Sunday, November 29, 2015

Better Than "The Soaps"

It is widely agreed upon, among those of us who follow Jesus, that marriage is a partnership between a man and a woman; and men and women are as different as night and day. Right?!  Certainly Charlie and I approach events, situations, home decorating, cooking (need I go on?) from perspectives that often prove to be challenging.

However, we have something in common (besides our love for Jesus) that provides a great backdrop for discussion; we both love to read.  Now, mind you, he goes for science fiction while I love a good romance.  My hubby loves history and politics while a good murder mystery (nothing too terribly lurid please) keeps me reading until the wee hours of the morning.

One evening last week, following our meal, we jumped into a fun discussion regarding something we had read.  It involved romance, deception, a strong male leading character, two women wanting the same man and a sexual encounter!  Hmmm.  Yes, we both found this story intriguing…worthy of discussion.

You may have guessed…the story came straight out of the Bible!  If you are not familiar with this amazing book, let me say it has some of the most compelling stories found anywhere.  God wrote His book through multiple authors and He wrote about REAL life! 

This particular after-dinner reading focused on the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel.  Jacob fell head over heels in love with Rachel (the more attractive sister, or so the story goes) and was willing to work seven whole years for her father before he would be allowed to marry her.

Then, Laban (the father) tricks Jacob into “being with” (if you catch my drift) Leah, the sister. (They actually were considered married after that evening “together.”)  Yikes!  Jacob is onto this mess but a few hours too late; the deed has been done.  Eventually, Jacob is married to both sisters….at the same time.  (Keep in mind, monogamy has been God’s plan from the beginning; the Bible reports what was happening in the culture at the time.)

But here is what is so amazing.  Even though Jacob had multiple wives; even though he conceived children through maid servants of those wives….out of all of that, God established the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.  (I told you, these real life stories are better than the “soap operas” on TV!)

I see a great life lesson here.  God gives grace and purpose to His children, even when they mess up!  Jacob and his family, in spite of the drama, were true lovers of God.  They were ready to follow Him, to serve Him and to live with eternity in their hearts.

How often today do we meet someone who has come out of a rough family background… or been born under less than ideal circumstances…. or may have had a personal history of drug use or violence, and we judge them?  We often don’t see others as God sees them.  I have to plead “guilty” here.

There have been times in my life where I have come under great conviction of personal sin; reading the Bible and listening to the nudging of the Holy Spirit can do that.  Sin sometimes won and many of my personal choices had a negative impact on the people I loved the most.  My testimony as a Christian was tainted. 

Because of that brokenness in my life, even though I had acknowledged, confessed and repented of my sin, I seriously questioned if I should take on a leadership role in my church.

As I prayed for clear direction, a wonderful Christian friend took me straight to the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of the book of Matthew.  Of the five women listed, four of them were obviously sin-stained: prostitutes, an adulteress, and an idolatress…serious stuff!  Still, God included them in this illustrious list.  Each of them played a key role in the unfolding story that led to the birth of Jesus.

God is The One Who forgives, provides grace and calls us to live out the purposes that matter to Him.  What could be more glorious?!  He frees us and He lifts us up out of the muck and mire of life; no matter how much we mess up our lives, none of us is beyond His reach. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Claiming an Attitude of Gratitude

It was summer and I was delighted to be getting out of the stifling heat where we lived in Raleigh, N.C.   My boys were very young, full of energy and looking forward to spending time with grandparents in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  We loved the cool lake breezes, beach time, biking, walking and the slower pace of life that comes with vacation time as well as small town life.

 My mom had found a child's bike just the right size and it was put to use very quickly.  Early one morning I was awakened by my oldest child, Andy (As an adult he now goes by “Drew”, he would want me to make that clear!) who was probably around the age of 6.  He was standing next to my bed with wild flowers in his hand.  Through my early morning fog, I could see the look of satisfaction on his face as he presented them to me; he couldn’t wait to tell me about his bike ride down to the beach where he discovered the flowers.  GULP!  He was alone…near the water…on a bike!

Back home in Raleigh we lived in a lovely neighborhood but “Andy” had major restrictions where he could ride because busy streets were not far away.  Now we were in a small town, certainly with its own dangers, but there were not so many restrictions on biking routes.

With all the calmness I could muster I told my young son that I truly did appreciate the flowers but he must have an adult with him when he went near the water.  What he said next has stayed with me all these years (he is now in his early 40’s).  His blue eyes danced with joy and he said, “But mommy, I feel so free.”

Freedom is really important to all of us, is it not?  That fresh summer day, my sweet young son reminded me of the joy that came with having freedom to ride a bike, pick flowers and enjoy the lake. 

At this time of year, so close to Thanksgiving, we find ourselves being particularly aware of our blessings, and I have many!  My list includes: my husband, kids, grandchildren, a reliable car, financial resources to pay for needs and pleasures, church family, health, warm comfy home, etc.  And each of these categories could be broken down into more blessings…much like a tree trunk that sprouts many branches that, in turn break off into many smaller twiggy branches.  Freedom is a HUGE blessing! 

There are many who believe we are living in a time when our personal freedoms are being eroded.  I have seen changes and added restrictive laws/rules over my lifetime.  It’s tempting to be fearful, wring our hands and use social media to finger point.  Honestly, I have done all three of those.

But I begin to relax when I get still before the Lord, delve into His Word, and review His promises and direction.  Worry and anxiety are not of the Lord!

In John 8:32 Jesus tells those who believe him, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  How is knowing truth related to freedom?  In Romans, chapters 6 & 8, we find an answer.  Our freedom is freedom from sin because of our faith in Jesus Christ.  I Peter 2:16 tells us, “Live as people who are free,” and then goes on to encourage us to use that freedom to honor God.

What a gift God gave us – a gift no one can take away.  Through the power of God and because of the Holy Spirit Who indwells and empowers me, no matter what is happening around me, I am free to choose joy.  I am free to choose an attitude of gratitude and to live for a greater purpose beyond “self”.

We are living in the “last days” (defined as the period of time between Jesus’ first and second comings).  Maybe we are even in the “last, last” days when Biblical prophecy warns us to expect persecution and limitations on our personal freedoms.

But praise God, because of His Son, Jesus, we (believers) have the most important freedom of all, the freedom to love and serve the Lord wherever He places us.  We are free to choose love and joy and to live with an attitude of gratitude!  That’s my prayer for my loved ones as we come to the table on Thursday.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Oasis of Peace and Comfort

What is it about toddler drools and shrieks that say “pay attention to me”, and quiet snuggles that bring a sense of peace to the soul?  How can one snuggly little grandson and his kindergartener brother make the world turn right side up in the blink of an eye?

In less than a week, my life was full of “ordinary drama”….you know, the stuff that does not make for headlines in the newspaper but immensely affects my life.  It started with a cold coming on before heading to see my west coast family; it continued with a looooong flight (three airplanes).  Hours after I arrived in Portland, my daughter-in-law’s father passed away while she was out of town at a conference where she had major responsibilities including multiple presentations. 

My cold worsened but the needs of my family did not diminish and I wanted to accomplish what I came to do; that was to help keep things running while my son and his wife met their obligations.  So I asked God for energy, in spite of my coughing and fatigue and…no surprise, I had all I needed.

A couple of days into my visit I had word from home of another death in my church family; not unexpected but unwelcomed all the same.

And now there is Paris.  Unbelievable sadness in the face of evil.  More reasons than ever to trust in a sovereign God.  Another reminder about the brevity of life on this earth, the sin in man’s heart, and the need to share the hope we have in Jesus every opportunity we have.

So, back to the title of this post.  God’s provision for “peace and comfort” came in the form of a small child, snuggling on my chest, post nap.   This beautiful little boy is less likely than his brother to hug and snuggle; he has much more of a whirlwind approach to life.  That day while his brother was at school, I had the wonderful opportunity to see life through his eyes. (Thus the need for added energy!)

Gus takes wonderful naps, wakes up happy and ready to go.  He had no knowledge of his grandpa’s passing….or did he?  We all know a child that age understands only what is happening directly to him in the moment.  But could it be possible that a God of great creativity….the One Who knit each of us together in the womb….could it be that somehow Gus knew it was a time to bring comfort?

The baby monitor indicated Gus was stirring and talking, so up I went into his room.  He had that sleepy-eyed look with his little curls framing his sweet face.  I changed his diaper and we headed downstairs to the living room.  Since he was still a bit subdued, I sat with him on the couch, fully expecting him to pop off my lap and take off with the rest of his day.

What happened instead, for at least 30 minutes, defied logic.  This sweet little guy, who ordinarily has better things to do than snuggle…snuggled.  While he pulled his arms into his body (against my chest) and rested his little head on my shoulder, I began to pray….out loud but in a very quiet voice.  I thanked God for every blessing I could name; I petitioned Him on behalf of others; I praised Him for Who He is.  It was as though Gus knew we were sitting at God’s feet, experiencing a divine moment.  It was beautiful.

God’s Word has much to say about His gift of comfort.  Look at Psalm 4:8, John 14:27, John 16:33 and Matthew 11: 28-30, for starters.  He tells us to cast our burdens on Him; I believe Gus and I entered into a burden-casting moment when we talked to God that afternoon.

If we live more than a few years on this earth, we can almost be guaranteed sadness, pain and loss.  But God brings us these wonderful windows of opportunity to experience His peace and comfort.  Those moments are to be treasured, banked and re-experienced when life gets dark and difficult.  This week my “ordinary” moment was transformed into an “oasis of peace and comfort”.  God is good…all the time.



Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sleepovers Still "Rock"!

It was a Friday night and the doorbell rang.  In came the girls with arms full of sleeping bags, food, DVDs, pillows and pajamas.  Let the fun begin!  The Wii game came out and they cheered each other on.  First it was the slalom run down the mountain; next it was ski jumping. And let’s not forget the hula hoop contest…all “virtual” of course! Shrieks of excitement ruled the moment!

And then there was food…oh my…these girls could have been snowed in for a week and never gone hungry.  The fireplace was warming up the room and food fueled conversation.  It was a time to suspend the cares of the week and just indulge in some plain old girl talk.

The girls picked through a variety of movies agreeing on the perfect “chick flick”.  They added popcorn to the already large array of treats (a movie isn’t complete unless there is popcorn available).  Of course, inserting inspired personal comments added a bit of narrative to what was happening on the screen.

Would it surprise you if I told you these “girls” were no longer youngsters…or even teenagers?  These “girls” ranged in age from their mid30’s to age 70.  These “girls” were in my living room and we were having way too much fun.  Who says sleepovers have to end at some point in life?  No one!

I am incredibly blessed to have friends of all ages; I love my “senior” friends (meaning those close to my age!) because we can share life experiences that only we understand, having lived through multiple seasons of life.

But I also treasure my young women friends.  They help me see the world through their eyes; they authentically value my past experiences and seek to learn from my (mis)adventures.  These dear young friends take an interest in the lives of my grown children and (appropriately) ooh and ahh over my totally adorable grandsons.  I have had opportunity to help them meet their challenges,  deal with their frustrations and celebrate their victories.  My husband and I have loved on and babysat for their children.

What drives these relationships?  What causes women to want to do a “sleepover” when there are so many other needs and people pulling on their time and energy?  How is it that women from ages 35-70 can come together, act goofy, eat like crazy, moan over a chick flick and find real life topics to discuss?

I’m about to share the secret so…………lean in, come closer.  It’s JESUS.  That's right.  It’s because of a common faith in an uncommon Savior. Jesus Himself knew what it was to have close friends, to live in community, to dine at a common table.  His table probably didn’t include chips and salsa but I would bet He enjoyed some wonderful fish and a glass of wine made with grapes from a local vineyard.  (Just for the record, our evening was alcohol free…and we still “got our silly on”!)

We Christians have the greatest reason of all to love life, laugh ‘till our sides hurt and bubble over with joy.  Check out Ecclesiastes 3:4; Solomon reminds us “there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance”.   

In Hebrews 1:9, God reminded His people that He anointed them with the oil of joy because they had chosen righteousness in their lives.

The words of the apostle Paul are a great explanation about “why” these friendships work in my life….the ones that span ages and take time out for games and movies.  When Paul addressed the church in Philippi he told them to be like-minded, to have the same love (for Jesus and one another) and to be one in spirit and in purpose.

Those wonderful women laughing and hooting and hollering in my living room ALL live challenging but joy-filled lives.  We know the One Who gives purpose.  We embrace and love one another.  Even in the midst of “virtual” Wii games, the joy we shared was wrapped up in like-mindedness and purposeful living. 

Most of us have heard the age old song that says, “They will know we are Christians by our love”.  I would suggest the world will also know us by our joy.  The psalms are filled with descriptions of how God’s people expressed their joy…through music, dance, poetry and “shouts of joy”.  People of God, look up!  Our King is coming back!  Let’s dance! Shout! Sing! Laugh! 



Monday, November 2, 2015

Tuning Up


Music has always been an important part of my life.  I started piano lessons at a young age and for many years I followed in my mother’s footsteps serving as an accompanist for various groups.  I have sung in different church choirs and cherish my high school madrigal group experience as a favorite memory.

My piano “career” was enhanced by music festival experience (high school) and a semester of private piano lessons (college).  At this current stage of life Charlie and I just enjoy “making music” together (Isn’t that what marriage is about… on many levels?  But, I digress). Charlie enjoys his flute while I “tickle the ivories”, playing at local nursing homes, or just for our own pleasure.

A friend of ours asked us to join her and another musical friend for several local Christmas music “gigs”.    We gathered around our piano the other day; I began to play and instantly realized it was time to call the piano tuner!  Each of the other instruments was ok on its own but with the piano….it was obvious something was off.

Being in tune touches other areas of life as well.  Several years ago, when I was serving on our church’s deacon board, our pastor asked all the board members  to come up to the front during a Sunday morning worship service. 

Pastor Steve had discerned that our congregation would benefit from seeing a visual picture of the “many” being of one mind.  I loved his word picture.  He compared us to a symphony orchestra…each of us unique, but together…. in unity… for the glory of God as we used our varied gifts and personalities to move the church forward in a single mission.

I once had an interesting question posed by a friend during a small group Bible study: he asked why Christians had such a hard time agreeing on different points of Scripture.   I believe, this side of heaven, due to our limited (spiritual) vision, it would be virtually impossible for all to agree on every point of God's Word.

But how exciting it is to know that God can still use His church… us…His people…to show the world what it looks like to have harmony and unity in spite of our differing perspectives.  When we adopt an “it’s not about me” attitude; when we prayerfully discern what is “a hill to die on and what is not”; when we invite the Holy Spirit to lead us; when we stand firm on non-negotiable's without rancor; when we “guard the Truth” per 2 Timothy, chapter 1...then, as the song goes, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

My challenge is for all who are part of the body of Christ: let us show this contentious, argumentative, battle weary world what it looks like to live in peace, to sing in harmony, to be in tune with each other and to maintain unity even as we celebrate our unique God given gifts,  passions and experiences. 

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”  I Peter 3:8 (ESV)