Thursday, September 23, 2021

My Story Matters....So Does Yours!

 

During the years I worked at Arizona Christian as the dean of women, I treasured the opportunity I received to occasionally share with students in chapel whatever recent truth the Lord was unveiling during my quiet times.

I titled my very last chapel connection: My Story Matters!

Because it does....

...for several reasons.

My story matters to me, because it speaks of the journey I've been on with Jesus, the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the sorrowful and the joyous. An added benefit is that the Lord used the telling of my story (usually, out loud) to eliminate some ugly bits of shame the enemy seemed to velcro onto my soul.  Hearing myself share what Jesus had done in my life totally eliminated it. 

I also know my story matters to others, because many times folks see themselves in my story. When they do, they know there is hope for their stories to end in such a way that there is redemption.

Most of all, I know my story matters to the Lord, Himself, since He is the hero of my story...He was, is, and always will be the protagonist in my drama.  As a result, His name and wonderful deeds are glorified. 

The verse at the top of this blog was my go-to-passage for that chapel...and, as I prepared for it, I ran across one translation that used these words:

Set apart Christ as Lord of your Life, and never fail to share the story of the hope you carry...

I loved those six words:

Never fail to share [your] story...


A story is an amazing tool. 

We all relate to a good story! 

And, the beauty of a story is that no one can argue with it!!!! 



However, the point of all this is that your story should not stay hidden. 

It is meant to be told that we might spur one another on!!

Experts tell us that there are several elements to creating a good story:

1) Passion – the more passionate we are, the more authentic we are. The more vulnerable, the more we relate. 

2) Struggle - A story isn’t worth telling unless there is a relatable character who is up against something. If there’s nothing at stake, there is no story.

3) “Aha” Moment – this is the moment when a new truth is realized; every great story has a life-lesson.

4) Transformation – as the story ends, something or someone has changed (usually for the better).


When Jesus is a part of our life, there’s always a story to tell. These are the best stories, because they are the ones where the God of the Universe stoops down to make us (His creation, made in His image) great (Psalm 18:35, NIV). 

These are the best stories, because they are the building blocks of the Kingdom of God; and that is why we are here – to build a Kingdom for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7).

BUT....Scripture is full of good stories. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the "characters" that enrich our Bible. 

We might just find that we relate to them as we read about their struggles, relate to their hearts, their passion,  and learn from their “aha” moments. 

Perhaps, we’ll notice that not only were their lives transformed by the Hero of the Universe, but little by little over time, as we study their stories, He will change us! What a thought.

Perhaps, we'll notice as we look at the stories of their lives, that our stories are also worth the telling...

After all, Bible characters were HUMAN just as we are...imperfectly perfect...definitely not folks out of a once-upon-a-time-fairy-tale-world!

The Lord has recorded their stories, to use their lives to build His Kingdom, just as He wants to use yours to continue to do so.

As we dig into some of these interesting folks, start thinking about your story...

It MATTERS!

To me...

To you...

To Jesus...

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The "Wool Dress" Challenge

 

(Hab. 2:2)

An author-friend of mine writes books on writing books.

She's kind of a "how to" girl for other people who enjoy writing. 

This would be her main motto:

Over the years, we've stayed in touch via email, and I think our correspondence has been mutually beneficial in the arena of "words."

Recently, I received a random, rather out-of-the blue email simply letting me know the details of her latest book.

At the end, she added a P.S.

"On a personal note, I took on the challenge of wearing the same wool dress for 100 days in a row. I did so for several reasons, including getting used to putting on "real" clothes every day, seeing if it changes my relationship to clothes, and because I want to simplify my life. As of this writing, I'm on day 89. I'm going to write about the experience when I'm done."

Just FYI, people who write, tend to do a lot of pondering about weird and random things. 

It's simply part of their makeup...and, it gives fodder for the next thing that pushes their pen across a page... 

Can't say, if you did a DNA-test on me, that I'd fit entirely into their profile. 

BUT.....

I did ask myself this question after I read her P.S.

"What would my wool dress be?"

Followed by: "What driving force motivates me to a "ponder," and, subsequently, sit down in front of the computer to face the dreaded blinking cursor on a very white page?" 

Answer: It generally abounds around my studies in Scripture. 

So, I made up my own "wool dress challenge..." 

I'm now on day 51 of 100-days of digging into Psalm 23. 

I don't spend long each morning - maybe 15-30 minutes max.

I read through the Psalm (I know, it's a long one - an entire six verses), then go verse at a time and sometimes a word at a time, following whatever lead the Lord seems to place on my heart. 

I'm still on verse 2a: He makes me lie down in green pastures....



It's been interesting the twists and turns, the detours off the main path, the upward climbs and the downhill slopes, the words of life and love, and the deeper pangs of conviction, that this journey of 100 days into Psalm 23 have taken me. 

More than anything, I've been reminded that the Bible is RELEVANT RIGHT NOW in 2021 North America, South America, Asia, Africa....and the uttermost parts of the world.....

I've been intrigued at those who think it's BORING...I just don't see it.

I'm stunned that Scripture has so much to say about SCRIPTURE...

And, ultimately, this Albert Einstein quote resonates the more I continue on the journey...

So, what's this all about?

Let your intellect have a little fun when it comes to studying God's Word. 

Yes, it is also a "serious business" of heaven...

But, let the Word challenge you to stretch your imagination and find deeper intimacy with the Lord waiting on the other side. 

Only one rule applies: Never wander off the pages of Scripture as you journey. 

You can detour all you like, but always detour into another page of this main source. 

As a little encouragement, I recently pulled out an old file in the cabinet where I had been saving different articles, clips, and notes on diverse Bible Study methods. 

I pulled out some of my favorites, compiling them for a series I did for another ministry that zeroes in on global workers around the world (can I just say, we had a lot of fun doing this and sharing with one another how the Lord had spoken from week to week). 

So, I'm attaching the link for that compilation - maybe you can enjoy a little "different" as you have some fun in Scripture:  Finding Joy in the Discovery. (Note: You are welcome to download and share...)

And if you have some additions, please share! 

"What's YOUR wool dress going to be?"

Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Parable of Two Trees



Two trees sit in our home.  They are remnants from a lightning storm on the ridge in the National Forest behind where we live...

They have a story to tell…a word of truth, an assurance that rests in a God of All Hope - a nod to our Good! Good! Father!


Their story declares:


When all seems Over and Done…


Burnt and Broken…


Scorched and Scarred…


The LORD is not finished.

Our Abba is still at work.

Our Elohim is still creating.

Adonai is still crafting.

Jehovah is still writing a story...

and, Yahweh is still in the Resurrection 

& Restoration business….


It’s exactly what Jesus was trying to tell the women at Lazarus’ tomb, when He brazenly declared:


“I AM

the

Resurrection & the Life…


ALL who are in me will not die….”


###



High above our home in the national forest grew two trees..


Regal pines, full of life, with branches abounding and leaves flourishing…


Daily they raised their arms in praise to the One who created them, shouting with GREAT JOY!


Their sweet smelling aroma rose to the heavens, like prayers, filling the nostrils of their Creator God. 


But, there on the mountain, they were susceptible to the storms that squalled.

Winds that blew with gale force.

Lightning that struck like thrusting swords.

Rain that pounded mercilessly.


And, as each element battered the trees,

They discovered their limbs broken…

Their leaves burnt to ash…

Their trunks scorched and scarred…


Their lives were spent.


In spite of the fact that they no longer seemed able to fulfill their given life-purpose…to GLORIFY their GOD, still they stood as strong and proud as they possibly could…


...and, EVEN IF, they could no longer lift their arms in praise, they were still a testimony of their Creator!


Sometimes feeling overlooked and abandoned, they waited and waited; and, wondered…

“What can the Father do with withered, blackened, burnt up stumps? We are but a shell of ourselves - Is there still purpose for us on this earth?”


And, they remained steadfast, simply waiting and resting….


Until, one day, the keen eye of an “artist-of-sorts” saw those two broken, bruised, blackened mess of scorched wood, not as worthless, or useless. Not as purposeless or without value. 


Instead, he saw ART! He saw BEAUTY!


So, cutting, dragging, washing, spraying, the artist-of-sorts re-instated them to a new calling….a HIGHER CALLING…


They would stand once again, 

Pure

Proud…

Pointing to their Creator, Abba (the Father of all Living Things) once more:

The One,

True God -

Who reverses destinies,

Redeems the broken,

Restores beauty from ashes.



The story of these two trees -

The message they shout -

Is a parable that points to the heart of a Father,
Who takes failures and flaws

And out of the fire,

Brings forth a Phoenix

with further future grandeur…



They stand to remind us

Our Abba is not done with us on this earth until He Heavenward carries us…

And, then, oh what awaits!!!!


We still aren’t used up.

Not for eternity...

Not ever…


For we were created ALL FOR HIS GLORY ——

For! ever! more!




Thursday, September 2, 2021

Ready or Not....He's Coming!

 I know everyone's social media feeds look different, but yesterday mine seemed full of September greetings. 

Always one ready to welcome the start of fall, I find myself dragging my feet this year (just a wee bit). 

Summer simply slipped by way too fast (and, I only got out on my paddle board about three times - sigh).

Yet, as I turned the page on my calendar to a new month. it seemed like the weather was in co-operation with the onset of my normally favorite time of the year. 

The signs are here.

As I went for a morning walk, I spied the emergence of changing colors, indicating that whether I am ready or not, here comes fall. 

XXXXX

When last I wrote a blog post, the Lord clearly called me to a season of "sabbath."

His words to me, through Scripture, evidenced a sweet invitation to just "come." 

Little did I know then how much I would need the space to simply be with Him and pour out my heart, even as I listened for His voice speaking life into me. 

On June 29th (last posting), I wasn't certain if I'd pick my blog back up or not... 

I'm still unsure, to be honest, but I'd committed to a summer Sabbatical, and with the coming of September felt that commitment complete. 

What I do think is that I will not be quick to write, nor, necessarily, write as consistently as once a week. 

My newest resolve is to only "speak" as I feel led and compelled with a clear message from the Lord.

So, what that looks like remains to be determined. 

XXXXX

That said, back to the changing season and my calendar...

As I prep for all that's coming during the month ahead, I took note that the first holidays to be observed fall on the same day: September 6th.

In America, we celebrate Labor Day, and it coincides with the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hoshanah (or Feast of Trumpets). 

I'll zero in on the latter. 

Here's what I know about Rosh Hoshanah (simplified):

1. It is a two day period of time set apart to celebrate the Jewish "new year (it falls between September 6-8 of 2021)." The celebration connects with the onset of the new moon (not a full moon, which is easier to determine), but the new moon - that sliver in the sky that is sometimes hard to detect. So...no one knows exactly which day the new moon will begin to shine in the darkness. Once spotted by at least two witnesses, who inform the High Priest, the festivities begin. 

2. In Jewish culture, the Feast of the Trumpets is known as the "feast of awakening blasts." Over nine different sessions, the priests will blow the shofar eleven times, followed with one long and loud 100th trumpeting. The purpose: "to awake those who are sleeping (in a spiritual sense)..."

3. Called by yet another name, Yo Ha Din (Day of Judgment), Jewish participants recognize this as a time when the Lord will "weigh the right vs. wrong of individual lives."

4. If three names aren't enough, a fourth emerges: Yom Hazikaron (The Day of Remembrance). It's a day to look back and celebrate God's watch care, His shepherding over His people...and, our Jewish brothers and sisters will pray that the Lord will continue to "remember" those who are His in the coming new year.

5. For Jews still waiting on the Messiah (although, you and I know He has already come!!!), Rosh Hoshanah is set aside as the wedding day of their long anticipated Bridegroom... They celebrate with a looking forward to that day of His coming...

Ah....but what does Rosh Hoshanah have to do with Jesus-Followers?

Glad you asked (ok, you didn't, but as I dug into the holiday, I did…)

Like almost all Jewish feasts and celebrations, the Feast of Trumpets links us to New Testament teachings and prophecy. 

Much about this season is a reminder that our Redeemer is coming again...

1. No one knows the day or the hour (Mark 13:32-33)...

2. He will come with the sound of a trumpet blast (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). 

3. He will come for those who are His (Luke 17:34-36)...sadly, some will be "sleeping" (just as they were when He came the first time)!

4. He will come with judgement (Revelation 22:12-13).

5. He will come for His bride - the church (John 14:2-4 full of Jewish wedding language).

As a "new season" is upon us, Paul reminds us to encourage one another with these words: 

Jesus is coming again!

(1 Thessalonians 4:18)

The signs are here...

So, write on your calendars "Feast of Trumpets" (and circle it with hearts) - in a topsy-turvy world, let's remember to celebrate this one for-certain-truth. 

Let's get ready, Bride of Jesus...your bridegroom could be near. 

For those who don't yet know Him as Savior, I pray no one is unprepared for His arrival; just in case ****see below...

Ready or not....He is coming for His own...

XXXXX

**** If you're not sure you are "ready" for the bridegroom...here's a link to a video presentation my husband just made, titled "Ready or Not..."






Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Rest of God...and a Time to Sabbath


Two nights ago, I was awake for all but about the last three hours when sleep finally claimed me.

This is a fairly common occurrence, and generally I assume that if awake, perhaps it's because the Lord has something to say to me.

If, I've tried talking to Him, and that doesn't help me fall back asleep, then my go-to is His Word, with one simple question: "Is there something I need to hear from You, Lord?"


As I mentioned in last week's blog, my schedule has been a bit wonky, and good time in the Word (my life-line to Jesus) has been somewhat sporadic.

AND...when I am sitting with Bible open, of late it's been to engage in study for the purpose of one of the many things in which I'll be leading/teaching/mentoring, rather than to absorb myself in my relationship with the Savior. 

So it was that I opened my Bible to the Psalms, and began reading Psalm 27 in the New Living Translation. 

I stopped when I got to verse 8 (see the opening photo...and thank you, Mandy Mace, for the picture I stole). 

The Psalmist, King David, wrote six words that I needed to hear: 
"My heart has heard you say..."


In prayer, I asked back, "Is there something my heart needs to hear, Lord?" 

"Yes," said He, 
"Come and talk with Me..."

"I think I do that fairly regularly, Lord, throughout the day..." I replied.

Yet, in my heart, I knew. 

My talking was just that...

...me, talking.

Not me, listening.

REALLY listening to Him for just me....


To clarify, I knew I paid attention to His voice, yet, always, it was with something else in mind:
A new blog, a bible study I'd be teaching, (likewise) an upcoming seminar, or a board event, or a women's retreat on the horizon...

The word "Sabbath" kept popping into my head; but, from what?

I knew I couldn't cancel everything...nor did it seem the Lord was asking that of me.

Yet, it did appear the Lord wanted more of my FOCUS (my own Fresh Outlook Centered Upon the Savior)...

...and, He's extended an invitation to be more in tune with Him.


To give more of whatever steals the bulk of my mental time and attention...

Well, for me, right now, THIS (my blog) consumes much of my contemplation....

It didn't take rocket science for me to determine that He's asking me to step back from blogging for the next two months through the remainder of the summer.

In doing so, He's inviting me into a place of Sabbath rest.


The "rest of God" (as author, Mark Buchanan calls it).

In fact, in his book by that name, I copied this quote (below) to remember. It seems a perfect way to end this blog as I enter a season at  "Rivendell."

JRR Tolkien gives one of the most entrancing descriptions of the true nature of Sabbath. In book 1 of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he describes a time of rest and healing in the house of Elrond in Rivendell. The hobbits, along with Strider, their guide, have made a dangerous and almost fatal journey to this place. They will soon have to make an even more dangerous, almost certainly fatal journey away from it. But, in the meantime, this:  For awhile the hobbits continued to talk and think of the past journey and of the perils that lay ahead; but such was the virtue of the land of Rivendell that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have power of the present. 

That's Sabbath!!"


What a sweet bidding...to which I responded, much like David did:

"Lord, I am coming!"

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (& Paul's Letter to the Galatians)


Hebrews 5:12-14, ESV

This has been a whirlwind of a week, and, as a result my schedule has been thrown off, preventing me from my normal early-morning-scheduled times with Jesus. 

After just a few days of inconsistent time in God's Word, my spirit feels a bit shriveled...

...and, in fact, I feel somewhat stunted, and as if I've gone in reverse instead of moving forward spiritually...

It's exactly what Paul talks about with the churches in Galatia...

XXXXX

Thirteen years ago, Paramount pictures produced a fantasy romance movie starring Brad Pitt. Entitled, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the film loosely followed a short story written in 1922 by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Basically, the story chronicles the life of Benjamin Button, who was born "old," but regresses as he ages to infancy. He lived his life in complete reverse. While a strange movie, it received thirteen Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. I remember watching it when it was finally released on television, and thought it odd, and, honestly, quite sad.




This week, the movie came to mind as I started reading what I term, Paul's Lament (Galatians 4). In the midst of entreating the churches he planted to stop listening to false teachers, he asks them a heartfelt question (9b):

How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world...

On first reading, his question seems vague; but, he's really asking them why in the world they would want to regress? 

Love means being willing to ask tough questions...

The Galatians have a choice whether to move on to maturity, or not, but they aren't taking the opportunity...

In turning back to law from grace, once they were saved, it's as if they've chosen to take a path back into infancy. 

These believers are, in fact, spiritual Benjamin Button's...

And, sadly...this isn't just an issue of the early church. 

Many Christians do the same today...

Instead of moving forward in a natural path of spiritual growth, I've frequently observed folks find salvation in Christ, be handed all they need for personal development in faith, and, then.........well, nothing.... 

I've even seen Jesus-followers, who've found salvation by grace through faith, begin a deepening, solid, growing relationship with their Savior...and, then..........seem to go back to infancy. 

What happens? 

For the churches to whom Paul wrote this letter, they took their eyes and ears off of the TRUTH that had been introduced to them, and began listening to others...

They were easily swayed, by false teachers who were leading them astray by tickling their ears.

They preferred the milk of the Word (the "ABC's of Christianity" - which is what the word "elementary principles" actually means) to having to chew on the meat of God's Truth.

It simply seemed "easier." 

But "easier" for them meant aging in reverse. 

For today's Jesus-Followers, not much has changed. 

There are still false teachers, trying to lead others astray by tickling ears.

Milk is still preferable to meat.

We've taken our eyes off of the goal - 

The goal of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus (the author and perfecter of our faith - Hebrews 12:2). 

We much prefer to let others do all the thinking for us.

It just seems way easier...

But "easier" for us means becoming spiritual Benjamin Buttons....

And, that, as I understood it this week...is simply not natural, and, yes...sad!

Even the writer of Hebrews implored the Jesus-Followers:

Let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again! Let us go on, instead, and become mature in our understanding. Hebrews 6:1a

Paul goes on to tell the Ephesians...

Let us go on to maturity...so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:13-14)

So this week, my heart felt Paul's lament to the churches he founded in Southern Turkey, as if he wrote them to me. 

I recognized how easy it is to regress to infancy, spiritually speaking...

And, once we start on that slippery slope downward, it's hard to reverse.

So, Paul gave me a few words of advice, to stop the downward cycle.

His advice reads a lot like this:

The righteous live by faith, and living by faith looks a lot like keeping in step with the Spirit of God one step at a time.


...And, the Spirit of God will always lead us to creating space in our lives for keeping company with the Lord in order that we might go on to maturity! 

Not becoming a Benjamin Button begins with the right attitude of my own heart, and a willingness to keep in step with the Spirit.... 



Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Good of Law; The Better of Grace....

 I've always been a rule-follower. 

It's just easier.

In fact, I like rules: the structure, the stability, the safety.

I like living in that comfortable zone with good guardrails.

So, this last week, when I decided I needed to work a little harder at eating in a manner that might help fight some inflammation issues I've been having, I looked for a diet that clearly spelled out THE RULES. 

Lots of research led me to an anti-Inflammatory program that has good, measurable, doable "laws..."

For one whole week I've adhered to these rules and am beginning to see the rewards.

XXXXX

HOWEVER, I recognize I, also, do this in my Christian life.

I want the "program" all spelled out for me.

The do's and do not's bother me NONE!

BUT, as I study the book of Galatians, I realize Paul's biggest heartbreak is over proclaimed Jesus-followers who put the do's and do nots ahead of faith. 

Paul scolds them with no little frustration in his voice; and, as he does, I recognize he's scolding me.

In my desire to "do the program" of Christianity, it's easy to slip across that blurred line of pleasing God with my faith to pleasing God with my good works.

Paul wasn't the only one who addressed this problem, and the writer of Hebrews reminds with an entire chapter (11) on what people who lived by faith looked like, because "without faith, it's impossible to please the Lord.."

When Paul calls the Galatians non-thinking, senseless and brain-dead (ahem! in so doing, he says the same about... "moi!"), he asks them how they became so easily "bewitched," or "fascinated," by law after having found saving grace in Jesus...

Well, perhaps the question is rhetorical, but it also requires some pondering (which I know is exactly what he wanted them/me to do)... We are fascinated, because:

  • Good works/law - it's easier! it's measurable! From it, I think I know what a Jesus-follower looks like and how they act (this however leads to judgment...ugh!)
  • Good works/law - it's objective. I wake up with a "to do" list already made for me, and all I have to do is check off the boxes.
  • Good works/law- gives me some good, reliable guardrails of "safety..."

But...when it becomes the measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord or a means of judging others.... THEN:

Good works/law - leads to pride! When I do "right" my ego is stroked. When I don't do right, ego deflates and I look for more positive pats on the back to rebuild my ego. So, then I have to do more and more and more... 

Through this whole ordeal, I compare myself to others - and we all know what comparison does: 

It is the chief thief of JOY!

Living by Law will always lead us away from the joy of grace when it becomes our measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord. 

AND....Good works/law - leaves no room for the Spirit of God to do His work of maturing me from within.

Living by Law will always keep us from living by the Spirit when it becomes our measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord.

This led Paul to ask another question, which he addresses:  WHY, then, do we even have the law? 

Reason says, couldn't God have just skipped Sinai? The 10 commandments? The other 400-some tedious rules?

Don't miss the point, Paul says. There's a purpose for the law...and it is GOOD!

(Are you confused, yet? 'Cause my first thought was that Paul couldn't make up his mind... But, WAIT FOR IT...hopefully, this all comes together!)

Here's the good...The Law serves like a school teacher for young children. 

OK? (Well, think this progression through and maybe the confusion will clear - it definitely helped me.)

Law teaches me about my sin... I simply can't follow it all. Every day, I break one of God's rules, which is exactly why I needed a Savior. If I try to live by good works to get to heaven, well, I'll never get there!


So then, Law renews in me a greater gratitude and a deeper understanding of God's grace. 

This then, leads to a renewal of my commitment to "walk by the Spirit" in order that I might look more like the One in Whom God the Father was well-pleased...

I want to be more like Jesus...the One who saved me by grace. 

Now, this deeper understanding of grace gives rise within me a "want-to" to do good works.  After all, I was created for good works, just not saved by them....

Here's the difference:

Because of Grace, I don't have to please God by doing good works...

He is already pleased with my faith (even if it is as small as a mustard seed)...

BUT, I GET to do them as an expression of my faith in Him...

And, these "good works" serve the purpose of bringing others into the Kingdom...by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus! Why? Because they see a difference in me...

Just like that anti-inflammatory diet - we will see results....The Lord calls it "fruit."

And this...changes everything!