Monday, January 31, 2011

Ode to South Dakota

I’ve been thinking all day trying to come up with a funny story or something that has the twist of irony.  

Your dedicated Kingdom Bloggers theme for this week is “All’s Well that Ends Well.” 

I really wanted to be silly or suspenseful today.  It’s just not happening.  Tomorrow I’ll probably think of something and say why didn’t I write about this or that?  Certainly there is a meal I’ve ruined or something I could think of but not today.  Brain is dry.

I think my brain is dry because my heart is full.  The only thing I can think about right now is leaving South Dakota.  But that is my story of something messed up that turned out well.  If you read my Storehouses of Snow you’ve read my ups and downs, my complaining and whining, my journey through these near 3 years in South Dakota, and my victory limp.

In three days, provided the weather cooperates, I will get in my little red car and head back to Tennessee.  It will be packed full of household items and all my clothes.  This trip will not be like the many, many other trips I have taken on that route.  It may be the last time my red car travels those miles of interstate between South Dakota and Tennessee.  I may be so stressed by the time I get in the car, that I won’t cry.  But I think I will.

I cried when I came to South Dakota.  I cried for all sorts of reasons.  I cried because my husband seemed to choose a job over family.  I cried because I wanted everything to stay the same.  I cried because I would miss my children.  I cried because I was worried about my mother.  I cried because I was so uncertain of what to do.  I cried because none of the choices were good.  I cried because I was scared.  I cried for all these reasons and more.  What was my husband’s glorious and grand opportunity, shattered so much of my world at the time.

We came in May.  We came just after an early May snow storm.  It seemed odd to leave a state with lots of trees in full leaf, to a place with few trees that were still not budding.  It seemed my husband always had a meeting or a place to go.  It was unrelenting those first few months.  I traveled back and forth to Tennessee often.  Each time wondering what I should do?  Should I be a commuter wife?  Where were my responsibilities?  Eventually love of my husband won out and I settled in to the apartment.  While I chose to avoid calling it home, I will really miss this apartment.

As I look at the mountain of snow growing outside, I think of the first winter.  I slipped further and further into despair, discouragement, and depression.  It wasn’t just the weather.  It wasn’t just the people of South Dakota or it’s geography.  It was me.  It was the hours alone.  It was the nagging questions inside of me.  I always knew it was me even as I attempted to pin the blame on South Dakota.

The second spring and summer came and went.  More travel for my husband, more time alone.  New hope and a new plan, I would take classes at the Seminary in the Fall.  As the Fall gave way to winter, and the fall semester dawned, these hopes and plans were once again crushed by a very unhelpful professor.  By our second February in South Dakota, my mother would fight her final battle victoriously going to the arms of her Savior.  More time alone in South Dakota would follow along with new plan, a new hope, a return to Tennessee for education.

Last summer, was better.  There were times of sadness but I was coming to terms with South Dakota.  I also knew that my time was likely shortening.  Possibilities of a permanent return to Tennessee were in the offing.  When or even if, were unsure but hope was alive.  And now it is here.  We return to our home in Kingston Springs.

Yesterday was one of the sweetest and sadist days of my life.  I preached at the wonderful little church in the Iowa cornfield that I have grown to love deeply.  I hugged the necks of people who I will miss.  I shed a few secret tears as the service closed and we sang – God Be With You Til We Meet Again.

Go Light Your World from Joyce Lighari on Vimeo.

I feasted with my brothers and sisters of Grandview on a bountiful potluck as we said our goodbyes.  I didn’t want to leave.  As I did, I asked God to bring me back. 

Who would have ever thought that this mess would turn out this way?  Who would have ever dreamed that God would turn my heart to love anything in or about the Northern Plains.  But I do.  I will be sad when I get in that little red car.  I suppose it is messed up that you come in crying because you don’t want to go and you leave crying because your heart has been changed.  Sounds like a real God thing to me…

Friday, January 28, 2011

How you start the race is rarely how you finish...

Be prepared to fish when you go looking for worm cans to open...

I found that out about 4 years ago when I started spending time on Yahoo Answers. Maybe I was looking for a fight...hard to say...but I loved getting into theological debates with atheist and agnostics who would invade the Christianity section and start bashing away at the 'ignorant religious people.' Some of my aggressiveness wasn't a bit Christ-like. Okay. None of my anger was very Christ-like at all. I lashed out from my own guilt that I had failed to let go of when I pleaded with God to forgive my years of tarrying in darkness.

The website I had created ( was rudimentary at best and the obvious first efforts of a website design novice. Lots of information but not a cohesive core or even theme. My goal was to convince those who had strayed away from Jesus the error in their chosen path. After all, I had been there myself. So with a website, a mission and a passion, I started venturing into online conversation on a near nightly basis.

Funny thing you don't realize when you hit the forums and chat rooms with an agenda...everyone else there has an agenda too! Very few people are actually searching for answers because they believe they already have them. Ahem. Guilty as charged. But even after coming to that conclusion several weeks into my self-proclaimed ministry, I refused to let up. It was almost an WAS an addiction!

My email inbox was almost constantly bombarded with love and/or hate messages. I wasn't being a very good steward of God's light. I also wasn't finding very much joy in my endeavor. But somehow, I convinced myself I was His warrior. A champion for His cause. Yet I knew in my heart something wasn't quite right.

While scrolling through my emails one morning, I came across one from a fellow with an Asian looking name. That wasn't unusual in itself, but the Subject Box really caught my attention- WHY DOES GOD LOVE ME? I proceeded with the normal security precautions and scans. No attachments...just text. When I opened the email, the body of the message was very brief and broken English asking why God would love someone who has nothing to offer in return.

Although it's very hard to explain, in that very moment...I was broken.

Nghor was sincerely reaching out to a born again child of God. He was actually looking for answers about God and His plan of salvation for man. The email couldn't have been any more effective in changing my online direction had it been a Cease and Desist Order. I carefully weighed my options for a response. After a prayerful day of asking for guidance, I knew what God wanted from me...

There is nothing I can offer God that begins to repay the love He has shown to me. Nothing. What I can do those is be obedient to His Word and share with other people what God's love has done for testimony. God's plan for me is unique, as is His plan for you. Through the course of a dozen or so emails, I explained to Nghor how I had come to realize my plan and to accept that it was also a work in progress. He always responded with questions. I always answered to the best of my ability after thoughtful prayer and study in Scriptures. Nghor had access to a Bible and that helped.

Our online relationship lasted a little over two months. To this day, I don't know if Nghor ever accepted Christ as his Savior. I'm okay with that too. That wasn't in God's plan for me in this far as I know. He used a lone cry from the wilderness to do a little loving discipline with me. By sharing my testimony and reaching out to Nghor, He reiterated that His love is about choice. He graciously chose to give it...we must humbly chose to accept it. Debates and discussion may have a place in the grand scheme of things, but even the simplest minded child of God can witness to someone else by reflecting His love and the effect of His love in their life.

I try to be a much better steward of the Light these days...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I don't want a life full of missed opportunities

A verse that permeates my thinking just about every day is Philippians 4:4-5. I'm especially enamored of the way it reads in The Message paraphrase:

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

This is what I want my life to be like. I want to work with the people who I encounter every day. I want to always be open to ways that I can let God minister His love through me to people. To never miss out on a chance to share this great gospel of love, reconciliation, and eternal life with God.

Because of this, as we're sharing this week about an opportunity we've had to share God's love, I decided to simply share a recent opportunity that I've had. Because I truly believe that, although sometimes God does do spectacular things through us, sometimes He does choose to manifest His great power through us, but, that much of life seems ordinary. Scripture indicates repeatedly (Ephesians 6:11-13, 2 Kings 6:8-23, & Daniel 10:1-14 just to name a few locations) that there is an unseen reality, a spiritual realm, and often we don't really know what's going on in that realm. We don't always see how God will use even the smallest of gestures to work in another person's heart and life to bring that person to Himself.

Close to 3 months ago I started a new job. The quality manager, who is in a sense my boss, is a wonderful woman who I like more and more each time that I deal with her. She's smart, funny, positive and has a whole heart for the work that we do. But, you know how the Holy Spirit bears witness in you when you meet another Believer? Well, I've never gotten that from her. I know that she's without faith. Just the other day I was in this woman's office discussing some work issues and for "some reason" she suddenly says something about how when she really looks at it she thinks religion isn't such a good thing, that if you look through history at all the different religions, they've all done just as much harm as they've done good. I smiled at her and said that I think, from what I read in the gospels, that Jesus Christ would agree with her. That when you look at His life here on earth, the ONLY group of people He was hard on were the religious people. Then I went on to talk a little bit about how Jesus came to give humanity so much more than religion, that He came to make it possible for us to come into relationship with the God who created the entire universe. We didn't talk for long, and nothing "big" happened. I didn't even get to give her a chance to pray with me. But I'm continuing to pray for this woman, continuing to believe that God is going to bring her to Himself.

I think that daily life is like that. When the opportunity presents itself, we just step forward and leave the results to God.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I was having a conversation with someone yesterday about “witnessing.”  I’ve written about the 4 spiritual laws and the Roman Road and my feelings about these tactics before.  I guess if they work for you that’s awesome.  If it brings someone to a knowledge of Jesus, I’m all for it.

In this conversation we determined that some people are just more gifted in this area.  I had a pastor one time that was like that.  Every Sunday it seemed there’d be someone new sitting in the pew.  It was someone he met at the post office or grocery store, or stood next to in line at McDonalds.  He saw these routine activities as soul fishing trips.  Being a Pentecostal pastor if he could, he’d get his new convert in his car before it was over and have you speaking in tongues.  If not, by Sunday night service they were.  It was his gift.  It is not a gift I have.

Now some of you may feel that’s a cop out.  Maybe it is, but I am uncharacteristic of the female gender, I don’t even like to ask for directions when I’m lost.  Put me in front of a group of people and I’m fine.  One-on-one, I can struggle.

I don’t struggle so much with this issue of witnessing or evangelism anymore.  I’ve learned it is not so much what you say but how you live.  It’s about the everyday mundane things of life.  Jesus’ ministry was less about what He said but what He did.  Even more important was the essence of who He is, His “being.”

This past summer I spent eight days living in a college dorm as I began my doctoral degree.  Rather than   Math or Science, we studied Personal Leadership.  One of the phrases we pondered was “to be rather than to seem.”   

I know some abrasive opinionated people.  I’ve been tempted to shut them out of my life.  At times I’ve thought, I don’t need this and ask myself, why bother?  But then I think of the pain I know they’ve had in their life.  I think of why they are abrasive.  I decide and chose to love them.  I get that same nudge that David talked about yesterday in his blog.  That nudge of the Holy Spirit that says love them.  And I do.  I truly love them. 

For me, that’s witnessing.  For me, that’s how I share my life in Christ.  I love.  As I do, I see them as Jesus would see them.  I see them as a fellow broken human being.  I see their scars and still unhealed wounds.  It humbles me and makes me love even more. 

Whose wounds would Jesus have you touch?  Who do you need to love like Jesus would love them? 

Maybe I missed the topic completely, but that’s what’s on my heart this morning.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Cost of a Soul? Just a Couple of Bucks

T. Austin Sparks said, "We just don't know the opposition to a man's soul." What he meant was this, there are legions of demons and other demonic forces that keep us from salvation. And that's not including the influences of this world!

This week, your Kingdom Bloggers are going to talk about an unexpected chance to witness the love of Christ to another. As much as I love what goes on in the church, I adore it when Jesus gets outside the walls!

On my third trip to Brazil I was part of a movement to transform cities and countries by the power of public prayer and fasting. I was traveling with a ministry named: The Call. The event in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, was entitled The Call Brazil. There were churches from all over the country that came to pray at their nation's capital. The informal national day of fasting and prayer took place from 6AM until 6PM on the mall surrounded by federal buildings.

We had arrived a few days before the event to pray and get to know the Brazilians that we would be serving. On a few of the days before the event, we prayer-walked the perimeter of the mall area. At one end there was bricked plaza near a museum and other monuments. It was nearly 90 degrees in the shade and probably 100 in the sun. At midday very few people ventured outside. We probably should have done the same - but this was our time to pray.

I was teamed up with 3 or 4 others praying as the Holy Spirit lead. As we walked the square where, in the shade of one of the monuments, was a lone ice cream vendor. just a few hundred yards a way. I decided we should probably get some water as I had run out in the intense heat. I approached the young man and spoke to him in Portuguese telling him that I needed a bottle of water. He took out one bottle and told me the price. "Duis reis (2 Reis)," he replied. I only had a $10 Rei bill and asked if he had change. He said that he didn't have any change because there was no business yet today.

I felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit. If you know me, you know I am not very good at talking to people in public about Jesus; not to mention that my Portuguese is barely acceptable. I tried to remember some of my best Christian-ese in Portuguese. I told the vendor that he did have to make change for the $10 Rei bill if he would let me pray for him. He tried to offer me more water then I could carry. I told him it would only be a minute so he relented. I placed my hand on his shoulder and he bowed his head and closed his eyes. In Portuguese I asked God to bless Him and give him a drink of the living water (bebido aqua viva). I felt a supernatural heat in my hand and he started to shake a little. I prayed in the spirit for a minute or so. As I took my hand from his shoulder, he opened his eyes and there was a Brazilian woman standing there that we did not know. When I had thanked him for the opportunity I handed over the bill that I had promised.

The woman, waiting her turn, began to preach the Gospel to Him. She told Him that by the blood of Jesus, God would save his soul that day. "Agora! (Now!)," she shouted. "Aqui! (Here!), she said in a loud and passionate voice. He bowed his head and began to cry out "Jesus," as tears ran down his face. He accepted the Lord and gave her a hug. He turned to me and gave me the "thumbs up" sign.

5,000 miles from home, God was at work. The strange woman and the gringo... I believe the opposition can be beaten.

Friday, January 21, 2011

If only calculus had been this easy...

Picking a favorite verse for me wasn't as difficult as it first seemed. I cherish both Luke 1:37 and Psalm 106:1, to name but a few, but one simply stated verse wraps up the directional foundation of my faith in just a few words....

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  1 John 4:8 (NIV) 

Love is an innate emotion in all human beings. Evidence that God is in all of us.
Yes, that's right. I'm in complete disagreement with Robert Plutchick's Wheel of Emotions which has dominated academic opinion on the matter of basic emotions since the 1980's. Bob believes trust is the emotion that initially bonds a child with their parents and only the addition of joy with trust can love then be created.
I don't know that Bob's an atheist, but if it sounds like a duck...
What I do know is the words love, joy and trust each hold a fundamental place with me personally that fit into the equation of faith. There are other variables in that equation if you want to be all scientific about it, but Paul's letter to the church in Corinth states that love, faith and hope will endure for eternity, and that love is the greatest of the three (1 Corinthians 13:13).
By the way, that fits perfectly into God is love
The word love and variations like loved or loves are mentioned 442 times in the KJV and 697 in the NIV of the Bible. The name of God appears over 4,000 times in each. Is that significant? Not really...because each of the 807,361 words making up the Holy Bible are derived from God.
...and God is love. 
I earnestly try to live every single day of my life with the impression of 1 John 4:8 stamped on my heart. Sure. There are days that I come up way short of that goal. I need to learn to be more tolerant of people like Bob Plutchick for one because God doesn't qualify whom I should love in His Word. I'm just commanded to love.

He sets the ultimate example of love for me...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Get a grip on Hope

I have so many favorite Bible passages. But I come back to Lamentations 3: 19-30 repeatedly. I'm especially fond of the way Peterson paraphrases it in The Message:

19-21 I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there's one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

22-24 God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up.They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over). He's all I've got left.

25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It's a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It's a good thing when you're young to stick it out through the hard times.

28-30 When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face. The "worst" is never the worst.

We may experience different problems, but one thing is for certain, we all have experienced troubles of one kind or another. Some of my toughest troubles have been going through the devastation that schizophrenis brings with my sister, the failure of marriage and shame of divorce, and loss of a career. When I've gone through these and other hard situations, these words have pointed me in the right direction. I think to say more would be rudundant - the verses say it all, and so eloquently!

Besides troublesome situations, I've been troublesome at times. I've failed. I've just plain sinned on purpose. I'm extremely partial to the KJV of verse 22 from above:

It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

I know in the depths of my heart that what I deserve would have been to be consumed, to be destroyed, yet God chooses again and again to extend forgiveness to me as I come to Him. Heck, He even keeps after me until I do come to Him.

What about you, is there anything from these verses in Lamentations that grab you?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

He Knew

It will be interesting to see the favorite verses we have as we share this week.  I realize that probably there is no one who picks much out of Leviticus as their favorite verse.  Although I do particularly like Leviticus chapter 19 which is the center of the Holiness Code.  I translated it from the Hebrew in class and did a word study on Holiness.  I still don't think I understand Holiness.  It is so rich with meaning and interpretation.  I grew up in a "holiness" tradition that was interpreted to mean how you dressed, whether you played cards or went to the movies.  It's so much more.

If I really understood holiness and its application, I'd share it today. But in spite of all my study, I still don't fully understand it.

I thought about verses in the New Testament.  One could camp on John 3:16 for a long time.  How wonderful it is that God loved the world and gave His son.  How wonderful that we have eternal life because of it.  How seriously we need to take John 3:16 implications.  We need to love as God loved and give.

However, as I thought and prayed over this blog I remembered an obscure verse at the end of Exodus chapter 2.  If you even read Exodus it's easy to gloss over.  In fact its never fully translated.  Exodus 2:25 in the NIV reads: So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.  The Message ends with God understood.  The Amplified:  concerned Himself about them [knowing all, understanding, remembering all].  In the Hebrew the verse ends rather abruptly, it simply says, Yada' - to know.  God knew.

That gives me great comfort.  While it is easy to wonder where God was during the years of oppression and slavery, still He knew.  There came a time when He remembered.  There came a time when He brought deliverance for His people.  He knew.

I have a story that is all too familiar.  I experienced the trauma of childhood sexual molestation.  If you want to read more about this horrific experience, I did blog about it on Sounds of Hope and you can read it here.  It wasn't until I was well into the healing process that I wondered where God was when I was 8.  I wondered did He know? I asked the question we all ask at times, where is God when horribly things happen, or where is He when people are oppressed and misused?  As I asked Jesus where were you when I was 8? He answered me.  He said I was there and I was weeping.  I was weeping and praying for you and your healing. He said, I knew.

That was enough for me.  Theologians much better than I don't really have perfect answers to these questions.    But God knew.  God heard the cries of oppression from His people.  He always hears them.  He always knows.  And in His time, He brings healing and deliverance.  He sees and knows you too!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Paul Said it All

It is easy to regurgitate a teaching that we may have heard over the years. However; finding a verse that is so personal, so life-changing and so very powerful is actually not easy. Of course, there were the verses that convinced me of salvation, the passages that showed me part of God's plan and will for my life. I love the Bible words, phrases and passages that caused me to have faith. There were the verses that comforted me in tragedy, and the ones that paraphrased my feelings about my Savior, Jesus Christ. Oh yes, and even those ones that pertained to trial and character.

As a teacher and student of the Word of God, I embrace the verses that allow me to see the church as Jesus does, with her flaws and errors - knowing my calling is to change that one relationship at a time.

This week the motley crew, better known as the Kingdom Bloggers is going to share a verse and its personal application.

Here is my favorite Bible verse. It is not because I understand it with with my mind; in fact I always thought I did. I was told many times from the pulpit that I was a new man, a new creation in Christ. And you probably were too.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

It is easy to talk about the Greek, or the Hebrew understanding of being regenerated by faith. And we are! Of course we then talk about he struggle between flesh and Spirit: the thorns in our side, the Spirit and the carnal being at war, and the sin nature. It is all a very intellectual understanding, some with biblical basis, and some without. In America, we've become accustom to trying to fix ourselves: counseling, medication, self-help groups, mediation, yoga, accountability groups, there is a long list. We here dozens of sermons, have Christian media at our fingertips, and still, the message is fix ourselves. Yes, I am well aware of the preaching that says let Christ transform you. Truthfully, do you believe it? Do you believe that Christ will transform you desire to do things that are contrary to God's word?

If that is the case, then how can we possibly be a new man (or woman)? How can the old have passed away if it is still here? How can we be sick with the cancer of sin, and completely healed by the blood of Jesus?

It is much more simple than theologians make it. The new and perfect man does live within us (the old and sinful man). The problem is that the old man is carnal, is sinful and subject to death. The new man, that Spirit man is not.

Until we learn to live by the Spirit, (hear God's voice and do it.) than we will constantly be controlled by the old man.

The problem is that we have this body that is in control, and unless we yield it to Jesus, we cannot let the new man out. Paul said that old man MUST die. Or that we must die to self. Our body was never meant to be in control, it was meant to be a temple for the Spirit man, the Jesus regenerated soul!

If you remember how simple it was to get born again, then you can yield to the new man just as easily , and let him out.

Friday, January 14, 2011

John understood the miracles of Jesus would never end...

I've really enjoyed reading the post of my fellow Kingdom Bloggers this week and seeing the book from God's word each chose to write about. Genesis, Ephesians or Philippians could have easily been my choice also because each book has had a profound impact on my life at some point.

When I helped pick this topic several weeks ago, I spent several moments reflecting on the Bible as a whole then began to think about the individual 66 books. I just finished a series on James in my Sunday School class which has been a blessing. Before that, there was a series on the Lee Strobel book Case for Christ, and an in depth study of Genesis preceded even that.

The Gospel of John is the book that I must admit captures just a little bit more of me than the other 65 books. I don't intend to discount or disrespect any part of God's word with that statement, but just as most people have a favorite story or character from the Bible, I believe having a favorite book comes just as natural.

Why John for me? My first response to that question comes as early as the book's first passage:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:1-5 (NIV)

Now I'm no Rhodes scholar, but John makes it simple and clear enough for anyone, including me, to understand.  Jesus was with God from the very start...or at least the beginning as our finite-thinking minds can comprehend. 

John differs from the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke with 90% of the material being unique to his inspired writings. I think that's another reason John is a favorite. He establishes the Christology of Jesus being God and doesn't mask the fact He is the only way to God:

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6 (NIV)

John gives far more focus to the relationship of the Son to the Father than the other gospels and is often used by Christians to better understand the Holy Trinity. John includes far more direct claims of Jesus being the Son of God than the Synoptic Gospels. The gospel also focuses on the relation of the Redeemer to believers, the announcement of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter (Greek Paraclete), and the prominence of love as an element in the Christian character...all great stuff too.Christians know John is referred to as 'beloved' by Christ and was one of the three men closest to Jesus during His ministry on Earth. I like to believe John saw and accepted Jesus for who He really was before any of the other disciples, and Jesus shared intimately spiritual truths with him before anyone else because of this. Maybe that is why the Gospel of John appeals to me so much and has been the book I go back to time and time again for examples of the love Jesus spread and demonstrated while here.

Scholars believe John's Gospel wasn't penned until around 90 A.D. But why so far after the death of Jesus? John was busy going about the business of Christ's ministry, and during a time when word of mouth was far more common than writing with the many limitation it imposed, maybe he didn't see the urgent need to author what he had learned. I can't help but personally believe from varies comments in the Gospel of John of other writings from the time that John also sincerely felt Jesus was coming back in his lifetime.

I'm thankful God inspired John to write down what he had been taught by Jesus. I'm most thankful that God so loved the world...   


Thursday, January 13, 2011

What are you thinking on?

The whole Bible good. It's useful for helping me to understand God's ways and plans, for convicting my heart of sin, for providing me with Hope, and so much more. There are many books in the Bible that I adore.

But the book that's had the biggest impact on me these last couple of years is Philippians. Perhaps that's because I tend toward melancholy by nature, and then these past couple of years have brought me some tough stuff that's hit me at my most vulnerable spots.

Philippians has been described as the book of Joy and I've reached out for it - with both hands.

The fact that Paul wrote this letter from a dank, dirty, jail cell, yet it's contents are filled with hope, peace, and celebration never ceases to grab my mind. Make me realize that I can, by God's grace and power, choose how I want to live.

Repeatedly the words in this letter have helped me deal with specific situations in my life. There's just SO MUCH good stuff here. Philippians 4:8 has become a verse that I look to repeatedly. The reminder there to:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

is one I need to apply frequently. It's not just fluffy positive thinking either. To think on what is true is a big one for me since I've found that almost every time I get out of step it's because I've started thinking on some lie of the enemy.

In my current job situation I could think that God abandoned me and I'm just stuck in a backward situation; but that's not the truth that I see in the Bible. The truth is that God loves me and has a plan for my life. The truth is that He has me right where I am for His reason and purposes. The truth is that I get to find what He wants to do and join Him in His work (instead of throwing a pity party because things didn't turn out the way I'd planned).

Or sometimes with my husband, or other close relationships; sometimes people disappoint me. At those time I can either choose to start thinking negative lies about the person, such as that he doesn't really care for me or can't really be trusted, or I can choose to believe the truth - that people sometimes fail, but that does not mean that they are not true friends and great blessings in my life.

Besides the truth part in this verse there's the whole choice to think of praiseworthy things instead of perseverating on the negative. How contrary to our culture that is!

I'm constantly praying and asking God to open my eyes. To empower me to see His many blessings around me, instead of getting caught up in looking at, and for, all that's not as I would want it. I ask God to enable me to see the good things that my employees and sons do, and give me the words to praise them, and encourage them. I want to live that way, instead of focusing on what's wrong all the time. This doesn't mean that I ignore or fail to deal with problems; only that my focus is on the good stuff.

Another couple of verses out of Philippians that I'm constantly applying are Philippians 4:6-7 :

Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

With all the bad choices I've watched my middle son (who is currently a Sr. in high school) make this past year, through all our conflicts, as I sadly observe his lack of interest in spiritual things...instead of giving in to a sense of hopelessness, I can apply the words from these two verses. I can pray and ask for God to work his life, all the while praising God because I know that the truth is that God loves him far more than I do. Repeatedly as I've come before God this way a sense of knowing that God is working in his life has permeated, giving me peace and hope.

What about you, is there a specific Bible book that God's been using in your life lately?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ephesians - Handbook to Maturity

It is hard to say what my favorite book of the Bible is. At different times certain ones have held the top spot for different reasons. I am a huge fan of the Gospels, and Acts inspires my faith every time I read a passage.

They truth is at some point I grew up and I do not need the verses that helped me get through a day, or a tough situation. Don't hear what I am not saying. I still need the word of God from day-to-day. When things come up, verses like "therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." are handy tools for understanding how God thinks. It is just that there is a lot less panic because of the faithfulness of God in my life.

Currently I am really pouring over Ephesians because my focus is on church building, not David fixing. I love the fact that God pursued me. Paul's prayer in chapter 1 is beautiful because of the love he expresses to those he writes to. The Song Open the Eyes of My Heart is taken from this passage. In chapter 2 he speaks of how we are made alive in Christ; both of us, Jew and Gentile. In chapter 3 there is a heart felt prayer for the Ephesians (Gentiles) that God would accomplish much in them. In chapter 4 Paul deals with growing the church up. In chapter 5 he makes it personal - you know that passage about husbands loving their wives is there along with some other moral instruction.

For the grand finale Paul writes about the armor of God and how it is to be used in our lives.

6:13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Awesome don't you think!

I know that it is primarily an epistle aimed at how the church is supposed to be crafted by the spirit. I have studied a lot on the 5 gifts of the spirit that are given to the church in 4:11. I even wrote a book about it. You can down load a free copy of it HERE.

There is one verse that seems to get a lot of lip service, and I have found it elusive and puzzling. Here it is:

4:13 until we all reach [preserve] unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So often we see the body of Christ attack one group, while another says: "How will we ever get everyone to agree on anything?" For God's sake, Peter and Paul didn't agree on everything! So what does this verse really mean?

I heard one teaching that said it presumes the "fullness of Christ," and no on has that; therefore, it is impossible. If you read the preceding verses it talks about the ascension gifts, but there is a huge debate of over those.

The verse actually says to "preserve the unity of the faith." That removes it from the natural realm and puts this particular unity into the realm of faith. That means that it is not agreement, but an agreement of the spirit of God.

It means that when we received Christ by faith, we have this unity because of his spirit in us. It is an inheritance. It is not a theological license, but something that we must express that comes from our new man.

I recently heard a teacher say it this way. "I am God's house by faith in Jesus, and God is always home!" In context, unity comes when we are mature enough to act like Jesus.

Spiritual unity is that which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have together.

Pretty cool in my book.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba!

O the B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me! I stand alone on the word of God.
The B-I-B-L-E
O the B-I-B-L-E, I'll take it along with me, I'll read and pray and learn God's way.
The B-I-B-L-E

Sometimes I feel like telling God to Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba!  It's scriptural you know?

This week your Kingdom Bloggers will be talking about their favorite book of the Bible and an opportunity to apply it to their life.

I am very partial to the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.  I love the narratives.  I love the glimpses of God as He forms humans as potter does clay.  I love the picture that He sews clothes for Adam and Eve before they leave the garden.  Reminds me of times I’ve been so mad at my children for something and then turn around and make their favorite cookies or something.  I love the story of creation.  My husband was reading it recently and his comment was that the story of creation is “wondrous.”  It is.

My favorite book of the Bible is Genesis.  It is the book I most love to teach.  As my Hebrew and Hebrew Bible professor used to say, “if you don’t understand Genesis, you don’t understand the Bible.”  I wish you could hear him teach Genesis – you’d love it too.

But an application is harder with the Book of Genesis.  I think that would take a book rather than a blog to explain.  As I thought about this some more, I thought about the book of Psalms.  There have been several times in my life where I have been in great despair.  During many of those times I would turn to Psalms.  I love how the Psalmists start off with their lament but usually, before the Psalm is done, they are praising God again.
During these times, I often turned to Psalm 70.  I would read it out loud each morning and again at night.  It became my lament and prayer. 

It reads:

Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, LORD, to help me
May those who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me "Aha! Aha!" turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say,
"The Lord is great!"
But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer;
Lord do not delay.

I love that "Aha! Aha!" part.  I also love how The Message translates that last verse:

But I've lost it, I'm wasted!
God, quickly! quickly!
Quick to my side, quick to my rescue!
God don't lose a minute.

I have told God Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba!  How about you?

It's okay to do that.  The Bible even says it. What are you wishing God would hurry up and do?

Friday, January 7, 2011

I saw Michael Jackson's head burst into flames during that Pepsi commercial...

I remember vividly the Sunday morning that was to be my first at FFWBC in my small home town...

My now wife, Candice, wasn't even my then girlfriend, but she had been persistent in her invitation for me to attend her church one Sunday. Her eyes would sparkle as she described the people, the place and most importantly the Divine presence in the house of worship. She had grown up in the church and was as active as any youth that attended in the numerous ministries the church conducted. 

Reluctant is an understatement for my initial feeling as I approached the entrance. I would carry with me through the doors that first Sunday morning an attitude near contempt. I realize today that my demeanor was much more a reflection of my own self-loathing than a true feeling toward any single person in attendance that Sunday.

After a few hand shakes and pleasantries with people I had known for many years, I parked myself near the back row almost perfectly diagonal from where Candice and her family sat. No way I was walking up there where they sat...the back of my head might burst into flames from the laser-like stares and feelings projected in my direction of ill-repute. I would have soon danced naked on Main Street that very moment...and I was completely sober!

Today, I look back on that day as a pivotal day in a new beginning for my life. Was I comfortable? Absolutely not! Did I run to the altar and fall on my face begging for God to forgive my many transgressions? Unfortunately no. But the one word that best describes that day, hands down, as I look back

God brought me to a place of His love, filled with His people, using one of His own. I get pretty emotional when I look back and think about it. My negative attitude was completely absorbed by people of His body doing what they were commanded to your neighbor. Even if he's a bum like me.

I never imagined I could be as close again as I was with the church family I grew up with twenty years before walking through those doors on that Sunday morning. Again...I was wrong. I still love and cherish every single person from my first church. Many have been promoted to Glory, and I celebrate for them.  My new church family is just as precious to me. As I sit at my laptop typing the last bit of this post with tears flowing down both cheeks...I thank God with ever fiber of my being for blessing me so greatly with the new church family He did, and for the new beginning He gave me that painful Sunday for just taking a single step in obedience. 

May all my efforts be in service to Him and may He receive all the honor and glory for it all.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Every Day is New

New beginnings huh? I’m old enough to have had LOTS of new beginnings. Funny thing, you never stop having new beginnings.  I was struck my David’s comment yesterday about how the mercies of God are new every morning.  For me that means that even in the day to day grind something every morning is new – the unfailing, unceasing mercies of the Lord.  I don’t know about you, but I need them.  I found myself humming a song we used to sing in church:

Mercy is falling is falling is falling
Mercy it falls like a sweet spring rain
Mercy is falling is falling is falling
Mercy is falling all over me
Hey-Yo I receive your mercy
Hey-Yo I receive your joy
Hey-Yo I will dance forevermore
 And yes, I love to dance to this song!  You can tune in here and dance if you like.

In May of this year I became a doctoral student.  While I have been working on a degree or going to school now for about 6 years, this is new territory.  Frankly, I’m still scared.  I’m older than most of the people in my cohort.  I have children older than some of them.  I still haven’t gotten used to looks of “what are you doing here?”  They were more blatant at the seminary or during my master’s work at Trevecca Nazarene, never the less, they are there.

One of the women in the cohort mentioned that she had just had her 33 birthday.  I thought yikes!  I’ll be married 33 years in February.  I am soon to be a great-grandmother again.  Should I share this with my cohort? Or will it just accentuate how old I am?

Since May I’ve wondered at times if I could do this.  I even asked myself, what’s the point?  I am old after all.  Besides the absolute joy I have in learning and research, I’ve learned a lot about myself in this experience.  We kicked off this experience with eight days of dorm living.  I’ve never lived in a dorm nor had any great desire to do so – it was good for me.  It was very good for me.  To say I found myself again during this summer is not an overstatement.  I had been lost.  Even I didn’t know who I was anymore.  But just like summer camp, the time away helped me fine myself.

This new beginning gave me new focus on living.  Gave me something to be excited about and to plan around.  While I shuttered when I heard we had to do a 100 entry annotated bibliography, I hit the ground running and had nearly 150 when it was due.  I learned a lot too.  I have a renewed excitement about life and the future.  New  beginnings are like that. 

This is a new year.  I’m old enough to enter into a new year with a bit of trepidation.  As I look back on 2010, it was not an easy year.  I lost my mother.  I saw my plans for education at the seminary fall apart.  I had many other disappointments.  I imagine 2011 will have disappointments as well.  However, I am excited about ushering in the New Year.  As the mercies of God come with every sunrise, I’ll once again know His faithfulness.  I’m ready for the new.  How about you? 

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Curse of New

New years are a curse for me. Some things I don't want to start over. In fact I was happiest with 1982, and wish it could have lasted forever. Well at least I thought I was.

This week your beloved Kingdom Bloggers are writing about new beginnings - but not salvation.

The Bible is filled with "new" metaphors. Spring, rebirth, born again, be like a child, spring forth, fresh fallen snow and I am sure there are many more. Well, I don't like new unless it plugs into the wall, a USB port or smells like a new car. Personally, I prefer things that are antique, vintage, retro or aged to perfection. I am still using Windows XP Pro!

I often hear in Christian circles that God is the God of a second chances. I used to think that was true until I needed a third chance. Actually the Bible says that his mercies are new every morning. That is a refreshing thought for a guy like me.

I have had a few fresh starts, and I eventually ended up pretty close to where I had started. Grace is a beautiful thing. I went to three colleges, had a few dozen jobs, and belonged to a number of churches. I used to view new as exciting. At just past the half-century mark, I am trying to make time slow down!

A few months back, 6 in fact, I started going to a new church. (HERE is the story about how I got there.) I had gotten pretty disillusioned about going to any church,  the lack of commitment, the lack of relationship and religious behavior, that was not connected to God's power. I honestly didn't have much hope, but I liked the music and kept on going. It's a long drive to the church. It takes 1 hour, sometimes a bit more.

It was a another new start. Who knew how it would turn out. HERE is a story about what is going on there for me now.

The Bible says not to despise small beginnings. This church is a new beginning - maybe even a small one. If you read either of the other blogs, you be able to see that it is God. It is not like getting unhooked from drugs, or getting remarried - both of which I have done. It is like having another child, one that you were there for the delivery, and one that you can enjoy as it matures. I love kids. Each one of mine brings a different sort of joy.

I guess in truth, I am not looking for a vintage, a retro or an antique God. I am looking for one that charges my batteries, and transforms my life.