Lesson Learned

It was the spring of 1972 and my 12th birthday was only a few weeks away. With each passing day, my excitement grew. Unlike previous years, I knew exactly what I wanted and had made sure to drop several not so subtle hints to my parents. I was certain that this year I would get what I so strongly desired, a boy’s 10-speed bike with rounded handlebars. In my daydreams I could picture myself riding it to my friends’ houses, waving to people I passed as my hair blew in the wind.

The day finally arrived. As usual, my birthday party was shared with my brother, whose birthday was just one day after mine. The butterflies in my stomach were so active I could barely eat any cake. We were down to the last gift when my parents brought my brother and me out to the garage where there were two large objects covered with cloths. This is it! I thought. They lifted the cloth off my brother’s gift first, revealing a black three-speed bike with regular handlebars. I’m glad I’m not getting that, I thought to myself. I couldn’t wait to see my beautiful ten-speed. They removed the covering from my gift. My heart sank and I fought back tears. There before me was the twin to my brother’s bicycle, black paint and all.

There has to be some mistake. I’ll look like the Wicked Witch of the West riding that thing. The tears threatened to spill over as I thanked my parents. “Go on, try it,” they said. Reluctantly, I climbed on the bike and pedaled it up and down my street a couple of times. When I returned, I parked it in the garage, determined to never ride it again.

It wasn’t until my grandfather had a chat with me that things changed. He asked me why he never saw me riding my bike. I gave him the honest answer – I hated that bike. He said that I asked for a bicycle and my parents got me a bicycle, that I should be grateful. I explained that it wasn’t the bike I asked for, and I was embarrassed to let people see me riding it. He shook his head and looked directly into my eyes as he spoke the words I dreaded most, “I’m disappointed in you.” He went on to tell me how difficult it was for my parents to purchase two bicycles at the same time and how hard my father had to work to be able to afford them. He described the sacrifices my dad had made in order to give me what I’d asked for. As my tears flowed freely this time, he finished by saying, “You didn’t get exactly what you asked for, but you did get what you needed – and at quite a cost to your parents. I expect to see your attitude change.” From that day forward, I rode that bike with gratitude for the love and sacrifice of my parents.

So many times in our Christian walks, we need to learn this exact same lesson of gratitude. We spend time in prayer, as we should, but if you’re anything like me, I keep finding my prayers filled with requests. Requests are fine – God wants us to bring our requests to Him. However, a big part of prayer is recognizing who God is and who we are before Him. If our thoughts are focused on Him, then praising Him and expressing gratitude to Him for all He has blessed us with and the sacrifice He made for us, comes very naturally. It’s when we’re focused on ourselves that our prayers become long on requests and short on thankfulness. We pray like we expect God to give us whatever we desire, but God, instead of giving us what we ask for, gives us what we need. Sometimes those things are the same, but many times they are different. It’s so easy to be grateful when God says yes to our requests, the trick is being grateful when He says no or gives us something other than what we desire. Instead of behaving like a spoiled child, we need to accept what God has given us with gratitude and humility. The truth is, we don’t deserve anything. So, anything He gives us is truly a gift, and we can always be sure that God has our best interests at heart. No matter the answer, our attitude should be one of gratitude.

So, whenever we find that petulant child trying to assert herself, let’s remember two things. First, God did not promise to give us everything we want, but instead, everything we need. And second, God gave us the greatest gift of all – eternal life through Jesus Christ – and at quite a cost to Himself. If we remember those two things, then we will live each day with gratitude for the love and sacrifice of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. A sacrifice we neither asked for or deserve.

Dry Bones

The blaring of horns, a compressor running a concrete splitting jackhammer, and sirens shouting out their warnings, assaulted my ears as I stepped onto the New York City street. I joined the flow of humanity navigating the narrow sidewalks and began to relax while taking in my surroundings. There was the young father holding up foot traffic as he leisurely pushed a stroller amid the trees and flowers lining the walk in the flower district. I noticed a young woman pushing a cart laden with purchases, accompanied by an older woman trying to guide her path through the crowd. Everywhere I looked, the street was lined with people, all hurrying somewhere, most with blank expressions on their faces, making no eye contact – so many people.

Looking at the blank faces passing by, I began to wonder how many of these people were merely dry bones, people without true life in them? Oh, they walked, talked and went about their business, but were they truly alive? How many desperately needed CPR, and who was going to give it to them? And in the back of my mind, speaking to my heart, came the words, “You must.”

Everyday, whether in New York City or Anytown, USA, we walk in the midst of a valley of dry bones. Just as in Ezekiel 37:4, God expects us to speak His Word so His Spirit can breathe life into them – heavenly CPR. Sadly, we often just walk alongside these dead, dry bones keeping our life-giving words to ourselves.  We don’t see the people around us as we should. Is it because we can’t, or is it that we won’t allow ourselves to do so? If we saw them, truly saw them, with the eyes of Jesus, then we would be compelled to do something. The clicking, clacking and clanking of their dry bones as they walked beside us, would be screaming in our ears, and we would be unable to ignore it.

It’s time we open our eyes to see and our ears to hear. The Bible tells us we are Christ’s ambassadors, the ones He speaks through to reconcile others to Him – to bring new and eternal life to their dry bones. (2 Corinthians 5:20) We have the words of life and we must speak them. Is it scary? Uncomfortable? Awkward at times? Yes. Will we be rejected? Might we be made fun of, or worse yet, ignored? At times. But none of that matters.

Life is short and getting shorter everyday. We’re running out of time, and for that person clinking and clanking next to us, their time may be even shorter than ours. This is the moment. Share the life-giving words of God. Speak to them of the loving sacrifice, mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Hold out the hope of the Gospel – the good news of eternal life. We don’t have to chase after or wonder what purpose we’re here for. This is it. We must speak. Time is of the essence. We must speak now.

The Light is On

I have very poor eyesight. Without my contact lenses or eyeglasses, everything is just a blur of colors and fuzzy shapes. Recently my cornea was scratched when something blew in my eye and became trapped under my contact lens. In order for the cornea to heal, I cannot wear my contacts, so I’ve been wearing my glasses.

Last night at church, I was holding my almost 3-year-old grandson and he said to me, “Grandma, take off your glasses.” I told him that if I took them off I wouldn’t be able to see. His reply? “Yes, you will. See, the light is on,” as he pointed to the light overhead. My ability to see was so simple to him – if you use the light you can see.

This has gotten me to thinking. As Christians, we sometimes feel like living the Christian life is complicated, difficult or confusing. Every day is filled with so many decisions, big and small. Life is very fast-paced, hardly giving us a chance to think through our choices. We often make snap decisions based on a gut feeling or just on what we desire. Who has the time to spend examining every choice and its possible outcomes or consequences? In essence, many times we are walking through life seeing only blurs of color and fuzzy images. Other times we think we’re seeing clearly, only to find out we’ve been operating in the dark.

The solution to our lack of sight is actually quite simple. As my grandson said, “You can see. See, the light is on.” We need to be sure the “light” is on in our lives. Jesus is the light of the world. If we want to see clearly, we must know Him and walk in the light of His Word. Those decisions we’re faced with on a daily basis? They become much easier to make when we know Jesus and how He wants us to live. Years ago, the acronym WWJD was really big. What would Jesus do? If we know Jesus and know what His Word, the Bible, says, then when we face decisions and ask ourselves what would Jesus do, it’s amazing how often we will know exactly what to do.

Is life complicated, difficult or confusing? Are you finding it hard to decide which way to go when faced with choices big and small? Is it hard to see clearly the path to take? Trust me. You can see. The light is always on. The light of the world is there, waiting for you to allow Him to show you the way. He’ll light the path for you – just take the time to look up.

 

Taking Flight

ButterflyHave you ever watched a butterfly? They’re beautiful, but they don’t make much sense. They flit and flot from plant to plant, never staying very long at each one. Their flight appears very erratic, as if they have no idea where they’r flying off to, but they can’t wait to get there. As they fly, they go up, down and around, but never in a straight line. Still, we watch them, mesmerized by their flight, wondering where they will land next.

Sometimes I feel like a butterfly. My life seems to have no course plotted. I find myself flitting and flotting from one thing to the next, with no real destination or goal in mind. My life seems to be controlled by each circumstance I encounter, causing me to light for a little while here, then a little while there – a haphazard way of living. I have to wonder, is this what God wants for me? Is this what God wants for you? I know one thing. If I were to live my life like this all the time, I would get to the end of it with a feeling that I had squandered my time here.

I know that God has put me on this earth for a purpose and that He has only given me a certain number of days. I want to make the most of the time He has given me. Flitting and flottting, jumping from one thing to another won’t help me do that. If I am to achieve my goal of serving God and becoming like Jesus, then I need to fly in a straight line. The goal must always be within my line of sight and in the forefront of my mind. Even when I encounter life’s inevitable detours, with the goal in sight I can get right back on track.

To achieve my goal, I have to practice intentional living. Daily, I need to remind myself of the goal, and then plan my day so that by the end of it , I am a little closer to what I desire. Even life’s interruptions and unexpected events can be used to propel me closer to my goal. These interruptions give me opportunities to practice things like patience, kindness, forgiveness, grace, mercy and love, all of which will help to transform me in ways that will make me more like Jesus.

This life is the training ground God has prepared for me, the place of transformation, filled with opportunities to serve God and to share Him with those I meet. Time’s a wasting. I’m done flitting and flotting. My eyes are open and focused on the goal – my flight plan is intentional. I’m ready to soar. How about you?

Reflection or Distortion?

reflectionWe are in the middle of an election cycle, so let the war of words begin. Years ago, it would be a “war of ideas” being waged between candidates, but in today’s political climate, it’s all about words. You know the drill, television ads with quotes from one of the candidates splashed on the screen, or a snippet of video showing a candidate saying something most voters would find offensive or negative.The problem is, these quotes, snippets and sound bites are almost always taken out of context and edited in such a way as to make the candidate in question look bad. Words can be edited, twisted and misrepresented to the point that they paint a completely inaccurate portrait of the person saying them.

This doesn’t just happen in politics. Have you ever had someone twist your words? Has anyone ever misrepresented something you said? How did it make you feel? Angry? Upset? Disappointed? Sad? Words hurt, especially when they are lies or half-truths said to tarnish a person’s reputation and respectability.

In thinking about this topic, I couldn’t help thinking about God and how, daily, He faces an onslaught of accusations, blame, and misrepresentations. The world blames him for bad things happening. You hear things like, “Where’s God? Why did He let this happen? A loving God wouldn’t do this.” when some horrible tragedy occurs, like 9/11 for example. While this is awful to hear, and I’m sure it hurts God’s heart, it comes from people who don’t truly know Him, so it can be understood. What really breaks God’s heart is when He is misrepresented or His Word is twisted by those He calls His own.

“What?” you say. “I would never do that.”

God just shakes His head in sorrow and says, “But my child, you have.”

How can this be? Followers of God would never say anything that would discredit Him. Well, at least we wouldn’t do it intentionally. The truth is that what the world knows about God, about Jesus, they learn from watching His followers – you and me. So, when someone murders an abortion provider, people see God as a murderer full of hate. When the news shows people from a church hurling slurs and holding offensive signs at a military funeral, they see God as intolerant and lacking compassion. And when they see sexual abuse at the hands of so-called men of God, they see God as a monster.

As Christians, we say that isn’t who God is, those are the acts of humans who are failing to live up to who God calls them to be. That may be correct, but the world at large doesn’t see the distinction. I have said many times in my classes, that we need to be aware that for some people, we might be the only Bible they ever read. Everything we do and say, reflects on Christ. If we act out in anger, they think God must be an angry God. If we won’t forgive someone a wrong they’ve done, they conclude that God won’t forgive them either. If we lie, God is a liar and therefore there is no truth. We carry the name Christian, therefore we are Christ’s representation to those around us. If we use our words to tear  down others, negatively influence a person’s reputation, or to judge, then that will be who they think Christ is.

So I ask again, have you ever misrepresented God or His Word? Have you twisted His Word and used it as a tool of judgment? The world does enough of that without our help. God has called us to live as Jesus did and to love as Jesus loves. We need to examine ourselves – our words, our actions, and our attitudes – and ask God’s forgiveness for the hurt we have caused Him and His Name. It’s time for those of us who call ourselves Christians to live our lives as accurate representations of Jesus Christ. Let’s show the world who Jesus really is, one person at a time – the world doesn’t know it yet, but He is just what it needs.

A Lesson From Peanuts

Charlie BrownLike many of you, I grew up watching the Peanuts specials on TV year after year. When we had children, my husband and I introduced them to the Peanuts TV specials and they quickly became favorites of theirs as well. It wasn’t long before they were quoting lines from the shows. In fact, my son, now age 30, can often be heard saying, “Rats!” when he makes a mistake or something is going wrong. Every time I hear him say that, it brings to mind one of my favorite memories of his childhood. We had gone to the library, and he went to the checkout with a stack of books almost too big for his little 6-year-old arms to carry. As I watched him check them out, I was surprised to see they were all Peanuts books. I remember thinking to myself that he was too young to be able to read those, but he was so excited that I didn’t say anything and just let him get them. Upon arriving home, I went to the kitchen to get lunch ready. All of a sudden I heard one giggle, then another and another. Wanting to find out what was happening, I stood at the bottom of the stairs and just listened. The giggling and chuckling continued until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I crept up the stairs as silently as possible and peeked into my son’s room. There he was, sitting at his desk, with one of his precious Peanuts books open, reading the comic strips and laughing. Those giggles are burned in my memory and I have a simple comic strip to thank for that.

Both of my children really enjoyed Peanuts and now that my daughter has children, she is sharing her love for Charlie Brown and the gang with her children too. I really believe my children learned a lot about life from watching the Peanuts specials and reading the comic strips. They learned how to be a good friend from Linus and how to handle disappointment from Charlie Brown, among other things. Even as adults, there are things we can learn from the Peanuts gang.

One thing that used to confuse my children was the football incident. Now, I know you know what I’m talking about. Every fall, Lucy convinces Charlie Brown to run full-speed toward her to kick a football. She convinces him that this year, she will not move it. She’ll hold it steady for him so he can kick it. And every year, Charlie Brown falls for the trick, literally. He runs as fast as he can toward that football, thinking to himself that this year he’s finally going to get to kick it. And every year, Lucy pulls the football away at the last second and Charlie Brown falls flat on his back. Good grief! My children would ask me why Charlie Brown would believe her, when every other time she moved the ball. And that’s what most people would focus on. They’d laugh at Charlie Brown and his foolishness. They’d say he shouldn’t have believed her. And maybe he shouldn’t have, but we can learn something very important here from Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown never lost hope in the ability for Lucy to change and keep her word. He knew what she’d done in the past, but he hoped for better from her in the future. That’s a quality I want to cultivate in my own life. As a Christian, I believe that God wants us to always look for the good in people, that’s what He does. Jesus looked at Peter, with all of his brashness, outspokenness and rash actions and saw a leader for His church. Even after Peter denied knowing Christ three times, He tasked him with feeding His sheep – taking care of His church. Jesus sees us where we are and loves us, but knowing what we can become, He is not content to leave us there. He develops us into the follower of Christ that He knows we can be, through circumstances, people and day to day struggles. He gives us every opportunity to grow and change, we just need to want to.

Just as Charlie Brown never lost hope in Lucy’s ability to change and grow, the Lord never loses hope in our ability to change and grow. So, what’s it going to be? Are we going to continue to do the same things over and over and remain in the state we are now? Or are we going to make the decision, starting today, to change, grow in our faith and become more like Jesus with each passing day? Because for us to see the potential in others and love them in spite of their faults, calling them to something more, we have to be on that road ourselves. It’s time to stop pulling the football away and start growing and changing so we can see people clearly, through the eyes of Jesus. If we can do that, then we will grow into the person of God that we were designed to be and we’ll be able to help others to achieve their God-given potential as well. I’m ready to take the first step, what about you?

A Closer Look

Gärtnern, gardeningBeautiful sunshine and warm days are two things hard to come by where I live. So today, when both were present, I knew what I had to do. I stepped out of the door and breathed deeply the scent of  the flowers, enjoying the bright colors of the marigolds, SunPatiens and Echinacea. Finally, taking a closer look at them, it became clear there was a problem. My SunPatiens though pretty, were much smaller than in past years. The echinacea looked sick, and the marigolds hadn’t filled the flower boxes as they should have. How could this be?  I thought. We had so much rain earlier in the summer. Maybe we had too much for them. I walked around the house to my container vegetable garden and picked a few tomatoes. The same problem besetting my flower garden was affecting my vegetable garden as well. There were plenty of tomatoes on the vine, but they were all quite small. Then I understood the problem. Because there had been so much rain, for weeks on end, I had gotten out of the habit of watering the gardens. When the rain stopped, I thought they needed some time to dry out, so I only watered them a couple of times in the last few weeks. The plants didn’t die, but they began to produce less fruit and their growth was stunted. Because it happened gradually, I didn’t even notice until I really stopped and took the time to look at them.

The same thing can, and often does, happen in our Spiritual lives. We go through great times of nourishment and rapid growth – feasting on God’s Word, spending time with fellow Christians and experiencing a closeness with God in prayer. Eventually, the feasting ends, and we go back to our normal diet of Bible Study, prayer, fellowship, etc. That is to be expected. It is the ebb and flow of the Christian life. The problem comes when we allow ourselves to get on autopilot. Our Spiritual life becomes routine. If asked, we say we’re doing fine, and we think we are. In fact, many times we truly are fine. But if we remain on autopilot too long, if we are not staying alert, we can be headed for danger without knowing it.

Like my plants, we sometimes try to live off the last time we had a really great Spiritual meal, but that only lasts so long. Eventually, the nourishment we’ve stored will be used up in our regular daily Spiritual activities. Then, if we’ve been on autopilot too long, those activities become less frequent. We go from studying the Bible everyday, to reading a few times a week. The excitement we once had at meeting God in His Word, becomes a duty – something we have to check off our to-do list. Our prayer times are fewer and farther between, and we find ourselves just sending up one-line requests to the God of the universe. We still attend church and take part in our usual activities there, but the truth is, we are gradually, oh so gradually, becoming undernourished. Like my plants, we’re still alive, but we’re producing less fruit, smaller in size and we’re on our way to Spiritual death. If we continue to stay on this path, we will surely die.

If I hadn’t taken a closer look at my plants and noticed how undernourished they were, they would have died. They would not have had enough nutrients to produce even small flowers or vegetables. Thankfully, I realized the problem before it was too late and provided the water and nutrients they needed to survive and hopefully, thrive. We need to do the same thing in our Spiritual lives. Periodically, we need to take a close look at ourselves – at our attitudes toward the Spiritual disciplines of reading and praying, serving, and fellowshipping. We need to ask ourselves if we are getting the proper nourishment, or are we on autopilot, getting just enough to survive, but headed for danger? Don’t put it off. Ask yourself these questions right now. And if you need to, take yourself off autopilot, up your Spiritual caloric intake, and let the God of Creation provide the nourishment, not only to help you survive, but to make you thrive.

Compartmentalizing – Good and Bad

File Folders in Wire Organizers(From the Archives – I hope you enjoy it.)           I’ve often thought, and heard others say, that men are really good at compartmentalizing. They can put aside one thing to focus on another, even when the thing they are putting aside is extremely important and upsetting. As women, we may not be great at compartmentalizing our feelings, but there is one way we may be too good at it. Do we compartmentalize our Christianity?

What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example. It’s the first night of a new class you’re taking at the local community college.  In order for everyone to get to know each other, you go around the room with each person telling the others about themselves. When your turn comes, you might say something like, “I’m Sarah Smith. I’m a wife, mother of two, and I work at XYZ Office. I enjoy scrapbooking, bike riding and reading.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re a Christian, why is that not one of the first things you say about yourself?

The above is just an example, but the point is, as Christians, our faith is the most important thing about ourselves. Shouldn’t our Christianity define who we are better than any other role, job, or activity we are involved in? Shouldn’t everything else in our lives, the way we live our lives, stem from our Christianity? Why are we fearful of saying straight out, I’m a Christian?

I used to be nervous about sharing overtly Christian things about myself. Then one day, I was in a group of people, listening to them talk about getting drunk the night before, their promiscuous behavior and using offensive language. They were talking about who they were, why couldn’t I? It was then and there I decided to no longer hide my faith. Since then, when I’m asked what I did last night, if I went to church and taught a Bible study, that’s what I tell them. When asked what I’m working on, I tell them a book about living life as a Christian woman with passion.

A Christian, that’s who I am, and I will no longer hide it like it’s something to be ashamed of. What’s funny is, I’ve found that most people respect my answers and actually want to know more. Doors have been opened because I no longer compartmentalize my Christianity from the rest of my life – there is no “rest of my life”, my faith is what defines me. Jesus said in Luke 9:26 that if I am ashamed of him and his words, he will be ashamed of me when he comes in his glory. I refuse to be ashamed; I refuse to hide who I am. What about you?

Discovering the Real Me

iStock_000013206726XSmallSometimes, when I look back over my life, I come to the conclusion that no one knows the real me. What’s worse is that I’m not even sure I know the real me. It feels like I have spent my life always trying to be who others expected me to be. The truth is, I’ve always secretly felt that if others knew the real me, the flawed, insecure and frankly, sometimes unkind me, they would no longer accept me. We all form opinions and make judgments about others, even if it’s done subconsciously, based only on what we observe about a person, or worse yet, based on what we hear about them from others. But who are the people underneath the facade?

I’ve noticed that those who seem the most arrogant and self-assured, are often the most insecure. Below the surface they are hungering for acceptance and love, oblivious to the fact that the arrogance they are projecting prevents them from getting what they desire most. As I think about all of this, I see we are a society of strangers, built on families of strangers, all trying to be what we think will make us acceptable to others. This isn’t enough for me anymore.

I am filled with a longing to discover who I really am, what makes me unique, and how God can use this individual to further His Kingdom. I want to break the bonds that hold me back, confining and conforming me to what’s expected of me. Those bonds are beginning to loosen, and I am taking my first tentative steps toward becoming the one-of-a-kind person God designed me to be. With each small step I can taste it, what God had in mind all along, freedom. Yes, this is the path I have searched for and longed for all this time. Freedom. The gift God gives us through Christ. And oh, the taste is sweet.

Clarity of Sight

iStock_000011718606XSmallI know it’s not Thanksgiving, but I’ve recently found thankfulness to be on my mind anyway. The past few weeks have been very difficult for me. The pain of fibromyalgia and the exhaustion of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have blurred my vision and drawn a veil over my eyes that I find it hard to see past. With each step taken and every movement made, the pain is my constant, unwelcome companion. It whispers in my ear to just give in, give up, nothing will ever get better. Unfortunately, after 28 years, this is probably true, it won’t get better. Just when I’m about to give into the sorrow and grieve over the life I’ve lost, my eyes are opened.

I see with such clarity that to give in is to permit illness and pain to define who I am. I think of Jesus and the pain He suffered on the cross and how that pain is not what defines Him. Instead, it is the resurrection that defines who He is. I think of Paul, who says he can do all things through the strength of Christ, and suddenly, this illness that I’ve seen as a curse, becomes something to be thankful for.

In my weakness, I experience the strength of Christ enabling me to do what He has called me to. As my pen moves on paper, I feel His strength. As I feel hope once again take up residence in my heart, I know it’s Him. The One who took five loaves of bread and two small fish and fed five thousand people until they were full, can take the one “loaf” of my life, and if I accept it is enough, will use that life to do so much more than I can imagine. I need only be thankful for the life He’s given me and simply say, “not my will, but yours”. What freedom thanksgiving brings!