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A Journey

I’m going on a journey.  It’s a long one.  It’s one I can’t plan for or prepare for.  And my planning, control – desiring self can’t really quite take it.  Oh it’s a surprise! I tell myself.  But really, I prefer to not have a surprise.

To be honest, I’m not sure I want to share my journey with you.  It’s like staring down a railroad track: endless, mile upon mile, bleak.  Yet I know that track is more than I can see, goes through pretty areas, and gets me to my destination.

So let’s go.  You can come with me if you want.  A friend to walk along side with — yes please!

But the truth comes again, we can only walk so far together.  Eventually you will follow your own track, and me mine.  Loneliness upon the journey is part of the process.  I’m convinced.  No spouse even can totally walk the journey with you.  They too have their own tracks.

You see we are journeying towards heaven.  Every single person on this earth is journeying towards heaven.  That’s the pretty way of saying it.  The dark way of saying it is that we are journeying towards death.  Each baby conceived takes his first cry the minute his lungs breath the air outside of the womb.  Some babies never make that first cry, their heartbeat stopping within the walls of a womb.  Some people can’t take the life they’ve been given or the consequences they’ve chosen by how they decide to live, so they choose their destiny and kill themselves.  Others choose to kill themselves for a cause that doesn’t even make sense.  Suicide bombers for example. Car accidents and diseases steal a life.  But most people start their lives and end their lives as God designed: conceived by egg and sperm joining and the amazing process of life beginning.  Cells multiply, fingers and toes form, hearts beat.  Life happens.  Legs and arms grow.  Haircuts change a thousand times, teeth fall out and are replaced by adult ones. Bodies mature.  Wrinkles and sunspots and grey hairs quietly take over.  Then, a casket envelopes the body.  A body now lifeless.  It’s the process of getting to heaven.

For a Christian, all I just described is natural and normal.  Life begins, life happens, life ends.  We are called to give up our body and let the spirit finally meet our God.  But we have hope of having new bodies someday, bodies raised in life.  For Jesus was the first-fruit of all that is to come.  He overcame death.  We will too.

But as we live on this earth we make choices that affect our eternities.  The first choice is choosing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God himself, sent to earth.  He died on a cross for the remission of sin for all mankind.  He rose again.  He shows us how life on earth can actually happen well.  But that means if we want to live for eternity now, that we make choices now on earth that we might not see the result of until we get to heaven.

I want to share a secret thought of my heart with you.  I’ve thought I was a pretty good Christian.  God called me to Himself at a young age.  As I’ve shared before I was not really rebellious. He drew my heart deeper into His Word and into loving Him. As a single I had plenty of time to develop myself in habits of Christian growth.  Secretly pride begin to develop in me.  I thought I was “doing this Christian life pretty well!”  Then I got married, switched jobs, and my husband and I are in a season of slow going.

Things deep in my heart started to surface.  Things that are not pretty.  Discontent, resentment, impatience, grumbling, questioning God’s ways, irritation over minor things, selfishness, envy, criticism.  I think you get the picture.  I also think you know exactly what I mean because these things come up into your thoughts or words as well.  Oh sure, not all the time.  I’m also seeing joy and delight in new ways.  But I’d be lying if I said those ugly things weren’t in me.

I am reading a book on marriage, that I highly recommend: A Lifelong Love by Gary Thomas. He brings the idea of death into our marriage today.  He notes that how we love our spouse will matter greatly when we stand before God.  He argues that seeds of love, patience, self-sacrifice, and any number of things grow, maybe unnoticed until we die.  Then, God will ask us how we loved our spouse.  He will show us the produce of those things.  But the opposite is true, if we daily plant bitterness, anger, resentment, selfish idols, need and greed, and many other things of the flesh, then once we meet God we will see that too.  Hmmm.  Thought provoking.

So you see, I’m a newly married woman and God is allowing this season of not being where either of us want to be, as well as new time challenges which hinder my carefully built habits of Bible study and capability of even making a meal on time, to show me the junk in my heart.  He is inviting me on a journey into a place that seems for the moment unseen.

You might not be a newly married woman.  Maybe you’ve been married 5, 15, 27, or 45 years.  Praise God!  You might be a single woman still.  Praise God! You might be a widowed woman, missing marriage or enjoying a newfound freedom to pursue God’s kingdom in new ways.  Praise God!  You might be a woman in the throes of cancer or another disease that leaves you without strength.  Praise God! In each season, dear friend, you and I are simply taking another step, another leap, or another glance into the journey to eternity.  The journey to heaven.  Oh press on sister in Christ!  Look down that railroad track of life.  Note the unendingness, the bleakness, the unknown.  And then start, step by step, day by day.  Place one foot in front of the other.  Ask God to show you His ways that you might walk in them.  And as you do, step by step, you and I will reach heaven.  It’s guaranteed!  And when that railroad takes you around unexpected turns into open valleys of delight, please enjoy all that is offered!  Weary walking and unending unknowns are only part of the journey! The other part is great delight!  And oh, I forgot to mention one thing.  There is a friend who actually is able to walk every single step with you.  His name is Jesus.  He alone is able to be your companion every step of the way!

Let’s go dear sister, please do walk with me awhile! And when your track splits off and you are forced to go a different path, remember Jesus.  He is with you!

I Am Not Who I Was!

The other day I was driving.  I decided to turn on a favorite local radio program.  I knew the program was mid-way, but I thought I’d try it anyway.  I flipped the dial and the first thing I heard was the host saying what she often has people do at conferences:  she invites them to place their hand over their heart and repeat after her I am not what I was — I am not what I do — I am someone He enjoys.  She then stated that she thought her listeners that day should do it too.  I kid you not she said, “even if you’re driving you can do this.  One hand on the wheel, one on your heart.”  So I placed my hand over my heart and whispered those words.  She invited us to repeat it.  So I did, louder.

It brought back a memory from earlier this year.  I was up in northern Minnesota, unable to attend my local church on Easter morning.  I chose to be away from church, and chose to be with my family, and away from a morning service.  I was wanting something for a Sunday service, especially it being Easter.  So I pulled up a podcast I’d been hoping to listen to for some time.  The podcast was about being loved.  It had nothing to do with Easter, yet everything to do with Easter all at the same time as she shared the gospel prose style by combining verses from all over the Bible.  I cried, it was so beautiful!

Yet in the car the other day, another sentence of that podcast came floating to my memory.  The speaker had stated, “You are more sinfully flawed than you’d ever dare to believe.  And you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare to hope.”  She repeated this, letting it sink in lower and lower from the brain to the heart.  She repeated it again, letting it wash her audience to their toes.

So the other day while driving it came back.  As I listened to the words I am not what I was; I am not what I do, I heard in my brain, I am more sinfully flawed than I could even believe.  The words lodged themselves in.  Past sorrows and sins came to mind.  Things I regret, wish I’d never done.  But that is not who I am now, my brain argued back, for I am more loved and accepted than I could hope.  I am someone He enjoys!

Today I wrapped up my study of late: 1-2 Samuel.  The author asked us to read portions of 1 Chronicles throughout this study as well, as it parallels 1-2 Samuel and adds details to David’s reign.  So today’s lesson focused on 1 Chronicles 29. 1 Chronicles 29:26-30 states,

Now David the son of Jesse reigned over all Israel. The period which he reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned in Hebron seven years and in Jerusalem thirty-three years. Then he died in a ripe old age, full of days, riches and honor; and his son Solomon reigned in his place.  Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the chronicles of Samuel the seer, in the chronicles of Nathan the prophet and in the chronicles of Gad the seer, with all his reign, his power, and the circumstances which came on him, on Israel, and on all the kingdoms of the lands.

The author questions, “How was David’s reign summarized?  Was he remembered for his sin? How would you like to be remembered?  Is it possible to be remembered well if you have fallen into sin?”

Hmm.  I pondered all  this.  We are told that David is a man after God’s own heart.  We know it is true.  However, we as humans seem more apt to say those words but actually label David an adulterous man.  This is true too.  And we dwell on David’s faults.  But God, in great grace, specified that David was a man after His heart, and a king who died at a ripe old age full of riches and honor.  God loved David and forgave his sins, and continued to use David, and gave him riches and honor!

Well my sisters, we are truly flawed.  We all have a past as a sinner prior to recognizing our need for Christ.  Even after receiving Christ we might stumble still.  But we are not what we were.  We are not what we’ve done.  We are someone loved and enjoyed by God!  Oh, place your hands over your hearts, shout these words outloud: I am someone He enjoys!  I am more loved and accepted than I could ever dare to hope! 

Like David, we’ve all sinned greatly before a Holy God.  But also, like David, we can be women after God’s heart. People may label us by our past and sins.  But not God!  God the Son shed His own blood for you and me!  How wonderful!  We are not what we were!  Press on sisters for, Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy,  to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”  (Jude 24-25)

My Name Is Grumpy

When a dog’s sparkle is gone, everyone knows it.  The wag isn’t there.  The bounding energy is replaced with uncharacteristic melancholy.  Thankfully most dogs get this way only when they are in pain, or in trouble, or no person is interacting with them.  They don’t tend to get grumpy (I don’t think!).

Unfortunately, we as humans lose our sparkle too.  We have bad moments, bad days, bad attitudes.  The other day my husband had every right to rename me Grumpy for the evening.  My wag and sparkle rivaled a dog heading to the vet. I tried to be enthusiastic but I just wasn’t feeling it.  I arrived home from work in a semi-good attitude.  But that attitude steadily and rapidly deteriorated in the 30 minutes it took me to ready for bed.

My husband knows me so well.  So he asked me if I was in a poor mood.  Yes, I agreed.  Why?  Hmm.  That one always gives me pause.  Why, he asks.  I’m not always sure.  Sometimes I am sure, just stubborn and want to hold onto my anger, so voicing a reason is easy.  But the other night I knew I had no right to be in a bad mood, so why was I?  It was a good question.  Often my husband’s next question, which I love because it draws me out and opens a door of conversation (and demonstrates his heart), is have I done something?  I had to say no to that as well.  Literally nothing.  So I told my husband that I had minor irritations.  Truth.  But not very helpful to a curious husband who wants to make things right or help me out.

So grumpy, wagless me snuggled into my pillow and tried to figure out my heart.  Hmm.  Well, for starters the guy I work with didn’t feel well and I responded poorly to him — irritated, yelled a little at him.  Then, my husband and I had chatted earlier in the evening and I felt he might be disappointed in me or wishing I was someone I am not. (And he never said that, still doesn’t, I was just perceiving that).  Lastly, I needed a shower but was tired and didn’t want to go through the effort of taking one, just wanted to hop into bed.  But my husband reminded me we had company coming the following day and that our bathroom rug gets wet, thus making it not as nice for people.  Selfish grumpy me didn’t feel like caring at the moment, but I begrudgingly took my shower. (And ok, it did feel good.  I admit it.  And the next day the rug was completely dry for company.)

Grumpy.  Complain-y.  That was me.  Joylessness flowed out of me as obviously as a sad dog who gets sent to the corner.  Only I deserved to be sent to the corner.  You see, I had just finished reading Jonah.  Secretly I like Jonah, because sometimes I am Jonah.

Jonah is not noted for immediately obeying the voice of God.  Rather he knows God’s forgiving and compassionate nature.  So he hightails it the other way.  He falls asleep on a ship.  The ship gets tossed and turned by the angry waves, and Jonah holds onto his joyless, grumpy attitude.  The other people on the ship (not believers in God for they pray to their ‘gods’), are terrified.  Jonah freely admits that God must be allowing the storm because of him, and states that the only way to stop the turmoil is to toss him overboard.  Finally they  do, and the waves die down, and God sends a fish to swallow Jonah.  I’m guessing Jonah was still grumpy.  Holding onto his anger.  I probably would be if circumstances kept getting worse and worse for me.

So then God gets Jonah where Jonah was supposed to go in the first place.  Jonah got a first class ride in the belly of a great fish, the only passenger with all the leg room he wanted!  Then Jonah got vomited out onto the land.  Yuck!  Maybe the first thing Jonah did was bathe in the sea to get the stench and slime off of him.  Then he finally (and grudgingly) set off to warn Ninevah of God’s wrath and upcoming judgment. He told them, and they repented completely, and God relented from His fierce anger.

Jonah went outside the city to sulk.  Perhaps he felt slighted.  He had been warning of impending judgement, but God relented.  Did Jonah feel put off that “he looked bad” by what he said not actually coming true?  I’m not sure, but I do know he was still in a bad mood as he sat to sulk.  He actually wanted to die!  God provided a little plant as shade for him, and then God sent a worm to devour the little plant that Jonah sat under.  Jonah sulked and complained and God asked if he had right to sulk!

The book ends that way!  Jonah doesn’t repent of disobedience or a bad attitude throughout the whole book!  In my grumpiness the other day I wrote in my journal:  I know I should be grateful, joyful, content.  But I’m just not.  I know I should be fine, in a better mood, but I’m not.  I know what God’s Word says about rejoicing, about thoughts in my heart, about gratitude.  I’m just grumpy.

My husband suggested we not talk about one of the triggers that was irritating me.  He suggested we go to sleep and deal with it in the morning.  I woke up much happier, rested, and not irritated.  What changed.  Nothing.  God’s grace gave me a second chance to change my attitude.  The next day was great all around.

How often I choose grumpiness, joylessness, sad-puppy-woe-is-me attitudes over grace, patience, forgiveness, joy, selflessness, or life according to God’s kingdom rules.  I choose to be Jonah.  In the movie Anne of Green Gables, the red-headed, dramatic, romance and sweet- times loving Anne comments on it being “such a Jonah day.”  I’ve been there.  But usually my Jonah days are my days of running to everything but God to make me happy.

Dear precious women: Please run into the waiting arms of God rather than away from Him!  Tell Him all about your grumpiness.  Ask Him to give you your spark back!  I have joy again (thankfully), but far too often I side with Jonah and run away.  I sulk in my attitude.  I think I know better than God.  I let self rule.  Myself never rules well.  Only Christ Jesus can rule my life in absolute perfectness.  And I’m learning (slowly) that sometimes it’s the little irritants that best show us how far we are from being who we want to be. They are teachers in a way.  I think big crisis’ – check, run to God! Little daily irritants… well, if I’m honest I run the other way and sulk far faster than I’d like to admit.  I tell myself I’m not disobeying God like Jonah did.  God gently whispers back to my heart, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is My will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I swallow.  Ok.  I am being Grumpy Jonah.  God please help me!

 

Reflections

This last month I’ve decided to revisit my copy of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  If you are in need of spiritual food, thought provoking readings, or simply a new devotional, it is an excellent and classic devotional.  I must warn you though, you will read some days, and leave thinking, now what was that that I just read?  Seriously, some days I read my daily reading, and my brow wrinkles, and I re-read some, if not all, of that day’s thought.  I re-wrinkle my brow and say, “What God? I don’t get it!”

But tucked into the deep conscience of trying to understand, there are nuggets of gold that stick out like an early spring flower among still brown winter grass.  These thoughts are beautiful, mind blowing, and worth meditating on.  They are like refreshing streams into my brain, streams that bring rest rather than feeling like I’m not smart enough to grasp Chamber’s depth of wisdom.

And of these precious tidbits, I’d like to share some with you.  These aren’t my words, they are those of Oswald Chambers. Chambers lived from 1874 to 1917.  According to the bio I read, he was not famous while he lived, though a small group of people “appreciated him as a teacher of rare insight and expression.”  I must admit that I’d never read any of his work, for I was uninterested.  I knew his devotional, actually compiled by his wife after his death, was a classic.  But I didn’t want to read it.  I wanted “modern” devotionals and studies.  But in 2010 this classic devotional was thrust into my hands as a gift.  And then it sat on the shelf for a couple of years until I was in need of a study, and didn’t have the time to put into anything much more than a devotional.  So I picked it up and either devoured it or trudged through it, depending on the day. Now on my second time through, I’m underlining even more and reflecting afresh on Chamber’s depth which shows insight into his intimacy with Christ.  May these words wash over your soul today, and may the God of all grace call you even deeper into intimacy with Him!

I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone.

If we have never had the experience of taking our commonplace religious shoes off our commonplace religious feet, and getting rid of all the undue familiarity with which we approach God, it is questionable whether we have ever stood in His presence.

Worship is giving God the best that He has given you.

Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ.  The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.

How much kindness have I shown to Him this past week?  Have I been kind to His reputation in my life?

The golden rule for your life and mine is this concentrated keeping of the life open towards God.  Let everything else — work, clothes, food, everything on earth — go by the board, saving that one thing.  The rush of other things always tends to obscure this concentration on God.

One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.

The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples’ feet, that is doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of  God.

Am I allowing my natural life to be slowly transfigured by the indwelling life of the Son of God? God’s ultimate purpose is that His Son might be manifested in my mortal flesh.

 

 

 

Real Romance

Once upon a time there was a little girl.  She shared her home with four others: her dad, her mom, her brother, and her sister.  She loved them all.  She grew up knowing that she was loved.  Her parents provided all her needs, many of her wants,  and gave her hugs and love each day.  Her parents bought her and her siblings a puppy.  They gave their kids a large yard to play in and freedom to be the unique individuals they were.  Overall, it was an ideal home to grow up in.  Of course there was the usual bickering between the children, but looking back it was minor.  For the most part this little family got along.  The parents loved each other too, and the home was one of peace.

This little girl grew and grew.  Happiness continued in her life.  Oh, there were of course hard times: the passing of a grandparent, the beloved dog being killed by a car, a few broken bones or surgeries among the siblings, disappointments over life’s little struggles, and the normal challenges that face families each day.  But this family knew a secret for happiness.  The parents taught the children about Jesus.  The parents understood that not all of life is delightful and glorious, sometimes it’s rough.  But they also knew that knowing Jesus helps each days trials and joys to be either easier or better!  So they shared with their children the gift of faith.

Since the family had a background in faith, and a home where growth was encouraged through play, through education, through love, and through individuality the children in the home thrived.  High school came and went, college came and went, and the two older siblings got married.  The youngest girl wanted to get married too, but the time wasn’t ripe.  So she waited, sometimes patiently, other times longingly.  Her mother continued to share the secrets of happiness and truth rooted in faith.  Her mother knew that this daughter of hers had a romantic heart.  So one day the mother advised, “Romance is any time your spouse chooses to serve you out of love.”  The daughter tucked that tidbit of information away, while telling herself but surely service with romance is ok too.  The daughter thought romance involved dancing and kissing and sweet nothings.

As this young woman watched her sibling’s marriages, she still wanted one of her own.  Long years passed before a suitor of her own came into her life.  She had been on a handful of dates with a handful of different men, but none of them were the man for her to marry.  But then this new young man came into her life.  He was tender and giving.  He treated her with respect.  He looked into her eyes and said he loved her.  He told her that he too believed in Jesus and thought that He is the foundation to happiness.  But this young man was not a dancer and sweet nothings didn’t pour from his lips.  Rather his lips told truths, spoke kindly, smiled easily, and made simple statements of love.

The young woman fell in love with this man.  And the young man fell in love with her.  So they finally arranged to marry.  Before marriage the couple sat down to talk with their pastor.  The pastor talked about the importance of Jesus in the relationship.  The pastor asked about each of them and what they wanted out of marriage.  The young woman eagerly talked of this extraordinary young man who had come into her life.  And then she blurted out, “He’s not the most romantic man! But my mom once told me that romance is choosing to serve another out of love.  And this man serves me!”  The pastor picked up on that definition of romance and inquired more about it.  He nodded his head gravely, as he believed in the worth of the saying.

After marriage the definition of romance would surface again and again.  Every time the young woman wished he’d dance with her, she reminded herself that even though his knees ached he’d often agree to walk down around the lake with her in the evening, knowing she enjoyed that.  When she wanted him to notice her more than he seemed to, she reminded herself that he had noticed that her car needed gas and filled it for her so she wouldn’t have to.  When she wanted his arms around her in passion but he seemed more busy than usual, she reminded herself that he worked hard to provide her with a home and food and clothing.  When she wanted sweet nothings, she remembered his truthful speech that told her she was just the right woman for him or that she could work on a certain sin issue in her life.  Yes, this young woman had to learn that romance is not always what is seems.

Yet there were still moments when this young woman wanted her husband to meet her expectations in ways she felt he wasn’t.  She wanted to be noticed and pursued.  She wanted to be told she was lovable and beautiful.  She wanted passion.  She sometimes wanted things she couldn’t even identify easily.  She just knew her heart had moments of struggle.  She expected her young husband, despite his faithful service and constant tenderness, to express these romantic ideals according to her definition.  But in these moments her definition of romance and love was  again askew.

But then she decided to talk to Jesus about it.  She knew that Jesus would have insight into all of the longings in her heart.  So she said, “I want to be noticed and pursued, and sometimes my husband doesn’t seem to notice me.”  And Jesus said, “My daughter, I stood at the door of your heart knocking, waiting for you to open to my love.  I loved you so much that I walked to the cross for you.  I pursued you into a relationship with me.  Give your husband a break, he loves you well.”

So she said, “But I want to be told I’m beautiful and lovable.  He does tell me he loves me, or that I’m cute.  But I was hoping for more!”  And Jesus said back, “Oh child!  You are slow to understand.  I died on the cross for you.  You were a sinner and nothing lovely was in you, but as I went through agony for you, I showed you that you are worth dying for!  And as for beauty, look to me: I am the embodiment of beauty.  Righteous living is what makes a woman exude loveliness.  Give your husband a break, he tells you he appreciates how you look and you know he appreciates your character.  He even compliments you.  He loves you well.”

Frowning, she tried again.  She said, “But sometimes he’s busy and I want passion.”  Jesus tenderly responded, “Young lady, you don’t know passion.  Your husband is a good husband who serves you and meets your needs so well.  He is passionate towards you.  But I will show you passion.  I was beaten for you.  I went to the cross for your sins.  I took your sin on myself.  Passion is extravagant love.  Your husband loves you well. Let him love you how he does, and let me love you how he can’t.”

The young woman pondered this.  All that she wanted in her husband had already been given to her by her Lord.  All that she expected out of her husband was actually freely given to her already –if she allowed her definition of romance to become love, service, provision, and faithfulness.  She thanked Jesus for helping her see into her heart.  She smiled for the truthful reminder that true love is patient, kind, forgiving, and self-sacrificing.  She knew afresh that her husband loved her. In fact she knew deep down that he was generous in his love for her, because he was modeling the same love Jesus did.  Every time he served her out of love he was, as her mother had long ago shared, defining romance in their home. She remembered too that occasionally a sweet card, a soft statement expressing her beauty, or flowers showed up.

The young woman smiled to herself again.  Loved.  She sighed, and pondered her mother’s wisdom.  It was life -giving truth.  She mentally noted that some day she’d have to thank her mom for teaching her of faith and truths about happiness and marriage.

The end.

 

Contentment

It’s a humbling feeling to have someone else confirm something in you that God needs to work on.  A while ago God spoke to my heart, showing me that I needed some help with contentment.  In going through our Bible Study on 1 Peter, the women and I read, “get rid of all…envy” (1 Peter 2:1).  The author stated that envy is ” a state of discontent and resentment that arises from desiring something possessed by someone else” ( Elizabeth George, Putting On a Gentle and Quiet Spirit).   I thought afresh of some of my attitudes lately towards my house, or other things I think I need differently in my life.  And I boldly told my Bible Study friends that they could ask me any time how I was doing on gratitude.  Then I went home.  I told my husband that I’d really enjoyed the study that day.  I offhandedly commented that I thought I should work on contentment.  There was barely a heartbeat before he responded, “Yes, you could work on contentment — a little.”  I looked up at him, he met my eyes and repeated, “A little.”  I swallowed my pride.  I guess my discontent had been quite vocal if he was able to agree so readily that there were at least some areas I wasn’t content.

So I went to my Bible and found some verses that I could put into my mind as arsenal against the subtle joy-stealer of discontent.  I taped them to my bedroom mirror.  But some of my thoughts were “easier said than done” as I tried to apply the verses to my specific discontentment.

However, I really did want to work on contentment.  So I checked out a book on gratitude.  I begin to read it.  I was again humbled and convicted about my grumbling, complaining, and subtle discontent.  I  thought afresh of how often I say thank-you in the good, but not always in what I don’t like.  So one day coming home from work I purposefully stated, “Thank you God for a house to live in.”  True statement.  But the real kicker came when I forced the next words, “Thank you God for my home, made of stucco” to follow.  I’ve never liked stucco much.  But it’s a home.  It’s safe, dry, warm, and full of love.  My husband has provided it for me —  it’s a place to live, generously given to me

Hmm. Gratitude.  Sometimes it’s hard because I think I need something different.  Do I need a home with a certain look?  Do I need a home with flowers or a double garage?  Do I need a home that rivals the homes of my friends? Can I still be grateful with something that is less then what I desire or think I have to have?

Further, I was going to a friend’s home on another day.  When I drove into her neighborhood the houses looked like something I’d pick if I were looking for a house.  Immediately I schooled myself according to one of my verses taped to my mirror.  In my mind I said, “Mary Ann, do not covet your [friend’s] house or anything she has.”  As we visited we talked of home renovations, the slow process, and the expense.  I had to remind myself that she’s been married around 10 years.  They’ve slowly built up stuff and made their home theirs. (By the way, this is the 3rd place they’ve lived.  I’m sure their first year of marriage in an apartment they had very little in comparison!)  She also freely admitted that before they had done some updates on this home that she also had some discontent!  So when I returned home I stopped and purposefully looked at all that we’ve done so far (in 1 year) to our home: new paint on almost all the walls and some ceilings, a patched spot on the kitchen celling and brand new shingles on the roof to prevent further leaks, new kitchen stove, counters, sink and curtains, and a bathroom redo — the changes my husband has graciously allowed (and even done for me) in a home that he has had for 18 years. Not once has he complained of anything we’ve done, even just the “cutesy” things such as curtains!  I then told my husband that I liked the big windows and porch (which I really do!).  I thanked him for what we have done so far to update our home.

And then on yet another day, a friend showed me pictures of a home that her son who is younger than me just put an offer on.  I saw an attractive home made of stucco still, but somehow pretty, with a big yard and a newly redecorated interior including two bathrooms.  I felt the envy start to rise, and I walked away and said to myself, “Thank you God for my stucco home.  Better a little where the fear of God is, then where there is much wealth and turmoil.  Better a meal of vegetables with love than a fatted calf with hatred.”  I asked God for love to occupy my home — my stucco, 1 bathroom, not newly renovated home.  I want God and His love to fill every room of my home.  I want to be happy with less if it means I have more love within the walls of my home.  I was schooling my thoughts.  And because of this book on gratitude I’m reading I also said, “I praise God that other people can have nice homes like that.”  (It is hard to be disciplined by God, and retrain our thoughts!  Thank God for His Word which gives us the help we need!  The verses above come from Prov. 15:16-17 by the way!)

These are small steps I’m working on to renew my mind: verbally being thankful to God and others, memorizing scripture, and giving praise that someone else has something good (even better than me).  These small, sometimes hard, but overall good steps help me rediscover contentment, gratitude, and joy.  And honestly, this is just one area that God has been showing me my discontent in my heart.  There are other areas that I’m less willing to be honest about.  Areas that are harder to confess that I struggle with.  And yet, listen to this, “[There are] Two kinds of people. Grateful people and ungrateful people.  Those who whine and those who worship.  You can hardly be both. ” (Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude).  Hmmm.  I want to be someone who is characterized by worship, gratitude, and joy.  It is not fun being around someone who constantly whines!

Do you struggle with discontent?  Do you struggle with happiness?  What a gift it is that God disciplines those He loves!  I am convinced that He shows us areas in our lives that are not in line with His will to correct us and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).  So, it is humbling to know that my husband also thinks this is an area that I can work on, but I’m also encouraged.  It means that what God has been showing me (my discontent) is a problem.  It’s noticed by another person.  God wants to root it out of my life, and He can only do that when I’m willing to listen and acknowledge that it is a problem.  So, thank you God for revealing sin in my life that I might be taught by Your Word and be changed according to your power at work in me!

 

 

The Giver

My mom is a librarian. She loves to read and passed that love to all three of her children.  If you visit her home she has books all over the home, stacked by her bedside and lining bookshelves in the basement and bedrooms.  She always has a recommendation of a book to read, and if I’m bored at her house she always has an extra book on hand that tugs at me to settle into a cozy couch and enjoy the pages, forgetting my former boredom.

One of my favorite memories of my childhood years was cuddled on a couch listening to my mom read before bed.  The books graduated as we aged — storybooks were replaced by chapter books with pictures, pictures became fewer and fewer as the chapters became longer and more complex.  And yet still my mom read to us.  My dad often fell asleep in the easy chair in the corner, my mom’s voice lulling him off.  My mom too, often getting sleepy as she read, sometimes started to slur the words and skip a line.  We all knew that the story-time was over and we headed to bed with our heads full of characters.  Since there were three kids and mom, we all got to take a turn picking the book we read.  We couldn’t complain at someone else’s pick, because they would have to suffer through our pick if they didn’t like it.  We read good books and mediocre books … just depending on preference and style.  But we never stopped reading.  When I hit highschool the tradition changed a bit, more evenings gave way to homework over stories, but still throughout the early days of my teenage years we loved the evening ritual.  And all three of us kids read our way through college, despite also having more and more studying.

Once I asked my mom about a book recommendation.  She recommended A Wrinkle In Time.  It’s science fiction.  I hated it.  Go figure though, several of my best friends loved it.  It even became  a movie.  I reread it when the movie came out.  I tried to like it.  I understood it better.  But still, it wasn’t a favorite of mine, or even one I can tell you much about.  She also recommended The Giver  — an award winning book, by the way, so she wasn’t the only one who liked it.  I read that one too.  I wasn’t crazy about it, but for some reason it fascinated me.  The idea of it.  When I took a children’s literature class in college I smiled as I glanced at the book list.  There it was: The Giver.

So, I diligently read this book again.  But this time, I loved it!  Why?  I’m not sure, but perhaps I had changed and grown in my own understanding of the world.  Perhaps I was more open minded the second time around.  Perhaps I had a different sense of right versus wrong.  Regardless, the book is still in my collection of books.  When it became a movie I thought, how in the world are they going to do that book justice?  How can that become a movie?

So, flipping through Netflix the other day I thought I’d give it a try.  They did a great job.  The movie is true to the book for the most part.  And the producers did a good job portraying the futuristic society that is void of color, pain, choice, difference, feelings and emotions.  The main character, Jonas, is picked to receive memories.  Therefore, he is chosen to receive all knowledge of feelings, color, music, emotions, and all the things that you and I take for granted today.

I started thinking about it.  The Giver is the man who gives Jonas the experiences, the memories, the things that the community had no clue about.  Jonas is shown beauty, love, warm sunshine, painful broken legs, death, hate, snow, fun, and many other things.

But you and I have a different Giver.  God in His great wisdom created all things.  We know that all things exist and are sustained because of God.  We often take for granted the subtle things that make life interesting.  Or we complain about them.  We have humid ninety degrees, or negative thirty wind chills.  We have sadness echoed in the muffled weep of families crying over their lost loved ones, and we have the ecstatic giggles of a toddler watching puppies play.  We are free to choose our hairstyle, our clothes, the colors we decorate with, or who we want to date.

Freedom of choice.  Variety.  Beauty.  Colors.  Unique style.  Emotions that cover two spectrums: happy – sad, annoyed – comforting, envious – generous, or elated – depressed.  Differences.  Five Senses.  These are all gifts from a generous Giver!  Praise God for how wonderfully He has designed and made our world!  Every intricate detail of your day is a gift from The Giver!  The feel of snow or sunshine, the color of your husband’s eyes, the look of delight on your child’s face when they taste a treat, the happy grin of the dog riding with his head out the widow and feeling the fresh air, the fabric you chose for your curtains with color and detail, the uniqueness between your decorating style and your friend’s, the irritation that comes when the car in front of you rudely cuts you off, the joy you get out of giving a gift to another, the cute hairstyle you chose when walking into the salon earlier in the day,  the delight of going out to eat and not having to bother with dishes, the exhilarating breath of fresh air when you walk out of your home … and so many more!

How about this thought — The Giver is to be praised for death.  Death releases us from our fallen world and takes those who know Christ directly into His waiting arms.  Can you imagine having to live life on this earth forever?  As good as it is, it is fallen.  The whole world is groaning in anticipation of being renewed (Rom. 8:20). One day God promises that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1)  Here we will dwell with God, and there will be no need for sun for God’s glory will be as daylight! (Rev. 21:3,23)  Astounding!  There will be no tears, and no pain.  And then, at last there will be no death. (Rev. 21:4)  For death is the final enemy to be defeated.  Heaven and the new world that God promises will be the ultimate perfect place to be!

So I challenge you to take notice of your emotions, differences in people, weather changes, or your attitudes.  Take notice of the beauty of our world, and the amazing things God has created with unique detail. How good and gracious a Giver He is!  Enjoy all that we have in this world — but be ready to be astounded at the next world to come!  Press on until we see heaven!  Praise God, in the meantime, for how amazing is His world and every gift we have!  What an awesome Giver we have!!!

 

The 10-Second Kiss

Someone once said to me, “He doesn’t kiss me like he used to.”  She then told me, “You know, when you’re first dating and you kiss — like really kiss?”  I smiled.  At that point I’d been married only a few months, and yet I knew that kisses could be different based on the mood or reason (playful, passionate, goodbye pecks, a tender kiss on the cheek).  After a couple more months of marriage I read an article about the importance of keeping affection alive in a marriage and the author suggested six seconds of kissing a day.  Six seconds doesn’t seem like a long time.  1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6.  Did you count out those six seconds? The time is quick compared to the 24 hours in a day!

(Now, if you are not married, don’t like kissing, or don’t see the point of this post… please keep reading!  I promise, the theme really is under spiritual growth!  Here is an adorable video that will just make you smile… watch it if you’d like, then keep reading!)

How’s that for warm fuzzy feelings!  Pictures are truly 1,000 words!  Anyway, I digress…

So as I got ready to walk out the door this afternoon, my husband gave me a hug and a goodbye peck.  I smiled and said, “Can I have a 10-second kiss?”  He smiled back, and kissed me again, this time a little more slowly.  I walked out the door feeling loved and content.  Then as I drove out the driveway he threw me a kiss from the window.  I smiled again.  I drove away from home feeling loved and more content. I felt warm fuzzies all through me at that moment!

Then I turned on the radio, and caught the last ten minutes of Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.  I later decided that God wanted to give me a 10-second kiss, and boy did I need it!  The archive of the broadcast is here.  The topic was regrets. As the interview finished they played some audio clips of other Christian leaders who talked of regrets and past mistakes, but also of God’s grace and love.  I started crying as I too have regrets in my life, and yet God reached out and said, “Mary Ann, I don’t just want to give a peck on the cheek today — I want to give you a lingering kiss, because I love you!”

Every one of us has regrets and sins that we committed that can turn to regret.  They might be big or they might be small in the grand scheme of things (though before a Holy God all sin is a big deal when understood properly).  But every single one of us has areas in our lives where we didn’t fully obey God, or listen to God, or love God.

It was noted that Satan loves to bring up those regrets and turn them to shame.  We often fail to stand forgiven in the grace and love of Christ Jesus.  I’ve been there.  Have you?  And so as I listened, I cried — tears of regret once again for failing my Lord, and tears of great comfort that my Lord loves me and forgives me so freely.

As I turned off the radio at the end of the broadcast, I sat in silence.  Then I started singing, “My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine. For Thee all the follies of sin I resign. My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou.  If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus tis now.”  Warm fuzzies went all through me once again.  I felt like I’d gotten a 10-second kiss from God.

The gospel message is powerful!  My friends, do you need a lingering hug and kiss from the Lover of your Soul?  He is waiting to give it to you.  His gospel is peace.  His method is grace.  Jesus’ precious blood shed on the cross for your sin means that when we turn in repentance He offers complete forgiveness.  Complete forgiveness. Amazing grace. Steadfast love.  Do you need a lingering kiss from God?  Read those words again: Complete forgiveness, amazing grace, steadfast love.  Believe it, my dear sister, God loves you so much!  Press on — let past sins be past.  That is how God sees it (unless it is unrepented).  And run to the cross quickly when you falter next.  Let it not turn to regret.  Now that message, the gospel of Christ, truly makes warm fuzzies appear in my soul!

 

 

 

Thank You God

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Today is a perfect day to complete this sentence a million times!  Try it — as much as you can thank God for something today!

  • Thank you God for life.
  • Thank you God for my husband.                                        thank_you_pen
  • Thank you God for my home.
  • Thank you God for family.
  • Thank you God for friends.

And then, be even more specific:

  • Thank you God for making my body to use oxygen, and for a heart and lungs.
  • Thank you God for Brad’s smile and for his tender love for me.
  • Thank you God for safety in my home, for a table to sit at, and a bed to sleep in.
  • Thank you God for Dad, Mom, Bryce, Jackie, Hailey, Dustin, Molly, Theodore, Mom Weld, Dana, Don, and Cynthia… and every other family member (Keep naming them one by one!).  Thank you for each family member, pour out your blessings on them.
  • Thank you God for my friend __________ who encouraged me today.

But most importantly: Dear God — Thank you for the blood of Jesus which washes all my sin away.  Thank you for Your love for me and for every person in this world.  Thank you for a heart to praise you.  Thank you for a mind to understand in such a limited way Your greatness! Thank you for ____________________________ (let those praises continue!).  Thanksgiving is the perfect time to purposefully praise and thank God for who He is and what He has done!

 

 

 

 

Clearing Cobwebs

2e0e12e921a50738d0ebe244cdeda73dI do not like spiders.  Let me state that again:  I do not like spiders!

Yet I live in an older house which spiders seem to like.  So we have a problem.  I don’t like them, but they like my home and want to share it with me.  I know my mom taught me to share as a kid … but spiders in my home don’t count!  Kidding aside – I kill them when I see them, I swipe their cobwebs, and I scowl when I find yet another tangle of webs under my stairs, or on the ceiling.  The other day I was folding laundry – and glanced innocently around the room.  I sighed as I saw another web sticking to the baseboard.  I pulled out my duster and swiped at the cobweb.  The cobweb stubbornly clung to the baseboard, so I attacked it again.  I finally got it.  Why are those darn webs so sticky?

Later when I saw the evening news the cobwebs wouldn’t leave my mind.  Oh, the news had nothing to do with cobwebs —  however, the image of the sticky, clingy cobwebs just wouldn’t leave my brain.  Over the next couple of days, the news and cobwebs coexisted in my brain.  News: a first grader brought a gun to school (his fault or the parents?); a famous news anchor posing in sexy photos; a police officer punching a woman (who supposedly kneed him in the groin in resistance — but still, a man punching a woman flat out?), and a day-care provider attempting to hang a child.  (News —  the things happening in our city, state, country, and world that lodge in my brain and remind me that the world at large doesn’t know Jesus.)

Then I was talking with a friend who works with youth — discussing a major problem that Christian youth workers are facing in this generation – gender identity and sexual identity issues.

The thoughts that filled my brain were of Satan prowling like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and of him knowing his time is short (Rev. 12:12).  And the cobweb image came back.

Sin is an ever present reality of this fallen world.  The problem is that if we are not diligent to surround ourselves with God and His Truth, then the subtle lies of Satan, the deceit and short-lived pleasure of sin, and the habits of the world trap us in them.  Like cobwebs they appear.  No web that I swipe away started out as big as the web I clear.  It begins slowly, tangling, clinging to the wall.  Sin is the same way.  The deceit of pleasure, the lust of flesh, the greed of idols in our hearts begin to build up.  And like a cobweb, they slowly tangle their way into our hearts and brains.  Cleaning them up is hard work.  These sins are stubborn and clingy.

We need to be alert and on guard.  Sin is subtle.  Let’s define sin –  sin is anything that goes against God and His ways in thought, word, or deed. It is to “miss the mark” of perfection that God expects, and all have sinned according to Rom. 3:23.  So, all people miss the mark by thinking or acting in ways that are not in accordance with God’s Word.  Sin traps us.  It is subtle and sticky — like a cobweb.  This is why the Psalmist said, “Search me oh God, know my heart, test me…see if there be any offensive way in me.” (Ps. 139: 23-24).

May that be our prayer today as well. God loves to clear the sticky cobwebs of sin from our lives.  It may be a painful process as stubborn sins want to cling.  But God wants us to know freedom found in Him.  If you have a repentant heart, and pray this Psalm, God will come in and see if there is anything offensive.  When He reveals, He then “leads in the way everlasting.” (PS. 139:24).  And praise God for Jesus’ blood which pays the penalties for our sin!

Oh God, come clear the sticky sin that entangles!  I don’t want cobwebs in the home of my heart!  Create in me a pure heart, and renew a right spirit within me! (Ps. 51:10)