Autumn Leaves 3 Column

Friday, November 20, 2009

Be Strong and Courageous

My heart leaped for joy at the power of the resounding “Aye’s” in the business meeting as the believers vigorously affirmed a willingness to embrace a new vision for our church! After many painful struggles, our church has decided to focus on becoming “outward” focused in ministry, to truly live out the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39) AND the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). I’m broken hearted for all those who decided to walk away from this particular church during the difficult struggle, but as I contemplate John 15, I rest in the knowledge that God has done some agonizing pruning in order to facilitate a season of fruitfulness that we can only imagine!

For the present there is work to do. My work: to make sure that my heart lines up with the vision. As a church, we are entering a season of mourning, confession, and repentance. Consequently, I have been praying and searching my heart in preparation for this season, so that I can enjoy a rich season of fruit-bearing which will surely follow. I am reminded of Joshua and how he must have felt as Israel was about to finally enter the promise land. If ever there was a time for Central Baptist Church “to be strong and courageous”, this is it.

I want to weed out more of my selfishness, my need to be “right”, and intentionally seek a spirit of unity and singleness of mind. I want to put my pride behind me along with my own agenda and replace it with His agenda! I want to be so in love with Jesus and His plan that I am willing to set aside any programs and ministries I might have thought were mine and lay them on the altar. For this change of heart to succeed it must be a work of the Holy Spirit and my job is to submit to that Holy Spirit, period. That will require strength and courage.

I suppose one might say that this is a pivotal moment for Central Baptist Church. As we stand on the threshold of the “promise land”, we have to make the decision to put replace our words with action and live it out. We must be “strong and courageous” and trust what God is doing in our church and as such, be prepared to love the communities in which we live, to show the people around us love, regard, and inclusion instead of judgment, disregard and exclusion. My prayer for our church is to figure out what Jesus would do here in Middleboro, Lakeville, Carver, Taunton, and wherever we live and do what Jesus would be doing, love whom Jesus would love, and further the kingdom of God in today’s world. “Father may your will be done on earth, and in my heart, as it is in heaven.” Amen!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Healing from Disease

Ezekiel 17:24: “And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!” (NLT)

As many of you know I am an avid gardener. I love spending time in my gardens and watching the beauty of God’s creation unfold through the seasons as the plants, shrubs and trees go through the assorted stages of growth. However there are times when a plant just doesn’t thrive for various reasons. Then I have to research the needs of the plant to be sure of the amount of sunlight or rain it receives, if it is getting enough nutrients and checking it for parasites or disease. Ideally, as the issue is addressed, the plant will return to a healthy state and continue to grow.
Through the autumn months, I have been watching one of my favorite trees suffering through an issue of ‘split-bark’ disease. ‘Split-bark’ disease is sometimes the result of large temperature changes that result in the splitting of the bark of thinner barked trees. It may not kill the entire tree but the area of bark that splits needs to be treated so that a callous can develop and prevent any other disease from setting in. Smaller limbs above the split will manifest the lack of nutrients by the leaves curling up and dying, and may lead to the death of the rest of the branch. However, with the removal of the affected limbs and treating the affected bark, many times the rest of the tree will continue to flourish, the gaps from previous removal of branches will eventually fill-in and the tree will be restored to health and vigor.
Right now I believe my church is suffering through a very similar issue of ‘split-bark’ disease. Individuals have sinned for various reasons (splitting bark), and the result has been accusations (withering of leaves) and the death of relationships within the body (death of limbs). We have tried to treat the affected area of damage, but gossip (other disease) has set in, and now the whole body (tree) is suffering.
But amazingly enough, we are still seeing new growth! God’s amazing grace mercy and love are supplying the nutrients for new growth in spite of the disease! New people are coming in the doors of our building to learn about and worship our risen Lord. People are growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ and new people are accepting Christ, almost on a weekly basis. God is showing us His mighty power. He is taking center stage which is where He belongs in the first place, and growing His body, the church (tree). My joy knows no bounds!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Perfect Perspective

I have always loved flying. My husband, who is more traveled and more sophisticated than I am, doesn’t get as wound up about flying as I do. He will want to sit next to the window so that he can sleep! Sleep! Who can sleep? I revert to behaving like a five year old, I get so excited. I will beg to sit next to the window so that I can look out and observe the world from a cloud’s perspective. I don’t want to miss anything, especially if it is a clear day. I strain to find the local rotary as a reference point so I can try to find my house if we head south from Boston. I search the shoreline for landmarks to help me know which city or state over which we might be flying. I love how mountains look like wrinkles on the surface of the earth, and watching rivers snake back and forth through the expanse of the landscape below. I scrutinize the ocean with bated breath in anticipation of spotting a whale, an ocean liner or a carrier when flying over water. We have such an awesome perspective when flying thousands of feet above the earth!

Unfortunately, I do not always have such an awesome perspective on my spiritual life. Last week I blogged about my own perspective on an upsetting issue. As I prayed through my confusion, fear, and anger, God in His faithfulness revealed something that was painful for me to see. He started subtly since our Father is a gentleman and I can be somewhat slow on the uptake! However the subtlety ended when, through our pastor’s sermon, God hit me right between the proverbial eyes of my soul. Idolatry! I have been guilty of the sin of making my church an idol! And to add insult to injury, idolatry was the topic of the lesson I was teaching for the Women’s Sunday school class! Ouch!

After a time of confession and repentance I have gained a new perspective on the issues at church. Luke 6: 41 spells it out for me loud and clear: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye”? Why indeed? Jesus showed me very clearly that, as my mother would say, I should tend to my own knitting! At the end of the day, I am going to stand before God and account for my actions, my thoughts, my sins; no one else’s. I have plenty of work to do on myself in my quest to be more Christ-like; my time would be better spent focusing on Jesus, above the church, above my loved ones, above anything, especially the actions of others. Caring for the hearts of others is the responsibility of Jesus and frankly, He is much better suited to it than I am. After all, He has the perfect perspective!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Danger of Idols

We are so proficient at creating idols! We readily become enamored of someone or something until we are not aware that we have put it ahead of God. How dangerous and destructive when that idol becomes a rallying point around which a faction is built. And ultimately, within a church family, how heartbreaking it is when our triune God is not the focus, the idol, around which we rally. The consequences can last for decades effecting precious lives in a manner that we may never begin to fathom.

Case in point; good Christians, people that I love, behaved in a fashion that I could or would never have believed possible of them. The disrespect shown to their pastor and the lack of thoughtfulness for children and less mature Christians from wiser, more mature Christians, was unsettling. To witness such incredible behavior in God’s house following a worship service where we had been exalting our Savior who forgave, redeemed and restored us left me stunned and grieved in my spirit. Unfortunately having witnessed such behavior, I was reminded of a poignant truth: there but for the grace of God go I.

As I examine my own heart, I recognize that I have created my own idols in my past and behaved similarly. I am still learning that unless I am pursuing only Jesus, always Jesus, I will fall into the sin of idolatry! Psalm 106:36 spells it out for us: “They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them.” For whatever comes before Jesus will be a snare, defined as: “a device, often consisting of a noose, for capturing small game; anything serving to entrap or entangle unawares”. I am not immune to the brokenness within me that allows me to idolize my own ideas of right or wrong or my perceptions of truth or falsehood. Consequently, nothing can come before Jesus Christ: my church, my pastor, my friends, my spouse, nothing! Without the example of Jesus before me daily, I will become ensnared in my truth, turn from His truth, and travel down a road of destruction.

As a member of Christ’s body, I have an obligation to constantly examine my own heart and allow others who are objective to lovingly examine my heart because I can be blind to my sin. I must scrutinize: am I considering others better than myself (Phil. 2:3)? Am I striving to preserve a teachable spirit? Am I prepared to admit an offense and seek forgiveness and restoration? Am I actively pursuing my Jesus above all things, above any idea, above any one? With Jesus as my cornerstone, my source of strength, and my anchor, grace, restoration and healing are possible through His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Consider this an antidote for all of us: let us humble ourselves, immerse ourselves in prayer, agree to resolve to our differences wherever possible, and move forward with the ministry to which we have been called. Honest communication and transparent soul searching within the community of our church will be a step. For the benefit of our children, for the building up of our brothers and sisters, let us endeavor to seek Jesus first and foremost! Repentance, forgiveness, and restoration will result in a united body. May God find us faithful to the great Commandment and the great Commission while joyfully serving Him and each other.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Amazing Grace

Over twenty-four years ago on an inauspicious day in September, I began a journey with God and His amazing grace. Fall was upon us and I was anxious to harvest a particular crop, especially after waiting nine long months. Since three was the limit, this would be my final harvest. However, one is never prepared for the alteration of life to death, and at twenty-three years of age, I was completely unprepared for the unanticipated change in circumstances. It would become the pivotal event that would forever alter the landscape of my life.

I remember it was a radiantly sunny day. I had just put my two children down for their naps and was anxious to relax and put my feet up. With only three days left until my due date, I was tiring easily. Suddenly I realized that there had been no movement from my precious burden so I went into my bedroom as quickly as my awkward body would allow and grabbed my stethoscope from the drawer. Hesitantly, fearing what I would not hear, I listened for the sound of the tiny but mighty heartbeat of my unborn child. But there was no sound, just a yawning, empty silence. Gulping with fear and doubting my own ability, I paused and listened again while slowly and carefully moving the stethoscope to every quadrant of my extended belly; again, nothing. As I tried to take this in, to make sense of the silence, without any warning, tears were pouring down my face and I could not catch my breath. Some two hours later, I would see for myself the utter stillness in the ultrasound and the tears in the eyes of the nurse while I could not stop my sobs. Four days later, I was induced and the little girl, who I named Erin Patricia, was delivered. I will never forget the silence in that delivery room; a silence would haunt my days and nights for years to come.

The impact of her unexpected death forced me to consider my own death and what would come after. At a tender age, I was taught a harsh lesson on the brevity of life; that there is no time to hang on to bitterness or to leave things unsaid or undone. The loss of this child taught me lessons that probably would have taken a lifetime to learn; I learned tough lessons through her abbreviated lifetime. A few years later our gracious Lord would call me out of a deep darkness into His marvelous light. For me, this was and is evidence of God’s ability to redeem the unredeemable, to restore what was lost and to show me a love that has never failed. As I reminisce on that time in my life, on this daughter whose smile I never knew, whose laughter I never heard, I have discovered that I am able to celebrate her brief life.

Looking back I can see my experience of God’s grace began before I had even acknowledged His presence in my life. That God could take circumstances so tragic and use it for my good only reinforces the truth of scripture: that God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NASB). At the time of my loss, I had not even thought about loving God, but He was loving me. It would take many years before that silent delivery room would no longer haunt me. While I can still feel sad, I am free of that memory causing me the same pain today. Furthermore, by God’s grace I have been able to minister to those who have experienced similar losses and frequently tell people, you never get over the loss, but you learn how to live with it, and even flourish. I know this because I am living proof of His amazing grace.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Choose Joy!

As I shared with you in my last blog, our church has been going through some very stressful and painful situations. And as I stated in that particular blog, I am choosing to love, in spite of my flesh, and only by the grace of God. But to be honest, I have been discouraged. More importantly, I have found my joy to be ebbing over the last several weeks and if I am writing a blog titled ‘Just Joy-filled’, than I am convicted to be seeking the joy of the Lord! So, as I explore this today, how do I go about seeking His joy?

As usual, I turned to the Scriptures to seek the truth and I found myself in the Book of Nehemiah. A remnant of Israel had returned and reconstructed the Temple and then the city walls around Jerusalem. In celebration, the priest Ezra (who was also a scribe), assembled the people for a reading and teaching of the Law, their Scripture if you will. This remnant of Israel had probably never heard the Torah, and they were weeping; perhaps in repentance or perhaps for joy as they were once again living in the city God had given to them (Neh. 8:1-8). But, interestingly enough, as they were preparing for the feast to begin, Nehemiah tells the people, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." There it is: “…The joy of the Lord is my strength!”

James puts it a little differently: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4). Well, we have been going through some difficult trials but I can’t honestly say that I’m counting it a joy!

However, as I ponder the last few years, I recognize that many of us are applying scriptural truths to our lives; Scriptures that remind us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44); “to consider others better than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3); to go to the person when we disagree with a sister or brother; not my friend, not the pastor, but the person with whom we disagree or by whom we have been hurt (Matt. 18:15-16). These behavior changes cause me to rejoice in the trials as James commands. These positive changes encourage my trust to grow; to recognize God is giving us the strength to persevere. This is an outward sign of an inward transformation! We are growing and maturing in our faith! When I observe the difficulties from this perspective, (dare I say God’s perspective?), than I find I can choose joy! And as I choose joy, the joy of the Lord, I feel the renewal of my strength to “keep on keeping on”! I pray that each of us will not only choose love, but that we will choose joy!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Choose Love

For the last couple of years, there have been some very difficult and painful issues going on within my church family. People have been hurt and left the church. People have been desperately wounded, yet remained in the church. Yet, in spite of the unrest and struggle, God’s Spirit has been very active. People have been saved, ministry has grown, and disciples are growing in their faith. Requests for forgiveness have been made by key leaders but the mistrust and questioning of motives does not seem to be dissipating. Many in our family graciously extended forgiveness. But some of our families have charged the leadership with “manipulation” of the church membership. They have determined what is “right” and, despite a request for forgiveness, these few appear unwilling to extend mercy and pursue restoration. How can this be?

This focus on “being right” by these individuals, the lack of grace coupled with divisive behavior has left me broken-hearted. For myself, my willingness to be vulnerable about my brokenness has been tempered with a healthy fear that I might be the recipient of similar judgment and negativity. As a leader, as one who has invested over thirteen years of my life into this church family, I have spent hours in prayer with our Father searching for wisdom and how we can apply His truth to this situation. And, after much prayer, Scripture searching, and soul searching, it has come down to one question: do we choose “right” or do we choose love?

As we look to our Holy God to show us which to choose we may be in for a surprise! Our perfect, holy God made decisions on behalf of His people that show us that love will always triumph over “right”. The truth is that we are sinful, broken people. And if God did only what was “right”, we would be relegated to hell, period. But God, “being gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8), chose love over “right”. For in the garden of Gethsemane, God in His Human form as Jesus Christ asked that the cup of the Father’s wrath not be poured out on Him. And Jesus, because He had never sinned, had the “right” to ask God to allow the cup to pass over Him! But the Father decided that love was more important that being “right” and allowed Jesus to go to the cross for you and for me. He could have chosen “right” but He chose love. He chose love.

So to answer the question, we must choose love! “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13) is our guide. Choosing love means that we must get on our knees, beg the Holy Spirit to give us strength and then follow through with the appropriate action. For some, the action may be to love from a new church home. I hope not; I don’t want to lose any more family members. But if we choose to remain in the church, then we must “love… with action and in truth” (1 John 3:18), and the disruptive behavior must end. We must extend forgiveness, be willing to restore relationship and move on. If we do not do this, then we become part of the sin problem. We become an instrument used by Satan to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) the family of God in Christ’s church; not my church, not your church, but Christ’s church. No one desires to be used of Satan, but unfortunately, if we are not part of the solution, we are a part of the problem; part of the sin. Bottom line: we all have a choice to make. I have made my choice. I choose love.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Take Heart

I love to watch the sunset. This past week my husband and I spent an evening on the water to take in the sunset and share some time together. It was gorgeous! The colors were amazing; orange, gold, carmine, purple, and crimson melding and mixing until slowly, the light faded into a velvet night. I find that time of day irresistible. I take stock, praise God for the things that have happened, ask forgiveness for the sins I have committed, and just enjoy His creativity as He paints the sky.

There are some facts I have observed about sunsets. If there are no clouds, it’s still beautiful but the colors are fewer, and less enchanting. Conversely, if it is overcast, we don’t get to observe the sunset. The day just becomes grayer until it is just dark. But have you ever noticed that the sunsets are more beautiful when there are a few clouds to accentuate the colors? The reflection of the light on the clouds creates colors and patterns that are unique as the sun gives praise to God for working yet another day.

I think life has some similarities to sunsets. Like clouds, hardships can provide some opportunities to reflect God’s light in our lives. Life is hard. In John 16:33, Jesus says flat out: I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” Did you catch that? We will have trials and sorrows. It’s part of living on earth. Many times, we make choices in our lives that have negative consequences. It’s up to us to make wise choices that result in good outcomes. However, there are some circumstances over which we have no choice. Each of us will experience pain, tragedy, and loss. If you haven’t had that experience yet, just wait; it is the common experience of all people. However, we have a remedy for this, for in that same verse, Jesus continues and says, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus has overcome the world. His grace, His gift of salvation, His presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit, will be with us in the trials and sorrows of this world. His restoration of our relationship with God allows us to “take heart.” The pain of the loss will not be less, but we are not alone in our pain, no matter what our emotions tell us. He is with us! Our relationship with Jesus is enriched when there are obstacles to be overcome and pain to be endured. If there were no challenges, no hardships, life would be beautiful, but I don’t think we could perceive it. As the beauty of a sunset is enhanced by a few clouds, so our lives are enhanced by Jesus as He has “overcome the world.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Servant of All

The passing of Edward Moore Kennedy has been quite an event in New England. The pomp and circumstance of the different ceremonies were televised and attended by all the “right” people. Family members and close friends spoke and shared stories of Senator Kennedy, humanizing him and allowing the public to see a snapshot into the private life of a public figure. Finally, he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery near his two older brothers. Not only has a family lost a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, etc., but Massachusetts has lost a long-term Senator.

While I am not terribly interested in politics, the many stories shared about Senator Kennedy seem to reveal a man who recognized his role as a senator: a servant of many. In Mark 9:35, Jesus reminds his disciples that, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." As I have observed the outpouring of grief for the loss of Teddy Kennedy and the love and care shown to his family, I have come to the conclusion that Senator Kennedy never forgot his role as a servant of his constituency. He did not perform his duties perfectly, nor was he without his “skeletons” so to speak; but it appears that he worked very hard to fulfill his responsibility as a public servant.

Nevertheless, now that the business of burying the dead has been completed, the competition for his Senate seat is just beginning. The striving and posturing by the various players will be televised for all of us to see; the political rhetoric will drone on without ceasing as each of the contestants promises the sun and moon for our votes. And finally, an election will be held in January that will determine the “winner.” Democracy is the title we have given this form of government and it has served us pretty well for over 200 years. But I will be interested to see if the new person who represents this state in the senate will be able to remember their elected office is that of a public “servant”.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Be Still!

I meet with a plethora of clients through my busy weeks and I sincerely enjoy each of them. However, as happens so frequently in this ministry, one client recently has reminded me of a significant truth. As this individual has shared with me over several months, I have been amazed at the pace with which this person lives life! Working two jobs (one of which requires a great deal of travel), pursuing another college degree, managing the home and several teenagers with all of their various needs and activities, as well as a marriage and the daily activities of life, listening to this person’s story, I was exhausted! For myself, I cannot imagine living life at such a hectic pace. I would not be able to function at my best if I lived at that kind of pace.
It is apparent that many of us living in this age of complex economics have been forced to do less with more on the career front as many companies are cutting to bare bones. We are expected to multitask to the point of (sometimes) exhaustion, both mental and emotional, whether on the cell phone, laptop, Blackberry, in meetings, working overtime, etc. I’m left asking myself if our life styles are terribly healthy when we live at such a rapid pace. At my age and through many seasons of poor choices, I have recognized the gift of knowing my own limitations! I know I need to be still.
I need quiet. I need time in which I can sit and process my thoughts and emotions good, bad or indifferent. I want to invest deeply in the relationships of the people closest to me, my husband, my children and their spouses/fiancĂ©es, extended family, and precious friends. That investment requires time and energy. I need self knowledge to know when to say, “No.” I endeavor to identify what God is calling me to pursue and I must be willing to sacrifice the extraneous, not to the point of emotional detriment, but definitely weeding out those things that are going to drain me of the needed energy to be emotionally balanced.
Psalm 46:10 commands us to “be still and know that I am God…” When I am still, I see God more clearly. When I am still, I have a much clearer vision of myself and therefore my limitations. I can rest in the fact that He is God and I am not! He is in control and I don’t have to be in control of anyone or anything but myself. That in itself is enough work! I don’t need to take on anything more than what He is calling me to do. When I am still, I find my relationship with Him is deeper and more satisfying. I am able to bask in His love for me, filled to abundance! Then I can pour out that love to the people He places in my life. I thank Him for my limitations and my joy is overflowing! I am still.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

At Peace With my "Neediness"

I am a needy person. There it is written for the entire world to see: I am needy. Now please understand me; I’m not talking about being a “black-hole of need” as a girlfriend of mine is known to say! But within healthy boundaries, I need to feel valuable, to be important to the people I love, and to be respected. I need encouragement and I want to be liked, even if my laugh is too loud! For years I have struggled with what I have believed to be an unappealing aspect of my personality. I perceive it as a weakness. I want to hide my neediness from the people around me, especially those people that are not part of my inner circle. I want to overcome it. So I spent years trying to be self-sufficient. I was not very successful and I ended up retreating further into myself denying my neediness.
To top it all off, we live in a culture that encourages self sufficiency. We admire “self-made” individuals; we look up to those who “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and then we wonder why we struggle with being vulnerable and authentic. The idea that people need each other can be a real turn-off. But frankly the truth is we are all needy. I believe God created us to be needy….to need Him.
When we look to God to fill our need for value, the words of John 3:16 answer us: “For God so loved the world, He sent His only begotten Son…” When we look to God for love, we find that His character is love, (1 John 4:8); therefore He cannot love us any more or any less than He does right now. When we look to God to fill our need for respect, we find that He considers us His masterpiece according to Ephesians 2:10. That should fill our need to be respected.
Finally, as we are able to ascertain our value, lovability, and worth in what God says about us, it takes pressure off of the people most intimately connected to us in our lives. The ability to receive His love and His worth of us then translates into seeing those around us through that blanket of love. We are therefore able to love others with a less demanding love, a love that can enjoy others just for who they are, not for what they give us or what needs they fill in us! That’s when we will know that our “neediness” has been transferred to Him, where it belongs. I suppose that is why I can be at peace with my own “neediness”!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Doing "Church"

Lately I’ve been reading a whole lot of books about "church": healthy churches, how to “do” church, how to lead and encourage leadership, and the like. I’m finding it very frustrating that we struggle so much about how to “do” church. I thought church was about getting together on Sunday morning to celebrate what God did, has done, and is continuing to do.
He came to earth in the form of a man, lived with us, and then died a horrific death on a cross only to be raised to new life three days later. All of our sin was hung on Him, the one perfect God-man so that we could have a relationship with our Creator God. Then, when we respond to a love that we cannot understand, and we acknowledge what Jesus did for us, we receive His love and forgiveness. We are saved and rescued from hell. That’s when God gives us a piece of His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to remind us of all of the things Jesus told the disciples when He was here, to help us relate to God in a new way, with no one between us and God.
This incredible gift is still going on today, this love that calls people out of darkness into His marvelous light. And we are supposed to gather together once a week to celebrate and lift up the name of Jesus. Why does this have to be so difficult?!! It’s because we are broken! As long as faulty, sinful humans are involved, worshipping God will be faulty as well! We disagree over worship style, music style, what the Pastor’s job is, how many hours he should spend in the office, what kinds of programs we should be doing, how long the sermon should be and on and on ad nauseum! But I would hope at some point we would be able to apply the things that we learn from the scripture about how to “love our neighbor”, how to extend grace and show the world just what Jesus meant when He said “Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples when you love one another” (John 13:34-35)
Maybe we need to ask God what our worship of Him should look. Are we really there to celebrate the risen Lord? Or have we become so entrenched in what “church” should look like that we have forgotten the whole intention of it?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Love Wisely

Today was a busy day with clients. As I was praying with my final couple for the day, I was moved to tears as we laid our petitions before our heavenly Father. Life brings painful circumstances; parents hurt us, children make choices that leave us feeling like failures, and our own choices have consequences that we can’t even begin to anticipate. Helping people put healthy boundaries into place is a valuable tool, but can produce great sadness. We all need to love with wisdom and learn how to live out that love in such a way that God is still glorified. By His grace, we have guidelines by which we can do this.
I’m a big fan of the book of Proverbs and use it to clarify the decisions that allow me to establish these kinds of boundaries. In “The Message,” Proverbs 9:7 spells out one of my measures for those I allow within my personal boundaries:
If you reason with an arrogant cynic, you'll get slapped in the face; confront bad behavior and get a kick in the shins. So don't waste your time on a scoffer; all you'll get for your pains is abuse. But if you correct those who care about life, that's different—they'll love you for it! Save your breath for the wise—they'll be wiser for it; tell good people what you know—they'll profit from it. Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God. It's through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen. Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life; mock life and life will mock you.
By applying this scripture I can make wise choices and avoid the painful consequences of loving people unwisely. That may mean that some people who have proven themselves dangerous or untrustworthy will be on the outskirts of my boundaries. I love them, but I love them from a distance. By loving in this fashion, I prevent damage to my soul while maintaining a loving spirit towards the individual, and more importantly, God is glorified as I learn to love wisely.

Monday, August 17, 2009

He Restores My Soul

Having just returned from vacation, my house looks a little worse for wear! There is no doubt that I own a dog when I see the “hair-tumbleweeds” rolling about on the tile floor! The cobwebs in the corners and the spiders waiting to catch fruit-flies gross me out! I spent over an hour just vacuuming the carpets and the cobwebs. The floors will be washed and the laundry caught up by the end of my day. The pile of mail will be sorted and clothes from the suitcases will be put away. Then I will be able to relax and get to the other work in my office!
Sometimes my soul feels just the same way. There are cobwebs of un-confessed sin and tumbleweeds of impure thoughts. The complacency in my pursuit of God and taking up my cross daily tends to fall to the floor like so much dirty laundry. That’s when I know that I need to sit quietly with God, in the Word, in prayer, confessing sins, and enjoying His presence. Celebrating the joy of His love and mercy quickly restores order to my sloppy soul and I can relax and rest in Him. I am more attuned to the small still voice directing my actions through the day. Meditating on the different scripture that I am studying and trying to apply to my life helps me to put away the “folded laundry” of my thought life and helps me to adjust my focus on Him. Then the peace that passes understanding “washes the floor” of my heart and restores order to my life. Once again I am tuned in to where God is working in the world around me and I join Him as He is directing me to use my gifts for the furthering of His kingdom. Psalm 23 becomes a living action as He “restores my soul.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Joy of the Lord!

I’m on vacation, but I am able to access the internet, so I will blog some.
Yesterday I had the awesome privilege of watching three precious men be baptized! The love and joy amidst our church family was palpable as these men shared what Christ has done in their lives and hearts. One of the men is also a member of the Life Group to which I referred in my previous blog. We have prayed with and for this great guy for several years and to see God answer this prayer was an incredible blessing for us. I tell you, this community has become so dear to me! 2 Thessalonians 1:2-4 describes succinctly the work of the Holy Spirit in our group: We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;
When I feel discouraged, when I question God’s work in myself, or even His presence, I will look back on this day and be encouraged! I will marvel at the love that I feel for this community which can only be given by God. I will remember God’s faithfulness to answered prayer, to maturing us in love, and to the joy that I experienced while we celebrated the work of the Spirit and the obedience of these men who followed Christ’s example to be baptized. This history of God’s presence and faithfulness helps me to cling tightly on the bad days and to allow His joy to be my strength through the tough times! The joy of the Lord is my strength!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Life Group

I have always loved Psalm 68:6: “God places the lonely in families”…and I’m living proof of that truth. Most of my adult life has been lived hundreds of miles from the family in which I grew up. But I have a group of precious friends with whom I share my life. We’re called a ‘Life Group’. We have watched each other’s children grow and flourish, mourned when dear family members went to be with Jesus, and rejoiced with each other over successes. We study the Bible together, pray for each other and sometimes rebuke each other if necessary. Jesus has poured encouragement, accountability, and truths into my heart by this family. I can’t imagine my life without them.
That’s not to say that we don’t have conflict; where there are two people, there will be at least three opinions! We don’t agree on everything, but we are able to respect the opinions of each other. I believe that because we share a bond of love through our faith in Jesus Christ, somehow the love is more important than the opinions.
Presently I’m preparing for vacation and I will be with some of my family of friends. I may not be able to blog for the next week, but I will be making notes to myself of any truths God reveals to me. I enjoy sharing these truths in this blog and pray that you have been encouraged, challenged, and entertained. More than anything, I pray that God speaks to your heart this week as you allow Him to fill you with His joy!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Thy Will be Done"

Today has been an encouraging day for me with the counseling ministry. It’s such a privilege to hear what God is doing in the lives of the precious people He has put in my path. His faithfulness just overwhelms me! And I feel ridiculous when I say that because I shouldn’t be surprised…..and yet I am just astounded by Him again and again! His timing, His mercy, His grace and His love truly are so much more than we can fathom! May I never become complacent or contemptuous towards the wonder of God!
My husband has a small IT company and times have been tough. Not only is business a little on the slow side, but his clients are just as stretched as everyone else, and we have not been receiving some of the payments in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, when I am in the thick of these challenges, it is so easy to become discouraged. I want God to just swoop in and fix it!! Fix the problems, tell the clients that owe us money to just pay us, and make everything comfortable.
But God is not in the business of making us comfortable; He is in the business of making us into images of Jesus. According to Romans 8:29: For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son (NASB). Larry Crabb speaks beautifully to this process in his book “The Pressure’s Off”. Some of what I read there didn’t make me too happy! What’s wrong with wanting to have a comfortable life? Doesn’t God want to give us the desires of our heart?
I think the problem arises when I want my comfort more than I want God. When His will for me (making me into a ‘Little Jesus’) trumps my desire for a comfortable life, I think He doesn’t love me as I believe He should. I have to constantly remember the prayer, “thy will be done” and then be willing to put that into practice. So, if that means that Bob and I have to rest in His provision during this season of financial struggle, than I have to be willing to surrender my will to His. I must say, this isn’t my favorite lesson, but I know that it is a valuable one. I have learned that God’s timing is perfect….even when I don’t think it is. But I’m also remembering: I’m being conformed into the image of His Son. That is God’s work. I need to be just as excited about what He is doing in my life as I am about what He is doing in the lives of my clients.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hunting for Ourselves

For the last several days we have had an immature Red Tail hawk hanging around the neighborhood. Being a birdwatcher, I have been fascinated by this bird of prey and puzzled by his behavior. He tends to just sit in the trees around the yard and call with this loud, high-pitched kind of whistle. I’m not sure what the point is, but I have wondered: is he trying to get the attention one of his parents to feed him? Many times young birds of prey resist leaving the nest and hunting for themselves. It’s so much easier to allow mom and dad to do the hunting!
Sometimes we can do the same thing about our quiet time with God. Similar to this immature hawk, it’s much easier to allow our pastor or a Christian education teacher to teach us from the Bible then to feed ourselves on the scripture. Maybe we just snack through the week on short devotions, or with the fast food of two or three verses from Psalms. Rather than sitting down to a meal prepared for us by our heavenly Father with His love letter to us (and maybe a commentary to supplement) we find it so much easier to allow someone else to feed us. But we miss out on the wonder and joy of discovering precious truffles of truth, carrots of conviction, or pastas of promises! Don’t allow your soul food to become just a snack or fast food. As Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Allow Him through His Word to serve you the richest of fare! Be willing to hunt for yourself.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Adventure

Well, here I am starting a blog. As an aspiring Christian women's speaker/writer, I was informed that blogging is a great way to build a platform. I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts and ideas with people from all over the country......so this really is an adventure! As a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, I pray that people would find encouragement, challenge, and truth. As a Christian Counselor, I look forward to sharing some of the different insights I have learned over the years about grace, mercy, and the unimaginable love that Jesus has for you and me. His love was so apparent to me as I attended a conference in Concord, NC called 'She Speaks!' It is hosted by Proverbs-31 Women! It was an amazing experience and the Spirit of God was powerfully present. I learned so much about writing....questions I didn't even know I should ask. I'm looking forward to next year's conference already!I did have an interesting conversation with a man on my return flight. He was a physics professor from a prestigious college on the west coast. He was intelligent and open to discussion. As he was explaining some of the research he had been doing, we ended up in a deep discussion about faith and the wonder of the soul....something that science still cannot explain, but cannot deny. It was enjoyable to see this learned man also not understand the mystery and wonder of the soul. Naturally, the conversation turned to the existence of God, or as I put the question to him, intelligent design. Sadly, he admitted that he really did not believe in God. I felt sad for this as I thought about this later. So intelligent, so interesting to talk to, yet he was living proof that God chooses to reveal Himself in the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). I don't hold any doctorate degrees; as a matter of fact, my only degree is an associate's. But I have a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ and I have the Holy Spirit guiding me in all truth! All the degrees in the world could not compare to the joy and peace I experience daily!