does not mean that he did indeed do his homework. He very well may not have (and probably didn't knowing my son).
The specific thing that prompted this particular musing today was 1 Corinthians 15:29 - "Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" Is that truth - we should baptize for the dead - or a true report of things that were actually happening in Corinth - people were getting baptized for the dead?
The immediate context tells us that Paul is arguing for the resurrection. Apparently some of the Corinthian Christians doubted the resurrection. The above statement falls in a logical argument for the resurrection. It points out an illogical action - why ever would you baptize for the dead if you don't believe in the resurrection? Paul doesn't say they are right to do it; he says they are illogical when they do it. That's a big difference!
When you find something that raises your eyebrows like this, you have to read the entire context, get a feel for the whole passage, see how it fits in with the passages around it. How does it advance the theme of the book?
The other thing to do is look for other passages that bolster that idea. If there are none (or maybe one or two that might support it), you have to put that idea in the category of a true report but not a truth that needs to be the basis of a doctrine. If there is an abundance of other passages that refute that idea, then you need to firmly put that verse back in its context and never, ever ever read it by itself!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Itching ears

In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, the Apostle Paul warned that the time would come when people would "not put up with sound doctrine" but would "gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." He said they would "turn aside to myths," so Timothy had to "Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction" and "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."
Without being specific about why, I feel the need to say that too many Christians are falling into the "itching ears" trap because too many teachers aren't willing to endure the hardship that comes when we "correct, rebuke and encourage."
Today there's a lot of pop theology being preached as if it was gospel truth, but it isn't. Pop theology holds at its center a very valuable kernel of truth, but it goes way beyond what the bible says. It loosely interprets the bible or even totally ignores any interpretation at all and makes up a meaning. Pop theology is unconcerned about correct biblical interpretation and instead seeks to tell people what they want to hear, what makes them feel good about themselves, their church, their culture, their country. It's not necessarily a bad thing to feel good about any of those things, but when you're doing it based upon a false premise, is there true value in the feelings?
As a bible teacher, I want to correct pop theology. Sometimes it makes me hiss like a Navi! The problem is in knowing when I make a direct frontal attack and when I simply patiently show people how to correctly interpret the bible and pray that they find the truth on their own.
One thing I know for sure is that if someone asks me a question, I'm going to answer it to the best of my ability. So, if you have doubts about something you've heard, you can always ask. I'll be more than happy to explore what the bible actually says.
In the meantime, I'll just keep my hisses to myself unless God pokes me too hard!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Enlightening Conversation

I met a couple of very nice ladies yesterday. They came to my door and wanted to enlighten me about Heavenly Mother. It was an interesting conversation but the highlights were that one of the ladies challenged me to show her just one verse in the Old Testament where the Israelites were called the "children of God." I'm not sure what her purpose was because she was rather surprised when I got out my concordance and found Deuteronomy 14:1 for her. Obviously I shot down whatever the "proof" was that she was going to give me because she changed the subject.
I decided to return the favor, so I asked her to show me just one verse anywhere in the bible where it said we have a "heavenly mother." She said she'd given me the proofs; I told her that she'd taken a few passages out of context.
That's when she realized that I knew a little too much about the bible to be interested in learning about Heavenly Mother, so she told me that Jesus had already returned. I disagreed and offered to look at the prophecies about the Second Coming to show her why that wasn't possible. She got a smug smile and told me that I would see.
In the course of the conversation, she also told me that she has no questions about the bible anymore because Heavenly Mother has revealed all to her. She never questions the leaders of her church because if they're wrong, Heavenly Mother will correct them. She told me Heavenly Mother has to be right because over a million people belong to her church.
I asked her and her friend if they were willing to put their beliefs to the test. She said she had no need to. I said I wasn't afraid to test my beliefs and if she or her friend wanted to come back and explore the bible with me to see who's beliefs hold up, I'd be willing to study with them.
I wonder if either of those ladies will ever question what they've been taught. I wonder if they're willing to have their faith challenged. I know I am. I hope you are. We can never ever blindly accept what the leaders of our church say, the bible is very clear on that. We must examine everything they say, hold it up against the light of the bible and see if it shines true.
It is my earnest desire that every Christian would learn how to study the bible properly and for themselves (though not by themselves).
Do you study the bible properly? Do you know how? Are you willing to learn?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Trees and Reality

Have you ever heard that philosophical question "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one to hear it, does it make a sound?"
I remember that the first time I heard that question, I thought it was ridiculous. I was only in junior high school, but I still knew that sound doesn't require a hearer to be sound. Sound is created by waves in the air. Even if no one hears it, it's still a sound. The tree hits the ground, so of course it makes a sound.
When I learned about scientific experiments, I realized the philosophical "value" of the question rested in the fact that there is no way to objectively verify that the tree does indeed make a sound if no one is around to hear it. Even a recording device that will be retrieved later gives the tree a hearer.
That' s not to say that maybe a tree doesn't make a noise if no one can hear it. That just says that we can't objectively verify the truth.
Now, I could go into a rant about how so many things, like God and angels, can't be objectively verified even though they are true, but I'm not going to do that. It would be too obvious. Instead, I'm going to point out how that question illustrates the arrogance of mankind.
As if we are what defines reality!
The truth is that life goes on for other people and animals once you leave the room. Your friends don't go into animate suspension when you're gone only to come to life again in your life-giving presence. Trees do make sounds when they fall in the forest and you aren't there to hear them.
Neither you nor I are the ones who hold the universe together. God is. He's the one who hears every tree that falls, sees every tear that drops and knows every thought that is not uttered. He defines reality, yours, mine and the tree's.
So, if you ever hear some philosophical wiseguy pose that question, just smile and tell him. "It's impossible for a tree to fall with no one to hear it because God hears everything!"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Behind the Song - At the Cross

I don't know if you're familiar with the worship song "At the Cross." I really like that song. Not for the beautiful tune (though it does have a melody and rhythm you can really get into for worship), but for the wonderful reminder of what Jesus did for us.
It's pretty easy for most people to pick up on the 'your blood was shed for me' and 'you have overcome the grave' parts, but I wonder how many people understand 'you tore the veil' and 'what can separate me now.'
Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45 all report that at the moment Jesus died, the veil in the temple was torn in two, Matthew and Mark both specifying 'from top to bottom.'
The significance of this event is great but we have to go back to the Old Testament to fully understand it. In Exodus 26:31-37 God gave the instructions for making that veil and for its purpose. It was to cover the Most Holy Place. The Mercy Seat of God was placed inside that Most Holy Place, behind the veil. Leviticus 16 tells us that only the high priest, on one day out of the year, the Day of Atonement, could enter the Most Holy Place where the Mercy Seat of God was. The high priest had an elaborate ritual that he had to perform to be prepared to go behind the veil. The penalty of not being properly prepared was death.
In other words, no one could get to the Mercy Seat of God except indirectly through the high priest and even he took a big risk doing it.
Hebrews 9 gives us very good insight into what happened at the moment of Jesus Christ's death. He was a perfect sacrifice who had no need of ritual to make himself clean before he could atone for the sins of the people. Instead, when he tore the veil, he opened up the way for all to get to the Mercy Seat of God. He became a High Priest forever! The last one ever needed. The veil was torn because nothing now separates us from God! We have direct access to him through the blood of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul assures us that we are now the temple of the Lord, both individually and corporately as a church (1 Corinthians 3:17 & 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). That is the truth behind 'nothing can separate me now'!
The veil was torn. That veil restricted access to God to just one man, one day every year. The veil was torn because God came to man! No longer do we have to wait in fear and trembling for the high priest to come out of that mysterious secret place where God dwells on earth and assure us that our sins are forgiven. Now we have direct access because that place where God dwells on earth is in us! What a great and glorious blessing!
Next time you sing that wonderful worship song "At the Cross," please open your heart to fully see it's glorious reminder of what Christ did for us, not just in his shed blood but also in the torn veil. Sing that song like you've never sang it before because truly nothing separates us from God!