Inconvenience Yourself

In my hometown in South Dakota, winters are somewhat mild but can be bitter cold and snowy. It is typically considered to be a nice winter day if there’s sunshine, no breeze, and higher than 15°F outside. But heaven help us when the arctic blasts come! In preparation for these days, it is customary for all the crafty do-gooders of the community to knit or crochet hats, gloves, and scarves for the permanently displaced folks in the downtown area. But instead of donating their yarn creations to a shelter, they draped them upon the dozens of bronze statue presidents on every corner in the downtown area.

To the outsider, the site of Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy sporting striped scarves and donated jackets may seem a bit fanatical or down right odd. At one point, the city attorney pointed out to these do-gooders that it was unlawful to “decorate” the presidential statues and asked that this practiced be ceased. Fortunately, the mayor intervened to reverse and modify the law to allow winter wear to be hung on the statues between certain times of the year. If you ask me, I love seeing the statues being adorned with knitted things. But I also know the do-gooders are missing out on something infinitely more valuable than being permitted to hang their knitted things…

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A little known fact about Altus, Oklahoma, it’s not a place many people are familiar with. It’s a quaint little town in the literally in the middle of nowhere whose agricultural roots and military operations are footnoted in America’s history. Unlike South Dakota, the winters in southwestern Oklahoma can be more brutal than its northern neighbors. Ice storms are more probable than snowstorms and there are no natural landforms for Altus to seek shelter from the winter winds.

In these times, folks usually band together; making sure their neighbors are taken care of and will even inconvenience themselves to be a helping hand. A five minute trip to Wal-Mart usually takes two hours – not because everything is scattered throughout the store, but because folks will stop and start conversations with you. They genuinely have an interest to know you!

The same could be said for a small group of Altusians I know who also like to knit scarves and hats for the homeless. But they don’t stop at Altus city limits. These folks purposefully drive down to Wichita Falls, TX (a 90 minute drive) and hand deliver their winter wear to the homeless, spending hours talking with them and loving on them. This ministry is called the “Church Without Walls”. The stories I’ve heard from this ministry would make your heart sink and your soul cry out for mercy. Out of all the provision bags, which contained toiletries, food, and clothing, the Church Without Walls volunteers brought, the most sought-after articles were the handwritten encouragement letters? The only needs that weren’t being met on the streets were human compassion and interaction.

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If we are forthright with ourselves, we know it is far simpler and more agreeable to give out of convenience. It is convenient to make a scarf and passively hand it off to the middleman president statue than it is to drive 90 minutes and strike up a conversation with the homeless woman with two kids. It is far more convenient to stop at Wal-Mart at 9pm in order to “get-in-get-out” than to shop during primetime, least you become inconvenienced with crowded lines. But when you live out of self-conveniences, what are you missing? Honest still, what blessing are you blocking by isolating yourself?

I love what Paul wrote to us in Romans 15. It’s essentially a battle cry to turn away from our self-centeredness and to inconvenience ourselves; coming alongside those who are faltering, troubled, or in need:

1-2Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

3That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next…7So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! (MSG)

Now before you mentally counter Paul’s call to action with self preservation-based arguments or go charging out the door with a new perspective, pray about it! Often times God wants us to do one simple act of kindness rather than take on a whole battlefront of injustice. Remember, Jesus was more intimate with the Father than He was with the people – listen with an open heart and receive Romans 15 into your spirit. Use this scripture as a mirror and let the Lord help you sort out the life you’ve lived out of convenience. It’s not too late to ask God for a change of heart! He promises that He can give us a new heart and a responsive spirit (check out Ezekiel 36:26, NLT) – just ask Him!

Abba, thank You that You first loved me before I first loved You. Forgive me for my heart of stone. I know it’s not what You had in mind for me. I release to You the things that made me comfortable instead of content. Open my ears to hear what You have for others through me in this season of caring and giving. Let me no longer live a life of convenience but a life for You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

No Plan “B”

“For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” Romans 3:23 (NIV).

You’ve lived your life the best you can, you’ve done what you believed you should do and everything is going the way you planned.  Then suddenly it happens.  You sin.  BIG TIME.  You are heartbroken, you think you are no longer able to fulfill God’s “perfect plan for you”.  You’ve ruined everything, for you, your family, and your God.  How will God work through me now?  He will have to get someone else.

You feel like Romans 3:23 is written specifically about you, “For YOU have sinned and YOU FALL SHORT of God’s Glory”.  There it is; I fall short.  The best bet now is to muddle through (which will never be enough) and hope God can fit you into some sort of “reduced ” plan B for Christians who weren’t quite good enough.

We all have plans that failed or got derailed.  Maybe we heard God, maybe not.  Maybe they weren’t even plans, maybe you were just living your life going with the flow and suddenly you feel like the exiled people of Israel.  It feels like a long ways away from where you’d hope you would be with no hope of getting there.  Then you hear that famous verse Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV):

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

You look around, you know you are supposed to be encouraged but everything looks the same.  You are still in your situation surrounded by your problem(s) or nagged by your addiction.  And you’re not sure how any of it works for you, settling for no hope and even less for a future.  Perhaps you think you’re not even sure you deserve a plan B but are religious enough to think you need to be doing something, maybe you can work it off.

THERE IS NO PLAN B.     

Somehow we forget that God knows everything.  When He made the plans for us, He knew we would sin, He knew we would fall short, He knew where we would be and when we would be there. He knew about the damage and hurt we would cause or feel.  He knew we would be right here in this very moment.  But He doesn’t have any desire to follow a new plan.  Let’s look at the Jeremiah 29:11 again only this time, in the Message (MSG) translation:

“I know what I’m doing.  I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”

We forget HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING!  He knew what He was getting into.  Don’t give up yet.  He plans to take care of us because we need Him to and not to abandon us because there will be times we think He should or has.  Yes, repent!  Yes, there may be some damage to repair or maybe some healing, but God knew that as well.  He’s not OK with it but He knows how to work with it for our good (see Romans 8:28).

He tells us in Jeremiah 29:5-7 how to set ourselves up to be on track in God’s timing.  This scripture basically says, don’t let your exile or failure dictate how you live your life.  Live to grow, live to prosper, live like you are right where God planned because He knew where you’d be right now when He made the plan, but it doesn’t stop here.

You are not ruined; you are redeemed!  He knows what He’s doing; His plan is to work for us and through us.  Sin never stopped Him before.  Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more (see Romans 5:20).

Think about this (SELAH):

 My sin is not a deal breaker for God, it’s the reason I have a deal.  The cross is my deal.  So let grace abound, the plan He has for me is to lavish grace on me.  That’s the real plan.  It is still healthy, whole, and moving forward.

THIS WEEK:

Look back through your life and give the sin and failure moments to God and have Him restore your hope and peace in those areas.

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for having your Son die on the cross not only for my sins but also for my hopes and my future.  Thank you for seeing in me an opportunity instead of a closed door.  Teach me to see with the same grace as You see me.  Help me to stand in Your grace when I succeed and when I fail. Help me to never lose track of Your plan, to save them all.  Forgive me for thinking Your plan was dependent upon me and what I can accomplish.  I give You my guilt and shame for falling short and receive from You courage, determination, peace, and hope.  Make me a champion of Hope for those who fall short this week.  Thank you for taking the burden of making your plan successful off of my shoulders.  Let everything that was meant for evil against me this week draw me closer to you.

In Jesus’ Name, so be it.

 

Do You Know Your DNA?

Two years ago, on my 73rd birthday, I found out who my birth father was. I also found out that I have a sister and brother living in Kentucky.

The story is a long one and the importance of it is simple. There is something different in me than is in all my other siblings. My DNA is different. For most of my life I knew that my stepfather, despite his decision not to tell me, had adopted me. I was a snoopy kid and saw papers I should not have. However, I do believe his decision was based on protecting Mom.

In those days, there was real shame attached to having a child out of wedlock. My Mom had been a Christian as a teen and young adult; but something happened and she fell away and got pregnant. I remember the day she decided to renew her relationship with God. I was five and had two brothers. One Sunday morning as we kids had crawled into Dad and Mom’s bed to play around, she turned to Dad and asked if he minded if she got the boys and herself ready and went to church? His response was so typical of him: that’s fine, get them out of here so I can sleep. So, for the rest of her life Mom rebuilt her relationship with God and served Him with all her heart within her local church. Very few, if any, of the folks at church knew her story. Her life was such that they would not have believed it if someone told them.

Mom had married the man (that to this day, I call “Dad”) when I was two. I never did know my birth father as he died when he was only 60. However, what a joy to meet my brother and sister in Kentucky! They are Christians and are serving the Lord.

Recently I had my DNA analyzed and, as can be expected, it is a real conglomeration. I am 68% British, 11% Irish, 6% Scandinavian, and the other 15% is a mix of all different nationalities.

I have taken a lot of time telling you about me, however, there is a reason behind it. Lately my devotional reading, two verses of scripture jumped out at me: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God,” John 1:12, 13 (ESV).

As if a light bulb came on my mind realized that when I accepted Jesus as my Savior, I became a Child of God! Don’t get me wrong, I am not God in any way shape or form, but I do have His DNA in me. Paul said, 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV). Paul talks about the “new man” and the “old man” in that the old has passed away the new has come.

Continuing in this theme, Jesus said in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”

Peter says, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God,” 1 Peter 1:23 (ESV). We have been born again by imperishable seed Through the Word of God. We have God’s DNA giving us new life and hope and strength.

The next time you are tempted, remind yourself that God does not tempt you (read James 1:13). The next time you are really angry, angry enough to fight or scream, remember, “26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” Ephesians 4:26 (ESV). God has given you the power to overcome anger that is not honoring to Him. When trials and tests come, there is in you the power to overcome. If sorrow has you in its grip, the joy of the Lord is your strength. Struggling in school, or at work? Remember, you are a child of God!  You have His DNA!

There is a very positive side to this DNA thing. There resides in you the power to pray in the anointing, prophesy according to God’s word residing in you, pray for the sick, (dare I say it) raise the dead, share the gospel with power, see the lost found, the brokenhearted healed, the prisoners freed, and the power of God at work in your life.

After all, IT IS HIS DNA IN YOU!

Seasons of Change

The morning air was crisp and cold as Daisy stepped out for her morning walk.  The seasons were changing and the temperatures were dropping.  Soon it would be the holidays when family and friends would gather, but things also would become a blur of activity.  For now, she would enjoy the fall and the changing of seasons always brings a new and fresh perspective.

As Daisy began to walk, she started to pray and thank God for His beautiful creation.  With autumn being her favorite time of year, there seemed much on her lips to be grateful for this morning.  The leaves, as they changed their colors, seemed so vibrant and alive.  The air was cold, yet refreshing.  It definitely woke you up faster than a cup of coffee.   

Mornings had never been a favorite of hers, and yet, she knew getting her day started with a prayer walk around the neighborhood would be a good thing for everyone.  It helped her start her day in the right direction and helped to set her heart towards God.  

As Daisy walked, she prayed.  She prayed for the families in the homes she passed.  She prayed for those she said she would pray for.  She prayed for her family and for those the Lord brought to her mind.   She knew the drill, had the route all mapped out from the previous trips around the neighborhood.  That is until that still small voice in the back of her mind asked a question:

What about your enemies? Are you going to pray for them?

Daisy immediately pushed that thought out of her head and tried to ignore it as she continued to pray.  

Then all of the sudden, she heard the voice again:

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

“What do you want from me!?!” Daisy shouted as she turned her face toward the sky and threw her arms up in the air.  She began walking again, but this time, with more determination in her step.  Her breathing was getting choppy and she chocked back the tears that threatened to fall.

She heard it again:

“I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”  

Inwardly Daisy screamed, “No, no, no! No, God, don’t you understand!  She hurt me, said mean things about me, and discarded me without another thought.  No, just no!”   Tears began to slip down her face and she walked head down and faster toward home.  Daisy was frantic to get home and back to the busyness of her morning so the voice would be silenced.  

“… bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Daisy fell to her knees; she couldn’t take it anymore.  The sobs wracked her body and she gave into the whispers of God.

“But God,“ she responded between breaths, “But I have forgiven her, why do I have to pray for her?  I didn’t do anything wrong and yet you want me to pray for her?  I don’t want to have to think about her any more, let alone pray for her.  Please God, take the hurt away, I don’t want to be reminded of the pain anymore.”

I will take the pain away, My Child, but you haven’t fully released the situation into my hands yet.  You are still holding on to pain and unforgiveness.

“But God…”

I know she hurt you Daisy.  I know she said things that were not true.  I know she blamed you for many things that were not your fault. I know she hurt you.  I know the pain you are in, but I need you to trust Me.

“God, I am trying to trust you, minute by minute.  But I don’t understand why she would do this to me.  I thought we were friends!”

Daisy, she was acting out of the hurts and wounds in her own life.  Will you forgive her and release her to me?  Will you pray blessings over her and for her to receive them from Me?  Daisy, will you trust Me?”

“God, I do trust You, but I need Your help in forgiving her and praying for her.  Will you forgive me for the pain and justice I wanted her to suffer?  I know Your Word says, ‘mercy triumphs over judgment;’ It’s just harder to walk out that I thought.  God, HELP ME!”

That is what I have longed to hear you say My Child!

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Have you ever found yourself in a situation like Daisy’s?  A situation where you have been hurt and wounded by someone?  Maybe someone knowingly set out to hurt you or maybe it just happened.  Maybe it wasn’t a trusted friend but a boss, a spouse, a family member, or someone else.  

I have, more than once!  It doesn’t matter who it was and, sadly, it probably won’t be the last time.  What I have learned over time is that the saying ‘hurt people, hurt people’ is completely true, yet I get to decide how I react to it.  

Of course I may be hurt, wounded, and in need to work through forgiving the other person, however, what I don’t need to do is hold on to unforgiveness.  I don’t need to be offended, but instead, I need to let go and give it into God’s capable hands.  

I heard Graham Cooke once say that every relationship needs to evolve and change over time if it is to stay healthy and vibrant.  It is a necessary part of life.  

Sometimes we have people in our life for short seasons and sometimes we have them for longer seasons.  Just like the weather seasons change, bringing different things in the life cycle of nature, we too have life cycles in relationships with people.

There are some who are reading this today thinking, “All my relationships are good!” Great!  I’ve been there.

There are some who have been hurt and you’ve sworn off relationships with others all together.

There are some who are afraid of being alone, so you stay in a relationship out of fear.

There are some who are in toxic relationships and everyone around you sees it except you (or you just plain ignore it).  I know; I have been there too.  My advice: stop being rebellious and doing it your way.  I promise God has something way better in mind if you choose to trust Him.

Like Daisy, my favorite season is fall because God paints the canvas of nature in so many vibrant colors, bringing things to life.  But at the same time, it is a season where things go dormant or even die.  Fall, and even winter, is necessary but only in preparation for spring when new life and new growth come about.  

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (KJV) tells us there is a time and season for everything:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

What is your favorite season and why?

 

Prayer

God, help me to examine my relationships and if any of them needs to be changed, mended, pruned, or cut off, would you give me the strength and courage to do what needs to be done in a healthy Godly way?  Lord, I want relationships that will be life giving for all involved.

Also, God, would you inventory my heart and see if there is any unforgiveness or hurt in regard to relationships?  If there is, God, can You help me to forgive?  Can You help me to pray for and bless them?  Would You give me Your eyes to see them?  God help me to not be offended but instead help me to trust you through the process.  Thank you that Your Word says You will forgive me as I forgive others.  I choose to forgive.  Thank you for extending your forgiveness to me today. Amen.

WEEDS!

Boy, my garden needed weeding but there was so much to do before my daughter’s family of five arrived!  We had so much fun going to the beach, park, and library. There was also water painting with my grandchildren, cooking, reading, and watching them run through the sprinkler.  It was like heaven on earth that week. While I was busy having fun the weeds, they were having fun too! My garden was one big blob of green when Dan and I took a walk through after they had left.  It was difficult to see what was actually growing where. It took a lot of time to get the garden looking like a garden again.

Fortunately, I don’t mind weeding too much because it gets me out and away from TV and the phone and into the fresh air and warmth of the sun.  I like the quiet and God and I have a chance to talk. I ask a lot of questions and He has lots of answers. He also shows me how gardening and life are alike.  

Here are a few lessons I have learned:

He told me that when we let weeds grow in our lives, it makes it unclear for others to see the pathway to follow to get to Him. If we say we are Christians and yet we allow our sin to get out of control, how can people see the garden God has planted in us? It’s hard to see the fruit that is growing in a big patch of weeds.  It is God’s Word cultivating in our hearts that keeps the weeds from growing and overcoming our fruit. It says in Psalm 119:105 (ESV), “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Another thing I noticed was when you weed often, the weeds aren’t so big and cumbersome to try and hoe. So it is with sin in my life. It’s good to get the sin in my life taken care of right away instead of letting it grow and letting the root of the sin getting established in my heart.

As I was weeding my peas, I noticed a vine creeping up the stalks of my peas. Not only in my peas but in the lettuce and nasturtiums too. If I yanked on the vine it would easily pull out the good plants that it had wrapped itself around.  The parable of the weeds in the field of wheat found in Matthew 13:24 came to mind. The servants asked if it was okay to go and pull the weeds up but the master told them to wait so they wouldn’t accidentally pull up the wheat too.  

I did do a little surgery with the vines but it took a lot of patience. It took a little snipping here and there until I could pull the root out and not harm the plant. Don’t you wish sometimes God could just yank the sin out of our lives?  I wonder how we would fare if He did? God is a very wise caretaker of our hearts, isn’t He?

You should have seen the garden when I had the weeds pretty much gone.  Dan saw it and said, “Wow!”  A couple of my friends said pretty close to the same thing. It really does look glorious.  There are nice pathways to walk on too.  I can actually see the blossoms of my nasturtiums and calendula! How beautiful! My, what a bit (well, actually a lot) of water and some sunshine can do!  Likewise what a bit (well, actually a lot) of time in the presence of Jesus and reading the Word can do!

You see, we will always have weeds in our lives until the day we see our Savior face to face but we don’t have to be perfect for people to say, “Wow! Your life is so different.  I see peace and joy in your life? How does that happen?  You don’t get upset when everybody else does? Why?”  Then they can see clearly the pathway to Jesus.  

May the pathways of the garden in your heart be clean and clear.  May your weeds be few and far in between. May God send His rain and sunshine in abundance.  Amen!

Fields of Joy

I painted this picture based off of the pure feeling of joy I was getting from God one Sunday morning. His presence and favor were spilling out over the congregation and I couldn’t help but try my best to express it on canvas. While painting, I bent down to fix the easel and the wet canvas fell right on my head and shoulder. My immediate reaction was embarrassment (if I’m being honest), but close behind that was laughter, which confirmed my feeling of unending joy that only the Lord could give me at the moment.

It would have been really easy to think of all the people watching, then go into shut down mode and give up. My human mind would have gotten frustrated and start criticizing myself. But I didn’t let it. Instead, I let Jesus fill my spiritual mind with what He wanted for me at the time- and that was joy.

So often it’s easy to feel as if God is out to get us or that He wants to teach us a lesson or makes us come closer to Him through punishment, but that isn’t the case at all! He wants to take our burdens and celebrate our progress and growing relationship with Him anytime we give Him the chance. When we surrender to Him, giving complete trust and praise, He will be there. He’s always waiting and He’s always ready.

Psalm 28:7 (NIV) says, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

Whether it was my own clumsiness or an attempt by the devil to try and rob me of my joy on that Sunday morning, the Lord showed me how joy and laughter can be used as a weapon in the face of adversity. You can use your smile to stand strong in trials and tribulations because the Lord Himself has led by example. Psalm 37:12-13 (NIV) says, “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.”

Knowing the Lord’s heart for us is vital to our success in accepting what He has for us. He wants us to be brave and ready to overcome whatever the world brings our way and one way to be ready is by being able to find love and joy where it seems impossible.

Recently I took a class titled “Receiving the Love of God” and it changed my life. I have always struggled with believing that God died on the cross for ME and loves ME just as much as He loves everyone else. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t have any trouble taking something away from it. Little did I know that I would walk away learning the many different characteristics of our Father along with His ginormous and loving heart.

While I remain incapable of comprehending just how much Jesus loves and adores me, I now have a firmer grasp of it, along with how silly God can be. Now that I notice the little things that make me smile, I get to share those things with my Jesus because now I know He finds them funny too. Man didn’t create laughter or our senses of humor, God did! And if we were created in His image, then He must have a sense of humor too, right?

Today, I find myself making funny faces or telling jokes to God and it has strengthened our relationship considerably. I’m no longer afraid of being myself with God (even though He’s known the real me all along) because I know that He loves every part of me. And He loves every part of you too.

I challenge you to find the joy of the Lord in every circumstance because I know He will meet you there and drown out the rest. He’s ready for you to surrender your sorrow, your hurt, and your bitterness for the sweetness of His love, peace, and humor. Lift up a song to Him today and praise His glorious name for He has, and is, and will continue to lift our burdens and fill us with joy.

Psalm 126:2-3 (NIV) says, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with song of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”